I had an opportunity recently to spend a few hours with a new friend. We drank coffee, ate cookies, and ate lunch together (yes, in that order). We talked about where we were from, the sorts of churches we’ve experienced, books we’ve read, people we’ve known over the years, folks going through rough spots.
But this friend, standing at my sink helping to wash dishes after lunch like so many other friends have, well, she differed from my other friends in a significant way.
She was homeless.
Really. Having stayed at a women’s shelter for the last year, she had to move out, and she had no home.
When I asked her about her family, I discovered that she had no family. Not here in my town, not anywhere.
She was alone.
I confess that for all my social justice convictions and preachy posts about poverty and giving our lives to the poor, I’ve never shared my dining room table with someone whose entire life’s possessions fit into a dozen mismatched bags and boxes in my living room. Nope. Never have.
You can see why, on the surface, our interaction looked like I was one with plenty to give–my home, my stuff, my time–and she was the one who needed to receive–a place to stay, warmth, a bathroom, food, coffee, cookies.
But of course that’s really not the case. She had much to give, and I had much I needed to receive.
So much, in fact, that it seems almost trite to write a blog post about it because it suddenly became strikingly, even embarrasingly, obvious to me as I sat there.
She lived in the present, for example, something I really struggle to do.
She called a spade a spade, whether she was talking about her own history and mistakes or what it is like to live in a women’s and children’s shelter. None of this sugar-coating silliness we tend to do with each other, even our close friends.
She wasn’t embarrassed about things she didn’t have.
And–get this–she lived a life of service: walking dogs for the humane society, raising money for the Salvation Army, washing up and cleaning at the shelter, encouraging the groups who came to “serve” at soup kitchens.
In fact, the more I think about those few hours we shared, the more convinced I’ve become that she lived up to my convictions better than I do.
May those who have ears to hear…