“Do you have sleeping bags?” the homeless man asked in his quiet, a-little-hard-to-understand voice.
He knew I had at least one. I held it in my hands. I stood by my car outside the soup kitchen. I had brought five. Five sleeping bags, and God only knew where they needed to go.
“I do have some sleeping bags. I gave you a sleeping bag last year, didn’t I? What happened to it?”
“Stolen,” the man replied.
|Homeless Man in Mom’s Coat|
With Sleeping Bag and Lara’s Newest Book
I still have difficulty knowing when to give, and when not to. My pastor who lives in heaven now taught me to use wisdom. He taught me there is a difference between the needy and the greedy. Need is endless. If I give to those who don’t need, then I miss the ones who do. I’ve learned the hard way some people re-sell the sleeping bags. Some people come back for more when theirs gets stolen. Some don’t need them. Some so desperately need them, and so much more.
“You can have a sleeping bag,” I told him simply. If only I were simple like he is. Humble. Maybe some people are humble by nature. Others, like me, have to be broken down to become it. Humble. A daily challenge with me, the challenge of repenting of every ounce of pride I find in my heart. Then shedding it. Becoming humble. So sometimes God uses the humble to teach me to be.
“Thank you, thank you,” he replied.
He stood there thanking me over, and over and over for a used military sleeping bag that spent the summer in a warehouse building without air conditioning. Moldy in spots, or at least it looked that way. I apologized the sleeping bag wasn’t perfect.
“I don’t care,” he told me. “It doesn’t matter.”
He only wanted to be warm. The world is so caught up in how stuff looks.
Jesus. And I whine over things like mold and bugs and problems that aren’t problems, troubles that aren’t troubles, challenges that are only challenges because I let them be. Sitting in my little pretty ivory tower forgetting I could have spent eternity in hell without Christ. Tearing my hair out over stuff like mold. So far it is I have to go, it seems, to become simple. To be humble.
He took the sleeping bag from my hands and held it to himself as though he had just won the lottery. Millions of dollars. Someone sponsored the sleeping bag for 10 bucks as a birthday present to me. Because I finally figured out I don’t need anything for my birthday. All the needs I thought I had, all the desires I so desperately wanted satisfied, what do I really need? Jesus. And a heart like His. Humble.
“Thank you, thank you,” the man said. He still couldn’t stop thanking me. As though I had anything to do with the sleeping bag. I, who was headed for hell. I, with the life so broken and a heart so hardened for so many years that I couldn’t see past myself, knew better than to take credit for anything good at all. Learning to be humble.
“What about your jacket?” I said. “Last year you had a jacket.”
I remembered the jacket somewhat from last year when I first met the man. Thin. A thin jacket for a thin man. Only he seemed so much thinner this year. A humble jacket, if jackets can be humble. But at least it was a jacket. A jacket he no longer had, not even on this cold day.
I ran out last year of jackets and coats to give out. Wondering how so many of us can walk through our lives with our overstuffed closets, our bank accounts with plenty, figuring out when to go shopping next, when to get the next Starbucks coffee that could have helped give a homeless man a warm winter instead, or go on our next cruise to stuff ourselves at the endless buffet. While men like this one walk around with their skinny jackets, their skinny bodies, their skinny lives, never complaining. Humble. While I moan over my goose bumps in winter with my thermostat set at 70 degrees. I remember the word. Humble. More and more I become this way. So thankful. God took a sledge hammer to my hardened heart and gave me His. Humble. I covered my new heart with a heavy coat of pride. Now I learn to take it off. And clothe myself with humility.
“Stolen,” the man said about the jacket from last winter. With no remorse. No anger. No pity. Nothing at all. He only came to get a hot meal and listen to the program about God. Just standing there with his sleeping bag in his hands, as though he could just walk all the way through winter with his sleeping bag wrapped around him like a coat. While the rest of the world goes on its merry way with all the extra trimmings as people like this one can’t stop saying thank you for a moldy sleeping bag that once housed a sweaty, far-away-from-home military man.
The man had no expectation. None at all. He was too pleased about the sleeping bag. He still couldn’t stop thanking me.
“It’s not me, it’s God,” I would tell him when he would start in again with the thanking me business. “I didn’t do this. It’s Him.” Still, he thought it was me. No. God.
He didn’t know about my struggle over the past few weeks. My big struggle. My coats, for pity’s sake. Oh, how I have implored the Lord to help me to be free from the pride. I want to be humble! The more I love Him, the more I want it. Humble.
The coats. I had too many, and I knew it. The struggle had gone on for weeks. Most people wouldn’t think I had too many. Not with the simple way I live. My income this year was about $8500. I have virtually no furniture. I go through my closets regularly to give stuff away, but imperfectly and sometimes not often enough. I have no social life, and no entertainment budget. I don’t go on vacations. I can’t. Eighteen mostly special needs and senior dogs in my care. I wear hand me downs and thrift shop clothes. My ministry’s budget is tiny compared to probably most charities. I eat simply. I don’t go out to eat, almost ever. Dress simply. Act simply, or at least I hope so. The more simple my life, the less of me and the more of Him. God. I live my life for the Lord. But still, these coats. Too many.
Because the truth of the matter is I had two. Two coats. Three if you count the down vest handed down to me by my ex husband a couple years after he divorced me. One jacket, the warm, tight one with the too short sleeves and the silly hood. Probably a kid’s coat. That size anyway. Got it free. Then there was the other one. The green coat. The one from my mom. The one she told me to keep after she handed it down to me. I wanted to, really I did. I liked the connection to her. I liked the coat. I liked the fact I had something from her.
But the Lord wouldn’t leave me alone about my coats. I get colder than most people. In winter, I sometimes wear two coats one on top of the other. I sometimes wear a coat in the house. I layer up. Lots. But still. God wouldn’t leave me alone. Too many coats. When somebody needs one.
But how could I give up the warm one? And how could I give up my mom’s? So I struggled. And God won. He won because He won my heart long ago. It’s His. My heart – the new one He gave me – is His, and so are the coats for that matter. They never were mine in the first place. Pride thinks it owns everything, doesn’t it? God won alright. So I brought both coats in my car that day to the soup kitchen, along with the sleeping bags. God would show me what to do. Which coat would I keep? Which one I would give. He did. He showed me.
“I have a coat if you need one,” I told him. I took it from the car. He sort of made a face. I figured maybe it was because of the color. He never told me. I wonder now if he figured he was receiving too much.
“Why don’t you try it on?” I told him.
He hesitated. Then He did. He had to let go of his new security blanket, the sleeping bag. He had to set down his other meager belongings. Then he put it on.
Perfect fit. Mom’s coat on the homeless man. God’s gift to a humble heart. While another chunk of my pride fell right off me to the ground. Clunk. Humble. So much closer now. Humbled. That’s what it takes sometimes, doesn’t it? Humbled. To get there. To get to humble.
“See, it’s lined,” I said. It would keep him warm. Warmer than without it, anyway.
Oh, and how he couldn’t stop thanking me. I got choked up. He told me not to start crying. I suppose it would get him started crying too. Maybe it would have seemed too much for both of us to stand there together crying.
Because of Him.