Sharon Harris has eight inspirational quotes on her Facebook wall and then this: “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you’re a mile away, and you have their shoes.”  She is an editor by profession and a choral director by passion.

A few months ago I saw the sign advertising one of my favorite sandwiches on special—$2.69, just two seconds before I saw the parking ticket on my windshield—$50.

“Dang it!” Money was already tight, and there went the prospect of the sandwich. I would have to figure out how to fit another $50 into my budget, and so I really couldn’t justify three bucks more when I had snacks in my bag. I put the ticket in my purse and went on with a typically busy day.

Heading home that evening, I pulled up behind a couple of cars at a stoplight and saw a ragged-looking man amble across the street. He seemed kind of disoriented with loose strides and widely swinging arms, his shirt partially untucked from the back of his dirty pants. He stopped in the middle of the intersection, stooped to pick up a discarded cigarette butt, and then continued. Even after the green light I watched him and felt sorry for the attractive young student he approached a few steps later.

The rest of my drive was uneventful, and by the time I exited the freeway, I had that settled, end-of-the-day tiredness and was really enjoying my book on CD. I slowed up to the stoplight, and just two seconds before it changed, I noticed another man out of the corner of my eye slumped and sad on the shoulder of the road. Graying beard and empty eyes. He had a sign with “HUNGRY” scrawled on it along with something else (I didn’t bother to read it), but he wasn’t holding it up. It just dangled from his hand.

The sight of him pulled me up sharp—I don’t know why—and I did a double take through my side view mirror. Maybe it was the lesson on charity I’d read in the manual that morning; maybe it was my C.S. Lewis audiobook; maybe it was something else, but suddenly I really, really wanted to do something for that man! Someone else had pulled up behind me though, and I didn’t have time or a place to stop. Rounding the corner a little regretfully, I craned to see him again. There he was, looking bored and forlorn in his baggy sweatshirt.

Just before reaching the next light, I found myself pulling a u-turn and driving back to him. I opened my purse, grabbed two dollars, cracked the window, and waved them as I honked my horn. It took a few tries to get his attention. Finally he saw me and ran toward my car in an awkward little shuffle. For some reason my throat tightened at this, and I grabbed another dollar out of my purse.

He shot me an enthusiastic, half-toothed grin, “Thank you!”

“No problem. God bless you.” And I meant it.

“God bless you too!”

I looked down to close my purse at the same time he looked down at the bills and went back to his few belongings. Then I glanced up once more, and he turned, grinning at me again and excitedly slurring his words, “I’m gonna go get me some dinner!” I waved and drove away.

He was smiling, and I was starting to cry. He was going to eat dinner. Three bucks. I drove past other lonely figures, one sitting on a planter, another leaning against a chain link fence. And unexpectedly my mind was brimming and spilling over with images of glistening roasted turkey skin, chips and dip for a girls’ movie night, a candlelit table on a date, baking beautiful pies with my sister, and birthday celebrations at Yelp-starred restaurants. It was as if all the food and all the meals throughout my life came tumbling together in one giant awareness of family dinners and church kitchens and potlucks and the warmth of all those people I knew and loved who had plenty to eat…

I turned left and saw more figures with cardboard signs. The stark contrast shook me with worry, and suddenly I was blurting outright, “They’re your children too! Who’s going to take care of their dinners?!”

God was quiet and just looked at me.