I love St. Bernard's. Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em. My husband, Dave, and I have two. I love them so much that I tend to see them before I see the owner.
Eight months ago, in the middle of one of the biggest snow storms of our record-breaking winter, I saw a St. Bernard walking along the side of the road. This puppy was pushing against a strong wind from the north. Her ears were pushed back by the driving snow falling at 3 inches per hour. As we drove closer, it was hard to tell where the sticky snow on her fur ended and the blowing snow began.
The weatherman on the radio just told all dog owners to take their animals in for the night. The temperature on dashboard read 22. And, here was a puppy, fighting against the elements.
We pulled over to see if the puppy needed help. I didn't notice the owner until we stopped.
After petting the puppy, we talked with the owner, "Dan". I jokingly asked where he was going, making light of the fact that he was going on a walk during such a horrible, life-threatening, storm. Dan said he was looking for shelter for the night. He was cold and scared and didn't know if his puppy would make it.
I found myself, for the first time in my life, talking to a homeless man. With a St. Bernard puppy.
Dan was living in a make-shift lean-to next to a river. He had been shoveling snow all day to earn enough money to buy beans, an onion, and a few carrots. Dan was shivering and his socks were wet from the snow.
As we talked, labels and judgments fell away and Dan's humanity became real. I realized I was talking, not to a "homeless man", but to a man who had no home.
My heart opened and I realized that Dan needed three things, to eat, to be warm, and to know the compassion of Christ.
Which is harder, to feed the hungry and give the homeless a place to sleep? Or, for the eyes of our hearts to open to their existence and their needs?
I found that by seeing a puppy, my eyes opened to the existence of the homeless. By listening, my heart opened. By giving, the compassion of Christ was made known - to both of us.
Our lives became known to each other for a few weeks. During that time, Dan found employment, purchased a car, and lives in a place just big enough for him and his puppy, Heather.
Despite the fresh start that we gave Dan, I believe that I received more from our relationship.
Through my encounter with this man-without-a-home, I learned that every person, regardless of his or her story, needs a warm meal, dry bed, and chance to start over. Every person needs Christ's love and His compassion. I know that God's miracles come in all forms - even in the form of a St. Bernard. And, I have discovered that to love our neighbor as ourselves means to love ALL of our neighbors without judgment.
That love includes our neighbors who live in make-shift lean-tos by the river. Our neighbors who are struggling to overcome their addiction to drugs. Our neighbors who have found it is safer to live on the street than in an abusive relationship. Our neighbors who are living with HIV/AIDS. Our neighbors who suffer from mental illness. And, our neighbors who have consistently made bad financial and employment decisions over the course of their lives, but still need a fresh start.
When we help those in need, making Christ known, we will also know Christ.
This, I believe,