As I came out of the restaurant, he was walking by. It wasn’t at first obvious to me that he was homeless, though he pulled on a small cart carrying all his belongings – I can be dense sometimes. He paused and said something about how tough life is. I now feel ashamed that I required him to speak first, but at least I responded, and we were soon talking freely. Jamie likes to talk, quite a lot as I presently discovered.
Jamie is an alcoholic – he told me all about it. When he asked me for money and I declined, he understood my resistance and pointed out that most people like him would spend it on drugs or alcohol anyway. Jamie is 50 years old and he’s been drinking for 38 years.
Jamie is incredibly humble and honest about his situation. He told me about waking up that morning, covered in dirt, leaves, vomit and urine-soaked pants, in some weeds behind a church; the ragged end to a 3-day drinking binge (yet by the time we met, he had been to the mission where he got cleaned up and was given a new set of cloths).
Jamie told me about the mission that feeds the homeless old food that makes him sick and gives him diarrhea. And he told me about how he loves Jesus.
Jamie mentioned he really wanted a radio. I was very resistant at first, but I finally said I’d be willing to buy him one if there was a store near by (thank you Lord for Jamie’s persistence). The idea of giving a homeless person a ride in my nice, clean minivan did not appeal to me, as Jamie asked if I had a car nearby. I finally relented, again, and we loaded Jamie’s cart of belongings into the back of the van.
We talked about Jesus and God. Jamie’s knowledge and memorization of scripture was amazing. I think he knows far more than I about Gods word. And he kept giving God credit for the blessings in his life, like actually waking up alive that morning, after his 3-day binge.
There were other stories Jamie told, where he again praised God for the blessings in his life – like still being alive even though he’s been vomiting up blood lately; and still being alive even after he called a bunch of black youth “nigger” while he was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing; or still being alive after getting extremely drunk and waking up to find himself literally hanging over the edge of a short cliff, over a stream. I don’t know if Jamie recognizes that God might be keeping him alive for a reason, but he does recognize that it’s God who’s keeping him alive. And he never hesitates with the words of praise.
Jamie appeared to talk with strength when he talked about Jesus. Jamie was about as low as you can go, but he still had a firm hold on Jesus, and he drew strength from his faith in Jesus.
After buying the radio and batteries, I was beginning to warm up to my task. I was getting much more relaxed around Jamie, almost feeling like buddies. I asked Jamie where he wanted to go next. We then headed toward another mission-type place where Jamie could see some friends, and maybe get some free cloths.
Jamie was much more generous than people like me who actually have stuff to give away. He offered to give me some brand new gloves that someone had given him. This reminded me of what Jesus said about the poor woman who gave her only two pennies to the temple. She who had nothing gave more than the richest. Jamie and I talked about that story.
We sat in the van, parked at the mission, and talked for probably 30 minutes. Jamie told a lot of the same stories over again. Before I left, we prayed together. Jamie asked for forgiveness of his selfishness – he sees it’s selfishness that’s keeping him drinking and on the streets; selfishness that’s keeping him from changing his ways. This man who has nothing sees selfishness as one of his biggest sins. How much more selfish are we?
Jamie helped me be a little less selfish and a little more loving. But I have a long, long way to go to get up to Jamie’s level. Jamie taught me a lot that day. Though he may think that he benefited most from our encounter, I would disagree.
Jamie and I spent an hour and a half together. In looking back at the encounter, there were so many times when I didn’t live up to God’s expectations: I resisted buying him food and the radio; I resisted giving him a ride in the van; I didn’t give him a hug when we parted; I didn’t offer to actively help him to get into some form of rehab; and there’s more if I look.
In looking at my experience with Jamie, what might Jesus say to me? Perhaps, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
… and to Jamie?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5)