Yesterday I had an experience that I will never forget. It was a busy Friday afternoon, like any other busy Friday afternoon. I was rushing after work to pick something up from TJ Maxx before heading home to get ready to attend a couples costume event our church was putting on for the Couples/Marriage Group. I had received a text earlier that day that said, “Dress warm!” My costume was warm enough, but I knew my husband’s wouldn’t be so I made it a point to go pick up a long sleeved sweatshirt that would go with his outfit. Before I go on let me back up to Tuesday night – this very past Tuesday night, three days before this story takes place. For weeks now our Pastor’s wife has been making the announcement for donations of small canned goods (the easy-to-open kind, no can opener needed), protein bars, toiletries, socks, blankets and other items to go into big Ziploc bags to hand out to the homeless during these cold months. This is something our church does every year around this time. For the past month or so people have donated items and this past Tuesday night bags were made. Tuesday night is a church night for Refuge, the church I attend. We have services on Sunday mornings and Tuesday nights. Sometimes it is hard to get there after a hard day at work or just a plain hard day, but when I show up my heart, my mind gets recalibrated – I see people, they see me. It’s just connection. It’s just God. This particular Tuesday night, our Pastor’s wife gave me two of these bags to have on hand in my car in case I came across someone in need. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would even get the opportunity because I rush around so much and don’t really stop any one place long enough. My life feels like I go straight to work, home, groceries or to church and that’s it. So yesterday as I drove up to park in front of TJ Maxx I could see a rather large man, who looked to be homeless, crouched down in front of the trash can outside the entrance of the store. I got out of my car and as I got closer to the front door I got a better look at him. We locked eyes for a moment. He had piercing blue eyes that kind of shocked me because it was such a contrast to his dirt stained face and brown clothing. I saw a look in his eyes that I will never forget. The only way I could describe it was that he looked as if he felt bad for me that I had to see him doing that, picking through the trash. His face haunted me as I made my way through the store. As I stood in line to buy the sweatshirt, I knew I was going to give him a bag if I saw him outside again. I walked out of the store and saw him down in front of the Rite Aid pharmacy a few stores down. I walked quickly to the car and grabbed one of the ziploc bags seeing socks and other items that I know he could use along with the food. As I walked over he looked frightened that I was making a bee line for him so he grabbed his bags and started walking away fast. As I quickened my pace, I yelled out, “Sir!” He stopped and turned around as I caught up to him holding out the bag. I said, “This is for you. God bless you.” He reached out his hand which looked mangled with arthritis and looked up and said, “God bless you.” He looked relieved and thankful. My heart broke in a million pieces right then. I walked back to my car, called my husband and just sobbed as I told him what just happened. This leads me to the title of my blog post tonight. All this happened in the physical – from the people showing up to church and bringing items, to our Pastor and his wife opening the doors and putting this effort into motion, to all kinds of people taking bags and handing them out all over the surrounding cities. All of this was shared by people who showed up to do their part. In a virtual world, this is what is missed. Now I know there are seasons when you just can’t get to a church, that’s not what I am speaking to right now. This message is for all of us who think online experiences “check the box” and fulfill that “requirement”. Guess what!? We don’t have to go to church, we GET TO! We don’t have to donate items, we GET TO! We don’t have to pass out bags, we GET TO! And to the man out there with the brilliant blue eyes, you are being prayed for and thank you for accepting that bag. God used you in my life more than you’ll ever know.
With all my heart,