Spirit Whispers – Part 1

Spirit Whispers – Part 1

Jagged hair framed the haggard face of a thirtyish-looking woman. She wore no makeup. Her bulky pants looked like they belonged to a short, fat man—but matched her XXL gray sweatshirt. She stood by McDonald’s on Main Street.

I stopped to take a second look. The woman held a cardboard sign with four words that have long represented an accepted spectacle across the American landscape of free speech: “Will work for food.”

iStock_000008405256SmallBack in the 1980s, sign-holders in our small town were a new phenomenon. I’d not seen this kind of thing before. The way my heart pounded, you’d have thought I’d just witnessed a car wreck. Who would do that—overcoming personal shame enough to stand out there on public display?

I hurried into McDonald’s and spoke to the assistant manager in chopped sentences.

“There’s a woman…and a sign…she’s in trouble…”

He nodded and politely informed me that the owner had already offered her a job—which she flatly refused. She was hustling far more money with her sign.

In that moment, I grew older and wiser.

Homeless Series - No TrespassingA man in a torn overcoat stood shivering in blinding snow by the grocery store. Who would fake that? His sign said, “Stranded—anything will help.” I bought him some hot soup and a roll from the deli. He seemed thankful and asked for money, but I didn’t have any cash. I returned to do my grocery shopping, but later, as I left the store, I noticed the soup and bread abandoned in the snow. Untouched. Uneaten. He had moved on.

Now I was irritated.

Nearly a decade passed. I continued to struggle with walking or driving by people holding cardboard signs. The Good Samaritan story pinned me with guilt if I did nothing. On the other hand, what about the sting of feeling scammed? Giving money without accountability didn’t seem like a good use of resources. How would I juggle compassion with suspicion?

Eventually I came to know a woman who’d lived a transient lifestyle. She’d fled an abusive home and hitchhiked around the country, exchanging sexual favors with truckers for rides and a place to sleep. Finally, HIV-positive and weary from life on the road, she settled in our town for a while.

She sought help from local agencies and area churches. I met her one Sunday. Almost every comment she made was laced with entitlement—the world owes me. Agitated, bitter, and well versed in playing the victim, she recoiled if anyone hinted at personal responsibility. Escaping to her “road life” remained a constant temptation, yet with time and persistence, I built a real relationship with her. In turn, she gave me an inside view of a world I knew nothing about.

She explained that most of those sign-holders are, in fact, scamming. Many can work but don’t want to. If disabled, they receive benefits, so the money they scarf on the street goes to substance abuse.

“Giving food is okay,” she said, “because it’s possible some people haven’t eaten for a few days.”

I nodded in earnest.

“However,” she instructed, “never give money. Never.”

Giving money to sign-holders might really be about us. It’s a convenient way to assuage guilt, pay our penance to those who have not, and move on to avoid the inherent complexities of relationship. Even offering real work to someone can be risky as in the abduction case of Elizabeth Smart. How much more exposed would we be to offer a ride or a place to stay? So we roll down the window, hand them a dollar, and go on our way. The sign-holders seem to know this and work the angle.

iStock_000035612600SmallOver the past several decades, the language of cardboard signs has reached a pinnacle of exploitation. Some just flat out say, “Need a beer,” or “We like to party too.” Others have a spiritual spin, saying, “God will bless you if you give.”

Others use a form of theatrics. As my new friend explained—when you see someone in the worst weather, or using children, or wearing battered clothes, it just means that the money will come in faster. In earlier days, she had parked in various rest areas along highways with a sign that said, “Car broken down—stranded—need help.” In an hour, she’d have $300. iStock_000000546252Small

One time I saw a guy stretched out on a reclining lawn chair, wearing decent clothes and holding a cool drink. His sign said, “Just give.” I had a strong urge to yell, “Get a job!” out the window. Maybe you know the feeling.

But, homelessness is a complicated issue. How do we apply the Good Samaritan principle in an age of entitlement? It’s easy to get jaded. Without the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in any given situation, we’re apt to do the wrong thing. No formula works here. In fact, formulas don’t work in most situations. The Bible is not enough. It can teach us principles, but not necessarily application. And that is why we need to hear God’s voice.

Have you had an encounter with a homeless person? Did God give you any instruction on what to do? Share your story!

Part II next week.


  1. Wow, this is a hard subject, and my heart truly truly is broken hearted for those that are with our a home. I’ve felt many of your same sentiments. My mom would sit next to me, and behind the closed window yell go get a job you lazy ***. That never settled well in my mind or heart. The problem is as you say so so so many people are pan handling.. Cash… No intent to work. A recent sign holder had many sign options, they change from day to day… Location to location. The one that cracked me was I will arm wrestle your mother in law for $1. The next week he was homeless, the next week he was a vet etc etc

    but the bible says… And convicted me again and again… Matthew 25: 35-46. This passage convicted my heart. Read in all but focus on 45. I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.
    So I got to do something, but I don’t want to give cash and I don’t have a lot. Maybe he will buy beer and cigarettes.. I don’t want to support that!

