If you don’t know about Tom’s story, first go read it here.
Now that you have done that you probably also know that 2 weeks ago I joined the family for a visit out to California to see my wife’s family. We also fit in some entertainment (Disneyland, the beach) along with some friends. In addition, we also packed in visits to all of our old favorite eating spots (In N Out Burger, Mission Burrito, Jamba Juice, etc).
On our way to one of these such spots — Baja Fresh and Jamba Juice — I spotted Tom in his center median spot. I did not have time to share a meal with him but was determined to bring him something to eat. I dashed into Baja Fresh and ordered his usual to go and, with the family in tow in our rental mini-van, delivered it to him as we waited for the green left turn arrow. This was not the first time I had curbside delivered food to Tom and he recognized and thanked me as I handed the bag out the window. I also told him that I would be back in town on business in two weeks and would try to stop by then.
Fast forward to my most recent business trip out to Thousand Oaks. I had many meetings and lots of corporate business to tend to. My schedule was quite crazy and I had forgotten about my previous encounter with Tom. Now, before we move on with the story, you must realize that, while you the reader know how this will end up — with me sharing a dinner with Tom — I did not. And it should be clear as the story gets told how I am steered down the path I am supposed to travel. Hindsight will easily conclude this, however, it has a much bigger impact when you are directly in the middle of it and the light bulb goes off.
So my entire week was filled with schedules and meetings and tasks. I really did not have much spare time. However, for some reason, my Wednesday evening was left open. And throughout that day I ran into a person here, a colleague there, who I would try to schedule something that evening with. I would say “I know it is last minute but you want to grab some dinner?”
I asked this a few times throughout the day to completely different people with the same answer — “No, I already have plans.”
So after a 12 hour day, I decided to take it easy and place a “to go” order at the Cheesecake Factory and take it back to my hotel room for a relaxing end of the evening. The first cell phone call to them was disconnected. The next call had me on hold for 5 minutes (I kid you not!). While on hold patiently waiting, it then hits me that I am supposed to hang up, drive over, and see if Tom is there — remembering my previous statement 2 weeks prior. At this point, it is not me — I am merely being used by God.
NOTE: I continue to be amazed at how God can effectively use us if we are in tune to him and open to serving him. See post “Believe. Serve.” Sometimes, all we need to do is get out of our own way.
Upon arriving over at the Target parking lot adjacent to the strip mall entrance that Tom frequents, I see him in his center median spot in the drizzling rain. I shout out to him to see if he wants to join me for dinner. Again, he recognizes me, collects his assortment of items, and heads over my way. We greet each other and he declines my request to put his stuff in my rental car truck and instead heads over to his VW van that not only serves as his transportation but also his home. I did not know he had such a possession and his resourcefulness increased in my eyes. We drove in my rental over to our default dinner spot — Baja Fresh. We make light conversation and comment on the weather. A front row bingo parking spot appeared in front of us and we took advantage of it as we headed into the Mexican eatery.
It was my intent this time to not only treat Tom as a guest (as I did in the previous post) but to also completely interact with him in conversation and support. This was not our first interaction and I wanted to learn more about him and show him that this was a developing relationship rather than just a random act of kindness. He surprised me by ordering a chicken quesadilla rather than the Baja Ensalada with chicken that he ordered the first time we met (and what I ordered him on every subsequent curbside delivery). I then asked him which one he liked better so I could ensure I was getting him something he liked when I drop off food to him in the future. He responded with the chicken quesadilla which prompted me to make a joke making fun of me always bringing him the Baja Ensalda — which he laughed at. I told him that I was glad to have the new information and from now on would “upgrade” the to-go order to the chicken quesadilla.
He laughed again and said he was thankful for that.
We settled in grabbing some pico de gallo that we both liked and then began catching up more after our dinner prayer. It was a very easy and pleasant conversation — much easier than the first time I met him. I asked him questions about what he had been up to; where he had been; how people have been treating him. He said that he recently went down to a local library to take a test by the U.S. Census people. They hire unemployed folks like him. He passed the test and is hoping to pick up some odd time and hours over the next several months performing some of their menial tasks. I found this information encouraging and a different perspective from that the public has of homeless that they don’t pursue opportunities. I complemented him on his initiative and encouraged him on the effort. It was nice to see his enthusiasm despite his circumstances.
Tom also told me of a regular lady who brings him food each week she collects from her church. Her name is Ellie and she is 80 years old. What an example she is setting by providing for some of his needs. I asked Tom to say “hi” to Ellie for me.
As we wound up our meal, I asked Tom what the fuel level of his VW van was. He replied with a half a tank and I asked if he would like to fill it up. He was receptive to that (as opposed to when we first met where he accepted the meal but declined any additional assistance).
So we returned to his van and I followed him over to the nearest gas station where we topped him off with gas. He shook my hand and I told him that, if he would let me, I would continue to “pester” him with food and shared meals. He laughed and thanked me as he got in his van. He disappeared down the street as I got caught at a red light.
I look forward to continued interactions with Tom. Again, I don’t have to have the answer to be a small part of the solution. I challenge each one of you to get involved with people who have needs like this. Don’t just throw resources at a problem. Roll up your sleeves and get to know the people and their issues. While I believe they get a lot from it, we are the ones who truly benefit more.
…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net