Perfectly situated in my favorite corner table with a big ‘ole cup of delicious-smelling coffee and the warmth of the fireplace radiating nearby, my fingers flew a mile a minute across my computer keyboard. It was Tuesday, my writing day and, oh, how I loved this day. This was the day I got to be alone with my thoughts. No phone calls, no errands to run, no meetings to attend (mind you, these were my pre-momma days!). For me – a largely introverted, academic, writing-loving gal – this was my happy place.
However, this Tuesday was different. It hadn’t even been an hour from when I cozied up in my special space at Panera that the door opened, the bell chimed, and my day took a very different turn.
All eyes turned around to see the new-arriving visitor. Jarred from my own writing by a thick silence in the room, I slowly turned my gaze toward an older gentleman standing alone, his clothes tattered and limbs shivering from the cold. I don’t even think he was wearing shoes. Dirt was splashed across his face and smudged in his gray, wrinkled hair. The lines on his brow and cheeks sunk down low as he stood there silently, his eyes pleading the crowd for help.
I’m filled with remorse as I think back to this day. For as I looked at this man, standing so helplessly by the door, I only saw him through the lens of all-too-familiar homeless stereotypes: Clearly this guy has no money. What’s he going to do? Start asking people for food? Is he a threat? Why is he so dirty?
But the truth is that I didn’t know this man at all. Here I was, a young, naïve woman, thinking ill of a person — a man with inherent worth and dignity and made in the image of God – despite not knowing a single detail of his story.
I judged him. Despite everything the Bible tells me about not judging others. Matthew 7:1-2 states, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Do I want people to judge me the same way I harshly and falsely judged this homeless man? Certainly not. I don’t want people to take one look at me and think they have me all figured out.
Each of us has a story to share, and we long for others to hear it and accept us for who we are.
Lord knows these days that with a newborn I pretty much continuously look a little undone and chaotic, but oh, there’s so much more to me than the messy state of my hair and the fact that I haven’t showered in three days. I am a woman full of hope and passion and dreams, striving to daily live out my calling as a pastor’s wife, a mother, and a writer through the joys and despite the struggles. Some days are better than others. Some days I feel like I’m winning at life, and other days I just want to sit in my car and cry. I am all those things and more. I want people to know these things about me. I want people to know my story and love me for who I am.
God created us as humans — as women — to love, to know and be known, and He taught me that day in Panera that the homeless man I saw by the front door felt the same. God challenged me to get out of my corner booth — literally and metaphorically — and go learn my neighbor’s story. To not judge his face, but to hear his voice. To not critique his appearance, but to seek after his heart. To not think less of his socio-economic status, but to know his story and care for his needs.
I went up and talked to Clarence. I bought him a coffee and a sandwich and invited him back to my cozy booth. I pushed my papers and computer off to the side; there was more important work to be done that day. Clarence told me all about his family, the struggles of his neighborhood, the tragedies in his own life and more. I heard his voice. I learned his story. I’d like to think, and I hope, that I began to hear and see him the way God does – a man of real flesh and blood, made in the image of God, the victim of injustice and a survivor. My view of the homeless radically changed forever that day, and I thank God for the transforming work He did in my heart.
Since then, I have made it a priority to learn my neighbor’s story, whether that be the homeless, the immigrant, the minority, my actual neighbor, my coworker, someone in my church or a person with a different political view. I want to hear their voice, destroy my own pride and judgmental thinking, and care for them the way God does.