The people, dressed in an odd assortment of drab and dirty, lined up along the sidewalk waiting for the noon day feeding to begin. Their stories were filled with lost opportunities, sadness, drug and alcohol abuse, neglect, mental illness, and despair. The warmth from the late morning sun held promise and yet, never quite broke through to the chill that had settled into their bones from endless nights of concrete beds and alleyway spas. Broken teeth and broken dreams united them as one. Sores, neglected and infected, boiled up on their skin and in their hearts. Hope never surfaced; peace never came; and joy was lost for ever.
The meal was more of a habit then a relief of emptiness. Comfort food that lost its warmth before it found its destination. Flavor wasted on tongues numbed by the abuse that the daily street-borne smorgasbord had to offer. Sustenance lost in the bowels of dysentery dysfunction. It was food only by name.
As the people on the other side of the closed door made their final preparations, a man walked among the gathering crowd. He too, was wearing clothes that had seen better days. The shoes he wore had held other feet of a different size. His coat, provided the previous evening by the shelter, held more in its pockets than heat in its threads. He was one of them; but there was something different…a smile.
His smile always radiated with more warmth than the winter sun could begin to offer. His words of comfort broke through where food could never reach. The promises he offered gave glimmers of hope and moments of peace. A touch of concern on a shoulder and a handshake of friendliness broke down a wall of contempt and a cistern of hate. He was here every day listening to their stories and teaching of a man who loved them more than they could possibly know.
The eyes he looked into were all the same, vacant and pained. And then he stopped. Here among the familiar was a new set of eyes that he had not seen before; a new pain and a new story. His listened, he touched, and he spoke. He reached into his pocket and produced the socks that he had purchased that morning with money he had been given. He sat on the sidewalk and removed the shoes others had provided. Together, with sock and shoe, the new eyes began to tear and the broken heart began to heal.
It was only a beginning but it was a sign of hope. Often, nothing seemed to diminish the pain, relieve the suffering, or turn the lost lives from their pathway of misery. Rarely could anything make a difference; but not always. Sometimes, once in a great while, a soul was saved and a life turned around. It was not easy and it was a life filled with more failure then most could endure. It was, however, a life of a man who understood that the kingdom of heaven was never more than a smile away.1
Dearest Lord: At times, it feels that despair is all life has to offer. There are moments when pain drowns out all signs of hope and sorrow erases all memories of joy. We have learned, however, that it is in those times when we must reach out and invest in the future glory that lies in store. It is in the midst of our deepest pain where your love holds the greatest promise. Lord, help us to never lose sight of your promises. Help us to understand that when there is pain, there is hope. Lead us to opportunities to share your love to those who have lost hope. Teach us to recognize those in need of a smile and a comforting touch. Open our hearts to give freely from the bounty you have provided. Give us the ability to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, (and) gentleness" wherever we go. Remind us that your truth will provide all the protection and sustenance we will ever need. But, most importantly, help us to become the disciples you are calling us to be so that we can build your kingdom in the hearts of everyone we meet. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
1Inspired by the story of Brother Ralph DiPalma, street minister in downtown Albuquerque, NM and 1 Timothy 6:6-19
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Gary, this is your element. So meaningful and so well developed. I was active in a street ministry for several years and, as a probation officer, had some clients whose home was their car or the cardboard box under the overpass. I've seen them lined up outside the Salvation Army for their daily meal.
Only suggestion I have is toward the end of your prayer. I believe we are perfected as disciples who lay themselves down on His altar that He may guide, direct, and work through to add souls to His kingdom. What blessedness! What grace! Bobbi