My brain screamed COVID! when I saw him slumped in a puddle of urine with dried vomit on his beard. I ushered my kids in a wide circle around him and into the hair salon hoping he wouldn’t awaken and glance in our direction. Inside, our stylist Chantelle told us due to the virus, my niece, Peyton and daughter would have to remain in the car. Hmm… I thought, when your establishment cleans up its sidewalks, I’ll let my girls sit alone in the car, but of course I didn’t say that. I explained a homeless guy slept in front of my car and I wasn’t comfortable with my girls sitting out there alone. She relented.
Upon exiting, the man looked up at us, but I avoided glancing in his direction. I kept thinking six feet, six feet. Mask on properly. I pulled little Bella’s up a bit more. Strapped her in her booster seat and spun tires…leaving that skinny matchstick of a man with the red, blistered face to wallow in his pool of urine and vomit. I thought as I drove away, pre-Coronavirus, I might have asked him if he was hungry, but I let fear of a contagion steer me away. I’d forgotten to show mercy despite Covid. Furthermore, I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone treated him now, the way I just did.
But then there’s the book of James…
Pretty ugly stuff and I’m not describing the man. I didn’t recognize my ugliness until I read the writings of James (half-brother of Jesus) in my quiet time the following mornings.
Finding the phrase “dead faith” plastered there, I saw my judgement, haughty spirit, and lack of compassion. The Father gave me the opportunity to show a man some kindness and I blew it. I failed His test and right in front of my kids who learn about faith through their father and me. I allowed fear and pride to muzzle my Father within me. How dare I?
Fear and Pride: Stumbling Blocks of Mercy
We see a lot of fear today. Fear of disease, the mob, the cops, worshiping in church, the dark city streets. It lurks around every corner waiting to sabotage our mission. It is believed that fear appears 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year. The Father knew if the enemy couldn’t trip us up with anything else, he would get us fearing something.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t be cautious and wise, but in my case, wearing a mask and standing six feet from that man, I could’ve asked him if he was hungry. My eyes could have looked into those of someone who feels invisible to women like me. I could’ve asked him his name and made him feel like he mattered. Sometimes, we justify not assisting a homeless person out of fear we will enable them, and we dismiss them as just a useless drug addict; but to Jesus everyone mattered. He showed mercy to the broken. Besides, that’s pride.
Pride pops up with every raised chin, haughty glance, and in every comment meant to shame a person on social media. We feel pride in our liberalism and in our conservatism, and if you’re not on the right side watch out. Humanistic movements and ideologies instill pride in their followers, but the Bible clearly states pride is a sin.
“Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured he will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 16:5 English Standard Version.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 ESV.
In the book of James he speaks of the sin of partiality. We are to treat the person wearing Chanel the same as the one wearing dirty rags. (James 2) Furthermore, James writes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” I believe that means those that are homeless too. That is faith in action. Faith that is alive and powerful. Faith that shows mercy.
And a Homeless Man Named Mumbles:
In my twenties, I transferred to work at a Pier One Imports in the south Tampa area. Several homeless men slept in the alleyway behind our store at that time. One of them went by the nickname, “Mumbles.” He’d earned the name because he had a tendency to jumble his sentences and only spoke clearly when intoxicated. One morning, he approached me as I unlocked the door and claimed he was going to bless the property.
I smiled. “How are you going to do that?” I said. “Because it could use some blessing.”
“Little miss, I’m going to praise God and pray that He blesses you with lots of business today. I’ll get to it now.”
I watched out the window, while filling the tills. He stood blocking our driveway and raised his hands to the sky, shouting praise and prayers so loud it shook the front windows. I laughed.
By opening time, he was still at it, while cars lined the street trying to get into the parking lot. I ran out to him. “Hey Mumbles, thanks and look it worked, but we need to let my customers in.”
He nodded. “Thank you Jesus!” before moving on.
Another morning, I was a bit early so when he approached with his smooth intoxicated “Good mornin!” Being curious, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and turned to him.
“Mumbles, how’d you end up on the streets anyway?” I said.
He smiled and rubbed his dark face. “Well, that’s not an easy story to tell. I had a wife and kids, a great job.” He shook his head. “High stress job in trading. One day I don’t know what happened, but they called it a nervous breakdown. I was admitted to the psych ward for anxiety… until my insurance ran out.
That day the hospital opened their doors and asked me to leave.” He shrugged. “I didn’t even have money for a taxi. I went home and found my wife and kids gone. The house about empty… a For Sale sign in the yard. She divorced me. Haven’t seen my kids since. Lost everything. Joined up with these guys on the street and they became my family. Alcohol’s the only thing these days keeping this functioning.” He pointed to his head. “I don’t have money for the medication. So, I make do.”
“Don’t you want to see your kids?” I said.
His eyes filled with tears. He smiled them back. “Not like this.”
I patted his arm and turned to unlock the door.
God reminded me of that conversation over the pages of James, and I hope Mumble’s story sticks with you too. I know he’d like that. With all that’s going on in our country there may be many more like the man outside the hair salon and many more Mumbleses (yes, this is grammatically correct). Who’s going to see to their needs if we don’t overcome our fear or squelch our pride? While we’re preparing our own heart, home, and harvest we must also prepare to extend mercy to those in need.
I came across an interesting hashtag today… #addictdiary. Through pictures, it tells stories of hope and transformation, and maybe somebody out there needs that now.
Until next time…
‘“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit? you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”’ Jesus Christ; Matthew 25:35-40 (New International Version)