Last week, my family and I traveled to Washington to visit friends and sightsee. We started our trip in Bellingham, which is about 88 miles north of Seattle. In addition to reuniting with friends that we haven’t seen in 16 years, we got to enjoy this beautiful city which is the last major city along the Washington Coast before you reach the Canadian border. During our stay there, we took nice morning stroll on the South Bay Trail which partly goes above the water. The first part of the trail is on land, and to my right was the ocean and to my left were trees, bushes, and beautiful birds… and this is where we met Henry.
Henry is a middle-aged white man who is sharp-minded, great personality, and respectful. His smile could absolutely light up a room, and it was clear that he was grateful for life and enjoyed talking about sports with my husband. Henry is also homeless. He sat on a bench and had some trading cards (football and baseball) that he was giving away in exchange for any monetary donation. My family and I spent about 10 minutes talking to him about sports and some other random things. One of the first things I did was to ask for his name and introduced myself and my family to him. I made sure I addressed him by his name a few times and looked him in the eye when speaking to him. I gave him all the cash I had which was only $3 (I generally don’t carry cash), and my husband gave him $20 and took a few of the trading cards. My daughter didn’t have any cash, so she gave him her unopened snack. His gratitude and humility was so evident, and I left that encounter feeling blessed to have spent time with him.
We spent the second half of our trip in Downtown Seattle, and my heart felt so heavy seeing so many homeless people living in tents and some just on the street with no shelter. I know this pandemic really impacted the economy everywhere, but I couldn’t help but to wonder how many of the homeless people might have had a place to go until COVID hit. On Saturday, we walked down to Pike Place Market, and we saw a church group giving away free food to the homeless. This made me grateful for the kindness that still exists in the world.
How often do we take the time to connect with people? How often do we think about the needs of others before we think about fulfilling our desires? Whether it’s someone dealing with homelessness, someone who is hurting, or someone who’s struggling to find a reason to live another day, are we willing to take time to show them the love that was shown to us by others and by God?
Here are a few things that you can do to help make a difference in a person’s life:
- Take Time to Ask Questions.
I have made it a habit to introduce myself and ask for their names when I try to connect with a homeless person. If they seem receptive, I ask questions about their lives. They’re used to feeling unseen, so along with giving them money, I want them to feel seen.
- Ask Them What They Need and Want,
Sometimes we think we know what people need, and in case of the homeless, what they probably will tell you they need are money, food, and shelter. But they also desire to be respected, cared for and validated. They want human interaction. They want hope. And a lot of them want prayers. Instead of just meeting their needs, maybe we can take the time to meet their wants too. Before COVID, I offered handshakes and hugs. Unfortunately, this is not an option right now, and I hope that one day soon, I will be able to offer them some human contact.
- Grow in Empathy by Practicing Empathy
I wouldn’t consider myself an empathetic person by nature. As much as I would like to, connection and community is not something that comes natural to me; however, I’ve always admired those with genuine hearts to serve, like my husband. If there’s a need, he’s always the first one to sign up to serve. He has taken time off of work to volunteer at food pantries, soup kitchens, and even in a prison ministry. He imitates the heart of Jesus, and I am constantly inspired by my husband’s empathy. What I’ve come to realize is that the more I imitated his heart to serve and meet needs, the more I was given the opportunities to know the people behind the needs… and the more I knew the people behind the needs, the more I felt their pain and wanted to do something about it.
As we said our goodbyes to Henry last Thursday, I wanted to do more for him. I wished for him to have shelter, food, and a job. I wished for him to fall in love, get married and have a family. I wanted him to live a life of hope and joy in Christ. I don’t know how much of a difference I made in his life, but he has made a huge difference in mine. The last thing he said to us as we parted ways was, “God bless you.” Because we have been blessed with so much, I pray that we will bless all the Henry’s we cross paths with.
God bless you, Henry.