Her cardboard sign read something like: How would you feel if you were hungry and had a baby boy?
She may have been all of 18 years old.
My red-headed niece, all of eight years old, leaned forward in the back seat, exclaiming: "Oh, no! We have to help her!"
It all happened so quickly. Approaching the corner the woman stood on while driving my red Ford Escape, I glanced down at the cooler next to me. Two ripe bananas stared back. In a flash, I handed them to my niece, opened her back window, and she held them out to the woman as we paused before turning.
The woman looked so grateful, thanking us. "God bless you!" I cried, as we turned on to a busy road, reeling from the quick interaction.
"How do you feel?" I nodded to the back seat.
"I feel GREAT!" she said. "But why don't people help her? Why are people so selfish? What will happen to her baby boy?"
I wasn't sure what to say to my niece, so I asked her to pray. I asked her to pray that God would take care of the mom and her little boy, that he would give them everything they need.
So, right then and there, she had it out with God, her voice strong, her heart sure, her childlike faith crying out:
Dear God! Help them not to die. I know this is something I don't usually ask, but there's a baby boy. Could you call some Christians and ask them to help?
I don't remember how the prayer ended, but the burden on my niece's heart hadn't lifted. A few blocks away, over a sandwich, she began to tell me that she wanted to build the woman a house. We talked about ways to help the woman, many ways: like giving her a job so she could earn a living, providing help for her to get into her own home, things like that. We talked about why people are reluctant to give away money just because someone is asking for it, and how we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in creative, sustainable and helpful ways.
And then my niece leaned in and said: "Aunt Suzie, when I grow up, I'm going to change the world."
"Yes, you are!" I said. "But it will start with the small things. It will start with how you treat people around you, how you love them. There are opportunities to bless everywhere. We just have to see them."
The words were as much for my ears as for hers. I found echoes of them in my Bible-reading this morning: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom" (James 3:13 NIV).
I want to do some great things for you, Lord! my heart cries. And he softly whispers back, I don't need you to do those great things. I need you to do a multitude of seemingly-small things with great love, with gratitude, in sincerity and peace, without partiality (James 3:17-18). These are my Kingdom ways. Don't miss them.
So I take up my cross—some staggering circumstances, some dashed dreams, some lonely moments. Each of us must, for the companionship of Christ is usually found in the wilderness. Yet I also know that those Kingdom-acts Jesus calls me to are never heavy or ill-fitting. The bread and jelly I bought yesterday at the grocery store for someone in need. The furniture we have the pleasure of giving away today, bringing joy to someone else's home while simplifying our own. A response of kindness when I have been wronged. In these small acts, there is life flowing from the Life-giver, our Savior and friend. And in some mysterious way, this really does change the world, just as my niece hoped it would.
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