Soup, Bibles, & Blankets

(originally published December 2006)

For a brief time in my life, I had the incredible privilege of living in the small custodial apartment of a downtown Las Vegas church. I worked full-time as a teacher and part-time as the church janitor. I was blessed with two jobs, many friends, and a cozy, safe apartment. Many of my downtown neighbors were jobless, homeless, and slept in the alley behind the dumpsters.

Because I had so much, and my neighbors had so little, I kept a crockpot full of thick stew or chili cooking all the time. Every evening I would take the pot, disposable bowls, chunks of French bread, and small bottles of juice out onto my porch so my neighbors could have a warm meal.

The pastor and I used to have words over my charity. He said there were soup kitchens set up to feed the homeless, and I was putting myself at unnecessary risk. I understood his concern, but I could not sit warm, safe, secure, and well-fed, doing nothing to help those right outside my door who weren’t.

One rainy winter evening after feeding my “regulars,” I was climbing the stairs to my apartment when I heard teeth chattering. I stopped on the staircase and searched the alley with my eyes. There was a man wedged into the tiny service alcove where the power and water meters were for the building next door. The hollow was dry, but the man had no jacket or blanket, and he had curled into a ball to fight the cold. I went upstairs to get him food.

Bowl, stew, spoon, bread, juice … I couldn’t walk out of my apartment.

He needs a blanket. I heard the words loud and clear inside my head. I knew that voice but didn’t want to listen to it. I went to the door.

He needs a blanket.

I answered, “Listen, you know I’ve given all my blankets away except the ones on my bed.”

Give him the comforter.

“No. That’s mine. It is special. It is expensive. Someday I will have a bed it fits again.”

Give him the comforter.

No matter what argument I used, the voice remained insistent. I got the comforter – and while I was in the closet I saw a big candle I’d been given ages ago and had never used. I grabbed it, too, and rolled it in the comforter, along with a pack of matches. Once again I was ready to open the door.

Give him a Bible.

“No! No! No! I don’t have any more of the giveaway Bibles, all I have left are my own. No!”

I opened the door and stepped out onto the landing, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk down the stairs.

Give him a Bible.

“They’re mine! I know I have a lot of them, but they are all different translations or have different features and I need them!”

Give him a Bible.

By this time I was ticked. My favorite blanket and now one of my treasured Bibles — all for a guy I had never seen before in my life, would likely never see again and who probably didn’t even want the dang stuff cluttering up his life in the first place – but I obeyed.

When I got to the cubby in the alley the only thing I said to the man was, “Here!” Then I shoved the bundles at him and dashed away. I wasn’t about to stay and be pleasant when he was taking stuff I didn’t want to part with.

The next morning my first thought was for my blanket and my Bible. I went into the alley. The man and my possessions were gone. In a way, I left better. I’d more than half expected everything to be floating in a puddle.

Months passed. The church sold. I moved away, and I never gave the man another thought. Then one day as I was driving by the old neighborhood I swung into the grocery store where I’d always shopped. I’d barely walked through the door when one of the employees stopped me. “Hey,” he said. “Aren’t you the lady that lived in the church they tore down?”

“Yes,” I answered. He didn’t look at all familiar.

Then he said, “One night you brought me food, a candle, a comforter, and a Bible. That was probably the worst night of my life. I had never been so cold.”

I looked at him. He couldn’t have been more than thirty. He was clean, dressed in tan jeans and the store smock. His tennis shoes were new. He didn’t look like an alley bum.

He said, “I wrapped up in the blanket, put the candle on the water meter, lit it, then I started to read the Bible. I read Psalm 23 first — a lot of times. Then I went to the new testament and I read about Jesus. When the sun came up in the morning I climbed out of that hole and took myself to the rehab mission. I have been clean and sober now for six months. I have a job and my own apartment. I still have your Bible and your blanket if you want them back.”

My throat was so thick with tears I could barely speak, but I managed to say, “No. That’s okay. Please keep them.”

Then he thanked me and said no one had ever been that kind to him before.

Kind. Right.

——

God seeks our obedience. If unwilling obedience can reclaim a lost and wasted life, what might heart-felt, loving obedience achieve?

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