    So it was COLD winter night when you see the “true” homeless/transient at Walmart. It was freezing!!! Here are these 5 men sitting in the courtyard near 7th. God said for I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I drove past them and said God what am I supposed to do. As I walked in the building I had a $20 bill available and some change and God told me to get $5 gift cards at McDonald’s and give each of them. Food and drink and a warm place for 1/2 hour.
    I said really God, I don’t want to go up there, I just had a baby, they are scary etc. and he said this is what you need to do. So I bargained with God, said ok. When I’m done shopping if they are still there I will do it. So I spent 2 hours shopping and praying they would be GONE when I was done. Well as you guessed they were not! And I unloaded my groceries walked back into Walmart, into McDonalds and got them gift cards. I drove up parked gave them each one. I said I want you to have a warm dinner, cup of coffee and warm up for a bit. Most were grateful, one guy yelled at me said he didn’t want it just needed a ride. I said no I can’t do that and he yelled and begged. I felt awful and scared and rejected etc. his friend came over said sorry about that, I’ll give him the card (which he did) and thanked me.
    Since that 1st encounter I had stopped to drop off cookies, valentines, silly things that seemed even sillier, giving a homeless guy a valentine and small bag of candy??? Who does that??? Well I did because if it made one person smile it make God smile! Now as far as the panhandlers go, that’s their job… They chose to beg and take money. Sometimes they drive a nicer car than me… Probably have a better house. At $300 an afternoon… Holy cow I’ve got to work 2 weekends to make that much.
    But they could use a water, a granola bar, maybe a pack of gum even. With a little note, scripture, prayer something to encourage and let them know Jesus loves you!
    In your car have a small lunch bag, with these things to hand out.. Teach your children not to judge by telling go get a job. Above all know that you did something beautiful for our Lord, who said in Mathew to show compassion. If the guy has a sign saying only wants beer money, then pass him up, let him know I’ve got a h20 drink and snack.. Interested?? If he says no pass it along to the next person;) most importantly… Remember that that unbeaten food, thrown out whatever… Well don’t dwell on that. Know that in your heart you did something for someone and that obedience to Gods word, giving a drink/food that in that act.. God is well pleased with your heart behind that act of giving/kindness 🙂 god bless! <3 Bobbi

    • Bobbi, wow—what a great story. Thanks for sharing and your ideas at the end are very helpful! You are inspiring!

  2. thanks bobbi, good ideas for sure. i used to carry canned goods to hand out until almost every person said “no thanks, i’d like to have money” although their signs said “hungry” or something like that. our world is an interesting place, that’s for sure.
    and susan, a great blog subject for all of us. it’s become a consideration, there are so many people on corners these days. but when they have a dog with them, i’ve pretty much been had! a great marketing tool . . .
    suzee B

  3. Leah Morgan :

    I always wondered how the homeless seemed to have a Sharpie at hand for making their signs. I thought it would make a great marketing tool for a TV ad campaign: Don’t leave home without your American Express? The real world knows you never “leave your home” without your Sharpie (pan to panhandlers).

    The culture of Jesus was full of beggars. Peter and John did not give out coins to the lame beggar at the temple gate. They did pray for him and offer him healing in the name of Jesus. Incidentally, this man would have been there as Jesus passed by at an earlier time frame.

    The real needs are often deliverence and love, the first comes only through Christ, and the latter is often expressed through meeting the needs of the physical, but all of our efforts toward both often fall short without relationship. You don’t really build a relationship by offering a reverse drive-thru, flinging out a sandwich in passing. There are plenty who are poor in spirit right in our own connections that we can minister to through relationship, but somehow our strings of compassion are more easily tugged by strangers telling us only what they want us to know of themselves in an edited pitiful version on a poorly made poster, than by those whose details we’re overly familiar with.

    There was a man in my tiny home town that seemed to appear out of nowhere and then remained in the community for years. He wrapped himself in black garbage bags covered in tape, and wore yellow rubber gloves. He was a frightening sight, obviously deranged. I’d see him in the grocery store and walking down Main Street, but never heard him speak. Even in the heat of summer he wore those sweltering plastic bags and gloves.
    One Sunday when I was nearly out of my teens, we passed him resting alongside the road near our house as we drove home from church. I felt bold with love and my meager offering of it. I was no Peter and John, but I served the same Jesus. I gathered up a piece of homemade banana cake, walked down the road and handed it to him. As I did, I said, “Jesus loves you.” He jerked his face sideways and backwards as though he’d been slapped by an invisible force. I continued to try to communicate with him about Jesus, but he never spoke.
    That was my loaves and fishes offered in compassion and hope for that man’s healing, never knowing if was helpful or futile. Our offerings are first offered to God. He blesses and uses them as he sees fit.
    Much later I heard about a man who had driven by the scene. I’d been unaware of passersby, but he told someone who in turn repeated it to me, how the display of love from a young girl ministering to the man everyone was frightened of, touched his heart.

    Ultimately, our gifts alone are not enough. Our resources are not enough to compensate the poverty of the world. Our love is not deep or wide enough to assuage all the hurt. But our little is sufficient when seasoned with God’s grace for those he’s sent us to minister to.

    • Leah,
      What an amazing story! And I value your take on all this. Thank you so much for taking time to write it out and comment for others to see!! love, Susan