Recently I had the opportunity to travel to a state and city I had never visited before. While this trip was for business purposes, there would be a little free time to experience the local flavor. Before leaving I researched various travel websites for information and reviews on restaurants (as a self-professed foodie you know I researched that first!), area attractions, entertainment and local culture. Armed with this information, I was determined to make the most of the few days I had in this city.
I arrived at my destination mid-afternoon of the day before the conference began. My peers were not scheduled to arrive until later in the evening, so after settling into the hotel room I decided to take a walk to stretch my legs after a long day of travel. I set off eagerly toward the street billed as “the” street that must not be missed, the street that offered block after block of dining, music and shopping.
Have you ever booked a hotel or visited a place that had beautiful pictures in the advertisements, only to arrive and realize that a very talented photographer took those pictures and clever marketing copy was all that made it sound worth visiting? You have to look very hard to realize the picture was indeed the same place, only taken from a flattering angle. Such was my first impression of this city. The “street not to be missed” does offer block after block of dining, music and shopping, but not the kind the average visitor is looking for, nor would feel comfortable in perusing alone.
As I crossed the few streets from my hotel, the first thing I noticed was the slightly run-down appearance of the sidewalks and buildings. Not completely neglected, but it felt as if the owners of an unkempt house had suddenly found out that company was coming and had given things a quick going over to make it appear more presentable.
The second thing I noticed was the homeless; they were everywhere. Not just in corners and alleyways, but on the main walkways and sidewalks. Blankets were laid on the concrete directly in front of businesses where the homeless would stake claim for the day to ask passersby for money. Covered building side entrances were used as shelter for naps or a place to sleep for the night.
It only took a few blocks for Dorothy to realize she was far, far from Kansas and should probably head back to the hotel pronto. I was later informed by hotel personnel that the “entertainment” street was not to be visited alone, but just four blocks in the opposite direction was the “shopping” district with fine dining, art galleries and a very nice view of the river.
I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the shopping district until my last afternoon in the city. Just four blocks from the entertainment street, it was as if I were on a different plant altogether. The streets and buildings were clean and hummed with an energetic, positive atmosphere. Families and visitors strolled down the streets, wandering in and out of small shops and stopping to dine al fresco at one of the many restaurants.
I spent a couple of hours in the shopping district window-shopping and had lunch at a little Italian bistro. As I headed back to the hotel, I stopped at a corner to get my bearings and consulted the handy GPS on my phone to make sure I was headed in the right direction. I must have looked the epitome of tourist, because almost immediately I heard, “Excuse me m’am, do you need directions?” I looked up to see a man in dirty shorts and sandals, slightly ragged t-shirt and very ragged straw hat, definitely out of place and out of character for the shopping district. I politely declined, eager to be on my way and even more eager for him to be on his. As the crosswalk light changed and I moved on, he followed beside me and explained he had lived in this city for many years and knew it like the back of his hand, so if I needed directions he would be glad to provide. After I declined for a second time, he explained that he was just on his way to the food cart on the corner for some water, could I spare some change? I told him I could not, but would be glad to accompany him to the food cart and buy him a full meal, including water. His immediate response before skedaddling in the opposite direction was, “Oh, I don’t want to take up your time, have a good afternoon,” and with a lift of his ragged straw hat he was gone.
I’d like to say that I looked at him with compassion. I’d like to say that I saw it as an opportunity to share the love of Christ with this homeless stranger. I’d like to say my thoughts and actions gave witness to those who may have been watching. What I can say is that as I neared my hotel, the Spirit spoke in my thoughts.
“Did you see that man you just encountered?” He said.
“Yes, Lord, I saw him.”
“No, did you see the man you just encountered? The man that I love.”
“No, wait, Lord, did I miss someone?” I asked Him. “The only man I spoke with was the dirty, ragged, homeless man that only wanted money, for who knows what. It certainly wasn’t food.”
“Yes, Kim, that man. I love him.”
The realization of what the Spirit was gently reminding me of slammed into me so hard I was breathless. Tears sprang into my eyes as I knew that, because of my prideful, sinful attitude, I had missed an opportunity to witness for Him. I assumed I was better than the homeless man and didn’t for one second stop to remember that God sees each of us as precious, unique and completely and totally lovable. Regardless of whether we live in a fine house or a different, dirty street corner each night, whether we have a high-ranking job or are jobless, regardless of what station in life you are or what season you find yourself in, God values you more than you can ever fully know.
How much better it would be for ourselves and those around us if we could have God’s perspective of our lives. We would not focus on negative self-images or cram our physical bodies with harmful things such as unhealthy foods, drugs, alcohol or other kinds of unhealthy items. We would not fill our minds and spirits with music, books, movies and television shows that have content that is not God-honoring. We would nourish our bodies both physically and spiritually because we know that we are His treasures.
God loves you and is the only One who will accept you exactly as you are. If you look at yourself through His perspective, through the lens of His love and acceptance rather than the world’s perspective of harshness and judgment, it is only then that you can become strong and overcome harmful habits and patterns.
Make it a habit this week to nurture yourself daily with a healthy physical and spiritual lifestyle. You are valuable in His eyes; you are His masterpiece and treasure!
John 13:34 – 35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Isaiah 45:12: It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.
Prayer: Father God, I thank You for the love You have for me and that I am uniquely made and treasured by You. Help me to see myself from Your perspective and, from Your view, allow it to transform the way I live. Help every decision I make that affects my lifestyle, both physically and spiritually, to be based on Your perspective, knowing that You cherish me, You value me and You made me out of Your perfect love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.