I caught a glimpse of Jesus a couple of years ago. He was hanging out in a dingy hospital room in Columbia, Kentucky.
A Glimpse of Jesus
His diabetes was acting up again, which was no surprise because dumpster-divers don’t have the best diet even on a good day. He had already lost a few toes here or there in the previous years, but this time he was facing the possible loss of his foot. (Spoiler alert: don’t worry—I prayed for him, his condition improved, and he ambled away from the hospital on both feet a few days later.)
I’d actually been hanging out with Jesus for a couple of months, but I’m a little slow to recognize old friends.
It started when a guy named Bill came to church. You couldn’t miss him: a rumple of a man well over six-foot tall, with shaggy wrinkled clothes topped off by a white beard and white hair, neither of which had seen a comb in weeks. Everything about him screamed homeless. Bill’s massive frame ambled along slowly as the result of his missing toes. The only thing more worrisome than whether he would make it to the coffee bar without falling was the possibly that he would make it to the coffee bar and then try to walk away holding his hot coffee.
Bill and his coffee made it safely to one of our café-style tables, so I introduced myself. I did so more out of a concern for other’s safety than to make him feel welcome. (When you see people like Bill your first thoughts are about the possibilities of what could go wrong.) I wanted to check him out first-hand. Everything about Bill was confusing. Where are you from? I used to drive a truck in the Northeast. How’d you hear about our church? I drove by the other day. Tell me about your family: I think they’re in Indiana, at least, they were the last time I talked to them. When the service started Bill worshipped the same way most of us did, except he was taller, shabbier, and scarier than the rest of us. He raised his hands and tilted his head upward, soaking in the genuine praise around him.
Bill became a regular among us. He introduced us to the people in his entourage. He took care of Roberta, 60-plus years old: short, loud, and extremely off-putting. Plus, she was pretty ugly. One week Bill pulled me aside and apologized for her behavior and explained that her family had thrown her out on the street. He said he was now her only protection. They lived together in an abandoned mobile home out in the county. There didn’t seem to be anything awkward about the arrangement because Roberta definitely needed protection, mostly from herself. A few weeks later Bill brought Doug and Maria, a thirty-something couple. Doug seemed almost normal and Maria was almost certainly mentally handicapped. They were both embarrassingly overweight. Bill told me they were down on their luck and needed a place to stay until they got up on their feet. Bill’s squatter mobile home didn’t have heat or electricity but it was safe and dry, so he opened his home to them.
Bill came to church early and loved to greet people. If they asked what he did for a living he smiled and said simply, “I’m a dumpster-diver.” Which was true—that’s how Bill cared for Roberta and provided shelter for Doug and Maria (although he once complained to me privately that Doug ate too much—especially the fresh produce he regularly scored at the supermarket dumpster.) The brave people who asked how Bill came into that line of work heard about the stroke he suffered while behind the wheel of a truck in downtown New York City. It seems Bill lost consciousness and drove the truck into the entrance of a Manhattan office building. That’s when he switched careers.
One day Roberta came to church alone. She told me Bill was in the hospital.
Small-town Kentucky hospitals can be pretty depressing places, but when I walked into his room Bill looked up and gave me a smile from his bed. The smile was his big mistake; that’s when I saw through his disguise and figured out I was seeing a glimpse of Jesus. I tried to play it cool and not let on. Bill asked about my family. He asked how the church was getting along. He put me completely at ease. There, in his hospital room, he was a gracious host.
The visit felt weird because I had come to pray for his foot. His circulation had failed. The foot was turning colors and he was likely to lose it above the ankle. He needed healing, but it’s difficult praying over his ankle because after all, I was ministering to the Lord of Glory. When we finished praying I asked him if he felt any better. He said, “I’m not worried. It’ll all work out.” It did. The circulation returned. He was discharged and came back to church just a few more times before he moved on to Indiana. He said he wanted to see his family.
A few months later I received a handwritten letter, blue ink on a notebook page. The ragged little pieces from where the page was torn out of the spiral notebook tickled the fingers of my left hand. Doug and Maria had found public-assisted housing. Roberta was ill and perhaps sick unto death. And Bill was finding riches in the dumpsters of southern Indiana.
He thanked me for the welcome he had received in Kentucky. I sat holding the letter, knowing I had caught a glimpse of Jesus, but I couldn’t recall if I had ever thanked him.
This article about a glimpse of Jesus originally appeared here, and is used by permission.