Today, we were driving to my father-in-law’s house to say “Happy Father’s Day” (obviously this was posted on a later date) when we passed a man and a woman who were walking down our road carrying heavy bags. I had never seen them before, but I didn’t think much of it. They simply looked like they had taken a nice walk to the grocery store and were on their way home.
About eight minutes into the drive, I asked my husband if he remembered the card for his dad. Honestly, the card popped into my head out of nowhere. I wasn’t even thinking about it. But I felt I should ask.
“Oh no, I forgot it at home,” he exclaimed, disturbed that he had forgotten (he’s usually very good about those things) and that we had to turn around again. On the way home, we passed the couple again. They had made it about a half-mile, and the woman was now sitting on the curb on the side of the road, holding her head. She looked very bothered and very red-faced. The man was standing next to her, just watching her. We decided to offer some water bottles to them on the way back after picking up the card, presuming that they must have been very hot and tired after walking so much with heavy bags during the middle of a sunny day.
Once we got home, my husband went inside to get the card. When he came back out, he was laughing and said, “You’ll think this is silly, but the card was in my back pocket the whole time. I forgot I put it there. But maybe this was supposed to happen so that we could give those people some water.”
On the way back to my father-in-law’s, we saw the couple again as we turned onto Oak Street. They had walked another hundred feet or so. As Jason slowed the car down beside them to offer water, the man stuck out his thumb to hitch a ride.
Now, we never usually give rides to hitch-hikers (and there never really are any in our suburban town), and we did not really feel comfortable doing it now. My four sons were in the car with us, and there really was no room for two adults with bags. Plus, these people looked like shabby, homeless people. Like drunks. And what was in those bags of theirs anyway?
But when I asked them if they needed some water, the man said, “No, we have water, but we could really use a ride.” All sorts of ways were running through my head to politely get out of it.
My husband, also wanting to get out of it, said, “There’s no room. All the seats are filled.”
But then the man added, “My wife . . . she’s having seizures and we left her medicine at home. We just need to make it another mile but she can barely walk.” One look at her told me that it was true. Her face was read and splotchy, her eyes seemed to be glazed over and going in two directions, and her legs were turned in, making her looked handicapped and like she could barely hold herself up or take a step.
Right there on the road, I told the kids to get out of the car with me, and the couple got into the car so Jason could drive them home. When he pulled away, I prayed for safety for Jason as he took supposedly needy people home, and I prayed for the woman’s health. And then we waited for Jason to come back and pick us up.
A couple minutes later, Jason returned and we all got into the car. And he told me how she was basically falling asleep in the car and could barely stand when they got her out. If we didn’t stop, they would have had another mile or so to walk home in the heat, loaded down with the bags. I was humbled that we were able to help. I was thankful that God prompted me to ask Jason about the card and that He made Jason forget that he had it all along.
But what really got to me as I thought about it the rest of the day was that I didn’t even stop to ask God if they needed help when we saw her sitting on the curb holding her head. Honestly, my initial thought was that they were vagabonds and that they were on drugs or drunk. I felt really bad that we had passed them up, helpless and in desperate need on the side of the road. How many other people had passed them up, too?
I didn’t even bother to pray, “Lord, do they need help?” Yes, we helped them on the way back (and I thank God for orchestrating that whole thing), but I could have spared them the extra hundred, painful feet that they had walked while we were at home retrieving the card. I could have paused in my thoughts of “they must be homeless drunks” to ask the Lord for guidance and to listen to the Spirit’s nudges. We could have pulled right over when we saw that she didn’t look okay at all. I was humbled that we were able to help, but I was more humbled by the knowledge that we had passed them up, assuming the worst about what kind of people they are.
The thing is, this has been a spiritual goal of mine for a while now, to learn to hear God’s nudges better, to try to walk in the Spirit. And yet, it doesn’t even dawn on me to check in with God and see if there’s anything I can do when I see someone who’s obviously in need. It was right there on Oak Street, on a seemingly ordinary Sunday, that I learned that I still have so much more growing to do.