She rarely smiles. If you stop to talk with her, she'll tell you about how her stomach hurts and she has heart problems, not because she ever did drugs or drank (she's very clear about that), but because of the way she grew up. She hasn't said what that means yet.
She sat there on the corner last Saturday. Someone rolled down their car window and gave her a dollar or two as I biked up. She didn't want anything to eat since she'd just had lunch at the church down the street. It was a good lunch, she said. Filled her up.
She just wanted the money, but I only had my debit card, so I asked if she needed anything else and I could go buy it for her. Food for later was an option. I asked what she wanted and she didn't really answer.
"Oh, really anything you want to get. I'll eat anything."
But she shouldn't have to eat just anything. So she finally said a tuna sandwich sounded nice. "Or fish, or anything really. Maybe from McDonald's. They're cheap."
Because apparently that's all she's worth. Cheap food.
"And some Coke or Pepsi or something. My stomach's really hurting and the carbonation helps."
Promising to return, I turned my bike around to hit up a nearby restaurant. She smiled a bit and said this was really nice of me.
Determined to find a tuna sandwich, Jimmy John's was the first place to meet my eye. They had tuna fish. The cashier and I chatted about the Rock 'n Roll marathon and how crazy he thought those runners were, and his other crazy co-worker who biked all the way to Denver from Iowa and doesn't own a car. Then I hit up 7 Eleven for a few sodas. Coke because Joanna asked and 7-Up because I've heard it's good for upset stomachs.
Biked back to Joanna's corner.
I handed her the 7 Eleven bag. I told her what was inside, the tuna fish from Jimmy John's and the sodas.
Her response will stay with me the rest of my life.
"Jimmy John's? But that's so expensive!"
But that's so expensive.
That's so expensive.
It cost me seven dollars to buy a sandwich and some chips, and another three for the soda.
Yet she was astounded that I would spend the money to buy her a decent sandwich. Something not fast food, something not "McDonald's, they're cheap."
I told her she was worth it.
Joanna smiled. Really smiled. It lit up her dark, wrinkled face.
I'd never seen Joanna smile.
- - -
I planned to never share that story. I love to serve, it's a huge way I love people. The dark side is I also love to get a pat on the back, a "good job, you're such a great person," and be affirmed in what a great servant I am. My pride is a monster. Humility continues to evade me.
When I buy people food and stop to chat, I rarely talk about it because it's something I need to just do and keep between me, that individual, and God.
But I couldn't get over Joanna's response. Those words, that smile, they're seared in my mind and I have to share them.
There's a difference between pity and empathy. Charity and service. Obligation and love.
I read an article recently about a woman who was traveling to a country in Africa (I am racking my brain to remember which) to work with a non-profit there. A church asked if she had any more needs and she responded that one of the women running the non-profit in the country was in need of an iPhone to communicate and do business. The church put out a request for a used iPhone from the congregation. Someone donated an old (read: didn't work well and wasn't in good condition) one. The American woman ended up giving her iPhone to the African woman because the donated one simply wasn't going to cut it. When she arrived back in the US, the church that donated the phone asked the woman how it had worked for her African friend. She explained the situation. In response, the church gifted her a brand new iPhone because "she deserved it."
Why do we think the "poor" deserve used goods while we need things new and shiny?
Why do we donate old, stained, and ripped clothes to those in need, the things we are done wearing and don't want anymore?
Why are they only worth cheap McDonald's food?
Why do we act as though the "least of these" are only worth our least?
With what we give, we are unconsciously communicating that the individual is only worth our cheap, our discarded, our useless.
But aren't we all children of God? Aren't we all precious? Don't we all have immeasurable worth and value in the eyes of our Maker?
For God so loved the world. God has called all nations to Himself. He desires all people to be in relationship with Him.
Does this exclude the poor, the dirty, the bedraggled? The drunk, stoned-out-of-their-minds? The sick, the dying?
When you see people, anyone and everyone, homeless or filthy-rich, remember. Remember, they are loved by God.
They are loved.
I'm not saying you have to buy every single person you meet lunch from a five-star restaurant. All I'm saying is remember every human is valuable, and if you are going to give someone a lunch, maybe buy something a little better than the Dollar Menu. When your church does a clothing drive, maybe actually sacrifice a few clothing items that are nice instead of using it as a time to clean all the unwearables from your closet.
Find something you care about, and give to it. It can be a church, a missionary, a non-profit, an organization. But find a place to make a sacrifice to help restore a broken world. Find a place you can partner with your finances, your prayers, your time. Give. Because you've been given to.
We all are worth at least a tuna fish sandwich from Jimmy John's. And reminding someone of that could make them finally smile.