Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Unexpected Blessing

Late last October, I was enjoying my day off. Early in the evening, I was getting hungry, so walked down the street to Baja Fresh to get a burrito for dinner. I got my burrito to go and walked home. As I stopped at the mailbox to check my mail, I man came up to me and asked if I had anything to eat. I offered him my burrito, but he said he couldn’t take my dinner. We started talking and he laid out a tale of woe about having just lost his job, having no money, and having to face the prospect of going home to tell his wife that he was unemployed. Somehow, his story did not sound quite right. He smelled of alcohol for one thing. And the facts and timelines did not quite coincide. But for some reason, I continued to talk with him anyway. It turned out that Tim and his wife, Barbara, were homeless and staying at the Methodist Church down the street. They needed something to eat and were at the end of their rope. I decided to use some of my discretionary fund to buy him some food (the first use of my discretionary fund, actually). We went to the KFC nearby and I purchased dinner for him to take back for him and Barbara. I also gave him a few dollars for bus fare so he could get to a resource agency to get help. I also gave him my card in case he needed any help in the future.

The next day was Halloween. I had had a long day at work and had just gotten home. All I wanted to do was settle in for the night. After all, Halloween in West Hollywood is absolutely insane, and I wanted no part of it. Within a few minutes of plopping down in my chair to relax, there was a knock at my door. It was Tim, with his wife in tow. Like a fool, I let them in to talk. They had been thrown out of the Methodist Church and had no place to go. They wanted to know if they could spend just one night at my place. I said that was not an option. They said they would be willing to sleep on my balcony. The answer was still no. We talked for quite a while about options. Finally, Tim asked if I could give them money for a motel. By this time I was incredibly tired and just wanted to get rid of them so I could get some sleep. I agreed, but would not directly give them money. I did agree to take them to a motel and pay for it (out of my discretionary fund). We drove to several motels along Sunset Boulevard, but none of them had any vacancies. Finally, Tim said they had stayed at a cheap place a little south of here some time back. So, we drove there. I don’t recall exactly where it was, but I think it was down near Olympic or Pico, around Robertson. I paid the motel manager for one night and left.

That was the last I saw of Tim and Barbara. And I never heard from them. For the first few weeks, anytime my cell phone rang or the office phone rang, I feared it might be them, wanting more money. And every time I went home, I feared that I would find them at my front door. But after nearly six months of not hearing from them, I had pretty much figured they were long gone. I did think of them occasionally when I would happen to walk by the Methodist Church down the street from my apartment, but that was about it. Then, about a week ago, while I was at the Spring Clergy Conference in Long Beach, I went back to my room after the Monday evening reception and found a voice mail message on my cell phone. It was from Tim. He had called to say that he and Barbara were okay, that they have been off the streets ever since I helped them, and that they were very grateful for all I had done for them. He went on about how much they love me and what a blessing I was to them, and apologized for not having called me sooner. He left no return phone number, but said he would try to call me some other time. He also asked that I keep them in my prayers.

I was completely blown away by the voice mail. By now, I had not expected to ever hear from them. When I did happen to think about them, I would generally wonder if they were okay, but would also wondered if I had been conned. But then, to receive that message and to hear that they were off the streets was a real affirmation that I had done the right thing. They felt I had been a blessing to them. But that voice mail message was their blessing to me.


1 comment:

Joyce said...

You never know when Jesus will arrive in your face, in what form, with what kind of alcohol on his breath, and how he will respond when you try to help him. This whole Christian response thing seems to be a big crap shoot sometimes. You use your best judgment, your intuition, and don't go where there is danger to self or others if you can. But maybe sometimes, there is danger even when we try to control it, and we just have to trust we are doing God's work anyway. I don't know, I don't have an answer to responding to the face of Christ in the street.