Monthly Archives: November 2020

In my driveway, at my door

One of the greatest blessings for me during this pandemic was the reopening of the churches. While I agreed with the need to close early on, given how little was known about the coronavirus, the inability to find sanctuary in my spiritual home left a huge void.

I remember having discussions about “sacred places” with a friend years ago. Certainly these are not all church buildings but some of them are. They are sacred because of the holy Sacrifice offered there but also because of the people who have gathered there to pray, to hug, to laugh and talk – to share values and meals and raise funds for the poor.

Much of the time I do not mind being alone so I have fared better than many during these times of social distancing. Yet having my sacred place closed to me was about more than being alone. It was as though someone bolted the door to my heart’s home and said, “You cannot live here anymore”.

Hence, the return to my home has been a joy – even if we are all wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart, neither touching nor talking to one another with the casual intimacy we once shared. It remains a sacred place because we are in it together – we bear the hardships and inconveniences of the pandemic as a community, not as individuals.

In any event, I was backing out of my driveway today, on my way to celebrate the Eucharist at this holy place, when I saw a pedestrian approaching on the sidewalk. I have learned that I must be watchful when backing out as there is a lot of foot traffic in front of my house.

As the man approached, I saw him peer in my car window from behind his mask. There was a pleading look in his eyes and he made a motion, rubbing his belly. Being less late for church than usual, I pulled up my mask and lowered my window.

His name was José and he was hungry.

Without me asking, he told me that he doesn’t use drugs. He explained that he came to be in this position because the house where he and his wife lived got closed down. They are now living in a tent. I didn’t ask just what happened to his home but felt a deep pang of sorrow for this couple. They had lost their home and, unlike my loss of spiritual home, it wasn’t temporary.

They had joined the ranks of the homeless.

José voiced a hearty “God bless you” when I gave him something. I told him I was on my way to church and would pray for him. It was the only way I knew to help him feel that he is not alone, that he is part of our community. He thanked me.

If you have been reading my recent posts, you will understand when I say that it seems that I have been given a mission. The money or meal that I provide is truly a drop in a bucket so huge that it might seem hopeless that there will ever have enough to fill it.

But the mission is not about the money, as important as that is. It is about the encounter – the encounter that says I care about who you are and the troubles you are having.

In a small but vital way it communicates that, indeed, I am in this with you. I cannot see you homeless and hungry and be indifferent to who you are or what suffering has led you to beg from total strangers.

I cannot imagine how hard it must be to approach another and admit that you have nowhere to go and no food to eat.


On different note, some of you may remember a post of mine from more than 5 years ago, “Letter to a lost soul” ( This post has had more views than any other I have written and it continues to have a steady readership.

For those who aren’t familiar, I wrote this missive to the anonymous person who had burglarized my house in what turned out to be the first of three consecutive break-ins within a four week span.

Though I did not write of it, it eventually became fairly obvious who had perpetrated the crimes. Months before, I had given work to a young man who, freshly out of prison, came to my door seeking odd jobs. I knew it was a risk but he seemed earnest and I knew that someone had to give him a chance if he was to meet his goal of staying out of trouble.

He was an excellent worker, completing jobs quickly and thoroughly. We sometimes talked about his life and I continued to find more tasks that he could help me with. We had what seemed to be an amiable relationship but, before long, red flags began to pop up.

It soon became obvious that he needed too much money. I suspected drugs but he denied it. I offered him referrals for employment or substance abuse assistance and he did not accept them. He continued to do good work but a tension built as he kept needing more and more.

When the first break-in occurred, he was ready to rush over and help me clean up but, strangely, did not want to make an appearance until the police had left. When I found another task he could do, he would call me and ask me if I was home so he could come over and do it. I learned to be vague about where I was and when.

I never felt threatened by him but it was clear that something had to change. I simply did not have that much work to give him and his need to earn money was getting increasingly desperate.

Then one evening I got a tearful phone call from his girlfriend, informing me that he was in jail. He was facing three felony charges, none of them related to me. He had eventually told me that his girlfriend was the one with the drug problem. I wanted to believe him but I suspected it was both of them.

After crying for a bit, she asked me for money, even though we had never met. (You will be pleased to know that I am capable of saying “no”.)

It took me some time but eventually I decided to talk to the police, to let them know of my dealings with him. I was still concerned about him but did not want to remain silent about the possibility that he was responsible for the break-ins. A few things seemed too coincidental.

I learned that they had hard evidence in the charges against him and that he had, indeed, been addicted to heroin. The police did a heroic job in retrieving one of the items that had been taken from my house. Its whereabouts pointed to him but there was no proof. For his three other cases, he was sentenced to five years in prison.

Since then, I have prayed for him – every day. I wondered if I would ever see him again – and wasn’t sure that I wanted to. Would I confront him? Would he admit it? Would any of that matter?

