My daughter (13) and I were in a new city and decided to walk a few city blocks to get a slice of ‘the best pizza in town’ on a Saturday night. Our route took us through downtown, and it wasn’t long until we’d given away the few small bills of cash we carried to the many individuals who call the streets of Houston home.
*Side note: I know everyone has a different idea about whether giving money to those surviving on the margins is helpful or wise. But until God instructs me differently, I will continue to give money, as often as I have it, with a clear and unhindered conscience.
“You don’t always have to give money,” I said while we waited for green at the crosswalk. “Each situation is different, and if you haven’t anything to give, or don’t feel impressed by God to give it at that moment, then you should feel no guilt or shame.”
“OK, mom,” she said squeezing my hand as we side-stepped a profanity-laced altercation between two drunk men on the corner.
But as much as it’s up to you, always respect the humanity and honor the dignity of those you meet on the street, just as you would with anyone else. That’s far more important than the money.
“Ok mom,” she said, her face clouding with sadness at bleeding bare feet splayed out on cardboard, the rest of the body buried under a kiddie super-hero sleeping bag.
Because these are the adopted sons and daughters of God, Cece. They are known and beloved by their Creator. These are our brothers and sisters; our mothers and fathers; our extended family – our own flesh and blood – and we’ll spend eternity with so many of them! If we’re going to share heaven together one day, shouldn’t we treat each other now as we’d hope to then?
“I know, mom,” she said, greeting each person huddled and harrowed on the concrete benches.
I continued, even though I know she’s heard all of this so many times: God has told us that the people in this world with the very least – those who struggle most in this life – will be the first to dance through his city gates, happy and whole, and sit right down at his family table. And we, their cheering brothers and sisters, will marvel at the goodness and justice of our Father.
Many of these will be the invited guests of honor at the royal wedding feast. And as their extended family, we will be so joyful – so very proud of them! – that they trusted in God’s goodness and care even while their earthly life was so hard.
Almost as soon as I’d said those words, we met Gerry.
Weathered and wise, Gerry accepted our hello and smiled warmly as we all shook hands. He asked for nothing. But after introductions and some small talk, Gerry looked at me with such compassion and curiosity and asked if he could bless me. I felt like I was on holy ground.
Gerry spoke intimately and personally of God’s love for his children. Did I know that God loves me more than I could ever imagine? He does Ms. Kim! He loves all his children so much that he gave up his most precious thing. He gave up his only son. Can you imagine that kind of love? I know you love your daughter, Ms. Kim. I can tell. I can tell how much you love her. Now imagine that God gave up his only child that he loved so much. That’s how much he loves all his earthly children.
Gerry continued softly. Did I know that God’s got me, and he’s got all things in the palm of his hand? He does! Why are you crying, Ms. Kim? Those are tears of joy, I know. I know. I know. I know. I don’t like to see you cry, Ms. Kim, but I know those are tears of joy, ’cause you know that God’s got you right in his hands.
Then Gerry reminded me to pray more. “Pray all the time! Get up and pray. Then pray all day. Pray and pray and pray. This is your blessing.” Indeed.
“Are you OK mom?” Cece asked after I’d hugged Gerry twice and we’d walked away. But before I could answer, we saw an old woman struggling to wrap herself in a blanket at the bus stop. We gave her our last small bill but she recoiled from any eye-contact or physical touch. “I’m sorry,” she said, widening the gap between us, “But I have bugs.”
I wish I’d taken a picture of Gerry for you, but I know that one day you’ll meet him in heaven. He’ll be the one wrapped up tightly in the arms of Jesus, the very distinguished and honored guest of the One he loved so much.
“Welcome my good and faithful servant and enter our joy,” the Host of the Great Feast will say to him. “I’ve saved you a special seat right near me at my table. Your faith in my goodness and care has been made sight. I do love you so!”
Peace to you all, because you have a family member on the streets of Houston who is making his corner of God’s garden feel more like heaven to all who enter. You have a brother in Christ who is sowing shalom and tending to the beautiful business of heaven.
May Gerry’s blessing also be on you and yours today: “Get up and pray. Pray all day. Pray and pray and pray some more. This is your blessing.”
And may our prayers water the soil where God has planted each of us in this life. So that when others enter our corner of God’s garden, they might also feel like they’re on holy ground.