I still remember everything in detail. I was in the Philippines on a “mission trip” with a group of believers. For whatever reason we were in the city doing some shopping, a city about an hour away from where I was staying. That’s when I met him. The boy. I didn’t really meet him, but I wish would have. I didn’t even get his name.
It was on a small walkway over the busy highway. There was a small area that served like a 2 person area for viewing. In the small area was a sleeping boy of about 10 or 11. He was dead asleep. It was a bright sunny day and there was noise all around. He was clearly homeless. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to help. Someone had given him crackers. I went and got him some peanut butter. I tucked it between his arms knowing that it probably would be stolen by other street kids. I was struck how nobody stopped. But there I was, like a typical American I gave him my jar of peanut butter and walked away. As if peanut butter fixes world hunger of the heart. I wanted to help but how? I knew I probably couldn’t take him to where the group was staying. There are so many street children anyway. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what to do. And I walked away from him, but I’ve never, ever forgotten him.
It was 1994 and I was in Guinea, West Africa. We were called to come see a sick woman. What I saw in the sweltering heat was a human skeleton with a basketball in her belly. The tumor had ravaged her body and her days and/or hours were numbered. She was of a faith where good works get you to God. Her eyes were full of fear. And she looked at us with a flicker of yearning that we might be able to do something. I didn’t know what to do. Other family was in the room. Do we in the last hour of their loved one’s life unsettle their faith? She looked at us. We looked at her. I wanted to help but I didn’t know what to do. We prayed for her in English hoping that even though she didn’t understand our words, that our intentions of prayer would somehow comfort. We did what we could, but then we left. She didn’t know that the afterlife is not a scale of balances but a courtroom where criminals like us are tried and where it doesn’t matter how many good things we’ve done it doesn’t alter the facts of our crime. She didn’t know that someone paid the price. She was afraid. She was at the end. I didn’t know what to do. I just did the little diddy that any Christian would do and walked away. I’ve never forgotten her.
It was 2002 and I was leading worship in Hawaii. It was “open-mic” worship. Everyone was to bring a song, a story, a dance, a gift, something for the Lord. It was amazing. The very tangible presence and pleasure of God was in the room. He was receiving our gifts with great love. The new speaker was scheduled to speak but the gifts kept coming. It was time. I waited. What do I do? Do I disregard the speaker? I waited a little longer and then I stopped this beautiful worship with testimonies yet to be spoken, songs yet to be song, dances yet to be danced. I didn’t know what to do. But I let the speaker begin. Here God himself was present in the room and beautiful worship was happening and I did the typical thing, I went with the speaker instead of God Himself. I wanted to do the right thing but I didn’t know what to do. I still remember that day. But I don’t remember the testimonies and gifts that went unheard because I stopped them before they gave birth.
I could be told platitudes like “you tried,” but I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to be the minimalist lover. I want to be the Samaritan who even though he had a journey, bound the wounds of the man and put him in a hotel. I want to be the woman who sends the others out of the room and tells that woman of Jesus so that she can die in peace. I want to be the One who makes first place for the Lord disregarding any agenda or expectation of “honor” that we might have.
I wanted to help so bad but I just didn’t know what to do. But now I know. I know. I can’t go back to change the past. But I can go forward. Still, those memories keep me awake. Not in a guilt-ridden, regret filled way, but more that those experiences that have taught me to be a better lover would be offered again. But I’m not going to lie. It makes me afraid to think of the responsibility of not walking away from someone who could be a huge burden. Or seriously offending family members at a holy moment. But I want to do more than something that costs me nothing. What keeps me awake is those memories, beseeching God to help me do it different next time. That I would spend my life getting hundreds of opportunities to do more than just peanut butter, prayers and plans. And I know that God hears my prayers. That kind of scares me. But I don’t want a life any other way.
Time to go to sleep now.