An Amazing Man

08/07/2006

I picked up my cell phone just the other day, to call my brother…we do not talk daily, or even weekly, but still, we are close. We grew up playing catch on the front lawn together, and building forts together and swimming in the back yard pool together. In a family of six children, usually the ones closest in age are the ones we hang out with. Since I was second oldest, and my brother was just two years younger, we were buds.

As young children, we had a lot in common, and we got along well. I only remember having one fight with Keith, and that ended in simply stopping and walking away from each other, because in the middle of our brawl, it seemed so senseless. That was probably the last fight we ever had with each other.

When I first got my driver’s license, Keith was sent along with me for “protection.” I was sixteen, he was fourteen, and I guess my parents thought it unsafe for a young girl to be driving after dark alone, so Keith would go along with me. Just because I was taller than Keith, and weighed more than him at that point, it seemed to not matter…it was the 70’s, and that was the thinking of my parents…take a “man” along, and no one will bother you! I didn’t mind, because like I said, Keith and I were buds.

As we grew further into our teenage years, Keith and I chose different paths to follow. I chose the path of the “good girl,” Keith chose a path that I never really understood…if he was told “not to,” he did it anyway--he had to see for himself. I was content to listen to parental instruction, and pretty much stick with the rules set out before me. Because of this, I rarely got into trouble, and really, was rarely told what to do. Keith always got into trouble, and was always told what to do…he just didn’t do it.

The day Jim and I got married, Keith was no where to be found…I hesitate to think of where he was at age 17, what he was doing, but he finally showed up, put on his tux, and joined the rest of the family for the celebration. The look in his eyes showed a different world that he lived in…and since hearing stories of those days from him in later years, it was better that I didn’t know what he was doing. It wasn’t a world that I could even fathom.

In every family, perhaps there is a black sheep, so to speak. If our family has one, most would say it was Keith. He marches to the beat of a different drummer, and yet if you were to ask each of my siblings who has the biggest heart, it would be unanimously, Keith. He would give you the shirt right off his back, and help you put it on, if need be. As we all got married, and have remained married, bought homes, raised families, Keith married and divorced, gave up everything to his wife…married and divorced, gave up everything to his wife…married…and eventually had three sons with his third wife, one of whom was born prematurely and died within a few hours. The other two boys are now teenagers, and Keith is recently divorced from their mother. They are provided for, and even if I don’t “understand” all that…I’ll leave it with God.

Why do I go into all this history of my younger brother? Because I want to share with you what an amazing man he is! Not because he conforms to all the rules that most of us try to live by, but because of the way that God designed my brother, and the way that I believe God uses all believers, in their unique design, for His Kingdom work…which brings me back to calling my brother, on his cell phone, just the other day.

The phone rang, and Keith answered…I asked him where he was…he was sleeping on a park bench by the waterfront in Oakland, California. He was not just napping there; it was where he had spent the night, as a homeless person. His sons live with their mother, and Keith lives wherever he ends up each night. What am I to think of this younger brother of mine?

Most of my life, I have lived by societal rules…I have always had a roof over my head, a steady income, only one husband, and a strong sense of “how things should be done.” Most of those things have been tested in my life of late, but still, what am I to think of my brother who is living the life of a street person--one who sorts through garbage looking for items to sell to the thrift stores, and wears clothes found in piles of things that others have discarded…and is excited at his finds, at his clothes and at the price that the thrift stores will pay for what others have casually thrown away! Keith told me that he can find a dress that would sell for $12.00, and they will give him $6.00 for it. He knows where meals are distributed and he knows how to get around without the high cost of gas and insurance…he rides his bike everywhere. After recently being laid off from a good, full-time job, Keith says he likes this simple lifestyle. He says it has its hard parts, but then so does working a full-time job.

Interesting conversation…don’t you think? And yet, as Keith and I talked about his life right now, where he has been, where he is going…our hearts spoke the same language. A language of putting this world and all that it contains into perspective.

