A while back, I got an unexpected long distance phone call. I was surprised to hear the voice of my homeless friend Shirlene on the other end. After exchanging delighted greetings, Shirlene told me that she and Sam, another homeless friend, finally made it to the beach. They’d saved every penny for a month to buy one-way Greyhound tickets to Tampa.
Some friends and I met Sam and Shirlene one humid Sunday afternoon at our downtown riverfront park. We packed brown bag lunches and a cooler full of popsicles and set out to fellowship with the homeless.
Nervously, the four of us approached a group of people lounging on tattered blankets underneath a grove of shade trees. They humbly accepted our offer of food and water, and we began to make conversation. Several hours later, we stood up to leave and promised we’d return the next Sunday.
Week after week, we met with Sam and Shirlene. Most of the time, it was in the same place we met them during our first visit. Other times, it was at “their” pile of gravel underneath a bridge in a deteriorated part of town.
During the next few months, I learned so much about these two people. Sam and Shirlene were displaced from Texas in Hurricane Rita and both had left jobs at home. Shirlene had a granddaughter and proudly showed off a crinkled portrait of the little girl she kept in a Ziploc bag. She also loved chocolate. And Sam? He loved fishing and reading. And he had his own library card. The two had dreams to make it to the beach and live the rest of their days on a big boat on the water.
Sam and Shirlene eventually saved enough money to spend the winter in a shanty motel on the outskirts of town. My friends and I were just as thrilled as Sam and Shirlene when they finally had a roof over their heads. We helped set up their new home with an electric grill, glass plates, cups, silverware, and a pantry full of food. I beamed with pride when Shirlene introduced the four of us to another motel resident as “some of her best friends.”
Around Thanksgiving, Sam slipped back into an old addiction and he and Shirlene returned to the streets. When I found out, I was disappointed and angry. How dare they take advantage of our generosity? Why couldn’t they just get their act together? Didn’t they want to make something of themselves?
But I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit wash over me. Sam and Shirlene are no different than me. They like the same food that I do, the same creature comforts, and even the same television shows. They have personalities and opinions and they were uniquely created. And Sam and Shirlene struggle with sin … just like me.
While Sam and Shirlene wear their brokenness on the outside for all the world to disapprove of, my secret sins are hidden from prying eyes and judgment. My cushy digs, my important career, my material wealth, my social connections—they all hide well my mess. Sin doesn’t discriminate. And hallelujah that Christ’s saving grace doesn’t either.
Back on the phone with Shirlene, she excitedly told me that a nice couple had invited them to go to church. Sam made fast friends with a kind man who was teaching him to use his construction skills for mission work. Things were looking up. Shirlene joked that they didn’t have that yacht yet, but she still had hope. And I have hope too. Hope not only that Sam and Shirlene will prosper, but hope that God is transforming this sinner into one with whom He is pleased.
Originally printed in CS.