Set a fire.

Set a fire down in my soul / That I can’t contain & I can’t control / I want more of You, God

So I know it’s been a while, & I apologize for that. Thoroughly. (So much for achieving my writing goals and keeping my promises.) I have been so inspired, shaken, broken in, and overwhelmed all at once over the past few weeks… it’s a little murky and hard to explain. I guess that’s what being in your last semester of college does to you. I’m mentally exhausted and scared and thrilled, all at once.

I have to admit, what happened this afternoon (as well as over the past few weeks) was no coincidence, nothing I had really planned or set out to do. I had just been wandering, taking a stroll in the chilly weather along the beach, and it just happened. Suddenly it was there, an opportunity just waiting to present itself. Something for me to stumble upon and experience. And it wasn’t until I was in the midst of it did I realize this was happening, and how much it would affect me.

It started as a walk. I was going towards Barnes & Noble at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, an open area with shops and sounds and all kinds of people always milling around with something to do. Downtown Santa Monica is also known for its homeless population; individuals lugging their bags and sleeping in the park or on the beach, often overlooked by the thousands of shoppers hurrying to their stores. I passed by a few homeless men and women; smiled at them, but unfazed. It wasn’t until I saw the man with long dreads, carrying several large green bags and dragging his bare feet to one of the benches in the plaza. He sat comfortably, hands in lap, as if settling in for a long spell. I was immediately drawn to his appearance; the sunken brown eyes, the raggedy clothes, the overstuffed bags filled with his stuff. But what hit me the most was this man’s feet: blackened, calloused, cracked and dusty from walking. The poor man didn’t even have proper shoes. The image haunted me as I watched him slowly shuffle to the bench, dragging his bags and his dirty feet. My heart suddenly stopped; I couldn’t breathe. I inched forward, slowly realizing what I had just seen. And then I felt an overwhelming burst in my chest. I wasn’t sure what or how or why, but something had to be done.

Dizzy, I walked into the first store my own feet would take me: the huge Old Navy along the Promenade. Luckily they were doing a huge sale on flip flops and I picked up a pair, hoping it was the right size and durable enough for this man’s broken feet. Despite my own lack of funds (it’s not even funny how broke I am right now), I bought the shoes and tucked it safely within a bag. After reluctantly leaving the store to check if the man was still present, it took me a while to gather the courage to finally walk up to him, bag with shoes in hand.

“Excuse me, sir,” I said meekly, edging closer to the bench where he was sitting. “I noticed you weren’t wearing any shoes.” Hurriedly I pulled out the sandals from the shopping bag. “So I bought you a pair.”

The man looked at me, eyes sunken, as if trying to register what was happening. And then he froze, holding up his hand. “Oh no, I’m okay. I have shoes. Thank you.”

I looked around. “You have a pair? How come you’re not wearing them?”

Pride (or shame, or a heart-breaking mixture of both) swelled in his voice as the man replied, “I’m okay.”

I was worried, but reluctant. I wasn’t trying to cause a public scene. “Are you sure?” I asked insistently. “I bought them for you.”

“I’m okay,” he said again.

I walked away, feeling slightly embarrassed but also worried. Why was he not accepting my charity? It wasn’t even that; I just really wanted to give him the shoes because I couldn’t stand to see him without them. It wasn’t an act of charity or pity; it was something I felt I needed to do. More importantly, it was something he needed.

I walked around for a bit, trying to come up with a game plan. I had to give him the shoes without hurting his pride or pissing him off. More determined than ever, I briskly walked back to my car and found an unopened granola bar, a bottle of water, and an unused travel lotion. I put these along with the flip flops into the shopping bag (taking out the receipt and price tag), and went back to this homeless man sitting alone on the bench. I must have walked up close to him at least five times, feeling nervous because I did not want to upset him, before finally handing him the bag. I went up close, dropped the bag beside his feet, smiled at him and kept moving. “God bless,” I called out, before walking off into the nearest store. The man looked surprised and tried calling after me, shyly insisting once again, but I disappeared before he could say anything else or try to give the shoes back to me. (I cut through Barnes & Noble and a parking lot just so that he wouldn’t find me, HAHA. Kind of scary hiding from a homeless man.) Nonetheless, the bag was in his possession; it was no longer on the bench where he sat. I felt a sense of achievement, relief, blessing and gratitude as I walked back to my car. Even though it wasn’t money, thank God he took the gift. I pray that God would bless him, whatever he ends up doing, and that despite his reservations that he still uses the shoes. It wasn’t a charity gift. It was a calling. As nervous/intimidating as the whole thing was, it was something I had to do out of love for this poor man. Sometimes, people just need to be reminded of their worth and given love.

I don’t know what will happen next, but all I know is that that moment has changed me. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It just reminded me of how precious every little thing is, how much a gift such as a simple pair of flip flops could mean to someone in need. It reminded me of the inner pride we all have, pride like the man’s, that we all need to learn to let go and accept/receive love into our lives. It taught me that real, genuine love is selfless, expecting nothing in return. It taught me courage, the importance of a smile. And to find God in the eyes of every one we meet, even the broken and rejected whom we pass every day on the streets. After that moment I felt so shaken up and out of breath afterwards, as if my whole body and soul was on fire. Today, I was set on fire. I can no longer contain or control it. I want to do something remarkable on this earth… I don’t yet know what kind of mark I’ll leave, but I’m excited to find out. God always has some crazy plan up His sleeve; ya never know what could happen in the blink of an eye… I have a feeling it’ll be huge, unexpected, and filled with love. God knows just how big my heart is, how I long to give and receive love in all forms. The future frightens me and I may not know where I am going, but I sure as heck am excited to start.

– A

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