"What's that?" I asked.
Scars. Deep mutilation.
Multiple suicide attempts.
Now that I think of it, it was the first time I have ever seen him without long sleeves on.
Summer, winter, always covered.
I've known Juan for nearly 4 years.
He is always surrounded by others, a community of people that look out for each other on the streets. He doesn't usually approach me, but anytime I approach him, he is cordial, and even with a smile.
He's often the one making jokes with those around him, just a good guy despite his setting and place as a homeless man living in and around Newark Penn Station.
But this Friday night, everything was different.
Still surrounded by others, but cold - distant, no smiles, no jokes.
"Hey Juan, what's up? Long time no see. It's good to see you."
(I had been working heavily at one of our different locations for the past few months, so I hadn't seen him in a while.)
"Fine." Turns the other way.
Knowing this is not the man I know, I pushed in for more.
"My bag was stolen. Again.
Now, it's easy for me and probably you to read that or hear that and go, “Well that's stupid, don't leave your bag lying around. If you took care of your stuff, it wouldn't get stolen”.
But maybe it's more so if he didn't trust people and believe in people, then maybe his bag wouldn't have been stolen three times.
When you live out on the streets, there is no safe place.
No security, no locks.
You are left with the decision of fending for yourself or at times trusting others to help you along the way.
Trust is hard.
It leads to deep satisfaction and relationships, or mortifying heartbreak and separation.
Some people get burned once and never trust again.
Maybe Juan was on the brink of this reality.
Maybe he had just cut ties with the people that once helped him have joy in the midst of hellish circumstances - the people that helped him when he had nothing.
Maybe his distance was a result of the fear that comes when he has no one to trust, because everyone he had trusted or hoped in, left him alone and with nothing to show for it.
Well, that is that.
My heart is broken for Juan, but I can’t be his friend when he has no one. Heck, I’m only there one Friday a week and for two hours at that.
How can I do anything to help this hurting man? I don’t have words to say. I don’t have the experience to lean on. Nothing has ever lead me to cut myself.
I have never been left without a single person to trust. I have never been left with no hope.
But here is Juan, with not just one of these realities, but instead with all of them.
All of this pain hitting him flat in the face - like a brick to a fragile window - it has left him broken and replying with sharp, dead answers right here on the sidewalk - for thousands of people to walk by each day.
There has to be something that I can do. God, what can I do?
I remember that I have ten dollars in my pocket from earlier in the week when a supporter had blessed us with some cash to help whoever was in need.
Ten dollars. What can I do with ten dollars?
It’s getting cold outside. I know Juan will spend his night outside.
Maybe I could buy him a coffee - Dunkin Donuts is inside of Penn Station.
Instead of a coffee, I was able to get Juan a ten dollar gift card!
What happened next will forever be in my eyes:
“Hey Juan, can I talk to you?”
“Huh?” Shyly, curiously, he walks over to me as we step away from the group of people sitting down enjoying their soup and drinks in the peace The Relief Bus offers.
I went on to hand him the gift card and then proceeded to speak to him, hoping of penetrating through to his heart.
“Juan, it hurts my heart to see that your things were stolen again. That’s stupid, annoying, and really just frustrating, and it’s not even my belongings. I know that I can’t replace your things. But, with the ten dollars I had in my pocket, I wanted to make sure you had something to hold onto as a reminder that you are not alone. You are not invisible. You are loved - both by me and anyone that ever comes on The Relief Bus, but God loves you and sees you. Please don’t forget that - even on horrible days.”
Tears. Tears that were coming out of his eyes no matter how hard he tried to keep them away or remain tough on the outside. Tears were coming.
Quickly wiping them away, all he could put out was a choked, “Thank you”.
That night was a representation of what happens when simple people give sacrificially and it turns into a shattered person being put back together, shard by shard.
I don’t remember who handed me that cash - I just know that it was there when I needed it, but more importantly, it was there when God needed to use a simple $10 bill to transform from paper, to a card, to a heart sewn back up.
So, today, in this “season of giving”, funds, dollars are a needed, requested, and amazing things.
But WAY BEYOND what you give is what God is going to do with it.
Each and every day I go out on the streets, and God uses the things we bring: soup, drinks, a bus, bibles, chairs, tables, socks, hygiene kits, clothing, bread, and people to not just be blank objects, but instead as tools that are used to transform lives from broken pieces to restored and healed men and women.
Thank you for your gift of support to me and my family, I promise to use it effectively and powerfully to show people that they are no longer invisible - but instead loved.
For more information, or to support my family, check out my website: www.healthyhusband.com/SupportMyFamily
As always, feel free to share if this story will help others see people better. Much love all.