I was in the States last week. It was my first time in Michigan in over a year. It was amazing. Just a stand-up trip. I got to see everyone I wanted to see and do everything I wanted to do and eat everything I wanted to eat. My parents are so nice and so generous and my friends are great.
On my last full day in Michigan I went to visit my friend Lauracindy who just bought her very own house (you go, girl!). On my way to her very own house I passed by quite a few men experiencing homelessness. They were sitting on their respective corners with cardboard signs I tried not to read.
Sidebar: why is the homeless population so predominately male? (I’m legitimately asking.)
When it comes to people asking for money I always try to let the Spirit lead. Shane Claiborne once said that when he gets to heaven he highly doubts God is going to say, “You gave too much money away.” It’s not my job to decide what someone does with the money I’m giving them, it is my job to be obedient and selfless with my money. So I let the Spirit lead and I give when my gut tells me to.
I had passed a couple men sitting on the corner when I stopped at a red light next to a guy with dreadlocks and a dog. For some reason the dog got me. The dog touched my Spirit. Not just because I’m a dog person and at that point I hadn’t seen my own precious dogs in over a week, but because the dog looked well fed and was on one of those retractable leashes. I looked at that dog and I thought about all that I had learned about those experiencing homelessness (most of which was learned during my time with YouthWorks in Indianapolis in 2013). That dog made me want to know this man’s story. I wanted to sit next to him on the corner and hear about his life.
The dog looked well fed and was on one of those retractable leashes, which made me think that maybe not so long ago this guy wasn’t homeless. Maybe not so long ago he had enough money to buy dog food regularly and even a nice retractable leash. Maybe he was working really hard to make ends meet. Maybe he went to school and got an education and was respectful and kind and responsible. But then something happened. Like an accident or a harmful relationship or an addiction or a fire. And everything crumbled. Because it can happen that fast, can’t it? In a world of student debt and medical debt and minimum wage and so many people just making ends meet and loan sharks and cancer and heroin… one event can destroy a life.
So I gave him $5 and he said, “God bless you,” and I said, “I’m sorry it’s not more. I hope this helps.” And I really do hope it helped. But I’m not a fool and I know that $5 is not going to change his life. And I wanted to give him something that could change his life but all I had was $5.
I drove by Lauracindy’s street and had to turn around because I was too busy crying to pay attention to where I was going. I’ve been less financially stable in the past few months than I have ever been and if it weren’t for the generosity of my parents I don’t know what I would’ve done. The truth is I am responsible (for the most part) and educated and employed and I still don’t have enough money every month to pay my bills. The truth is, life is rough, and there’s absolutely nothing about me that makes me better than that man with the dreadlocks and the dog.
Last year I read a memoir called Mennonite in the Little Black Dress. At the end of the book I had one question for the author – “why did you write this?” I didn’t get the point. I didn’t grasp what she was getting at, what she wanted me to take away. And I didn’t like not knowing. Sometimes art is for art’s sake. Sometimes we just have to let the words be. Sometimes we have to follow God’s example – create, call it good, rest. But I’m writing this for a reason and the man with the dreadlocks and the dog stirred my spirit for a reason.
I am incredibly lucky. I am fortunate. I am privileged. I’m not blessed more than anybody else because God loves us all the same and His plans for us are different but good (if we let Him be the boss). There is nothing fundamentally different between myself and the man with the dreadlocks and the dog. I don’t deserve my house or my family or my friends more than he deserves a house and a family and friends. We are the same, us humans. We are all capable of good and big and great things and we are all one earth-shattering event away from ruin.
The Spirit in me sees the Spirit in you. The Spirit in me loves and respects and admires and calls out to the Spirit in you. Created in His image, right? Beloved beyond measure, right? All of us. Every one of us. And each one of us responsible for what we do with that truth, for what we do with our $5.
I hope that the man with the dreadlocks and the dog is dry tonight. I hope he is safe. I hope he is healthy. I hope he is seeing God in new ways every day. I hope he has somewhere to sleep tonight. I hope that new beginnings are just around the corner and that he has given over his soul to a God who makes things new, who grows things out of dust and ashes. I hope that right now today an earth-shattering event starts to put his life back together. I hope he feels value and love today and every day. And I hope that for all of us. For me and you (and our dogs, too).