Those With Packs on Their Backs

Around where I live I see several folks walking around with backpacks strapped to their backs every day. They look tired and frail, like they have been walking for miles and miles. They're more often than not dirty, unshaven, and dressed in soiled clothing. But, while they do indeed walk some trails every day, they are not hikers or recreational backpackers. They are homeless.

I think some of these people live in the woods surrounding the parks that are just down the road from my house. I saw one such woman sitting on the bleachers at one of the baseball fields just this morning. She looked weary and alone and perhaps even a little confused. I didn't go over and speak to her. I'd be too scared to. I'm not a brave person when it comes to such situations.

I don't know why these people have no home besides the parks and trails of Sierra Vista. I don't know their stories. I am sure they are varied and long. I have often wondered if perhaps some of them have addictions that have driven them to the very edges of human existence, to the point where they are living a life more similar to that of an animal than a person. Or maybe some of them suffer from untreated mental illnesses that cause them to run from our fast-paced and demanding culture to a place where there are no demands on them. And yes, some of them could have experienced one rejection or one financial loss or one heartbreak after another until they have had no where to run but to the desert.

This Thursday I will help serve Thanksgiving dinner with the Salvation Army to many in our community who are unable to provide their own meal of thanks this year. But I don't know if these drifting homeless will even be among the ones who sit at the tables. Something tells me they may not be.

In the past the women of our church have assembled bags of toiletries, snacks, and other small personal items to hand out to the homeless in our community. I was part of that effort and I'd do it again, but just how far does that small act of kindness go? I wonder.

I'll confess, I have mixed feelings about these folks. One moment I feel achingly sorry for them, another time I feel quite indignant about their plight. I want to bring them home and bathe them and feed them one minute, and the next I'm scared to death of them - their issues, their long stories of how they got here, their huge needs, and their distant, detached demeanor.

I suppose when you get right down to it, I know I can't rescue these people from their situations anymore than I can rescue my own children from the choices they make and the consequences they sometimes have to pay. But I can care. I can pray for them. I can smile and say "hello" when I see them walking past me outside of McDonald's. And I can follow the Lord's prompting and do the small things that He, in His eternal economy, can add to all the small things that other people do to make a huge difference in a life.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 (read it! it's good!) reminds us that the poor and needy will always be among us (this was written thousands of years ago and it still rings true). The passage goes on to direct us to do two significant things. The first is obvious: give generously to these folks. But the second command speaks even more directly to me and is actually the heart of the matter.

Twice in this passage God warns His people not to let their hearts harden against these downtrodden and needy people. In verse 7 He says, "you shall not harden your heart, or close your hand from your poor brother." And He says in verse 9, "Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart..." regarding them.

When I read between the lines here, I see, "Don't you worry about how they got here. Don't try to analyze whether or not they are worthy of your help. Don't criticize or speculate or judge or huff and puff. Just be kind."

Lord, help me to be kind today, even when I don't understand how someone got to the place where they are so dependent on kindness. And not just to homeless people, but to anyone who finds himself in a place where they need a tender smile, a soft word, an act of generosity, or silent prayer. You have been so kind to me. And I have gotten myself in some fixes where I wouldn't have made it without Your generosity. Please constantly remind me of that and pour Your kindness through me.

Today, when we come across someone who needs a little kindness, whether it be a child, a spouse, a co-worker, a stranger, let's try to remember God's instruction and act on it. Let's keep our hearts soft and give generously. Let me know what you think.

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