Every December I make gift packs for people that are down on their luck. I cannot usually afford anything extravagant, but it is my hope that a simple gift bag with a warm pair of socks, a stocking hat, a few granola bars and basic hygiene items will show Christ’s love in a tangible way to some people who are struggling. I remember being cold in the winter when I was younger and we didn’t have a house to live in. I remember missing meals occasionally and being hungry. I remember wishing we had a shower to use every day. I understand a small part of how individuals who are homeless feel every day.
Usually, when I drive or walk by someone holding a sign or simply sitting next to the street and I give them one of these gift bags, they receive it with a big smile of gratitude and a heart-felt thank you. I think sometimes we underestimate the value of the gift of true gratitude. It always warms my heart.
Today I was doing errands in Everett, and when I offered a gift bag to a man who looked like he was struggling, he responded in a way that I wasn’t expecting. He looked at my car, and shook his head and said he couldn’t accept my gift. A tear rolled down his cheek. I didn’t understand.
He was looking at my rear passenger window. Several months ago, I came out my front door on my way to church on a rainy Sunday morning only to find that my rear passenger window had been smashed in. At first I thought it was a robbery. But nothing was missing from my car – they didn’t take anything. I was puzzled about why someone would break a window without taking anything. I assumed at that point that it must have been a punk teenager just being stupid. I vacuumed out the glass, taped some clear plastic over it, and planned to get it fixed in a month or so. It was somewhat distressing, but overall, I was grateful to be safe and still have a running car. A piece of missing glass is not a big deal, in the long run.
I priced different places to get it fixed, and chose the most affordable one. I budgeted and saved up the few hundred dollars I needed. Then I got a horrible toothache, and spent that money on a root canal. I budgeted, and saved up again. I got an unexpected medical bill that I thought my insurance had covered. I paid it, and started saving again. Then I needed an engine repair. Rinse and repeat, about 3 or 4 more times. Long story short, it still has plastic taped over it. It’s really not a big deal, but it does let out more heat than the glass windows do, and it is loud when driving on the highway. I keep meaning to get it repaired.
Today, that man just kept staring at my window, and he cried. I asked him why he wouldn’t accept my gift, and he looked me in the face, and told me a little of his story. You see, sometimes he feel s like no one cares about him. People drive by and avoid eye contact. When he walks past someone on the sidewalk, they avert their gaze and ignore him. He knows he is dirty, and unkempt, but he still thinks people should acknowledge him as human. He is right about that. He told me that one day a few months ago, he was feeling so angry and lonely because he felt unloved. He lost his temper and he smashed in a car window. It was my car window. He didn’t say he was sorry, but I could see it in his face, and in his tears. He regretted what he had done. He understood that sometimes the people you hurt are the ones who care. Tears streamed down his dirty cheeks, and he lowered his gaze. “I just cannot accept your gift. I should pay you for your window, but I can’t. I have no money.”
As he told me he was the one who had smashed my car window in, I got goose bumps on my arms. It was one of those divine appointments. I waited for him to look back up at me, and when he did, I was able to tell him that people really do care about him. Some people are just uncomfortable with what they aren’t familiar with, and they don’t know how to show their caring. I looked him in the eyes and told him I forgave him, and I wasn’t going to report him. I told him most people wouldn’t have been brave enough to tell the truth, and that it meant so much to me that he did.
When we finished talking, he still wouldn’t accept my gift. I think we both learned something very valuable though. I learned why I haven’t gotten my window fixed yet. It wasn’t time. He learned that there is at least one person who cares about him. He learned what forgiveness feels like.
I was given a gift today. I was able to understand something that has bothered me. I was able to show love. I was able to gain peace. What a precious gift to receive this Christmas season.