In my work for The United Methodist Church, I expect to run into people who are willing to share their faith. But sometimes, I encounter God in the most unexpected ways.
Even as the weather gets warmer in my hometown, my thoughts keep going back to an experience I had this winter.
The mountains were white with snow. The airport was full of happy vacationers off to ski the slopes or sit in the lodge heated by the warmth of the fire.
On the downtown streets of Denver there was a party of a different kind. Homeless people were huddled around one another, wrapped in old plastic tarps. Here they were: the least, the lost, the last.Some had mental illness and had slipped through the cracks of social or governmental support. Others were veterans who decided that life on the streets was easier than returning home broken with nightmares that would frighten those around them.Some were runaways who just didn't fit in back home. Others were addicts who lived from one fix to the next.
"Being on the street is really hard, especially in the winter" one red-eyed man said to me, the smell of alcohol still on his breath. "But there are good times here, too. We look out for each other." He told me his name was Don.
"Here," Don said to me as he tore at the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich he had just received in a makeshift food line.
"I only need half," he continued. "You have been really nice to me. You talked to me. Hung out with me awhile.And besides, you didn't get one."
In that moment, I wondered when my new friend would eat again. Where would his next meal come from? Did he even know?
What would I have done?
I politely thanked Don for his generous offer, reassured him that I had already eaten and gently wrapped my half of his sandwich and placed it in his dirty, rough, very cold hand. Instinctively, I cupped both of my hands around his to warm them for just a moment. Through his bearded face, I saw him smile as he stood there looking at our hands.
A moment later, he was gone.
As I stood there, I wondered: Had I walked in Don's shoes that day, would I have offered half of my sandwich to a stranger? To someone who wore nice, clean clothes; who had the luxury of a warm shower and a comfortable bed? Or would I be angry, even jealous, grab my sandwich and walk away?
I'd like to think I would share, but to be honest, I'm not so sure. The least, the lost, the last. That cold day in Denver reminded me that at some point in time, we all feel a hole in our soul.
We want to belong. We want to fit in. We want to be loved.
God was present to me that day in Denver. Rough, dirty and smelly. God offered me something to eat. Perhaps I was the one who needed food - not for my stomach, but for my soul. Through Don, I was the one who was hungry, so he fed me.
*Panovec is executive director of new media for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kay Panovec, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 [email protected].