I pass him everyday.
He stands on the corner of White Station and Poplar slightly hiding his face but always waving with his half smile as the cars pass by. I want to look into his face but I can’t bring myself to do it. Why? Each day as I pass him, I am embarrassed to say I switch lanes sometimes if the light is red and he is there. I can tell his head has a deformity but I don’t stare or look long enough to tell the depth of it. Heck- I don’t even wave back at him. What is wrong with me? What kind of “Christian” am I? I can serve in the worst slums of Kenya with kids who have seen more abuse than I can wrap my head around, but I can’t even make eye contact with this boy standing uncomfortably on the corner of Poplar with his backpack and can goods set out in front of it with his worn out cardboard sign. Imagine the humility it takes for him to even stand there AND wave.
Last week- I passed him with my usual speediness to get to work and ya know "serve God" and I was overcome with my hypocrisy. I pulled up to the door of The Rev and thought to myself— how shameful. I judgingly had thought, "He’s probably on drugs," "He is probably not even that poor," "He will probably try to hurt me if I stop because I'm sure he is mentally unstable," "Actually I am probably doing him a favor by not looking at him or acknowledging him." "What difference would it make anyway?" I distract myself when I see him to keep from having to look at him as I stereotype him into a group of people instead of as a person.
What selfish world am I living in? The truth is I was afraid to look him in the face. I was afraid of what he has been through. I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do once I looked him in the eyes. I was afraid of what was required once I knew his pain. I was just simply afraid.
I am reminded of Jesus’s words of what you do for them, you do for me. I am reminded of Jesus facing the chaos of the demon possessed man, Legion, on the shore from his boat and howJesus wasn’t afraid. He got out of the boat and faced it head on. Jesus asked him his name. I began praying for this boy. I prayed for the pain he has endured. I prayed he was protected at night. I prayed I would have courage to learn his name. I prayed for him to be in my life and humble me. I prayed for him… but not by name.
As I passed him again I felt the ping of action… I just passed him...again. What am I going to do about it?
I grabbed Chandler from The Rev and a Jesus Storybook Bible and the meatiest Jimmy John's sandwich they make and we were off to hand him lunch. Note that I said 'hand him lunch' because my original thought was to drive by and hand it out the window wishing him well from the safety of my car. That is the smart thing to do right? We don't want to do anything "reckless" right?
But let me ask the same question I asked myself- Does Jesus want safe? Was he safe when he dined with prostitutes, criminals and lepers? No.
We pulled up to a parking lot and got OUT of the car. We walked right up to him and he instantly looked away. I looked him square in the eye and saw not the face of a boy, but a man, an older man at that. What kind of life has this man seen through those eyes? Pain. That was apparent as I saw up close that his head looked as if it was bashed in with a sledge hammer. The left side of his head was physically caved in even going behind his eye. I ached inside. He was hunched over and waved with his half smile. I asked him, “What is your name?” He straightened up as much as was physically possible and said with pride “I am Carl Renee Brown Jr. and my birthday is October 18th.” I told him, “I have been praying for you and I wanted to know your name so I can pray for you by name.” Tears streamed his face. He said his name to me 2- 3 more times as if he did not want me to forget it or maybe he didn’t want God to forget.
We held hands with Carl on the corner of White Station and Poplar and prayed fiercely over his life as he hunched over and sobbed and sobbed out the depths of his pain even crying out Jesus's name. I was overwhelmed and begged God for forgiveness for my lack of faith and my ignorance.
The point of this story isn't that we prayed with a homeless man it’s that God sees everything- Why don’t we? Why didn’t I? This man aches with physical and emotional pain. He suffers loneliness and I am sure fear for his safety and I saw this and ignored him.
Why do we pass over the hard things? Why did I see him for weeks, probably months, but shamefully made excuses to ignore him. I say things like be courageous and bold and love works, but here I am passing this man who sobbed from the depths of his heart with pain from a simple prayer and someone asking his name.
I wondered what happened to him at night because he clearly had a disability. I thought about our kids in Kenya who we can’t protect at night physically but we can with battle-like prayer coupled with a warrior's faith. We underestimate this power and the mightiness of God when He says, just bring me what you have and He will take our prayers from there. I didn’t trust that my prayer would make a difference in this man’s life… But when I saw how it spread through this man and hit a spot that needed The Lord I was proved wrong. I lacked faith that prayer and just acknowledging him and his pain was enough. I didn’t have to have a life plan laid out for him or find him a job in that minute- he just needed dignity and to be treated as if he existed.
Let us not be comfortable Christians who stay in the safety of our cars to hand a lunch out a window and feel our job is complete. It’s not. Let’s push deeper. LOVE GOD. LOVE PEOPLE. MAKE DISCIPLES.
I recently read a story about Bartimaeus who was a blind beggar and he cried out to Jesus RABBI HELP ME TO SEE… The APOSTLES were the ones to “shoo him” away so as not to deal with him so to speak. But not Jesus. He met him head on and said, “What do you want?”
Who are we in this story? For me- I am the beggar who is now throwing myself in front of Jesus, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Please Lord let me see. Do not let me be a safe Christian who prays nameless prayers for the homeless. Let me see how to really love others even when it tests my comfort zone or makes me look like a lunatic.
Come on Memphis… Come on World.. Let’s WAKE UP and learn people's stories, let’s give people dignity. Let’s give those we fear to acknowledge or that are hard to love a name and pray intentionally for them. Let’s push ourselves and turn our city upside down. Let's make our city a lighthouse, but we can’t do that hiding in our safety zones.
So are you going to be the scared Christian with doors locked and heads down or will you lift your head and ask for a name? Will you step out and truly love boldly? Maybe I am going overboard or taking it to a level that could seem reckless in this circumstances but the bottom line is to Love People and make that an action step no matter what. How could that be overboard in any situation?
As for Carl- he is our buddy now and we will continue to take steps to know where he comes from, how he got there and pray for him by name. Join us in celebrating his birthday today and praying for him because he was born on purpose with purpose.
If you see him on the corner of White Station and Poplar be sure to shout out, “Hey Carl!" and he will joyfully wave with his half smile knowing that he is not alone in the world and that we know his name.
How You Can Help Carl!
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