A young woman, weak and very ill, sat on the steps of the Kenyan hospital. Another young woman, an American hospice director, sat down beside her. “What can I do for you?” she asked. “French fries,” the woman said, “I’d like some French fries.”
The young hospice director is a dear friend of mine. Juli is one of the wisest and most compassionate young women I know. I have visited The Living Room, the hospice she founded, which is nestled in rolling hills of Kenya, dotted by tiny mud homes, cattle and too much poverty. Juli and her staff work to provide freedom from pain, shame and isolation for men, women and children who are gravely ill.
Juli told me the story of finding this young woman on the stairs of that hospital, dying of aids. There was so little she could do. When she asked, “What can I do for you,” she didn’t expect the answer she got.
If you’re like me you’re thinking, “French fries?” She needs medicine or water or a bed. But Juli helped the frail woman into the hospital cafeteria…where she ordered French fries.
Was it a magical moment? Did she suddenly begin to feel better? Sadly, no. The young woman died soon after this encounter. The point? Those were sacred fries, consecrated and holy. You see, the fries were not special but the gift of time, attention and love was. In that young woman’s final hours, she was seen…she was known…she was touched by the love of another and by the love of God. Even deep fried potato strips become sacred when given with love and compassion.
In my busyness and distraction I wonder how many people I blow past without even noticing. And if I do notice, how often do I stop, see, ask and act. I’m not suggesting that every person we see is an assignment for us to act, but are we even aware, are we even looking with eyes that care?
We are each a part of this beautiful mess called humanity. We can see people as miserable, broken or worthless…or we see them as living souls who are doing the best they can. Yes, there are evil people but most of us are just beautiful messes making our way through life. I am deeply and sadly aware of how many opportunities I have passed up where I could have offered a sacred gift to a friend or stranger: a smile, a touch, a listening ear…a small plate of fries.
Sacred things are not sacred because they are expensive or dynamic endeavors. Acts of kindness or tangible gifts offered are sacred because they are offered without obligation or recognition, and given in the name of love, grace and Jesus. It matters. It always matters.
I have been touched by the sacred.
Several years ago a friend of mine gave me a gift certificate for a facial. I’d never had one before! She met me at the salon and told “her” esthetician exactly what I needed. She paid for it beforehand…including a tip. I felt so very cared for (and, to be honest, a bit anxious). After a truly amazing experience getting my very first facial, the esthetician, a 50ish woman with an eastern European accent, asked if she could do my eyebrows for me. I told her she didn’t have to. She said she would like to do it for me. As she plucked and shaped and trimmed (apparently I had a caterpillar growing up there), I had tears rolling into my ears. She kept stopping and asking if she was hurting me. “No, I’m fine.” But the tears wouldn’t stop. She asked again, concerned that she was truly hurting me. I finally choked out that I was overwhelmed by her kindness. She didn’t have to do this for me. I had done nothing to deserve it and she wasn’t getting paid for it. It was one human being showing kindness to another – a frazzled young woman who was struggling in her marriage and raising two small children. This woman, whose name I cannot remember, blessed me so thoroughly so long ago, that today, some 30 years later, I can still remember the feeling of her hands on my face, the kindness of her smile, the softness of her accent, and the sacredness of the gift she gave me.
There is a story Jesus tells in the gospel of Luke about a man who was beat up, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Two religious types came by and sidestepped the man lying there. A third man, not a religious leader, took care of the man, got him to an inn and covered all of his expenses. The care the beaten man received was sacred. It was holy as it was done in love. (Luke 10: 25-37)
A couple of years ago my mom, in her late 80’s, was in the grocery store. She saw “a tiny older woman” trying to reach something on a higher shelf. Mom walked over to her and asked, “May I help you with that?” The woman was so grateful she had tears in her eyes. It was neither difficult nor expensive but it was a holy moment.
Giving a sacred gift is really so very easy. Keep your eyes and heart open, choose to offer your gift and serve another person with time, attention, service or resources. Think about it! You can do something holy today. How cool is that.
Matthew 10:40-42 “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”