On part of my walk to the local strip mall I go beneath an on-ramp underpass rather than cross the busy highway above it. Somebody lives there – possibly a few people. Always looking carefully, I’ve never seen anyone. Still, each time I approach I pray; for safety, strength, wisdom but mostly for insight.
I step cautiously along that rocky, eerie path littered with bedding, clothes and rubbish; mostly empty alcoholic beverage bottles, cans and fast food refuse. I once crossed to the other side but it is dangerously narrow along the blind curve. So – no.
Most of my life I’ve carried a small Swiss Army knife, complete with handy tools – way before anyone heard of L.J. Gibbs or NCIS. I taught my sons to practice the same – and keep a handkerchief (especially at weddings and funerals) in case a lady needs one. Days after describing my mostly lovely walks to Quinn, I was giddy to find a package at my door with a note insisting I carry the content on my walks.
My son didn’t send a tool – it’s a conspicuous, lightweight, gruesome-looking weapon, with a lever to quickly release the serrated blade. I grew up with overprotective brothers and I’ve been through police training. Even knowing first-hand the desperation of some street people, I felt uncomfortable about the ominous looking thing – not about carrying it, but having to pull it in self-defense.
A few days later as I approached the underpass I again asked God for help. I typically palm my little knife as I approach. As I reached for the new bulge on my belt I clearly heard from somewhere deep inside,
“…Those who use the sword will die by the sword.*.”
Slightly confused, I kept walking, but thought about the scenario Jesus addressed in that passage. He reminded his apostles His Father was in control and the coming events would actually fulfill prophesies in the coming hours.
My walks are hardly prophetic, but I understood the meaning. Shoulders squared, back straight, my empty hands casually at my sides, I began whistling, announcing my presence to whoever might have been hiding in the shadows. The smells were oppressive, the noise from traffic overhead deafening, so I was glad to return to the sunlight uneventfully.
Delighted to find some of my favorite produce and nuts on sale at my favorite store, I filled my canvas bag. But I kept thinking about the people sleeping on the rocks of the underpass. By the time I finished my shopping heat already rose in waves as I set across the asphalt lot toward home.
Gazing up the path before me I ran the rules I’d learned over the years through my mind; maintain a safe distance, know where the shelters, soup kitchens and food pantries are in my area and never give strangers, panhandlers money – “it ultimately prolongs their problems.”
But I also remember being homeless. Stuck by circumstances, I couldn’t buy or abuse substances. Still, I doubt I’ll ever forget being sick with worry about my kids, the judgmental looks of people as I sought employment, the desperation, the longing for someone to give a care, or that I still could be one paycheck away from homelessness again.
Feeling the weight of the bag on my back, perspiration beginning to form, I stopped beneath a shade tree in the middle of the parking lot. I put apples, carrots and some nuts into a separate produce bag and knotted it so it was airtight. Gazing ahead, once more I asked God to go before me and then started walking.
Approaching the underpass, I called out (in the most rugged voice I could muster), “I’m just passing through. I don’t want anything and mean no harm.” As I stepped around the dirty bedding I set the bag of fresh food on it without stopping. Cars whizzed by yards away, oblivious to my presence as I stepped back into the sunlight.
When I arrived home I was glad Ellie was there visiting with Erin. Putting away the groceries, I described the scenario leading up to the first crossing beneath the underpass. Then I asked for feedback. Ellie thought for a while and then said, “This may sound cliche, but I would ask what Jesus would do.”
She confirmed what I felt. Peace returned and I went on about my work.
The state of our society continues to disturb me, but my primary purpose is to pray, pay attention and obey the Master.
I’m not ludicrous. I asked God about a stun gun. No answer yet. So, I carry the knife – in my bag where I must think before pulling it. And I found another route to the strip mall. But once in a while I tie up a separate bag of fresh food, take the short-cut beneath the underpass. As I walk along the highway side I place the bag on the wall and announce, “I’m just walking here. I don’t want anything and mean no harm…”
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” Matthew 25:40 (NLT)
*Matthew 26:52 (NLT)