Monday, October 2, 2017

Lessons from the homeless

I almost missed her. There among the shadows, she sat quietly waiting. Her voice was soft as she spoke the words, "Help me, lady?" I almost dismissed her, thinking she was speaking to someone else, but she was speaking directly to me. That's when I realized she was homeless.

One step further and I stopped dead in my tracks. I turned to my husband and whispered, "Give me your wallet." He knows me well enough by now not to argue with me. Obediently, he fished in his pants and pulled out his wallet. Handing it over to me, I opened it and grabbed a twenty. I told him I'd be back in a few minutes and asked if he could wait there. He nodded.

I backtracked to the seated lady and squatted down until we were at eye level with one another. Gently I spoke. "What's your name?" I said. She replied, "Regina." I could only see one eye because the other was hidden by her long, unkempt hair, but that one eye held such pain. I sensed she'd had a very difficult life, one she didn't care to discuss, especially with a complete stranger. With eyes locked, I spoke to this woman. "Regina, I want you to know, I saw you." She acknowledged my words and then I continued, "I saw you, but someone else saw you, too. Jesus saw you. He sees you, Regina." As I said those words, I took her hand and placed the money into her open palm. I closed her fingers around the bill and reminded her, "He sees you." She smiled and nodded drawing her hand from mine and placing it gently into her lap. I rose to my feet, smiled, and began walking back to my husband.

Within those few feet, I felt the weight of Regina's problems on my shoulders. Although I had no idea who she really was or what her history, I felt her pain. The pain of rejection. The pain of longing. The pain of want.

My husband and I walked on hand in hand. He whispered, "Is everything okay?" I assured him it was. I told him her name and told him we needed to pray for her.

We slipped into a corner restaurant to celebrate my youngest daughter's 30th birthday. After we'd eaten our meal, we took a short jaunt across the street. A local bakery was there and their specialty, according to the sign, was cupcakes. We entered and made our selections. It was a tiny place and it was quite crowded so we took our cakes outside. Several metal tables and chairs were there for customers. We pulled two tables together and rounded up enough chairs. Each of us enjoyed the sweet taste of sugar as we sang to the birthday girl.

I'd just finished my key lime cupcake and was about to throw my napkin into the trash when I saw an elderly black woman. She was leaning over the trash can digging out half eaten cakes and stuffing them into a white paper bag. She was so frail. I judged her to be about 80 years old. My heart broke. I couldn't bear to see this sweet woman living in such a way. I walked over to her side and placed my hand upon her shoulder. I could feel her bones, she was so thin. Our eyes locked and I said, "Ma'am, you don't need to dig through the trash for food. Let's go in and get you something good to eat. She shook her head and said she'd be fine. Once again, I went to my husband. I didn't have to say a word, just held out my hand. He placed his wallet in it and again, I took out a twenty.

Walking back over to the trashcan, I placed my hand on the woman's back and spoke softly to her. I felt like I could count every bone in her spine if I'd left my hand there long enough. I took her hand and placed the money in it. She smiled the biggest smile and lifted her head toward heaven. I encouraged her to use it to get something nutritious to eat. Half eaten cupcakes weren't what she needed, I insisted. She threw one of the cupcakes back into the can and took the other two with her telling me she'd feed them to the birds, but I knew otherwise. She asked where the Dollar Store was located and I had to tell her I didn't know. I explained we weren't from that area.

Turning my head for a split second, I looked back and she was gone. That's when I lost it. I couldn't stop crying. Two homeless people in one afternoon were too much. I had no idea Chattanooga, Tennessee had so many street people. I felt like I was back in Atlanta where homelessness is prevalent in the downtown area, but I hadn't expected to encounter it here, in the midst of an area known to attract tourists.

All the way home, I couldn't help thinking about Regina and the older lady. I wished I'd done more. I wished I said more.  I didn't even ask the older woman's name. I didn't share the gospel with either of them. I could have taken more time. I could have listened more. Why didn't I?

We'd been there on a mini-vacation. We were there with other family members. Surely they'd have waited while I ministered, wouldn't they? And aren't we all called to share the gospel of Christ, in season and out? I knew these things and yet, I didn't do them. I hated myself for not sharing the good news with those two precious souls.

All around us people are perishing. Some of us see and some of us don't. Some of us choose to see while others walk quickly past, imagining the problem doesn't exist, but it does. The Bible says when we see someone who's hungry and feed them, we're doing it as if we were doing it unto Christ. Although I didn't react exactly as I should have, I did act and I think God will honor that.

I haven't shared any of this to make myself look good. The only reason I shared it is because I wanted you to see and understand that we have to pay attention. I think God allows us to cross paths with those less fortunate and at times, I think He might even use those situations to test us a see how we'll respond. Will we stop? Will we see? Will we help?

The next time you see someone begging for help, don't be afraid. They're people just like you and I. Sometimes bad choices have put them in their current position and sometimes, something completely out of control has placed them there. In any case, the shoe could easily be on the other foot. You or I could be the ones begging. So please take time to minister to the "least of these" and in so doing, you'll honor Christ. We all need to show a little unconditional love because we all need love, don't we?

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