The Girl and the Green Jacket

Last week, I was heading to work on one of those cozy stay at home and watch a movie kind of days; gray, cold and rainy. I realized that my tank was thirsty, so I detoured to the gas station and turning on the main road, I saw a young woman standing at a bus stop with a stroller. She had her hand blocking the droplets from her hair and a thin blanket covering the stroller so the baby inside would be shielded from the cold and the wet. I did a double take up and down the street to see if the bus was on its way and then something inside told me to give her my jacket.

See, I’ve had a green Army jacket in my trunk for over a year now. It was my dad’s jacket and one of the few things that I actually have of his. He wore it when he lived out on the streets and probably got it at Salvation Army or Goodwill because, well, he wasn’t in the Army. I was never all that attached to it because it reminded me of some of the worst years of his life. In fact, when I got the jacket along with other riff raffs of clothing, papers and photos, this green jacket had an empty pill bottle in the pocket. Just another painful reminder of how he became homeless.

I had high hopes for that green jacket. I kept it in my trunk because I was sure I would find just the right homeless man who was cold and miserable and I could graciously bestow it upon him. I would sometimes drive to where I knew some stragglers would hang out just to see if there was some soul shivering on a bench or under a bridge so that I could give them that jacket, a smile and maybe some hope.

But, that day I felt like I was supposed to give this manly Army jacket to a random skinny young woman waiting for a bus.

After filling my car up with gas, I waited for a moment or three just to make sure that I still felt the tug to hand over the green jacket. I did. So, I made a U-turn towards the woman in the rain and parked my car next to a shady trailer home, grabbed the green jacket from my trunk and jogged over to her. Out of breath, I called her “Ma’am” and with words caught in my throat, I held out the crumpled, green jacket. She looked at me wide-eyed and brow furrowed and feeling abruptly stupid, I blurted out that I wanted her to have the jacket so she could keep warm in the rain.

She stared at me while the rain dropped in slow motion. Drawn out seconds later, she took the jacket from my clutched grip and mumbled a ‘thanks.’

I wanted to say something profound. I wanted to tell her that Jesus loves her a whole bunch and I wanted to invite her over for dinner and maybe for Christmas, but I thought that would be even more strange than handing over the jacket. I fumbled out something about me feeling like God wanted her to have the jacket and that I hoped she had a good day. I jogged back to my car with a head rush and lumpy throat. It was exciting to do something spontaneously nice for a stranger and I smiled as I made my U-turn and headed towards work. But then I had two thoughts that really surprised me.

I wondered why she hadn’t seemed more grateful for my grand gesture. After all, I made a U-turn and everything. I played out the scenario in my head and in my version, her bottom lip quivered and eyes watered as she scooped the jacket up like a life vest and said something about how I saved her life and she’d change her baby’s name to mine.

Then like a sucker punch, I realized that I had just given away one of the few things that I owned of my dads. And it wasn’t even to some homeless guy who I thought should have it. It was a rail thin twenty-something girl with a baby who didn’t even act like she appreciated it. I wondered if she would keep it. I wondered if she would even wear it. I wondered if she thought I was a lunatic.

The more I thought (read: obsessed) about that jacket, the more I realized that it wasn’t for me to be in control of what the girl did with the jacket or what she thought about me. I have no idea what was going through her mind moments before I arrived. She could have been thinking no one cared about her, that she was alone or maybe that she was just sick and tired of standing in the rain, physically and metaphorically speaking.

Whatever it was…it wasn’t about me.

It was, however, about another human being seeing a need of another human being, feeling compelled to help meet that need and taking action on it.

I wondered about how many other times I withheld a gift, a word of encouragement, a helping hand or a lending ear because I was so focused on seeking out people that I deemed ‘needy’ instead of observing the common need. We’re all needy people. We all go through times when we feel alone, broken, helpless or, worse yet, hopeless. Whether we’re under a bridge, on a corner or seemingly content in our homes.

See, if I wrote the Bible, I would’ve added a clause somewhere in the verse “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbors {except the ones you don’t think really deserve it or are totally not going to say ‘thank you’ or don’t act like they need help} as yourself.”  Yeah…we’re all better off that I had no hand in writing the Scriptures.

I was reminded of this truth: When the acts of kindness are no longer attached to our self worth, it makes it much easier to give them away freely, with no strings attached.

My dad’s green jacket is now on an exciting journey and so am I.

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7 Comments

  1. Makes me think of how many times I've done something nice and didn't get the "proper response." Then I think, would I go back and do it again. The answer should be "yes" always.

    But I'm afraid it isn't.

  2. You have really captured how I feel when I do something like buy a homeless person a burger and coke…they seem disgusted or really don't respond how I had imagined…your writing is so special and inspiring…keep up the good work…

  3. intresting…. we have alot of homeless in my town we have a "tent city" downtown,did you ever go to the williams park outreaches?

  4. Hi Anonymous!

    Are you talking about the Williams Park in St. Pete, FL? If you are…then yes, I have heard of the "tent city" and have in years past gone to various outreaches out there.

    If you have more information on current projects for the homeless in your area, I'd like to learn more. Please email me at EmandaSays@gmail.com.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. I am the church staff member who most often answers requests for help from our food pantry. Many of those coming for help appear to be folks who are where they are mostly because of the poor choices and lousy decisions they have made. More often than I care to admit, I look at them critically and wonder something like, "If you concentrated more on finding a job and less on the beer and cigarettes I smell on you, you wouldn't need to be here asking for help." Then, it hits me; they are exactly who Jesus was talking about when He said "…the least of these…" Ouch.

  6. Hi Hal,

    It's funny…it's so easy for my knee-jerk to be to think that people who ask for money won't use it in the way that I think they should use it…or that they're going to waste it. It's like I want them to prove their need to me and then I'll see if they are worthy.

    But, how much of what God has given to me is wasted on things that I don't need? Or used in a way that it wasn't intended for in the first place?

    Grace is a big pill to swallow sometimes.

    Thanks for reading!

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