Thank you, God, for the lesson I seem to need once again.
On a summer morning last year, I stopped at Starbucks before heading to the rehabilitation center to pick up my dad for an oral surgery appointment. As I walked toward the store, I crossed paths with a homeless woman. All the obvious clues were there. Mis-matched clothing, worn in layers. House slippers for shoes on her shuffling feet. Crazy hair. Quiet muttering, speaking only to herself.
Coffee waited for me inside, and I had an appointment to meet. I didn’t pause as I walked past her. The woman was youngish, between 30-40 years old. A frown creased her face, and her jaw clenched with a belligerent jut.
She paid me no attention and arranged her collection of plastic bags on a table on the outdoor porch.
Waiting in line for my coffee, I watched the reactions of the people inside. The barista kept glancing outside, worry in his eyes. Was he wishing she hadn’t set up camp at his store? She was dirty and didn’t present a welcoming presence to customers arriving for their morning pick-me-up. Two women seated inside at a small, round table eyed her avidly, whispering to each other as they laughed, shiny nails glittering on their fingertips, lipstick kisses on the lids of their coffees.
I should talk to her on my way back to my car. Homeless people feel invisible, ignored by the world bustling past them. I should take the few seconds required to ask her a question, say hello. Would she be argumentative if I spoke to her?
She looked angry. Many homeless suffer from mental illness, and can be combative. I glanced at my watch. I had time to stop for coffee. Did I have time to stop for her?
She walked off of the porch and around to the drive-thru. My eyes widened, and I stepped back so I could watch her progress. What was she doing now? What were the people waiting in line in their cars thinking, watching her approach? She startled me by climbing right into the landscaping. The leaves of Asian jasmine still dripped from their early morning spraying from the automatic sprinklers. The water droplets would soak her clothing. She exhibited classic crazy-person actions.
The crazy thing she did? She plucked trash from the bushes, then climbed back out and deposited it into a waste can.
God, forgive me.
The homeless woman cleaned the debris tossed aside by a careless person paying $5.00 for a cup of coffee.
I picked up my coffee and turned to leave. I passed the two smirking women, resenting their privilege, resenting their beauty, feeling disappointment burn inside. Disappointment at myself. Was I so different? Disappointment at them. It’s so easy to judge, especially from our oh-so-comfortable lives. I pushed the door open to head outside, calling a greeting to the woman as I did. I said it loudly enough for the ladies with the beautifully manicured nails to hear.
The woman outside looked up. She was someone’s daughter. Someone’s sister? Maybe someone’s mother. Our eyes met, and I smiled at her.
The change was amazing. A wide grin creased her face, transforming her angry, belligerent look into beauty. I stopped, struck.
“Have you had breakfast?” McDonalds was 20 yards away.
Her smile broadened. “Oh, yes!” Her voice was sweet, childish, high-pitched. “I have bagels!”
What a beautiful, grateful spirit. Shame flooded me.
I touched her on the arm as I passed, a fingertip on her sleeve. “Have a good day.”
“God bless you.” Her reply was fervent.
She called down God’s blessing on me for speaking to her, for recognizing her as a fellow human being. For seeing her.
Jesus taught us to do this. He led by example, repeatedly. He spoke to the lame man waiting by the pool of Bethesda. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He spoke to the tax collector, to the leper, to the demon-possessed men in Gadarenes.
Today I learned, again, that I want to live my life like Jesus. Help me, God, to see this world and Your people through Your eyes, not mine. Help me to always ask, “What would Jesus do?”
In my book, PROTECTED, one of the main characters — Manny — is horribly disfigured by a scar he got as a child when a fire burned him. He feels ignored and judged by the people he meets in his life. But God shows him he is worthy of love and brings someone to him. The question is whether or not the two people will trust God enough to let this relationship flourish.