"I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" -Jeremiah 32:27
Like the millions of other Chicago transplants, I moved to the city for it’s glorious, temperate weather.
Just making sure you’re paying attention.
On a recent Friday, my mood perfectly mirrored Chicago’s capricious weather. It was tragically grey. I was sure the wrong song choice could have opened up the clouds in an angsty rainstorm to commemorate what felt like year twelve of the pandemic. I felt even more drained after watching an uninspiring dental webinar that persisted way too long. I had resolved to eat a predictable lunch, watch an episode of Boy Meets World, and then absorb another lecture before catching a power nap.
Then something miraculous happened – the sun came out.
UV rays peeked through the corners of my tiny apartment and danced across my grateful skin, giving me a warm hug. Almost instantly, I felt a new trajectory for my Friday erupt. One filled with wonder, unexpected treasures, Natasha Bedingfield songs, and more sunshine.
With that, I packed my hand sanitizers, donned my magenta mask, started a catchy playlist, and embarked on my journey to Trader Joe’s, the journey to which allowed me to soak up plenty of vitamin D.
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." -Genesis 16:13
As is the case with many street corners in Chicago, there is often a homeless man or two parked outside of the store entrances. While this is an uncomfortable experience for me, I have made it a slow, personal goal to try and make eye contact with the needy on the street, even if just to say hello. As much as I want to pretend I don’t see the pain of the world so starkly in front of me, I try to remember that I love and worship El-Roi, “The God Who Sees” (shoutout to Hagar, amirite?!), the God who pays special attention to those who feel invisible. I am far from skilled at this practice, and it goes without saying that this goal is easier said than done. Regardless, as I stood outside Trader Joe’s in a socially distanced line snaking around the building, I shiftily made eye contact with an elderly man begging outside of the store.
“Got any change to spare?” he asked. To my mother’s chagrin, I rarely have cash on me, and thus I felt honest when I told him I didn’t have any. I stuck with my premeditated plan, and I enunciated from behind my mask that I could buy him a sandwich instead if he’d like.
“I need something before the bus comes,” he said, shaking his head.
Now feeling dejected and awkward that things were not going as smoothly as I imagined, I repeated, “I can buy you a sandwich when I get inside???”
The man replied, “Well, how about something from Five Guys?”, pointing to the chain burger joint across the street.
Reminiscent of many instances in my young dental career, I found myself incredibly grateful I was wearing a face mask. This clever PPE barrier also serves to hide my often exaggerated facial expressions, like the jaw drop I did when this man rejected my sandwich for a burger and fries.
“Well??” The man asked, a tad impatiently.
I stammered, “I- I’m sorry,” and before I knew it, it was finally my turn to enter the grocery store. I did end up buying the sandwich, but when I left the store and looked for him in the parking lot, he was gone.
But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish. -Psalms 9:18.
I pushed my city cart home and, as is my nature when anything out of the ordinary happens in my Chicago routine, I called my mommy. I told her the whole story, putting extra emphasis and incredulous tone on the homeless man’s boldness in asking for a fast food meal when I offered a perfectly good turkey sandwich with cheddar, fresh arugula, and a squirt of Dijonnaise. Despite my attempt to reserve any assumption about the gentleman, I was astounded and almost offended, quite frankly, that someone who was begging for coins and who was offered a substantial meal rejected it in lieu of something bigger and better. Shouldn’t he just be thankful to get a free meal? I had thought. Who does he think he is, asking for a meal I don’t even treat myself to because it can get pricey?, my pride retorted.
After I ended the call with my mother, however, I realized that someone in the story reminded me of myself, or at least, should have. Isn’t the homeless person’s posture exactly how God wants us to approach Him with our needs? How many times have we talked ourselves out of prayers because they’re “too big”? How many times do we play small with God because we don’t feel secure enough to be fully transparent with Him, even though He sees and knows our hearts fully, and loves us anyways?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16
My Trader Joes adventure was a reminder of two major points. One is that because God sees us all as valuable, equal creatures, worthy of love and protection. As uncomfortable and difficult as it may be, in Christ we are called to see all humans through His lens. This includes our homeless brothers and sisters. If we offer nothing but a sandwich or even just a sad smile, we are called to see the world as it is, and not just how we wish it were. Secondly, we can boldly ask our God for anything. He can heal. He can take away pandemics. He can provide financially. He can change our futures. Why? Because He conquered death, and literally nothing is too difficult for Him. So do we ask Him for a mere cold sandwich when He offers us 5 Guys, Au Cheval, and so much more ?
I won’t apologize for my silliness because laughter is essential during these times, and food is good. In all seriousness, I hope sharing this story encourages someone to keep believing, and to run to the Father with all of your needs. He loves you so much. He cares for you, and He wants to give you good gifts. And that good news, my friend, is no small fries.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. - Ephesians 3:17-21