I used to live in a place where I hated to go grocery shopping. When I walked in I passed a line of beggers. When I walked out one of them would usually follow me to my car asking for money. He would have a story about how he was stranded and needed money to get gas to go home or how he hadn't eaten all day. I knew this was most often a lie. These men had wives and children waiting at home to see if they would return with a little extra cash but most often they returned drunk and abusive. Every time I had these encounters I felt violated. My heart hardened and scar tissue grew over my compassion.
When I moved to Alamogordo I saw a few guys flying signs here and there asking for help. I assumed they were fake and I drove past.
Recently God has been working on my attitudes toward the poor. He revealed to me how rich, how blessed I am and how impoverished so many in the world are. He impressed on me that the whole world is a family - His family. I would never let my children go cold if I had an extra coat (or any coat) to share. Maybe it was time to share with the rest of God's children.
I began giving things away. That was easy and it felt good. Some of the callouses fell off my heart. Then I helped my church organize a free yard sale for the needy. That was amazing! Light began to shine on my soul.
Then came the day I had extra strawberries and God said - go give them to the homeless begging on the corner. I was scared. What would they say? What would they do? What would they expect from me?
I took my two young daughters with me. They were excited. They gave me courage. I pulled into the parking lot and left my purse in the car. Then I met Frank. I didn't know if he would accept my offering. Maybe he just wanted money. I approached and asked if he would like some strawberries. His whole face lit up. "Those are my favorite. Thank you miss. I get so tired of hamburgers." He was so grateful and friendly. We chatted a minute and then he asked if I would take what was left to his brother across the street. In that moment I saw generosity. These guys and others I would meet share and take care of each other.
I went home and told my husband that the guys on the corner where friendly and kind. They didn't feel entitled to anything. They were just trying to live. They aren't saints, but they have a lot to teach me. My heart was healing a little more.
Then I went to a tailgate party being held by a church group. They made care bags to hand out to the homeless. They also had a meal and clothes to give away. I sat down to talk to a man I had me before. He shared his story with me. He is a paranoid schizophrenic and he has PTSD from being a war veteran. With tears in his eyes, he told me he could never be forgiven for things he was ordered to do as a soldier. He admitted that he is an alcoholic and that it cost him his last job. He's been homeless ever since. I held his hand. I told him about God's love. I felt my own heart restored.
Jesus told us to serve the poor, but what we often forget is that it is not just for their benefit. It is for ours. the poor can teach us how to love, how to share, and how to heal.