Dear Homeless Person, Please Take My Scarf.

I was sitting in a Tim Hortons a few weeks ago, having coffee with a friend, when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard someone say, “Hi, there!”

I turned around, and tried my very hardest to figure out who the man might be who was standing there, grinning down at me as though he knew me.

But then he started talking, and it took about two seconds to realize this would be one of “those” conversations – the kind you know you will have if you don’t walk very quickly past the person begging on the street, along with the feelings you are guaranteed to have if you happen to be the first car in line at a red light, and happen to make eye contact with the homeless man standing there with his cardboard sign, asking for your help.

I do not have a lot of experience with these types of interactions. I don’t spend much time in places where they happen. We don’t have a lot of homeless people in Niverville.

I used to believe the best thing to do was to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, and I never used to think I should actually give my money, because we all know how it will get spent , right??

Whatever. I’m not sure at what point I finally learned that it’s none of my business what it gets spent on. If I have loose change, I give it, and I let God take care of the rest.

I’ve rolled down my window at a red light, and dumped my collection of dimes and nickels into the hands of a very grateful elderly man. He was also extremely thankful for my leftover lunch.

I have felt those nudges from the Holy Spirit, and have known what it’s like to listen, to give my time and my money, even when I don’t exactly feel like it.

So when this man came over at Tim Horton’s, I thought things would go okay, even if I don’t have a ton of experience with those types of situations.

He asked if he could sit down and talk with us. Seeing as the table right beside us was empty, I figured it wouldn’t make much difference whether I said yes or no – he’d sit down beside us anyway.

He made himself comfortable, and started talking. And talking and talking. I was still doing okay, because I kept thinking about how I could easily give a few minutes of my day to listen.

But then he started talking about how much he wanted a girlfriend, and asked me out on a date. When I turned him down, he tried my friend, which was equally unsuccessful. He wanted numerous hugs, and that’s about the point where I shut down.

Suddenly, I didn’t care about giving my time or a listening ear. I had reached the limit of my comfort zone.

I just wanted out.

He kept asking us for stuff. He wanted me to give him something from my purse – nail polish or lipstick. I honestly told him I didn’t have any. So he asked my friend if she had any, and she said no, but she had almonds.

He was very happy for almonds, but then he wanted the bracelet she was wearing, so she took it off and gave it to him.

In my mind, I was thinking, “No, no, no, get me out of here! This is not cool anymore.”

So when he asked me for my scarf, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was “no”.

There were a few things I was thinking when he asked for my scarf:

1) He has a good-quality jacket, and a very warm winter hat. He doesn’t need my scarf.

2) No, no, no, get me out of here!

3) This is my most favorite scarf. I use it all the time.

Nope. No scarf.

And I didn’t even feel guilty for saying no. There was absolutely no nudge from the Holy Spirit on that one.

My friend and I left soon after that, because there was no way we could finish our conversation in the restaurant, so we went and talked in my car.

She had to catch her bus soon after that, and I drove home, thinking the whole way about how she had handed over those almonds with absolutely no hesitation.

And I felt ridiculous. It was a scarf, for crying out loud. Could I not have gone out and bought another one?

I kept arguing with myself – I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit telling me to give it. I would have, if I’d felt the nudge. Obviously.

But I’m not sure when I would have heard any heavenly direction, amidst my “No, no, no, get me out of here!”

Since then, it seems as though every single sermon illustration, or Bible study topic, or verse, or anything, has to do with giving stuff to the poor.

It’s to the point where a homeless person would only need to look at my scarf, and I would hand it over. The joy has kinda gone out of wearing it.

I’ve hashed this out with Ben, numerous times. He’s better at these kinds of things.

I keep asking him, “How do you know? Do you always need to give? I didn’t hear the Holy Spirit! The man looked warm! And it’s my favorite!”

And Ben just says, “It’s never wrong to give.

(My favorite green scarf. Photo by Jillian Tree.)

I still don’t know how this all works. I know there are people out there who know exactly how to act in situations like mine. But I also know there are people who probably feel as clueless and uncomfortable as I do.

And I know that I need practice. I need to go to soup kitchens or to other organizations that bridge this awkward gap. I need to get out of my comfort zone, and learn to give and love and share.

I need to go out and find someone who needs my scarf. I need a second chance.

I forgot that it was really Jesus asking for my scarf.

I was naked and you clothed me…


How do you do this? How do you give, and get out of your comfort zone? Do you ever wish you could go back and try again?

Learning to Live in the Tension

Last week, I was able to go for lunch with a friend. It was a chance to combine Montana’s sweet potato fries with a few hours of fantastic conversation, and I enjoyed myself immensely.

Since then, I keep thinking about different things that we talked about. (I love talks with friends that leave me with something to chew on for a long time after!)

The thing that has been on my mind the most is something that my friend often says – many times throughout the years, I have heard her talking about “learning to live in the tension.” I love that. She’s often talked to me about how life will never be perfect, and there are times when we wish so much that our circumstances were different, but they will not change – at least for a while. In the meantime, the best thing we can do is learn to live in the tension.

Sometimes it’s kind of easy to get upset and frustrated that our prayers are not immediately delivering us in some kind of crazy supernatural way. God does do that sometimes. But sometimes not.

“Learning to live in the tension” means to me that I can learn to accept my present circumstance without sitting around, sulking, and I can have the strength to carry on. If I truly believe that God provides for my every need, then I should be able to adjust to the present circumstances, however difficult and tense they may be.

So many times, I have cried, “I can’t take it anymore!” I am often tempted to complain, and I want to quit when things get hard. I never do, because I’m far too stubborn, but I can have a really bad attitude at times.

And then I call my friend, and dump it all out on her. She patiently listens, and then she soothes me with her words of wisdom, and her encouragement to keep trying to learn to live in the tension.

It reminds me of a sermon I heard once. I can’t remember the name of the man speaking, but he was a professor at a well-known seminary in the States. He had a very dignified, intelligent way of expressing himself, and it was immediately obvious that he was skilled at communicating in a very formal way.

I loved it when he shared that when he’s very busy travelling and speaking all over the place, things are getting a little too hectic, and he needs to relax, he loves to read something escapist. He’ll read a Tom Clancy book and get so carried away with it that when he gets to the part where the hero is trapped, the enemy has surrounded him, his love-interest has been captured, and all hope is lost, this distinguished doctor cannot handle it anymore. The suspense is just too much for him, and every time, he says he can’t go on any longer unless….he goes to the back of the book and reads the ending! He just needs to know that everything will be okay, and then he can go back, and no matter what happens, he’ll know how it all ends.

And he said that was like life with Jesus. No matter how bad things get, or how hopeless everything seems, we know how it all ends.

The strength and hope that comes from knowing that can be enough. Learning to live in the tension is possible because we know how it all ends.

Sometimes that’s really hard to remember. What’s happening right now can be so consuming. But that’s when I know that it’s been too long since I’ve spent time getting my priorities straight. I know that it’s time to struggle through it all with God until I remember what is most important.

That isn’t easy. But I think it’s one of those things that gets better with practice…