It is October, and I am cold in my house. I find myself wishing that things won’t get any chillier and that the winter will be mild. And I am thinking this for more than just my sake. Some recent encounters while out doing errands are now pervading my thoughts.
Many of us are thinking ahead to the winter months. There are less than two months left until it begins, and for some of us, the winter weather hasn’t paid attention to the calendar, so our thinking got started early. Some of us are wishing for a warm winter because we don’t like the snow or the cold. We don’t like to drive on icy roads, shovel the porch, or snow blow the driveway, especially if we are someone like my husband who comes from the south and now lives in the north.
There are also less than two months until Christmas (in case you needed a reminder). Winter and Christmas merchandise has been on store shelves for months. There are already Christmas sales. The seasonal aisles are fully stocked, and extra shelf space from neighboring aisles has been borrowed in order to cram in more items. Holiday travel plans are being discussed. Christmas cards are being purchased. Lists of who to buy gifts for are being composed. Charities are making their needs known for their holiday events—they need donations early in order to be prepared for their upcoming Christmas programs. And we are thinking of our own wish lists in case someone asks us what we want for Christmas.
But, some other people have a very different type of wish list. They are not wishing for gifts to go in their Christmas stockings and under the tree—although that would be nice—they are wishing for a warm winter because they will be spending their season on the streets.
Take a moment to think about your home. Your safe place. Your haven. Surrounded by your things, decorated by things that express your style. A warm bed. A comfy couch. A fuzzy blanket. Your favorite music on the radio. Your fully stocked refrigerator waiting to be opened, containing the flavored creamer for your steaming mug of coffee you will sip as you look out the window at the autumn scenery. Now, imagine it’s all gone. How would you feel? Some people don’t have to imagine this scenario; this is their reality. How they got to this point could be an assortment of reasons, but that doesn’t change the facts. The cause doesn’t matter now, as they have new concerns. How will they obtain their next meal? Where will they sleep tonight? And what will they do for the winter?
Recently, two of the homeless people I stopped to assist voiced their concern about the upcoming winter. One asked me to pray for a warm winter, and the other asked me to pray he’d get a meal that night and then informed me that he’d probably be heading south to another city where it’s warmer. This is their reality. I stepped into that reality momentarily and offered food, prayer, and the knowledge that they were loved by God. It was a blessing and a privilege to be there with them.
My reality is that I started using my furnace last week because I was cold—cold in my house, cold while wearing a sweatshirt and socks and wrapped in a blanket. What would I do if I was outdoors? What would I do if I was outdoors without that sweatshirt, warm socks, and a warm blanket? I think back to several ago when I sat on a curb with a homeless man in 32-degree weather. He had no hat, no gloves, no blanket, and he was hungry. Sitting there for just a few minutes was bone chilling. I could feel the cold seeping through my clothing and the numbness coming on. I gave the man a warm sandwich I had purchased and gave him some warm mittens I had in my car. We chatted for a few minutes while he ate, sharing a bit about ourselves. I then shared Christ with him, and he accepted the good news of salvation. I prayed for him, and then surprisingly, he prayed for me. It still warms my heart all these years later.
Another time, I stopped to help a homeless man who was asking a cashier for a trash bag to carry his things in. The cashier could not give him one, but I happened to have one in my car and offered it to the man. While talking with him and his friend, I learned they had little with which to keep warm for the night in the 30-degree temperatures. The calendar said it was spring, but the weather felt like it was winter. I had a few things I kept in my car for winter driving emergencies and offered those things. They hesitated as they did not want to leave me without my emergency items. And I confess, I was concerned about giving those things up, but I was headed home for the night and knew I could obtain replacement items; and besides, being outside in 30-degree weather all night long is an emergency. A bath towel became a scarf for one man. My snow pants covered three fourths of the other man’s legs. A picnic quilt would be shared between the two of them. Some gloves were a bit small and tight but were better than nothing. A hat my son no longer needed was shared. The men were very grateful for everything I offered to keep them warm for the night. I shared that God loves them and then prayed with them. I hope their hearts were warmed as much as mine.
I could not fix all the problems these men had, but I could point them to the One who could, and I could be sure to meet some of their immediate needs. They were warmed and filled, seen and loved. And in addition to the physical gifts I gave, I offered spiritual gifts as well. I gave them hope, prayer, and the ultimate gift: the love of Christ. The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens and we’ll fulfill the law of Christ which is love.1
I do not share these stories to call attention to myself but to point out that each of us is capable of doing something to help fulfill the warm winter wishes of those on the streets. We can do practical things such as carrying items in our vehicles so that we are prepared at all times to assist those in need. Perhaps we can spare a few dollars in our budgets so we can run into the store and grab some food and a hat and gloves for those in need or maybe provide a bus pass to get them to the homeless shelter. If we do not have the means to share items, we can be prepared with information to direct these ones to places which can assist them. And being kind, not ignoring them, and not walking past in judgement are helpful things to do also. We may not be able to meet their needs, but acknowledging their existence and their importance to us and God will warm their hearts. Every bit helps, and every gesture matters.
Jesus cares about all the details of our lives, large and small. And if He is our example, then we, too, should care about the details of the lives of others, both large and small. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and those neighbors do not have to have a home to qualify. In the sight of God, everyone is our neighbor. God showed us kindness by sending His son Jesus to meet our greatest need.2 And now, we have an opportunity to share the blessing of Christ with others, as well as share our time and material blessings. Let’s take the focus off ourselves and place it onto others. Our new view will be truly eye-opening. We have been blessed so that we can bless others. Even if we do not have much to give, there are others who have less than we do. Let’s open our hearts this season so that the wish for a warm winter can be fulfilled.
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?3
1 See Galatians 6:2.
2 See John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:4–10.
3 James 2:15–16 taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 30, 2022.