I have been sharing with my readers (and their children and grandchildren) my first children’s book, From Grumpy to Grateful, which I’m hoping will be published next year. If you missed the first posts, here are the links:
“Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22:2)
“Wake up, Jack!” the voice that startled Jackson sounded like his mother’s voice, but it didn’t sound as sweet and kind as it usually did. Had he overslept? Jackson opened his eyes to see his mother, but she looked different. She was thinner and tired looking, and the joy he usually saw in her face was not there. “Hurry up,” she said. “It’s time to go to the alley.”
Jackson blinked as the morning rays of sun nearly blinded his eyes. Where were the blinds on his windows? For that matter, where were the posters on his wall? Where were his soccer trophies, his Lego sets and his hamster, Homer? The room was almost bare. The only thing there besides his bed was a worn, dirty cloth bag in the corner. Even his clock was gone.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Time for you to get up and get to the dumptsters before all the food is gone!” His mother sounded urgent. “They’ll have nothing but garbage in them by the time you get there if you don’t get going!”
“Isn’t Dad taking me to school?” Jackson asked, confused.
“School?” said his mother, sounding angry. “Poor children don’t go to school. And we haven’t seen your father since he left us. Wake up, boy, and stop wasting time!”
Dazed, Jackson got out of bed. He looked around but didn’t see any of his clothes. Then he realized he was expected to go out in the clothes he had slept in. They were rumpled and not very clean looking, but his mother didn’t seem to care about that.
“Don’t forget your bag, stupid boy!” she snapped, tossing him the cloth bag. Jackson was wide awake now, as his jaw dropped open in surprise. He would be in big trouble is he ever called another kid that word, and Mom never called anyone “stupid,” especially not her own children! What was the matter with her?
When Jackson stepped out into the bright sunlight, he felt as if someone had opened a giant oven. He was confused by the street. He had never seen this place before, and he almost went back to ask his mother where he was supposed to go. But she had seemed so irritated that he decided to figure it out on his own.
He noticed there were other children, each dressed in ragged clothes similar to what he was wearing, each carrying a dirty cloth bag, all headed in the same direction. He started to follow them.
After walking a few blocks, the children came around a corner into an alley behind some tall buildings. Jackson saw fire escapes overhead and dumpsters lined up along the wall.
The other children climbed onto some old crates and worked together to lift the lid on the first dumpster.
Then it was a free-for-all, as children grabbed packages of food, fruits and vegetables, and anything else they could get their hands on that might be eaten. They reminded Jackson of his friends at his last birthday party after Kaplan broke the pinata.
Jackson scrambled up the side of the dumpster and started grabbing. None of what he ended up with was his favorite food – no cereal, no peanut butter, no pizza. But he did get a package of green peppers that was a day past its “best by” date, an open box of stale crackers, a couple of bruised apples, and a dented can of black beans. He began to realize why his mother had looked thin and sad. How long had she been living on leftovers from other people’s trash?
Just then Jackson saw something shining in the dumpster, and he decided to reach in one more time to see if it was something exciting. As he did, he was suddenly bumped by another boy and nearly fell in. As he grabbed the side of the dumpster to catch himself, there was a sharp pain in his hand, and he saw a trickle of blood roll down the rusty metal side. He realized what had been sparkling in the sun was only a piece of broken glass, and he had just cut his hand.
As Jackson walked back to his house, he tried hard not to cry. His stomach was rumbling so much that even the bruised apples were starting to look good. He held onto his hand, trying to stop the bleeding. He was anxious to get back to his mother and have her wash the wound, kiss it and bandage it up. Mom always made him feel better.
But when Jackson got home Mom didn’t seem too concerned about the cut. She just wanted to know what was in his bag. When he showed her what he had collected, she seemed disappointed and irritated with him for not getting more. While she tried to figure out how to open the can of beans, Jackson washed his hand and wrapped it in an old rag.
“Where’s Charlotte?” he asked his mother.
“Who?” His mother sounded annoyed.
“Charlotte. My sister?” Why would Mom not know what he was talking about?
“Stupid boy!” – There was that word again! “You don’t have a sister. What’s the matter with you today?”
Jackson felt as if he had just been punched in the stomach. Not have a sister? What was going on? Where was Charlotte? Where was Dad? Where was his school?
“Go play,” his mother snapped, sounding tired. She sat at the rickety table and buried her face in her hands.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. You have told us to help the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Jesus, You said that whatever we do for them we are doing for You. Open our eyes to ways we can meet the needs of those within our reach, in Jesus’ name. Amen.