This week’s blog contains one of many meaningful experiences I’ve been fortunate to have with homeless men in our Lexington community. I expect that future blog posts will reference many similar encounters. It’s my hope that you, like me, will be enriched and enlightened by these personal anecdotes.
Pepe was among the first homeless men I met nearly 10 years ago when our family began to intentionally seek to get to know some of the men living on the streets in Lexington. (If you are interested in that story, you can read it here.) I never learned Pepe’s last name – or even if Pepe was his real first name. He was a Vietnam vet and was in his early 60’s. Pepe slept outside in Woodland Park located in the Chevy Chase area of Lexington. Most mornings, he came in to the South Limestone McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. On a few occasions, I had attempted to start up a conversation with Pepe over his morning coffee. But he wasn’t much of a talker and I surmised that he suffered from some sort of mental illness – which I assumed was related to his service in the Vietnam war.
One summer morning as I stood at the McDonald’s counter waiting for my coffee, I noticed Pepe walking across the parking lot. Immediately, I sensed something wasn’t right. As he got closer I noticed something all over his pants. I first thought he had urinated on himself. But as he walked into the store, the truth became evident. Pepe had experienced a major episode – perhaps several episodes – of diarrhea. The inside of both pant legs were covered in feces. Along with two or three other customers at the McDonald’s counter, I stood speechless, not knowing how to react or what to say. Pepe, attempting to maintain some sense of dignity, calmly ordered a cup of coffee.
Feeling incredibly sad and wanting to protect Pepe from any further embarrassment, I walked closer to him and said, “Pepe, what’s happened to you?” Sheepishly, he turned to me and said, “I woke up this morning with bad cramps. I tried to make it to the bathroom but it was too late.” “Do you have any clean clothes?” I asked. “No.” came the response. “These are all I have.”
At this point, the distance between “what I knew I needed to do” and “what I really wanted to do” was about as far as the east is from the west. You see, I don’t do well with the smell of poop. Somehow, I got through our children’s diaper phases – but most any other time I encounter that smell, I gag involuntarily.
I threw up (pardon the pun) one of those “God, help me out here” prayers, took a deep breath (through my mouth) and said to Pepe: “Come on with me buddy. We are going to get you cleaned up.” A look of disbelief and relief came across Pepe’s face as he began following me toward the door. Rick, one of the homeless men I had been chatting with offered to come along. He followed us out but when Pepe and I reached my car, Rick had vanished. I looked back only to see Rick hunched over, throwing up on the sidewalk. He motioned me to go on without him. It turns out that Rick, like me, has a poop aversion.
As I slid into the drivers seat, I rolled down the front windows and silently continued my prayer: “God. You gotta do something here. If I gag, its only going to further humiliate Pepe. I really don’t want that. Help me, please.” What didn’t happen for the next hour and a half was nothing short of miraculous. I drove Pepe to my house, where I grabbed some towels and clothes. We then headed to the men’s locker room at Centenary, the church my family attends. Once inside, I helped Pepe undress and get in the shower. While he showered, I went out to my car and cleaned up the passenger seat where Pepe had sat. At no time during this entire episode did I smell the odor of poop. Miraculous provision – that’s what God had provided.
After Pepe was showered and dressed, I drove him back to McDonalds, bought him breakfast and headed off to work. That’s the last time I ever saw Pepe. About 4 weeks later, a homeless friend informed me that Pepe had died suddenly of a heart attack while in the shower at Calvary Baptist Church. I was grateful that God had given me an opportunity – and that I had accepted that opportunity – to show Pepe some kindness and care before his death.
I was also grateful for the important principle that God had shown me: He makes provision for us when we act to demonstrate His love toward others. Many times, I had prayed to see a miracle. Never did I imagine that the miracle I’d be shown would be such a “crappy” one.