Friday during the day I had very little planned for the evening. I expected to go to the Havard's to jog with Robert-Michael and make some final arrangements for dog-sitting for them. I also made some last-minute plans to briefly join a group of friend's celebrating Allison's birthday, who I've gotten to know recently through a Lenten faith-sharing group. They intended to continue the celebrations later into the evening watching basketball, but I had a number of missed calls from Charles, so I ducked out halfway through. I'm also not much of a March Madness fan, which I know is blasphemy. :)
Charles is a neighbor of mine with no steady employment who bikes around the neighborhood and near Notre Dame asking people for money and collecting cans and any scrap items he can recycle or pawn. When I first met him, he readily accepted prayers from me and a few friends, and told us how important smiling is as we parted ways. I've never given him money in the numerous times I've seen him since then, but I've offered to try to help in other ways. I decided that anything I can do for him must result in more time spent with him. Money doesn't produce that. He now calls Ricky & I at the oddest hours, looking for rides places, probably because we try not to refuse him those requests. He's used to being charged for car rides. Now he shares openly with me about struggles and successes with odd jobs he gets and with depression and difficulties at home. He appreciates frequent prayers and has been asking for help in remembering how to pray for deliverance.
Friday night, as I waited for him outside of his house in my car, another guy came out and came up to my window and said, "Hey, do you buy necklaces?"
"Umm, nope, why?"
"Well I'm trying to sell this necklace so I can get a ride to Mishawaka."
"Well, I've gotta go do something, but if you want to wait for a half hour, I can give you a ride there myself if you want."
When I did return later, he came back out and got in. We started driving toward Mishawaka, and about every other sentence he said was a request for a couple dollars, or ten dollars. About halfway there, he finally responded to my offer of food from my house, so we turned around and dug around in our refrigerator. I didn't mention anything about not eating meat today. He took a couple of sausage sandwiches, some gatorade, and two bags of popped microwave popcorn, which he said is his favorite. Robert said that he is 50 years old, while I'd have guessed 40, even in light of him asking me for a cigarette (the frequent use of which often make people look older). He kept asking me for money so he could get a bus ticket to go back to Fort Wayne. Eventually my responses changed from "sorry" to "no". The place I was taking him to is a house that he is being paid to gut, but at a much lower rate because he also sleeps there. No beds, no heat. He told me he believes in God, believes the devil exists, and when I asked him about believing in Jesus, he responded somewhat credulously, "Well, yeah! How do you think we all got here?"
I told him to continue working on the house until he had enough money to buy his bus ticket back to Fort Wayne. When he told me's depressed, I told him God doesn't want him to feel that way. When he told me he felt like yelling, I said, "Go ahead!" with a smile. He paused for a moment, and then yelled, right there in the car, with a half-laugh at the end. Seems that "I could just yell" is an experience of pent up tension that you can't release. He invited me in to see the house when we got there, still occasionally asking for money. When I asked if I could pray with him, he quickly said yes and held out his hands. It took me a second to comprehend that, but then I held his hands and began praying, thanksgiving for who Robert is, and asking God to give him strength and courage. Through the course of the prayer, Robert's demeanor changed. His shoulders straightened, and he stood taller. He took deeper breaths. When we finished and I began to leave, he did continue to ask for money. But he did not linger on the questions, and his tone was more one of friendship than it had been earlier.
God, bless Robert right now! I'm not sure what will come of his situation, but I am thankful for the numerous opportunities I've been getting to do something more than deny requests for money. And God bless Charles, and his mom who he lives with.
I think we need to be more flexible. I think we need to allow our schedules to bend and shift and fill with the needs of the people around us, even if we don't know them or haven't committed our lives to them directly. Easy for me to say as a bachelor, but I daresay there are ways to do this at every stage in life. It just takes willingness and the Holy Spirit.