Action. It was a last minute decision to go to Kohl’s and look for a necklace, but I had a little time to spare and headed to the store. I thought if I could find something cheap, I would treat myself; after all, I wanted to look nice for the speaking engagement I had that evening. In fact, the whole day had been focused on preparing for the event. It was a new talk and so I really wanted to be on my game. I wanted to be a blessing to the ladies who were attending and do a good job for the event coordinator who had hired me. I clicked on my right turn signal, merging onto the street that would lead me to Kohl’s and that is when I noticed her.
A middle-aged woman stood on the opposite corner with a cardboard sign. The magic marker letters were too small for me to read from where I was, but I was sure I knew the message. Homeless. Needs help. Kids to feed. God bless. This corner is almost always occupied by someone in need of something. It is a busy corner, with a stream of people going in and out of the Costco that sits there. As I turned the corner, I made a mental note of her and knew the inner grappling would soon begin.
I lucked out at Kohl’s and found the perfect necklace and earring set at a great price and was quickly back in my car, mentally going through all I still had left to do. Go home and practice my talk again. Take a shower. Put on my make up. Pack the car with books and props. In the middle of my mental list making, as I reached the end of the store driveway, she came back to mind, and the grappling began.
Oh, if I make a right, like I normally would, I will have do something about her. I will have to decide whether or not to give her money. If I give her money, how do I know what she will do with it? What if she doesn’t really need it and she is one of those people who makes tons of money by standing at corners with signs? Money is tight in my own household ~ I questioned spending the $14 for a necklace and earrings. What if she didn’t really need it and I was just throwing our money away?
I decided I could avoid all this if I just made a left and went around the block, thus not passing that corner. But I couldn’t catch a break in the stream of cars and was forced to finally go right. As I approached the intersection where she stood, I steered the car towards the left hand turn lane and told myself it was better not to encourage her to come to the car for money, after all, she would need to step out into traffic and she might get hurt. That wouldn’t be a good thing. Better to keep the window up. But I looked over at her and said a prayer, and when I did, I felt as though she looked straight at me, eyes pleading, even though I was a lane and a half away. It felt like she looked into my soul.
“Okay, now what?” I asked the Lord. “What do you want me to do? Do we really know if she legitimately needs the money? And, Lord, you know all that I need to get done for the talk.”
“Ah, yes, the talk,” I could sense the Lord saying to me. “The talk where you plan to share with the ladies how important it is to be a blessing to others during this holiday season. The talk where your call to action is to encourage them to be the unexpected blessing in the lives of others. That talk?”
I went up to the next light and made a well-executed u-turn. Clearly, I had to develop another plan.
“Well,” I told myself, “I will make a right at the corner, again, and make a u-turn in the Costco parking lot so that when I come out I will be in the right hand lane and she won’t have to cross traffic. Then I can give her a couple of bucks and leave the outcome of what she does with it in the hands of the Lord.” There, a good plan. Except that when I got to the corner to make a right, I looked over at her and she was sitting on one of those ugly green electrical boxes with her back to the corner. No sign. No face. Just a slouched over figure. My heart broke. And now I needed a new plan.
“Okay, Lord,” I said. “I will park in the Costco parking lot and walk over to her. You know, this is more than I planned, Lord.” I rooted in my wallet and took out some money. In one pocket, I put a couple of dollars. In the other, I put a five and a few more dollars. I continued my conversation with God.
“Lord, I don’t know what I am doing. I have no idea what I am going to say. I still don’t know if I am supposed to give her money or not and how much. So, Lord, I am trusting you to let me know which pocket of money I should give her when I get there. I am trusting you to tell me what to do.” By now I had reached her.
“Hi,” I said. “I saw you when I drove by and then noticed that you had turned your back to the traffic. Is everything okay?”
“I’m so sad,” she said.
“I wondered about that,” I said, kneeling down next to her.
“This is hard. I don’t want to be out here. People can be so mean. I don’t have any place to live. My kids and I have been staying at the campground and it’s supposed to rain tonight. We can only stay one more night….” She poured out her heart while mine broke a little more.
“But I know God loves me. Do you know that the people at the Walmart in Foothill Ranch said I could work for them? They saw me sleeping in my car in the parking lot. They even bought me some clothes to wear.” I could hear a glimmer of hope in her voice. I suggested some places where she could get some food and she told me she had been blessed by those resources.
“I have gone to the churches around to see if there was some place to stay, but they couldn’t do anything.” We talked about the frailty and limitations of humans and organizations and that we should never look to them as a perfect reflection of our Lord because they are, like us, imperfect. Mostly she talked and I just listened. There wasn’t much more I could do. I didn’t have answers. I could only offer a few minutes of time, a listening ear and a piece of my heart. She seemed to perk up and I felt it was time to go. I didn’t want her to lose the opportunity to be blessed by a generous passer by who might cover her campground fee for another night.
“What’s your name?” I asked. She told me her name. “I will pray for you,” I said.
She stood up and thanked me and I reached out to give her a hug. I reached into both pockets and pulled out the money. “Here’s a little something. I hope it helps.” She beamed and thanked me. I quickly turned to head up the hill to my car, with an incredible tightness in my chest and tears burning in my eyes.
I cried the whole way home. I thanked the Lord for His conviction, for His call to action. I asked His forgiveness for my hypocrisy and self-centered nature. I prayed for the woman on the corner, and for the many others like her. I thanked the Lord for breaking my heart and when I went home to practice my talk, I felt the words speak to me afresh, knowing that He was the one speaking to me, the one calling me to action.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18