Tonight I was driving down the highway after taking my son to our cozy church for a fun night at his youth group. I was on my way home, listening to music via my iPhone through the speakers of my new car, enjoying the heat of the seats and the sips of my soda. Contemplating what all I was about to purchase at the grocery store talking to my mom through the blue tooth connection and then at the intersection I saw her.
In the frigid air, standing with her worn sign of cardboard & marker. A pack on her back indicating she wasn’t staying inside tonight; very worn sleeping bag carefully rolled & attached at the bottom and clearly broken-in from use many, many nights before. I couldn’t see her at first because I could just get a side view but I feel this urge to turn off of the highway & give her my snack bar I have & whatever cash I have. I never do this. I have given food to someone panhandling before but never money. I did some research in college here in Chattanooga & found that many of the roadside people are not actually homeless but moreso taking advantage of an opportunity so it was very odd for me to pull off like that but I can’t deny the pull on my heart tonight that I believe was placed there by the Lord.
I turned off the highway & did a u-turn to get into the lane that would lead me to face her. As I pulled up I got a closer view. She had a pure look about her, skin glowing in the disappearing daylight. Fingers exposed but a smile on her face that you would only discover if you would allow your own eyes to meet hers. She had an artsy look about her, nose ring, hair style, beanie and all. Seemed like a modern day hippie. Her sign read “Down on my luck, anything helps.” When I gave her the KIND bar & cash she thanked me, we exchanged “God bless you’s” and she went back to where she was standing & ate the bar immediately. My heart sank. It was cold, and she was hungry. I gave her my gloves & my ear band/warmers and then I had to roll my window up & go due to the green light and the overwhelming feeling that I feel torn that I can’t do more because I’m afraid.
After the grocery store trip (which took about 15 minutes) I went to get some chili from a local fast food restaurant & a coffee & went back to find her because I couldn’t get her off of my mind. I was going to tell her about the Chattanooga Community Kitchen & give her the food & talk to her about where she could find shelter from the freezing temps tonight. I don’t know what else I was going to say but I just wanted her to have something warm to eat & drink & to know someone cares. Because of this crazy world we live in, I was too scared to welcome her into my car & take her somewhere warm but even that reality doesn’t replace the brokenness I still feel. I didn’t do enough. I wanted to do more, so I wanted to go back (with food)…but I was too late…
I think I was most broken because I was looking at myself. She was my age, possibly younger. I couldn’t help but think where is her family? Her mom? Her dad? Where are her loved ones? Do they know where she is? Does she have anyone who cares? This beautiful, young girl spent this cold evening begging. At the mercy of a society that drives by in their cozy lives and ignores her because it’s easier to do that than to make eye contact. Regardless of if she spent that money on booze or food or tobacco, I just wanted her to know that she matters. It wasn’t enough, I wanted to give more & I even came back to do so but she was gone. My prayer for her tonight is that she knows that she matters. That God loves her deeply and wants more for her. That she doesn’t have to beg. I pray she finds herself deeply wrapped in the arms of His love, delivered from whatever circumstances left her there at the traffic light. That she finds herself full, needs met, and warm.