On my lunch break one day, I decided to run a few errands and then go to Taco Cabana to eat. When I walked in, I saw a homeless man hunched over at one of the tables. He appeared to be sleeping. However, sitting in front of him was a plate of food that was untouched.
I got my food and sat at a table so I could observe him. It was 87 degrees outside in early June, yet he wore a thick cotton hoodie sweatshirt under a heavy winter coat. He wore a glove on his right hand that bore the Houston Texans logo. His jeans were baggy and filthy. The soles of his boots have completely come off. His boots were being held together by rubber bands. It was the boots from which my eyes would not look away.
I had an internal dialogue where I played out some potential scenarios. I had decided to talk to him, but I was not sure what I would say. He looked like he was sleeping. Would he attack me if I woke him up? I did not know anything about him or any medical condition he might have. What if he wants to be left alone? My heart started beating faster and faster as I prepared myself for the confrontation. Regardless of any negative outcomes, I just could not take it anymore.
I scarfed down my tacos, threw away my trash, and walked up to him. I sat down at his table and asked, “What size boots do you wear?”
He whispered a reply, “Ten and a half.”
I asked, “What about jeans? What size do you wear?”
He whispered again, “Thirty-eight.”
I asked, “What about the length? Thirty? Thirty-two?”
He said, “Thirty-two is good.”
“Do you need any t-shirts?”
Throughout this exchange, he looked up when I spoke, but never made eye contact. I stood up and said, “Okay, let me see what I can put together. I will be back in twenty minutes.” I looked at him sternly and said, “Do not leave.”
Thankfully, Wal-Mart is in the same shopping center where I was eating. I raced over there, went through the store and found what he needed. I found boots that looked like they could handle the stress of life on the streets. Next I moved to socks. If he needed new boots, I was sure he could use new socks also. Then, I went to look for jeans. I looked at a couple options, found the right size, and threw them in the cart. Though he did not ask for it, I also figured he could use a new belt. He needed a strong one that was good quality, so I found the right size and tossed that in as well. I got to the cash register and also bought a gift card in case he needed food, deodorant, or anything else.
After I bought it all, I went straight to the customer service manager and told her what I was doing. I said, “I am buying all this for a homeless man. I am giving him the receipt in case he needs to exchange any of this for a different size. Though he may not look like he bought it, I want to make sure that you will honor it if he needs to exchange something.” She looked at me and assured me that they would. Satisfied with that answer, I headed back to Taco Cabana.
The man was exactly the way I had left him: hunched over appearing to be sleeping. I probably made a lot of noise with the bags, but I did not care. I was happy that he was getting some new stuff, so I wanted him to wake up a little.
I put the box with the boots down on the table. “New boots, size ten and a half, just like you said. Here is a bag with a new leather belt and new socks. In this bag is two pairs of jeans size thirty-eight by thirty-two.” He looked up, but still never made eye contact. He took the box with the boots and slid it onto the chair next to him. He left the bags on the table.
I continued, “I talked to the customer service manager at Wal-Mart and they assured me that if you need to exchange these items for something of a different size, they will honor the receipt which I am putting in this bag. Also, I figured you might need some other things, so I got you a gift card to Wal-Mart so you can pick up anything else you need.” I slid the gift card towards him. He reached out his hand and slid the gift card under his Taco Cabana receipt.
I asked, “What is your name?” He quietly replied, “William.” I said, “William, my name is Jason. It’s very nice to meet you. I hope this stuff works for you. But if anything does not fit right, take it back and get something that does.” He said, “Okay.” I stood up and ended our conversation with, “Be blessed, William.”
During this second exchange between William and me, a man sat one table over eating his lunch. He was watching and listening to the whole conversation. As I walked away, I hoped in my heart that my act of kindness for William would infect this other man and he would go and do likewise.
William never whispered “thank you” to me. I was okay with that. I had to do this for him. My heart was filled with compassion and I had the money to help. My actions were more in thanksgiving to God than anything
else. I did not do it to get a “thank you” from him or a “God bless you” from any of you. I did it because I saw a need and I could meet it.
I am reminded of the lesson that Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46. In the last half of that passage, he said, “Then he will say to those on his left [the unrighteous ones], ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed new clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
Jesus said in Mark 12:31 that the second greatest commandment out of all the commandments is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Greek word for “love” is the same Greek word used to describe how we should love God: agapao. You might have heard of agape love which is unconditional love. It is love without strings, requirements, or precursors. It is selfless love. It is a love that needs no “thank you” or response. It is a love that only exists because God first demonstrated it to us with His Son’s death on the cross. That act of selfless love enables me to selflessly love others.
For me, it all came back to the boots. For you, something else may catch your eye that causes you to have compassion on someone, on “the least of these.” When you feel that tug to do something selfless, do not run from it. That is God awakening something inside you. Allow yourself to be overwhelmed with kindness and generosity. Also, do not sit there and wait for them to come to you. Some may ask for a hand-out, but many of needy people keep to themselves. When God moves you to act, do not be afraid of what they might say or do. If they reject you, then they are rejecting the God who sent you.
When we look at the scope of homelessness and need in our communities, it is easy to despair. There may be more people needing help than money available to help them. We might think, “What difference does it make in the overall problem?” Well, it made a difference to William. And that is all God asked me to do today.
What needs have you seen around you, whether you feel you can meet them or not?
Have you helped meet any of those needs?
If not, why haven’t you helped? Are you limited by money? Time? Desire?
When reading the above story, did you feel compassion for William?
If it were you with boots held together by rubber bands and filthy clothes, would you want someone to help you?
What are you going to do today to change how you act and react in situations like the one I described above?
“Boots” is taken from the forth-coming book by Pastor Jason Frazier, “Fill in the Blank, Vol. 2 – Inspirational Truths in a Busy World.” Vol. 1 of that series is available on Amazon.com by searching “Jason M Frazier”