He saw me before I saw him.
His eyes, as deep and blue as Caribbean Sea, were already looking into my muddy-brown eyes before I registered he was there.
I had been rushing along, staring at my hot pink running shoes, dodging puddles from the recent rain. If I hurried, I could make it back to the hotel before sunset. While I wished to continue my exploration of San Francisco, I was uncomfortable exploring on my own after dark. I might as well catch up on some Netflix in the hotel.
I hopped another puddle when I encountered what I thought was a tourist’s stroller filled with packages sitting next to a park bench.
I took a couple steps to the left to avoid running into the stroller, my feet about 20 paces ahead of my brain.
It wasn’t a stroller of tourist’s purchases. It was all his belongings.
He lay on the soggy, wooden park bench, only his midsection covered by a threadbare woolen blanket. It was just after 6 p.m., but he appeared to be settled in for the night.
His toffee colored face turned up at me, covered by tightly curled hair just a few shades darker than his skin.
But those eyes, those deep, clear blue eyes, had a light in them. He gave me a small smile. I smiled back, my feet still moving at the need-to-hurry-back-to-the-hotel pace, my brain still not registering what was happening.
The encounter took a fraction of a second, but it felt like a slow-motion scene from a movie.
He looked young, much younger than any of the other homeless I had seen in the city.
Who was he? How did he end up sleeping on a bench along the San Francisco coast in rainy, cold weather?
Then emotion compressed my lungs, expelling oxygen as though I’d been hit in the chest.
Suddenly, he wasn’t just a young man.
He was a beautiful baby. Someone’s son.
Where was his family? What happened?
I thought of my own son back at home, his curly hair brushing across his deep brown eyes roaring with life’s fire.
This young man sleeping on the bench had been a boy once too, full of energy and ideas and hope.
What would I do if that were my son? I would never stop searching and hunting and looking for him. I would do whatever it took to help him.
Who was looking out for this son?
My brain kept pace with my now-slowed feet. I never know what’s the most helpful thing to do for a person living on the street. This young man hadn’t asked for anything. He’d just offered a small smile. No question, no cup for money. Just a smile.
I had seen him, and I would forever see him in my mind.
My feet propelled me back to the hotel with the sun dipping into the ocean on my left. I inhaled the scent of sea spray and pine. The same things he would smell all night long on his bench next to the ocean.
I inhaled and exhaled prayers the entire way back to the hotel. Whose son was he? He’s God’s son. And I know God saw Him too.
I don’t know if there’s anything I could’ve or should’ve done. Maybe I should’ve turned around and given him a couple dollars. Maybe I could’ve made small talk. I don’t know.
Maybe I did what I was supposed to do.
I saw him.
As a person.
With a story and a history.
A child whom God loves dearly.
My prayer-words jumbled together and felt unfocused. Later at the hotel, I pulled out some verses and prayers I had compiled for Pray A to Z.
You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. –Isaiah 25:4
Father, please forgive me for how I have failed to care for the homeless in my community. Give me eyes to see as You do. Strip me of stereotypes, and show me how I can offer love and practical assistance in helpful ways. For those living without adequate shelter, please provide safe places to sleep…
–excerpt from Homeless, Pray A to Z p. 44
Oh Lord, yes, please provide safety and shelter for him tonight. Bring someone along who can help.
Still feeling agitated and helpless, I turned back a couple pages to a second prayer – Helper. Yes, God is our helper. He is my helper when I don’t know what to do, and He helps those who are in need, even when we can’t see how.
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” –Hebrews 13:6
Father, You are my helper. Because of Your help, I do not need to be afraid of what people can do to me, of the evils the world holds, or the danger I may face today. You are with me and You never forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus promised His followers they would not be left as orphans, and You sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper (John 14:18)…
–excerpt from Helper, Pray A to Z p. 48
I continued reading the prayers and directing my thoughts to our Helper, the Heavenly Father who knows everything there is to know about the young man with the beautiful blue eyes sleeping on the park bench.
Oh that we would always have eyes to see those in need as Jesus does, and a heart to pray.
As we see as He sees, as we help with His guidance, as we pray with our whole hearts, we each can bring a little bit of light into the dark corners of our communities.
Will you join me?
*Photos courtesy of Unsplash