A Compassion Test at the Entrance of Walmart
By Delisa Hargrove
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Did I really see two homeless children at the entrance to Walmart? I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Salt Lake City has numerous homeless people. I see them every time I drive around town. I pass a homeless woman and a harmonica playing Marine on a daily basis as I walk near my home. They recognize my dog Wellington and me now, and Wellington always greets them with all the love in his bulldoggie heart. But, I had not seen children huddled together before. I was swept away in traffic, but couldn’t get them out of my mind. I finished my errand and prepared to head back that direction, feeling compelled to act. As I approached the entrance to Walmart, I could see one of them standing there and decided that she must be the mother of the young girl I initially saw.
There are points in my life that (as I reflect back) are recognizable defining moments. As I stared this situation in the face, I knew the Lord led me to that situation to answer the prayer of two of His daughters. I knew it. I knew this was a defining moment in my discipleship to the Savior Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit told me what to do and commanded me to act. And I did.
The mother, Amy, told me her boyfriend abandoned her and Andie in Salt Lake City. I didn’t really get any more details of the story because I didn’t want Andie to hear it again, and I wanted them to know I would help regardless of the situation. I wanted her to feel her dignity and value as a human being and child of God. We’ve all needed prayers answered. My trials have been in different forms, but I have needed love, compassion, and help from others to make it through my own “nights at the entrance to Walmart.” As they walked to the train platform, Amy said, “I promise I will pay this forward and I know I will see you again in the next life with God our Father.” Her grateful expressions really touched my soul. The bond of humanity connected us, and love filled my heart..
As I drove away, I thought of a spectacularly amazing woman who has blessed my life over the years. I first met her after our ecclesiastical leader called me to let me know she was in the emergency room. I walked in and saw a beautiful woman lying broken and battered on a hospital bed. It crushed me to see her body so battered, but I soon discovered that her soul transcended the ugliness of life. She had the most abiding hope I’ve ever seen. She is now an advocate against domestic violence. I felt the greatness of her spirit from the first moment I met her. She just needed to believe it herself.
These experiences swam through my memory throughout the weekend. Amazingly, on Sunday a friend sent me a link about David Musselman, a bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church) dressing like a homeless man outside of his church building last Sunday.
A Bishop’s Compassion Test
Bishop Musselman said he’d become concerned about his lack of compassion after reacting impatiently when a business partner asked him to pull over so she could hand a homeless person sheltering under the interstate some cash.
“I was obviously annoyed,” Musselman said. “She said, ‘You’re a bishop, you should know better.’ That caused me to think: What’s caused me to change? Why have I become more callous?”
After pondering his own heart and trying to determine how to share the lesson with his congregation, Bishop Musselman decided that instead of speaking about compassion and Christ-like attitudes from the pulpit, he would attend church as a homeless man. He contacted movie makeup artist Tara Starling (High School Musical) to transform him. Starling actually organized SoulFood USA whose mission is to “feed the homeless who are hungry, find clothing for those who are cold, and endeavor to bring hope to those who have lost everything else.”
I loved Tara Starling’s comment about social media responses she’s received after posting Bishop Musselman’s transformation on Facebook.
“I used to dream … (that) the pinnacle of my career would be to work on a film and the film would get nominated for an Academy Award of makeup. You know, that would just be the ultimate achievement,” Starling said. “But I would have to say that somebody writing a Facebook comment … saying, ‘Thank you for sharing this. It’s changed my mind. It’s changed my heart, and it’s changed the way that I’m living,’ that’s worth more than all of the Academy Awards in the world to me. It really is.”
The Bishop received mixed reactions from his congregation. He said children consistently wanted to help him. Some people gave money and dignity to him. Others asked him to leave the premises. The group that most surprised him was the indifferent folks who ignored him completely.
“We might not always be able to open our homes or our wallets, but we always need to open our hearts,” Musselman said. “You don’t have to expose yourself or your family to potential harm to show somebody that they are human.”
The weekend lesson for me is that I just shouldn’t critically judge anyone. I am not looking at life through his/her lenses. One grandpa told Bishop Musselman he asked the bishop to leave the church premises because last year while his granddaughter helped someone like the “homeless” bishop, the man stole her money and drove away in her car. The grandpa’s lens was sincerely wanting to protect others in the congregation.
To me, the point is not about whether to hand out change or not–it’s about whether I feel compassion and empathy. Do I see him or her as a person? Really?
How can you know what’s right for you to do? You can rely on and be guided by the Holy Spirit. I vividly remember advice I received 21 years ago: “Never suppress a generous thought.” Maybe that generous thought is to say hello, or share a smile, or to do something else — whatever it is is between you and the Lord.
The savior said:
“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:34-40).
For me, this scripture teaches much more than just being physically present. It teaches me to see others as human beings…as His children.
As I shared my experience with my husband on Friday night, I realized that at some point in life, many of us find ourselves emotionally, financially, socially, mentally, or sinfully abandoned “at the entrance of Walmart.” How we each get there varies dramatically. But wrapped in our shoddy, dirty blanket, we find ourselves abandoned, hungry, cold, and wanting a change.
How does that change occur?
“I am the way the truth and the life” declared Jesus Christ. Through His mercifully gracious atonement, the Savior can heal our souls. It is possible!!
Alma, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, described to his son how this happened for him.
“And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:18-21).
My path to wholeness took a little longer than Alma’s, but when I truly believed Christ would be my Savior and Redeemer, I asked and then allowed Him to heal my soul.
Savior, Redeemer of my soul,
Whose mighty hand hath made me whole,
Whose wondrous pow’r hath raised me up
And filled with sweet my bitter cup!
What tongue my gratitude can tell,
O gracious God of Israel.
Never can I repay thee, Lord,
But I can love thee. Thy pure word,
Hath it not been my one delight,
My joy by day, my dream by night?
Then let my lips proclaim it still,
And all my life reflect thy will.
O’errule mine acts to serve thine ends.
Change frowning foes to smiling friends.
Chasten my soul till I shall be
In perfect harmony with thee.
Make me more worthy of thy love,
And fit me for the life above. ~Orson F. Whitney
The next time I find myself “at the entrance to Walmart,” I will remember Amy, Andie, and Bishop Musselman, and hopefully, I will always see Jesus Christ.
I invite you to find ways to intentionally show love and compassion to those around you! And I will, too.