It took a homeless man pitching a tent in the woods next to our home for me to come to grips with some of my greatest fears. As I stared at his blue tent through the foliage of the forest, I thought about the situation. I was ashamed that I was hesitant to confront him, share the gospel, and invite him into our home. On the other hand, it felt honorable to consider my family, to be patient, and to pray for this man.
Over the coming weeks, I would see him, coming to and from his tent, hidden within his wooded shelter. As I lie in bed at night, I would stare at the ceiling, thinking about this man sleeping on the forest floor, while I enjoyed the comforts of indoors.
I would often wonder his name as I pondered the possibility of his story.
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Although I didn’t confront him, I felt encouraged to let him know I was here and I was thinking about him.
I left him a copy of a favorite book, The Noticer Returns by Andy Andrews. Andy had once been homeless before his rise to the New York Times Bestseller list and I thought this story might prove uplifting to my neighbor. Tucked inside the cover, I placed a few bills and a handwritten note. It contained language about prayer and hope and love; words I wasn’t sure he would receive, but I wrote them anyway. I rested it every-so-gently against a street light on the opposite side of the woods. I had figured out that this was his path; his driveway, if you will.
A week later, when we had a cookout for my brother’s birthday, I took him a plate for dinner. He wasn’t home, so I covered it and placed it in a chair that was sitting outside of his tent.
Then, one night, I couldn’t decide on clothes to wear. In a moment of frustration with myself and my overabundance of clothes, I cleaned out my closet, put what I didn’t wear in a duffel bag and left it for him.
A few weeks went by without any interaction, but his tent remained, a sign that he was still there, living in the woods.
Then, it happened…
My brother was visiting and we were playing with the boys in the yard. Inevitably, a ball sailed over the fence. As my brother went to retrieve it, I heard voices exchanging conversation. My brother yelled, “Hey Matt, come over here.”
I anxiously made my way to the gate and outside the perimeter fence, peering into the forest to see my brother talking to a middle-aged, white man.
He was wearing a white ball cap, an oversized red shirt, and gym shorts. I recognized his outfit as it was the same he wore when I saw him on his bike weeks earlier.
His face was weathered from the sun, but he was well kept. He looked tired, yet oddly relieved.
As I gazed into his face, I didn’t have any words, so I waited for him to speak.
“I just wanted to come say thank you for letting me stay here a while.”
“Sure,” I said. I was allowing the moment to take root. “I’ve hoped to have the opportunity to meet you. I’m Matt.”
“Hey Matt, my name’s Mike. I’ve wanted to come leave a note on the door, but I didn’t want to step on to your property. I wanted to thank you for your gifts.”
I was surprised. How did he know it was me? I answered, “It’s the least I could do. Is there anything you need?”
“No, I’m fine. I’ve actually just bought a car and I have a job starting next week. I was just staying here to save up some money.”
As we stood there, I saw the anguish on Mike’s face. The anguish only a deep, sorrowful story could create. I heard him mention that he had been through hell, but he followed those words with hope.
“All of this has really made me stronger.”
“Well, Mike, your willingness to persevere has made me stronger. I’d love to hear more about your story if you’re up for it.”
I could see his eyes open slightly, this idea intrigued him. His story was waiting to be told. “I’d love that,” he replied.
From there, we exchanged cell phone numbers and I emptied my wallet of the cash I had on hand. Then, I asked him if I could pray with him.
So, my brother, Mike and I stood in the woods next to our home and we prayed.
Too often, we are caught in the cycle of our lives and we fail to gain perspective on daily miracles and opportunities for wisdom. I tell you all of this because it took a homeless man moving in next door to remind me of two things:
Mike had admittedly been through hell. He called this wooded area his home for nearly two months. He wasn’t, or at least he didn’t seem to be, bitter, nor did he act entitled. He worked two jobs, lived in a tent, and saved money to buy a car. Then he landed a job as a teacher and found a place to live. I pray that Mike will look back on his time in the woods with fondness and faith that God is close to the brokenhearted.
I pray that we would reflect on our moments of adversity in a similar way.
It isn’t always reckless abandon. Rather, courage oftentimes looks a lot like trust. It takes courage to believe in something you cannot see. I’m sure there were times when Mike thought he’d never make it out of those woods. I’m sure you’ve felt the same. Whether it’s your marriage, or your job situation, or an addiction, you’ve wondered, how am I ever going to make it out of here?
I pray that you would have the courage to trust.
Truthfully, it took a homeless man moving in next door for me to ask myself some deep questions. Now, I believe Mike was placed next door for a reason. Rather than me encouraging him, he was encouraging us.
When it feels like you’re going through hell, don’t stop; that’s not where you belong. You were created for more.
Be courageous and keep going.
Gold is refined in the fire.
Richness emerges from the flames.