The Heart of a 5-Year-Old

At the beginning of winter break, my 5-year-old son took a momentary break from his Christmas-induced, self-centered, present-obsessed state and asked me, “Mom, can we set up a stand to give homeless people things they need like food, clothes, a job, money, and other stuff?”

My mommy-heart swelled as I replied, “That’s a great idea, Buddy!  But instead of making our own stand, I’ll call Grandpa and see when his church is making dinner for the homeless again.  Maybe we can go help, too.”

And that is how Buddy Boy and I ended up helping serve dinner to over 100 homeless people the day after Christmas.  I glanced in my rear-view mirror on our way and saw my 5-year-old boy beaming with a smile that stretched from ear to ear.  “I can’t wait to help the homeless people!” he told me in an excited voice.

We pulled into the parking lot under the interstate downtown where different groups serve dinner four nights a week at a location called The Lord’s Table.  There were benches and tables set up in a fenced off area of the parking lot. The gates were wide open, and there were several people inside the area setting up the serving tables while the line of people who came for dinner started getting longer and longer.

“How do we know who are the homeless people and who are the workers?” Buddy Boy asked as we got out of the car.

Caught off guard, I had to think for a moment about how to answer his innocent question. “Well, the homeless people are the people who come through the line to get dinner.”

The food was set up and ready to serve: hot rice, beef and vegetable stew, fruit salad, buttered bread, and cookies.  Buddy Boy and I were given the job of handing out sandwiches and oranges for people to take with them for later.  As each person came through the line, Buddy Boy picked up a sandwich, looked him or her in the eye, and asked, “Would you like a sandwich?”  The best part, though, was watching everyone’s response to his simple question.  Without fail, each person perked up upon seeing and hearing Buddy Boy and his sandwiches.  Most people gave him a big smile and a hearty “thank you.”  He was like a warm light in the cold and rainy night.

After the last meal was served and the area was cleaned, Buddy Boy and I got in our car to head home.  A few of the last people who came for dinner were still in the parking lot, sitting on the curb eating or talking in small groups.  As we pulled out of the lot, I saw Buddy Boy watching them out his window.

“I wish I could give them a job,” he said, his voice twinged with sadness.

“Me, too,” I murmured.  “Maybe someday you’ll have a way to do that.  But for tonight, at least we know that everyone who came had a hot, healthy meal and they have a sandwich they can eat for breakfast in the morning.”

He thought about that for a minute before asking, “Mommy, can we come back with Grandpa every time?”

My initial thought, as I looked at the clock that read 8:50, was no, it’s too late for a school night.  But as I thought about the evening, about Buddy Boy’s genuine desire to help others and his ability to give people going through tough times a reason to smile, I thought to myself maybe one late night a month isn’t that big of a deal.  As I thought about how I hadn’t once heard a selfish word come out of his mouth the entire evening, I thought to myself maybe one late night a month isn’t that big of a deal.  And as I thought about the person I want my son to grow into, I thought to myself one late night a month isn’t that big a deal.

“We’ll come again, definitely,” I finally answered.


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