More than an hour after my head hit the pillow, I’m wide awake.
Images from this morning replay in my mind…the ladle, the soup, and the Styrofoam cups. And sunshine thawing the grass and so many pairs of hands and feet. Homemade tamales sit piled high on a tray, while a long line of men and women—mere shadows of humanity—humbly wait to be fed. I’m sure I can see Jesus inside the depths of their tired eyes.
These images will not allow me to sleep. The most haunting ones repeat, like the one of the wide-eyed young man with sunburned cheeks. The man approaches, his steps heavy and unsteady, as if he’s not walking at all, but falling forward, helplessly sliding down a slippery slope. For heaven’s sake, he couldn’t have been a day over twenty-five! Was he new to the streets? Starving? Or just trying to figure out how on earth his life came to this?
Lord, that was so many hours ago. There’s nothing I can do right now. Please clear my mind so I can rest.
But the images keep coming, like the one of the pregnant woman sitting on her bed of blankets. Surrounded by everything she owns, she leans against a tree, smiling, as if she was relaxing by the pool. And then I see Shannon, the woman who launched this ministry. Her youngest child sits on her hip and her other three prance through the park as Shannon pours out abundant love on her homeless friends.
A large black man approaches her, his hands stuffed into his pockets. “It was pretty cold last night.”
She smiles softly. “Were you able to get into the cold-weather shelter?”
“Nah. We didn’t make it in last night.”
Silence. Sunshine. The food line progressing.
I bend over the giant pot of Posole, the rich, red, steamy broth drenching my senses. I keep scooping, hoping it will never run out, like Jesus’ baskets of bread and fish. A woman screams. “Hey, that’s my bag! Get away from my bag!” Shannon tries to console her. That man did not mean to mistake her personal belongings as a bag of trash.
I continue ladling, cup after cup. I collect a scoop of hominy and top it off with a heaping scoop and a half of broth. A woman in line exclaims, “These people are going to be blessed. They don’t have to come here and do this. God is going to bless them.”
“Actually,” replies the man standing next to her, “It’s what we’re supposed to do. We are all supposed to help each other.”
I turn and smile. It’s David. He used to be a journalist for a local paper. Now he’s homeless. And he’s right—we are not doing more than what we are asked. This is the least that we can do.
Our food runs out. How many have we fed? Thirty? Forty? The images are sketchy from here...some time spent mingling and David smiling, pointing to a clear plastic bag with a striped Fedora resting on top. “That and what I’m wearing is everything I own.” I watch a ball belonging to one of Shannon’s children roll into traffic. David goes after it. “I love to play in the street,” he says, laughing.
Then the prayer circle, homeless hands linked with sheltered ones. My longtime friend Raquel and I smile at each other. When was the last time the two of us held hands? Shannon says a short prayer thanking God for allowing his love to shine on the park this morning.
“Amen!” rings through the park.
The most brutal image comes up next, the one where we walk away, while everyone else sits and stands in place. They just watch us pass by. We might as well have slipped into another dimension because once we drove off our lives were once again separated from theirs. I moved on to run errands, while they…what? Waited for the police to come and do another sweep of the park?
And now I lie in bed wide awake, wondering how long those weather-beaten faces continued to stare into space. Have our friends been able to stay warm since sundown? How many of them are able to see God’s love even now, in the dark of night?
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