Seriously, there’s nothing like the good gift of perspective to soften up the hard spots in your soul or to shine just the right amount of light in it’s darkest corners. Inevitably, that “lost coin” turns up again illuminating the fact of how rich you truly are.
I was reminded of this recently as I had the privilege to listen to a man of God tell his story of a hungry childhood filled with mayonnaise sandwiches and cold sugar water— a life marinated in a praying mother’s faith and love. He said they were “Po”; too economically challenged to merit to full word “poor”. We all laughed. I imagine there were others in that room who had memories of this place too.
I know pieces of that hungry place. Truthfully, my life didn’t know the constant daily struggle of the poverty he described. However, I spent a painful period in this place he spoke of; just long enough to teach me what I needed to know about the deepest sorts of hunger. Those hungry years perhaps did more to shape my life and understanding of what’s true, good and valuable than most of the other times I was otherwise sheltered and fed.
This is where the good gift of perspective comes in: for at least two reasons, I confess that I’m truly and totally thankful for those dim, lean and hungry years. I could probably come up with more but here are at least my top two.
First, I see now that during those years I learned something about a mother’s love.
Especially my own.
Perspective’s gift has helped me to rightly remember the period in my life when I first moved South. I was too naive to fully recognize the struggle at the time but now, I can clearly see how my mother’s love and sacrifice kept her children fed and sadly, somewhat oblivious to our predicament. We were struggling hard and I didn’t know… didn’t or maybe couldn’t understand it.
Because we left NJ under the cover of darkness, she had to keep things on the down-low — we couldn’t apply for the typical programs … she didn’t have custody of us. It was bad but still better than what we left behind. Oh sin…
I recall the eviction from one house and then another. I remember the bare cupboards and empty refrigerator. There was that time someone gave her chitterlings and it was all we had but the smell was too much for me so I went to bed hungry instead. There was the massive garden and the rows and rows of vegetables I despised picking and yet, learned to can and preserve one horribly hot summer because it was so important to her.
I didn’t know why.
I complained a lot.
I was selfish.
Second, I was reminded of my favorite times in the week were when we went out to eat at a little “Meat and 3”cafe in town. FINALLY, a hot meal with stuff I liked! We’d always show up late and by then we were so hungry. Mom would sit us down and fix plates from the steam table and as we feasted, she’d visit over coffee with the owners. We’d finish up with sticky cobbler or something like that while she helped bust down the steam table; disappearing many times through the swinging doors to the kitchen in back. We did this a few times a week.
Quite often actually.
It’s taken me all these years to connect the dots and see the complete picture: my mother never paid for those meals. Not with money anyway. Her “payment” was to help clean up and close out the place for the night; wash some dishes, wipe the counters, mop the floors. During one of the most fragile times in our lives, she fed us that way. Thanks Mom.
Here’s the second thing: those people who owned the place, they didn’t have to feed us.
We weren’t from around there; they didn’t have to let us in the door or show us any kindness whatsoever. Not only did they do it quite often, but they treated my mother as a friend and helped her keep her dignity by not only giving her a way to take care of her children but a listening ear, a cup of coffee and eventually… a part time job with bonus leftovers.
Like many things in my life back then, the sweetness was short-lived because it wasn’t fully rooted in the solidity of the Gospel. However, the heart lessons remain deeply rooted in me. Thanks to this period in my life, the good gift of perspective has given me empathy.
I can easily recognize and see the many levels, faces and signs of poverty— physical, emotional and spiritual— and care enough to do whatever I can to help.
It’s what I hope you and the people around me are able to see as well.
Everyone knows that this is the time of the year when the requests for help and donations will start rolling in and I hope you’ll consider the ways and places where God is leading you to be involved.
Sometimes it’s all we can do to give a donation to an agency such as Baptist Global Response and others like them, who will see that funds are distributed internationally and spent within communities to purchase emergency food supplies. Many of these agencies also supply job skill training or start-up seed and livestock to give families a foothold for the future.
Shelters and food banks like the Savannah Baptist Center or the Broad Street Ministry Center also meet the needs of those living on the fringes by providing food, clothing, toiletry items, job training, counseling and spiritual support as well. Some schools and communities have backpack programs for the kids who will go home to hungry houses.
These are the BIG and PUBLIC sorts of ways you can help but there are others. Look around and maybe there’s someone in your midst who could used a helping hand to get on their feet— share a meal, teach a skill… listen. Show them Jesus.
That’s mostly what I see now.
I see the sheltering wings of my Savior guiding us along during those years when His name was only beginning to be understood by my heart. After all these years, thanks to the good gift of perspective I look back and barely remember the hunger but I’ll never forget being fed and how He was near.
It makes me want to feed others too.
What about you?