We all have hopes and longings for our children. We want them to learn to crawl, to walk, to talk. We want them to care for others, to be bridge-builders, to be creative and to find their path in life. In all these areas, it can be so easy to take on the teacher’s approach rather than modeling through our own lifestyle.
Think how much more transformational and effective is it to witness your parents arguing and resolving conflict. Or to see them dancing with a cocktail while painting a canvas. Or naturally interacting with homeless people on the streets – instead of just being told these are all good things. And how much more real is it when your parents actually practice what they hold highly in private for themselves as well. Last week, my new friend Scott reminded me how important it is to be that which I desire for my children.
The parking meter had run out so I scurried back to the car after a few precious hours in a magical world free from wiping runny noses. Tall Mountain was out of town and I was planning on savoring the final minutes of my freedom inside my car, belting out to…to…well, to anything other than VeggieTales.
Barely 30 seconds into my track, I peered across the street to find a middle-aged man struggling to push his wheelchair. He kept stopping. He wore a new dark beanie and special gloves to grip onto the wheels of his chair. In contrast, his grey sweater was mottled with stains, telling a longer story of many days past. His crimson face looked sore and ravaged by frostbite, glistening in areas, raw in others. Despite a light knit baby blanket covering his knees, you could see he had no legs. The dark coat draped over his chair had fallen off onto the street, revealing a blue IKEA bag containing all of his earthly belongings. There was no way he could reach that coat on his own.
Well darn. What if he is a creeper? He’s gonna ask me for money! What if he asks me to drive him somewhere? I didn’t want to be an ass, but the clock was ticking and this freedom was so rare. Girlfriends, let me tell you just right here and now, that you quickly find out where your priorities are when you are paying for childcare.
Even so, my inner dialogue seemed so absurd. The tagline of my own blog is “teaching my children to be a lover of the world“, and here I was wondering if I should help this man out or maybe just maybe turn a blind eye to just one of the 5800+ homeless people in our city. What!?
Embarrassed by my initial reactions, I left the car running and crossed the street to help the man retrieve his coat. “Don’t stuff it in my bag, it has a hole in it!“ he snapped. “I’m Scott by the way!!“ Trying not to feel awkward stuffing his coat down to his lower back, I introduced myself as well. Scott was taken aback: “Now that is just remarkable” he said. “No one ever tells me their name.“
That was all the confirmation I needed to know that I was meant to stay and hear a piece of Scott’s story.
Scott was a remarkably lucid man who had been beaten over the head the night before in a ridiculous case of petty crime in exchange for his warm beanie. He had just left the hospital with a new one and was struggling to cross the city to reach one of the homeless centers. In a hapless unfolding of life events, he had gone from being a fulfilled co-pilot to watching his dear pilot friend die in a rescue mission involving a house fire. As for Scott, he had escaped ‘just’ losing his legs in the fire, which was “well worth it to save three children” he said. That same year, he had lost his precious wife, Janell. And he had found himself on the streets. What a disaster. So much grief painfully pushed around in a wheelchair.
As the conversation ensued, I wished my children were next to me to hear Scott’s story. You know, so I could show them how normal it could be to interact with a homeless person. But deep down, I knew the interaction wasn’t for their sake, or even necessarily to benefit Scott by caring enough to listen to his story. Scott was here at this time for me, when no one else was present or looking. It was almost as if he was placed in my life to realign or at least question my own priorities. Clearly, this interaction with him was far more significant than my projects, “me time” and wrapping up loose ends.
Scott was my own personal reminder to slow down the hurried pace of the season. He helped me set aside scouring the Internet for gifts to instead, well, kinda find Christmas. Because, after all is said and done, isn’t the message of Christmas that Scott’s life, my initial reactions, this world.. are a complete mess? That I need just what Scott needs – hope, grace, a Savior? Someone to save me from myself?
We wrapped up our exchange and I returned to the car. From my side mirror, I watched him painstakingly wheel himself away, sobered and truly grateful for the interruption that reminds me that Christmas cannot be bought. It can only be found. And usually, it is found in the most unlikely of places. And, it most definitely can be missed.