Sunday, July 23, 2017

Missed Opportunities

I saw his bedraggled face, bent in sorrow, buckling under the scalding heat from the intense summer sun.

His cardboard sign said something on it, but his posture sent a much different message.

Bless him, the Lord whispered to me.

I pulled up my car and rolled down the window. The blast from the near 100 degree weather almost knocked me out of my seat.

"What would you like to eat?" I asked the youth.

His eyes perked up. "A double double," he answered quickly. Then he thought for a moment and added, "No onions."

I smiled, the Mama in me ached to help him further but I didn't know what else I could do.

"Do you want fries too?" I asked. "No," he responded. "A lemonade?" I asked. "Sure," he responded.

I drove to the drive thru line, kids in tow.

"Mom, why is that man sitting there?" Talitha asked me.

"He's more like a boy. And he's homeless, he doesn't have a place to go," I said.

"Mom, does he miss his Mom?" she asked me.

"I don't know," I responded. "But I bet he does. We should ask him."

"Mom, is he lost?" she asked.

"Yes, Sweet Pea," I responded. "If he doesn't know Jesus, he is lost."

"We should pray for him!" she exclaimed, excitedly.

"That's an excellent idea, Sweet Pea," I said. "Why don't you do it?"

"I don't know how to start," she said.

"Talitha, that's just not true. You need to tell the truth," I told her. "All you have to do is ask God to help the man. Repeat after me: Dear God..."

Silence from the back seat.

"Come on, Dear God...." I repeated.

Then her little five year old heart opened up...

"Dear God," she prayed with strength, "please help that man to know Jesus. In Jesus' Christ Name. Amen."

"That was an excellent prayer, Talitha!" I exclaimed. "Give me a high five!"

The beaming smile on her face and the joy she radiated in that moment said it all.

We got to the drive thru and received our meal. Talitha was very concerned he wouldn't be there to get his food, but I assured her that he would still be there and he was.

I pulled up to a curb and rolled down my window.

"Thank you very much," the young man said, his weather-worn face already too old for the few short years he'd been on this earth.

"So my five year old wants to know if you miss your Mom," I asked him on behalf of Talitha.

"Yes, very much so," he said, looking sad, down to his right side.

"Why aren't you at home? You're so young," I inquired.

"My Mom and Dad just don't have the money to keep supporting me," he said, looking away.

"And they expect me to have a full time job and pay the rent."

"And you're young, why don't you have a job then?" I asked him.

"Well, I can keep a job for a month or so, then they..." his voice trailed off as he looked away. He and I both knew he was lying and he didn't feel compelled to embellish any further.

"Do you know about the Corona-Norco Rescue Mission?" I asked him.

"Yes, I do, I've stayed there a few times," he said, looking away.

I could tell he didn't like the place.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked.

"They have too many rules, it's like jail," he said. "It's like jail," he repeated.

"Well, the one in Orange County is better," I told him, even though I'd personally never stayed there.

"You know why I'm here?" I asked him.

He shook his head no.

"I'm here to make things right," I said. "Last week, I was at Panera Bread, having lunch and a homeless woman was there with her little girl asking the people at each table with a card, quietly, to help her. When her child came over and started touching my child, I chided her and told her to stop. The woman saw how I'd reacted to her daughter and walked past our table. I was probably the only Christian in that restaurant. I'd been eating a meal that was provided by gift cards before my husband passed away 8 months ago."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," he said.

"Yeah, it's lame. But anyway, I'm probably the only Christian in that restaurant," I repeated myself,. "And there was a $10 balance on the meal I didn't even have to pay for myself that I could have easily helped her and her daughter have lunch. And you know what, I missed out on that opportunity."

His lips pursed together in disapproval. I was pretty ashamed of my own poor behavior instead of choosing to love my neighbor as myself, as well.

"But I'm here, to make it right by buying you lunch today," I told him.

"So what's your plan?" I asked him.

"I don't have one. And now that I don't have a place to stay or a car..." his voice trailed off again, as he couldn't look me in the eyes.

"How old are you?" I asked.

"22," he said.

"What did you want to be when you grew up?" I asked him.

"I didn't have any plans when I was growing up," he told me. "But I always thought it would be fun to be a car salesman," he told me. "But I don't have any recent work on my resume."

"How long has it been?" I asked.

