On Christmas Eve I took a group of Jaywalker clients to serve food to homeless men and women from the local community. What better way to spend Christmas Eve than to serve others who are really struggling.
As we began serving the food, a gentleman shuffled into the church basement, his multiple layers of clothing in tatters; including his outer bottom layer, a “pair” of jeans consisting only of a waist and part of one leg. Around his chair he placed his “possessions” which appeared to be 3 plastic grocery bags full of trash. His jacket pockets were also stuffed full of wadded up newspaper. He found a seat alone. Not one other person in the room acknowledged his presence. Conversely he made no verbal or eye contact with anyone.
He made his way into the food line; no words, simply grunting and nodding his head in response to our questions. As he left the food line, he grabbed at least 20 napkins and made them the latest additions to his possessions. Alone, he ate his food in silence.
As our serving time drew to a close, it was obvious we had extra food. I approached this gentleman and asked him if he wanted a to-go box. Eyes toward the floor, he nodded yes and I handed him a container of extra food. We also had quite a few extra Christmas cookies that my family had made and decorated that day. I approached him once again with a few bags of cookies and asked, “would you like some cookies?”
Something changed in him, for at that moment he raised his head and looked me in the eye. With a smile said, “Yes.” I was stunned to get any reaction. Walking away I thought, “We made some powerful cookies!”
As our group concluded the evening by putting up chairs, cleaning the serving area, etc., this gentleman gathered his belongings and shuffled out of the building into the snow.
With all the clean-up tasks completed, a very surreal scene unfolded. As I walked out the back of the building, snow was falling, and I could hear Christmas carols being sung in the church next door. It seemed very idyllic.
I jumped in the car with my family, so thankful for their help and presence in my life. What a blessed life I live; so many reasons to be thankful: we were together warm, dry, and safe. But as we drove out of the alley, I saw an image that still rocks me to my core. There, on Christmas Eve, in the falling snow sat that gentleman alone in the cold, the bags of trash and cookies his only companions.
During the drive home I could not rid that image from my mind. I thought, “is there a person in this whole world right now more lonely than him?” I wondered how does this guy do this each day? How does he make it through one day in his life and want to get up the next day and do it all over again.
It struck me that he must have an incredible will to live in his heart. Somewhere deep in his soul there is hope that his life can change, and there is a reason to rise up live another day. He endures loneliness, scorn, weather, hunger, and rejection daily, but does not give up.
That inspires me and should inspire each one of us. If a man so alone and so hurting can rise up each day and persevere then so can I, regardless of my circumstances. God reached down into my heart on that special night and used a very unlikely character to give me a renewed perspective on life.