I was really comfortable sitting in my van. I was outside of Lowe’s, texting a friend, sitting on a heated seat. Then someone appeared at my window.
“Excuse me,” she said. I looked. She was a stranger, and I know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers. But there’s a compassion in me for the destitute that I can’t shake. Besides, I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted, a book that chronicles the Hatmaker’s journey toward compassion for the homeless. There’s a whole book of explanation, but it begins with a prayer and the verse where Jesus says, “Do you love me…. Then feed my sheep.” It’s possible my compassion was swayed because of this book. But also, my only options were to open my window and give this stranger a chance, or ignore her and give her disgrace.
I rolled the window down.
Her face was small. Her cheeks sunken. A face with visible bones. We all have a skeleton, but everyone I know has enough substance to cover. I’ll say it again; her face was small.
Now I’m trying to remember her words. I can’t. Just the gist of them in conjunction with the image I saw. “My daughter and I are trying to get a meal and some blankets. We’re homeless. Could you help us out?” She looked me in the eyes and spoke in meek desperation.
I had just returned something at Lowe’s. I didn’t have the receipt and was expecting store credit, but it was under $10 so they gave me cash. I hardly ever have cash, but at that moment I had $9 neatly folded on top of my purse. $9 that I hadn’t expected. Easy to grab. I handed it to her and looked in my backseat. She said she needed blankets too, and since I never know what I’ll find in the back of my van, I looked. There was one blanket. One blanket that one of my kids had dragged in. And a winter hat that didn’t fit me, but had made my daughter laugh one day. I considered giving the blanket, but it was an Avenger’s blanket. One whose presence would be missed. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t give away my kid’s blanket.
“Okay. Thank you. Keep us in your prayers,” she said.
And we parted ways.
I didn’t say much to her. I was uncomfortable. I was unsure what to do. After she walked away, I finished composing my text and I thought, Why didn’t I give her that hat? And what was her name? Couldn’t I have given her some dignity by shaking her hand?
I drove around the parking lot looking for this woman, mostly wanting to give her my winter hat. It was pink and blue and would have covered her ears.
I couldn’t find her.
Then I started wondering… she said she had a daughter, but where was she? Maybe they lived in their car and her daughter had stayed put when the mother came to ask for money. Or maybe there was no daughter. Maybe it was all a lie. Maybe this woman was not who she said she was. Maybe she was just a beggar. Was I contributing to the discomfort of other middle class Americans by giving $9 to a beggar?
Then, “We are all mere beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread.” -Martin Luther
I was going to make bread today, but it has not risen enough to bake. What’s wrong with it? I know the recipe. I’ve made this same bread for years, but now it’s suddenly winter and sourdough bread responds differently to cold, dry temperatures. For sourdough, 70-85 degrees and humid is perfect. In other words, sourdough bread wants to live in San Diego, but mine can’t. It has to adjust, or I have to adjust it. I just didn’t think about adjusting today, since it’s not very cold yet. So two loaves have been in my kitchen, rising slowly, all day. They are minuscule. Stout. Dense. Like there is nothing in them to procure the loaves I want. Like the wild yeast of my sourdough starter didn’t take. Like the loaves are unleavened.
It’s not Passover. I’m not Jewish. I don’t have personal experience with either, but I’ve read Deuteronomy, and I could stand to read it again.
“Observe the month of Abib by celebrating the Passover to God, your God. It was in the month of Abib that God, your God, delivered you by night from Egypt. Offer the Passover-Sacrifice to God, your God, at the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Don’t eat yeast bread with it; for seven days eat it with unraised bread, hard-times bread, because you left Egypt in a hurry—that bread will keep the memory fresh of how you left Egypt for as long as you live. .” ~Deuteronomy 16, the msg
Unleavened bread. The bread of affliction (from the same verses, in the ESV). The bread of pain or suffering. At the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Unraised bread. Hard-times bread. That bread will keep the memory fresh.
Maybe she was a beggar. Maybe she was a drug addict. Maybe she was promiscuous.
Does it matter?
We are all beggars.
Hard times are hard times, even if we create them for ourselves.
My bread is unraised.
It’s hard-times bread all around.
And I’ve been trying to sort all this out while sitting in a Starbucks. It’s not my place of choice, but it’s the only coffee shop open past 9:00 in my area. They’re playing jazzy Christmas music. They’re creating sweet aromas. The floors are clean and the people are well-dressed and my cup has a picture of snowy trees on it. I’m warm. But not too warm. This should be perfect conditions. Could be my San Diego.
But somewhere a woman has my $9, or something of equal value.
The bread in my kitchen is not unleavened but it is uncomfortable tonight. The yeast to make it rise is yearning for different conditions.
And we all have suffered that.