Last year we were riding home from the park when I saw him waiting near the stop light with his handwritten cardboard sign.
With my kids in the car, I hoped to either make it through the light or get stopped far enough back that we wouldn't be confronted head on with the uncomfortable situation.
Nope. Instead, we were stopped at the primo spot. The gentleman was just outside our window.
"Mom, what does that sign say?" asked my son.
"It says, 'Jobless and hungry please help," quickly responded my daughter.
"MOM!" they both implored me.
"Guys, I don't have any money," which was true, but there in my passenger seat were the snacks I had packed for the kids that we didn't eat at the park. It was just some apples and juice boxes... but it was something.
I rolled down the passenger window and he walked over respectfully.
"I don't have any money, but I have these if you'd like them."
I was nervous because I had heard stories of food being thrown back at the driver in disgust. But he accepted them gratefully, thanking us five times as he walked away.
At which point my 5 year old middle child took it upon himself to roll down his own window. "Hey! Do you need a place to stay? We have a great house!!"
"Bean," I hissed terrified. But the guy heard, and with a smile said, "Oh, no I've got somewhere thanks..."
I smiled gratefully to the gentleman and hurriedly rolled up the window before my little man could finish his next sentence, "well, if you change your mind we live at.... " (damn those preschool teachers for making him memorize his address.)
Sigh. Well, several months and several stranger danger lectures later, I was reminded of this story as I waited to have confession. The priest was running late and the chapel was completely locked down and in the middle of nowhere. It was a pretty day though so I thought I could easily take that time to pray and meditate on what it was I needed to talk about.
Which would have been great, if my bladder were not tipping point full. I had a glass of water, a kale-berry smoothie (my own recipe) and two cups of coffee that morning. I had to pee so bad my knees hurt. I had to pee so badly I could taste it. Seriously, I thought I was going to explode.
I didn't want to leave, because the closest fast food restaurant or gas station was a ways away and surely he would be there any minute.
I tried to pray the pee away and meditate on the rosary, but I kept messing it up saying, "hail mary, full of pee..." so I decided I shouldn't do that anymore. It was so bad I took a little lap around the building checking to see if there was any place that popping a squat outside a chapel could be acceptable.
I saw the whole thing in my head, pants down, peeing on the chapel wall when the priest walked up, "Don't worry! I'll confess this too!!"
But all options seemingly gone, I took to asking God, because I assumed, like usual, this was actually part of His plan somehow. So praying for the priest to come, praying for my bladder to grow, praying for a quick fix didn't work. So instead I prayed to understand.
"Should I not be at confession? Am I about to talk about the wrong thing? Is there something I'm not realizing I need to talk about?"
"You know," I went on, "It's really hard to pray and hear you when I have to pee so bad."
And there it was. I got out my pen and let it scratch across my journal.
It is hard to pray when you have to pee so bad. If that is the case, I'd imagine, it would be hard to really pray if you are hungry, if you thirst, if you are sick, in pain, lonely or discouraged. If your physical body is not cared for it can be nearly impossible to be able to let go of worrying about 'earthly things,' and turn inward for peace and wisdom.
We quibble at times about the importance of caring for the body vs. caring for the soul. Some churches like to focus on charity while others on evangelization. And, while both are important. In that moment, I knew that for me, someone could speak redemption to me until they're blue in the face but if I were hungry, I couldn't take that message inward where it could bear any fruit.
We may not be able to change someone's minds or beliefs, but we can help in any way we can to take care of one another so that they have the opportunity to find the goodness in themselves.
So obvious, so commonly taught, but it struck a chord for me. And I realized how obvious that idea is for children. How obvious it was to Bean that if this guy is hungry... he might also need a comfortable bed, and how he could provide it. But as we get older, in the midst of fear and worry, we forget the importance of trying to take care of each other even in the simplest of ways.
And the moment I put down my pen and asked, "is that what you were trying to get me to focus on, God?" I heard a voice.
"I'm sorry I'm late... was running errands with another priest."
For the last small moment I had forgotten about how much pain I was in, but when I looked into the kind eyes of the apologetic priest what I meant to say was, "no worries at all! God used the time well."
Instead I said, "Oh Lord, where is your restroom I'm about to burst... Sorry, I'll confess that."
thanks for reading,