Leaving Space for Blessing (Bags)

We have three young children and I find myself thinking a lot about the lessons they are learning in life- from us, from friends, from the world.  I have heard so many wise people share that it matters a lot what you say to your kids but so many things that “stick” are because of what your kids see and experience on a regular basis. Over the last eight years, there have been some phases where I have overdialed on planning things for them to experience, trying to orchestrate moments where they can learn a good lesson.  Those usually don’t go as planned!  And when I start talking too much (I feel like I have some great lessons to share!), that is usually when someone says, “can I have some more water?” or “can you turn up this song?”  I have learned to laugh and remind myself that not every teachable moment is going to turn out how I played it out in my head.  Again, most don’t.   

I was reminded over the holiday break about the power of being present, being open, and letting things unfold as God would have them unfold- not trying to overplan, overdial or over orchestrate.  I am hopeful that I can bring this way of being into 2022 with me.  Here is what happened: 

We were in uptown Charlotte (that is what we call downtown for those not local) with some friends doing some Christmas-y things with the kids recently.  It was a particularly cold day and there were several times when my kids noticed people that were homeless sleeping on benches or right on the street.  This was definitely not their first time seeing people that were homeless, but on this particular day, they seemed more present to it. Perhaps because it was freezing outside- “mom, I feel bad that they may not have enough blankets.”  Perhaps because presents were top of mind- “mom, do you think they will get anything for Christmas?”  Whatever the reasons, our neighbors without beds were heavy on their hearts.  As we got into the car later on that day to make our way back home, they noticed people sleeping under bridges. That noticing turned into a “game” that quickly made me uncomfortable-  “Sumner, let’s count the people we see- you do your side and I will do mine.”  After a few bridge spottings, I interjected.  “Hey y’all, maybe every time you see someone who has made their home under the bridge, you could pray for them, instead of just counting.”  “Great idea, mom- we will pray.”  We had a few more conversations about how people end up without homes and the possible factors, known and unknown, that are often at play.  I tried to center the humanity of the people we talked about and focus on both what we had in common with the people living under the bridge as well as some of our differences.  

A week or so later, we had the chance to visit my mom in Georgia. As we were talking about our plans for the few days we were there, she mentioned a new ministry that their church started - Blessing Bags.  A member of their church who worked for the city was aware of the “tent cities” in their town and suggested that the church provide them with basic necessities; and so a group started to put together bags full of snacks, water, toiletries, socks, gloves and the like so that they could be distributed to people living on the streets.  My mom shared that we could go distribute some bags while we were in town if I thought the kids may like to do that.  Wow.  We had prayed for nameless people living under bridges in Charlotte just days ago, and now here was an opportunity to put names with people in similar circumstances, and bless them beyond our prayers.  I jumped at the prospect.  

The next day was our scheduled day to accompany Mitch (the gentleman who worked for the city) to distribute Blessing Bags.  Unfortunately the weather was pretty bad and we had resigned ourselves to the fact that it likely wouldn’t happen.  Just before we made other plans, Mitch called my mom and they discussed whether we should go or not….he was worried about the storms coming but also shared that we probably had time for one quick stop if we could meet in the next few minutes.  Done!  We followed Mitch through town - I recognized exactly where we went- it was an area of town I had driven by a thousand times when I lived there in high school.  And yet, I would have never known that if I parked in a certain section of the parking lot and climbed up some dirt stairs and walked under the bridge, that there was an entire community of people living there.  A bridge I had driven over thousands of times, never knowing the lives that were being lived underneath. As we got out of our cars and Mitch handed my kids their Blessing Bags to carry up the stairs, the first thing he said after learning my kids names was, “Now y’all, the people we are going to visit today are just like me and you; they just live in a very different place.”  Focusing on what we have in common.  I loved his perspective already.  

Our visit with the friends under the bridge was probably only 10 minutes long before the rain came.  We listened as Mitch talked to the residents, reminded them of the city rules, made sure they had what they needed, promised to come back the next day with some garbage bags and gloves they requested.  My husband prayed with one of the gentleman who was there.  My kids listened in as Mitch talked to one of the new residents who had recently been kicked out of her previous establishment.  We shared our Bags, and took in the scene below.  Homemade tents with blankets, couches and make-shift chairs, tons of trash, friendly people and a particularly ingenious railing made out of rope so that people could more easily walk up and down the back of the bridge ramp without slipping. We made small talk, mainly just let Mitch do his thing (I saw such a strong model of authenticity and mutuality given the very different position he held from the people living under the bridge), and then said goodbye.  As the rain started coming and we ran to our car, we quickly thanked Mitch for the opportunity to go with him and with that, we were on the way to lunch.  

Don’t rush into conversation and life lessons I thought to myself.  Let the kids digest.  That was the first tent city they had seen.  It was quiet for a minute and then a few questions were asked.  We ended up largely focusing on the resourcefulness of people who live in poverty.  They learn where they can get meals.  They know who and where to go for help.  They know how to repurpose items that we may throw away into everyday tools that are useful to them.  After a few minutes the conversation moved on to a different topic.  I was so grateful for Mitch, the Blessing Bags ministry, and my mom’s idea that we joined in during our visit.  Nothing was forced.  God provided a tiny opportunity to love our neighbor and we took it.  It wasn’t planned out months in advance.  I didn’t research ten ministries for the people without homes and preach a sermon to my kids.  I was grateful.  

Afterthoughts: We always try and stop when we are in the car and someone is asking for help.  Eye contact, a smile, money for a meal.  Jesus’ words top of mind: I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat….what you have done for the least of these, you have done to me.  I think it takes a lot to ask for help, much less asking for money to feed your kids.  It’s brave.  I want to acknowledge that.  I want to remember what we have in common.  The sliding door moments between me and them are probably not as big as we want to think.  A few things we try and do that I hope may be helpful, all of which were passed along to me, not original ideas.  (1) Create your own blessing bags and keep them in your car to share and/or find a local organization who can use them.  (2) Keep McDonalds or Wendy’s gift cards in your car and share those with people who may need a meal.  (3) Try and use the language “a person experiencing homelessness” or “a person who is homeless” rather than “homeless people.”  It is a small thing but I think our words matter and who wants to be defined and labeled by our circumstances?  Not me.  



  1. Alicia on January 29, 2022 at 3:42 PM

    I love this Katherine! We say every year we are going to make them and keep in our car! We ARE going to do it this year.
    Love what you are doing here!!

    • Katherine B. Martin on January 30, 2022 at 10:11 AM

      Thanks, Alicia!

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