When life hands you a free milkshake, you say “yes”. But, the truth is, the last thing I wanted was more food.
For several moments, a scene had been eating away at my thoughts. A homeless man – not more than 30 years of age – waited on a curb of desperation outside of our local Walmart as we drove past. To help or not to help? The restless toddlers in the backseat only encouraged the excuses my mind so effortlessly generated.
No. Not tonight.
So we stayed the course to Chick-fil-A. The kids would share a “happy” meal, I would enjoy a leafy green salad, and the sunset would end a perfect evening.
Only I ordered fries I couldn’t eat. Then my son’s order was wrong, which resulted in four free chicken nuggets. And, perhaps most surreal of all, a cashier placed a free milkshake in my hand: “We forgot the whipped cream and cherry. Here!”
As my son’s ice cream cascaded down my wrist, I pondered the sticky dilemma. Light was fading, and so too was an opportunity.
Truthfully, I have a heart for those who are weary and without a home. During my AmeriCorps service seven years ago, I built an entire education program to empower this unique population. But that was before I felt called – at all times – to protect two children.
Indeed, I am ashamed to admit that my first response to encountering the homeless man was one of fear. What if he sought to harm? Sadly, I think this has become our societal – and, as a result, our personal – default.
As our vehicle approached the badly sunburned soul in need, his face began to change. And I caught a glimpse of my little boy.
If, God forbid, tragedy struck and our son lost his way:
Who would feed him?
Who would clothe him?
Who would be brave enough to love him?
And suddenly – for the very first time – I could understand the anxiety black mothers across our nation must feel each time they encounter the news. For every young man that is killed, they must see their own child.
But, in that moment, I chose to do nothing. And, as a result, I changed nothing.
Twenty minutes later, however, my sticky fingers carefully arranged fries, chicken, and ketchup in my son’s paper bag. It’s time to start living.
I was terrified and full of uncertainty. Would he still be there? Would I know what to say?
Then, just like that, Jesus moved. I parked at a distance. The young man spotted my car and moved closer. With my door ajar and my children satiated, I met him halfway.
Before I could explain, he silenced my words: “Thank you, ma’am. You’re such a blessing to me.”
Immediately, I felt insufficient. “We had some leftover chicken nuggets and fries. We will pray for you tonight.”
And, between bites, he again lifted his cardboard sign.
I didn’t save the world this weekend, and I offered a homeless man fried food. Sainthood, I’m afraid to say, is not within reach.
But what I am learning to see is that excuses can consume our lives if we’re not careful. The world is on fire, and what it needs now are bold acts of love.
Even when you’re tired.
Even when you’re scared.
Even when you don’t understand.
As I tucked my son into bed for the night, we kept our promise and prayed for a homeless stranger. For somewhere, there is most certainly a mother whose unconditional love remembers a little boy – before the tattoos, before the mistakes, before the curb – and for his needs she prays.
I hope we did okay.
One Year Ago: Washing Away Stains of Discontent