I’m too far from town to walk to shopping now, but panhandlers occupying busy corners all over town remind me of a few summers back and
Sword from July 24, 2016
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. I always look carefully, but never saw 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.
For 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. Days after describing one of my mostly lovely walks to son Quinn, I found a package at my door – a note insisted 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 with my training I felt uncomfortable about the ominous looking thing – not about carrying it, but having to use it in self-defense.
A few days later as I approached the underpass I realized I typically palm my little knife inside my pocket as I approach. Feeling the new bulge on my belt I distinctly heard from somewhere deep inside,
“…Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.*.”
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, I filled my canvas bag. But I kept thinking about the people sleeping on the rocks of the underpass.
By the time I finished shopping and set across the asphalt lot toward home heat already rose in waves.
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 didn’t trade 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. More so, there was the reality that I too could be a 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. As I put the groceries away 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 entirely ludicrous. I asked God about a stun gun. No answer yet. So, I carry the knife. 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 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 (NKJV)