I thought I had lost it. And that thought made me incredibly sad. It had occupied such a place of prominence in my office at St. Michael’s Kauai that it seemed inconceivable that I had misplaced it or left it behind. Our upcoming move back to Texas gave me an opportunity to dive in to forgotten boxes I’d unloaded in the storage room next to the Tiki Bar when I first arrived in Louisiana. I had hit the ground running so when I ran out of time to unpack and organize, I had simply stuck some storage bins on the shelf and never thought about them for the last six years. When I opened the container and saw it, my face lit up and I ran inside the house and immediately shared it with Sandy. “Isn’t it stunningly beautiful?” I asked her as I displayed it so proudly, holding it tenderly in my hands. She affirmed that it was a rare and lovely creation indeed.
I love art and artists. I believe they are God’s messengers, regardless of medium. But this drawing was different. Back when I served at Trinity Church Houston, we had a significant ministry to the homeless population in Houston. Folks living on the street could attend Evening Prayer and get a sandwich supper to- go five nights a week. Our partner in ministry, the Lord of Streets Mission just across the street, provided more substantial and significant assistance to those who were struggling in the city. It was not unusual to meet and greet folks who were barely surviving as I’d enter and exit my church office. This man approached me, just like thousands had before him, I assumed to ask me for a handout. Instead, it was the man who handed me something. He placed a simple pen and ink drawing on a piece of cardboard in my hands.
“I’m just trying to make it,” he said to me, “and I draw these kinds of things. It’s not much,” he shared. It was so beautiful to me that I nearly broke down and wept. The simplicity of the “lovebird’s” song: Tweet, Tweet, Tweet, I love you. The detail on the finch, a common bird, sometimes featuring radiant colors, often endowed with the gift of song. And then he ended with the quote from Psalm 106, especially poignant given the man’s circumstances: “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord because He is good. And His love and mercy endure forever.” Here he was out on the streets, paying attention to the common beauties of creation, capturing them with his extraordinary talent, all the while giving thanks to God for what he saw and what he was able to capture and share.
I paid him for the drawing. I knew immediately that I had just been granted the bargain of a lifetime. It wasn’t much money but he seemed elated and thanked me profusely. And then he wandered off down the streets of Midtown Houston. I placed the unexpected cardboard masterpiece in a place of prominence, where I’d see it often, and think about the beauty in our midst, the birds that sing despite the challenges they must face just to survive, and the homeless man who used his talent to add even more beauty to our world. And I’d ponder the loveliness of gratitude and giving thanks to the Source of every blessing, the One who imagined a world that could be beautiful at every turn –if we are willing to behold it.
Later on, after I had time to process this unique gift, I decided I would approach him and ask him to create a dozen or so drawings, and we’d sponsor an art opening for him at Trinity Church. He’d receive 100% of the proceeds of the sales. I knew the good people of Trinity and our extended community would turn out in droves for such an event and would gladly purchase the man’s art to help him – and to enhance their own personal collections. I looked for him often and began to ask some of the men who showed up for the sandwich supper if they knew the man I was talking about. One of them knew him as “the dude who draws” and said he had not seen him in a long time. Perhaps he had moved on. Perhaps he had found a way off the streets. Perhaps, like so many who are unknown and forgotten, he had died and no one knew.
I pray that he found his way in this world. And I pray that I will never take this world for granted: the birds that sing, the people who love, the communities that care, the humans who struggle, the God who opens our eyes to see what is good, beautiful and true. I will never forget this man and his gift. His creation will ever remind me of the blessings that I enjoy and blessing found in recognizing the gifts of all people. And to listen carefully for the song of love and join in the chorus every day: Tweet, tweet, tweet.
I love you.
William Miller is an Episcopal priest living in Round Top, Texas with his beautiful wife Sandy and five lively dogs. He is the author of “The Gospel According to Sam,” “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God,” and “The Last Howlelujah: Tails from the Trail.”