I only needed margarine that day. As my little daughter and I walked into the grocery store, we both saw him: a raggedy-patched man, sitting on the cold sidewalk, leaning against the brick wall.
My four-year-old could not read words but she was good at reading faces. “Mommy, why is that man sitting there?”
When I told her he was asking for help because he had no home, I could see the concern on her upturned face. “Why? What happened to his home? Where is his mommy and daddy?”
It was not the time for a socio-economic explanation of poverty and homelessness, and my daughter was not listening anyway. “Mommy, we can help him. He can come home with us. We could give him our tent and a sleeping bag and he could live in our yard and our tent could be his home. He could eat all his suppers with us.”
Oh, if only it were that simple.
If only I were that generous.
I too felt sad for the man, thinking about the coming winter. He looked so lonely and dejected. I thought about the many others like him, homeless and hopeless.
Oh, my, what should we do?
They say if you give money you are only perpetuating their situation and keeps them begging.
He might be dangerous.
Or a con artist, with a stack of wadded bills inside his coat right now.
Where is a homeless shelter? Maybe I could give a donation.
My jumping thoughts drowned out what my daughter was saying.
“Mommy, Mommy!” she practically yelled. “Can we buy these cookies for him? He would like this kind.”
Well, that won’t solve his problems, but why not?
We bought the cookies, a box of crackers, a can of Vienna sausages, and the margarine, then went back outside, taking the margarine out of the bag and putting in a few dollars.
I walked near the man and set the brown bag on the ground. He lifted his head and looked directly into my eyes.
“For you,” I whispered. His eyebrows lifted. I nodded and smiled. Then I lowered my eyes, took my daughter’s hand.
We walked slowly back to our van, to our home, to our life; my daughter’s innocent conscience seemed satisfied, but not mine.
What a pitiful gift.
The dilemma I felt that day continues still.
How can we — we who have so much — truly help those in need?
I often don’t know what to do.
And I don’t know how to end this sad blog.
I wish I could wrap it up with something inspiring . . .
Oh, wait. Maybe I can.
Yesterday we saw the movie “Harriet”– definitely I. N. S. P. I. R. I. N. G.
Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was a slave who escaped to the free north, but returned repeatedly to southern plantations to lead other enslaved people to freedom.
Over and over, Harriet asked God to help her, to guide her, to give her strength to do His will.
And He did.
So that is what I shall do.
I shall ask God for to help me, to tell me what He wants me to do, how I can help homeless people in our valley . . . beyond giving cookies.
And I shall trust Him to do it.