Flickr photo by DeaPeaJay , creative commons
“I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
Hosea 11:4, NRSV
Melissa was a homeless woman, living in a Sunday school room in our church with her three kids for one week as part of our participation in the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. I was her host for the evening, and it was my first time.
I was a little nervous, to be honest.
Still, I couldn’t just hide in the host room. Todd had offered to take her kids down to the gym with our three, and I could already hear them laughing and talking and having a big time.
I stepped into the hallway, took a few steps toward her door, then darted back to the host room, a scared bunny rabbit.
What was wrong with me? I believed in the program. I really did.
Our church had plenty of room, and I was all for offering it a few times a year to homeless families struggling to get back on their feet. I’d worked with homeless kids before and loved every exhausting minute of it. So what was the problem?
It wasn’t the kids. It was the mom.
Kids were easy, but how would I relate to a homeless mom?
She had the door closed anyway. Maybe she didn’t want interaction.
I could knock, but would she want to talk? And if she felt like it, what would we talk about?
I didn’t want to intrude or make her think I was getting in her business, but I didn’t want to ignore her either.
Enough of this, I thought. It’s her first night at our church, and by golly, she’s going to feel welcomed.
I was just getting ready to knock when her door opened.
“Well hi there,” she laughed.
“Hi. I was just…uh… coming by to see if you needed anything.”
“Oh, thanks. I don’t think so. This room is so nice. It’s going to do just fine.”
“I’m glad,” I said.
We looked at each other for a moment.
“I’m just getting settled,” she said, returning to her chore, taking the kids’ clothes out of her plastic trash bag, folding them, and setting them on a table. “But if you feel like talking, I’d be happy to have some company. Here,” she said, pulling a plastic chair off the stack beside her. She patted the seat. “Come on in and let’s talk while I put our things away.”
I was supposed to be her host, but as she welcomed me into her bedroom, moving a suitcase out of my way, I felt like the guest of honor.
But I still wasn’t sure what to say.
“This is a nice church,” she said. “Have you been going here long?”
It was an easy question, and soon I relaxed and we were chatting away. We talked about our kids and where they go to school. She told me about the kerosene fire in her rental house, and how her ex-husband was incarcerated, and even though they’d been divorced a while, her youngest son still cries for him. She told me about the fund-raising program in her home church, how on the big dedication day all the church members were going to walk down the aisle with their pledges, wearing the different colors of the rainbow, celebrating God’s promise.
Before I knew it, three and a half hours had passed and I was sad to leave. She’d been so kind to me, and we’d enjoyed each others’ company. We had so much in common, really, both mothers, caring about our children and trying our hardest to make a good life for ourselves and for them, a life that pleases and honors God. Both making tons of mistakes along the way.
Now, three years later, I’m still thankful for Melissa’s kindness. My experience with her made me want to volunteer again and again. She taught me just to be myself with other homeless women and men, and because of that, I’ve had the privilege of hearing many stories of grace, courage and deep, abiding faith in the face of dire circumstances.
I have no doubt that as Melissa reached out to me, her kindness became one of those cords used by God, pulling me along, leading me toward joy.
I’m so thankful that God doesn’t yank us through our days on a leash, as if we’re dogs, or string us along like a heavenly puppeteer. How marvelous that the Holy Spirit can work through the kind actions and words of those around us, fanning them, like a mysterious perfume that piques our senses, a scent that we can’t help but follow.
How wonderful that in every loving gesture of a friend or stranger, God is lifting us to his cheek, nuzzling us, whispering His love in our ears, nourishing us with soul food.
It makes me want to pull my head out of my calendar and make sure I’m ready to be kind.
So many of you have been God’s nourishment to me, whether you know it or not. Thank you!
I’d love to hear about a kindness you’ve experienced lately, big or small. Do you feel like God’s rope–or just a bunch of loose threads?
Have a wonderful Monday, y’all!