If you know me very well, you know I don't do the overly emotional, sensationalized, feel-good type of movies. I don't look down on them or think others shouldn't watch them...it's just that I don't often find myself in the mood to cry, so I usually avoid them. Unfortunately, I seemed to find myself on the set of a Hallmark movie the other day (one of the worst offenders for the uninitiated).
Throughout our worship service on Sunday morning, the smells of our annual Thanksgiving potluck wafted through the auditorium, making it seem warm and cozy as we listened to Pastor David's message. After the service drew to a close, tables, chairs, and fall decorations flew into place in a matter of minutes, and it wasn't long before the auditorium was again full with our church family. But this time we sat before steaming plates, enjoying community, fellowship, and more food than we could possibly eat. I had not planned to stay for the meal, but as I walked through the auditorium and out to my car, I regretted my decision. I had thought I'd want the time to run home and change before I had to be back for a 12:30 mini golf outing, but as I drove out of the parking lot, I began to feel sorry for myself. Now I had only half an hour before I had to be back, and I did still need to eat...I told myself I should have just planned to stay in the first place. I'm sure no one would have known or cared that I hadn't signed up to be there or bring any food, but my stubborness won and I left. Reluctantly, I headed to McDonald's on my way home, all the while thinking of the great food I'd just left behind.
Since I was in a hurry, I headed to the drive-thru, only to change my mind last minute and swerve into a parking space. I grabbed my purse and headed in, still feeling a bit on the crabby side. As soon as I got in line, I became aware of the man standing in front of me - he was bent over and leaning on a cane, and I could tell he was wearing at least a couple pairs of pants. His clothing was dirty, and it seemed safe to assume he was going through hard times at best, and most likely had been living on the street. I watched as he pulled several coins out of his pocket and waited to order. Then I noticed the woman standing in front of him in line. Her husband had his back to us, ordering their food, and her two young children stood flanking her on either side. She had turned completely around and was unabashedly staring at the somewhat disheveled man in between us. Her eyes held a mixture of curiousity, caution, disdain...but not a trace of compassion. She held her hands in front of her two children as though he may lunge for one of them at any moment.
Immediately I felt a lump rise in my throat - less than a mile away, my church family was gathered together with more food than they probably knew what to do with, and here in front of me was a man who had exactly 75 cents for his coffee. He asked for 6 creamers - I assumed to make his coffee more filling. I debated whether to risk embarassing him by offering to buy him food, but quickly decided it was worth it and stepped up next to him.
"Can I get you something to go with your coffee?" I asked him.
He turned and looked at me, then his eyes twinkled (I'm not kidding...I told you it was like a Hallmark movie!) and he grinned and said "How about a new pair of legs and a good head of hair?" He laughed at his own joke, then said "No, thank you but I'm ok." He turned around and took his coffee to his seat.
I quickly ordered my food and decided to order him something anyway, but inside I felt conflicted. So many thoughts were running through my head: was I really so spoiled that I thought I was suffering to eat at McDonalds? What must it be like to have people stare at you as though your very presence is a threat to their personal happiness? Why was there more than enough food for the people who already had plenty, and not nearly enough for someone who needed it? How did he have the resiliency to smile and make me laugh when he had more needs than I will probably ever know? And most of all, why had God chosen to use me inspite of my rotten attitude?
Now here's the un-Hallmark moment: I was most bothered by the fact that there was no tidy answer. Was it wrong for our church to gather together in fellowship and enjoy a good meal? No. Whose fault was it that the man in front of me didn't have enough to buy more than a small cup of coffee? Unknowable. What difference did the one meal I bought him make when he doesn't know where his next will come from? And how much impact will this experience truly have on my life? Sure, it may soften my heart for a day, or even a few days, but how long will it take until I am once again consumed by my schedule, my priorities, making sure my needs (wants?) are met?
I drove away from McDonald's feeling as though every detail that day had been carefully orchestrated to jolt my heart out of the wrong direction it was headed in. I didn't feel warm and fuzzy, but I did feel, and that is something I can turn off much too easily. So I guess in retrospect, a good Hallmark movie now and then might be ok.