Thursday, September 27, 2007


It always happens. No matter where I am, it happens. It has been happening for as long as I can remember. For years and years now.

I've noticed that it often happens when things are complicated or when I have been distracted by something selfish or when I am supposed to be "away" from things.

My family has grown so accustomed to it that it has become a family joke of sorts--not exactly the right language, but I struggle to describe it. My daughters grew up watching it. My wife has seen it everywhere we go.


It happens to me again and again.

And, it happened again last Friday night when I stopped to get gas just across the street from the hospital where my dad is recuperating from surgery.

Now get the picture. This gas station is located in an extremely affluent part of our region.

For some reason the credit card reader on the gas pump wasn't working. So, I had to go inside to pay in advance. I first noticed the gentleman as I walked inside. He saw me and I realized that he saw me.

But, I thought, "Here I am in northwest Plano. This is one of the wealthiest parts of the Metroplex. . .surely there aren't panhandlers up here!"

I knew I was wrong, as I rehearsed my foolish logic with the little person living inside my head. Do you have one of those annoying little creatures in your life/head?

When I returned to my car to complete the fueling process, he approached me.

"Sir, good evening," he began. "I was telling that other gentleman that I'm trying to get enough money to get home to Greenville, Texas. I was wondering. . . ."

I cut him off.

"Don't go there, friend," I told him. "I am going to help you out, but don't give me any 'baloney' (not exactly what I said) because I know game and I'm not needing any game tonight!"

"Where you from, man?" he asked me with a smile breaking across his face.

"I live in Downtown Dallas in the 'hood," I replied. "I know game. But, tonight I'm not playing. So, why don't we start again and you just tell me what's going on and what you are trying to do tonight."

"I just got out of prison," he told me, as he pulled out his Texas Department of Corrections identification card. "I'm trying to get a bus pass, something to eat, and a job."

At this point I was encouraged by his complete candor. Refreshing for us both, it seemed.

"I run an inner city ministry Downtown," I told him. "You need to come see us because we have lots of possibilities for you."

I explained all of the options we could make available to him, if he chose to take advantage of them.

"When you say housing, you aren't talking about the shelter are you?" he asked with a frown of concern.

"No, no," I assured him. "I'm talking about an apartment of your own--permanent supportive housing."

"That's what I need. . . and a job, but when you get out and tell people what I've told you, man, people just turn away and won't give you the time of day."

I didn't have a business card. Drat! So, I wrote down contact information and handed it back to him, explaining that I was only out in Plano because of my dad's hospitalization across the street.

"You don't want to go back to prison," I told him. "You and I know one slip up and you are going back. Black folks end up inside a lot more often than people like me!"

He laughed a long laugh.

"I haven't met a white man who talks like you," he said.

"Thanks to friends like you, it has developed over the years, believe me. What were you in for?" I asked.

"Robbery," he confessed. "It's hard without a job. You can make so much more doing bad. I don't want to go back, man."

We talked about racism, faith, Jena, Louisiana; prison, friendship and finding a new chance.

I handed him a twenty and he shook my hand and smiled a huge smile.

"I ain't going back," he declared.

I watched him walk away. He retrieved his backpack from the side of the station. He walked away into the night with what appeared to be a confident stride.

It always happens to me.

I wish it didn't.

I wish people weren't facing what that gentleman faces. I hope he will come by and hook up with us. It is good to imagine what we could discover together. I hope he believed me.

I wonder if he has any real reason to take me at my word.

We'll see.



Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder if the poor assume people want to hear a simple made up story rather than the truth... seems to be easiest for both parties. However, I'm sure the guy was really excited that someone actually cut through the crap to hear his real story.

Thanks for sharing,

Becky said...

I know why it happens to you.

You are one of the few people God can lead a person in need to who will actually listen, help, see them as a valuable human being, and be a blessing in their life.

Parke said...

Thanks for continuing to share, Larry. I'm consistently challenged/encouraged by your words.

Karen Shafer said...

Right on, Larry.

Lynn said...

It happens to you because God leads them to you. Others may have given him money, but you extended to him so much more than money. I pray too that he will take advantage of the opportunities you offered him and the see that you planted will grow a strong oak tree that can weather the storms of life.

jch said...

Hey Larry, I'm curious. Do you ever say "no, I can't give you money today"? I see panhandlers every day. Multiple times a day. Can't live in Brooklyn/the city without being approached several times a day. I say "no" all the time in almost every situation. And every time there is a sting of guilt that pierces me.

chris said...

My husband is involved in prison ministry as assistant chaplin. The guys talk to him a lot. One was telling him how much money he made going from service station to service station asking for money to support his drug habit. This is not to say one should not give money, probably each person should search his own heart.

Anonymous said...

Chris, your husband works with a "select" population. You are correct, everyone has to follow their own heart and values. The Golden Rule comes to mind just here. If I were on the street with no one to help, nothing to eat and no where to go, I'd appreciate an honest conversation and a little temporary help. Wouldn't you?

Keith Brenton said...

What Becky said.

Anonymous said...

This makes me think how much I wish I were more of a spring of living water. I've been influenced all my life by stories like the prison chaplain's mentioned above. I want to be influenced by His Spirit instead. Kathy

Larry James said...

jch, sure, I say no at times. It is very subjective. Sometimes it is practical--like when I'm broke! But, I just follow my heart or the inner voice--at times I am guided by how much time I have to engage a person. For me, there is no science.

Stephen Jones said...

Larry, It's been 10 days since this post... Have you heard from him again? Just curious!