She can't be more than 22 years old, standing on the street corner with her cardboard sign. We pull up at the stoplight right next to her and all my children stare.
It's a long stop light. Long enough for me to feel my heart breaking.
I used to ignore the homeless. This is America. Get a job.
This year I decided it wasn't my place to judge. I decided to let my heart be broken.
I've decided that if I can help, I will. It's usually inconvenient.
It was no different this time. We were running late for an orthodontist appointment. The twins were restless and shrieking in their carseats.
But getting this girl a hot meal was the least I could do.
She sees me pull into the parking lot behind her and she looks up, shadowing her eyes from the sun.
"Here you go, honey," I say, handing her the bag of food.
Oh, man. She's so young.
"Thank you," she says, squinting at me. Her short, dark hair is thick with dirt and grease, her fingers are swollen and chafed. She has multiple ear and facial piercings.
"You're too young to be out here," I say. "Where's your family?"
"Broke," she says, shrugging. "I was living out of my car. But it got impounded and I lost my job."
"It's gonna be cold tonight," I say. "Do you have a place to stay?"
"I'll figure something out."
Her teeth are yellowed and stained. I can smell the nicotine wafting off her.
She's a druggie, I think. But then I stop myself. It's not my place to judge.
"Look, I have to take my kids to the doctor. But I'm gonna come back and we'll talk, OK?"
"OK," she agrees.
"I'll be back in less than an hour," I assure her. She nods and as I pull away, she opens the bag and begins to eat.
I don't know exactly what I'm going to do. But I have to do something.
While Jewel gets her braces tightened, I make some calls. I find a place for her to stay: a local charity that provides emergency shelter. I scribble down the address, punch it into my in-dash navigation system.
If I can help, I will. The least I can do is give her the address, maybe offer her a ride.
"Mommy, I'll pray for her," Jude says as we drive back to the street corner.
We all pray.
But the girl is gone. The street corner is empty.
We drive around for a few minutes, scanning the alleys, checking the bus stops. Nothing.
"Where is she?" James asks. "Why isn't she there? Doesn't she know we're going to help her?"
The twins are wailing inconsolably. I need to get home. We do one more pass, scanning the store-fronts, the sidewalks. We can't find her.
So, we go home.
I was ready and willing to help.
Was she ready to let me help her?