With the influx of people into my community in recent years (thank you, oil boom) comes an increase in our homeless population. Not a great reality, but a reality nonetheless.
So I've been trying to become more aware of who these people are and, if nothing else, offer a smile and a 'hi' to assure them they are at least noticed and recognized as another human being. I have observed enough human behavior that indicates we are either annoyed or downright fearful of someone with a duffle bag containing every meager possession thrown over their back. (Truth be told, they're probably more afraid of us than we are of them. For good reason.)
At any rate, I was headed to the public library shortly after noon today to retrieve some books to ward off my daughter's boredom. (She's currently grounded from play dates, so her weekends are burdened with the self-inflicted torture she calls "nothing to do.") Arriving at 12:30, I discovered doors do not open until 1pm.
At this point my stomach tumultuously reminded me of the time of day. Since I didn't down my usual doughnut at church this morning (score one for self-control! woo hoo!), the piece of toast I ate around 8am was obviously long forgotten so my noisy belly was getting downright hostile with me for neglecting it so.
But then I noticed a few men outside the doors, waiting to be let in out of the cold. Though I had no 'real' proof, I suspected they were homeless based on the bags strapped to their backs and the quantity of layers they were wearing.
I couldn't help but wonder if their stomachs were in a rage of their own. I was slapped with the conviction that I can go home and choose from a refrigerator full of choices, but these men may not know when their next meal will come.
My immediate thought was to go get some restaurant gift cards to hand out, but I only had $10 in my purse and it doesn't take a mathematician to realize that's not enough to give decent gift cards to three people. I had a half an hour to kill until the library opened, surely I could just go grab some value menu items to feed them.
Off I go to the closest burger joint. As I walk into the restaurant, there are three people who appear to be making a day of it. They also fit that 'I'm carrying everything I own' description. I greet them, and they're all smiles. I catch almost a hint of surprise that someone paused to say 'hi' to them.
I proceed to the counter and order some food and three bags to separate the items into individual meals. As I'm walking out the door, a woman from this homeless trio I greeted a short time ago says, "Boy, that sure took a long time to get your order!" I shrugged it off as no biggie and said something like, "It must have taken a little longer to cook, I suppose."
I bid her farewell, and brave the cool wind to my car. I arrive at the library and offer lunch to these men only to find out they're not hungry - they've all eaten. Seems the gas station got their patronage on this chilly Sunday afternoon.
While I realize fast food offers questionable ingredients as well, I can't help but cringe a little at the thought of gas station food providing sustenance to these fellas.
Okay, I'm glad they're not hungry, but I'm a bit disappointed that I have food to give away and no takers. So I start tooling around downtown looking for anyone who might appreciate a meal. I stop and ask four others, and get the same 'I'm okay, thanks' response. (I have to admit, everyone was quite appreciative that I even offered, so at least I felt that maybe I wasn't completely off my rocker.)
Feeling a bit defeated in my attempt to help my fellow man, I headed for home. While not the intended recipients, I've got three kids who will be thrilled to chomp into a chicken sandwich and some fries.
I couldn't help but wonder if I got it all wrong. I had such a prompting to get those men some food, but I can't help but shake the thought that maybe I was just supposed to sit down and visit with that woman at the restaurant. She seemed to want to strike up a conversation. Was she lonely and seeing a smiling face gave her hope for more?
Maybe I messed it all up. Maybe God just wanted to get me to that restaurant - not for three bags of food, but to notice her.
I’m a slow learner when it comes to life lessons, let me just state that right here, right now. And I’m naïve. There. I said it. I must accept the fact that I'm not going to grasp the needs of my community within an hour or two.
So I'm launching an idea - a project of sorts - to open my mind, my heart and my resources to the needs around me.
I want to do more than just take up space on this earth.
So I'm going to strive to become a better citizen, a better reflection of the One who gives me purpose. Maybe – gasp – attempt to be worthy of the calling1. (Sure, I'm a little slow on this - 39 years into it and I'm just grasping the fact that there's more purpose to my life than just keeping three offspring alive.)
So follow along on my journey if you're so inclined. I will document my progress (let’s hope it’s progress) right here on my blog.
1 Ephesians 4:1-6: "...live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.”