Stick with me here if you can...
A few days before Christmas, I took the kids out looking at Christmas lights.
I don't remember exactly what time it was, but it was late and it was cold and it was dark. And when I slowed to a stop at the light on the freeway off-ramp by our house, I saw a homeless guy and his pup.
I grabbed all the cash I had in my purse (a grand-whopping total of $6) and rolled down my window. He walked over to the window, looked me in the eyes and said "Merry Christmas and God Bless you." Then he looked in the backseat of my car and said, "You've got kids?" to which I replied, "Yep, this is just two of them, but I've got four all together."
He just stood there for a second and then he said, "I've got four kids too..." but his voice cracked as he said it and he stopped mid-sentence. Then he thanked me again while walking backwards towards his pup.
And as the light turned green, I said "God bless you too." and turned left towards home.
The kids and I all got in our pajamas as soon as we got home and as they were brushing their teeth I hollered, "Hey guys, come get your shoes back on and lets go."
It was just Cole and Annie (Josh was in Afghanistan, I had just dropped off Courtney Lee at her mom's house and Ross of course doesn't live at home anymore), but they immediately came running down the stairs with toothbrushes still in their mouths, asking where we were going.
I started opening drawers looking for paper and pens and an envelope and told them that we should all write a quick letter to the guy we had just met and then I stuffed the letters into an envelope along with some Hershey Kisses and some more cash I had found and then we drove to McDonalds to get him a hot coffee.
As I was driving back to where we had met him, I could hear the sound of Josh Downs voice in my head saying, "You did what? You drove around at night in your pajamas with the kids looking for a homeless man to give him coffee? And this seemed perfectly safe to you?"
I noticed that he was still standing in the same spot as we drove by, but I didn't stop because while my mind is totally assured that when God is ready to take me, He's ready to take me (whether I'm sound asleep in bed or standing in front of a homeless man holding a McDonald's coffee cup), my husband still feels that it is his job to protect me from an early demise due to my own stupidity and/or carelessness.
Eventually, I decided I would cause my husband the least amount of grief by pulling into a nearby gas station and waving at the homeless guy to meet us in a safe, well-lit, husband-approved location.
We got out of the car and waved at him. He noticed us immediately and began walking towards us where we all began to introduce ourselves.
He told us that his name was Chalin and that he'd lived in this area for about seven years. He said his kids were all mostly grown-up now and didn't live nearby, but that he had two nieces that he got to see on occasion and that they loved to draw pictures for him. He said he used to be in the Army and when I told him that my husband was deployed with the Air Force, he said that he would pray for him.
I think it was one of my kids that asked him if he believed in Jesus and that's when he pulled a Bible out of his pocket and said, "Jesus is the only thing that keeps me going." and went on talking about how great God is.
Eventually, we all hugged (and I envisioned for a split-second that my new friend might pop my head off right in front of my children, causing my husband's fears to come true) and then I handed him the envelope and as we started to say goodbye, I asked him if there was anything he needed.
He said he really didn't need anything. That there was a nearby church that took really good care of him and that if I ever wanted to give anything, that the church would be very thankful for any donations.
That night as I said prayers with my kids, they each prayed for Chalin (and so did I.)
A few days after Christmas, my sister was in town and as we headed home from a day of ice-skating in Ashland, we stopped at the same light on the freeway off-ramp and there was Chalin.
Coley immediately rolled down his window to say hi and as Chalin started to walk over to the car he said, "Hey, I remember you guys!" I was introducing Chalin to my sister and Ross when he pulled three, $1 bills out of his pocket and said, "Here, I've got something for your kids." while handing a dollar to each of them. Coley and Ross immediately thanked him, while saying they couldn't accept it (Annie thanked him, but had no plans of handing her dollar back over), but Chalin said, "No matter how little you have, you have to be willing to give it."
And then the light turned green so we said our good-byes and turned left towards home.
And that night as I said prayers with my kids, they each prayed for Chalin (and so did I.) Only this time, Annie asked if Chalin could come live with us.
A few weeks later, I went looking for Chalin again to get the name of the church he had mentioned. When he saw me, the first thing he said was, "Remember when I said I'd pray for your husband? I really did. I prayed for him." (He also went on to share that he loves beer more than he should, but I'm not going to judge him for that because if I were homeless, I might take to loving beer a bit too much too.)
Again, I asked him if he needed anything and this time he showed me that his shoes had holes in them and said he could really use a new pair.
Later that day, I picked up the kids from school and then we all met up with Chalin to give him a new pair of boots and to introduce him to Courtney Lee, who hadn't met him yet.
