It was a warm summer Sunday. My family was out to lunch with another family at our regular place: McDonalds. This was back in the day when my brother and I shared a four count Chicken McNugget Happy Meal, his nuggets would be peeled from their breading, and I was all too happy to eat those unwanted golden brown morsels. Our parents would sit at one table, and we kids felt grown up and oh-so-important sitting without them at our own. As was the routine, the adults would sit and talk for a while after we finished eating, and we would try our best not to get into trouble as we played amongst ourselves.
This meal was progressing like so many others, but soon after we finished eating it began to rain. This was not just any rain, mind you, but one of those torrential downpours which pop up in Midwestern summers. The clouds rolled in quickly, the rain began coming down in sheets, and the world seemed to turn upside down in a moment. We, being the inquisitive children we were, ran to press our greasy faces and ketchup covered fingers against the windows to watch the rapidly changing skies and feel the rolling thunder rumble through our bodies (sorry to the poor employee who had to clean up after that!). The weather couldn’t hold our attention for long, however, so made our way back to our table, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. We all started to clean up and gather by the door. I watched as my friend’s dad made a mad dash to their car and pull it up to the awning so the rest of them could get in without event. As we were waiting for my dad to do the same, I noticed a man wearing a trucker hat, button up plaid shirt, and suspenders sitting on the other side of the dining room. He looked very worried and was muttering to himself. Even as a girl of no more than six, I could tell he was mentally disabled. Though he was a full grown man with whiskers and a potbelly, he carried himself in a way which seemed more like a child. He was there all by himself, visibly distraught about the storm, and had no one to comfort him. My little heart broke and I was filled with compassion for him. I knew I wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do. Thankfully I have two wonderful parents who noticed the same things and went over to check on him before getting leaving.
I shyly hung back and watched as my dad spoke with this man and asked if he was ok, comforting him as tears threatened to fall like the rain. I saw the compassion in my father’s eyes as he tried to find out where he lived and how he was planning to get home. I witnessed my mom ask if he knew his phone number so we could call someone to pick him up, and heard both their sincere voices offer him a ride with us in our station wagon. We learned he lived in a group home not far from the restaurant and had walked there by himself, but he was well trained not to talk to or take rides from strangers, so all offers of help were turned down. He planned to walk home by himself, but the rain showed no sign of letting up. We needed to get home, and this man was clearly not going to let us help him, so my dad ran across the blacktopped parking lot to our gray Mercury Sable, backed out of the parking space and pulled up to the awning for us to get in. Much to my surprise, I saw him emerge from the driver side door and come back inside with something small and black in his hand. With face still dripping, and soaked shirt clinging to his shoulders, I watched as my dad walked over to the man and gave him our umbrella. Though he didn’t respond with gushing gratitude, and still seemed just as distraught as before, I knew we had done something good. I also knew we only kept one umbrella in the car, and that giving it to him meant I would be very wet in a few short minutes, but I didn’t care. Seeing such kindness and Christ-like love played out before me was such a blessing. I think I would have willingly swam through a lake to get back home if that’s what it would take to help this poor man! Even as a young child, I knew this was the way Jesus wanted us to live, and I was encouraged to see it lived out. My little, broken, compassionate heart prayed for him the whole way home, and thanked God we were there to help him.
It has been over twenty years since that day, but the events of that afternoon are still vivid in my mind. My heart still squeezes in my chest remembering how upset and hopeless that man seemed, and seeing the umbrella under his chair as we left the restaurant still makes me smile. I may never know what his journey home that day was like, but this practical act of love has forever shaped and impacted the way I live. The best part, in my mind, is this wasn’t a one-time deal. My parents consistently displayed this type of selfless love and servant’s heart throughout my childhood. Whether we were helping Bosnian refugees settle into a Chicago apartment or cleaning out and old hoarder’s house and helping her settle into assisted living, buying dinner for a family begging for money, or buying groceries for a family going through a layoff. My parents consistently modeled for me what it truly means to love and serve the least of these. I don’t often enough recognize what a gift this is, but some days I catch myself doing the same things without a second thought, much to the amazement of those around me. I realize the immense blessing it has been to watch the Gospel played out in word and deed every day, not just on Sunday morning. I hope with all my heart I can do my parent’s and my savior proud by loving like I’ve been loved, and share the Gospel with each breath and action.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “
Matthew 25: 35-40