Lessons in Supermarket Aisles and under Freeways (Part III)

I gave away that $20.  After weeks of wondering, expecting,  in every grocery aisle, it happened in the least expected place: 

Under a bridge.

I was alone in the car.  I am never alone in the car.  I am always carting 3 children in the back.  And always and forever there is bickering, seat-kicking, and requests for the nearest fast food joint and every fast food joint, serenading me from the back seats.  But I was alone this time.  And loving it a little bit. 

I spent most of the trip on a delightful phone call with my sister-in-love.  We hung up as we both approached our destinations.  One block later, I saw her.

She was standing under a long stretch of highway bridge.  In one of the spots

I know of 3 spots.  One at an off-ramp, one at an on-ramp, and one under the bridge.  The beggar’s spots. 

I come across them often in my travels.  Normally a man, sometimes young but often old, and always dirty, stands with his cardboard sign, at the traffic light, looking for mercy.  Their signs, so alike, say things like “Homeless Veteran,” “Need Help,” and “God Bless You.”  And normally, I pray for a green light, and when none is given, I lock my doors and look away. 

It’s easier to look away.  And, so I tell myself, safer.  And granted, a woman taxiing 3 small children should not be rolling down her window to men such as these, right?  Right, I say to myself, and drive on my merry way to the giant shopping malls and gargantuan thrift stores, to spend money on things I don’t need.  And I try not to think twice about it.

But this time, the beggar looked different. 

She stood there with her sign, small and alone.   This time I couldn’t help but look and read, and she was the one that averted her eyes.   There in black lettering on that ripped cardboard sign, it said,

“Homeless and Pregnant”

And she was.  A girl, maybe 20, with nutbrown hair, slivered almond eyes, and a round little belly.  Homeless and pregnant.

The light turned red, as it always does, and I slowed to my stop.  I knew I had moments and I knew He was already speaking.

You have $20 in your wallet.

I sat there in my nice minivan, with my 3 nice carseats, next to my nice wallet and nicer purse and the thoughts started to tumble.

What if she’ll use it for drugs?  What if she’s got some pimp who will take it?  What if she’s not even HOMELESS?

The thoughts tumbled, but this time they didn’t stick.  I knew.  I knew that here before me, stood Him.

… the king will say to those on his right… When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.”

Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?”

The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”    -Matthew 25: 34-40

Frederick Buechner says it like this:

God comes to us in the hungry man we do not have to feed, comes to us in the lonely man we do not have to comfort, comes to us in all the desperate human need of people everywhere that we are always free to turn our backs upon.

And this time, this one time, I chose not to turn my back. 

I rolled down my window, caught her eye, and handed her a $20 bill.  She looked away, looked at the money, looked at me and said thank you, and walked back to her spot. 

I stammered an awkward, “God bless you,” and gave her a smile.  The light turned green and I drove away. 

And I knew I had been in His presence. 

He was that small pregnant girl.  He’s the malnourished orphans and AIDS-riddled Ugandans that I weep on my keyboard over.  He’s my very own children, my friends, my neighbors, and even the people that rub me the wrong way.  He’s so very much alive in every face that He loves, and every face that He loves is every face on this earth.  Black, white, old, young, male, female.  Child, murderer, widow, thief, prostitute, saint, bigot, zealot, homeless, heartless.  It doesn’t matter.  My only job is to love Him by loving His people. 

I don’t know what that girl did with the money.  Driving away I thought of all the things I could have said,

Make sure you buy some food with this.  Save this for diapers.  Please take care of yourself and your baby

I’m not sorry that I didn’t say them.  I said what I should have said.  “God bless you.”  God show Himself to you.  God wrap you in His arms tonight and be your shelter.  God pour out His love, protection, grace, peace and provision upon you, you His beautiful daughter.  Bless you.

We are really alive when we are together as human beings, when by sunset or daybreak or by the fluorescence of a grocery store or the shabby twilight of a church, the walls between us crumble a little.  What I try to avoid because the word has become so threadbare in our time is that we are really alive, of course, when we manage somehow to love- when we love the mystery and beauty and terror that loom vast just beneath the air we move through, when we begin to hear a voice not just in the setting sun but in the earthquake, in the silence, in the agonies of men as well as their gladness.  We are really alive when we love each other, when we look at each other and think,  “Grace and peace be with you, brother and friend.”  When there is such life as this, once is not nearly enough.   -Frederick Buechner


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