Let’s face it. For the most part it’s all about me — my pleasure, my pain, my wants, my world. We are driven by self, security and success. The true saints who care for children and for ill or aging family members with devotion have moved out of the ego circle by accepting their role. Their hearts are opened even when flooded by fatigue or frustration.
For the rest of us, including those whose hearts seem to have turned to stone, tiny cracks can appear that let light in and change who we are. I had the opportunity to see this transformation some years ago, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.
With a zany idea to host a spontaneous birthday party for the homeless folks who hang out in the alley between the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (the ARCH) and the Salvation Army (the Sally), I set to work. Because I was the head of a school, I had access to young artists, so I asked students in first through fifth grades to make a birthday card for someone they did not know. What an array of drawings and birthday wishes I received — balloons, hearts, rainbows, and sweet words — “I hope you have a good day”; “Happy, Happy, Birthday to a special friend”; and “You are loved.” I put these better-than-Hallmark cards in a white wicker basket to distribute.
Birthday parties need more than cards, so I bought old fashioned Dixie cups that come with little flat spoons and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and birthday cupcakes. When I arrived at the entrance to the alley, my homeless friend met me. She took over the ice cream delivery from her wheelchair. My job was cupcakes. Balancing the bakery boxes carefully, I scanned the crowd looking for another helper. The perfect birthday party assistant appeared, asking, “May I help you?” He was joyful, high on life aided by some chemicals I suspect, but it didn’t matter. Personifying the spirit of giving, he danced through the crowd with the wicker basket on his arm handing out birthday cards.
Within five minutes, there was an amazing change in the atmosphere of the alley. Here, where there is usually depression, anger, isolation, shouting and sometimes fights, peace reigned.
As the folks began to sense the spontaneous goodness of a birthday party just for them and looked at their cards, conversation flowed. I overheard, “My birthday is in September, when is yours?”; “Oh, let me see your card?”; “Look at this greeting to me!” A few even offered constructive criticism: “Birdday isn’t spelled right” and “This child need more practice in penmanship,” but the comments were laced with love.
This strange island of calm continued. Small waves of goodwill washed over everyone, and hearts of stone began to show cracks — light entering from ice cream and cupcakes, but mostly from children’s unexpected caring hearts.
This is how God creates in us a new heart. We build hearts of stone, layer upon layer, believing we are forgotten, unworthy and unloved. Then we are cracked open in the most unforeseen ways. It is different for each one of us and astonishing every time it happens.
Miraculously, cracks continue to appear. Feeling awestruck when holding a newborn baby or animal that causes a lump in our throats, creates a crack. Seeing a spectacular sunset or hearing a haunting melody that catches us unaware and moved, creates a crack. Receiving an unexpected kindness when suffering that leaves us teary, creates a crack. And discovering that there’s a surprise birthday party in an alley for you, a homeless person, creates a crack.
I will skip sending Valentine cards this year and just open my heart with layers and layers of love — to the tantruming toddler in the grocery line, to the old person in front of me fumbling for a bus pass, and to the gaggle of teens careening past me in the mall — to everyone in my path.
Real love unleashed.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. — Ezekiel 36: 26