Last night, a family friend, my almost-twelve year old daughter, and I were sitting around the table after dinner, talking. My friend and I had purchased lottery tickets a few days before, and we’d yet to see if we’d won anything. We started day dreaming about what we’d do with our winnings.
It’s such a fun exercise. I know what I’d do. First, I’d donate a large amount to two nonprofits that I learned about when I met their founders. The first one is called Rescue Pink, an organization that works throughout India to help families keep and raise their baby girls. The second is Seek The Peace, which is an organization that serves refugees.
Then, I’d donate to my friend’s theater company so she could produce her own play and other social justice oriented works. I’d restart the nonprofit I started a few years ago (long story) called She’s ELEVATED, which was going to elevate women to their higher purpose by helping them refine their ideas to make the world a better place, then train and equip them to start their own nonprofits.
This would be so much fun — I get giddy thinking about it.
For a long time my daughter has talked about opening up a theme restaurant. I’m not going to give away her idea here because honestly, it’s unique and brilliant and I could actually see her making a go of it. But we started talking about that idea, which led to a discussion of soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
A few years ago, I was working as the Community Involvement Coordinator for my church. One of the women — a true matriarch in our congregation, known for feeding the hungry — shared with me that she had a dream to open a restaurant for the hungry and homeless which would feed them hot meals with dignity and quality service. She would have waitstaff and checkered table cloths, cloth napkins and real silverware. I always loved this idea, and while I know she’s not the first to think of this, I wished I could have helped her do it.
I told my daughter about this idea, and she ran with it. Somewhere in the conversation, she said, “Instead of a no loitering sign outside, we could put up a ‘You’re Welcome’ here sign. Then we could put instruments all around the outside, so people who know how to play but don’t have an instrument can come and play to earn money. And we could put art stuff all around so people who know how to paint and stuff can make art and sell it.”
I loved this idea more than I can even tell you.
I started dreaming about this. I actually know the perfect place — a shelter and soup kitchen in Newark with a large parking lot on the side. I imagined that parking lot filled with people — some homeless, some not. I pictured a piano and guitars and drums in that parking lot, and I could almost hear the music that would surprise us with its beauty. I could see the canvases hanging on the fence, drawn on by whomever came by, some merely doodles, others incredible works of art. I could see the jars set out in front of each, allowing people to make some cash or, in some cases, to allow people to donate to the shelter.
The more I imagined this beautiful thing, the more I was struck by my daughter’s beautiful, open heart. I was awed by how her first instinct was to remove the sign that told people they were unwelcome, to break down the barrier that kept people out.
Then, instinctively, she created that space to be not just open and welcoming, but to preserve and maintain those people’s dignity. She imagined a simple way to serve them that helped them become independent, while at the same time recognizing their own innate abilities. She already knew that just because our imaginary guests would be homeless, that didn’t mean they weren’t talented, skilled, and filled with unique gifts and beauty all their own.
The hope in that imagination is what moves me.
It made me remember Jesus’s words about how we must be like little children. Kids have an instinct of open generosity and wisdom that we would be wise to model. The inherent kindness, the belief in the good of people — it was beautiful.
And I realized that kindness is one of the things that seems to be missing from the public Christian discourse, the so-called religious right’s rhetoric. The simple kindness my daughter’s daydream displayed — an open welcome; a Hey, play this piano while you’re here, feel free to put a jar out and keep the change, sort of attitude — is a sort of hospitality that mainstream Christianity has lost somewhere along the way.
While we’ve been conditioned to worship at the altar of fear and xenophobia, inside my daughter’s chest beats a heart like that of Jesus. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
I pray our country can be more like my daughter.
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