A little more than a year ago, my husband and I made a big move into a tiny new house. We love everything about living here---our house, our neighbors and our community. I love that from my front yard, I can look west and see the tops of fancy hotels, high-rise condominiums and tall office towers that make up the skyline of downtown. That is where my husband works. And, now it is where I drop off the dry-cleaning, mail packages at the post office and often shop for groceries. It is also the address to a large homeless population. Whenever possible, I drive down the streets where my poorest neighbors live and I pray, "Lord, bless these precious souls. And teach me, help me and show me how to love my neighbor as myself."
Even before we officially moved into our new house, there was one homeless woman who stood out to my husband and me. One we especially ached for. Small, frail and hunched over, she slowly walked through the streets of our neighborhood pushing her cart filled with all her earthly possessions. We could tell she was very old. And every time we saw her, one of us whispered, "Why is she on the streets?" And we wondered, why is she alone? Where is her family? And we prayed for her!
One day, I saw my neighbor laboriously pushing her cart. My heart broke, as I noticed the front wheels were falling apart. Right away, I began to look for a new cart. Finally one day, while picking up a prescription at the drug store, I found one. I didn't buy it, but I made a mental note for the future. The future came quickly, when I saw the old woman cross a very busy street with her rickety handcart. The wheels were worse than ever. I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do in the traffic except to pray. And pray I did! Thankfully, two construction workers also saw her and helped her safely across the intersection. I don't remember where I was headed, but I made a detour directly to the drugstore and bought their last pushcart.
That afternoon, I drove down street after street looking for my little old neighbor. Discouraged when I couldn't find her, I finally gave up. Instead, I headed to a small store where I knew she stopped almost every evening at twilight. I asked the attendant if he knew the old woman, her name or anything about her. Sadly, he said, "no." But, he then told me, he did give her a sandwich and a drink each night. I showed him the new cart and asked if he would make sure she received it. I told him, "Please find out her name. And tell her someone is praying for her." He assured me she would be pleased.
That evening, my daughter and I went out for coffee and to fill her car with gas before she had to head back to college. We were on our way home from the gas station when I saw her, my frail and bent neighbor. We drove closer and I realized she was stuck. Despite all her effort, her cart refused to move. "Oh my gosh," I told my daughter, "I have a new pushcart for her." We turned around and went to the store where I left it with the clerk. I explained the situation, grabbed the cart and we drove back to the old woman who was in the exact same spot beside her broken cart.
Quickly, I climbed out of my daughter's car. My heart ached as I noticed my neighbor was wiping tears from her eyes. As I got closer, I recognized she was Hispanic. So in my limited Spanish, I asked her, "Como se llama?"
"Maria," she answered.
"¿Cuantos anos tienes?" I couldn't help but ask.
I gasped at her answer. "Ochenta."
"Oh dear Jesus," I prayed, "help her to understand." I couldn't stop thinking she's 80 years old, as I showed her the new cart. I signaled that it was for her. The toothless smile she gave me, framed by her sagging eyes and weathered skin will haunt me forever. I didn't care about the pungent smell, while she pushed her new cart behind me as I tipped the old one up on it's back wheels to move it to a safe place beside the road. Carefully, I grabbed an item from her broken cart to put into the new one. But I could tell she was uncomfortable. I knew my job was done. With mixed emotions, I walked back to the car. She had already started sorting through her things, but she looked up once more and told me, "Mi amor, Mi amor."
I love my new neighborhood and my neighbors. And because God seems to have given me an extra measure of compassion for the poor and needy, I agreed with my wise husband that I would go through organizations to help the homeless instead of just randomly giving people food and money. So later that night, I had to tell him about my 'solo act' with Maria. I ended my story by declaring, "You can't tell me that wasn't a God thing." We both agreed that God had given us a tender heart for this old woman. We know she will probably never be part of the system, but she is our precious neighbor. I still drive through the homeless neighborhoods almost everyday, praying for the Lord to bless them and to teach me how to love my neighbor as myself. I wish I had "pushcart" opportunities every day. But more than any thing else, I learned from this experience that God loves Maria! He is watching over her! And He can use someone like me, or you, to provide her and others like her with what they need at the exact right time they need it.
As I close this post, could I ask you to pray for Maria? Pray the Lord will use me in my new neighborhood. And, pray that the Lord would show us how to love our neighbors, rich or poor, as ourselves. Then listen and watch for the opportunities God will bring your way to love the neighbors in your life.