You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the
evil powers of this world. So why do you keep on following
rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle, don’t eat, don’t
touch.” Such rules are mere human teaching about things that
are gone as soon as we use them. These rules may seem wise
because they require strong devotion, humility, and severe bodily
discipline. But they have no effect when it comes to conquering
a person’s evil thoughts and desires. Colossians 2:20-23 (NLT)

Keith has been a hard worker throughout his life. He can fix just about anything, he works faster and harder than most people I know, and he is extremely gifted in many areas. In fact, just two short years ago, he catered Chris and Holly’s (our middle son and his wife) entire wedding. Keith brought in the crew, set up the buffet, bought and cooked the food, and tore it all down when it was over. He did an awesome job! And now when others see him out there, sleeping on a park bench, what must they be thinking of my brother? What do I think of others that I see wandering the streets, seemingly lost and in need of help? Do you know what my thoughts always seem to go to when I see them…? “A long time ago, they were somebody’s little baby…fresh and new and innocent…I wonder what has happened in their lives?” But to tell you the truth, most times they scare me just a bit and I tend to walk around them more than up to them to ask them what brought them to this place on this day.

Do people do that with my brother? I bet they do, although Keith says that he stays clean, there are showers available, and that the reason most of the homeless people are dirty is because it is their “protection.” They want to be left alone, and so if they are dirty, people won’t come near them. He says that there are doctors and lawyers, and divorced people, and you name it, wandering the streets because they have had enough of what the world has to offer…they desire a simpler life. For sure, there are those with mental instabilities and drug and alcohol addictions, runaways, etc…, but not all homeless people fall into those categories. There are as many different stories as there are people on the streets, if we’ll take the time to listen to them. I was listening to my brother on this day…

And so we talked on, and I was more than a little intrigued that I not only knew, but deeply loved, one of God’s street people. I had some questions for Keith, and he was glad to answer them as he sat on his park bench watching the sailboats go by, soaking in the warm California sunshine. So many have been complaining about the tremendous heat wave that California has had the past couple of weeks…not Keith. He said, “Everybody seems to hate this weather, I love it.” That’s my brother! I asked him if the bench gets hard…he said it does. He has to admit a comfy bed, a T.V. and a place that he could be by himself is probably in his future, but for now, he is content with this simple life.

Is there something wrong with this? Should I be concerned for my brother? Should I send him money? Talk him into getting a full-time job? Convince him that he’s not living a “normal life,” and it’s “wrong?” It didn’t seem so…the longer we talked, the more I knew that he was right where God wanted him to be…as strange as that may sound. How can this be? Can I not only explain it to all of you, but to myself as well? “Please, God, help me to understand Your will in another’s life.”

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, for we have heard that you trust in Christ Jesus, and that you love
all of God’s people. You do this because you are looking forward to the joys
of heaven—as you have been ever since you first heard the truth of the
Good News. This same good News that came to you is going out all over the
world. It is changing lives everywhere, just as it changed yours that very first day
you heard and understood the truth about God’s great kindness to sinners.
Colossians 1:3-6 (NLT)

Keith knows our Lord! The youngest person in our family, my sister Karen, led Keith into a relationship with Jesus Christ many, many years ago in Fresno, California. Since Keith first “heard the truth of the Good News,” he said, “Yes.” The news that “is changing lives everywhere,” changed his “that very first day” he heard it. He understood “God’s great kindness to sinners.” He knew he was a sinner, and so the gift of God’s Holy Spirit moved into my brother’s heart, even if he didn’t fully understand it, even if he didn’t fully live this new life as some might think he should have--Keith’s heart was changed on that day, and he’ll tell you it was.

Keith was on a journey that would bring him to this day, on this park bench, talking to his sister (me) a thousand miles away, as I sat in my RV in Golden, Colorado. We were connected, not just over our cell phones, but in our hearts and in our minds, as only God could do…and we talked, for almost two hours, we talked--and once again I saw how the body of Christ works to reach the lost, the unsaved, the hurting, the hopeless…as God sends His people out into the world to help others know of His great love, wherever they may be.

As much as Keith and I understood one another, and the missions we are on in life, we also saw the great differences that have molded us into the people we are today. How a brother and a sister, growing up side by side, playing catch on the front lawn, eating dinner together every night, listening to the same rules and regulations laid down in a very stable home environment, could turn out so drastically different, and yet so very much alike, is an amazing and sometimes bewildering thing.

At this point in our lives, Keith and I both understand hard work, and yet the work that God seems to be calling us to do right now doesn’t “look” like work, as the world knows it. There are hearts out there that are bleeding, that are crying out for love and understanding--and those hearts can be found on the streets, in a church lobby, in an RV park, in the grocery store, at a concert, on a cruise, in a restaurant, on a mission trips to Africa…the list is endless. Wherever people are, there is a great need for someone to share some Good News with them, and that work, most times, does not bring in a paycheck--but does that make it any less worthwhile in God’s eyes? I certainly hope and think not!

