Saturday, May 28, 2011

Beautiful Stranger

Have you ever walked out of a store to be met by someone in the parking lot who is begging for money or food?  What about when you're driving and pass by someone holding up a sign?  Of course you have, right? A lot of whether or not you regularly experience this has to do with where you're situated geographically, and because I grew up in a small town located in a northeastern pocket of Arkansas, encounters with the homeless population weren't something I had often.  In fact, I didn't have an encounter that I can actually recall until I was away at college, and by my earliest memory I was already in my twenties.  I still recall what I felt.  I was on the exit ramp waiting at the light to make a left turn.  He sat there with sadness in his eyes, a weathered cardboard sign with fading black letters, and skin that had been both browned and aged by the sun.  It was as if he was the first homeless person I had ever seen...and perhaps he was.  I couldn't take my eyes off of him, and the minute he looked up and locked his own eyes with my gaze, I knew I couldn't just drive away. I went to order food and brought it back to meet him in a moment of shared humility and thanks. Today when I look back, I'm reminded of who he was - a beautiful stranger.

I met a man down in Laguna Hills a year or so ago who won me over with the child standing by his side.  I was in a hurry to get home from visiting my grandmother and traffic was already getting heavy on I-5.  I turned the radio on and planned to speed past anyone who tried to get in my way.  As I approached the next traffic light, it quickly switched from yellow to red and I was abruptly halted in a bumper to bumper vehicular scurry to make it through. In frustration, I came to a stop and looked around.  Directly off to my right was an In and Out Burger fast food joint with a long line of customers standing both inside and out (completely unintentional pun). "What is the big deal about 'In and Out Burger,'" I wondered as I scanned the long line of people waiting to order. "I mean, have they seen the menu?" I silently asked.  For some reason, In and Out Burger is a big deal in California.  It's always packed with eager customers, yet their menu has hardly any choices - three or four burger styles, fries, and a shake.  "Mind boggling," I thought as I shook my head in amazement.  Just as I was beginning to visualize the beef patties and melted cheese, I turned to take one last look to my right.  There they were.  A dark haired man with a little girl at his side.

With long, curly hair, dark eyes, and an uncertain expression on her face, the little girl clung to the man's hand.  She looked to be my son's age.  She was the same height.  They stood on the corner of In and Out Burger and held a sign that read "Hungry, Please Help, and God Bless."  As the cars in front of me began to move with the change of the light, I sat immobile just staring at this man and girl who appeared to be his child.  At the blaring sound of a honking horn behind me, I was jolted back into the moment and quickly pushed down on the gas, but I didn't go straight through the light. I made an immediate right turn and pulled into the crowded fast food restaurant parking lot.  I turned to the back seat and told Ashton someone needed our help so we wouldn't be going home just yet.  With a nod, he expressed his understanding.  We parked, got out of the car, and approached the man and child.  It would take far too long to relay every detail of that afternoon, but before it was over Ashton and I met the entire family who belonged to this man who not too long before had lost his job.  He, his wife, and their three children lived in their vehicle.  The youngest of their children was, in fact, Ashton's age.  She was five.  As I listened to their story of hardship, pain, and suffering, my heart broke with theirs.  We gave them food that day, but equally important to that we listened.  These were some of the most beautiful strangers I have ever encountered and it is my prayer that we all stop and help the homeless, not just by offering food or money, but also by listening to their story.  Take the time to get to know those who you purpose to help.  Are they not worth hearing because they don't have a home? Or, are they unworthy because they aren't like you? Do they really not deserve your help if they're not handling life how you determine that they should? The Bible is very specific in its instructions on how to treat the homeless population.  The following are just a few of the scriptures that speak directly into the lives of those who daily go without and those who go daily with plenty:

"Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter --when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" Isaiah 58:7

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"  The King will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."  Matthew 25:34-40

"But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:13-14
Don't worry about whether or not the homeless man on the corner is looking for a job every day. Don't worry about whether he smells like fresh flowers, and don't worry about whether or not he has a drinking problem.  Is that not God's concern?  We need to worry about whether or not we're stopping to feed him.  Go a step further and ask him his name.  Aren't we all worth remembering?  I remember the second time I stepped into the church we now regularly attend.  The pastor, having met me only once before, called me by name. I wasn't just shocked that he remembered; I was touched that he cared enough to remember a stranger's name.  When I expressed my surprise, he responded with something close to "Isn't everybody worth remembering?"  Worth remembering, indeed.  Have you ever met what I call a "beautiful stranger?" More importantly, however, is this question: Have you ever been a beautiful stranger to someone else?

Live to love others.  Stop to help.  Get to know a beautiful stranger today.  Ask them their name.  Listen to their story.  Allow your heart to be broken with theirs.


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