Homeless Bags

A year ago my husband and I were off to celebrate 11 years of marriage with a road trip through the South. We had plans to drive through Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. Of course, before every good road trip there is always coffee first.

Always. Coffee. First.

So in true road trip form we pulled off I-40 headed East through Oklahoma City to make our first stop at the Starbucks off MacArthur. The details of where we stopped are important. Especially for those from Oklahoma. The area is familiar for loads of reasons like being close to White Water water park, or if you are looking for furniture Mathis Brothers is only a hop, skip and a jump away.

And if you are looking to find the homeless, you just found a hub.

A few years ago my tribe had realized this very fact as we drove an hour east endless times from our small town in western Oklahoma to “the city” {aka Oklahoma City}. When we would stop at this said Starbucks we would see the homeless as we waited to turn left into the parking lot. Most times Toby, my husband, would roll his window down and offer whatever spare dollars we had. We wouldn’t judge, we would just offer a gift.

At one point we decided to organize it a bit and feel more prepared instead of always patting our pockets and saying, “Oh, I wasn’t prepared. I wish I had more.” Because the truth is life could fly past us as we “wish we’d been more prepared.” Living lives that are intentional takes effort and decisions. So we took our “gift money” one month and just filled a few zip lock baggies with necessities plus a personal note from Toby about how much Jesus loved them. We didn’t fill many bags, just what we could. The habit has changed how we drive. What started as just a few bags has actually grown to be a part of our monthly budget.

The habit is training your eyes to look, find, and give.

Nonetheless that doesn’t mean we are free from raging against our worship of self-comforts or insecurities.
Flash back to my Anniversary trip and the Starbucks off the MacArthur exit. We were stopped at a Starbucks we had stopped at a million times and numerous times handed out a homeless bag or two before we had shoved that Suburban gear to park. However, this time we pulled to a complete stop, got out of the car, entered the Starbucks and THEN we saw him.

The Starbucks was buzzing with the pre-holiday crowds. People filled every seat. Toby and I walked in and resolutely stepped to the line – Venti Pike roast – stat. Then I turned to find a seat and wait while Toby took a quick restroom break before we hit the road. That’s when I saw him.

Roughly 60 years old and kind looking, he was sitting quietly in a corner sipping a tall coffee with a pack of cigarettes on the table in front of him. An overloaded hiking pack filled the seat across from him; his clothes tattered and dirty. His hands weathered and smudged with years of dirt. Crow’s feet grabbed the corners of his eyes and yet the kindness that glistened from him was unavoidable.

We made eye contact and shared a voiceless exchange, and I sat down…..on the other side of the Starbucks. My heart burned as I observed his eyes just watching people coming and going. Surrounded by people sitting and chatting and I knew…I KNEW….I should go chat with him. Nothing profound, but just move beyond my “homeless bags” and actually engage. I knew I should jump off script. Just go over there and share a cup of coffee, Cari. I sat there and waited. My timeframe in the Starbucks was maybe a total of 5 minutes and yet it could have been plenty of time. I convinced myself I was a silly woman and what would I even say?! He probably wants to be left alone anyway?! I sat there and waited.

“Venti Pike ready at the bar for Cari!”

The shout shook me from my internal conversation and I bounced up, grabbed my coffee, Toby came back from the restroom and we turned for the door, and he was there to open the door for us. Looking us straight in the eyes with all the kindness of Heaven he said, “Have a nice day, ma’am.”

He was ready to engage me. He had jumped up from his seat to serve me. Our voiceless exchange of kindness hadn’t been lost on him. A homeless man and gentleman of the highest caliber.

I said a quiet “…thank you…” in nearly a whisper and walked to our car. Toby hadn’t been a part of my internal five minute conversation and spoke clearly to him a “Thank you, sir! Have a great day!” For me though I had sat there and heard God say, “Cari, just give him a bit of conversation while you wait for Toby and coffee. He just needs five minutes of human connection.”

This time we didn’t have a “homeless bag” I had more than that….I had me I could have offered in just a simple conversation. I opened the car door, put my coffee up and told Toby I would be back in just a minute. I looked at Toby with a look that spoke a thousand words of missed obedience that he knew I couldn’t ignore. I blew back threw that Starbucks and rushed right to that man. Grabbed his hands in mine and looked him straight in the eye.
“Thank you for opening my door. You blessed me more than words could say. I am praying you have a safe day. Thank you for being a gentleman. Do you know Jesus, sir?” With all the kindness you could imagine he had grace for me, of course he loved Jesus and said he would pray that I had a safe day too. He said he was grateful for my kindness.

My kindness?!

But I’d missed it. I was a coward. I sat and waited.

Yet, God kept the door open and we both walked through the blessing. No money was exchanged. No homeless bag was given. I jumped off script and just showed up in the present moment God was offering. We both simply agreed with the kindness weaving us together in that Starbucks.

I am forever grateful God granted me that moment of blessing.

We have been doing homeless bags for years, but it’s not about just what we keep in the back of our Suburban. It’s about offering ourselves.
photo (73)
Homeless Bags have been a place for our family to start. Engaging the homeless, the helpless, the heartbroken as a lifestyle is the goal.

As a tribe these homeless bags we maintain in the back of our Suburban are an act of surrender. The inspiration lies with the God that holds us inside the goodness of His grace. Real inspiration isn’t because of us. We are far too human. Inspiration is found in the resources God’s grace grants us each month. Our job is simply to leverage those resources for God’s use. Those “fish and loaves” merely open the conversation for giving more than just some shampoo and deodorant, but giving ourselves to others in love.

photo (71)“Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a BLESSING. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” {Matthew 14:15-21}

Comments

  1. Emma Ingalsbe says:

    God bless you and your family, what a great way to share the great love of God.your story touch my heart .may keep you faithful .

  2. Jennie Elverum says:

    LOVE this! We keep this bags in our car too and we have been out for a couple months..this has made me want to take our kids to go make more..just love this story and am so glad we met today!!

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