In between my scribbling notes and chomping on some greens I asked Rick and Carol a series of questions. This was primarily to get to know them better, but also to remind me that the persons seated directly across from me were, much like me, flesh and bone made in the image of Almighty God.

The following is from my notes from our meeting that day:

Me: How did you both meet and how long have you been married?
Carol: We met through a girlfriend but I knew Rick’s dad and knew him when he was a little kid. We’ve been married since 2008.
Rick: She’s (pointing to Carol) my security blanket. You know like Linus from Snoopy. 

Me:  How long have you been homeless?
Carol: 2 years.

Me: What is life like living on the streets and being homeless?
Rick: It’s bad! Carol got body slammed by a man on a garbage can and I woke up one day to someone kicking me in the kidneys. I’m tired of fighting. Living on the street is about survival at this point. 
Carol: My stuff gets stolen every day. 
Side note: Rick and Carol also recalled how they slept under the bridge there at the North Shore one winter. Pittsburgh winters are known for being notoriously brutal especially when the freezing wind comes off the nearby Allegheny River. Temps can reach as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit!

Me: What led you to become homeless?
Carol: My mom died 2 years ago. I suffered depression and made some bad choices. We trusted other people to stay with but it ended up badly and we were out on the street again.

Me: What would getting a house mean to you? (Rick and Carol talked several times about their hopes for securing housing on August 1st.)
Rick: It would mean being able to drink beer and watch the game. I would stay retired and stay home.
Carol: It would mean having our life back and being able to cook meals again.

Me: What are some of your hobbies? What do you enjoy doing most?
Rick: I’m a singer. I like to sing. When I was a young boy a pastor in my Baptist church called me up to sing because he saw me singing to myself. That’s where my love for singing came from. 
Side note: Rick mentioned he could sing a variety of songs and that his inspiration is Toby Keith whom he says he had the pleasure of personally meeting, along with former Pittsburgh Steelers Jerome Bettis. Rick at one point was also a truck driver. Carol used to work for a computer agency. Something she enjoyed doing because she worked with a team. Although she didn’t go into any further details you could tell she had some very fond memories with her past work experiences. She once worked at Wal-Mart for a short time as well and has recently applied at Target.

Me: If you could do things differently what would you do?
Rick: It’s not a matter of if I’m going back to music but I am going back.
Carol: When my mother passed I would have fought my sisters harder for the house, but I didn’t. (Carol had been a caretaker to her mother for some time and living with her before she had died.)

Me: What was one of your favorite childhood memories?
Rick: When I used to believe in myself. At one time I used to be a runner.
Carol: My grandmother and grandfather would help me out as a kid. They were a comfort to me. By this time, Carol began getting very emotional talking about her grandparents and you could tell that they had meant a lot to her as a little girl. When they died that devastated Carol and she became depressed. 

Me: After this what now? (I was referring to what they were going to do once we have parted ways after our meal.)
Carol: We’ll go back to the wall at Gateway. We’re there from 7:00 am until 3:00 pm panhandling, sitting around all day doing nothing. Panhandling is a necessity to survival. 

At this point, I stopped scribbling in my pad and just simply tried to be in the moment and enjoy the time we had together.

What I learned was that despite their circumstances Rick is very optimistic about getting back into singing his music. He has been through a lot in life and while he admits he doesn’t know where he gets his drive from each day, Carol encourages her husband by affirming that, “He has such a beautiful voice.” 

What I find uplifting is that after all they’ve been through together they still manage to love and support one another. And just like any married couple they too have their moments from time to time. Without missing a beat Carol jokingly reminds our table of this by figuratively saying “Some days I just want to kill him.” My co-worker Susan and I broke out into laughter because being married to our own spouses we can totally relate. I know my wife has often muttered that expression under her breath from time to time and with good reason too! 

Since we were having such a good time I stopped taking notice of the glaring looks from the patrons to our left and right as well as their inconspicuous whisperings among themselves. Thankfully neither Carol nor Rick seemed to pay much attention. Instead, they both agreed that this lunch was the best meal they’ve had in over a year. 

In the end, it wasn’t the meal that made this lunch hour special, at least not for me, but rather the company we kept. I made sure Rick and Carol both knew how much their presence meant to me. And as we said our goodbyes I gripped Rick’s hand in a show of appreciation but we reached in towards one another almost instinctively into what is commonly referred to in our American culture as the bro hug

One thing Rick said before we left that both encouraged me but also concerned me was him mentioning with gratitude about how the Christian community in Pittsburgh, as well as the local police, have been helpful to him and his wife. But, (I always cringe when this word follows something good) he went on to say after Susan had encouraged him to find a local church where he could share his singing talent, that he feels personally that the church is not so welcoming of him and the homeless. I pray that is not true of us as Christians.

As we parted ways Rick asked my co-worker Susan and me for one thing and one thing only and that was to pray for him and Carol. And while we diligently do so, would you also do us a favor? 

Would you please pray for Rick and Carol, Rick’s two children, Carol’s six siblings, and not only that they would find stable housing soon but that they too would have a flourishing relationship with Jesus Christ as well? 

It would mean a lot to them if you could do so. For as Rick would say, “Because we need it!” 

Don’t we all? 

Run to win,
Den