“Excuse me, I wonder if you could spare some change so I can make a phone call?”
Those were the first words Marc ever said to me. I heard them as I was walking out of McDonalds in 2007 while I was in seminary in St. Louis. They came from a disheveled, but very polite and articulate black man.
Anyone who has spent any time in the city has probably heard the same line from numerous nameless faceless people. Like most, I, too, usually just keep walking. But this time I chose the road less traveled by, and it’s made all the difference.
He needed another week of rent. Our church helped. We went to dinner together that night, and he told me his story. Most of it was a lie. But I let it go. We kept getting together. Eventually, I learned his real story. It was much worse than his cover story. The details are not mine to share.
Except one, along the way, we became friends. While he was at our house for Christmas, he told me that I was his “brother from another mother.” He got that right.
That was 9 years ago. Since then, Marc has been in and out of shelters, and now lives back in Boston. I am visiting him this weekend. Marc would tell you that he got the better end of our conversation at McDonalds. He’s wrong about that.
Marc has taught me the value of work. God created us to work. There is no one that I know that works harder than Marc. He has had countless jobs since I have known him. He has been an airport shuttle driver, car wash attendant, and is currently working as a temp stacking and sorting newspapers for the Boston Globe. They are the type of jobs that most of us don’t think about or perhaps even value. But those jobs have meant the difference between living on the street or in a shelter, or having an efficiency apartment like the one he lives in now. Marc’s work also allows him to offer a home to his daughter.
Marc has taught me the value of family. God created us for family. Sometimes those families are a mess. Marc has two children, 19 and 20, who are facing all of the challenges you might imagine. Marc sacrifices much in order to do the best by his children. They are the joy of his life. He worries about them, believes he has failed them, and would move heaven and earth to give them a better life – just like us.
Marc has taught me the value of hope. God offers us hope. Every day is a struggle for Marc. He takes the train and two buses to get to work. His temp job ends in June. Marc often reminds me of a person lost at sea who keeps treading water waiting for the rescue to come, and trying to keep their head above water until it does. But he keeps on going. He is hoping for something better soon. He is hoping for something better eventually. He is hoping in Christ. Sometimes, hope is all you have…until it comes.
Marc has taught me the value of loving your neighbor. Sometimes we meet our neighbors at McDonalds. While we wait on our hope, we can either wait alone, or we can wait with others. We can chose to wait with others as strangers, or we can chose to wait with others as friends bound together in love - love of one another and love of Christ. When Marc and I met at the subway station again yesterday, we both broke down crying and we hugged each other deeply for all to see. Last night over dinner, we told stories of our lives and friendship in front of his daughter. I told him that he needed to see himself as one of the strongest and most loving people that I know. I wanted him to hear that. I wanted his daughter to hear that. He told me I was one of the only people to ever see him as a real person, that I had been a great friend to him. and that I was "one cool as $#!& white dude." I needed to hear that. We all laughed and cried together, and left encouraged.
Through Marc, I have learned that I would have been a lot poorer if I had just given him the change he asked for outside of that McDonalds.
It's funny how God chooses to bless us sometimes.