And that night when my mom took all the kids to the dollar store, Courtney Lee spent part of her money on a new rain poncho for Chalin.
And Chalin has come up in their conversations and their prayers ever since.
I was hesitant to tell this story because it has the potential of sounding like a soapbox sermon and that's not my intent. I was also hesitant to tell this story because I don't want anyone to say, "That was such a great thing you did Karen." because what I did doesn't come anywhere close to meeting the definition of 'great'.
Giving a homeless guy $46 and some hot coffee wasn't a sacrifice for me. We didn't go without dinner that night in order to give him that money. We didn't go without anything. I'd have just wasted that $46 bucks on something worthless if I hadn't given it to Chalin. I'd have spent it at Target on a couple of new dresses for the girls to add to the ridiculous amount of clothing my kids already have, a new tube of lipstick for me to add to the collection of lipstick colors I own but don't like, and a pack of gum for each of my kids so I could get irritated by all the gum wrappers I find all over the house.
I'd have just wasted that $46.
It was Chalin who did something 'great' - because when you're homeless, $3 does affect the quality of your life. $3 could mean the difference between eating or not eating that day. $3 could get you closer to a pair of shoes that don't have holes in them. $3 could mean a lot. In fact, I think $3 could feel like everything if you had nothing.
But I think because he has Jesus, he knows that he already has everything.
That is what's 'great'.
I've been lucky enough to see a lot of that kind of giving in the last couple of years.
People doing small, but sincere and thoughtful things. People doing big, seemingly impossible things. People doing things without wanting recognition for them. People giving their time when they don't have a whole lot of time to give. People giving their money when they don't have a lot of money to give. People willing to make their own lives less comfortable for the sake of someone else.
And sometimes I'm one of them. But most of the time (if I'm being honest) I'm just to busy thinking about me and my little family to be thinking about anyone else.
But then someone like Chalin comes into my life and while I'm busy thinking that I'm going to help him, he actually ends up helping me instead.
He made me see things differently.
He made me see what 'great' really is.
I had a student email this to me today:
"Hi Karen, I don't know if you remember me or not (and it's ok if you don't!) but I had signed up as an auditor a few sessions back, then needed to do more cancer treatments. You were gracious enough to let me have a spot in a later workshop. Unfortunately, I didn't have the health to really do what I wanted to do with the workshop.
Fast forward to now, and I got a paid seat in the workshop that starts next week as a regular student. As my luck would have it, I now have to have another surgery (my third abdominal surgery in two years! Yikes!) The surgery is scheduled for April 17th-smack dab in the middle of the course.
I know I won't be able to recover nicely and do all the work in the course because I need to work on recovering. However, I don't want a refund. If its ok with you, I would like to give away my spot to someone else. I am sure one of your readers out there is dying to take your course but don't have the funds to sign up. It would thrill me to bits to give someone else a chance to take the class."
Yep, 'great' is a mom who has cancer and is facing another surgery, but is still thinking of how she could help someone else and asks to remain anonymous in doing so.
I am not that kind of 'great, but that's exactly the kind of 'great' I want to be.
So I'd like to do this drawing for a seat in the next Photographers' Workshop a little differently in order to honor this woman's request. Obviously this will be on a Girl Scout honor kind of system, but I'm asking people to leave a comment in the comments section of this post if they have wanted to take The Photographers' Workshop or if they know of someone who has wanted to take the workshop, but haven't been able to due to financial constraints and I'll draw a winner early on April 2nd (which is actually the first day of class!)
And if you're the praying kind, I'd just ask that you say a prayer or two; one for this mom who is battling cancer and another one for Chalin.
And my sincere thanks to all you people who are out there doing great things, however big or small.
ETA: A friend of mine that I have a real deep respect for (someone I met years ago while teaching scrapbooking classes at her store back East) just emailed me and said she'd like to pay the tuition for another student who is financially unable to take my workshop. So now the drawing is for two spots! (You're the best Sharon - thank you for doing this.)
And a reader left this comment: "I was thinking that perhaps you should give the name of the church to your readers and challenge each of your readers to send five dollars. Can you imagine the difference that could make to this church, and to Chalin?"
So here's the info. on the church if you feel inclined to give...Central Point Assembly of God, 310 North 10th St., Central Point OR, 97502. They cook for homeless people in our area every Thursday night and they really try to make it special for them. They also give out toiletries and other essential items. Its two amazing women that run the whole program and I know that any donations would be put to good use. (Just specify that you'd like your donation to go directly to their homeless program.)