Christmas with the Homeless
by Mindy Lenahan
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35
The mixture of body odor and cigarettes filled my nostrils as I bent low to hug the homeless woman. Her cold hands grabbed mine, but her smile warmed my heart
"Merry Christmas! Jesus loves you!” said my 8-year-old behind me. I turned, watching her stoop to give an unkempt gentleman a biscuit and banana. The scene grew blurry as tears filled my eyes. We began feeding the homeless on Christmas morning as a way to counteract selfishness in our children. However, I realized in that moment, it could be making the largest impact on me.
Our plans were simple. We spent hours on Christmas Eve making biscuits and muffins. Our family woke up early on Christmas Day to meet with a neighboring family who had brewed 60 cups of coffee. My husband helped load up the supplies while I readied our three children for the cold. Traffic was sparse, and the city was deserted.
We parked in an empty lot in downtown Jacksonville and filled our red wagon with food and coffee. We walked a block before we found people curled up on staircases or sitting on curbs. Some were traveling, carrying all they owned on their backs.
Nervously, I smiled and offered a large gentleman a cup of coffee. His toothless smile told of his gratefulness. My kids caught on without much coaching. They talked with ease and passed out food until it was gone. Caring for the needy seemed to come naturally to their young hearts.
Two hours later, we pulled an empty red wagon down a one-way street. A beautiful church bell broke the silence over the city. Mothers held little hands tightly and hurried their children past the homeless and into the security of the brick church walls. Two men in suits chatted near a man in rags; both parties pretended to be oblivious of the other. The scene remained in my mind long after we passed. How often have I done the same?
My children exceeded all expectations in their response to giving instead of receiving on Christmas morning. Their eyes easily met each person right where they were and held no fear or judgment. They were genuinely thrilled to help, and spent that afternoon planning what to take next time. Perhaps it was my own selfish heart in need of the most transformation.
Mindy and her husband, Shawn, have three children: Summer, Connor and Chloe. She currently leads the women’s discipleship ministry at her church in Jacksonville, Florida.