Robert was always hanging out at the traffic light. And he always smelled like hell. He used to have a job and a family and access to a shower. But now he did not own a home or a car, or a credit card. An addiction to alcohol owned Robert, and like a cruel master it drove him to that light. His daily plan was to “earn” a living by begging on the streets of Camuy, Puerto Rico. To see if enough people felt the pity he never felt, when he used to stop at traffic lights, and the homeless would ask him for spare change.
Now, with the little money he earned, he could buy the alcohol that would help him forget. 80% proof was almost strong enough to erase the reality that he spends most days on the streets, homeless and drunk.
That specific traffic light was just 2 minutes from our church. It was the turn that would indicate proximity to the “house of God”. But to that house Robert never came. After months of people inviting Robert to join them for service on Sundays, one couple was successful. A man and his wife would actually take Robert out for meals and have him over to their house. They would get him groceries and take him to see the doctor. They were experts at not inviting him to church, but actually being the church to him. So it felt natural for Robert to join them where they went every Sunday. It was so close to his spot anyways and the air conditioner provided a welcomed break from the heat and the shame.
As soon as Robert entered I noticed he had arrived. I could see him from afar and everyone recognized him from the light. I wanted to be kind, to prove that I was a cool dude, a welcoming and loving Christian, but I could not handle the smell. I could only give him a short handshake and as soon as that was done, with half a smile on my face, and trying my best to be discrete, I began the desperate search for a hand sanitizer (because you never know).
I used to pride myself on caring for the poor. My parents raised me to feel compassion for others. They grew up in poverty so they made sure I understood how fortunate I was. And growing up, we experienced both abundance and lack. So I always felt a sense of duty to give to those in need. I felt connected somehow to Robert. An unconscious understanding that said, “That could be you one day” Because I know Robert did not plan to end up in the traffic light, addicted to alcohol, and smelling like death. No one does. No one should. That I know for sure.
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing. Prov. 28:27
Robert kept visiting the church and he started to properly engage. He would greet people, close his eyes during worship and even respond to the preacher’s invitation. He prayed the sinner’s prayers and he repeated the words on multiple occasions. So according to our limited theology, salvation for his soul seemed guaranteed, but Robert was still lost on the streets.
After months of having Robert among us he was now behaving like a proper church member. And in our church that meant moving forward to the front during ministry time and being touched by the Holy Spirit. There he always was, smelly, broken, and expectant. And it was in that place that Robert encountered true love. You see, there was a British girl who would sit next to me (and she always smells amazing). She could barely understand the songs or the sermons because she was still learning Spanish. She would ask me to translate for her and even though it was my duty as her husband to make it easy for her to come to church with me, I would quickly get tired and ask her just to pray.
And pray she did.
While talking to Jesus that specific day she felt an invitation to go to Robert and give him a hug. She approached him confidently in a slow pace, wanting to be obedient to God without making the man feel uncomfortable. “Can I give you a hug?” she asked in her broken español. The tall six-foot six homeless man nodded yes, probably thinking it was another one of the courteous 3 second hugs these Christians kept giving him, while holding their breath.
Catherine then smiled, raised herself like a graceful ballerina and wrapped her arms around Robert’s dirty neck. I saw what she was doing and felt pity. My poor wife, how could she handle that smell? Then I felt guilty for being concerned that her clothes could be ruined. Then I realized how much of a jerk I was for feeling disappointed that his odor might stick to her for the rest of the day. I was thinking of me, stupid selfish prideful thoughts, while God and his daughter thought of someone else. And what I saw that day, changed my life forever.
Catherine held on to Robert for more than 20 minutes. She squeezed him as if she was hugging me, or her dad, or Jesus himself. Her calf muscles worked very hard as she determined to stay in that position, tiptoeing for the hug. It was like she was convinced; that this one-act would make up for every unkind word Robert had ever heard. As if one embrace could convince Robert to stop drinking, sinning, begging, limping.
My wife held onto this man like it was her favorite thing to do. She breathed in his stench but she could only smell the fragrance of mercy. She wrapped her arms around his wounded body but she could feel herself being healed. And watching her doing it with such grace, convicted me.
Previously I had tried my best to convince Robert to change his lifestyle, I spoke to him on multiple occasions about improving his condition. I invested time in prayer with him asking God to lead his way into real freedom. My strategy was to use godly principles, human wisdom, and man-made religion. But he still looked the same, begged the same, drank the same. It wasn’t until that warm embrace, when everything changed.
We never saw Robert again. Neither on the street or in the church. Because on that day he choose to go back to his family. To get into a rehabilitation program. To move to a different light.He sent us a message a few months later. He was clean, happy, connected. “It was the hug,” he kept saying. “It was Catherine’s hug.”
In the captivity of my wife’s arms a drunkard got intoxicated with acceptance. There, he encountered the fragrance of freedom. There, my wife enjoyed the aroma of obedience. And there, I encounter the stench of my pride.
I am the stinky man. #Repentance
Mother Teresa once said,
If you can’t do great things, just do little acts of love.
I think she knew a thing or two about Jesus. So does my wife. And one day, I hope to smell like them.
I love you church, but we stink of pride. It’s time to change, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15.
You can be part of the “little acts of love” revolt. It does not take much… but it takes everything.
Now here’s your call to action: Find the most broken, hurting, lonely, boring, violent or shame-filled person you know… and begin.
++ If you enjoyed this article you will love the new book: Drop the Stones | Courageous Mercy In An Age Of Judgements by Carlos A. Rodriguez. And you can sign up for our email list and get the first chapter right here: