To Bless and Be Blessed
Christy and I went to church this morning and as we were walking along the sidewalk, a homeless guy (named John, as I later found out) came by and asked us for change. My first impulse - one which, I'm ashamed to say, I often indulge - was to say "no" and hurry on to church. "For I was hungry and walking along in front of your church and you did not feed me," Jesus might say to me.
Christy's impulse was far better: She told the guy that we don't give people money, but we buy them food. She said that after the church service, our church served lunches. We all agreed to meet up at 12:30 after the church service and we would buy him lunch.
During the service our pastor, Scott Weimer, gave a good sermon on humility. The church service ended at 12:00 and Christy and I stood around wondering what to do next. During the service, we remembered about The Cup, a worship service our church does for homeless folks (along with giving them a free lunch). So we thought about telling John about the Cup and, if he wasn't interested, still buying him lunch.
In the meantime, we had half an hour to kill. So we wandered around the church, and ran into two of the newest members in our Bible Study-Community Service group - Sarah and Paulo - who were looking for directions to the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children, where our group serves the children every Sunday. We weren't planning on going to the Day Shelter today, but we were more than willing to give them directions. If we hadn't been wandering around the church thinking about how to help John, we would never have been there to help Sarah and Paulo. And, just as we were talking to the two of them, this lady walked up to Paulo and me and said "hey, you look like two strong young men." [Always lay on the flattery when you want help, right?] "Could you help me move these clothes that I'm taking to the Day Shelter to my car?" Then Paulo offered to take them in his car, since he was going anyway. You see, if we hadn't been wandering around waiting to help John, then we wouldn't have been there to help Paulo get directions AND help this woman and Paulo load stuff clothes for the women at the Day Shelter into his trunk.
God is awesome and he has a weird sense of humor. (Today's experiences are just one example of that humor. Click here for images of the creature that I have long-contended is the ultimate proof of God's sense of humor.)
And so the day continued.....we still hadn't met John. We went to the room of the church where the Cup meets to get some info on it, and ran into a couple of acquaintances who were running the Cup service. She told us that we had these tickets for a certain number of lunches to be served at the end of the service, and gave us one to give to John. We went upstairs to the front steps and waited. And waited.
12:30 passed, and another guy sat down next to us. I couldn't quite tell if he was homeless. He had that hardened, ragged look of someone who had lived on the streets. But he also didn't have that defeated look in his eyes, he was slightly better dressed, and he carried a cell phone. His name was Carl. He asked if we knew "Bob." We said we didn't. He said that Bob was a member of our church who had helped him get a job at an auto parts store up in the suburbs. He was about to take MARTA to his job, but he asked us if we had any food. He didn't have money for a bus token and food. So Christy - who rocks - jumped up and instantly offered to buy him lunch from the church. (Not the Cup service, but the normal paid-for lunch our church does every week for members and visitors.) I waited outside for John.
Christy and Carl apparently had a long talk. A lot of people in the church, including Pastor Scott, knew Carl. I'm glad about that....it makes it more likely that his story was true. I wish I wasn't so suspicious. But I'm glad to know that we were helping someone who was trying to lift himself up. After Christy and Carl came back out with food, he hugged us both, thanked us, and headed off to MARTA.
Later John did in fact come, and we bought him lunch. We also helped a guy named Giovanni (also homeless) find a place to go to the restroom in the church. (That place was: the bathroom. Come on, what were you thinking? I'm not the sacreligious type.)
There were some people in our church that were happy to help and to see us helping those in need. There were others who were clearly uncomfortable to be standing around a homeless person and wanted them to go to the Cup and, in essence, know their place. That's really sad and a topic for another blog post. We returned the meal ticket to the Cup so they would have more lunches to serve the people who attended the service.
Then we went to lunch at Papi's, a spectacular Cuban sandwhich shop in Midtown Atlanta. (Kenny and Erin can back me up on how wonderful the food is there.) As we were waiting, we saw a homeless guy walk past and stare sort of longingly in. Again, my impulse was "we've already helped enough people today. I'm hungry, let's sit and enjoy our food." Christy's impulse, again, was otherwise. (To be fair, her impulse was probably aided by the fact that we were sitting right at the window and the guy was standing right there next to us.) The man - whose name was, coincidentally, Kenny - soon walked on. But Christy wanted to give half our sandwhich to the guy. She was afraid to do so, so I ran after him and asked him if he was hungry and gave him the sandwhich. And, you know what? I still was plenty full after eating the other half of the sandwhich and some scrumptious croquettas jamon.
Then we went and searched for gas. Allow me to pause here and be scared for a second.
Is it just me, or does it look like 75% of the gas stations are closed down? I've heard nothing about this on the news, but everywhere we drove the gas stations were closed with bags on the pumps. Fellow Atlantans, are you noticing this? Other readers, is this a nationwide phenomenon? What the hell is going on here? Are we experiencing some sort of stealth shortage of gas that nobody's talking about? Is there a run on gas stations like there used to be runs on banks in the early days of the Great Depression? If so, why? Is this all Hurricane Ike's doing?
Anyways, we finally found a QT with gas which was actually pretty cheap for Atlanta. ($3.97 Many gas stations in our area were selling for $4.19 or $4.29 a gallon. At least, before today, when we saw them actually selling gasoline.) And it was SWAMPED. Seemed like about 2 or 3 dozen cars vying for half a dozen gas pumps. We were behind two cars waiting for one pump, trying (with only some success) to stay out of the way of various cars that were trying to leave the station.
Then the first car moved....and the second car didn't. The poor young woman's car wasn't starting. She said she seemed to be out of gas. Well Christy - have I mentioned she rocks? - jumped right out and helped push her car to the pump. She got back in and we waited for the young lady (I'm self-consciously trying not to say "girl." She appeared to be about my age and I never refer to men my age as "boys.") to finish pumping. She did and got in her car. And it didn't move. Apparently her batter was dead or something.
Soon, there was a whole committee of people trying to figure out how to get her car moved. Now, yes, there was self interest involved. Moving her car meant getting to the pump. But in that kind of high-stress situation, I've seen people who would just yell at her for taking up a pump. Everybody was very friendly. Fortunately, there was one guy - not me - with actual mechanical knowledge. She apparently had the kind of car that would get enough battery power to start if you push it. So, with visions of Little Miss Sunshine's iconic image dancing in my head, I joined the others as we pushed her car forward. Luckily it started. Then all Christy and I had to do was move our car forward and pull the hose around to the other side of the car and pump gas. (Why not pull up the correct way to the pump, you ask? Did I mention the dozens of other cars competing for that spot?)
So, by 3:00, we were on our way home. We had helped a lot of people today. And in the process, we had stomachs full of delicious food and a tank full of gas. Despite being dragged kicking and screaming into some of this helping, I came out realizing that not only were the people we helped better off....but I was just fine. I was blessed with the means to get around town, spectacular food, and the company of my wonderful wife. I got to be a blessing and to bless. God provided opportunities to help others and He showed me that, in doing so, my riches only grow.
I'm happy to be loved and to have material abundance. But I'm even more happy to love. Thanks God!
And thanks Christy!