The morning began in church. My new friends, Ann and Jim, found me and thanked me profusely for the clothes. I asked them to sit with me and they happily took seats. At the end of the service Ann put her hand on my back and lowered her head. She was praying for me. She who had nothing was praying for me and though I didn’t hear what her words were, I am quite certain it was the most beautiful prayer ever offered on my behalf.
I met Ann and Jim on Monday when my small group served dinner to those experiencing homelessness who were staying in our church for the week. After all the guests had a plate, I found a seat at their table. They shared with me their story of the last few months and how Jim had a medical crisis that left him out of work for a few months. The loss of income led to the loss of their home and the loss of their children. Thankfully, their kids were taken in by family but for some reason Ann and Jim were not. They each worked factory jobs. Ann complained that her hands hurt terribly from deboning chicken all day. I promised to return with some Tiger balm pain ointment to help.
As I drove home it occurred to me that I had unopened Tiger balm in my cabinet. It was there “just in case” but I had no imminent need for it. I had taken much too much for granted. This ointment stored in my cabinet that I did not even use was something another person desperately needed.
That night as I went to bed, I prayed differently than I normally do. I thanked God for my bed, my sheets, the heat in my house, the gas in my car, the clothes in my closet, the pantry filled with food, the Tiger balm in my cabinet. I thanked Him that I had the ability to anticipate unmet needs and I prayed for my new friends who could not meet existing needs.
There a million little things I take for granted each day and I am ashamed that it took meeting a couple who had only the clothes on their backs to remind me. But now, I will make an effort to not take them for granted and to be thankful for those million things that actually aren’t so little.
On Sunday evening some wonderful men from the church helped bring in the our popcorn machine from home. It was Superbowl Sunday and I thought popcorn would be necessary to have a proper party with the guests staying in my Father’s House. They began to come over before I even started the machine. I could tell it had been a while since they ate fresh popcorn like the kind from the movie theatre. They stood around and watched as the machine began pouring popcorn out of the kettle. I noticed one man looking a bit forlorn, not taking his eyes off the machine.
He looked up at me briefly and said, “When I was a kid there was one of these in our neighborhood hardware store,” and went back to gazing at the popcorn.
I wondered if that was a good memory or a bad one. Was he missing a simpler time when he had shelter and parents to care for him? Or was this a painful memory of a time that began the process that led him to the homeless shelter?
I could not know without prying so I just stood there in silence with him until I could hand him a bag of popcorn. He smiled, thanked me, and walked over to the soda table. Yet another luxury I take for granted. Soda. At the shelter they typically only have water or lemonade. It was a special occasion indeed because they had soda.
Dinner began with plenty of time to be sure everyone was settled by the time the Superbowl began. My mother made beef stew because, being an older Asian woman, she believes wholeheartedly that everyone needs a nutritious meal and pizza and wings do not cut it. The local Dominos donated 25 pizzas and 300 chicken wings were donated by two different restaurants. It was a feast.
I also brought jalapeno poppers and was surprised how many of the guests asked what they were. Most of them seemed to have never had them. My mind paused again. I usually eat them as an appetizer in a restaurant, another thing taken for granted. When was the last time I felt the full gratitude of being able to go into a restaurant and order not only a meal but an appetizer as well? Had I ever?
Eyes began to follow me as I put out the ice cream bar with all the fixings. These grown adults were like children making their own sundaes. It was a beautiful sight to see the laughing and giggling and, hopefully, forgetting the world if only for a brief moment.
Our culture is completely merit driven. We begin with our children, having them earn money from their chores. In school we earn good grades if we put in the work. As adults we earn raises or promotions. Often, who we are is entirely wrapped up in our ability to contribute something society deems “worthy.”
But what happens when you find yourself in a position to assist someone and you don’t know if they are able to receive it or are worthy as you imagine that to mean? As Christians, we do it anyway. Or we should do it anyway.
I have sat around tables with good Christian women who come up with a list of reasons they don’t give money or try to help those experiencing homelessness. “They just don’t want to work. They will just use it on drugs. They made poor decisions. They might be criminals. They have cell phones.”
And, honestly, I just want to scream. Jesus didn’t ask us to help those we deem worthy. He didn’t tell us to control what they do, only what we do. My ability to treat another with dignity, kindness, respect, and love has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to receive it.
During the week the shelter was at my church a hole was burned in my heart that there must more to being a disciple of Christ than just feeding the homeless for a week. Certainly, we are called to do more than put some food on their plate and send them to the next church. And the next. My belief system and my compassion demand more. If I am a child of the Most High I must do more.
I started small. I sat at dinner. I talked to them. I brought them clothes and gave them rides. Some became my friends. My youngest handed out “goodie bags” filled with candy and treats. We didn’t ask how or why they were homeless. We didn’t ask if they had a drug problem or owned a cell phone. We just showed them, I hope with all my heart, the love of Jesus. A love that is not based on who I am but who He is. A love I could never earn or deserve. A love despite my poor decisions, wanderings, and wickedness. A love that sees the lowest, nastiest parts of me and still does not cease. He pours out even more.
If I am a child of the Most High, how can I not endeavor to show the same?