God's grace shows itself to me in many ways. Some are glorious and some are not. By the grace of God, for instance, I have enough to eat, a good place to live, money for my diabetes medications and meaningful work that provides many emotional, material and spiritual blessings. But just 0utside my office are children who go to sleep hungry, who wake up with nobody to say "good morning," and with only bleak prospects for having their basic needs met. This noon I drove to McDonalds for a late lunch and was heading back to the office to eat. At the stoplight a little boy approached my car, tapped on my window and held out a deformed hand to ask for money. He motioned to his stomach to indicate that he was hungry. In his eyes was a hunger that went beyond his need for something to eat to indicate a hopelessness at life in general. But he doesn't have the luxury of looking at his life reflectively. He was hungry, and was looking at the food that I had purchased at the drive through that was on the seat next to me, food that I could easily do without. I gave him a handful of fries and drove off. On other occasions I might have just shook my head and not given him anything. Nutritionists might say that he was better off with nothing than a greasy fry, I don't know. But as I drove away my mind came up with many questions that I have considered often in my 38 years in Cebu, questions that don't really have answers but weigh heavily on my heart on occasions such as this.
- Why does this little guy have nothing and I have everything? Is there a single thing about how I have lived my life that qualifies me for advantage? Has this little guy done anything wrong to deserve a withered arm and a hungry tummy?
- Why didn't I just give him my whole lunch instead of a few paltry fries? By suppertime I would be dining on a good meal and he would be hungry again. Likely, I just wanted him to go away from my car.
- What does he think about me and what I represent?
- If he ever does look to the future, does he have a shred of hope that things will get better for him? With little or no positive family or other adult influence, with no access to health care or decent education, and with daily exposure to the many dangers from living on the street, is there any chance whatsoever that he will? What will be different for him, his eventual children and theirs?
- What is life like without hope? Can I even begin to understand that?
The disparities of life in a country like the Philippines are hard to grasp. Living here provides graphic proof that God's grace has nothing to do with merit. Not a thing. That kid deserves a break much more than I ever do or will. All I can do, perhaps, is to think about why God called me to live much of my life here and not in the country of my birth. Some people think that, in choosing to live here, I forsook the luxuries of life for the difficulties of the third world. But I live in the lap of luxury here, too. I just have to pay an emotional price for doing so as I come face to face with people who struggle just to stay alive.
I've been dealing with these same questions for 38 years! At CSC we have been able to help lots of little guys like the one I saw today. We have taken in the hungry, the lame, the disfigured, the homeless. We have dispensed food, medicine, knowledge, even hope. But we aren't helping this little guy at all. Except for a fistfull of fries. Of course we can't help everyone, I know that. But that knowledge doesn't remove his image from my mind or, on the other hand, make his life one ounce better.
I pray for wisdom, to accept the things that I cannot change, to be an agent of positive change where I can, and to know the difference, even though knowing that difference does not provide emotional relief from the confrontations with hopelessness that are a part of life in a place like this. I guess the best way to accomplish the dictates of the above-cited Serenity Prayer is to focus on the things that I can change, not on what I cannot. On the tree, not the forest. But I'm very sure that there are things that I can change if I open my mind to them, to see people not as an inconvenience but an opportunity. Maybe I can use some of the incomprehensible advantages that have been bestowed on me to offer some measure of relief and, maybe, even hope to people like the little boy who I cannot get out of my head.