My flip flop broke yesterday.
I looked down and noticed yet another ripped hole in my t-shirt.
My appearance is anything but nice and put together.
Usually I don’t notice. Usually it doesn’t bother me. I do my thing and rock my “slum look” without a second thought. Stains on my shirts from who knows what. Rips in my jeans. Patches sewn on top of patches to cover up the holes. My mother would have a fit. (And if you’re reading this mom, consider this a mini-warning of what you’ll see when you come visit me).
The other day, I made a trip downtown to visit a friend who works in a ministry closer to the city center. Where I live and work, while still very much considered “city”, is located more on the outskirts of Bangkok. I rarely make it into the city center, downtown area. Mostly because using public transportation (boat, bus, motorcycle taxi, regular taxi) is such a hassle and traffic is horrible. But whenever I do make it in, I marvel at this big city I live in. Downtown Bangkok has nice, flashy hotels. There are loads of snazzy restaurants, hi-so bars, coffee shops, stores. Entire neighborhoods with huge houses, fancy apartment buildings, shiny cars, well-dressed people. It has a very cosmopolitan feel with its foreign designer shops and elegant malls. It’s a different world.
So as I was walking around downtown yesterday, I had to giggle at myself when I looked down at my raggedy appearance. Naturally there was a hole in my shirt, a rip in my jeans, my shoes were dirty, my hair a mess (I still haven’t figured out how to tame the frizz in this humidity), my mascara sweating off. I took a look at myself in the reflection of a shop’s window and couldn’t help but feel very…poor.
You know those kids in your class, those co-workers, those family members, those neighbors. You see the rips in their clothes, their ratty hair, their less-than-fashionable shoes dirty and worn. And you judge. You see those things and you think “poor”.
I know I did. I made judgements all the time. And even though my thoughts were more pitying than empathetic, I thought them.
As I looked at myself yesterday, it was hard to not feel poor. Compared to the other women walking the street, I looked tough.
I remembered a conversation I had with my friend Sprite one time. I asked him, so why do you help the poor?
“Because I am poor too,” he answered.
I may never know the depths of the heartaches of my neighbors. I may never fully understand the places they’ve come from, the troubles they’ve faced, the injustices they’ve witnessed, the oppression they’ve withstood. I cannot pretend like I know. But for now, I’m trying to understand. And in that trying to understand, I feel poor myself sometimes too. Funny (and rather girly) of me to see the blatant gap between the rich and the poor from the raggedy outfit I was wearing. But the gap is there. And it’s huge.
In moments like that, I love Jesus’ words all the more: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Jesus loves my neighbors when the world looks down on them. Jesus loves the poor when the world blames them or exploits them or hates them or ignores them. Jesus loves them. Jesus loves me. And that gives me hope.