Tonight after the kids and I left our local library, I headed over to Starbucks to grab a mocha. I was longing for some rich, chocolatey coffee. As I approached the entrance, the corner of my eye caught sight of a homeless man who was headed up the sidewalk towards the storefront. While I stood in line to order my mocha, I couldn’t help but think that this man might be hungry. I looked out the window and saw that he had dug into the outside trashcan and was holding a styrofoam clamshell, eating the leftovers of someone’s throwaway dinner. As I walked out, I stopped and asked him if he was hungry and if he’d like a sandwich or something. He looked kindly at me and said, “yes, yes, actually, if you wouldn’t mind I would love a coffee.” I was taken by surprise. A coffee? Really? Whoa. Not the answer I was expecting. But as I looked at him, with his shirtless upper body, his shoeless feet, a tattered comforter strewn about his shoulders, I imagined why a hot cup of coffee would be such a nice treat. I asked him if there was any particular type of coffee he’d like and he said “I’d love a decaf. I’d like to be able to sleep tonight, so a decaf would really be great.” Jacob and Natalie followed me back into Starbucks where we stood in line to order the man a decaf. Jacob asked with a slightly shaky voice “Mama, is he homeless?” “Yes, Buddy. Yes he is.” A few moments later…… “Mama, if Omie decides that she doesn’t want to come live in the little condo in our backyard, can we offer to let this man come live there?” Oh the sweetness. Oh the beautiful heart. I replied, saying “Jacob, I just talked to Omie last night and she said she’s very much looking forward to come live with us. She will be moving into the little condo.” “Oh, okay Mama.” A few seconds later….”Mama, I’ve seen several houses for sale in our neighborhood. Can we buy this man a house, with our money?” “Buddy, we don’t have enough money to do that.” Then it was our turn to order coffee. We did. The decaf was brewing and wouldn’t be ready for 3-4 minutes. I let the kiddos know that we could go outside and talk with the man while we were waiting for his coffee; that we could offer him the gift of companionship and conversation as we waited. I let them know it was okay to smile at him; that their smiles would be gifts of joy to him.
We headed outside and then began to chat with him. I asked him his name. Kevin. As we stood there talking about all sorts of things…..the Santa Cruz boardwalk, his birthplace in Anaheim, the difficulty in obtaining a birth certificate without an i.d., the subject of math…the three of us were just soaking in the sight of him. Here was a man, I was guessing in his 40’s, with open, festering wounds, scabs and sores all over his body. His bald head, his arms, his hands, his feet….all of it was acutely sickened by some kind of disease or serious illness. Yet his eyes were alive and his speech unhampered by any chemical or alcohol. He was with it and was able to carry on a conversation that was normal. Yet every part of his body screamed illness. He shared with me that he thinks he’s contagious with something, that there are worms that are buried in his skin….especially on the top of his head….and that he picks them out. Oh.my.word.
While we were there talking, a young man stopped by and handed him a bunch of gift cards from his wallet. He said he was sorry but didn’t have any cash on him- this was all he could offer. I looked at that exchange- so kind-hearted of the young man. But how could this man ever make use of those cards? There is no way this man, looking as he does, could ever walk into an establishment and make use of those gift cards. And if he offered those cards to a passerby, asking for them to make a purchase for him…..who would take hold of anything that had been in this man’s hand? This wasn’t leprosy, but clearly something that looked like it would indeed be highly contagious. It was oozing. It was scabbed. And there were very raw parts. We talked and talked. The gift of companionship for a man who must be so crazy lonely in this world. He lives on the fringe, not able to go in where the people are, living on the scraps of our human existence.
The Starbucks employee brought out the decaf coffee. I handed it to him and let him know that God loves Him. He asked me “are you a Christian?” Yes. “Blessings to you and your children.” He then asked if we go to church on Sundays. Yes. He looked at Jacob and Natalie and told them “if you ever feel weird praying to God, just keep doing it. Keep praying. My mom used to make me go to church, but I felt weird about it. Keep going to church.”
We drove away. We watched him walk down the sidewalk holding his coffee. As I drove home I felt a tug on my heart. I needed to go home and get some clothes for this man. The cool night air had already set in. All this man had was a tattered red blanket and a pair of pants. So I explained to the kids that I would find something in our closet and then we’d return to give it to him. And so we did. As I drove back down Isis, I saw him walking the sidewalk headed to Rosecrans. He was about to get to the intersection where I couldn’t reach him anymore. I rolled down my window and shouted “KEVIN!!!” He didn’t hear. I shouted once more “KEEEEVINNN!!!!!” He turned, looking who might be calling his name. He saw me as I drove past and motioned for him to wait a moment. I pulled into the parking lot, rolled down my window and let him know that I had made a quick trip home. I told him he didn’t need to take it, but if it would be helpful I had a shirt, a jacket and a warm, fuzzy blanket. He smiled a big, wide smile and was beyond delighted. Many thanks were spoken. I handed him what I had brought. Just then he said “I need to keep moving, there’s a police officer.” He turned and started moving towards Rosecrans Blvd. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the police officer roll right past my truck and out of the parking lot. Would they stop him? What are the laws with regards to transients? I don’t know. The kids were confused. Don’t the police help the homeless? I had to explain to them that the job of the police is to protect the city and the citizens. And that most citizens are afraid of people who look like Kevin. “Afraid? Why Mama?” Well, many people don’t like the looks of homeless people and get scared of what they will do or what diseases they might have, or if they’ll make bad decisions. And they don’t want homeless people in their city, making their city look bad. “But Mama then where will he go? Where will he sleep?” “I don’t know kiddos. I don’t know.”
But I do know this: God put it on my heart to give this man my absolute most-favorite blanket of all time. I cocooned myself in that blanket all winter long. A beautiful wool-like material on one side and on the other side the softest fleece/micro-fiber. I loooooooooooved that blanket. Beyond loved that blanket! And yet when I walked into my room to look for a shirt and jacket to give this man, my eyes fell on that blanket and I felt God saying “give him your prized blanket”. I didn’t even resist; I knew it was God’s tugging and I wanted to obey.
As we watched the man walk east on Rosecrans, he now had 6 things in his possession. Two of those things were in his possession when we met him (a pair of pants & a tattered blanket) and now he had four more things (a warm coffee, a shirt, a jacket and a fabulously warm, soft blanket). We more than doubled his possessions.
I can’t get his face out of my mind. His alive eyes in a skin-infested, raw, dirty, oozing body. God would you please bless him. I don’t even know how or what to pray for. But may the efforts we made to give him company, clothing and warmth this evening be something you use to bless him and bring him comfort.