My 8 year old has a soft spot in her heart for the homeless. I wonder if it has anything to do with me calling her “homeless-hair” when she exits the front door ahead of me without noticeably brushing it. “Mom,” she sighs, holding up her faux wood grain brush as she heads toward the minivan.
Feeling inspired by my latest read, and succumbing to her request, I placatingly drive to the dollar store and the rest of us follow behind her with the cart. We roam each food aisle looking for anything she deems nutritious enough for a homeless person. “Ring Pops?” Nah. “Ooh! Individually packed peanuts!”
Half an hour later, I watch while she clunks down 9$ of her own money for bottled water, granola bars, cookies, and peanuts. When we get home she lovingly separates the items into individual plastic store bags, complete with a printed tract including the gospel of Jesus and His love for them.
Now for giving them out.
I was admittedly a tad nervous. I’m personally used to speaking boldly in defense of my faith, but as a stay-at-home mom with four kids under the age of 8, it was slightly disconcerting to think about taking them with me to stand alongside the possibly mentally ill. I’m not trying to be rude. And yes I am a little naive. But I wasn’t about to tell this young lady that the kindness of her heart is disallowed, and the money she had saved up by working so hard should be spent on frivolous materialism.
And I did know about this one park..
So we did a drive-by. The 5 of us sat in the van watching out the windows, and all the while my daughter was praying for the perfect recipient, and her mom was praying for wisdom. Who Lord?
There was a man sitting in the middle of the park organizing his whole cart like he was taking inventory. Tediously, he was putting each and every thing he owned back into his wire basket, and periodically running his hands through his hair, once, twice…23 times! Nope, not him, honey. Why mom? Umm, let’s let him organize his stuff some more, k?
Please don’t misunderstand me. He probably could have used some bottled water and a granola bar. This wasn’t about who’s worthy. In a perfect world we would have gone around giving snacks out to anyone we saw, but in a perfect world we wouldn’t have had to. This was about me thinking about the safety of my children while exacting this task.
Then we saw her. An old black woman shuffling slowly while pushing one cart, and pulling another. She was slightly built with plastic grocery store bags tied around her shoes with rubber bands. My daughter said. “Mama. Her.”
We waited until she got near the car and we got out. I let my youngster walk up to the woman, hold out the bag of goodies and proclaim, “Jesus loves you.”
The wrinkles in this old woman’s forehead were deep from years of sun, stress, and abuse. My forehead wrinkles etched deeper still, as my daughter walked quickly back to me bag in hand. Huh? She didn’t take it? It had a Ring Pop!
“Mom, she said she can’t take anything from anyone under the age of 18, and she can only accept money.”
In hindsight, as it always is in looking back, I know what should have happened next. No need to chastise me. My husband already did. I should have shrugged, started the car, and driven off in pursuit of a grateful homeless person, or found a local ministry that goes out in groups. I should have looked up an organization to give the bags to, or allowed my daughter to help the homeless in another way. But hindsight is what it is. She wanted with her big fat heart full of love, to give food to someone who didn’t have as much as her, and I thought I was helping.
I looked at my daughter, mouth agape, smirked, and said, “Ugh. Let me have that.” I’m over 18. So I walk up to Miss-I’m-really-sorry-for-you,-but-you’re-not-going-to-manipulate-my-kid, and hypocritically in a sweet Christian voice say, “Hi. My daughter just wanted to give you a small gift…” I held out the handled plastic bag, which could have been a back-up for her shoes in the near future, hoping triumphantly I would walk back the 10 feet to my mini-van empty-handed, and joyfully we would drive off down the road with smiles on our faces. Nope. This woman, who has probably struggled more in this life than anyone ever should, starts to lecture me about ethics. Apparently, there’s a way to help people, and my way is not welcome. She stated real quick how sick she is of people trying to help in the way they think they should, but don’t help the way that person needs it. With money. And I’m a terrible mom. Sending my kid to strangers. Making her do something like that probably against her will…
“It’s a satanic world,” she stated loudly.
I argued, “Look. You know as well as I do that you could use some bottled water, and we don’t give money. Would you like this gift or not?”
“NO YOU TERRIBLE HORRIBLE MOTHER! I DON’T WANT YOUR (blankety blank) STUFF YOU HAVE, YOU DON’T KNOW ME, YOU JUST THINK YOU DO!”
Ok. I turned toward the car. “Alright forget it.”
As I walk away, and get into the locked minivan, bag in hand, I felt like a complete failure. The thankless woman is still ranting loudly at the car, and my sweet girl wondered why the lady didn’t want her gift. I smiled pathetically at the few pedestrians watching the tirade from the sidewalk.
But The Lord speaks even at the local homeless park. I don’t like confrontation, but I can handle it well, and Jesus calmed my shaking hands. I drive off with the homeless woman angrily sketching down my license number, and Jesus whispering in my ear.
‘Some people don’t want a gift, no matter how freely it’s given.’
Well He should know.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 3:23
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10