He told me his name was Robert. He’d overheard a conversation I’d had at The Nugget and learned I was a pastor, so he followed me next door to the office. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye while working at my desk and, glancing towards the door, saw his weathered face doubly framed by a thick beard and the smudged glass of the entryway. His black embroidered hat hinted at his status as a veteran, and a set of broad shoulders betrayed an active lifestyle -- what I later learned were 36 years of survival on the streets. “Pastor,” he began, dumping his 60lb frame pack on the ground, “Last night I had a dream or a vision or something, and I need you to tell me what to do.” Swallowing hard, I indicated that he should go on with his story. Meanwhile, I decided I’d better sit down.
“I’ve been homeless a long time,” Robert observed. “And everywhere I’ve gone, people have told me that God loved me. I figured out somewhere along the way that these people were all Christians. But I never wanted to hear it, or if I was in a tight spot and did give their words a chance to sink in, I’d always feel this streak of rebellion when I got to the point where I knew I’d have to surrender to God and admit there was something wrong with me. But people just kept telling me the same thing. One day I was in an accident, and I thought I was dying. I grew up going to Catholic school, so I asked for someone to get a priest to administer the last rites. They brought a Baptist preacher instead! That preacher just kept telling me I was “running.” I did not say very nice things to that man. But now… I know he was right.”
“All my life, all I’ve ever wanted was to be happy,” he continued. “Last night God spoke to me and for the first time I feel real happiness. God told me I need to show and tell others that even homeless people can make a difference in the world. That we have worth and value and purpose. I know that for sure now – I read in the Bible that Jesus was a man without a home too. He was homeless! And just look what he did. Look what he did.”
“I want to show you something that was given to me,” Robert said. Pulling out his empty wallet, he withdrew a baseball card sized piece of paper with tattered edges. On it was the amazing picture called Forgiven by Thomas Blackshear -- the one in which Jesus stands, holding the sagging figure of a man who himself is holding a hammer in one hand and a nail in the other. In the picture, blood flows from somewhere near Jesus. As I took the card from Robert he asked, with startling passion, “What do you see in this picture?” Without giving me a chance to respond, he choked up and stuttered, “Because when I look at it now, I see me. That man is me. I know now that I don’t deserve anything good from God, but he gives good things to me anyway. I just wish so bad it hadn’t taken so long for me to get to this place. But what about you… I see me when I look at that picture, but is that normal? What do you see when you look at this picture?” His voice was so sincere, his heart was so obviously out in the open that I was taken aback… I didn’t expect this kind of vulnerability from such a rough looking man. His eyes were still searching my face for a response, but all I could manage to get out was an echo of his own observation; “I see me too Robert; I see me. And I think that’s the point of the picture. You got it. That man is you, that man is me, that man is all of us.”
Robert had to leave then; but before he left I offered to pray for him, which I did. I said ‘Amen,’ started getting to my feet, and realized Robert was still sitting, head bowed. Then he prayed too. It was one of the most beautiful things in my life to hear a man of such hardship pray such a tearful, tender, grateful prayer.
“Lord, I love you so much; more than any man could love. I’m so sorry it took me so long to accept that it was me and my sin that put those nails into you. Thank you for loving me so much, for continuing to put people in my path that shared with me your word, even when I didn’t respond well. Thank you for all those people who told me I had value, that I wasn’t worthless. Please let me live to a ripe old age so that I can continue to share your word with other people. And thank you for The Outpost, and the work that you’re doing through the people here. Amen.”
He left the office with obvious joy – much more than many others who are better off than him. If you need to be reminded this Christmas season that your ‘in’vironment matters more than your environment, remember Robert. And pray for him.
Surrounded By Grace,