Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hungry! Any Little Bit will Help

The sign was a folded piece of cardboard, and the woman holding it stood on the corner of the busy intersection. It took me about ten minutes to swing around, find a place to park and walk over.

"Hi, I'm Steve. Ummm... what can I do for you?"

"Hi, I'm Tanya (not her real name). I'm just looking for grocery money.... any little bit will help."

I nodded.

"Okay, I'll have to go to the bank. Give me about twenty minutes, and I'll meet you at the gas station."

"I really appreciate that."

I smiled.

"Want some pizza? I was going to get some food."

"Sure, that'd be great."

Ten minutes later I was standing at the bank machine, my heart in my throat when I saw the number for my current balance. I swallowed. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry." I felt convicted by my poor stewardship of my meager finances. I had very little to give, and with a number of expenses coming due this next week, I wondered if I could pay- I hit the withdraw button.

I would make do.

I wandered over to the Pizza Pizza next door and picked up a couple of slices for Tanya.

When I pulled back into the gas station she was waiting, and soon enough we were
chatting. She told me about her little girl as I handed her the pizza and sat down beside her on the sidewalk outside the gas station. She asked me what I was doing, and I told her about the Seminary.

"I was a minister back when I was twenty-one. But after a few years I started to see so much crap, I walked away. I thought too many people were acting fake, you know." I said. "I got tired of people acting all happy all the time, and the condescending pats on the head when things went wrong. Like if my life was messy that somehow I was a screwup."

"Are you Catholic?" Tanya asked me.

"I'm a Protestant."

She nodded and I took a side glance at her. She was wearing all black, with black fingerless gloves. Her hood was pulled up over her black hair, and she sat with her toes pointed together, staring at the ground. The fading twilight cast a bluish glow as the traffic roared down Steeles Avenue.

"My uncle is a Protestant minister. He's like that."

"Hard to relate to, isn't it?" I said.

She nodded and looked away.

"I came back to the church because I started looking at Jesus." I said. "He didn't care what the religious leaders thought. That dude cared about people, Tanya, and for me, when I realized that, I couldn't get him out of my head. I kept thinking, that's what I want to be like, you know. And so I came back to the church. I can't imagine life without my faith, but man, it still sucks sometimes."

She didn't say anything and we sat in silence for a minute.

"How old are you?" I said.


"And your little girl?"

"She's seven." She paused. "I don't have any regrets having her, you know." I nodded as she started telling me about her little one. About how hard it was, with no support payments, about how expensive it was, about the two jobs she worked. She'd been on the street since she was fourteen, and now her life was wrapped in raising her girl.

We chatted for another fifteen minutes, and finally I gave her my cell phone and email.

"If you need anything, just call me, okay? Do you have a computer?"

"I have access to one at the resource Center not far from my apartment."


She looked at me, her eyes wide.

"Um, I'll let you know when I get back to Peterborough. To let you know I made it safely. I promise."

I smiled.

"Good. I'll be looking for your email, okay?"

"Thanks, Steve. I really appreciate this."

"No worries." I said. "We all have our down moments in life. It was nice to meet you. Are you okay to go from here?"

She nodded and I gave her another smile as I walked away.

As I started my car, tears formed in my eyes, and it was all I could do to hold them back. About a mile down the road I finally pulled into a parking lot to let my emotions have their toll, and take what they needed.

I sat with my hand on the steering wheel in the empty mall lot, staring at the buildings rising into the night sky, as the tears built and finally rolled down my face. In so many ways I could sense the presence of God; it was heavy...tangible... and all I could do was bow my head. The week had not gone as I'd planned, but then, when did it ever?

24 Hours Earlier

I stared at my inbox on the computer and sighed. Another angry letter from yet another Christian. When the Wednesday night class had finished, despite my strong comments, I had hoped for some sign that other classmates appreciated what Mark and I had said, about our emphasis on mercy and grace. Instead, I'd received angry emails and comments about my 'bitterness' towards the church and the importance of good doctrine. It was discouraging. I answered the emails, as gently as I could, and logged off the computer. Thirty minutes later, I was standing outside when I got the news.

A good friend had lost his father.

I spent an hour with him later that night, listening and walking through it with him as best I could. The next afternoon, I was there with him with some of my other friends again. We did not offer any platitudes or phony words of comfort, just sat with him, doing what we could to lift him up.

I was still thinking about the emails and my friend, and praying for him, when I came across Tanya holding her sign up on the busy corner. Thirty minutes later, we were sitting and chatting on the curb.

It's strange how God reaches out to us, even when life feels raw. And despite the discouragements this past week, I am encouraged. I am encouraged by the way my friends stand together. I am encouraged that we still have a chance to make a difference in people's lives. I am encouraged that God still moves and shows us what is truly important.

On the Temple road, two priests walked by a bleeding man on the side of the road because they wanted to stay pure for worship. I am encouraged that Jesus thought the 'impure' Samaritan, the one willing to stop and help the wounded man, is the one he commended.

I see a world, like a giant highway, filled with people lying injured and bleeding on the side of the road. They call out to us (sometimes they call us by name) and they ask us for help. Sometimes they wear the clothes of the street, but often they do not. They shelter their pain in a 'regular life', desperately hoping for a gentle, understanding person to come by and help mend their wounds.

This then, is your neighbour, Jesus says. Go and do likewise.

I do not apologize for my strong opinions, especially when it comes to mercy. The Kingdom of God is bigger than any single doctrine. Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself. Everything else, as far as I can tell, is negotiable.

My prayer this week is that God will reveal Himself to you through your act of kindness, that He will give you Sight to the wounded and bleeding, and the compassion to move. We are all sinners, and we all struggle. May God remind us that no one person is greater than another, and that the greatest reality in life is not the realization of our successes... but of our kindnesses, especially to those who need it most.