I recently revisited some articles I wrote for the newsletter at United Ministries when I still worked there. This scenario from December 2007 touched me once again.
Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Many of the best and most treasured are those which are not wrapped in beautiful papers and tied with fancy ribbons…the gift of being affirmed when you’re feeling low, the gift of a joke shared, the gift of an unexpected invitation to do something which nurtures your soul. We give gifts when we offer to care for a pet so someone can travel to spend time with family or friends or when we prepare food for someone who is grieving. Sometimes, however, gifts are given and received with no planning, forethought, or expectation. Such gifts are truly special because they come when least expected.
As I was walking across the United Ministries lobby, a man stopped me, told me he was homeless and new to the area, and then asked where he could get some food. I told him about Project Host which would be serving lunch within the next hour or so. He said he didn’t like to eat in soup kitchens. I suggested that he try Project Host since they had very good food. Next he asked if he could get food at United Ministries. I told him that the staff and volunteers had already signed in all the people they could see that morning and that Project Host was his best option for now. He proceeded to share more information about his life. I asked if he’d gone to the Place of Hope because I knew that the staff there worked with people in his situation. Since he still didn’t seem to want to follow any of my suggestions, I again encouraged him to talk with the people at Place of Hope because they’d been able to help others in remarkable ways. He asked when he could come back to United Ministries for food and I gave him the information. I knew I had not told him anything he wanted to hear. By now, I’m was wondering how I was going to get out of this conversation.
And then the gift came. He asked me my name and told me his. He put out his hand and we shook. Without further conversation, we simply looked at each other and he said, “Thank you.” I must have looked puzzled because once again he said, “Thank you.” and then walked out the door. His gift of gratitude and brief relationship warmed me in surprising ways. What a privilege to connect with folks that I might not otherwise encounter except for the wonderful world of United Ministries. This is truly the spirit of the holiday!