I signed up to receive a Lenten devotion from "Girlfriends in God." It's delivered Monday through Friday into my inbox, written by three authors. There have been several entries that I have forwarded because they spoke to me. The one from this morning, however, moved me so much that I need to share the message with you here in my own forum.
The passage written by Mary Southerland recounts a story that she recently heard where a couple and their toddler were dining at a restaurant one weekend. Their baby suddenly began interacting with a stranger in the dining room. He happened to be a ragged, smelly man with old tattered clothes...a vagrant, acting inappropriately by playing peekaboo and patty cake from across the room while the other patrons were trying to enjoy a quiet dinner. The baby was enthralled, however, so the parents doggedly ate while avoiding eye contact with the enthusiastic stranger.
While the husband left to pay the bill and retrieve the car, the mother gathered Erik into her arms, hoping to totally sidestep the stranger. But while trying to avoid him, passing quickly by, the baby threw out his arms - that precious gesture that babies make when wanting to be held by someone they love - and threw himself out of his mother's arms into that of the stranger's.
"Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love and kinship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head on the man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed, and tears hovered beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor, cradled the baby and gently stroked his back.
No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time. The mother and every other person in the restaurant were awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and in a firm and even commanding voice said, "You take care of this baby." Somehow the mother managed, "I will" from a throat choked with emotion.
He pried Erik from his chest, lovingly and longingly, as though he were in pain. The mom took her baby and the man said, "God bless you, ma'am, you've given me my Christmas gift." With Erik in her arms, the mom ran for the car. Her husband was wondering why his wife was crying and holding Erik so tightly saying, "My God, my God, forgive me." Everyone had just witnessed Christ's love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul, and a mother who saw a suit of clothes. The mother was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not. A ragged old man had unwittingly preached the message found in Scripture, "To enter the Kingdom of God, we must become as little children."
I will shamefully admit that I have been that mother before...that woman...the one who judges without knowing, avoids contact so as to not sully myself or my pure desire for what I think is an admirable and upright way to live. And I've done it, actually, more frequently with those who act superior; angry; self-involved; haughty. It's much easier for me to excuse the homeless or the unemployed than it is for me to excuse the broken and the injured who only appear to have their lives together. I am mortified that I have been so obtuse.
I have also been the ragged man before. I was he last year, desperate and dying...and in gestures of unconditional love and grace, my friends and family reached their hands out to me and allowed me to hold them, breathing in their sweet love and clinging to their strength. I was given a gift and a second chance at life and living. I was set free of my worries and anxiety. My pain was eased and labors lifted.
Today I hope mostly to be like that innocent child. The one who lovingly and trustingly looks but does not judge. The one who laughs and giggles and hugs while cradling the poor and the lost and the lonely. The one who need not know the back story to find the treasure. The one who looks for the Kingdom of God in the least of our brothers and sisters.