As I came to a stop under the overpass, I saw him. His sign read something like “Everybody needs a little help sometimes.” I pulled out the only dollar bill I had and rolled down the window. He walked over and introduced himself. He told me that he slept over there in the grass if I ever had food to bring. He said that he didn’t want to be there and that we are all one mistake away from being him. He asked me to pray for him. I told him I would. The light turned green. I told him as sincerely as I could that I was sorry and that I hoped things got better for him. I drove away.
As a social media loving mom, I read a lot of Facebook articles. Many to most of them are a waste of two minutes. But occasionally, I read something that truly changes me. The one that ultimately led to this encounter under the overpass is one that I read in November of last year. The article titled, It’s Not Our Job to Choose Who Deserves Help, caused me to do a 180 in how I think about kindness, compassion and giving. My favorite line is “The question is not whether this person is ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving.’ Instead the question is … ‘What action will be the most loving and transformational in this person’s life?”
So often, I hear people say (and catch myself thinking) things like, “They probably just want the money for alcohol or drugs” or “There are churches/shelters that will help them if they really want it.” But I have forced myself to rethink that narrative. The truth is, I don’t know these people. I don’t know their stories or fully comprehend the systemic reasons that so many people end up in poverty. But I do know that they are all human, like me. As the man told me that day, we could all be one bad decision, job loss, or serious illness away from being him.
I decided after reading that piece that I could not base my decision to give on whether I perceived the person worthy of my gifts. The $3 I give to someone sitting at a stop light likely means so much more to them than it does to me. And my hope is that the little bit I have to give helps them to remember that they do matter and that they are more than their circumstances. This doesn’t mean that I am perfect or better than those who don’t feel comfortable giving in that way. I am no hero. I could give SO much more and judge SO much less. But, it has been a catalyst in my journey toward being like Jesus and extended grace more often than not.
That article made me not only rethink my views on how I give, but also what example I want to set for my daughter about compassion and love. As she gets older, it becomes increasingly obvious that much of what she knows about the world is a direct reflection of the actions of her father and me. When I think about what I want for her future, the thing that means more to me than any accomplishment is that she be kind. As we all know, kindness and compassion aren’t learned through being told, but through being modeled by those around us. The best way for those qualities to grow in her is for them to grow in me. She asked me about that man and why he was there. I tried my best to explain in a way an almost 4-year-old would understand. She asked if I had given him some shoes because a few days before I had searched desperately before the light turned green for my spare flip flops to give to a woman on an off ramp who had none. She had been paying attention.
Every time I have the opportunity to give someone in need, I drive home in my nice car, to my warm home, with my loving family. The author of the article says, “After all, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standards for our lives. If we measured how much each of us deserve grace, forgiveness and love, you and I would both fall short.”
I know I haven’t done anything exceptional to deserve what I have. Some of it is the result of hard work, yes, but much of it is good luck and privilege. In a time when it often feels like we are more divided than ever, when our only similarity is our humanity, it seems that the best hope for our future is to be kind to everyone we meet whenever possible. For you, this may not mean giving to those on the street, and that’s okay. But I challenge you to view yourself and your actions from the eyes of your children. Model kindness and grace. They are your legacy.