I’ve just spent $100 on books. Books about missionaries. And I’m sitting in my car outside the Christian bookstore, trying to read this particular book about a guy from Pakistan who takes a stand for Christ and gets stabbed for it, trying to distance myself as I feel the Holy Spirit stirring around in my chest, and trying to ignore the annoyingly wavering voice that’s floating across the parking lot coming from the guy who’s stumbling around asking patrons for change.
Just leave. You couldn’t read inside, too noisy. Got sucked into that round-table discussion with those street evangelists…
But hours lost. Just go home.
I turn pages.
In the back of my van sit garbage bags full of blankets, pillows, and clothes our family just received for free from the local church. Brand new stuff that didn’t sell. Who knows why. Donated to the church for its missions in Mexico, but the church had so much stuff it offered leftovers to people who needed them. We don’t need them. We have blankets and bed sheets and clothes. But the stuff we have are old donations from when we first came back from Zalam. Kind items, some used, some gifted new to our family of six. But now, in the back of our car, we have a second set of everything. Including clothes. Sitting right there. Bags of it.
“Excuse me,” he whines through the passenger window.
I look up. “Hi.”
“You like to read?” he asks, nodding at the four books on the seat and the one in my hands.
“Yeah,” I say. Oh, man. You even got your laptop out on your lap. I shut the screen. “I’m trying to become an author.”
He’s young. And twitchy. His beard is mere bristles. His eyes blink incessantly.
“So you like words?”
His voice is so grating, the thoughts say. Wave him off. Start the car. Drive away.
I turn in my seat, examining the situation, being careful not to look into the back of my van. “Yeah, I guess I do.”
“I won’t bother you then. But do you have any change?” His eyes look down at his feet, then up at the sky.
You bought your books with a credit card. You don’t have any change.
But I know I’ve got cash in my wallet. I don’t have to look. Three fives. $15…
“Sorry, man. I don’t.”
His head drops again. “I understand.”
I notice his hat. Talk to him like he’s a person, I tell myself. Treat him like he’s more than a handout. “You like the Yankees? I’m from New York.”
He takes off his hat and looks at the symbol like he’s never even noticed it before. Never thought about baseball.
“Are you from around here?” I try. “Did you grow up here? Are you a hockey fan?”
“Yeah, I’m from here. I live over at the camps,” his look fades away. “…I don’t do the drugs…” He starts to turn to leave. “You don’t have any change?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Hey, what’s your name? I’m Dave.”
And I can’t read.
My phone chimes. It’s a text from one of the street evangelists I’d just met: “God Bless.”
I look into the back of the van and a wave of sorrow comes over me. God blesses. You could’ve given him SOMETHING! Blankets, jeans—
How awkward would that have been?
Shut up!… I stuff my computer into my bag and throw the books onto the floor. So stinking’ rich, you and your laptop sitting on your wallet! I dig my wallet out of my pocket, crinkle the bills in a fist and turn the engine key. Fifteen dollars! You could’ve bought this guy a pizza!
I roll forward, checking the right side of the parking lot. He’s not there. Come on! That’s the way he went. Where else could he have gone?
I circle the building. Not there. Not by the dumpster. Not by the building next door.
I pull out onto the street and circle the city block. He should be walking through that car dealership… People don’t just vanish!
I drive for five, ten, fifteen minutes.
I don’t find him.
The ride home is long. My cheeks burn with shame.
Jesse… Can you get any closer to ‘Jesus’? …You lied to Jesus, Dude. Whatever you’ve done to the least of these… whatever you did not do to the least of these, you did not do to Me.
Unloading the bags from our car breaks my heart. My kids run and jump for joy. Matching sheets and blankets. Soft, fluffy, out-of-the-plastic new pillows. Clothes. Boots even. Jeans and shirts and…
I lay down on my bed and hide my face. Jesus, I’m so sorry. I lied to You. I left You hungry and thirsty and comfortless. I tried to make small talk, tried to treat you like a person, but I was lying. My heart… somehow my heart—after all You’ve done for me—is still selfish and greedy and clinging—Like I didn’t just walk in the house with hundreds of dollars worth of free stuff and I couldn’t give fifteen dollars?! …I am ashamed before You.
I roll off the bed, my girls giggling up and down the hall outside my door. “Dad! Dad! Come see!”
…Thank You, God, for showing me my heart. You are a good Father. Help me to repent…