Thursday, July 05, 2012
"Read the Sign."
I spotted the woman while running errands. She sat under a large shade tree, holding a sign that I couldn’t read but knew was a plea for cash. The closer I got to my first stop—the bank—the closer I got to the sadly-obese woman. That’s when I noticed her sunburned face and started to feel sorry for her. How long had she been sitting out there in the heat? How did she get to the place where she had to spend her evenings holding a sign in a busy parking lot instead of relaxing at home after a day of work? Should I give her something? Sure, I couldn’t help noting her strategic location, but how could I judge her when I’d never been reduced to begging? I knew better than to give a homeless person money, but what about some food? I remembered the Manna Bags that friends from church started keeping in their cars a few years ago. Many of them had told stories of handing the bags of snacks and toiletries to people asking for money. “I’ve never had anyone turn one away.” “They are always appreciative.” Because I don’t drive, I’ve never been able to keep Manna Bags handy but always wished I could. My next stop was the Dollar Store. Why not pick something up for her there? I could choose items that my sons liked in case the woman was gone by the time I returned. Buying the bottled water and granola bars felt great. My paced picked up as I walked back to the tree beside the bank. My heart raced with anxiety as I approached this total stranger. “Excuse me,” I said. I held out a bottle of water and two bars. “Here you go.” Instead of taking my gift, the woman waved it away. “No thank you. Seriously, what I need is what the sign says—two dollars minimum.” Not exactly the response I expected. “I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I don’t have any cash to give you, but . . . um . . . I hope you get what you need.” What happened to they are always appreciative? Why would I, who had wished for so long to help a needy person, be the one to offer water and a granola bar to the woman with a $2-cash minimum? My parting words to her replayed in my mind: I hope you get what you need? What did she need, really (besides the obvious: a job and Jesus)? What if she truly did need water and food? And who wouldn’t at least see a bottle of water as provision? Maybe I had held out exactly what her body craved but she was too focused on her desire for money to recognize it? How many times had I done the same thing to God, I wondered—waved away what I needed, possibly even the answer to my prayers, because it wasn’t what I wanted. How many times had a pointed to my own version of hand-printed cardboard and basically told my creator, “Read the sign. This is what I want. Keep your Dollar Store substitutes.” Maybe I’d just received a small taste of how my ungrateful responses have grieved God. As I walked home, I prayed that the woman sitting under the tree would get what she needed—what she really needed. Since then, I’ve continued to pray that I would receive each blessing that comes my way with gratitude, even if it doesn’t look like what I wrote on my cardboard sign.