By: Jana Greene
I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with the saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” I love it because it’s a handy-dandy way to explain how some of my alcoholic friends might have died of their disease but I’m still sober. I hate it because it makes blessings and cursings result from a God who plays “Heads Up 7-UP” while we all have our heads down not paying attention and goes around choosing who’ll be graced by random thumb-touch (if aren’t familiar with Heads-up 7-UP, I’m not sure I can explain it. Google might be able to help.)
At any rate, the implication is that God somehow graced me with a circumstance that he has flatly refused to grace another human being with. Which seems cruel and rings of “favorite-ness,” as if he loves me better than you because I have a home but he loves you better than me because you can enjoy a nice bottle of red wine without drinking the whole bottle (or box) of wine without killing myself. That just really doesn’t seem fair to me at all. Guess what’s MORE unfair? Some people have no homes or food or family. Or one of a million other variables that would indicate God is in fact NOT gracing them at all. In fact, he is withholding his grace. And that’s something I do NOT believe in the least.
We see through a glass so darkly. What looks graceful here in the moment or disgraceful in the next are not manifestations of what we ‘deserve’ or ‘earn.’ I believe that God is ALWAYS full of grace. I don’t believe he is a sadist. There was a time I believed his modus operandi was punishing, scolding, and good old fashioned smiting. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ANY MORE. I believe that we live in a fallen world and that we don’t understand God’s ways, but I know his ways are GOOD.
So here’s a poem about a gentleman I met. I will not say ‘there but for the grace of God go I” and not because I could EASILY have become this man (which is true,) but because I’m fairly certain life has been extremely difficult for him – such difficulty I cannot even IMAGINE – but because he MATTERS to God more than I can even fathom.
The whole experience left me feeling terribly inadequate. This man’s need is so great.
Maybe he isn’t a ‘bum’ on the street. Maybe he is an incredible survivor who has overcome incredible odds to be alive today. Maybe he himself is an angel. They don’t have wings, you know. Or maybe he just absolutely SLAYS survival like a freaking world champion. I have a feeling he does.
A Rose, A Homeless Man, and 10 Measly Dollars
On this past Mother’s Day
The pastor gave me a rose.
“Red or white?” He’d offered me
From the box, a white one I chose.
All the moms in attendance
Received a rose that day
As a token of appreciation
And the honor it conveyed.
After church, I went to leave
As soon as service was done,
And saw a homeless gentleman
On the sidewalk in the sun.
Dreadlocks fell to his shoulders,
But several spots were bare
Where mange had stolen unkempt tufts,
I tried hard not to stare.
His eyes were a milky shade of white
In contrast to dark skin,
He carried all that he possessed,
A streetwise Bedouin.
I thought of walking past him,
I am ashamed to say.
Not because I didn’t care
But didn’t know what to say.
So I dug around in my purse
And finding a ten dollar bill,
Decided to give the man money
So that he could buy a meal.
I approached him gently
So that he could easily see
I didn’t come to harm him
But in solidarity.
I saw the depth of suffering
When finally his eyes met mine.
I saw not sadness but indifference,
Empty and benign.
“HI,” I said in greeting
But he did not say a word.
His glance was only fleeting
As if he hadn’t heard.
I held out the ten dollar bill
But he shied away.
I smiled at him and whispered
“I promise. It’s okay.”
His eyes met mine and in that moment
Their whitish tint compelled
My heart to think of the milky petals
Of the very rose I held.
So with the one hand I offered him money
And with the other I offered the rose.
“I want to honor you,” I explained.
And for a while we froze.
He stared a hole right through my face
And for the longest time.
I thought time somehow had stopped,
Scanning for patronizing glare.
He looked right through my privileged soul
And laid all of my intentions bare,
Not in part but on the whole.
In that raw second I realized
How worthy this man is.
Jesus himself resides in him,
A rose is the least that I can give!
“Okay then,” the man finally replied,
Taking the $10 bill.
It took him longer to accept the flower
But when he did, it gave me a chill.
He brought the white rose to his face
And let it touch his cheek,
Then brought it to his nose
And inhaled the fragrance sweet.
I almost saw him smile then
A fleeting, warm, and wary grin.
I hugged him before I left his side,
Would I ever see his face again?
My drive home from church was quiet
Fraught with tears and silent pleas,
And musings of honoring those who have nothing;
Thoughts of loving “the least of these.”
My homeless friend didn’t smell nice,
What clothes he had were all threadbare,
But oh how often do we entertain
Those angels unaware?
God bless this homeless gentleman,
I wish I’d asked his name.
I wish I’d invited him back to church
Because inside we are all the same.
If I see him again someday,
I’ll ask him to come worship inside.
I’ll tell him “I promise, it’s okay!”
I hope “Okay, then” will be his reply.
Until then, I pray he will know his worth
That’s he’s precious to God above.
And that he will finally understand
He is worthy of honor and love.