When my daughter and I approached our usual Starbucks this morning, a young man was standing outside. I was sweating and hot because I felt ill today, so I was outside in 43 degree temperatures in nothing but a t-shirt. He commented that he liked my Nirvana shirt. I said thanks and kept going.
On the way back out I noticed that he was seated on the pavement. He wasn't going to say anything to me. But I felt the nudge that I always follow and so I asked him if he was okay. His eyes were foggy, exhausted, and he appeared worn. I expected him to ask me for food. Instead he told me that he had been wandering the streets of Issaquah for 4 days trying to stay warm because he doesn't have a sleeping bag and it's freezing at night. He said there's a sleeping bag that he wants to buy a Target and he only needs about 20 more dollars to be able to make that purchase.
I almost never give out money.... I've heard a version of this story too many times to count. And is the story ever real?
But then I checked in with myself, and I looked into his eyes, and I could tell that he was suffering. The reason behind his suffering became irrelevant. This was a young man, on the border of childhood, that needed relief. I had no way of discerning what that relief was, but he knew what he needed. And it was clear to me that I was placed there in that moment to meet the need. And so I followed the nudge.
I never carry cash, but today in my wallet I happened to have a $20 bill that I didn't even know was there. I gave it to him.
Then I let him know that if he's going through withdrawals, I understand....No judgment here. It felt important to me to honor the fact that this might be used for drugs and I didn't care. Drawing upon my recent experience coming off of acute pain medications, I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy outside in the cold. I'm not an addict, but the physical discomfort is real. No one should judge another human going through withdrawals, only compassion should prevail.
He said this wasn't withdrawal, and I told him I believed him. Then I introduced myself and learned his name was Corbin. We shook hands and parted ways. And I made sure that he knew that today he was seen and cared for without judgment. After all, that's all that any of us really want!
I was challenged recently in reading about The Franciscan Saint Clare... she said that the cross is a mirror. Can we look into the face of suffering and not simply walk on by?
Some might say that this was about me helping Corbin... but I believe that these are the small ways that God shows up in my life. I don't take the patronizing view that I am helping him;'I take the grateful view that today Corbin reminded me a little bit more of who I am and why I have endured my own suffering.
Thank you God.
If you think about it, Starbucks has established itself as a gathering place for people of all kinds and all walks of life, and that goes for people to live outside as well. I've had more sincere experiences of ministry while sitting in the Starbucks then I've ever experienced an actual church.