Monday, October 10, 2011

Strange Days

There are some days when I feel like I'm living outside of myself. Either outside of myself or in an alternate universe. Everything seems so surreal that it's hard to put it all together and make sense of it. It's almost like looking at one of those kids' books where you have to try to figure out what doesn't belong in a picture or what the subtle differences are between two separate but similar pictures. Today has been such a day for me.

The morning felt sort of timeless to me. I had a late start and before I knew it, it was 10:30. I had hoped to get out of the office to work on some stuff, free of distractions. Christmas is coming and I still have a lot of planning that I need to do. My usual lunch meeting was postponed until tomorrow and so I went home to see if the family could go and enjoy Moe's Monday.

The best of intentions sometimes fall flat. The boys have been in rare form since the addition of their sister to the mix. Any attempt to go out in public with them may have ended in disaster or an arrest, so we put that idea behind us and enjoyed some leftovers from all the incredible meals that people have been bringing us since the birth of my daughter.

Starbuck's was my destination for the afternoon. It seemed like as good of a place as any to set up my computer and take advantage of the free wi-fi available there. I anticipated the afternoon slouch and thought that some good, old-fashioned caffeine may be just what the doctor ordered to rescue me from my potential afternoon slumber. So off I went.

As I sat at the light, ready to turn into the plaza where Starbuck's is, I looked on the median and noticed a guy with sign who I had seen before. He looked kind of scraggly and skinny. Not sure if he had showered or eaten much lately. I had just preached a sermon a few weeks ago about taking notice of the people around us, people who need a touch from Jesus. One of the things that I had mentioned in the message was blessing bags that some of the women in our church had been handing out to people that they had encountered. They are bags filled with some essential toiletries as well as some snacks.

Realizing the potential during the sermon, I asked the congregation to hold me accountable. It's kind of hard to shirk your responsibilities when you have 600 people asking you how you've been doing with something. In fact, one family gave me some prepared blessing bags to hand out to people. So, those are sitting in the back of my car.

When I saw this guy though, I realized what I needed to do. I quickly found my parking spot and made a B-line for Dairy Queen, which was across the street. I wasn't going to just throw this guy money without some kind of personal touch. We've been going through a sermon series called "Story" lately, talking about instances in the Gospels where God's story intersects with humanity's story. I wanted to find out this guy's story and I wasn't going to do it impersonally.

I bought a meal combo and walked over to the median. I introduced myself and told him that I had bought him lunch. I asked him his name and his story. He told me his name was Cory. He and his girlfriend had been living in a neighboring county in a house, but they lost their jobs and could not afford the house any longer. They had been living in a hotel for $42 a night and were unable to find work. I asked him if I could pray for him and he agreed. I told him that I would see him again, and I am sure I probably will.

I left the median with a mix of emotions deep inside. There was a part of me that thought, am I trying to assuage my own guilt for having as much as I have? There was another part of me that probably wanted to pat myself on the back. But what had I really given up? A few dollars and a few minutes of my time. Was it really a sacrifice for me? I kept thinking about something else I could do. I don't want to be guilty of the touch-and-go mentality of things.

I went into Starbuck's, enjoyed my hot coffee, listened to my music, and worked on the planning that I needed to work on. When I left to head home, Cory was still there. He'll probably be there for a while longer.

I am not a hero. There is nothing special about me. All that I did was what I would hope someone would do for me. It's much harder to ignore people like Cory when you try to imagine walking a mile in their shoes. I can't imagine where I would be and how I would respond if I were in his shoes. I still need to figure out what I can do, because faith without works is dead. I'm not saved by what I do, but if I really believe what I say I do, then shouldn't it show in how I live my life?

I drove into my comfortable neighborhood and walked into my house. I was greeted by my family and all the stuff that I have accumulated. I was reminded of a song by Matt Maher called "Heaven Help Me" where he sings, "I don't want to stand for justice if I'm not among the poor." Those were tough words that hit me in the gut.

As my kids ran out the door to go play at the neighbor's house, I heard someone "singing" on the road. I realized it was a young man who was listening to some hip hop artist. Not sure who it was, but this kid didn't have a problem reciting all of the words in a very audible voice as he walked through the neighborhood. I snickered to myself at the irony of the situation. I wondered whether or not his life even closely resembled the life of whoever had written the song that he was singing.

Now I sit in front of my computer, still snickering about the hip hop and yet feeling uncomfortable about my encounter with Cory. I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring. I'm not sure whether I will see Cory tomorrow. I do know that my eyes can no longer be closed to the things and the people around me. I might not be able to change a lot of things, but I can change me, and right now, that looks like the best place to start.

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