Sunday, November 11, 2012

My hour on a bench with a homeless man...

I was having a rough day.

I needed to get outside of myself and serve someone. I've learned that works the best sometimes. You know, the whole "lose yourself" thing.

My kids and I made cookies and I thought we could take them around to some people for fun. I thought about who might need a plate of cookies today. I'm sure there are many people, but my mind was blank. Nada.

It was a Sunday. My husband was out of town and my children had oodles of energy (that is a huge understatement). I needed to get out of the house but still no ideas were coming to my brain of whom I could serve.

All I could think of was to go to the park.

"But it's Sunday." I told myself. "You don't usually do things like that on Sunday."
"Go to the park." The little voice inside of me said.

"What the heck." I thought. "Heavenly Father knows how energetic my kids are. He sent them to me. Maybe the park is just what we need."

So off we went.

We went to our "secret park". The one that doesn't usually have very many kids but has fun playground equipment.

Sure enough. No one was there. We were kinda excited to have the whole park to ourselves. I did notice one man on a bench near by but no other kids. I had grabbed a copy of one of my favorite books, "Where the Red Fern Grows", on the way out the door and I was excited to sit in the sun and read.

But the man started talking to me.

He was smiling at the kids and laughing at their silliness. He looked over at me and said, "I sure miss my kids at that age."

I inquired as to the number of children he has and their whereabouts. He proudly told me of his very successful children, a lawyer, a CEO and...something else, I forget. All of them live far away in other states and then he said, "But they don't have much to do with their dad nowadays. I can't blame them one bit."

I moved a little closer to the man and got a better look at him. His skin was weathered. His hair needed washing. His clothes were well taken care of but rumpled. He had a bicycle with a little trailer hooked on the back and a dog, who seemed as loyal as they come.

He was wearing a military green sweatshirt with the initials MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) on the front. I thought maybe he had been a Marine. I pointed out the insignia on his shirt. He laughed. He said, "No, on me that stands for "Misguided Careless Aimless Soul ". I didn't know how to respond to that but I felt something tell me to keep talking to this man and so I put my book down and asked him a couple more questions until he started talking and I just listened.

What followed was an incredible story of a once very successful man who had made a few wrong choices financially just when the economy was taking a nose dive. He had lost his business, his house and his wife in the process. In fact, coincidentally (remember there are no coincidences) exactly one year ago today, he had set out on his homeless journey. I could tell that the significance of that anniversary was weighing on him. He had hoped to be in a completely different situation by now but he is actually in worse circumstances today than a year ago.

He isn't penniless, he assured me. Just almost. He isn't completely down for the count. Just almost. He still has some hopes and plans of what he might be able to do. I sensed his independence and his personal dignity and so I didn't offer him any money or food (not that I had any with me) Where were those cookies I had made?! Why had I left them at home? He probably would have enjoyed some homemade cookies. :(
After about an hour, he started to pack up his bike to head out. It was a chilly day and he needed to find a place to sleep for the night.

As he was getting on his bike I went over to shake his hand. He looked at me and said, "Thanks for listening to me. No one has talked to me like I'm worth anything for longer than I can remember." I told him that I know we all have a story to share and I had wanted to hear his. I thanked him for being willing to share and then I...hesitated.

I wanted to offer him some kind of hope, but he had rejected my questions about religion. He has had some bad experiences with Christians trying to push God onto him, or at least that is his interpretation. I got the feeling that he thinks God pretty much doesn't care for him.

I had already said a couple of little prayers that the Holy Ghost would help me know what to say to this man. So, in these last moments, I wanted to give him something. All I could think of to say was, "Do you mind if I pray for you sometimes?"

To my surprise, his eyes welled with tears. He didn't say "yes", but he didn't say "no" either. He just kind of shook his head up and down and then hopped on his bike. I told him I would. He very quietly said, "Thank you."

And then he was on his way.

The man's name is Thomas.  Will you pray for him too? Will you pray that God will lead him physically and spiritually to a better place? Will you help me pray that Thomas will know when God is guiding him. Will you help me pray that Thomas will someday know God loves him? Can you imagine what could happen for Thomas if everyone who reads this would start praying for Thomas? Miracles! I've never done this before, but will you forward this link to anyone whom you think might be willing to pray for Thomas? Or at least, tell someone else the story? Thomas needs our prayers.

Now, lest you think, this post is about how I listened to a homeless man, let me tell you what impressed me the most about Thomas. He was sincerely interested in me as well. Not in a scary, steal-my-identity kind of way. I felt very safe and also very touched that in this homeless man's sorrow and hardship, he showed genuine interest in my life. I was impressed. He offered a listening ear to me, just as I had listened to him.

I was reminded of this quote by Neal A. Maxwell,
 "Empathy during agony is a portion of divinity." 

Thomas has a portion of divinity within him. Of course he does. He is God's son. No one's financial or socioeconomic status negates the divinity within each of us.

Maybe Thomas needed someone to listen to him today,
 but I needed someone to listen to me as well.

I met the Savior on a park bench today. 

I hope Thomas did too. 

He and I both need Jesus Christ. We all need Jesus Christ. We can find Him in magnificent ways and we can find Him in simple, quiet ways as well.

I feel a comforting feeling that Thomas is on his own path. He may be homeless but he is not worthless or forgotten. I will pray that his path will lead him to the Savior. What is that quote by Tolkien:

"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost."

Thomas is not lost. There is One who knows exactly where he is.

I found out, again, that the Savior knows where I am too. :)

I asked Heavenly Father tonight to help me remember to pray for Thomas for the rest of my life. Do you think that is a realistic request? I think it is. I hope to meet Thomas again someday. Maybe we won't meet again until after this life. Do you think there are park benches in the Spirit World? I'll look for him there.


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