Very late one Friday afternoon on a cold day while driving near the center of town, a friend who is accompanying me on errands comments on the twenty-five-plus people congregated with their bags near the edge of a parking lot.
“They are homeless,” I reply.
“But so many?” my companion asks in disbelief.
“Yes. They are probably waiting for a ride to a local shelter. Because of the profoundly Christian nature of this community, there are several shelters operating here. People in this area take serving the homeless quite seriously,” I explain.
“But where do they go during the day time?”
“Many of them spend their time among the various library branches. From what I have been able to discern, most of them are looking for ways to change their circumstances. They search for jobs, try to reconnect with family who might take them in or attempt to take care of more serious medical concerns via email and telephone.”
“That is an awful lot of people,” my companion comments.
“I’ll call the pizza in,” I announce. We have agreed on a medium, cheese-and-onion, something small to celebrate the two-person “girls’ night in.” Our conversation has revolved around listening to the heart and bringing the heart around to becoming a willing and reliable agent of Grace.
“Self-care is imperative,” I continue the thread of our conversation, after the pizza has been ordered. “Don’t think that self-care needs to suffer in order to serve from the heart. But, what does happen is that our definitions of what we consider solid self-care begin to shift.
“For example,” I continue, “where we once thought of self-care as a shopping expedition to purchase a new blouse, blazer or a bit of random bling may shift to revolve around our desiring more quiet, personal time in nature. Or, if shopping is truly a joyful, must-have experience, we may elect to shift our shopping desires toward the purchase of life necessities for another person, who is in need, choosing to work through a charitable organization.”
My friend breaks in, “But, how do you know when you are receiving reliable guidance?”
“It should feel right in the heart. There may be a sense of Stillness or Peace around the proposed action or around an idea,” I explain. “It may also feel like it is perennially Christmas Eve–almost everyday. And, genuine guidance from Holy Mother does not injure or harm; it heals.
“Finally,” I explain, “There comes a phase where Holy Mother seems to step in, in order to care for you, in seemingly minor yet very meaningful ways. I’ll explain more later.” Our conversation stops so that I may run to pick up our take-out pizza.
At the pizza place, as the clerk hands me the box for a large pizza, he explains that he “messed up,” adding, “But, don’t worry. I’ll only charge you for the medium.”
It feels like Christmas Eve again–in my heart.
Walking through the door at home, I explain what happened to our pizza order to my friend.
“So, is this the type of care you were talking about?” my friend asks. “Large pizzas at no additional charge, even though you clearly ordered a medium?” Then, in a teasing tone, my friend says through a bite of hot, fresh pizza, “I would like to meet this Holy Mother of yours.”
“Dude, I can help you with that,” one man is leaning over another seated man filling out an online registration form for homeless services at one of the public library’s computers.
At the adjacent computer terminal, I drop into a chair to check email. My skin is prickly from the long, hot walk to the library, and I am looking like a boiled lobster while trying hard not to overhear the conversation next to me.
“I got it bro,” the response comes. “But, thanks for the help. Hey, man, you know about this place?” the seated man asks gesturing to the screen.
“Yeah, they got a ten-o’clock curfew. That’s alright. What I don’t like is the showers and beds and sh*t. They’s all communal. I ‘m real clean. I can hardly stand to shower there, let alone sleep. I got to get me a job, so I can have my own place—my own shower. You hear me? Family sent me ahead, ya see?” (There is a formal recounting of all of the immediate and extended family members relying on this man’s ability to find and retain employment.)
“Yeah, yeah. I hear, ya. Who’d ya say was hiring?”
“There’s that warehouse. They’s taking applications. Do you need me to help you with that? I can help you. I got me a bar of soap and found a stream.
Cleaner washing in that stream than some of those places. I know they [the local Christian charities] mean well—but germs, man, I’m really funny ’bout germs. Family is counting on me. You see what I’m sayin’ bro?”
“Yeah. I got it,” the seated man replies. “Thank you, though.”
“I’ll catch you later.” The other man moves away, returning to perch on one of the library’s high stools facing the windows looking out onto the pedestrian traffic on the street.
Exhaling, I finish my computer session, grateful for the home I have. Gathering my things together, I exit the building to breathe the hot, heavy air and begin my walk home. I consider how alone the man with the extended family must feel, I hope Grace keeps him safe.