I Need To Know. What Do We Do?

This post isn’t about this, but I’m running the Chicago Half Marathon on Sunday morning.

Don’t track me. Don’t look up my results. Just, don’t.

If I finish, I’ll be one happy lady. There’s been no training going on here. (As in ME. Obviously my marathon winning husband has been putting the time in.)

BUT, this.

Today Josh and I headed downtown for lunch and to pick up my race packet. He had the day off of school and I thought it would be fun to get some time in together and for a fun walk around the city. We parked near the race expo and took off for our mile hike to the restaurant of his choice.

The sun is shining.

Cool breeze blowing.

And there are desperate people, everywhere.


We couldn’t walk more than half a block between folks who had a sign and a cup.

There were so many hanging heads and palms facing upward. There were so many stories written onto cardboard squares, sketched with a Sharpie and condensed to a sentence or two.

Moms, Dads, Veterans, Homeless, Wanderers, Addicts and more. All ages. All races. Clearly different religious backgrounds. All asking for help in the form of whatever you could give.

It’s not just downtown. It’s at home too.

This is everywhere. Our move has brought us right into the face of poverty. We can’t escape it, it’s everywhere we go. There are faces at stoplights, outside restaurants, on the corners, at the gas station, outside the library and waiting for me at the door of  the coffee shop. Wherever you go someone has a sad story and they need my help. Life was so much easier when this wasn’t in my face. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was out there. But I can’t fix it and it was nice not to have the daily reminders.   This area has wealthy on one street and poverty next door.  It’s the diversity we hoped for, but not the diversity I am always prepared for.
And now,  my kids are reading these cardboard signs. They are hearing the stories. They hear the cries of the mentally ill.  They see the eyes glued to the ground. Today we saw a woman so disfigured, it was hard to eat my lunch after catching a glance of her. Isn’t that horrible of me? But,  it’s true. The brokenness of the world was alive and visible and I couldn’t wish or pretend it away.   Now, it’s all around me.   The rich, the poor, all of us broken and living together.

This isn’t a post to tell you I have the answers. I have no idea what to tell my children. I always assumed it was good enough to say that we gave at church or to other organizations, so I was covered. My responsibility went no further  than to explain to them why it was impossible and impractical to share with every person I encountered.

But I can’t look away anymore. I can’t sleep at night knowing that I refused to look so many people in the eye today. What is my responsibility?

I don’t know.

What do you think? How do we navigate this broken world?

I will not tell my kids that those folks deserve this. I have NO idea what their stories may be.

All I can say is what I did today. This is how I got by…

When Josh and I finally arrived at his restaurant of choice, we bought a gift card. I thought about the things I was hoping to purchase at the expo and wondered if I really needed them? I thought about the difference a few dollars may make. I knew I couldn’t help everyone today. But, that isn’t a reason to just look away. So on our walk back to the car we dropped that gift card into a cup. It was someone whose story knew nothing about. I had no idea why they were there, but they were. So I did what I could.   But usually, I do nothing.

I’ve been looking away.   And if I want to live into the things that I believe and the convictions that I write about, it’s time to do this differently.   The thing is, no matter how compassionate you are, there is NO end.   There is no way to help everyone you meet.

If you live in an area where you encounter people asking you for money all the time- what do you do?

Say a prayer?  Drop some change? Look them in the eye?  Glance away?

I really want to know.

I’m listening.

(I just don’t want to hear that these people are lazy.   Please, no.  I cannot imagine the desperation and the humility it takes to beg.  No matter what.)


4 thoughts on “I Need To Know. What Do We Do?

  1. Hey Lisa, we see this on a daily basis, too, as we live in a large city. There are “the regulars” who sell their newspapers at the local grocery store and then there are those who are sent with their disabilities from poorer countries, to sit at the top of the escalator as one is exiting the subway and beg. There are those who choose to be homeless who don’t even beg (and are still supported by the government) and those who are traveling through trying to get to a safe place to live. My heart breaks for these various people as we encounter people on a regular basis. And the thing is, is that I/we can’t help them all.

    When I know I’m going to be traveling into the city center (where one notices it more), I try to bring along some extra fruit or granola bars to give away. I know some people who buy sandwiches at McDonalds We’ve also done Christmas bags with socks, sandwiches and fruit, but once a year isn’t quite enough. But I do love your idea of a gift card…it’s not just money that you wonder if one will use to buy something unuseful or go to the ‘big guys’ who are sending the disabled to make money, but can hopefully be purchased to buy food that they may need or even like.

    Like I said, we can’t help everyone. There is a level of trust, hoping that others are also helping out. We do what we can and especially when God spurs us on to do so. And hey, good luck at the Half-Marathon on Sunday!


  2. I struggle with the same questions. How inhumane is it to not make eye contact with someone? Yes, it hurts my heart horribly to see this sadness and like you, I am haunted by the faces I see and the pain I feel vicariously. I remind myself that this person is someone’s son or daughter and I reach in and pull out the mother love I have in me. None of us anywhere are all that far removed from these circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Lisa. I’m a little late at reading this post, but I SO, SO resonate with your sentiments here. I am grateful I do not have to face the faces of desperation and poverty every day, and yet, I know they are there. And you know even more. I have struggled with this question of what to DO when my heart feels desperate at the sight of a human being in need, ever since my visits to big cities as a little girl. I faced it again when staying the weekend in Philadelphia for a dance competition in November. I know this: Pretending I do not see or care leaves me feeling rotten and less-than-human. (I tried that on day one.) Offering a silent “namaste,” a granola bar, or a few dollars, while doing very little to change another’s life, honors the compassion and humanity and Life I know live within me and the other.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s