"A year and a half," he responded.

"Well, that doesn't take anything to sell things," I told him. "If that's what you want to do, you can clearly go do that."

Then I took off my sunglasses and looked him in the eyes and added, "But you have to stay sober."

He looked away because he knew where I was going with my train of thought.

"Listen, when I was younger than you, I used to hang out with the kids on the street in the city where I grew up," I told him.

I could tell I had his attention. He probably didn't see that coming from a middle-aged, conservative woman.

"Yes, I had a shower every day, but I liked hanging out with those kids, up in northern California. I'm from there. But the one thing I learned about them is that not one of them had to be there if they didn't want to be."

"You're so young and you shouldn't have seen and experienced all the things you have by being in your current circumstances."

He nodded in agreement and I continued.

"So, everyone there had an addiction, including me," I shared. "Yes, even me. Everyone's got their thing you know. And having an addiction that's hard to break, sucks."

He looked genuinely shocked.

"I tried hard to kick it myself, but it wasn't until I really, really wanted to change that I realized I had no power in my life to make the change myself," I told him.

He remained silent.

"The only true way to change is through Jesus," I said.

"Do you know Jesus?"

"Oh yeah, I know about Jesus," he said. But then he looked away.

"Here's the thing," I told him, as he shifted his stance and was ready to walk away, brushing me off. "You won't be able to change until you really want it. And Jesus is really the only way."

"Do you want to spend the rest of your life like this?" I asked him, taking notice of his unwashed hair and dirty clothing that he'd probably slept in for weeks.

He looked down and said, "No," quietly. I could tell he wasn't convinced about what to do and he was struggling. But his cracked and chapped lips were turned into an extreme frown.

"Listen, thank you, I really appreciate the food, thank you," he repeated to me, the sun glistening on the open wounds from his drug use and street brawling.

"I'm going to pray for you, young man," I told him. Yes, I'm that old now. "What's your name?" I asked.

"Joshua," came the reply.

Talitha continued to pepper me with questions as we drove home.

"Does Joshua not know the way, Mom?" she asked me.

"You're right, Sweet Pea, he doesn't," I told her. "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, the Bible says. No one comes to the Father, but by Him."

As we pulled onto our own street, we were still talking about Joshua.

"Well, where does he live?" she asked.

"He lives on the street, TT," I said.

"Well, he can't do that - cars will run him over!" she said using her most sophisticated five year old reasoning.

I laughed. "Well, okay, he lives on a sidewalk then," I told her.

"But he needs a pillow," Talitha said, probably as she was thinking about the five decorative pillows she recently collected, including her Daddy pillow.

I laughed and replied, "Well, he probably just sleeps on his arm, TT."

My heart ached for this young man, caught in his addiction. His own mother and father probably ached for him too.

Go home, I wanted to tell the young man. Give your life to Jesus and just go home. All of this nonsense is ruining your life and stealing your youth. For what? A moment's passing pleasure?

Today is the day of salvation, I wanted to say. Today! Don't wait.

"You know, the prodigal son never came home until no one helped him with anything, because if someone had given him a free burrito, he would've stayed right where he was," a friend once told me.

"That's a good point," I thought to myself.

But then compassion took over. I put myself in Joshua's place, and remembered my old friends from 20 (okay, more like almost 30) years ago and saw their faces and remembered their stories.

"So which is it?" I asked a different friend, more recently. "Because I don't know what to do when it comes to seeing homeless people."

"Well, in your area where you live, you could give away every last dollar and still not help everyone," my out-of-town friend said. "It's why you have to be wise and use discernment. Follow the Holy Spirit's prompting and you will know what to do in each situation. But you still have to live your own life."

I thought back to how different I was when I was with my homeless friends to the woman I'd become because of my life in Jesus Christ, and marriage to Ryan, causing me to be in the position I was in today, to speak to a homeless young man in the middle of southern California.

Where would I be if I hadn't met Jesus at age 24 and then Ryan 9 months later?

Where would I be if Jesus hadn't healed my addiction?

Where would I be if I died and I kept rejecting the Savior who takes away all our sins?

I would be just like that young man, lost, wondering, unsure of the way, with internal and external wounds festering on my skin and soul.

I'm grateful to God that I took the gift He gave me to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and didn't miss that opportunity because it's changed my life's path and my eternal trajectory, forever.