The Shopping Cart
I usually arrive at the church fairly early and begin my day by taking a tour around the outside of the facility. I pick up trash, assess the landscaping needs and just generally check for anything that needs attention.
Most of the time there isn’t anything very interesting, for which I am grateful. But periodically I find grim reminders that there is a lot of brokenness in our community: a pile of trash where someone stopped to eat and have a smoke, empty alcohol bottles scattered along the sidewalk or drug paraphernalia where someone got their fix. Sometimes I even find a person wrapped up in a blanket sleeping in some out of the way nook, or even in front of the doors. But I usually just find what they’ve left behind.
Such discoveries always produce a torrid mixture of thoughts and feelings. Since even cigarette butts rankle my love of tidiness and beauty, I confess to unspoken words of resentment as I pick up the messes. Occasionally it is sheer revulsion when the discovery is something rotten or foul. I will spare you the descriptions, but they make me grateful for a dumpster.
But these initial reactions soon give way to sorrow. Instead of a healthy home-cooked meal, they had Twinkies and a half a can of Spam. Instead of freshly laundered clothes, they wear whatever they can find. Instead of driving to a home where they are welcome and loved, many walk around with no place to go and no family eager to see them. The garbage left behind is drenched with heartache.
This reality hit me as I dragged a shopping cart our of our shrubs filled with an assortment of what looked like junk. I towed it to the dumpster and began tossing things in. A dirty blanket, an assortment of bottles, cans and wrappers, a broken pair of sunglasses, pieces of a pool noodle…on and on it went. There clearly seemed to be nothing anyone would ever want to have back.
Then I found the picture. At the bottom of the cart was a wooden picture frame with a family portrait. The beautiful faces of a dad, mom and three precious kids stared back at me. I thought at first it might be the demo picture that came with the frame, but it wasn’t. This was someone’s family. Maybe the cart pusher grew up in that family, or perhaps this is the family he lost when the drugs took him over. Regardless the story, the portrait startled me and broke my heart.
I realize it is extremely unlikely anyone will come back for it, but I could not throw the picture away. For now, it is sitting on my desk as a reminder to have much greater concern for the broken people all around us than for the things they leave behind.