Today you get to hear from one of my oldest college-days friends – you know, the kind you hung out for hours with in her (dreamy) three-person suite? The one whose basement you lived with in Seattle for two months because you had nowhere else to go? I’m grateful for our friendship over the years and over the miles – and you too will appreciate Jen’s words today.
It all started in the middle of nowhere which is kind of ironic coming from a girl who grew up in a small town in North Dakota. To this day I don’t recognize that as the middle of nowhere. We were pulling over somewhere in South Dakota – nearer to Nebraska than North Dakota – so that I could go to the bathroom. Another irony. I never have to stop for the restroom on road trips. I’m only 35. No kids. Teacher. I have a bladder as good as the largest balloon you’ve seen, and yet, two weeks ago, I thought I was going to burst and quickly became a young girl begging, “Daddy, please, please find a bathroom for me soon!” as if he could just place a gas station up ahead in the middle of nowhere out of sheer will.
Within a few miles, however, there it was. A gas station. In the middle of nowhere.
I saw it right away as we pulled into the parking lot. A shopping cart. We all know the kind. It was full. Dirty. Overflowing. Resting along the window of the little gas station. My mind wondered, “Seriously? Out here? In the middle of nowhere?” as we pulled up and parked right in front of the weary shopping cart.
As soon as I hopped out of the car and headed for the door, I saw him. His head bowed into one hand, under his fur-lined hood. The dark, long down jacket hung over his body. The last couple of bites of a slice of pizza occupied his other hand. His boots, untied, looked like they wanted to cry. I hustled into the bathroom still wondering what the story of the man with the shopping cart might be.
Confession time: I have a slight fear when it comes to homeless people. Don’t get me wrong, I also have a strong desire to love them. My efforts, though, over time, have been everything from meek to courageous, and the consequences have also ranged from simple to scary. This puts me in a personal conundrum - do I help? How do I help? Do I say anything? What do I say? Will I be rejected? Probably the most crucial question, the truth of my fear, sneaks in at the end of the list. While I don’t want it to be about me, I have experienced the rejection, and at times it has been humiliating, or scary, or disappointing. I am human. Those are feelings I don’t welcome with open arms, even though I know how much they have grown me.
For some reason, that day, in the middle of nowhere, I was stronger than my fears. As I perused the convenience store after I had used the restroom, I filled my arms. Water. Sandwich meat and cheese. Crackers. Popcorn. A bit of chocolate. As I walked up to the cash register, the man walked outside to his beloved grocery cart. I was glancing quickly back and forth between the cashier and this stranger who I was feeling hyper attached to. I believe the total of my armload came to $20 and some odd change. As soon as our transaction was complete, I grabbed the bag of food and water and headed out the door. The man was just trudging away from me across the parking lot – it was well over 80* and yet his hood was up, full body covered, head down.
“Excuse me, Sir?” I felt my voice shake as I faced this ridiculous fear that made spreading love about me, rather than about love. I repeated myself more loudly, but no less shakily.
His shuffle steps halted and he slowly turned to meet my gaze, the question, “Who, Me?” clear in his eyes. “I just got this bag of water and some snacks that I would like to send with you. It is so warm out here, we could all use some water for our journeys.”
“No, no, no, I am going to take a break from walking today, and I have some money in my pocket for when I need something,” he shared with a toothless smile.
“That’s good. I am glad you have money, but I would really like to send this with you, and I have already purchased it, so please, may I put it in your cart?” my racing heart unsure of how to navigate the potential argument that would be so easy to have with a friend, but felt so fragile with this stranger.
A smile broke onto his face, as my parents stood and watched. “Well, if you really want to,” he replied. Yes, YES, I really want to. I set the bag in his cart and wished him a safe journey. We turned and went our separate ways, but he is in my heart, constantly reminding me. I REALLY want to love like this, always.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take money to love others well, and I am not one to say what amount of money is a lot or a little. God knows there have been times when I did not have $20 to spare. However, as I sit and drink a Caribou Coffee, I know that I am in a place in my life where I can choose to spend $20 on me without thinking about it. But that day, $20 spent on a stranger who may or may not have needed my help, was $20 that reminded me that I want to love others, all others, well. Courageously. Fearlessly. Gently. Openly.
Originally from North Dakota, Jen also spent a good chunk of her life in the Northwest, although she now hails from Minneapolis. A teacher by day, she’s also a proud new homeowner, loves her family dearly, and is a friend to all. You can get to know Jen’s heart even more by clicking here to follow her blog. You can also become Her Biggest Fan by following her on Twitter or on Instagram. In the meantime, she’s particularly curious what it means to courageously, fearlessly, gently and openly love others well in your life. What have you done today to love others well? Have you loved a stranger today? Join the conversation and encourage Jen by leaving a comment today!