The day that I turned in the last requirement for my MPH, I went out to search for celebration. Lacking friends in my transitory location, I ended up alone on the docks in downtown Annapolis watching lightening over the harbor with a frozen yogurt in my hand. Beautiful. Then, as I was walking to my car, a man approached me from behind saying, “miss, miss”. He asked for some money for food; he is homeless. I told him I’d buy him a sandwich, and waving my hand around, said, “but not from these expensive restaurants”. Food in downtown Annapolis is expensive, with many high class restaurants lining the streets. On the way to the sandwich shop, I asked him about his life: His name is Emmanuel. He was recently released from jail with nowhere to go. He has no job. The shelter is full and he’s on the waiting list for a bed. His parents are dead and his siblings live in Washington, DC and Baltimore – they don’t know where he is and he doesn’t know their phone number, but if he could get in touch with them, they would help him. He told me he would go to the library tomorrow to look up their phone number online instead of letting me do so on my phone right then and there, as I had offered. I bought him a sandwich and a drink, and as we left the sub shop, the summer storm finally brought rain. I thought perhaps I could bring him home for the night, let him have a shower, let him cut his nails, help him find his siblings – but it’s not my home to share. Where could I take him? No more cash – do I go to the ATM to give him $20 that he says would help him have a place tonight at a friend’s house? I offered to pray for him there, but he declined, so I assured him I’d pray on my way home, which brought a smile of satisfaction to his face. I left him there with his sandwich and soda under the awning and briskly walked to my car.
As I drove home, I reflected on the whole thing and suddenly, clarity flooded my mind, soul, and spirit as the Lord taught me the truth. “Emmanuel”, meaning “God with us”. I told him “not these expensive places”, essentially expressing to him, “You don’t deserve this nice food” and “You aren’t worth a good meal.” Shame on me. This is a human being, deserving of at least the luxuries blessed to me. Why should he have anything less than me? anything less than the best? What if this was an angel sent for me to entertain “unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). If he were Jesus, is that how I would have treated Him? Was I loving him with Christ’s love for this man or loving through the lenses of love for money and discrimination? I showed very little honor to Emmanuel. He asked for a little change for food, so that’s what I gave him – a little, showing him that I agreed that’s all he’s worth. But the Lord treats us with abundance in everything, all in perfect love for us, and I reflected it so poorly. I was so convicted. Lord forgive me. I receive this correction with a thankful heart, that God cares for me as a true daughter to discipline me.
And still, somehow, the way that I treated Emmanuel was better than so many others have been, and are, and will in his life. I pray that the world treats him as he deserves, better than before, and better than I did. As Heidi Baker says, “Love the one in front of you” and “Stop for the one.” This is just one lesson in the process of learning to love that I believe is a key to love, compassion, freedom, and empowerment for all, one person at a time.