The first morning I woke up in the Embry Rucker Community Shelter -- thank you, Angela -- I came upon a startling realization. The shelter was built not just for single men and women -- it had a section for families, as well. This simple fact broke my heart in two very different ways:
First, the children I saw eating breakfast and watching the Cartoon Channel made me think of my own son, John Tyler, and all that I was losing every morning I woke up in the shelter without him. But more importantly, it made me sad because I tried to imagine what kind of impact this shelter experience would have on the kids I saw there, each of whom ranged between 3 years old and 15 years old.
These kids had to leave for school every morning, scurrying past the group of homeless lowlifes I now counted as my companions. I could only imagine what kind of impression we made on the children -- what images they would carry with them throughout their lives. Frankly, it made my stomach turn.
I left the shelter at the same time a mother of three children was leaving. The mother's name was Mikkell. I'm sad to say I never got the names of her kids. But she was pushing a stroller while carrying a baby seat, all the while trying to keep her oldest child -- a boy -- under control.
Mikkell had seen me eating breakfast in the shelter. So when I approached her to help carry her kids through the new snow drifts, she welcomed my aid. I've found that there is a certain sense of kinship in poverty that is hard to explain. But it was enough for Mikkell to let me carry her little girl in the baby seat while pushing the stroller, as we all walked to the Fairfax County social services building
Later that day, in a chi-chi coffee shop, I saw a woman -- obviously well-off -- with a brand new baby in her arms. The woman wasn't young, by any means -- pushing 40, probably. And she had her own mother with her.
But she was holding this newborn baby over her shoulder, and she wasn't supporting his head.
For those of you without children, this might be meaningless. But I was forced to sit there and watch while this baby's head lolled anywhere between sixty and ninety degress, all the while this "woman" was having a heartfelt conversation with her mother.
Every fiber of my being wanted to walk up to them and smack some sense into them. This kid was too young, he couldn't support his head, which was rolling around with every move the "mother" made. It made my blood boil, but I knew -- unlike that morning -- that my help would be unwelcome here. For starters, I've found that most parents, even the worst ones, hate to be told that they're bad parents. But more importantly, I was a stranger, and a poorly dressed one to boot. I didn't have the benefit of the shelter connection that allowed me to help out Mikkell that morning, so all I could do was to sit tight and hope the baby's neck didn't snap.
God, please watch out for him.
Yesterday, I was standing in line at the nearby Harris Teeter grocery store. I was getting some first aid supplies for my foot, seeing as I had just stepped on, like, the world's nastiest splinter the day before. Anyway, I found myself face-to-face with what might be the second-most beautiful boy in the world. After my son, of course.
He smiled at me, and I smiled back. Then we really got going -- we would look at each other, and then look away for a second, then look back with a big smile. This game of peek-a-boo lasted maybe five minutes, during which time this little boy had the most beautiful smile on his face.
When the mother's grocery order had been finished, she let me push her baby's cart forward -- a surprising act of trust I appreciated instantly. Well, as I pushed the cart forward, I found out one of the reasons the child had been smiling so much.
Apparently, he'd been making a poopy diaper the entire time we were "interfacing." For those of you without kids, let me tell you -- at least half the time you see a smile or a grin on a little infant's face, it's because he's just passed gas or pooped.
I know it sounds gross, but when you have kids of your own, you'll understand. Anyway -- and you're going to think I'm totally twisted for this one -- the scent made me so homesick for my own son. All I wanted to do was to change one more poopy diaper.
No, seriously . . . and I'm working on it.
I've been eating bag lunches lately from the homeless shelter. Nothing fancy, mind you. Usually two sandwiches -- bologna and cheese or peanut butter and jelly -- and a fruit drink with a piece of fruit. It's easy, once I figured out how to get them -- I just walk into the shelter around noon and ask for a bag lunch.
But, of course, I couldn't leave it at that. I asked around to find out where my lunch came from today. Turns out, it was from the Grace Methodist Church. Then I looked more closely at the bag . . .
It was a plain white paper bag, but a child had drawn pictures on it. The first side was a picture of a green field, with cows and sheep on it -- something pretty close to the fields next to my bus stop when I was a kid. On the bottom, the child had colored in a night sky -- in purple -- and had attached a bunch of star stickers to make it look pretty.
But on the last side, there was a picture of a bright yellow sun, with the words "JESUS LOVES YOU" written in royal blue.
It was all I could do to get out of the shelter before breaking down in tears. Then I thought about it -- really thought about it. How did those pictures wind up there? Well, it seemed pretty clear to me that it was Sunday School the weekend past. The teacher told the children to draw something on the bags, and I'm sure she told them that they should do it with all their heart, because the people who would be eating these lunches were so much less fortunate than they were.
When I thought of this, my cheeks burned with shame. I've never been "less fortunate" than anyone in my life. I took every single gift that God gave me and threw it away.
And, still, He was sending these innocents to come help me.
Abba, you have taken me through so many trials, so many tests, and you have always seen me through. Yet every time I come out safe on the other side, in the World again, I seem to forget what you were trying to teach me in the first place.
When you have delivered me from this, my most difficult test -- and I stand on your Word that you will -- I ask only this: please do not let me forget again. I need to remember.
Please, I have to remember . . .