Jan 21, 2010

A Chain of Caring

In our cold weather response recently, I noticed something unusual. It was a series of very simple events that impressed me as being quite unlikely...

On the first night, a young man, 28, came to me and complained that he needed to go to the hospital to get his hands looked at. They seemed infected and swollen. I have worked with the young man off and on for a couple of years. I told him I would take him when I was finished. He said that he also needed someone to wait and pick him up. I couldn't do that because I had to get home to someone in my own family who was feeling sick and told him. So he said he would take care of it himself.

On the next night, we served a lot of folks. I didn't see the man. We gave out just about every hat, coat, and glove that we had that night. The next day, I gathered up every coat, hat, and glove I could find. Volunteers purchased all the gloves in local thrift shops for SYM. Neighbors cleaned out their cold weather stashes and donated extras. It was awesome. A few of the items were funky... some outlandish stocking caps that would either be very popular or laughed at and never touched. And I noticed one ridiculously large pair of gloves--sort of like Mickey Mouse gloves, except brown. I laughed and almost threw them in the trash. But I didn't.

During the next night, we served a lot of folks again. We gave out brand new sleeping bags and lots of used bags and blankets.  There were two volunteers that night, a couple that I have known since first coming to Austin more than 25 years ago. They were great, interacting with people and helping them find just what they needed on the truck. We were near the end of our time that night, a little bit tired having served everyone. Just then, the young man came up again!

He had two bandaged hands and couldn't really move them. They had done some type of surgery to deal with his infections. He had just gotten out of the hospital. He hadn't been out in the cold the previous nights so he didn't have much in the way of cold weather gear. Amazingly, the volunteer couple rummaged in the truck and found one more brand new sleeping bag hidden under some blankets for him.  And they found a hat for him that he liked from among all the leftovers. They got him hot chocolate and gently placed it between his bandaged hands. As he sipped it, they lovingly asked, "Is there anything else we can do for you?" He replied, "I really need some gloves. My hands are cold." They all soon realized that there was no way he could put on gloves. However, the volunteer remembered seeing those ridiculously huge gloves. Soon the volunteers were gently pulling those gloves over his wounded hands. "Does this hurt?" they asked. "No... it's OK." "Are they feeling warmer?"  "Yes... they're getting better now." It was so cool to watch the man and the volunteer interacting as they got those over-sized gloves over his bandaged hands.

With all this, the young man and the volunteers soon realized he couldn't carry the sleeping bag with his two hands without hurting himself. Again, the volunteers swung into quick action. They made a sling from a couple of scarves. They tied them into the sleeping bag and soon had the bad hanging across the man's shoulders.

I couldn't stand it any more. I had to point out to the volunteers and the young man how unlikely this all was. "Why had I received these ridiculous gloves if not specifically for the young man's hands tonight? How was it that everyone overlooked the brand new sleeping bag if not to save if for the young man's late arrival? God had specifically provided for him tonight. Did he see it?" And he did. He confirmed that he was a believer and he knew God was taking care of him through Street Youth Ministry and through the volunteers.

The young man died two nights later of a brain seizure. He had been plagued by seizures since becoming an adolescent, and they had been coming more regularly over the past year. Medications were no longer controlling them. When I notified the volunteers of his death, they told me that had talked about the young man ever since their encounter with him that night.

It was indeed an unlikely set of events that led to this homeless man being cared for so well the last few days of his life and having such a profound effect on volunteers and on me. Thanks to all who helped make a difference to this man and to all those served through donations, prayer, and volunteering.