She could be the “poster lady” for the homeless. I see her nearly every morning on my way to work. As I watch her struggle behind the weight of her shopping cart that is loaded down with a massive amount of plastic bags filled with who knows what, I can’t help wondering what her story is. Where did she once live? Does she have any family? What placed her in this situation? She wears a long dark coat with a collar that bunches up the curly locks of her “salt & pepper” shoulder length hair. Her face shows the strain and pain of days, months, or perhaps even years of loneliness, discouragement, and despair. She can be seen frequently pushing her cart down the sidewalk in front of Walmart or the QuickTrip gas station. I have never seen her with a sign asking for help, or a cup in her hand hoping somebody would have a few dollars to give her. I only see her pushing her cart and wondering where to go next.
About a month ago, I felt like God spoke to me and told me that I should stop and talk to her. I had opportunities over the past weeks, but kept putting it off. I kept asking God, ” What should I say? Do you want me to witness to her? Should I give her money?” I am definitely no expert when it comes to interacting with homeless people. This was so far removed from my comfort zone or area of what I felt was my “expertise.” I must be honest and tell you that in North St. Louis County where I live, I quite frequently see someone who is apparently homeless standing and holding a sign at an intersection by the stoplight. Their sign is always their plea for help and a bit of compassion. Sadly, I must admit that I never stop and roll my window down to speak to the person and to offer a few dollars of help. But, something about this lady was different. I felt compelled to talk to her.
Today I happened to pull into QuickTrip to gas up, and as God would have it, there she was. She was on the sidewalk with her cart full of what I suppose are her only possessions in the world. It’s as if God was saying, “I’m will keep putting her in your path until you do what you’re suppose to do.” After filling up my Impala with gas, I pulled into one of the parking spaces along the sidewalk. By that point, my apparent my mission field for that moment had moseyed inside the store. She was right inside the door. My mind was flooded with questions. What did God want me to do?
I was suddenly reminded of a passage of scripture from the Gospel of Matthew that I have read many times in the past. In Matthew chapter 25 there is a parable that Jesus shared with his disciples. In this passage of scripture, Jesus told his disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” (Matthew 25:31-40)
After stepping inside the store, I was standing right beside her. I said good morning and told her my name was Mark. I asked what her name was, and in a soft, timid, and almost inaudible voice she replied, “Katherine.” I asked if I could buy her some coffee or something to eat. She seemed embarrassed and said, “No, I’m not really hungry.” Considering the fact it was 6:30 in the morning and she was inside the store looking at snacks, I knew was hungry. After urging her for a minute to let me buy her something to eat, it became apparent she wasn’t going to specify something I could buy for her. I planned on buying a 20 ounce bottle of orange juice to drink on my way to work, so I headed back to the cooler. On my way back toward the checkout counter, I stopped by a rack that contained warm breakfast biscuits. I grabbed a sausage & egg biscuit and carried it to the counter with my juice. After paying for the breakfast biscuit and juice, I walked back over to Katherine and told her, ” Maybe you’re not hungry now, but you probably will be later. Save this for when you get hungry later today.” Upon saying that to her, I handed her the biscuit and turned around and left. I immediately felt I should have told her something else. Maybe I should have told her I was praying for her, or that God loves her. It was just a very awkward moment I wasn’t used to experiencing, and as I said, I’m no expert in interacting with the homeless.
After getting back into my car, I watched for a few minutes to see what Katherine would do next. As I watched, she walked up to the counter with a cup of coffee that she had chosen to purchase herself. When she got there, she placed the biscuit on the counter. I immediately thought to myself that I had better run back inside. I wanted to clarify to the attendant that the biscuit was the same one I had just paid for, so that he wouldn’t try to charge her for it. So, I ran back inside and explained to the attendant what I had done. Katherine spoke up and said, “I really don’t like sausage.” At that point I was completely befuddled. I turned and went back to my car. I was scratching my head wondering what had just happened.
After returning to my car for the final time, I had a conversation with God. I have to admit I was a little miffed. I had just gone out of my comfort zone to try to do something nice for a homeless person. I was trying to be charitable, and the intended recipient didn’t want what was offered. I asked God, “Really God? You spent the last month urging me to talk to this lady, and this is how it turns out? I really don’t get what your purpose was in this!” Within a few minutes I saw Katherine walk out of the store with her coffee in hand, but I did not see any biscuit. It looked as if she had what appeared to be a pack of cheese and cracker sticks in her hand. She definitely did not have the biscuit I had purchased for her. Either she got the money back for the biscuit or she traded it for something of equal price she preferred over what I had purchased. Over the next few minutes, I began to question God asking why He had me do this if she would refuse what I had done for her. In that very instant God put me in my place and spoke to me very clearly. God spoke to me and said, “Haven’t I given you blessings in your life over and over again and done things for you only for you to not appreciate what I have done. Just as you paid the price for the biscuit, I paid the price for your sins by offering my only son to die for you. How many times in your life have you neglected to be grateful for what I have done? Haven’t you ever searched for something else? And by the way, I didn’t want you to show her compassion and kindness just so you could pat yourself on the back and feel like you’ve done your good deed for the day! I wanted you to show her kindness just so she could see the reflection of me in you and know that I have not forgotten about her! This was never about you or Katherine! Mark, this was about me!”
Wow! After God finished giving me an attitude adjustment, I felt like a little boy taken to the wood shed and whipped. I realized in that moment that God had given me an assignment to reach out to Katherine not only to show her some compassion and the love of Christ, but to teach me a valuable lesson. I was expecting immediate gratification and an acknowledgement from Katherine that she was appreciative, thankful, and eager to accept my gift. God reminded me that He offered His only son Jesus while we were still sinners and regardless of whether we were appreciative or willing to accept what He had done for us. I then for the first time got it through my thick skull that we cannot expect to sow seeds and immediately see the benefits of our harvest. We can sow seeds of compassion and kindness in this life, someone else may follow behind us and water the seeds that we have sown, but God is the one who will bring about the harvest. It isn’t about us. 1st Corinthians 3:7 says, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” (New Living Translation)
I undoubtedly will see Katherine again in the coming days. I will not be as reluctant in the future if God should ask me to speak to her. God has a purpose and plan for everyone’s life; including Katherine’s. I am thankful God used her to teach me a lesson. I will strive to remind myself that regardless of what I do attempting to bless others, it never has been or never will be about me. It’s about God and what he can do through me. Thank you, God, for giving me a good lesson in compassion 101.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time,