I saw the old man sitting on a bucket. His hair, a mottled gray and black, fell in unkempt tangles around his face. Patches of dirt and grime covered that face, a testament to the hard road that he’s traveled. Leathery wrinkles adorned the corners of his eyes, nose, mouth and forehead making him appear as if he had been there a thousand years. His clothes, if you could call them that, were nothing more than tattered rags that fit loosely over his slight and frail frame. They were full of holes and torn in too many places….and they were filthy.
In spite of his appearance, it was the sign he wore around his neck that truly caught my eye. It was written by a hand shaking with arthritis, and in a print barely legible. You would think, given the way he looked, that it would say, “Homeless. Please help.” Or maybe, “Will work for food.” Or even, “Spare some change. Supporting a family on your donations.” It didn’t. It simply said, “Help is here.”
As the line of stand-still traffic seemed to be going nowhere at the exit, I got out of the car and walked toward him. I almost always give to people sitting at the side of the road. Having been homeless before, I know what it’s like to not have a place to sit off the floor or a bed to sleep in or a blanket to cover up with on a cold night. My intention was to give him a few dollars to ease his burden if for just a little while. Instead, he eased mine.
I approached, pointed to the sign and asked him, “What does it mean?”
He looked up at me, and it was then that I noticed his eyes. They were bold and bright, belying his age and condition. They were full of wisdom, joy, strength…power. Bright blue, they bore into my soul and read me like an open book.
He replied, “Don’t you know Him?”
“Him, who?” I asked.
“Jesus,” the man replied.
I stood there a moment wondering. How in the world can this man who, by all outward appearances, has nothing…no family, no friends, no money, no home, no food…be so, well, at peace.
I replied, “Yes. I know Him. Why do you ask?”
“If you have to ask me that, then you don’t know Him,” he responded.
He could tell by the look on my face that I was more than a little confused by his answer, so he continued.
“Let me tell you a story,” he said. “You look at me and you see a homeless man. You see someone who doesn’t have any money. No food. You’re wondering if I have a family or friends. You don’t think I have a place to sleep. You see someone who appears emotionally and physically destitute. You see someone who seems lost. I look at you and see that YOU are the one who’s lost. You have nice clothes on your back. You drive a nice car. You have money in your pocket. You, more than likely, have a family that loves you and friends that care about you. Yet you don’t know Him the way I do. You give Him lip service.”
As I looked at him with a mixture of anger and surprise, he continued, “I used to be where you are. I had a wife. Children. A good job. A nice house. Money in my pocket…and I went to church, prayed, gave to the poor, helped out where I could, and prayed some more. Then, over the course of a few months, I began to lose it all. It started with the death of my youngest daughter. From there, I gave up my job to help our family (we still had four living daughters that needed us) make it through the grief and agony. Once I gave up my job, the money stopped coming in. We had to leave the beautiful house we lived in because we couldn’t afford it any longer. We moved to a smaller one, and I took a job making less. I still prayed, but I often wondered if my heart was truly in it. Did I have enough in me to carry on. My wife continued a downward spiral. Her sorrow threatened to overwhelm her. She was there with me, but she really wasn’t. She was just an empty shell that simply existed. For her, her faith was almost utterly destroyed. I tried to be her rock and strength. And for a while, I was. But, eventually, I realized that I wasn’t the one that could bring her around. No. That task was reserved for someone infinitely higher up the ladder than I.”
I stared at him, mouth agape. He went on, “I sank lower and lower until I hit the bottom. My daughter was gone. My wife was gone, trying to find her way home. The house was gone. The car was gone. The job was gone. Yet He never left my side. Before my cell phone was turned off, I received a text message from a friend. He was a brother-in-Christ, and he was trying to encourage me. It said a few motivational things, but the end is what caught me. He told me that I was going to be victorious, that the fight had already been fought. The victory had already been won. I got on my knees and cried like I had never cried before. I couldn’t do it without Him. You see, I had to be broken in order to be fixed. It was then that I realized that everything I had on this earth, including my family, was temporary. But my salvation was eternal. If I wanted to see my daughter again, I had to completely give it ALL to Him and let Him lead me. I had to trust Him with EVERYTHING in my life. I had to believe that in spite of the tragedy and loss, He was in control. And that He would work everything out for my good and for His glory. Which is why I’m here. And why I’m talking to you right now.”
As I watched, the old man stood up and looked me in the eyes. He reached into his pocket and handed me a piece of paper that was folded in half. He shook my hand and walked over to the parking lot of the adjacent gas station. I stood dumfounded as he got into a Tahoe with five women in it, one older and the other four middle-aged. He smiled and waved as he drove off. I saw the rest of his family smiling as well.
I unfolded the piece of paper and looked at it. It was bible verse.
“But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the good news, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing.” -2 Timothy 4:5-7
I stood there and wept.
For Lena…lay it all down at His feet, Bella.