Listen . . .
Let me tell you a deeper story, lest we forget why we are here in this naked place, where we value hard the speak that comes not from our shallow parts, but from the truth of our trenches.
It came one day out of the hunger in our bellies, an idea – a way for us to weave gladness and love and other fruit-like things into the spiritual fabric of our city. We thought it might be a small idea, something just for our family to do, but who knows? Maybe it can be big and weave bright things into spiritual fabric all over the cities of the earth.
We were having morning meditation, my three young boys and I. It’s how we start life with each new sunrise and this particular day there was a burning in the Spirit and all of us were on our feet, crying and praying big ole’ charismatic-y prayers against the grey walls of our living room – though I doubt that what we prayed was bound by our physical parameters. And when our lips buttoned-up after the heaven-bent supplications, we realized that something had happened behind the veil and the four of us circled together with a thirsty urgency to respond somehow, some way to what God was doing inside our skin. The focus felt clearly like we were supposed to solicit an outward movement, so I asked my guys, “What is one more thing we can do as a family that can help ease the suffering of this city we live in?”
(And suffer this city does, especially where we make our home on the rim between the educated, prestigious world of Yale University and the poorest of New Haven’s population climate. “Semi-ghetto” is what we’ve often called our neighborhood because we consistently come face-to-broken-face with weirdos and misfits and what some might call the “bottom dwellers” of the human race, not to mention the added edge of crime. The need and despair presses hard and boldly challenges our faith to round after round of olympic-sized stare-downs.)
And do you know what they wanted to do? They decided that every time we went to the grocery store, we should make a one-bag collection of good and fun food items to drop off to a homeless person, “to show them that they’re special”.
Just a small idea, one more bag of groceries each time we shopped for our own bounty. Easy enough I suppose and it didn’t seem like a time for my mama-brain to analyze the sustainability or practicality of what their little hearts wanted to give, it was just a time to respond to a moment and be present for their desire to donate from the overflow of our gifts and see if multiplication-by-sharing is, in fact, threaded through the laws of the universe like the Gospel story of loaves and fishes suggest.
So we did. We went to the Elm City Market on a Tuesday and the boys pushed their own cart alongside mine and filled a bag full of love-picked edibles to give away. On our way home we drove the few extra blocks to the center green and prayed for a person that might need to feel noticed or special that day and no sooner had the prayers left our mouths when we saw her, a homeless woman sitting on a park bench with her whole life stuffed in the big, dirty bag between her legs. “That’s her”, I whispered and we eased up to the curb, got out and came up alongside her shoulder, looked in her eyes and asked if she could use some groceries? She had a bandaged wrist and she smelled as bad as my own sin, but her tears were quick and her gratitude profuse and we walked back to the car, slid in and drove away with the convinced sensation that we had just fed Jesus. And it made me think about how vulnerable He must feel sometimes? When He comes to us in the hungry man, puts His heart at our mercy and wonders if we’re going to feed Him – knowing that we can always turn Him down . . . or nail Him up.
But it gets a little bit crazier before the day is done . . .
Later that same afternoon, I dropped the boys off to their downtown art classes and asked myself what I should do with the window of kid-less space and of course my taste buds made the decision for me and Froyo World (frozen yogurt buffet, with abounding flavors and toppings) was where I would go. Immediately following that decision—and sure as the sun was shining that day—the next thing to slide across my conscience was simply this: “Take someone with you”.
I didn’t speculate very long at how this was going to happen, but quietly said “okay” and took the few minutes during the car ride to pray the same prayer from earlier, that if there was someone who needed to feel noticed or special or just might like some ice cream and couldn’t afford it, that I would know who that person was.
With the petition still warm on my lips I paralleled-parked, got out and started down the sidewalk to my treat destination. A block or so before the entrance I lifted my eyes to the distance and saw an old bum shuffling his aged feet along the concrete towards me and the next few moments seemed to happen in slow motion as my spirit immediately touched a Reality larger then my own . . . A silent murmur within echoed these words: “Oh my goodness, that’s him.” And my belly started flipping with anticipation, a small dose of nervousness and lastly with some seriously accelerated excitement because you know what?! Our paths collided right in front of the door to Froyo World (at. the. exact. same. time.) and before he could move past, I made an invitation with a bright, beaming smile stretched across my face, “I’m going to have some ice cream, can I get you some?!” And this destitute-dressed shadow-man with the long, yellowed-white beard and a few rotten teeth, he lit up like the sun had exploded inside his head.
“Well SURE!!!” he exclaimed and together we walked in and he piled frozen yogurt as high as his container could bear and heaped up mountains of fruit and candy. While I was making payment this beautiful, bedraggled old man turned his blue eyes to search my brown eyes fully and asked, “Would you like to sit and eat with me?” And right there in the middle of Froyo World, with a few dozen college students intensely watching our exchange and the cars and pedestrians making their paces outside and the employee standing behind the cash-counter (waiting, it seemed, for my answer just as much as the homeless man was), I wanted to fall on my face and weep my shattered heart out. Because I knew that I knew that I knew that Jesus was asking me to eat ice cream with Him and what I said past the tears clogged in my own throat were the same words this old guy had just said to me a few minutes before, “Well SURE!!!”
Sitting outside The Yale Center for British Art, we savored our dessert, companionship and shared stories. “Joe” was his name and he told me some whoppers, made me laugh and near the end asked how old my husband was? I said “36” and with a twinkle in his voice he replied: “Oh, make sure you don’t tell him about our date!” I gave my Joe a conspiratorial *wink* and promised that it would be “our secret”.
(I know what you’ve heard about Jesus: that He was Jewish, naturally He had dark eyes and dark skin and a sturdy nose. But I saw Jesus that day and he had blue eyes, 65-year-old wrinkle-lined features, a few crumbled teeth and we ate ice cream together.)
Do you see? We encountered the homeless-Jesus on a park bench and the homeless-Jesus at Froyo World and we fed Him. And from those two Tuesday stories an idea was born and we’re calling it “Plus One”. As a family we’ve decided that we’re adopting a revolving member into our tribe. Because for the last 6 weeks, every time we’ve gone food shopping at Elm City Market or bought ice cream at Froyo World or a sandwich at Green Well or dinner at The Noodle House or coffee at Starbucks, we’ve always bought one more to give away. And this doesn’t take the place of soup kitchens or food pantries, but comes alongside and offers something they can’t – an individual, special experience for one person. An opportunity for one man or woman to be seen and feel noticed outside the mass of their obvious brand as “homeless”.
We might be the only family that ever does “Plus One” and that would be fine and meaningful to me. But still, what if . . . what if all of us—all over the country, maybe beyond—adopted a revolving face into our heart and fed that face every time we went out to feed ourselves? It’s just one bag or one meal or one treat at a time . . . But I have heard this Bible story about how a very small amount of food was shared and through that sharing multiplication-magic happened and thousands of hungry people were nourished.
“Plus One”. It’s the simplest idea, easy to remember. Though, not once has it been convenient (I gave up convenience to be a Christian). But even so, every Plus One adventure I’ve participated in has been worth the trouble because I’ve communed more intimately with the person of Christ then I have ever have – touching His flesh and seeking His eyes, breaking His bread.
How it actually works, I’m sure would vary from city to city and person to person because the Spirit is a lot of things, but generic isn’t one of them . . . And maybe you would like to adopt someone too?
Also See: The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be!