Thanks Given for the Off Ramp Man

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November 21, 2013
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December 5, 2013

Thanks Given for the Off Ramp Man

podcast-iconListen to: Thanks Given for the Off Ramp Man
Read by: Rebecca Balko
Length: 7:41

Coming off the ramp from I-95 and approaching the light …I see him. Though the faces change, it’s always the same guy. With clothes worn and tattered, usually unshaven, hair unkept, eyes empty – looking at me…but not really. He is more looking through me – hoping perhaps for a dollar, and always holding a sign that will have various phrases ranging from “Out of Work” to “Hungry Veteran” to “Will work for Food”.

I find myself having a variety of reactions as I make my approach. Sometimes I try to get in the farthest lane – positioning my car to be visually blocked in hopes of not being spotted by him; sometimes I will be in line and watching, without looking directly at him; sometimes he may be right beside my window and I will stare forward or try to appear busy, as if I’m unaware that he is standing there. Sometimes I will just crack the window and hand him a dollar, still not making much eye contact.  But then occasionally, it will happen…for whatever reason, I will feel compelled to not only give him a dollar, but to actually make brief conversation and usually ask if he perhaps needs treatment or shelter. You know it’s interesting because in those moments he is no longer the “invisible man”, but instead, he is a real guy with a real story and often times he has ~ real needs. I would have to say that the “off ramp guy” is above almost anything else, the most consistent “thorn in my side” because I vary so greatly in my reaction to him.

It’s not that I hold myself in poor light based on whether I give money or not, or even as to whether I speak or not. No, what gets me is the condition of my own heart when I see him. Regardless of “why” he is there or “what” he may be trying to accomplish by being there, what often haunts me is the reaction of my own heart towards him, (the part of me that no one else even knows about~ except my Creator). Sometimes I will think to myself, “YOU need to get a job! Why should I give YOU money that I work for, when YOU aren’t willing to do the same?” Sometimes I will think, “YOU MUST be crazy, why else would you stand out here all day long?” Sometimes I will think, “Uh-oh! I better lock my door, he might be dangerous – he looks kinda off!” But then sometimes, (and I believe it’s when I am really connected to God), I will think, “I wonder who he is and how he has ended up here. I wonder if he needs help. I wonder if he knows how much God loves him.” Then the hardest thought of all will creep in, “Why am I to busy to tell him that God loves him? Why am I just sitting here? Why am I not at the very least saying a prayer for him?”

You see, it eats at me because I know that when I am having my “judgmental thoughts” they are stemming out of my own pride, ego and self righteousness. Who am I to look down on this man? Was I not there myself at one time in my life? I might not have been on a street corner… “But I assure you it’s only because I didn’t think of it!” Was I not: a thief; a liar; a cheat; a scammer; a con? Was it not I that went without bathing OR changing clothes regularly – seeing absolutely no hope for my future? Did I not look at people, (but not really),  just looking for what they would give me so that I could stay numb for just one more day in this life? Did I not on my best day…wish for the end – believing my life had “no meaning and no purpose”?

So why am I not standing in this man’s shoes today? Was it because: I picked myself up? I was so smart? I was a better person? Or am I not standing where he is because: God loved me even then…during my most horrible moments; Because people I didn’t even know reached out to me and loved me when I couldn’t love myself; Because in that state of utter hopelessness someone prayed to God on my behalf; Because even though I looked crazy, dirty and unstable…someone made eye contact with me; and because once at 2am someone welcomed me into their home, (while I was high), where their children were sleeping and prayed for me? You see, this is why the man at the off-ramp is the thorn in my side. He is the daily reminder of my reprieve and of my responsibility to be thankful for this life and the One who gave it to me. As well as to love and pray for those around me…especially the very least appealing among them.

I was a part of a teaching series that was on this simple premise: “If you knew for a fact that you had 30 days left to live….how would you live it?” Well the obvious things that came to my mind were to love my family and my friends as much as possible. However the feeling that really intensified over the 30 days that I participated in this series, was the desire to share with as many people as possible, (especially those that are the easiest to over look), my experience that God loves them, adores them and desires above all else to have a relationship with them. To share my own life as an example of that love and to always realize that I didn’t earn this life, but was lovingly “spared” the last one.

The holidays are upon us and this time of the year always seems to bring about a desire to be connected to, to share with and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s a time of year that seems to evoke self reflection and to become aware of things we would like to change in the year to come. Being the way that I am by nature, I always want to make those changes BIG and FAST, but of course it doesn’t really work that way in the long run. For the first time in a long time, I’m not feeling the need to have “big sweeping changes” but rather there is just a desire to not waste my days and to not lay my head down at night with regret for opportunities missed. What always makes me feel good is when I vigorously pursue that 12th step of service to other recovering poeple. What always makes me feel great is when I not only pursue it within the walls of the recovery community…but in the community of life its self. I want to share with you my prayer and wish you ALL a wonderful Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukah and Merry Christmas!

Dear God, please enable me to see with Your eyes, to hear with Your ears and to love with Your heart this day ~ Amen and Shalom

© 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Rebecca Balko