The people are very different too. The homeless of Davis are a mix of down-and-outers, those with special mental conditions, and those who've chosen to be homeless to escape "the system." The town has an active homeless ministry that the whole community is a part of. The churches put on a shelter that rotates among their campuses during the winter, and there are groups of college students, community members, and several stores that work together to donate, cook, and serve free meals.
But in our new town, there is an actual "bad part of town," something I am not at all used to. There are truly "dangerous people," not just petty thieves stealing laptops. People who come up to you asking for food are not necessarily the ones who really need it. Unlike our small, I-know-everyone town, this place is big enough for the anonymity that allows people to abuse the system. I no longer feel comfortable or called to give food and water to all the homeless I pass.
But in our old town, that used to be my habit. God impressed on me that I really needed to learn a new level of generosity and humility, and every time I passed a homeless person, God would tell me to give them something. Since the usual places to run into homeless people were two grocery centers I frequented, I got used to buying extra snacks and sandwiches to hand out on my way back to my car. That was the generosity part of my lessons, but the humility part came during one of these drop-offs.
It was Monday. I needed quarters to do laundry at our apartment complex, and this coincided with needing a few food items, so I trekked over to Safeway, which had a bank inside where I could get my quarters. I passed a homeless man on my way driving into the center, and made a mental note. I did my shopping and bought him a gatorade and protein bars, forgetting to get quarters.
On my way out, I drove past the other entrance and saw two homeless women waiting by the side of the road. I drove on to my exit with my homeless man but found that he had gone. Internal struggle ensued; do I turn around and give the food to the women instead? It seemed silly and I was wasting gas, so I kept driving toward home, but it kept bothering me. I could picture Jesus saying, "I would die for them, you know. They're precious to me too."
Well, I felt like I had kind of failed. But God forgave, so I moved on and prayed that next time I would have the courage to make a u-turn. We went to our biblestudy that night, and our leaders' fluffy cat curled up warmly in my lap as it began to rain. And then pour. Fluffy kept up a purring accompaniment. By the end of biblestudy, we had to run back to our car through fat, wet drops. I remember hugging my Bible close to keep it dry and feeling so happy about the rain. I love rain. I wish it rained more often. I wish it had rained all day.
But the next day, Tuesday, dawned bright and rain-free. Meanwhile, I still needed quarters. Silly me, I'd been so focused on feeding the homeless guy that I'd forgotten what I originally went for. I had a few more errands to run (when do errands ever end?), but first it was a writing day: I went to my favorite cafe/teahouse, Mishka's, and wrote for two hours with my chai tea wishing it would rain again. It didn't.
I went to one store in the University Mall, and then to the Safeway center to check the sport store for running shoes. As I finished up there, I realized I had a third errand back in the University Mall. Silly me. On my way out of the parking lot, I saw again the two homeless women, and this time they were at my exit. I tried to read their sign as I passed, but felt slightly guilty in case they recognized me from the day before, so I tried to avoid eye contact. I had the gatorades and protein bars in my car still, but I was in a hurry, and they were on the wrong side of my car for an easy hand-off...
Of course, once I was back in the University Mall, I remembered: I still had forgotten to get quarters at Safeway. I could have kicked myself. I had already driving from U-Mall to Safeway Center to U-Mall, and now I needed to go back? But I wasn't going to go home without quarters a second time, so I drove back to Safeway and finally, at long last, got the quarters to do laundry. And of course, as I was leaving, I saw the same two homeless gals again.
I wasn't going to let this opportunity pass. I got the food out of my car and walked over to them to pass it off. They thanked me profusely, and I struck up conversation. Let's be real: one of the best gifts you can give people is a minute or two of your time. Most people are just lonely. It's amazing how universal a subject the weather is, and how much talking about it cheers some people up.
I got to see their sign now: "Jesus was homeless too." I stopped and thought about it. That's true. He was. I told them I liked their sign and they said, yeah, it's good for people to remember that you don't have to have stuff in order to give of yourself. Wow, I thought; revolutionary thinking. That's what Jesus was all about.
I mentioned the rain and asked them if they'd been able to find shelter. (From talking with a number of the homeless in our area, the general consensus has always been that people give them plenty of food, but shelter and a good night's sleep is pretty hard to come by.) The gals told me that they have an old car that they sleep in, so they were okay when the rain hit. But then they told me this story.
It turns out that they weren't collecting food for themselves. They were collecting it to give to a homeless friend who was sick and couldn't get out to find food themselves. They'd seen the dark grey clouds early in the day on Monday, and started praying, "Dear Lord, don't let it rain until we've collected enough food and had a chance to drop it off with him."
The grey clouds still threatened, but all day long the rain held off. Finally that evening, they went to see their friend. They handed off the food and got their friend to shelter. And then--as they got back in their car--only then did it start to rain. "So," the talkative one finished, "God held that rain back just for us."
And here I was, asking for it to rain and pouting because it wasn't. I spent my day complaining about the weather and stubbed toe, while they spent their day praying that God would help them help a friend.
There was a good reason God was holding the rain off, but I can't see the whole picture, and I just wanted rain. God sees all and has it all under control so that things are perfectly timed. And yet I just refuse to see it some days.
As I drove home, I realized just what God meant when he said he would die for them. The verse from Matthew 25, from the parable of the sheep and the goats, came to me: "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
I realized why God wanted me to give food to those two ladies. He cares for them because they--the dirty and smelly and castaways from society--are his beloved. He died for Them. They are part of him, and when you give to them, you're showing love and loyalty to God himself.
Right there I knew that more than anything in the world I wanted hear God say, "Well done, good and faithful servant...Come and share your master's happiness!" Is there anything better? To know that I followed my Father's example in loving everyone, lovely and unlovely? For I know that he loves me, lovely and unlovely. And it is that love that can transform me.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called sons and daughters of God! This is truly what we are.1 John 1:3a