Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
Quaint describes the city of Victoria well. It is the capitol of British Columbia and distinctly resembles what you might imagine for an old British town. Shops run up and down the two main streets that parallel a bay. The hundred year old parliament building and neighboring Empress Hotel highlight the bay view. Tourists float in from Seattle for a long weekend. Boats departing and returning from whale watching tours frequent the bay, along with propeller planes that take off and land right there on the water. It’s also “home” to one of the largest homeless contingent I’ve seen in a long time.
We’d spent the first of our three day Victorian excursion touring world-renowned Butchart Gardens, and our patience for each other dwindled. We trudged through downtown searching for moderately priced dining, knowing the chances of marital conflict increased with our appetite. The options fluctuated between expensive and fast food. As we marched up the street, I looked up to see a man pushing a shopping cart towards us. I tried to ignore him, but the sound of the cart wheeled over the cobblestone sidewalk clattered. His blue coat carried a brownish tint and it frayed around the edges. I avoided eye contact, especially as he turned to speak. Shannon attended to his question, an anticipated request for food. His gaze changed my heart and exposed my selfishness. We set off to find his choice of food, a convenient store located a couple blocks away.
His name was Andrew. As we passed a certain restaurant, he told how the owner chases him away whenever he stands near the window. Andrew told us about his days in Victoria, having lived there since the age of thirteen. Now thirty-six, he envisioned never leaving. He pushed his life’s savings as the cart rattled along with us. At the convenient store he set the grocery cart on the side of the building, essentially leaving his possessions free for the taking. I told him to get whatever he wanted. Meanwhile, I could sense the panic in the store employee’s eyes. He watched Andrew ‘s every move like a prison guard during recess. Andrew piled dinner onto the counter: a microwavable sandwich, a fruit juice, some chips, and a Skor candy bar. “They’re my favorite,” he said. After I paid, we parted ways, but not without shaking hands. Andrew’s gentle and kind spirit did not match the calloused and peeling hand.
As we walked away, I began to ponder what I had just experienced. My heart was grateful, as if having just received a gift. What of the Lord occurred in those moments, I wondered. Then I realized the gift I’d been given. In the spiritual realm, my desperation for spiritual food looks much like Andrew’s for physical bread. It struck me that he had no shame about asking for food. I’m sure that was not always the case. The years of living on the streets had stripped him of pride. I wanted to learn how to live like that, to know my need so well and to ask freely.
In really paying attention to my heart’s hunger, I find myself in a similar place. My only hope each and every day is to ask, “Lord, can I have some food today?” So much goes into that question. Shame. Fear. Patience. Doubt. Andrew could have lowered his head as he passed us, committed to finding a way on his own. I do that most days. To rely upon God takes surrender, and laying down my arms is not something I do easily. It also takes trust, trust that the Lord desires to feed my soul. I don’t believe that easily either. But Truth tells me he that the Lord desires to offer a banquet, with a seat with my name on it.
Walking away from Andrew that evening, I wondered what his reaction might have been had I thought to invite him to dinner with us. I envisioned him walking into the restaurant with a bay view, feeling the anxiety of having been shooed away from such places before. He probably would have shamed himself for not belonging. How big might his eyes have gotten as he looked down the menu? His heart would begin to beat faster and faster as the waitress continually filled up his glass. His mouth would water as she brought out the tray of plates, his halibut hot just off the grill. Might this be only a sliver of the Lord’s heart for us?
Lord, can I have some food today?