Pete said he wanted to give me the moon, but I was happy with the red onion.
His jeans, which had been still warm from the dryer when I went in search of him on Friday, were still on the console of my Honda on Sunday.
“You need to take Pete his pants,” Tim said.
The problem is I wasn’t sure exactly how a person goes in search of a specific homeless person.
My friend Hugh over at LoveWins always seems to be able to find whatever homeless person he’s seeking. But Hugh serves as a friend to the homeless full-time. He’s built an intricate network among the homeless. They trust him.
I was shopping for milk on when I stumbled upon Pete and his soiled pants.
It was Hugh & friends who taught me that one of the greatest blessings you can give a homeless person is laundered clothing. So I took Pete’s pants home to wash, only when I went to return them the next day, I couldn’t find Pete. Instead I found Liz and her three children. Liz told me she thought the store manager might have run Pete off.
I don’t know where homeless people go when they are run off. Our women’s bible study tried to give out biscuits and coffee at the park, the way Hugh and his friends do in Raleigh, but the only people who ever showed up were the Bible study ladies and our assistant pastor. When no one showed, Pastor Kevin and I drove along the river, looking for the homeless camps but we never found any. Instead we took the biscuits and handed them out to the Mexicans hopping the bus south. They were appreciative and seemed delighted to have the biscuits, but the park ministry fizzled after that. Pastor Kevin told me later that he actually did find the homeless camp down by the river a couple of weeks later. He said it was about 500 yards past where we had looked. The only thing we got that day, however, was stuck. I had to push while he tried to turn the wheels in half-a-foot of sand.
Ministering can be exhausting some days.
Then there are days like today, when it all just comes together so effortlessly.
I came home from church with a hankering to make peanut butter cookies. Odd, considering I make cookies about twice a year now that the kids are grown and gone. I spent longer looking for the recipe than I did making the batter, which only goes to show how long it had been since I’d used that particular recipe.
But once the first batch was cooled, I got out a Ziploc bag and filled it with the cookies. Then I got the car keys and went in search of Pete. Maybe, I reasoned, if I’m at the grocery by 4 o’clock — the time I was supposed to meet Pete on Friday — he’ll be there. I drove slowly, looking into every parking lot and alleyway along the drive.
Sure enough there were two people sitting on the bench when I arrived but neither of them were Pete. They were both clerks, out for a smoke break. So I circled the parking lot, up and down each lane, looking, searching, peeking around swarms of people enjoying the sunny day.
But then, on a whim, I decided to head for the back alley, between the grocery and the motel fenced off behind it.
And that’s where I found him, sitting with some friends.
“Hey, Pete,” I called out. “I have your pants.” I stopped the car and held out his folded up jeans. “And some cookies. I made you some cookies.”
“Oh, that’s your girl?” the younger of Pete’s friends said. “She’s a cutie.”
“I love you,” Pete said, taking the pants and the cookies in one hand. In the other he held a beer. “I love you.”
It’s been a few decades since I’ve been around inebriated men telling me how much they love me.
“I just want to help you,” Pete said. “I want to see more of you. I want you to be my girlfriend.”
“Sorry, Pete,” I said. “I’m a happily married woman.”
The youngest of Pete’s friends began to play a tune on a harmonica. Pete began to sing, “Girls just wannnnnaaa have fun.”
“How long have you been playing?” I asked the fellow.
“Two weeks,” he said.
“Hey, that’s pretty good,” I replied.
“Well, I played the guitar for 20 years.”
“How long have you been homeless?”
“What did you do before?” I asked.
“I was a carpenter.”
“Just like Jesus,” I noted.
“I have Jesus in my heart,” Pete interjected, marking his loyalty with a two-fingered pledge.
“That’s great, Pete.”
“I just want to help you,” he said.
“Really, buddy, you don’t need to worry about it. I’m fine. I just wanted to get your pants back to you.”
Pete smiled that boyish grin that surely melted his mama’s heart.
“I want to give you the moon,” he said, swooping a hand skyward, as if he was Richard Burton and I his Cleopatra.
Instead he handed me a red onion.
I thanked him and put it on the console as I drove off, waving and laughing, as Pete and his friends serenaded my departure.
Chasing down homeless folks in the back alleys is not something I’d want my own daughters doing. God prepares and calls accordingly. My tenure as a court reporter has helped season me, still, don’t worry, I won’t be spending my weekends chasing strange men through back alleys. Shelby raises some good questions about opportunities to minister on her post Nice Girls Don’t Change the World at AlltheChurchLadies.