Yesterday, my doorbell rang, accompanied by enthusiastic knocking. I wasn’t expecting anyone – no one has come to my door uninvited since the pandemic took over our lives.

I opened the door – and there he was.

He said he was driving by and, seeing the leaves piled up in my yard, wanted to stop by and see how I was doing. (He offered to rake them for me but accepted it when I said I’d hired someone else.) He asked me if I was okay and told me that he had been released eight months ago.

He told me about his job and showed me a picture of his wife, noting that his old girlfriend had been bad news. He nodded at his truck in my driveway that I had not even noticed. We chatted a bit, my locked storm door between us, and then he went on his way.

I told him I was glad he was doing better. And I am.

My instincts, however, tell me that he is not entirely out of the woods yet so I don’t plan to stop praying anytime soon.

For all his problems and mistakes, he is still beloved of God.

I pray that God never gives up on me, poor sinner that I am. Hence, I must never give up on another who remains afflicted. Our stories may differ – and I will not hire him again – but we are both beset by the same disease.

May God have mercy on us all.

Encounters with my King

I’ve been thinking of obtaining my prescriptions through a mail order pharmacy. I would save a fair amount and it would be so much easier and more convenient. Instead of navigating around the torn up streets, donning a mask, and entering a store to wait in line during a pandemic, I could just go to my mailbox. Why not?

The only problem is that the life of the Christian is not meant to be one of ease and convenience. What feels good is not necessary what is good.

I was leaving Walgreen’s with my prescription today when the Lord Jesus stopped me in my tracks. I had imagined for a moment that I was going to make it to my car without encountering a panhandler and I felt a sense of relief. That is, until I saw him out of the corner of my eye. He had spoken so softly that I wasn’t sure he had actually addressed me. It would have been easy to keep walking as though I hadn’t heard him. However, in my heart, I knew I had.

He was a tall, thin young man with a beard, carrying a satchel over his shoulder. His clothes appeared nicer, cleaner, than many of those on the street. Hesitantly, he asked me if I could spare some change.

I asked him what he needed and how he came to be in this position and out spilled his story. He had been living a small city one county over, taking care of his mother. She recently went into a nursing home, tying up the assets that had supported them both. He had held jobs previously but left them to take care of her.

Now, he had nowhere to go, no money to live on. He had packed up what things he could carry and found his way to 2100, Cleveland’s largest homeless shelter for men. After his things were stolen, he took his leave to try to make it on the streets. He had panhandled enough to stay in a cheap hotel one night.

The weather had been mild for the last couple of days but, last night, the temperature had dropped down into the forties and never came back up. He hadn’t slept in 48 hours and had hung around the county hospital as long as he could. Then he rode the bus all night, trying to doze off a little and keep warm.

His name was Brad and he shook my gloved hand.

He explained that he had applied for food stamps and was awaiting their arrival, knowing that he would probably have to sell them for cash. He denied any addictions or problems with the law. He simply had nowhere to go.

After I gave him some help and drove away, I felt like crying. He was so immensely grateful but, in the end, it felt like there was so little I could do for him while standing in a chilly parking lot on a Saturday afternoon.

He wasn’t just glad for the money I gave him. He was relieved to be able to afford a small break from being sworn at and insulted as he asked for help. I don’t know how anyone could have looked at Brad and been so cruel but our world has become a harsh and dangerous place. But wouldn’t I have been cruel too if I had just kept on walking?

Brad doesn’t know it but he gave me something in return this afternoon.

As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King this weekend, he reminded me that each and every person who stands outside of Walgreen’s and begs is a person with a story. Each of them has desperate need, not just for food or shelter or medicine, but for compassion, for some restoration of dignity lost.

I might as well have been walking by the crucified Christ when the evil one whispered in my ear: “Walk by. Pretend you didn’t hear him.” Did He not warn me what He will say when He appears in His glory? How could I even consider walking past one of “these least ones”? Could I walk by my Lord as He hung from the Cross?

Do I imagine that I can speak of caring for the poor and then can justify myself with excuses as to why I did not stop when they called on me – explaining to my King “but it wasn’t safe, he wasn’t wearing a mask”, “he was probably going to spend it on drugs”, “he needs to get a job and have a better plan than this”?

It is frighteningly easy to be drawn into what is easy. A couple of phone calls or clicks on my computer and I can avoid going to Walgreen’s altogether. I can escape that tension within that makes me want to hide from my crucified Savior. I can stay warm and safe and secure in my privilege and not have to see His wounds. I can convince myself that I already do enough.

No – no mail order pharmacy for me, at least not now. Winter approaches, the shelters will soon be overflowing, and COVID-19 rages on. I will look for these “least ones” now when I go to Walgreen’s. I will keep some cash handy and some extra face masks to give away to help protect them. But most of all, I will listen and let them know they matter. It isn’t much but it’s more than nothing.

May God have mercy on my wretched soul…