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Today is Part 3 of a tribute to my parents, and the best gifts they’ve given me.  Check out Part 1, and Part 2 to catch up.

I grew up in a fairly sheltered town in the south, known as one of America’s prettiest small towns.  It was an idyllic childhood of riding bikes until dusk, water skiing in the afternoons when my dad got off work, and walking to the main street pharmacy to sit on bar stools.  Once there, my friends and I devoured hot grilled cheese sandwiches and slurped up large vanilla cokes with crushed ice (made individually, before they came bottled like that)…all for the price of $1.11.

This was my home away from home; daily snacks with my friends after school.

With this wonder-filled, innocent reality, I didn’t experience much poverty firsthand.  But every time I saw it, I was moved by it.  Moved by what I knew was Jesus’ heart for them.

I distinctly remember the first time I saw a homeless person.  It was our family’s first west-coast vacation.  (Thank you, Mom and Dad for showing us places far away from home.)  We were walking through the dimly lit streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, hunting for the right spot for dinner.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I looked down as we scurried along the dark sidewalks trying to stay together, and saw a man at my feet.  Sitting on the cold, wet concrete, covered in grime and rags, he held up a cardboard sign that read: “I’m hungry, please help.”.  

We kept walking, then stepped into a restaurant.  My body moved forward, but my heart stopped right there on the street with that man.  The whole experience overwhelmed me.  I was at the awkward age of 10, not too sure of anything about myself.  Most things felt out-of-place, like I should be changing into something else, something better or someone more fitting than who I seemed to be.

But this one part of me, I couldn’t mold into anything else but what it was.  I was shaken to the core of my little pre-teen self when I saw this grown man on the street hungry.  I spent the entire dinner in the bathroom crying.  A bit embarrassed, but sure that I couldn’t sit contentedly at the table and eat when a hungry man was just around corner.

My parents.  Wow.  They didn’t scold me for wasting the food they ordered for me, and ruining a perfectly good family dinner.  They didn’t pressure me, telling me that I wouldn’t get anything to eat later if I didn’t eat dinner now.  They didn’t roll their eyes at my emotionalism.  (All things I can see as easy possibilities now that I am a parent.)

No, they helped me pack up my dinner in a box, and we went looking for the guy on the street to give him my food.

The way they responded to that one seemingly small event imprinted my memory with one truth:

I am little, but God gave me a big heart created to make an impact on the world for good.

Their actions were another “yes” that helped solidify my passion for helping people, for loving the unlovely, and for encountering Jesus in the poor.  That small moment helped confirm in my heart that I was made to make a difference, created to “stop for the one”.

Tomorrow’s post…They Let Me Go