It was a chilly morning the afternoon I first met Sheila outside of Starbucks. I remember she had a beautiful smile and a warm hug. We talked about her daughter and her three grandchildren that she dearly loved. We talked about her aunt that is dependent on her. We talked about her part-time job and the difficulty of making ends meet. Sheila is a ordinary grandma that feels everything her children and grandchildren feel and would give the clothes off her back for their well being.
But we weren’t meeting for caramel macchiatos that afternoon. Sheila stands at the corner of 933 and Cleveland, down the hill from Starbucks, with a cardboard sign. Asking for help for her grandchildren. It appears that she makes enough at her job to support herself but is trying to keep her grandchildren warmed and fed as well. I gave her a food gift card and some blankets that had been given to me. We talked about Jesus and prayed and then I hugged her goodbye.
A little friendship was born and we chatted over the next few months. Then, one day, I didn’t see her anymore. As I drove by (well, ok, there’s a Starbucks on that corner, so I rarely drive by) that corner I would think about her and pray for her and wonder how she was.
I also wondered other things. How much does a hug and a prayer and smile really help? Are these one-off encounters changing anything? Does it matter?
Fast forward 9 months. I was having coffee at that same Starbucks with a dear friend and fellow urban worker. She mentioned that a mutual friend of ours had been running a certain route and kept running past a homeless-looking woman and felt a burden to reach out to her. Our running friend had been stopping to talk to her by name and listening for her needs and dreaming of ways to be Jesus’ hands and feet to her. This homeless-looking woman had three grandchildren and a daughter that she was trying to keep off the streets and take care of her aunt at the same time . . . this woman was Sheila!
I can’t tell you much happiness and how much perspective this gave me. I was never the one taking care of Sheila. It was God taking care of her the whole time and He was continuing to take care of her without skipping a beat.
And as I’m reading through the gospels, I’m struck by how many times Jesus stopped what He was doing and looked into the eyes of a complete stranger, spoke life to them, met their physical needs and then moved on. It is only our responsibility to obey the Spirit and love the person right in front of us, wherever we are. No more. No less. What freedom! To know that He will fill in the gaps and take care of the rest.
For not-yet believers, we may be the first, middle or last link in the chain of God drawing them to Himself—we have no way of knowing. We can trust Him to work out the details of the chain. We can rest knowing that we don’t have to be the whole chain other people’s lives. But we can’t afford to be the missing link.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. I Corinthians 3