“Will the poor people take us?”
“Where are all the kids and mommies?”
“Where did their house go?”
“Do they live at our church every day?”
“Why doesn’t God give them money?”
“Will you sing Hummingbird and Jesus Loves Me?”
Her six year old brain was spinning all night, spewing question after question. Every winter I play a few songs for a ministry to homeless men our church runs. I come early to eat with them, stay afterward to hear their prayer requests and the good news from the week: New jobs, doctor visits that went well, the number of days since the last drink, a relative who’s agreed to take them in. This year I brought help along.
Gresham (4) and Gabriella (6) went with me last night. Gresham, because he likes music and missed me the last couple days. Gabriella, because she was curious. Every night they thank God for at least two things, usually something Gresham ate and something Gabriella owns. Then Becky or I inevitably, not so subtly, asks God to give those things to people who need them. “God, please feed all the people who don’t have as much food as we have.” “God, please give clothes to all the children who don’t have clothes like Gabriella has.” That sort of thing.
But she’s never actually met anyone who needs those prayers. Until last night they’ve existed only in words, only for that minute when our heads bow just before bed time.
Last night she ate a feet away from a man with track marks up one arm. She shook hands with another who’s been in and out of jail since he was a teen. She asked a burly long-haired guy who drew on his arms. He smiled and scooted up his sleeve so she could get a better look.
I played my three songs and told my story. Gresham played the drums on a bible he found and that made most of the room smile. He almost shouted the words to every tune. Gabriella couldn’t keep quiet anymore when I sang “Jesus Loves Me” like she requested. Almost every eye was on them, smiling, laughing.
“Why didn’t we help them?” she asked on the way home.
“You did,” I explained. “You made them smile. And a lot of those guys haven’t had anything to smile about in a long long time. Sometimes smiling feels as good as sleeping in a warm house or eating your favorite food.”
She grinned and then a seriously look crossed her face. “But next time I’m bringing a blanket and some chips for the man with the taboo on his arm.”