Today wasn't unlike any other day off work for me. I had bills to pay, a grocery run to make, a house to clean, laundry to do, children to spend time with, dinner to get ready, emails to respond to...you get the idea. But for the past few days since writing my last blog post about how compassion is ultimately about relationship, I just haven't been able to shake something.
Bear with me as I try to put to words what is even difficult for me to identify in my own heart. I am passionate about orphans and issues of poverty. My heart is especially drawn to Ethiopia, where my son came from. I spend a significant amount of time trying to advocate and develop relationships with people in Ethiopia who are doing great work to help those in need. Sometimes people will tell me how great it is that I'm doing these things. And it IS great! But, guess what? It's easy for me in so many ways. It's what I'm passionate about...it's where my heart is...it's how I want to be spending my time. It's not really hard for me to do because I LOVE it!! Many of these interactions and relationships are with people across an ocean, which is fine, BUT what about the people right here where I live?
This started me thinking about how God says to "love your neighbor as yourself". I've done a great deal of soul searching in past years that has lead me to realize that my neighbors are in Africa, but they are also right here. I feel like sometimes I'm so busy with what I do in Africa that I forget to open my eyes and see what's right in front of my face. And sometimes, to see what is right in front of you, you have to be intentional.
So, today, the kids and I decided to go downtown to Acacia Park, where many homeless people hang out, and take them lunch. I was going to just make peanut butter sandwiches and take down bottled water, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was supposed to do something more. So, I packed up the kids, hauled them to Subway and bought $50 worth of subs. I know I'd prefer a Subway sandwich to PB&J any day, and I just felt like I was to sacrifice for the people we met. On the drive downtown, the kids and I talked for 15 minutes about what we were doing and why. Really, the only exposure they have had to homelessness in the U.S. was about a month and a half ago when we were eating downtown on the outside patio and a homeless man named Ron came up to us and struck up a conversation for 15 minutes. We gave him some cash and explained the basics of his situation to the kids afterward. So, when I started explaining what we might see, Ella said "Oh! You mean like that man, Ron we met?". Yep.
So, we pulled up to the park and I took a few minutes to pray with the kids before we got out of the car. Tariku prayed and asked God to help us show love to the people we gave food to. Precious, considering his own personal history with hunger. We finished praying and I was strangely not nervous at all. I was excited to see what the afternoon would bring. So, we got out of the car and started walking down the street. We got to the corner to cross over into the park, and guess who walked around the corner at that very moment? Ron. I almost started laughing out loud at the opportunity. I called his name and at first he didn't answer, so I called it louder, realizing it's probably been a very long time since anyone has called him by name. He looked up and recognized us instantly. I gave him a hug and told him we were so glad we ran into him. I asked him how he was and he started telling us how he had gotten jumped a week ago and was in the hospital for four days with broken ribs and other injuries. The guy who jumped him stole his backpack with all of his belongings so now he is starting over. We hung out for a while with Ron and gave him a sub and a cold water. He just kept talking with us. As our conversation drew to a close, I asked him if it would be okay if we prayed for him. So, my three little ones and I put our hands on him right there on the corner and prayed for God to provide for him, protect him and help him get back on his feet. He had a tear in his eye as we all said Amen together. We all hugged him and told him we'd be praying for him and that we'd look for him again soon.
How cool is that?! Not even 60 seconds out of our car and there was Ron. The kids and I talked immediately about how God answered our prayer to be able to bless someone and how important it was to take time to spend with the people we were bringing food to. Sweet little Tariku said that what we should have done was take him to buy a new backpack. DUH!! How come it can be so obvious to children what needs to be done?!
Anyway, we spotted an elderly man curled up on the ground in the shade napping with his arms tightly around his pack. I gently tucked a sandwich bag under his arm and we left. Tariku said I did a good job not waking him up. :) Then we walked over to a group of guys who were hanging out on some rocks. I just told them that we had some extra subs if they were interested. Their faces lit up and of course they said yes. So, we sat down and talked with Sam, from Southern Arizona and Connan from Colorado Springs. They kept saying how nice it was of us to give them subs. I told them that as a family we were learning together how to care about the people around us, whether we know them or not and they kindly affirmed that we were doing a good job. :) We hung out for a little bit while they ate and just talked.
After that, all 10 subs were gone, so we walked about 100 feet to the fountain and the kids ran into the water to play. Not long after that, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I turned around to see Connan. He was eating the rest of the sub that I had watched him put in his pants pocket for later. He asked me my name again and I told him. Then he just said that he couldn't get over what a nice thing we had done for him. He said we were like angels. :) I asked him to tell me his story. It was then that he said how rough things were for him. He showed me the scar on his throat from where he had a tracheotomy. He said that he was 31 and had had a job before he was diagnosed with a certain disease (I'm blanking on it right now) and had spent an extended period of time hospitalized. He now is mildly disabled due to his illness. He told me that life had just been very hard and that he was a hard worker but no one would hire him due to his disability. I told him that I was sorry he had encountered that kind of hardship in his life, but that I firmly believed God had plans for his life and that he could count on that. I told him that I believed in the love of God and that He hears us when we pray and that I would commit to praying for him. I gave him a hug and he thanked me again for taking the time to talk with him and feed him.
And there you have it...he thanked me for taking the time to talk with him. It's exactly what I was getting at in my blog post a few days ago. People want our presence. And today, I took the time to give it. Why in the world don't I do that more often?! It was so great to do this with my children and have them be an active part. I am so thankful that God is showing me it only takes willingness and intention to live compassionately toward the people around me. I can't wait to do this again and again with my kids and teach them how to look for opportunities wherever they are to stop, listen and give of themselves.
I'm so glad God puts up with me. I can be so slow to see the obvious. I'm so thankful for my experience with my kids this afternoon. Praying that I can see those around me who could use some time and attention. Praying that I'm willing to give it, no matter how uncomfortable...no matter the cost. Because it's beautiful.