Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thawing My Cold Cold Heart

A few years back, a woman knocked on our car window begging for money at the parking lot of Walgreens. She looked tired, haggard, and her breath reeked of cigarettes. My immediate reaction was to lock the doors, roll up the windows, tell of our absence of cash, and speed away. I believed that giving money to the homeless would cause them to abuse my generosity, giving freedom to buy drugs, and cigarettes, or whatever I vetoed. Then my husband opened the car door and told the woman we would help. As he shut the door, he spoke of buying necessities for this woman and her family. I replied with, "Are you crazy!" I locked the car and waited, fuming. Ten minutes later, the woman  emerged with two bags of groceries as my husband bid her adieu. When he sat next to me, I gave him a piece of my mind.

It was absurd how calm he was through my verbal lashings. He then told of his first year in the United States as a 16 year old exchange student from Ukraine with only $300 in his pocket, of which 75% was spent on school supplies and uniforms. He told of a youth pastor, his family, and church members providing by giving him food and other necessities. He was grateful and wanted to do his part to help those in need as paying it forward. He concluded with, "She must have been desperate to the point of begging. She is doing the best she can to survive." -- Still my heart was cold and fuming. I went on facebook to gather disciples of my viewpoint, only to get lambasted by my selfishness.

I've always been afraid of beggars, homeless, and wanderers. Should one be sitting on the curb requesting for money, my eyes would divert elsewhere and I'd go my merry way. But something happened this year. This year, my goal was to read 25 books, which was recently accomplished yesterday. Of these books, two spoke of the poor.

In BrenÉ Brown's, Rising Strong, she told of a homeless teenager wandering in a hospital. He would play the hospital's piano but would continuously be kicked out. She spoke of his beautiful piano playing. I stopped reading there and reflected. How in the world could this teenager be homeless at such a young age, and how did her learn to play the piano so beautifully? Then it dawned on me that he had a past, he had a story, and yet at his current situation, he finds hope and happiness playing that piano. I wanted to know his story. I wanted to help him. My heart melted a little.

Another book by Jen Hatmaker, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, she speaks of how richly abundant we really are though we keep needing more: possessions, things, and bigger salaries. She compares life in the United States verses those who live with a fraction of a dollar a day. When I was reading her book, my thoughts were, "Good for you for helping the poor, but it's not for me." The book was finished and piled on to 2015 Goodreads Challenge of reading 25 books in a year.

Little did I know that by reading these books, and other books prior, that seeds had been planted. Even though bits of information lay dormant, the recent bombings, refugees, and everything in between thawed my cold cold heart. Not only did I want to help people in third world countries, I started to see vagabonds differently. Everyone has a story, nomads, wanderers, and even our neighbors. Everyone has a different brain chemistry based on events that happened in life which caused them to be in their current situation. Everyone has a silent pain inside waiting to be released, waiting for someone to listen to their stories. Isn't that part of what humanity is about? We migrate towards community, to share our stories, to learn, to get the bigger picture.

Since then, I started to see people differently. Every life is precious. Every life has a story to tell. And as I struggle with my so called hardships, they are minor comparatively. As I struggle with excess, I'm working my way into the mentality to be grateful for what I already have. As I struggle with giving to charities, I've managed to join operations to help those in need. Little by little, my heart is opening up to compassion.

As I reflect on the woman at parking lot of Walgreens, I now understand her pain. I am grateful for my husband for his patience and for his willing heart to help those in need. I'm grateful for authors, and regular people who tell of stories to be learned from to pass lessons to my son and future children. I'm thankful for compassion and life filled with hope and understanding. I still have a lot to learn, a lot to do to make a difference, but small changes make a big impact in the long run.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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