Unexpected Gifts: The call to love others and ourselves

unexpected-giftsWhen I decided to transition out of my educational business a few years ago, I assumed it would take six months. I had job offers early on doing the same type of consulting work, but it didn’t feel right to accept them. Something nudged me forward. I ached for something new, something different, something outside of schools. So I kept going with my plan. Six months I told myself. It had never been a problem before. Finding work, that is.

But the recession was booming, and my resume, like everyone else’s, got lost in the tangle of 750 other applications. Little by little, terror moved in. I stopped listening. I stopped trusting. Day after day, year after year, all those job sites, networking events, and versions of my resume left me lost and dismayed. I’d heard the call within my heart. I knew what direction I wanted to take my business, but I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t pay the bills.

So instead of walking into the open and the unknown, I started looking behind me for work that no longer fueled me. It had been good work, impactful, all the things I had hoped for in a twenty year career in education. But it had also left me tired and weary. And when the school jobs didn’t pan out either, I started to panic. I felt stuck. I prayed desperately to be saved, to have the cup pass, to find a job. I didn’t care anymore what the job was, or so I told myself.

And then one afternoon on my way to a meeting, I stopped at Walgreens to pick up some cold water. It was one of those blazing hot summer days, 95 degrees or worse. I stepped out of my car, and the weight of the heat bore down on me. The drought was both inside and out. Nearing the entrance, I noticed a man standing there. His shoes were ragged, and his face looked worn and tired. His eyes seemed vacant. He asked me if I had money for a bus pass.

“No,” I said. “I don’t have money for a bus pass. But I’m going in to buy some cold water. Can I get you a bottle?”

“I don’t want water,” he replied.

“Can I get you something else?” I asked.

“Yeah, how about Gatorade.”

“What flavor?”

“Any flavor,” he said.

So I walked inside. The chilled air felt refreshing. I turned down the aisle and grabbed a pack of water bottles. Then I scanned the coolers for Gatorade. They were on sale—two for four dollars. I picked out two different colors, paid for everything, and headed back outside.

Feeling pretty good about myself, I held the bag out for the man. “Here’s your Gatorade,” I chirped. “They were on sale—two for four dollars”

The man just looked at me and said, “Do you have money for a bus pass?”

“No, I’m sorry,” I said, my voice deflated. “I don’t have money for a bus pass, but here’s your Gatorade.” I slipped the bag into his hands and turned toward my car.

I couldn’t even get mad at him because it didn’t take me more than about three steps before I realized: I am that man. Dear God, I am that man. I had been begging and begging God for a job, any job, and God was offering me something different, something more fulfilling. But I had to open my hand and my heart to accept it.

And so it is that we are called to love one another. We love the stranger because we know we have been a stranger to ourselves. We see the beggar because we know we too have begged. We comfort the outcast and those turned away from the inn because we too have felt on the outside of life. We are called to see and love the sacred in them as much as the sacred in ourselves.

And when you ask, most men and women who are homeless tell you that one of the hardest parts about being homeless is feeling like you have nothing to give—that your life has no value. Yet, here this man gave me a great gift. He reminded me that we are invited to live beyond ourselves, to say yes to God and to the deepest longings of our hearts, to push through the times when we feel the most stuck, and to welcome home our own estranged selves, making room for them—and for everyone—in our hearts.