Gas Stations and Beggars

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, suffering and injustice when he could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him”

“Because I am afraid that He would ask me the same question.”-Anonymous

                        ***

“Do you have any change? I ran out of gas and my kids and I are stranded,”

Startled, I backed up as the unfamiliar woman cornered me by my car as I filled it with gas.  It seemed like she had appeared out of nowhere and was now only inches from my face. 

“I’m so sorry, but I don’t have any money on me,” I explained, “Just my credit card.”

Sheepishly, she turned, and I started to breathe again when I realized she wasn’t going to rob me. She walked over to her car and my eyes followed her. She climbed in the front seat of a truck and I strained to see if there were kids in the vehicle with her. I didn’t see any, but I certainly wasn’t going to argue with her to cough up the kids before I gave her assistance.

I finished up at the pump and then started to frantically dig through my messy car to see if there were any quarters in the center console I could find for her.

My back was turned to the outside as I frantically looked for the coins, when I felt a light tap on my shoulder.  The hair on my neck rose as whipped around again.

In front of me stood a young blonde man, disheveled and in tattered clothes.  With a sad smile he asked me, “Do you have any money? I am trying to get to the beach.”

I shook my head no and climbed in my car and quickly shut the door.  Overwhelmed and feeling slightly hounded by all of the desperation, I started the car and drove off feeling conflicted and very much like Peter before the rooster crowed.  I suspiciously looked around for a third beggar.

“Ok God, I see them,” I muttered. “I see your people.”

I knew what God was up to. I had recently prayed a scary prayer.  Not the patience prayer (I am not that dumb) but the Bob Peirce prayer (the founder of World Vision). 

I had prayed with determined trepidation (like the great wuss I am) for my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

And now He was doing it.

Only the night before, I had shared with my husband how I felt God was stirring up in me compassion for the poor and needy.  I felt a sadness and burden for the oppressed that was rather foreign to my crusty and self-absorbed heart.  Every day, disturbing stories were coming across my path that brought me to my knees and a fire of righteous anger was beginning to slowly build inside my belly.

My husband asked me what my part was in this revelation.  I said there were two things.  I felt a tangible distance, almost desensitization from the magnitude of suffering in the world and secondly, I sensed God wanted me to write about it. 

The gas station, by the way, was in Anaheim, not some seedy part of Los Angeles or Santa Ana. Lately, I’ve been approached by beggars in the parking lot of Target in Mission Viejo, and repeatedly by a mother toting a little boy inside the Starbucks in Ladera Ranch.

The tentacles of poverty are spreading closer and closer to the insulated bubble communities we’ve built to keep it out. 

And suddenly, I can’t compartmentalize it all anymore; this mental box of poverty I’ve created that includes mission trips to Mexico and the sad little faces of children in Africa.  It’s not the separate place I make it out to be so I can sleep better at night.  Poverty is all around us and it’s too blatant for me to put it back on the shelf or cross off on a list of benevolent activities I do on a quarterly basis.

Honestly, poverty scares me. More than anything I think it’s the desperation.  Somehow, I’ve equated the poor with violence, and while they often do go together, I know they aren’t the same. Poverty seems to be more about limited options than aggression. But they get mixed up when I avoid the issue altogether.

I am afraid of changing and drawing close, but I am more afraid of doing nothing now that my eyes have been opened.

I wish I had some money with me in the car the other day. Although, reflecting on it later, it’s not like I couldn’t have bought the woman gas with my credit card.  My fear at times is paralyzing.

But next time, well…next time, I’ll be ready for the little tap on the shoulder.  In fact, I’ll be expecting it.

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I Grow Up…

Cover of "When I Grow Up"

Cover of When I Grow Up

“I don’t want to grow up, because baby if I did…I wouldn’t be a Toy’s R Us kid!”

My nine-year old daughter chimed in to the commercial jingle while shaking her hips with gusto.   I smiled at her in agreement.

“Being a kid is pretty great, isn’t it?”  I asked her.

“Yep mom and my favorite part is that I don’t have to go to work every day,” she replied.  “Some people hate their jobs.”

Her response took me by surprise. I could hear echo’s of her father’s voice complaining about his job through her little statement. My ex-husband hasn’t loved his on-again, off-again profession in about ten years.  It’s amazing how perceptive children are.

I quietly acknowledged the work comment and then suggested we focus on finding her a job she adores, so that work would be a blessing and not a curse.

“I want to be an actress mommy,” my daughter said. 

I nodded in approval, thrilled that she has moved on from professional cheerleader to actress. 

Mommy, what did you want to be when you were little?” my daughter inquired.

My eyes filled with tears as I thought about her innocent little question. 

“Well honey, I wanted to be a writer,” I said passionately. “I wanted to tell stories and entertain other people the way my books carried me through dark days.  I also wanted to read and get paid for it.  Read and write for a living… all day, every day, forever and ever!”

She gave me a quizzical look, slightly concerned at my over-dramatic response to her simple question. 

“Mommy, you are a writer.  You just took a long time to figure it out.”

Off she skipped, leaving me to process the ramifications of her statement. 

How is it that thirty-eight years slipped through my fingers before I finally pursued my childhood dream of writing?  I don’t remember saying as a child, “When I grow up I want to play it safe!  Minimize risk and avoid failure at all costs.”

And yet that’s exactly what I have done and what I see so many of my friends do.  We bury our dreams, escape into destructive coping mechanisms, and little by little lose the fiery spirit God gave us each one of us to uniquely live out loud. 

Isn’t this really the essence of a mid-life crisis?  We simply forget our identity and think hot sex or a Porsche will make the aching hole vanish.

So, when I grow up, hopefully before I turn 40 (I have about 18 months to go), I want to be bold like my daughter.  Reclaim my courageous spirit beaten down by years of life, and like a little child, have faith that with God all things are possible.  

Oh yeah…and I want to write, read books and tell stories, every day, forever and ever.

 

 

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