Romans 15:2, 5-7 -“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’ … May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
In my late teens and early twenties, I joined dozens of young believers, musicians, and seekers who found their way to the “Burning Bush” coffee-house in downtown Calgary. I developed close friendships with many people there, some of whom happened to be disadvantaged street folk. As I worked in the downtown core, I’d keep my eye out for those friends during my lunch break. They were hard to find unless they wanted to be found. It was always a joy when I would cross the path of one woman in particular. May had infinite amounts of patience with me. She was always gracious, even in the throes of her spiralling addiction.
If I had the fortune to spot her during my lunch break, I would often invite her out to join me. I loved Chinese food, but it never dawned on me that she might not share the same affection. As she was often hung-over when we met, I can’t fathom how she managed to choke down greasy Western-style fried rice and doughy deep-fried chicken balls smothered in a sickening sweet pineapple sauce. She never complained. After our lunch, she’d ask me for a cigarette, I’d remind her I didn’t smoke. She’d give me a sympathetic smile, almost as if accepting an apology. It became a bit of an inside joke after a while. It never dawned on me that our friendship was unusual. May was just a friend who’d share lunch with me now and again.
As I moved away from my hometown, I didn’t see May again until decades later when our paths crossed in the city where I now live. Although her face bore new scars, and her nose had been broken more than once over the years, I recognised May immediately. It wasn’t hard to discern that her addiction had taken May down a dark path. I fought the urge to hold my breath as the scent of her unwashed clothes, and stale beer on her breath turned my stomach. But I approached her with a huge grin. When I greeted her by name, she looked at me with suspicion, not remembering me. I didn’t blame her; I had changed a lot over the years as well. She asked me for a cigarette, I told her that I didn’t have any on me, then ruefully admitted that I was allergic to them. Something in my smile triggered a hazy memory for her. She smiled back, reached for my hand, and squeezed it gently. “It’s okay, Sister”. Ever the gracious one! I was late for an important appointment, and so our reunion was brief.
As I continued along my way, I realised our little encounter had taken place a few feet from a busy bus stop, and people were watching us. A few looked relieved when I, an obviously disabled person with a cane and unsteady balance, escaped my encounter with a street person. Their perceived judgment broke my heart. You see, they didn’t see my May the way I did. They saw an alcoholic panhandling on the street. I saw an old friend and a child of God. You see, long ago, I dared to draw close enough to May to see the treasure within.
God brought my last encounter with my old friend to mind as I read the above passage from Romans. Just by living her life, May modelled that scripture to me.
I must confess that as I have aged, I am warier around strangers. I pray that God will once again move me past my excessive cautiousness so that I can pass on the truths I learned from a dear friend over a plate of greasy fried rice. I routinely shy away from the homeless in my neighbourhood unless they prove themselves harmless to me. Although there are a few dangerous panhandlers who frequent the area, the majority are merely human beings who lost their way and have no idea of how to find their way back.
“Really want to feed a homeless person? Take one home, sit them at the table with family and friends, make him Human again.” -Joseph2dogs, homeless Christian blogger.
Pray with me:
Jesus, come to the Mays and the Katherines, the Joes and the Bobs of this world. Reveal yourself to us in our pain, our sin, and our struggles, no matter what our life circumstances might be. Set us free. Remove the blinders of prejudice and fear. Open our eyes to we see those who have no choice but to live their pain in open display on the streets of our cities and towns. Help us to see those who hide behind the makeshift walls of addictions, chaos, and brokenness. Give us eyes to see those who hide behind a façade of respectable lifestyles, but who are bound in the same chains as those who live on the streets. Help us be infectious carriers of Your freedom.
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All Bible verses attributed to the ESV version unless otherwise indicated.
Until Next Week
2018 Katherine Walden
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