Recently, my husband returned from a 30 min. pre-dawn power walk through the charming older suburb where we currently live. As he passed a little pocket park near a small shopping area, he noticed a woman sitting on a park bench in the darkness, a ragged duffel bag shoved under the bench.
Unlike urban areas where, sadly, the homeless and mentally challenged seem to stake out park benches like they’re homesteaders, this woman didn’t fit the profile.
He asked if she needed help. She insisted she didn’t. She didn’t seem impaired or frightened. So, like most of us with places to go and people to see, he walked on.
The picture of her sitting there in the dark, though, stuck in his mind. When had she last eaten? Did she have a family? Why was she out there? What would she do when winter arrived?
Later, we talked about how we could help her without frightening her or taking away her dignity. The next morning he planned his walk along the same route and there she was again. He offered to bring her hot chocolate from the early morning cafe across the street and she accepted.
During the next week, he gently offered other options. I know, from my days as a street reporter, homeless people are often wary of help. It was no surprise she declined an offer to be taken to a shelter, perhaps fearing her precious few belongings might be stolen by other homeless people as she slept.
One morning I packed a lunch for her, knowing it was only a stop-gap solution. Michael called some non-profit organizations and asked about services available in the area. He called the two churches practically right next door to the park where she sat and asked if they could reach out to her.
Then one day she was gone, perhaps moving on to another bench somewhere, preferring anonymity to attention.
Because of the encounter with this woman and because so many people we know are going through excruciatingly tough times, Michael and I have been talking at length about what it will look like to finish life well, regardless of our circumstances.
I suspect the woman in the park didn’t grow up thinking, “I want to live out the last decade of my life in a middle class suburb–sleeping in the library by day and awake on a park bench at night.” But there she was.
I know. She could have dementia. Maybe she’s just eccentric or a battered wife who no longer trusts anyone. Maybe her own actions put her in dire straits. So what? She’s someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s mother, someone’s friend. The point is: this probably isn’t how she expected life to turn out.
Is your life turning out the way you expected? Our culture’s Big Lie about controlling our own destiny is a bunch of hooey, when you drill deeper. You and I both know you can do all the right things and your employer can still lay you off, Hurricane Sandy can wipe out everything, cancer can rear its ugly head. Need I go on?
I’m not suggesting we curl up in a fetal position and wait for the sky to fall. The point is how not to fall into hopeless despair from whatever life dishes out. I know what doesn’t work. It doesn’t help to try to deal with it on your own or simply run harder or faster, hoping to outrun the pain and disappointment.
The best option is to run, not walk, to God. Hang on to what doesn’t change and is utterly dependable, whether you believe it or not. Hang on to his faithfulness, his love, his grace and a different kind of hope–hope that doesn’t depend on how we feel and extends into eternity.
So, if this has been a tough year and you’re not feeling all warm and fuzzy with gratitude this Thanksgiving, there’s good news. God promises to give you some of his hope, to get you through. Go ahead. Ask for a double portion. There’s enough.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NIV)
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