For those of you new to the blog, and there are about 200 of you this past week, I not only write books, but I dabble in other things. It’s hard to remember on my “bad” days, but I’m also a fairly active follower of Jesus. One of those “but he curses like a sailor” Christians who accepts the fact that I’m pretty deeply flawed. I do, however, try my darnedest to do the right thing.
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Part of that following, in my opinion, is to lead on occasion. My wife and I, as well as all sorts of people we’ve co-opted over the years, work with the Good Neighbor Meal program to feed the lonely and homeless in Saint Paul. Part of that is sponsoring some meals. I am a tither, and this is part of what I think God should be getting from all the gifts He’s given me. So a couple of times a year, we buy all the food, round up our friends, and serve the community. The crowd varies from 75-150 people for the meal. Here’s a video from a few years ago when we were at our task I’m the fat guy in the chef whites):
We don’t just dish up some industrial macaroni and cheese. Nope. We make gourmet bacon cheeseburgers, meatloaf, chili, and a host of other meals that are as good as what you’d get in a pretty good restaurant. Best of all, we’re friends with our guests. Not only do we serve a good meal, but we serve it on china. With silverware. And we bring it to their table. Like it should be.
Mind you, I’m only doing this a few times a year. The program is every two weeks. My friends Bob, Pat, and Pam (two Pams) run the show, and I’m a cog on the wheel. But I’m a pretty happy cog. I do all the cooking when we sponsor the meal. And I talk to guests. And I clean up.
At the end of the day, our guests leave with a full stomach and the knowledge that we love them.
That’s the basis for the whole deal. “When I was hungry, did you feed me?” We do. This year, as we have done in some years past, we wanted to go a little further and clothe the naked. Not actually naked. I’d hate to see anyone show up naked for the meal – we might have to put down a table cloth or something for them. I’m talking about the kind of naked that comes from a lack of good clothing.
But the budget was going to be an issue. My charitable donation limit had already been exceeded for the year. So I prayed. I asked God to fling some work my way so that I might fund this project. Two days later the good folks at Scheels contacted one of my theatrical agents at N.U.T.S. and hired me to do their Christmas television commercial. Strangely, as God usually has all the details worked out, the fee for the commercial was the amount I needed in the budget. Yeah. Like that. I believe in miracles: this was one.
My wife and I, ordered a couple of crates of socks from www.bargain-bulk-sock-sales.com and went to Sam’s Club for a case or two of Butterfingers. Our friend Sandy, and her friends at work and church, arranged to collect a giant pile of like-new clothing and wrap the Christmas presents for our guests this year. Mind you, we were a day late as our meal was served on December 26th, but close doesn’t only count in horseshoes and hand grenades.
The gifts included (in each package) a warm hat (stocking hat), a Butterfinger bar (long history and tradition there), a couple pairs of brand-new/high-quality socks, assorted survival snacks, and a $5.00 McDonalds gift card. Some bags had more, we had a bit of a surplus, but each one had at least that much inside a gallon Ziplock bag which was then gift-wrapped. The package also contained a Christmas card. Might not be a big deal to you, but that card isn’t exactly common when you’re living in the woods by the river. It was one tangible way we could express our love in writing. You see, we take this seriously.
On the day of the meal the crowd was light. We had about 1/2 the gifts left. Sandy, and my wife, distributed the gift packages and clothing that Sandy’s church had collected. Lots of clothing. At the end of the day, she rounded all the extras up and took it home.
That next week we talked about how to get the gifts out to the homeless in Saint Paul. The temperature took a serious dive around New Years, and they were hurting out there on the streets.
That was our answer. The following Saturday we loaded up an SUV with clothes, gift packages, and a case of bottled water. Over a three hour period we hit all the spots we knew of where the homeless asked for money and sought solace from the weather. You cannot imagine the joy we had that day. Our plan was simple: Sandy would be the “wheelman,” my wife was the “loadmaster”, and I’d be the boots on the ground. I have no problem going up to people and talking.
One by one we changed people’s days. We handed out winter coats, boots, packages, water (when it’s 5 below, dehydration is an insidious threat to everyone) and kind words. We finished the day at the Gospel Mission, handing out packages to all the residents who were outside to have a smoke. That drew dozens more from inside. It was a blast. But we still had a dozen packages left.
Over the next three weeks I handed out packages from my car. I’d hit the spots again and again, and each time I saw a new face I’d hand out a package. It was an awesome experience.
Now, about the title of this post. The Saturday when we were handing out the gifts in the freezing cold, I ran across a man who had the most tattered shoes I’d seen in years. I asked him what size he wore, as we had some boots in the vehicle. “12 Wide.”
I ran back over to the vehicle and searched our supply. Nada. Nothing even close. But this man was standing with his toes sticking out in the snow. No question about it, I knew what I had to do. I asked Sandy to go around the block and pull up next to where he was standing and pick me up. I hustled across the traffic to the bridge where he was shivering with his sign.
“Sorry, don’t have a pair of those in your size.”
“That’s okay, I appreciate what you’ve done for me. I’ll just take my next ten bucks I get on the corner and buy a cheap pair. They last a week or two.”
“If you don’t mind a pair of used shoes, I wear 12 1/2. These are in good shape and they’re yours if you want them.”
A change came over his face.
“You don’t have to do that. What are you going to wear?”
“I’ll head home and get a new pair. I bought some last week and it’s time to break them in anyway.”
There, in the snow, I put my hand on his shoulder for support and took off my shoes. My warm, dry shoes. And I walked to where Sandy had pulled up on the road in my stocking feet with the warmest feeling in my heart.
He kept thanking us until we wheeled around the corner and headed for my house where I pulled the new ones out of the box and put them on.
A few days later I passed that corner and saw him, wearing his “new” shoes. I was sure it was the same pair, because New Balance don’t come with safety-orange laces.
Sometimes you don’t have to walk a mile in another man’s shoes to understand him: you have to let him walk a mile in yours.
Be blessed. Thanks for dropping by. And go do some good deeds. It feels wonderful.
(p.s. I’m not a plaster saint. I’m just a guy that tries.)
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I appreciate your help. When we hit 2,000,000 readers I will give away something cool to a drawing from the subscribers (that’s the box on the right toward the top) who have helped promote this mess. No used sheets, probably not honey, more likely gift cards. Be a part of it. I’ll update from time to time where we’re at in the count. Thanks.