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Declare Dignity

A homeless man, God, and treating others as if they matter.

I assume he was homeless, though I don't really know. All I know is that he was shaggy and dirty, and he was knocking on the door of the Gold and Silver Buyers office where I work.

Buying precious metals is a new and fascinating experience for me. My friend Tom Davis has been setting up stores in our area as a ministry-based business. When he asked me to help, my response was, "I don't know anything about gold and silver—except that I like them!"

Well, I know more now, and I thoroughly enjoy the business. I meet people from every walk of life, and every one of them has a story. But I never had a homeless guy as a customer—until now.

Respectful Response

I spotted him through the glass door, standing with a friend, smoking a cigarette, and holding up something for me to see. Per our security setup, I had to decide, as I do with every customer, to buzz him in or not.

I had a sense of peace about this man, so I let him in. His friend stayed outside.

He smoothed his hair, walked over to the counter, and showed me what he had in his hands: a little locket that looked as though it had been run over by a car.

"I'd like to sell it," he said. "It's silver, miss."

I looked at the locket. Probably silver, but very small. My newfound expertise told me it was worth about a dollar.

I opened my mouth to tell him so, then shut it, feeling the need to pay attention to what God wanted to do with this encounter. And the words that became clear to me in that moment were, Declare dignity to this man.

Declare dignity. That's what so many of us need, isn't it? The dignity of knowing that we matter to God and to others, that we're taken seriously. The question, of course, was how to declare dignity to this man in this particular moment. I didn't have an answer, except to treat him the way I would treat the customers who come in with thousands of dollars' worth of jewelry. They're hungry for dignity too.

Sensing God's Presence

"Sir, I have some cookies and water. Would you like some?"

Surprised, he answered, "Thanks." He walked to the nearby table, took several cookies and a bottle of water, and returned to the counter.

"Can you tell me about this piece of jewelry?" I held up the mangled little piece.

He shrugged. "I found it. Thought it might be worth something."

"Well, let me see what I can do for you." I searched for marks and weighed it. "This is sterling, but it doesn't weigh much. I could give you, hmm, three dollars for it."

"That would be just fine."

I counted out the money, and he picked it up from the counter. I held out my hand to shake his.

He looked at my extended hand, then he looked into my eyes. "Miss, my hands are very dirty."

God sees us all and considers us all of infinite worth.

Looking right back into his ice-blue eyes, I answered, "Well, that's perfect. So are mine."

We shook hands, then he turned and started toward the door. About halfway, he stopped and turned back toward me.

"Thank you very much, ma'am. I just want you to know that this was a more pleasant experience than I expected it to be."

I smiled and buzzed him out. He left with his friend, now three dollars richer, and probably still homeless. I hadn't done much to change his circumstances. I hadn't witnessed to him. I hadn't even told him, as I so often do these days, that God sees him. But I really pray that man felt God's presence in our encounter the way I did. In fact, maybe it was more about me than it was about him.

It's such a simple little thing, something anyone can do in almost any circumstance. And though I don't always manage it, I hope I'm getting better through practice.

Declaring dignity. Seeing people the way God does and treating them accordingly, in those three-dollar transactions as well as the thousand-dollar ones. All because God sees us all, loves us dearly, and considers us all of infinite worth. And because his judgments "are more to be desired … than much fine gold" (Psalm 19:10, ASV).

Tammy Maltby is a speaker and author of several books, including, The God Who Sees You (David C. Cook).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Differences; Listening; Obedience; Respect
Today's Christian Woman, September/October , 2012
Posted September 24, 2012

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