Friday, January 02, 2009

New Year’s Eve

I saw him cross the street and could tell that he was heading towards our restaurant. I thought I knew him from our church's Wednesday night dinners for the homeless, but I wasn't certain until he came in. Flannel coat, toboggan, scraggly beard, he was out of place in the posh downtown Thai restaurant, and I'm sure he knew it. At first I thought that he was coming in to panhandle, and I realized that I knew him not only by face but by name. Diane and I got up and went to greet him, and he smiled when he saw me and heard his name. He explained that he wasn't panhandling but rather had a cup of instant noodles and just needed some hot water to make his dinner. I could tell that the hostess also relaxed a bit, as she was not sure what to do with this new guest. I was able to ask her for the hot water, which she went to get, and as she was in the back, my friend began to wipe tears from his eyes, thanking us over and over for coming to speak to him. He continued to weep as she put the water in his noodles, and with a small hug, he was out the door and on his way to a shelter for the night.

I can only imagine what it would be like to need something as simple as hot water to make your dinner, and how humbling and even frightening it would be to risk and go into a restaurant to ask for help. Knowing you would be stared at by patrons, misunderstood by management, and in most instances unwelcome and uncomfortable. I'm so thankful that Diane and I were in that restaurant that night. The Lord didn't need us to offer him money or food, but simply friendship, relationship, and the right to be in the restaurant.

That same night another homeless man I knew by face (but not by name) came into the restaurant. He was asking for money, and he was clearly drunk and not wanting to leave. He wasn't angry at being asked to leave, just sad and confused and looking for anyone to help him. The hostess again didn't know what to do and was getting ready to call the police, so I got up again and walked outside with the man. He said he didn't mean any harm – he just wanted some coffee. As we were talking the manager came out and fussed at him some more and told him not to come back. I could understand where she was coming from, but it wasn't necessary. As we talked more, he said that he wanted coffee from McDonalds, and since there was not a McDonalds within three miles, I understood that he didn't want coffee, he wanted money to go and buy the coffee (or something else). I offered to buy him food at the Jimmy John's across the street, but he just turned and walked off.

Two simple interactions with people that I would not have known had it not been for our involvement with the homeless through Grace. The Lord has us on adventure of relationship with people from all walks of life, rich and poor, broken and put together, and life is richer for it.


organic io said...

Hey Marshall.

I find this experience of yours perplexing. By the looks of your description, " he was out of place in the posh downtown Thai restaurant", it sounds like homeless people don't come to this restaurant very often, if ever. So isn't it an interesting coincidence that two of them did on the same night? Perhaps the first one told the second one about his experience and that he should go there? Do these two guys know each other?

I also think it's interesting -- because the story would be so much more fulfilling if you had actually met the second, less grateful one first... Downtrodden by your (seemingly frustrating )experience (at least it would be to me), you were searching for a sign. In comes the second one, and you have this deep & meaningful experience where you feel your simply being there has made a positive impact on this man's life.

Alas, that's not how real life works.. and things can get pretty gritty. Plus, I am sure you could find positives in an experience that I would just consider frustrating.

I wonder if there's any chance that the restaurant staff will start to flinch every time they see you come in because they now associate you with the homeless people? (only one of which caused problems) Let me know if they do. :)


Marshall said...

Yes, I would say that homeless people would not come to eat at this restaurant. :)
As a Christian, I am not much of a believer in "coincidence" but rather that God is working all the time, sometimes in ways that are understandable/obvious.
I doubt that one guy told the other to come in because they wanted such different things.

Sometimes I feel like I have a sign on my forehead that says, "Ask me for money," even when I am in other cities, homeless folks tend to "find" me. So I am sure that it was no accident that I was in the restaurant when each of those men came by, but it was less designed by them and more designed by God.

You're right, it would have made for tighter copy if the stories had been reversed sequentially. The second experience was not negative to me at all - it's not a surprise or a downer when someone says they want one thing but really want another. It's sort of par for the course when you are downtown (though not every person who asks for money is lying about why they want it). I was glad that I was able to help him avoid jail and to possibly show the staff how to help folks who come in there in the future.

Thanks for reading. And I still owe you a reply email :)