Keith lives in a world that I cannot imagine. Just the other night he said he was walking down the street and a woman was there, selling tickets to a sex show…I guess that she and her husband were putting one on across the street. Keith stopped to talk with her, to hear her heart, to give her some words of encouragement. When he left, she felt like someone understood her…Keith was “working the streets,” but in God’s way, not man’s.

I would be scared, I would not want to be out at night, in the places he is called to go, talking to the people he is called to talk to…would you? But someone needs to be, and it seems that God has designed Keith, throughout his whole life, to be that person. Did it seem to be a mistake when he was a teenager? Did it cause my parents a lot of grief and heartache and worry? Did the rest of the family look at this “black sheep” as if something was wrong with him, and try to fix him? I could probably answer yes to all of the above, and yet in all of it, God had a plan. He was molding Keith’s heart to be with the people that no one loves, or cares about, or even tries to understand. Keith loves these people, they are “God’s people” to him, and he understands their struggles! Simply amazing!

And here I sit, with my squeaky clean life, in a beautiful RV park, in my wonderfully designed fifth-wheel, typing away on my personal laptop…what am I to think of that? I know what I am to think of that…I think I get it! I know why I am here, and I know why Keith is there, and I know why Carrole is in Ethiopia, and I know why the Taylor’s and the Nelson’s just got back from Africa where Ty gave up his life (our friend Ty Taylor died in Africa a year ago on a missionary trip there), and I know why Pastor Dave is in Austin, and I know why Deb is scrubbing the church kitchen in Florida, why Rick is writing music in L.A., why Steve is washing windows in Fresno, why Howard is building a home in Coarsegold, why Karen is designing jewelry in Pleasanton…because that is how the body of Christ works! If we all did the same exact job, if we were all “fingers,” there would be no toes, or eyes, or ears or big hearts to share the love of God where it needs to be shared—whether that be on the streets where tickets for sex shows are being sold, or in RV parks where I wander over and talk with a lady sitting outside having her tea, reading her book…a woman filled with hurt and pain from the loss of her sister, the concern for a brother dying of lung cancer, and other family issues that perhaps no one would even ask her about if I did not sit at her picnic table for almost two hours, listening to her heart. We all have a job to do…are we doing it?

Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though
you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as
your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.
Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)

If we allow the “world” to shove us into a mold that God never designed for our life, simply because we do not look like we are “working” the same as others, we will miss the very work God designed for us to do! Keith works hard, and cheerfully from his bench there in Oakland, California. As I talked with him, he had at least 5 other phone calls come through. He said it was a “Busy day in the office.” We laughed! His next stop for the day was to ride his bike over to a house, where he and his boys were helping to redo a bathroom. Was he getting paid for it? I really don’t know, but what Keith knew was that the people who lived in that house needed a listening ear, and a helping hand, so he was going over there to give them that. He called it his next appointment of the day--after he got off his long-distance conference call from Colorado.

You see, Keith always, always sees the bright side of life, and he shares that light with everyone he meets… Is it because he knows his Bible so well, can quote Scripture like ordering off the menu at McDonald’s, has been in church every Sunday soaking up the words of his family pastor? No! It’s because God’s love was planted in his heart many years ago, and it continues to grow, as the Great Teacher guides him through his days.

I truly believe the “conference call” that Keith and I were involved in, was a divine appointment, because God has even bigger and greater plans for Keith’s life! It was time for Keith to take a step that he has avoided for most of his years…a step into God’s Word as never before. I asked Keith if he had a Bible. He does not, not right now. I suggested that he get one. As backwards as it sounds, it’s time for Keith to not only live the Word, it’s time for him to be in it, reading about it, and finding out for the first time that he is not just a wandering soul with no purpose, but a soul that God created for this day and this time in history, to do God’s will. Keith agreed!

