Life Behind the Dumpster
I wouldn’t say it is easy to curate material for a monthly blog about a dumpster. More often than not, the content also tends to be pretty far down the list of “most compelling things you might read” on any given day. We try our best to interject some humor, advice, and a smidgen of self-promotion into each month’s theme. As Thanksgiving passed and Christmas quickly approached I decided to focus on something a little more emotional this go-around.
About this time each year, our lives seem to be centered on family gatherings, gift shopping, food preparation, and home decorating. Often, we might have good intentions to give or volunteer more than typical, yet everything else still seems to take precedent. Before you know it, the New Year passes and life goes on…back to the grind and the daily issues we regularly face. This year I experienced something different…something really moving. On our way to visit my Mom for the Thanksgiving weekend, we drove under a viaduct in a poor area of a northern Indiana city.
My seven year-old daughter’s gaze fixed on the rows of tents and sleeping bags as we passed. Her tone was only something a concerned child could have and her demands were immediate. “We have to go back there! We have to get them coats and food.” My wife and I looked at each other; both of us know that she has a huge heart but it was early evening and we were almost to Grandma’s house. Our 10 year-old son is typically dismissive of his sister so the scoffs coming from him in the seat next to her were also not unexpected.
Life goes on right? You can’t help everyone who is needy…right? That is logic trying its best to battle your heart. Where do you draw the line though and actually make a difference? My daughter just drew it. I have always been a creative soul and often come up with ideas and unique approaches. Many times however, for any number of reasons the action step never happens in the process. Call it a character flaw; call it realism. Whatever the reason might be, a pint sized, modern day Roman poet was testing it…carpe diem Mom and Dad. The time is now. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. She is not a prodigy nor does she speak Latin, but these attitudes and suggestions were definitely overflowing from her raw emotion and genuine concern.
The chirping from the backseat persisted for the remaining ten minutes of the trip. Once we arrived at my Mom’s, the little 2nd grade social activist began to lay out the details about how we were going to go downtown to help the homeless. Grandma suggested that we work through the local rescue mission that is aware of the need on that street to offer help. That was not good enough…talk is cheap. “C’mon Mom let’s go; Grandma do you have coats and blankets?”
Our budget is allocated and pretty tight on a regular basis; I definitely didn’t anticipate adding to our charitable donations on this particular trip. However, my attitude began to change as I saw the excitement in my daughter. I thought to myself, “Why don’t more people share this enthusiasm for actually helping others? Why don’t I feel this way? This is a good thing and it is being spearheaded by our youngest child.” My mother had a pretty high degree of trepidation since it was getting dark and we were considering driving downtown to a neglected area of the city to interact with homeless people. Nevertheless, the gauntlet had been thrown down. My wife and I realized that we needed to seize the day and side with my daughter deciding that one person or one family can make a difference.
We gathered what we could from my Mom’s house and headed to the store to pickup hygiene items, protein snacks, water and more blankets. Given their size and price, moving blankets were the best bang for our buck; in fact I might consider some next time we have a camping trip or sporting event. We also decided to grab some candy canes because who doesn’t like candy canes? The four of us filled our cart and made our way back to the car. With the tailgate open, we formed an assembly line; each of us with specific items to add to the care packages. Once the items had been distributed among the individual bags we were on our way.
We found space to park in a nearby vacant lot and immediately I felt some hesitation. “What would I do if something unexpected happens? Am I considering the safety of my family?” We prayed together before we exited our car and my wife and I then knew that we were exactly where we needed to be. Under the railroad truss we were welcomed with the overwhelming smell of urine and hesitant glances. However, each man we approached was gracious. Each one we asked allowed us to pray for them. The blankets were used immediately and several began consuming the granola bars. The candy canes caused a couple of the men to smile, raise their eyebrows in joy and offer thanks and appreciation. To put it into further perspective, as we were leaving, one of the younger men asked for the cardboard box I used to carry the care packages. Everything had significance.
That was it. My daughter had done it. In her mind, we helped some poor people that didn’t have a home. In my mind, my daughter revealed to me that she would one day make a difference. I was very proud of her for looking past all of the things that cause me to second-guess myself. How can something so simple carry an impact though? The Salvation Army started off with a notion to advocate for the poor and neglected. It is one of many amazing organizations that meet human needs without discrimination.
According to salvationarmy.org, the founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth originally intended the movement to be a vehicle for evangelism, not social change. He quickly realized, however, that a man without anything cares more about his next meal than his salvation. As a result, several social welfare programs were launched including homeless shelters, unemployment assistance and eventually The Army played a role in developing our modern welfare system.
Care for the least of these…Matthew 25:40 explains how when we show compassion to those in need we do the same for Christ. Be an advocate for those without hope this Christmas. Take a step forward where you typically would hesitate. Be inspired by children and their unabashed spirit of love and kindness. The next time you cross paths with a less fortunate soul, listen to the voice whispering to your thoughts instead of turning a deaf ear. Do good.