Freely you have received. Freely give.
- Matthew 10:8
When we first moved to Texas, I was overwhelmed by the materialistic lifestyle. Store after store, restaurants and malls and theaters line both sides of the intricate web of highways that is Houston. Literally anything I could ever need is mere minutes from our apartment. As I've gotten accustomed to hopping in my car and driving 5 miles for my errands, I've noticed a strange phenomenon. Nearly every intersection has been claimed by one or more people - tattered, weather-beaten, holding signs advertising their hunger, their five kids, their desperation. Some come right up to the window and demand acknowledgement, or else determined ignorance. Others, defeated, stand with head hung low and have given up making eye contact.
Panhandlers have always made me uncomfortable, and the shocking prevalence of them in Houston makes me positively squirm with awkwardness. They accomplish their purpose very well. It's impossible to sit at the stoplights without a tummy full from dinner out turning slightly sour, or those shopping bags in the backseat losing a bit of their intrigue. My awkwardness makes me angry. "Why aren't they applying for jobs instead of standing out here?" "What kind of parent would make their child stand on the street all day as a sob story?" "Why give them money when they'll just use it to feed whatever addiction they probably have?"
A few months ago my pastor preached a sermon that turned my world upside down. The topic was compassion, the text Luke 6:34:36. "If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
The people standing on the street corners aren't my enemies. They're not necessarily "ungrateful" or "evil." And even though some have been picked up as proven scammers, there is much legitimate need in this city. So why is it so very hard to give? Usually, it's because my logic gets in the way. Giving cash is dumb. It feeds the habit and may not be used for good choices. My pastor nailed that excuse too. We don't have the power to control what people do with our generosity, he explained. Having mercy requires obeying God and trusting that His justice will prevail. My heart and my response to Jesus' sacrifice for me is what's at stake here. Can I truly give freely and trust God with what happens next?
I decided to take the challenge. I bought supplies and put together little bags with bottled water, a granola bar, McDonald's gift card and New Testament. There was one man in particular on my mind. For weeks I'd driven by him in the opposite direction, my heart breaking for the pain and defeat in his eyes. I prayed that he would be on my side of the street someday. And one morning, he was. I waved him over and, as the light turned green, put a rather large and femininely-wrapped bag in his surprised hands and gushed "Hello-Sir-I've-been-praying-for-you-God-bless-you-take-care-stay-safe." I will never forget that look of confusion, shyness, emotion, gratefulness. Here, at least, I had made a difference. I still drive by him on the opposite side of the street. And I pray that he is reading the New Testament, and that he has found hope.
Right before Easter I gave out another bag. The men look more confused than anything else, but I'm praying that as their immediate needs of hunger and thirst are touched, and a meal is provided, they will open the Bible and their deepest need will be met. How extraordinary to touch the lives of perfect strangers even in this small way.