I pushed the knife gently down into the cake, which bounced back up around the blade; soft, moist, chocolate perfection. A first birthday cake for our youngest, who turned one year old today. Only this first slice was not for our birthday boy.
I set the oversized piece down gently onto a paper plate next to a ham sandwich. I scooted the sandwich over on the plate, making room for a pile of tortilla chips and some guacamole. I carried a second plate of sandwiches over to the picnic table, and then handed the first plate to my husband. “Do me a favor?” I asked him. He waiting for my request. “Take this to the homeless man lying over there?” I looked over to the edge of the parking lot; to a man lying on the pavement, his head resting on his meager belongings. He was high as a kite; his arms outstretched to the sky, waving back and forth as if chasing imaginary birds. My husband nodded, and walked in the man’s direction.
I watched from afar as my husband set down the plate of food. The man continued to sway his head, hardly aware of my husband’s presence. My husband returned to our table, and we sat down to our own sandwiches as our boys leapt from rock to rock by our picnic spot.
A few minutes later I stood to get something from our car, and noticed the man, still laying on the pavement, but this time holding a sandwich to his mouth.
Here is where I must make an admission. Ever since moving to a new city a couple of months ago, and noticing right away the large population of homeless individuals, I have felt a pull to help. But I have not acted on that conviction. Until today.
A few days ago, out of the blue, my husband had told me, “I’ve been thinking lately about how to help the homeless population here.” I found myself surprised by his comment, because it was the very thing I had been pondering for weeks. I find that when something has been on both of our hearts and minds, it’s usually best to give that thought some strong consideration. My conviction grew. But I was unsure of how to help. After all, there are so many in need.
The picnic spot we chose today, we had driven past it a few weeks back. On that day there had been at least a dozen homeless men and women on the edge of that parking lot. Today, there had been only one. That man. And as I stood at the back of our SUV, staring at our loaf of bread, cooler of sandwich makings, and a birthday cake, I knew that we could help one. If there had been many more, like the other day we had driven by, I would not have been able to help. But today I could.
And here is where I make another confession. In the past, I have been one to silently question why a person ends up in homelessness, or similar situations. I have questioned their work ethic. Their priorities. Their addictions.
Today I chose not to. Today, I did not care what brought this man to that spot at the edge of the parking lot. I didn’t care that he was under the influence of drugs. I didn’t care how he had spent his time the evening before. All I cared about was that when he returned to a clear state of mind, that he would discover a meal waiting for him, and a slice of birthday cake. That he would know that someone saw him, and for more than a nuisance. I cared that he would feel cared for. Thought of. Considered.
After all, when Jesus cared for the sick, the lonely, the destitute, the ignored, the disdained—He did not stop to question how they had ended up in their circumstances. He simply loved on them and served them. He did not stop to qualify them for His care, He just chose to notice a need and meet it.
I think that so many times we hold back from caring for the poor and needy because the need seems so big, so overwhelming, and so hopeless. But I wonder how different this world would look if we all began believing that we could help just one person. That we could toss our preconceptions aside, bringing love and kindness to one person’s day. That we could show one person that they are not forgotten.
It begins with each one of us. It begins with noticing. It begins with not walking on by when we know for certain that we can do one thing to help. It begins with something as simple as a ham sandwich and a slice of birthday cake.