How a Simple Straw Helped a Homeless Man, and Impacted Me
A few months ago I was cleaning out my car and happened upon a still-wrapped straw from a fast-food place. I debated throwing it away, but I ultimately decided to keep it “just in case.” I put the straw in the side pocket of my door and forgot about it. Fast forward to one week later.
Essentially on a whim and a prayer, my entrepreneurial father decided to sell eclipse glasses to meet the demand prior to the lunar eclipse. He quickly involved me in the process, which resulted in a handful of people asking to meet somewhere so they could buy a few pairs. On one such day, I met a couple of people at Publix.
While I was sitting there waiting, I noticed an elderly man in a wheelchair seated by a stop sign. He was holding a cardboard sign that read the all-too-familiar “Disabled homeless vet. Please help. God Bless.” He was missing a leg and had only a sock on his one foot. He was visibly weathered by the sun, and his once white t-shirt was splotched with dirt. I quickly decided I would give him the only cash I had on me, $10.
After I made the glasses transactions, I walked over to give him the money. As soon as I got near, I could smell him. I handed him the money and put my hand on his shoulder. As he reached to take the money, I noticed how swollen and decrepit his hands had become. He could barely grasp the cash. He looked at me and mumbled unintelligibly, and I noticed he had very few teeth, but I imagine he was saying “thank you” as he nodded his head towards me. I patted his back, said “God bless you,” and walked back to my van.
As I began to leave and drive towards the stop sign where he was sitting, I noticed him struggling with a little cup. I realized it was a cup with a peel back lid, and I watched him for just a moment as he struggled to hold the cup and get it open. He even tried to use his non-existent teeth to open the lid. So, I put the van in park, turned on my hazard lights, and got out. As I approached him again, I asked if I could help him open the cup. He nodded and handed it to me. I saw that it was a frozen juice drink. When I opened it, the drink was still very frozen; but I handed it back to him, and he put it to his lips to try and get something out of it.
My mind started racing about how he was actually going to drink this. He could barely hold onto it, and he had no teeth to bite into the frozen liquid. I started running options through my mind. “I could go to McDonald’s and get him a fork or spoon, but that probably won’t work because he won’t be able to hold the utensil very well,” I thought. Then it hit me—I have a straw in my van!
I ran back to the van, grabbed the straw, showed it to him, unwrapped it, and put it in his drink. I told him that the straw would make it easier to drink as it began to melt. He nodded his head once again and immediately put the straw to his lips. I patted his shoulder again and walked back to the van. As I started to drive past him, he put a hand up to his forehead and looked directly at me. This man honored the help I gave to him the only way he knew how, and that little salute was more precious than gold to me.
I do not tell this story in an effort to receive praise for being a decent human being. I tell this story to hopefully inspire others to be mindful. Be mindful of how things that seem so mundane and common to you, like a fast-food straw, could be helpful to someone else. Be mindful enough to know that a simple touch on someone’s shoulder could make him or her feel valued and seen for just a moment. Some may say I am “over-spiritualizing” this whole story by saying it was a true God-thing that I felt led to keep a fast-food straw in my car, and say what you will. I truly, deeply believe that if the Holy Spirit is a leading force in your life, then opportunities like this are around you more than you know.
God cares about and sees everyone. He can take what you feel is insignificant and small and use you to be His hands and feet. Just look around every now and then, pray for opportunities to show God’s love, and keep those fast-food straws for “such a time as this.”
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me’” (Matthew 25:40).
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