We would see her often, on the way home from church, as we drove to the market, whenever we were simply around town. A woman, older, likely in her sixties, neat, simply dressed, hair done, pushing a shopping cart filled to the brim with black garbage bags. Homeless, I supposed. Not a common sight in our community. Yet, there she was, day in and day out, making a morning pilgrimage down the main street, her cart taking up residence in a local park’s gazebo, and an evening pilgrimage back up the same street to an unknown address.
Each day the cart in the gazebo served as a reminder that there were others less fortunate, that although our family had little, we had much. I suppose it would have become easy to simply drive by that gazebo each day, allowing that cart just to become part of the landscape, not paying mind to it, not remembering that there was a person behind that cart, a person whose life was wrapped up in those bags. Yet, the Lord kept bringing “her” to mind, this nameless woman.
One night I confessed to my husband that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I wondered where she came from in the morning and where she went to in the evening. Did she need help? Was she all right? Why was the Lord continually filling my mind with her? My husband reminded me that the Lord does not fill our minds with worthless things. I began to pray.
Then one day it happened. One of my sons asked, “Who is that woman, Mom? And why is she always pushing that cart full of bags?”
“I’m not sure, honey. I believe she may be homeless, and those bags likely hold her belongings,” was my simple reply.
There was silence after that, the kind of silence that comes when one is deep in thought. I knew the wheels inside my son’s head where spinning, as were those of my two other sons who were in the van as well. I didn’t feel compelled to have a heavy conversation like this from the rearview mirror, so I waited until we arrived home and sat down with my boys to talk.
And talk we did. They were full of questions. Why might she be homeless? Where does she get food from? Clothes from? Where does she stay when it’s cold? Or snowing? All thoughtful questions, none of which I had an answer for. However, at that very moment, the Lord laid something on my tongue, “She is no different than you and I. Some of her needs may be different than ours, but not all. She needs a Savior, just like we did. She needs someone to show her the love of God, just like we did. She is precious in His sight. Her life is valuable, maybe a bit broken, yet beautiful.”
So as our family made our way through our town’s main street, we always kept a lookout for “her.” With time, we decided that we needed to give our nameless friend an identity. A name. Dignity. No longer a point of the finger or “her” but Miss Betty. Yes, Miss Betty she would be.
Although we had never met her, Miss Betty was having an impact on our family. The boys would ask about her. “Had I seen her today?” They remembered her in their prayers. “Keep her safe, warm, cool, sheltered.” If they did not see her cart in the gazebo for a few days, they would wonder if she was all right. The Lord was using her to open my boys’ hearts to those in need. He was giving them a different set of eyes through which to see the world.
The Lord continued to lay Miss Betty on my heart as well. I couldn’t just sit back any longer and watch or simply let her become an object lesson; I needed to attempt to make contact. On a few occasions I went up to the main street to watch where she went at night. I discovered that she simply kept walking and walking. Not wanting to scare her, I stopped. Another time my husband and I stopped to see if we could help her push her cart up a snow covered sidewalk. As we approached her, we heard her muttering to herself, and when she saw us, she repeatedly told us that she didn’t need help. We backed off. Obviously, our methods were not going to work. The Lord was going to need to pull the pieces together.
And He did. While my boys were at a friend’s house, I began to talk to one of the local moms about Miss Betty. I expressed how we were curious as to where she came from and what she did during the day. I was told that each morning and evening she not only made the long walk along our town’s main street but continued on to the next town as well. Wow! That was several hilly miles, each way, everyday. Then, I was told that she spends her days at the local library reading and doing puzzles. Bingo! Puzzle pieces together. Thank you, Lord.
I excitedly told the boys what the Lord had revealed to us. They were excited, yet somewhat apprehensive.
“Now what?” they asked.
“Well, let’s pray about it and see how the Lord directs,” I replied.
We did just that. I had also been privately praying that the Lord would stir the hearts of the individuals He wanted to move to action. Neither my husband nor I felt led to force any one of our children to make contact with Miss Betty. We wanted this to be a personal thing between them and the Lord.
We formulated a plan. One day we would go to the local library and deliver a small bag of some of our favorite treats to Miss Betty. If all we did was hand her the bag, then so be it. If she spoke with us, that would be a bonus.
The day arrived. I told the boys that I would be heading down to the library if anyone was interested in joining me. The volunteer that arose? My youngest, nine year old son. The Lord has given him a most tender, loving heart. He is always the first one to help those who are hurting, to pray when you need it most, or drop a note simply to encourage. So, that afternoon we picked out some of our favorite treats: granola bars, nuts, cheese sticks, raisins, and a few other items. We tucked them neatly into a clear, sealable bag and then slid in a 3×5 index card that my son had decorated with some colorful flowers, inside.
We drove down to the library and walked through the door to find Miss Betty sitting at the front table working diligently on a puzzle. Knowing that she was a regular visitor to the library, I approached the librarian to inquire. She told me that no one really knew her story. She came to the library everyday. She went by different names at different times and often conversed by herself. The librarian continued to tell me that many people had offered her assistance, be it rides, food, housing, or the like. She had turned them all down. She doesn’t accept help or talk to people. I then explained that my son and I wanted to give her a little something. “I doubt she’ll take it,” was the response.
So, I walked back over to my son and gently explained that Miss Betty may not accept our gift, and should that be the case, the Lord would be smiling down on him for his attempt to reach out to her. I was reminded of Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
As I began to walk, I noticed that my son lagged behind. I walked back to him. “Mom, I just want to watch you,” he said.
I slowly approached the front table, lowered myself on one knee to be at eye level, and introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Kim. My son (pointing to him) and I were getting ready for Thanksgiving and we were thinking of you. We put together a few of our favorite snacks and were hoping that you would accept our little gift. My son drew you a little picture as well.”
And with that, her eyes met mine and she replied, “Okay, yes, I will take it. Thank you.”
I motioned for my son to come over; he did. I introduced him. Miss Betty looked at him and offered her thanks and set back to the task of completing her puzzle. We walked back to the van, and I embraced my son. I let him know how proud I was of him, and, more importantly, how pleased God was. God had put the pieces of the puzzle together so we could reach out to Miss Betty, actually so He could reach out to her.
In the weeks that followed, my son and I attempted another visit to the library only to find it closed. As Christmas approached and our family prepared small bags of homemade treats, we were sure to set one aside for Miss Betty. On Christmas Eve morning I drove to the closed library to see if I could locate Betty’s cart, which I did in the neighboring park’s gazebo. On top of the cart I left a simple bag of cookies with a note:
“We want you to know that we are thinking of you today. You are special and God loves you.”