Let the words of Christ, in all their richness,
live in your hearts and make you wise. Use
his words to teach and counsel each other.
Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs
to God with thankful hearts. And whatever
you do or say, let it be as a representative of the
Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through
him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17 (NLT)

I said, “Keith, do you know what you are? You are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ!” Do you know what Keith said to that? He exclaimed, “Oh man, I hate that! I have never liked ‘religion’ and I don’t want to be known as one of those guys that stands on the street corner with his Bible, yelling at everyone going by!” And so my brother, who knows me as the “Jesus Freak” that I am, began to understand in our conversation that just because we love the Lord with all our heart, it doesn’t have to make us what we would never want to be…but it will make us just who God wants us to be, and He will use us in His own special way--it will be as natural as going over to a friend’s house and helping them redo their bathroom, or talking with a woman on the street selling tickets to a sex show… I told Keith that is how God works, through relationships, and when we start to allow the Holy Spirit inside of us to do that work through us in an office, on the street, in a church, we will start to see people set free from the bondage that they are living in, as never before… God is a miraculous God!

Keith had been telling me how tired he was, physically, from his last very arduous job. He said he wanted to start using his mind more, and his body less. I then knew this was a divine appointment, because it was time that Keith understood godly wisdom in an even greater way, and use it in ways that he can’t even yet imagine!

…for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds.
In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is
continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ,
who created this new nature within you. Colossians 3:9-10 (NLT)

One day in the future, when I say again to Keith, “You are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ!” He will say, “You know what? You’re right, I am, but I never understood what that really meant until now! It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a crazy thing! It’s loving others as Jesus did, and sharing His Good News with them, wherever I go. That’s just fine with me!” The walls that the enemy will place around our hearts need to be broken down.

The last job Keith had was in an animal clinic. He was the maintenance/janitorial man there. He cleaned up the animal hospital at night when very few people were there. Keith is a man, a boy really, who does NOT LIKE ANIMALS! I cannot stress that enough! In fact, he is downright scared of animals and has been as far back as he can remember. One night when Keith was at work, one of the nurses needed a helping hand with a big dog she was working with, and Keith was the only one around to help out. Because she asked him, and because he has a heart of gold, he gave her a hand, and in doing so he “touched” the dog during the procedure. Then Keith, without thinking, went on his way mopping the floors and making needed repairs…until it hit him. He had “touched” the dog! You have to get this; Keith had not willingly touched any animal for over 40 years! Not a dog, not a cat, not a rabbit…nothing! In fact, his friends would put their animals outside, or wherever, when he visited, out of respect for Keith’s “phobia” around animals.

When it finally hit Keith, he had to go find the nurse and tell her what had happened! He was so excited, he could barely contain himself! For all of his life, for reasons he doesn’t even really understand, Keith avoided animals at all costs. He had been set free of whatever it was that kept him bound up! He told the nurse that he finally realized, after touching the dog, that he “would not die” if he touched an animal. He had this big thing, all built up in his mind, and he’d never known a different way of thinking--and that night the walls came tumbling down, and God had set him free from his fear of animals.

Why do I tell you this story? Because, we all have walls that need to come tumbling down, and there are things that keep us trapped inside the enemy’s lies, and we don’t even know why sometimes, or where they came from. We just live inside those bars of fear, or hate or distrust because we don’t know another way of being. That is how Keith felt about dogs, about religion, and about being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Things he thought he knew, lies he was believing, needed to be gotten rid of, so that he could be free of the chains that bind us all.

I truly believe Keith did not have a Bible because of what he thought that “meant.” As we talked it through, he was beginning to understand it doesn’t “mean” anything and it’s not to be feared…he won’t die if he touches a Bible, or even if he becomes a religious fanatic, whatever that might mean. He won’t die if he walks into a church on a Sunday morning either. Those are the lies that have kept him away from the Word of God--that is Satan at work, to a tee! The truth is, that if he opens up the pages of God’s Book, and reads about all the things he is already doing for his Lord, he will be set free to do even greater works than ever before!

Keith got excited as we talked, and he said that there was a big Barnes and Nobles not far from where he was going to be. He said that after he finished with his work on the bathroom, he was going to take his boys over there and have them help him pick out a Bible. He thought that was a great idea, and really in God’s perfect timing to help him find a purpose in his life for where he found himself on this day…sleeping on a bench in a park, with no wife, and no job, and only the clothes on his back.

Ahh, my brother, my brother, how I do love you and the spirit within you! I can’t wait until our next “appointment,” from wherever I am to wherever you might be…both of us seeing this world from a different place, from a different set of circumstances, but with hearts that are joined by the love of our God!

May the Grace of God be with you Keith!

Your sister,

Diane