In my life, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many people from backgrounds, cultures, races and beliefs that are very different from mine. At first glance, anyway. When you get to know somebody, you quickly begin to see a lot more similarities than differences and that’s what strengthens the bonds of a relationship.

Ever since I met Sister J, I’ve had a heart for helping those without a home. Society seems to look over these people and not pay them much notice unless they illegally cross the border – but that’s another topic for another time…

Several weeks ago at the skatepark, I started to chat with a guy during one of my sessions. Tony. He seemed like a bit of a gypsy soul, and I appreciated his positivity, encouragement and advice given when he wasn’t out skating.

In short time, we quickly became friends and would hang out beyond the fence of the skatepark. He shared with me that he had been on the streets for most of his life, ever since his parents passed away.

Despite having nothing more than a backpack, Tony seemed to carry a positive mindset and attitude wherever he went. Despite having nothing more than a cell phone, Tony continued to work hard at making his music, skate videos and find new opportunities.

”I’m going somewhere, man. God provides and gives me everything I need. Sometimes when I get down, I just pick up my board and come here to skate – and pretty soon everything feels OK again.”

Tony has been skating at the park for over a decade, and he’s the type of guy that gets greetings, fist bumps and high fives as soon as he skates in through the gate. Watching him, he taught me that half the fun of a skate park is simply getting to know other people at the park, as well as the importance of taking regular breaks to cool off.

Through our conversations, I realized that Tony and I have a lot of similarities. He’s wrestled for most of his life to feel like he matters, because he lost both of his parents. I’ve felt the same way after losing my Dad.

“I didn’t even graduate high school, man. Nobody would be there to see me walk when I graduated, so I just dropped out.”

That hit home for me. Just like little kids want their parents to watch when they do a cool trick at the pool, I think that teenagers and adults alike are also pining to be noticed by their parents, no matter how old they are.

Last week, I got a text from Tony that he was in my area and asked if I wanted to get together. Noticing a storm brewing, I asked him if he wanted to crash in my spare bedroom for the night, as well as take a shower. He happily agreed.

We talked about our lives, dreams and goals while we sat on the patio. During that conversation, I shared with him some of my own challenges and obstacles in life; voicing my desire to ‘make it to the next level’ and have more control of my life, finances and work.

I told him that I felt I lacked accountability, and he shared the same sentiment. On the spot, I told him that we could keep each other accountable and encourage each other every single day we took a step closer to our goals. He had things to change in his life, and so did I. So, we agreed that we’d text each other in the morning with a simple text to let the other know that we were one day closer to our goals, and one day further from the life we used to lead.

The next morning, I received a text: “Dia 1” and I sent him one back.

Day 2.

Day 3.

Day 4.

Day 5.

On the 5th day, I got a text from him letting me know that he had an opportunity to south Texas and work with his brother, who he hadn’t seen since the death of their Dad. His grandparents offered to let him stay with them while he got back on his feet, and all he needed was a ride down south.

Yesterday, we went to the skatepark so he could get one last session in before moving to Smithville. I took him for a haircut, lunch at an Italian restaurant, and packed a suitcase full of clothes and shoes for him and gave him a watch.

When he walked out of the barbershop, he was grinning ear to ear.

“Man, I feel like a person again!”

Tony looked sharp with his haircut and trimmed beard. Beyond sharp, he looked like he was getting a new lease on life as he got into the car and we made the 4-5 hour journey to his grandparents, who were elated to see their long-lost grandson, as well as to know that he would have the opportunity to reconnect with his brother. I stayed for a few minutes before leaving to head back to Dallas.

On the drive home, it began to hit me just how much I already missed my new friend. Tony may not have known it, but he was the one who made me feel like I belonged at the park, rather than being an outsider. Perhaps in some ways, I helped him feel the same as he was returning back to a life that didn’t involve sleeping in a hammock every night. That, I don’t know.

I don’t believe in accidents, and I think there’s a very strong reason that Tony showed up in my life when he did. For the last few weeks, I have felt very isolated and in need of a friend, and I found an incredible friend in somebody that I never would have expected to meet on a random morning at the skate park. Yet, that’s how life/God works sometimes.

Today, I went to the skatepark and I fought back tears as I looked around at the empty park. In many ways, I felt the way I did after Sister J died; the time was so short that it seemed to go in the blink of an eye, but the impact he made on my life will be felt for a very long time.

A lot of people would look at somebody like Tony and immediately think less of him when they saw his appearance or circumstance. I saw a human being, rich with talent, ability and a true relationship with God that brought him peace in the darkest of circumstances.

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