Red Light

I have been taking the same route to school and work for the past two years now. Almost daily, I make the drive down Alondra Blvd. and make my way towards the 605 freeway. There is a light, just before the on ramp, that used to always be green. Rarely, if ever, did I have to stop and wait at this light. Until a few months ago, when it seemed as though it had been changed. Suddenly, I often found myself stuck at this red light. Not only would it rarely be green anymore, it would stay red for what seemed like an eternity. I would always be stressed and rushed on my way to school and work (because I am ALWAYS running late), and this red light would stress me out even more. I always hated stopping at this signal.

About a month ago, I was heading towards this signal when the light turned yellow, and once again, I found myself stuck in line at the eternal red light. I glanced out the window to my right, and there sat a short, scruffy homeless man on a bus bench. He waited until the light turned red, stood up, and began walking up and down the side of the lane with a small cardboard sign no bigger than his own hand. He wore an over sized grey zip-up sweater, a purple shirt, dirty old jeans and some tore up shoes. He didn’t bother anyone, didn’t even get really close to any cars… almost as if he expected not to get any money from anyone. Lost in my daze of watching him, I had hardly noticed the light turned green. I drove off and I didn’t think much of him at all for the rest of the day.
The next morning, I was on my way to work again and I hit that awful light. There I saw the same man walking up and down the shoulder of the lane with his small sign. For some reason, I just watched him in my mirror. I never gave him anything. I just watched him. This continued to happen throughout my week as I would be on my way to school or work. Everyday I saw this homeless man, and everyday something about him struck me as different.
In high school, I got to work closely with an amazing teacher who was in charge of all the community service and volunteering activities for students. My senior year was filled with trips with him and many other students to various homeless shelters. A lesson he had always instilled in us was to treat everyone like a human being, a child of God. Whenever my teacher met a homeless person, he always made it a point to ask their name and shake their hand. My teacher never just tossed a five dollar bill or a bottle of water to a beggar. No, he made sure to treat it like any other interaction with a “normal” human being. The interactions he would have with these people were always so interesting. He would talk with them like he had known them for years. There was respect there, there was love. This lesson stuck with me and has been something I’ve carried with me since high school. One day, I rolled up to the signal, and I was reminded of this lesson. I hesitated, fearing it might be awkward to try and converse with him. No sooner than that, the words of Matthew 25 came flooding in my heart…“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'”. I didn’t have any food or money on me, and I didn’t know what all I could DO for him, but I felt a tugging on my heart. I rolled down my window.
“Excuse me, sir,” I nervously yelled out my window. His eyes lit up and he came running over to my car.
“Hi!” he brightly said.
“I don’t have any cash on me, but I’ve seen you for the past few days and just wanted to meet you. My name is Toni”. He comfortably leaned over my window, somewhat into my car, and said,

“Nice to meet you friend, my name is Jerry! And no worries. The best thing you could give me is conversation. I would love for someone to talk to every once in awhile”.
“Well, I take this route almost daily.. so I’m sure I’ll be conversing with you a lot then!” I said. Just then, the light turned green. Suddenly, the time that the light was red seemed so short. We said our goodbye’s and I was on my way to work.

The next day, on my way to school, I actually was looking forward to hitting a red light and seeing Jerry. Unfortunately, and ironically, the light was green today. Something I used to love but now made me somewhat sad. Each day was different, if it was a green light, I would make sure to wave to Jerry as I drove by. If it was red, I got the wonderful and all too short of an opportunity to talk with this guy. Quickly, through our short, thirty-second interactions, I got to know a little bit more about Jerry. I learned that Jerry is currently sleeping in a friend’s garage floor with some cats. Jerry tells me there is no door to the garage so he is always very cold at night, but he is thankful for a roof over his head. To use the bathroom, Jerry has to find a restaurant near by that will let him use their facilities. But, he is, as he told me, ” lucky and thankful to live close to a McDonalds”! Lol. Lastly, I learned Jerry is a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. Since we made the connection that we share this walk with Jesus, our conversations often consist of him encouraging me spiritually. I have been so humbled by my interactions with Jerry. Without knowing it, in our short conversations, he reminds me of the blessings I so often take for granted. Today was no different.

I pulled up to a red light today and Jerry came over to my car,
“How’s life treating you today?” Jerry asked as he usually does.
“Its good,” I said. “I just went to school this morning, then I went home for a little bit, and now I’m on my way back for another three classes.” What he said next simply struck me like a ton of bricks.
“How nice that you can say that, huh?” I looked at him, slightly confused. He continued, “That you can say, ‘I went home’. What a blessing that is that you get to go home.”
“I’ve never thought about it like that Jerry. That’s a great perspective.”
“That’s what happens when you’re homeless like me!” Jerry said somewhat cheerfully, “you realize how blessed you are. Let me tell you something though, you are homeless, just like me. We all are. We all will be until we die, and THEN we will be truly at home, with Christ.”

The light turned green, he smiled and wished me a good rest of my day. I cannot explain the sheer joy that absolutely flooded into my heart. Such a simple, yet wise perspective from such a humble man. I truly believe Jerry is my own personal gift from God himself, to remind me just how wonderfully blessed I am, at the exact place and time I need to hear it. From such short interactions, I have a greater appreciation for my family, my home (especially on rainy, cold nights), and for my life. I am humbled that Jesus has given me this life, and somehow, makes an almost daily appointment between me and one of his angels everyday.

I write this to encourage you, next time you see a homeless person on a street corner, outside of the grocery store, wherever you may be, remember that they are a person. A person like you, created with a purpose, created in the image of God himself. Ask him or her their name. You might just be the next person hoping for a red light.



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