Maybe one of the biggest ways you can love somebody today is the quietest . . .
We’re already sweating.
No white tent is up today. Jenna and I take a seat in row 2 of the folding chairs. We scan the crowd. We wait for the unknown.
Then he strolls in. In a clean, crisp shirt today. I smile to see him. He's the one known I was waiting for.
Will he remember me? It's been two whole months. I wave, “You're looking good today, Walter Baby Love!”
I smile even more inside when he steps into the second row. I feel special (proud? is that weird?) to be the one he chooses to sit by. Gifts are hidden in his homelessness and I want to be near.
It’s Outdoor Church, the first Saturday each month when Fran & crew invite the homeless to come break bread in every way. (I want to be a Fran, but, alas, I am definitely not. Too timid. That I know.)
I like to listen to Walter, this aged yet ageless man with a brand of wisdom I could never generate. His smarts are from hard living, not from pecking keys on a laptop in a bedroom with a/c.
He starts talking. About his singing audition at the Von Braun Center. He then pulls out a brochure to show me about the Rescue Mission event he would sing at later today. I feel pride for Walter and say I'm glad he uses his gifts for God's glory. He knows.
What are you teaching me, Walter? What? I want to learn.
When I ask if he's singing for us here, he tells me his song choice (I’m sorry I’ve already forgotten it). “A good one, Walter.” He will teach through that one. I believe.
It’s suddenly not as hot. Clouds roll in—You'll rain us out, God? Really?—but Walter keeps talking, teaching me that getting wet won't hurt anybody this month, but in another month it might make you so sick you'd never recover.
On stage now is the worship team—a small white woman in denim capris and her black husband on the guitar, his shirt flapping open at the bottom as the wind picks up. They launch into their set.
I don't know all the words—no lyrics are PowerPoint-projected on the outside of this warehouse sitting on hot pavement. But I make do and harmonize with Jenna on one side and Walter Baby Love on the other, all of us aiming to praise the same God for providing (while I wonder if he's provided more for me and shouldn't my praise reflect it, if so?).
Walter leans in and mumbles, “I wish she'd stop that,” when the nothing-but-bones lady pushes around a cart of water bottles during the prayer. I hear him. (But I take a bottle and give thanks.)
Am I feeling rain? I look at Jenna. She nods. But nobody gets up. They know it's fine to get wet in September. I know, too; Walter told me.
Then something changes.
At the first thunder and far-off lightning, Walter gets fidgety. He whispers to me, “When God is doing his work, I gotta find a dark corner and wait ‘til he’s finished.”
And he does. Walter walks away—he’s scared of the thunder. His confidence gone.
I’m ashamed. Have I never considered how terrifying it would be to live outside in a thunderstorm? Shelter under a bridge would be little comfort. Even if Walter now lives in a room somewhere (I regret I didn’t ask), he’s bound to have bad memories from bad weather.
But the storm blows north this time, so Walter blows back in. He sits. Then he gets up and sings. We tell him Jenna got his picture. That makes him happy. It makes me happy, too.
And so we leave.
Smarter for the listening.
If we’ll get quiet enough to listen,
everyone—everyone—has something to teach.
* * *
Who can you listen to in the next 24 hours?