My Favorite Red Shirt
The hot sun beat down on my head as I walked down the concrete sidewalk carrying two pots. I kept getting whiffs of lavender as I headed to my next project - eight feet of mulch. Now that my team had finished picking up trash and weeding Francisco’s block on Swatara St., I was about to add the finishing touches to his flower bed.
As I knelt down on the moist mulch, my muscles ached from the strain of shoveling and walking all morning. I reminded myself for the hundredth time that day that “whatever I did for the least of these, I did for my King (Matthew 25:40)” My shovel pierced through the weed fabric as I made a new home for the lavender. Scooping out the soil and rocks from the hole, I found myself falling in love again with the beauty of God’s creation and the hope that His love brings to even the most violent neighborhood.
A shadow interrupted my thoughts and I turned to see a neighbor lady walking up to me. I could tell she was about to ask me for money and immediately steeled myself for probably having to disappoint her. Her eyes were bloodshot and I could tell she was high. As she started to explain what she wanted, she never looked me in the eye. I listened patiently expecting her to get to the part where she asked for money. Suddenly, I realized that she was actually in the middle of asking for a shirt or some spare piece of clothing. That was something I could give her!
She was saying she had been on the streets for days with no one to help her and only had the clothes on her back. Having heard similar stories many times before where people are just trying to take advantage of the fact that I look like I have lots of money, I honestly doubted how much of the story was true.Yet, I knew that giving her a shirt or two would be a blessing. So, I left my tools and headed back to the house.
As I hurried across the street, I felt the Spirit’s gentle prompt to give her my favorite red shirt that I had just recently bought. I felt like He specifically wanted me to give not just something of mine but something that held value to me and not just something from the donation pile. Now I’m not usually super attached to my clothes, but this particular shirt was comfortable, practical, fit well, and I had just bought it (I don’t often buy clothes for myself). As any good Christian would (yes, I am being sarcastic here), I argued with God in my head, telling him all the reasons why I shouldn’t give her that shirt and how there were so many other good shirts in my drawer that I could give her that would still be mine and not from some donation pile. Immediately, I heard in my thoughts Jesus’s loving rebuke:
“What if that was Me? Would you give Me your second best?”
I knew what I had to do. I gathered up the red shirt and a couple other ones that I thought she might like, put them in a bag and headed back outside. As I approached the street corner where the woman was standing, I knew that no matter how the woman might express her gratitude, I knew that God was smiling.
I cheerfully gave the bag to her and asked if I could pray for her. She refused, but she thanked me for the bit of sunshine I had given her that day. “Now I have to go back to the other world,” she lamented, referring to the prostitution or drugs that she was probably involved in. Then, before I could stop her she was heading down the street. My heart ached with her story. I knew I might never see her again and I wondered what traumatic end she might come to walking these streets and facing who knows what at her home - if she even had a home.
Only then did I realize how important it was to have given her those clothes. As she walked away, I could see her going into that “other world” she spoke of. Only this time, my red shirt went with her. But not only that. My prayer is that every time she wears one of those shirts, she will be reminded of this moment. She will remember that there’s another world out there that extends an unconditional invitation. Like a seedling bursting through the ground, this memory will breakthrough the hopelessness that tries to take her down. I knew in my heart that God Himself was there with her and the Spirit that lived in me was watching over her. Though she might not know Him yet, I had planted another seed in her heart and God would be faithful to make it grow.
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