You have not left my thoughts since the night we met at the Wendy's drive thru in Memphis, TN.
If it were not for my nephew being hungry at 10:30 pm, we would never have crossed paths.
I guess it really is true when God tells us that "Our times are in His Hands", huh?
When we first saw you, we were a little frightened. I think we may have even locked the van doors. I am so sorry about that. We have so much to learn, don't we?
Before writing this letter to you, I prayed and asked God to lead me to some scripture. The scripture He led me to will make you giggle. It's found in Luke 18:18-25.
Jesus meets a rich young ruler. The ruler asks God, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The ruler goes on to tell Jesus that he has led a good life-heeding the commandments found in the Old Testament law.
Jesus answers, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
The ruler became sad. This was not an easy command. He had so much. Why was it necessary to give it all away?
Jesus looked at him and said, "Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
Robert, when we saw you approaching our car, how could we know that you had nothing to your name. Only the clothes on your thin and weary back.
It was so cold outside. So blistering cold.
My Dad offered to buy you some food. You smiled so graciously and said, "thank you, sir."
As God would have it, we had to sit and wait 6 minutes for your food to be prepared in that drive thru. You stood at a distance not wanting to bother us.
We felt awkward. We were okay buying your food, but not speaking to you. I am ashamed.
My mother saw how cold you were. Trembling in your thin coat.
She quickly grabbed her jacket and offered it to you.
Selfishly, I was grateful that the new jacket I had received for Christmas would be too small for you. I was a little relieved. "Jill, you still lack one thing...." Conviction filled my heart and I was ashamed and surprised by my selfishness.
As Mom handed you the jacket, we began talking to you. Like humans do. Human to human. Not middle class to poor.
When we strip off our clothes, get pulled from our heated vehicles and cozy surroundings...aren't we just the same as you? Humans have the same insides. A heart. Lungs. Eyes. Ears. Skin. A spirit.
We are no different. You are me, and I am you.
A conversation took place. You and the 9 of us. Asking you questions. Wondering how you got to where you were...at Wendy's begging for money and food at 10:47 pm.
We asked you if you knew Jesus.
You said that you wanted to know this Jesus that we spoke of.
You asked us to pray over you.
One by one.
After each person finished praying, you asked the next person to pray. And again. And again.
How many times have I been so desperate for prayer that I would ask so vulnerably for a person to pray? Like my life depended on each prayer. Not enough times.
Robert, I am learning from you. Still.
When you asked us to drive you to the bridge to stay the night, we hesitated. I looked at my Dad to see what his answer would be. Would we let this stranger get in our car with our kids and our lives?
My Dad did not miss a beat. He told you to take his seat up front and we would gladly drive you.
Fear not, Jill. I am with you. Do not be dismayed.
You then asked us if we would mind driving you to a local shelter.
We were glad to.
It was a long drive. Longer than we anticipated.
But, the drive helped us to get to know you.
Your parents died when you were 6. Your grandmother died soon after and you were put in a children's home. You said it was hard to talk about. You were sitting on the front porch with your grandmother 3 days before she died. Three men in white coats came and took you away.
I cannot quit thinking about your life there....in that children's home. Why didn't someone adopt you or foster you? How you must have prayed every single blessed day for a family to take you in. Your life could have been so.....different.
At 18, you were kicked out of the home. You have been homeless ever since. You told us you would be 51 in February. That is a lot of life on the streets.
Robert, I am so sorry. I am sorry that your life has been so sad. So lonely. So painful.
You have never had a family, you told us.
We told you that you were now our family. You belonged with us.
Perhaps I have never seen anyone smile so big in my entire life.
You looked at us and asked us if we were really your family now....
My eyes could not help but to spill over with tears...
You exposed my heart.
Your life, your story, your words.....shed light on my heart and the work it needs.
Robert, perhaps I need Jesus more than you ever did.
You may be lacking in money, food, and clothing...
But, so often I am lacking in so much more.
I take family for granted.
I take things for granted.
I am selfish, oh so selfish at times.
When we got to the shelter, the people were so gracious and let you stay the night despite it being past the hour of letting guests in. They were so kind. So helpful.
You asked us to pray with you again. In the small, dirty little lobby of that shelter...
One by one. Because that's the way you wanted it. All 9 of us.
You asked me to write all of our names down on a piece of paper so that you could remember your family.
My heart broke wide open right then. Pieces of it left right there on that shelter floor.
My hands shaking, I carefully wrote down our names...all 9 of them.
I am not sure you can read, because you had me read the names out loud to you and point out who we all were. You said the names slow.....like you were savoring each name and searing it to your memory.
That piece of paper was like the finest piece of gold to you. A treasure in your very hands. You had a family. It was written there on that small lined piece of paper.
You accepted Christ right there in that lobby on December 29th, close to midnight.
The angels are still rejoicing over you, Robert.
You have a big family now. Huge. Bigger than you can even imagine.
We called and checked on you the next day. 'Cause that's what families do.
They had not seen you.
I called and checked again today....you have not returned.
My heart sank. All of our hearts sank.
Where are you , Robert?
We told you to stay there. Mind the rules, and you would be allowed stay as long as you wanted.
The streets must have been calling.
Oh, those streets.
I know what it's like to have something have a choke hold of you....
A hold so strong it just about strangles the living daylights out of you.
Staying where it's safe is not always easy, is it Robert?
I get it, Robert.
Perhaps, all of us do.
The pull of the cruel sin-stained world is strong.
Without family and friends, it is almost impossible to stay away from its lure.
When you decide to come home, Robert...
Just like the father of the prodigal son...
We will run out to meet you. Arms flailing, mouths screaming in joy.
You are wanted, Robert.
You are loved, Robert.
You are family, Robert.
your forever sister in Christ,
**Robert Holden was last seen at Union Mission Shelter on 383 Poplar Ave in Memphis, TN. If you see him, know him, or have any way of contacting him, please get in touch with me. His [new]family is concerned.