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Homeless not Helpless

Fri, Apr. 19, 2013 Posted: 10:05 AM

She was sitting on a plastic crate out in the steady Puget Sound mist. The layers of old clothes and nearby trash bag full of her belongings defined her existence: homeless. But as I approached she didn’t beg. Instead, she gave me a thumbs-up and smiled as I walked briskly past her. My mind wasn’t on the bag lady; it was focused on me and where I was heading. She didn’t try to stop me, but called out as I strode past, “You look like you could use a prayer—I’ll be praying for you today.”

That stopped me—but only briefly. I turned and thanked her. Our eyes connected for a few seconds. I noticed that she and I were probably close in age, but there the similarities ended. I waved and turned away.

Later that afternoon, she was in the same place, but had tucked a blanket around her legs. I could see from a block away she was still wearing her smile even though the blustery wind had added its misery. Now a small army of workers with briefcases and backpacks hustled past her on the way to the next ferry—taking them to warm homes and dinnertime. She smiled and wished them a “terrific” evening, even as they ignored her.

I kept pace with a crowd of walking workers. I checked my watch and slowed down. No need to stand in the ferry line with the daily throng. She spotted me and smiled bigger, if that were possible. “There you are again! Now you’re smiling. Do you know how much a smile can change a day?” Wisdom of the homeless.

I noticed that she was peddling newspapers that few were buying. In Seattle, Real Change lets the homeless make a small percentage from every newspaper they sell. I bought one and saw perhaps a hundred unsold copies beneath her crate.

She proudly wore her Real Change ID badge. Her name and picture appeared beneath a bold vendor number. She was homeless, but someone somewhere had given her an ID. Her joy wasn’t based on how many papers she sold—but on the value she felt because she was trying. She didn’t have a home, but she had a purpose. She complimented all who passed by her makeshift newspaper stand. She assured me that she’d be able to work her way up from here. As I watched, I believed she could. As I turned to go, she gave me some more of her homeless wisdom:

“Every day I trust Jesus to help me take a step closer to my home.”

For a few coins, I saw faith in action. She was trusting God even when she didn’t know where she’d sleep that night. Her faith was rooted deeper than my own. God seemed to be showing me that He uses our action to get us where we need to be. For this woman, she sells Real Change to help, but she’s trusting God to make the real change she needs.

Karen Farris