It was a difficult week, and well, let’s just be honest here … it has been difficult years. And as I set out to visit a loved one at the Hospital of Psychiatry, trying to navigate city streets in a minivan with a broken headlight and missing door handle … with a heart that felt equally beat up, I came upon him. Or was it, he came upon me?
His sign read, “homeless,” and in the past I might have looked away, passed him off as crazy, or decided that clearly, he’d brought this all upon himself. But instead, because of my own long suffering, I saw what I feared could possibly be my own child one day.
I motioned over to him as I took out my wallet and I pulled out a single dollar and a ten dollar bill, and would you believe I paused for a moment, not wanting to give out of my own poverty, seriously considering giving this beggar a dollar because of my own selfish fear of not having enough? Then flashes of my loved one … loved ones … were before my weary eyes, and I gave him the larger sum, as if in emptying myself, I might find hope at the bottom of it all.
And he held that ten dollar bill like the winning lottery ticket, and he said thank you in a way that I have never heard before, and exclaimed, “I’m gonna get me a good meal with this!” And then he offered to work for it. To clean my yard. He did not want to receive without giving back.
“I don’t live around here,” I told him, but then asked for his name.
“Benjamin,” he said.
And I like to do this. I like to ask the lost and homeless and broken what their name is because once you call someone by name, how can you not see them as your own? As yourself? Once you recognize that the man on the street with the sign who you really wish wasn’t there to bother you and make you feel uncomfortable or worse, feel afraid, had a mother who wrapped him tight in a blanket and held him in her arms and gave him a name. It changes you, when you do this, you know. Like a sword in the heart, it pierces you and you will never be the same. And this is good.
I promised Benjamin that I would pray for him, and he held his heart with the money in hand and nodded his head and said, “Yes, pray for me.”
And if you do not see God in any of this, you must not be alive. And I drove the rest of the way sobbing over my own sweet ones, who until finding the One who calls them by name and desires to give them all that He is and has, might as well be standing next to Benjamin holding a card board sign that reads “homeless.”
“Can we really praise God and thank Him when we are suffering?” my friend asked me on the phone yesterday. And I am not sure I have the words that make sense or are clear, but by the grace of God, in the depths of my soul, all I could see was Benjamin, and so my answer is yes. We are so blessed to be broken, aren’t we? We are even more blessed when we accept this brokenness, and use it to clean and wipe the wounds of another.
Would I even know compassion if I did not know pain? Would I ever be grateful for the sunrise, or a cold breeze, or the way the dog snuggles up next to me, if I was handed everything easily? I pray that this month of Thanksgiving, we come face to face with our own poverty and that we praise God for it. I also pray that we once and for all realize that the way to having enough is not by accumulating more, but by giving away everything that we have. By digging deep and handing over what we pull out, by calling everyone by name, being a warm meal for others, and praying for everyone we encounter.
I pray that this Thanksgiving, we become like Benjamin. People who say thank you … and mean it.
Copyright 2018 Laura Mary Phelps