We are in Philadelphia for the day. Youngest Daughter (Rachel) had begged us to visit, and since she is still on semester break from Bryn Mawr, it seems like a great Saturday to go. Though she has been back at her internship for a week, at least there are no papers to write, no books to read and no tests for which to study. It is the coldest Saturday for some time, and Certain Man and I are bundled up against the wind and cold. Something about Philadelphia makes everything seem colder: The big stone arches, huge concrete structures, stone statues and iron gates and cold, cold glass and steel. Even the big, colorful LOVE statue in the center of town doesn’t help much on this cold day. (Maybe it is just that this is “the city.”)
But the people! Wealthy people in big cars, various ethnic populations, ordinary people in heavy coats and scarves, all moving along the sidewalks with hurried steps. They are stepping around and over and away from the various bumps of humanity sitting along the edges of the sidewalks, on the street corners, outside the doors of establishments, swaddled in various garments against the bitter cold.
It is impossible to help all the homeless, I know, but their desperate plights on this freezing cold day is almost more than I can bear. A little black lady, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, rocking and talking to herself, with a cardboard sign that is illegible. A man without legs in a wheelchair, cupping a steaming disposable cup of something in his hands, his eyes begging, his words unintelligible. And the one that really gets me: A person, I suspect female, but I cannot tell for sure, is sitting wrapped up in a quiet side street near a parking garage. The sign reads something like this: “I’m homeless. I’m hungry. No job, and I’m too ugly to prostitute. Please help!“
We are scurrying along the sidewalk, trying to get out of the stinging wind, trying to beat the parking meter, trying to find shelter ourselves. Youngest Daughter is leading the way, and I hurry to stay in step with her long, confident strides and my husband’s naturally long steps. It feels like my heart will break and I finally say to her, “How do you stand it? How can you bear all these poor people? Doesn’t it just feel like you have to do something???”
Our daughter, young, full of life, full of hope, and compassionate to her very core says, “It is really troubling, Mom, and it is especially bad in the winter. During the summer, I give away anything in my lunch that I think will help — an apple, a granola bar, whatever. But in the winter, when the biggest issue is the cold, there is so little anyone can do that is going to help. The churches send out buses when it gets really cold, and will take anyone who will go to a warm place, but there is so much misery and sadness and hopelessness out here.”
It is late afternoon, and the temperature is dropping into the teens, we abandon our walking for a driving tour of historical Philadelphia, and then drop Rachel off back at her apartment and head for home. The van is warm, dependable and quiet. Both Certain Man and I are in our own thoughts, and eventually I sleep. Then home again, safe and sound, I revel in the silence of the Delaware night and the little farm that we call Shady Acres. Inside the house, Middle Daughter has everything under control and I am home in time to put Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda to bed, and collapse in my comfy chair. The pellet stove is burning brightly. The people near me are ones I not only trust, but love deeply.
But I think incessantly about a human being out in that freezing cold, so alone, so hopelessly caught in wretchedness and sorrow with no shred of self esteem . . . (“too ugly to prostitute???”) and wonder again what will be required of this handmaiden of the LORD. What will my answer be some day when I am called to give an account of how I’ve used what has been entrusted to my care?
The truth is, being faithful where I’ve been called is important. But there have been many times in my life where my efforts on behalf of all the need I saw were so scattered that I ended up doing more harm than good. And I have a serious calling on my hands right now on my home front that I am committed to doing with all my heart.
But that doesn’t stop me from praying. I do not know how God ministered to the needs in frigid Philly last night, but there were people there who were the object of a Delaware Grammy’s prayers and I believe in a God whose hands will reach where mine cannot, and whose ways are far above my understanding. It doesn’t bring complacency. It doesn’t keep my heart from hurting. But it does bring renewed commitment to do what I can do in this time and in this place with what I’ve been given and to the ones I’ve been given. And to share in ways that will help those beyond my physical reach.
This verse, from my favorite translation, The New Century Version, rings loud in my head: (Jesus speaking!)
Luke 12:48b: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. And from the one trusted with much, much more will be expected.
I have nothing that I haven’t (directly or indirectly) been given!
Do you know what?
Neither have you.