Last weekend, we took a family trip to Target. I walked out with a super cute pair of winter boots. My mind put together outfits that I could wear them with all the way home. I couldn’t wait for the first real snowfall to be able to hear the crunch of snow under my warm feet.
And, as it would happen, we pull off the highway to see her. She is rocking back and forth between her feet. Holding one up away from the cold concrete and then giving the next one a break. Her cardboard sign said something about needing help. Money. Food. I couldn’t read it – I wasn’t wearing my glasses. But I looked hard at her and heard that small voice inside me say, “Give her your boots.”
So, I did what any natural woman would do and I looked at my husband and asked him if I should give that woman my new boots. I guess I was hoping he would tell me that I was so sweet and compassionate, but I didn’t need to do that. I had just bought them! They were mine and I was excited to wear them. But he didn’t say that. He just said, “Do what you feel like you should. But maybe just ask her what she needs instead of throwing a pair of boots at her.”
So I asked him to swing around. He puts on his flashers and pulls off next to her. I jump out. Kinda scaring her in the process, but she turns around. I ask her what she needs and then rattle off some suggestions: gloves, a hat, hot coffee, BOOTS??? She smiles at me. Points to a house down the street and says it’s hers. She has some boots and gloves there and is just trying to gather enough money to keep the lights on. Says she only needs $10 a day.
I wished her good-luck and hop back into my warm mini van. My boots are safe. I’m free to go back to day dreaming about outfits to pair them with.
And I’m reminded that God doesn’t always ask us to give up that which is most precious to us. He just wants to know that we would be willing to if someone needed it.
But it also got me thinking about some helpful ways to respond to the people we see standing on street corners. Humbling themselves to the point of begging. Expressing their deepest needs on a cardboard piece. In general, I do not give money to anyone. To me, that’s taking the easy way out. It’s too easy to throw some cash at someone and call it a day. I think we can do better. We can love harder and more exact.
1. Ask what they need. Don’t assume. Don’t throw your new boots out the window as you drive by because you perceive that her feet are cold. Get out of your warm car and ask her what she needs. (note: I would only physically get out and talk to someone if my husband was in the car. Be safe, too.)
2. Be perceptive. If you don’t have the time or the space to stop and ask what they need, take a mental inventory of what is in your car and purse and then look for felt needs. Cold hands. Bare head. Warm drink. Do you have a pair of gloves with you? A hat? The most dangerous moments are when we are returning from a shopping trip or have a hot Starbucks treat in hand. We are armed with fresh tools to show great love in those moments.
3. Keep granola bars, apples, and fast food gift cards in your car. These are much better alternatives than money and demonstrate love and care in a deep, humanly way.
4. Provide them a job. Find them a job. Ask them to come shovel your driveway. Then pay them well. Show them the dignity and respect that comes with working hard.
5. But whatever you do, please don’t ignore them. Even if you just let a smile sneak out and look into their eyes. Not for their sake, but for yours. Gripping the steering wheel tight while you wish the light to turn green does nothing to draw the human connection together. Our hearts need interaction. They need to be stretched to love the unloveable. Get messy and deep into the needs of people around you. Take care of people. God becomes so big and so personal and so alive when you do.