I was out with three other gentleman on Saturday afternoon delivering wood to the homeless and underserved on behalf of our firewood mission. We met some truly amazing people – perhaps we were the most served by our experiences.
When we arrived at one of the campsites, a police officer was there talking with a gentleman who calls our city streets “home.” At first, we were nearly dissuaded from making our delivery of hardened, seasoned firewood – the kind that burns with a glow like the center of the sun. As I started to pull away and contemplate returning later in the day, though, I felt convicted to stop.
I approached the officer with my driver’s license in-hand. He glanced at it and noted that I was “a long way from Brentwood.” I responded, “Not so much, really. About six miles as the crow flies, but just as easily hemispheres apart.”
We talked a bit as I explained what the fellas and I hoped to do. I told him we didn’t really want to cause or get into any trouble, so we’d be happy to leave now – but we’d come back later when he wasn’t around and make our delivery anyway. He smiled and said, “Man, it’s cold out here. I know God sent you to help these people – someone has to. No problem. Now, if I get a call from the landowner, I’ll have to come back – but maybe my report will say that you were long gone by the time I got here. Good luck and bless you.” Cool.
We crossed a ditch and drove into tall brush, trailer in-tow. As we were unloading at Oscar’s campsite, a woman approached. Dressed in pajama bottoms and a heavy Army winter coat, she thanked us for coming. One of the guys asked if she needed wood, yet she replied that she did not, as she no longer lives here on the streets as she used to – now she has an apartment. When asked why she comes back, she said she feels a responsibility to come back and check on her friends. Her people.
She asked if we had enough wood for others and said a family was living under a bridge just up the road. She said they had a father, mother, and two young children – out of wood, so last night they slept huddled together trying to keep each other warm. On the ground. It had been in the 20’s the night before.
Looking at the wood remaining on the trailer, I wondered if we had enough for everyone – just three rows of logs remaining on what had been an overflowing load when we first left and started a route of deliveries. I realized I had already promised the homeless gentleman by the police car some wood, but the only possible answer was in the affirmative.
We unloaded a bit more than the first row at Oscar’s site, then moved down the block to deliver to the other gentleman. Leaving him the remainder of the second row, we followed our new friend, Maria, as she walked down the street to the bridge sheltering the homeless family.
Maria introduced us to the father of the family living under the bridge, though he was having a hard time understanding why we were there and what we wanted. He’s from Puerto Rico and doesn’t speak English. But…no problem.
Joining us for the first time on Saturday was a member of our men’s group, David. He recently asked for an opportunity to make deliveries with us and had shared that he felt he had a purpose to contribute and fulfill with the firewood ministry. Incidentally, David grew up in a place called Mexico; he speaks fluent Spanish.
As David spoke to the worn and tattered Daddy from beneath the bridge, we unloaded wood at his feet. As he came to realize why we were there, he collapsed in a molten fit of emotional outpouring – on his knees, crocodile tears flowing from his eyes, with heaving sobs of thanks and appreciation. I’ll tell you that witnessing such an experience will bring the burliest, toughest of men to tears.
As the last of our load was removed from the trailer, I noticed that, yet again, we had assembled another formidable pile of wood from the three remaining rows of logs that were in the trailer just a short while ago. Like the loaves of bread, we had enough. Oscar would be warm for a good while, as would the gentleman I met by the police car. And so would this gentleman and his young family – living under a bridge, sleeping on concrete, in a wealthy city in these United States.
The fellas gathered around this sobbing gentleman on the hillside next to the bridge, embraced him, and encircled him for a time of prayer. David led the prayer in Spanish and, while I didn’t understand a word he said, I was no less moved to be a part of this moment of extreme fellowship. Our newfound friend repeatedly offered a humble “Si” through continued tears as David prayed on. I’ll never forget those moments on the hill – a seemingly brief investment of time that will pay a lifetime of dividends in reminding me that all of this is His and is only entrusted us to use it for what is right and good.
I’ve thought a lot of our friend and his family under that bridge since Saturday afternoon. As difficult as it is to reconcile how our existences can be worlds apart yet separated by only a handful of miles, I picture them by the bright glow of their fire and hope that the warmth it exudes places the warmth of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and minds. I hope they know that they are loved.
The lessons of Saturday are many. The police officer affirms that God’s law still reigns. The firewood supply affirms that He will provide for those who put their faith in Him. And then there’s the lesson of Maria.
As I’ve thought of Maria these past couple of days, I’ve been struck by her selflessness. Cold and poorly clothed, she continues to return to the streets where she once lived out of a personal sense of obligation to her people. And if it hadn’t been for Maria, we may not have come to know the family under the bridge. I believe Maria was sent to us, in part, to teach us to be humble.
Imagine, for a moment, a knock at the door to any number of homes here in the Brentwood Bubble. “Hello, Sir, today I’d like to offer to wax your Mercedes – no charge; this one’s on us because we love you.” How many of us would respond with “No, thank you – you can clean it, but save your energy. My neighbor’s Lexus needs a good waxing far more than my Benz.” More than likely, many would respond, “Please leave. The police are on the way.”
Perhaps a bit over-dramatized, but perhaps not.
Flanagan & Allen sang a song called “Underneath the Arches.” It goes like this…
“Underneath the arches,
We dream our dreams away,
Underneath the arches,
On cobblestones we lay.
Back to back we’re sleeping,
Tired out and worn,
Happy when the daylight comes creeping,
Heralding the dawn.
Sleeping when it’s raining,
And sleeping when it’s fine,
Trains rattling by above.
Pavement is my pillow,
No matter where I roam,
Underneath the arches,
We dream our dreams of home.”
If that song is unfamiliar to you, it may be because it was written by Flanagan, Connelly, and McCarthy in 1927 – almost 90 years ago. Indeed, some things never change.
God bless all who live Underneath the Arches – tonight and all nights. As I write this, it’s cloudy and 27 degrees in the Music City. Tonight’s projected low is 19. And so, I think of our friends out there who call the pavement their pillow. On this night, the moonlight is dimmed by the clouds and the concrete is hardened by the wind.
As I go to sleep in my own warm home, my thoughts and prayers will be with them. May their dreams of home come true.
Incidentally, I saw David in church on Sunday and asked him if he happened to get our bridge-dwelling friend’s name. I wanted to be able to call him by name in my prayers.
David smiled and said, “Yes, I did. It’s Angel.”
Of course it is.
Blessings to you all. Remember our most delicate and worn brothers and sisters – the Angels of the streets in each of our back yards. Prayers for them all.
Keep it Lit.