Snow and ice crunched under the weight of my tires as I slowed to a stop to keep from sliding through. Street lamps flickered on and I turned my head toward a familiar shape moving out from the shadows.

The hood of a quilted coat kept the figure from full view, but her silhouette was unmistakeable, slightly hunched, always carrying burdens, eyes pointed toward her hurried feet.

I rolled down my window. Frigid wind shocked me alert. She jumped too at the sound of my voice.

“Have we met?” she asked.

I reminded her of the sticky day last summer, how I rolled up next to the sidewalk on the road from town to the chain stores. Many times I’d come across her reading a paper at the grocery cafe but never shopping, sleeping in a chair at the bookstore but never buying a book, always dragging around those two familiar duffels, bulging fat, barely zipped.

There in harsh winter, she hurried away as before, her voice chittering at the octave and pace of a little gathering creature in the wood. I wondered if she really preferred to be out in the elements, or if she was just surviving.

“Do you need anything?” I called after her, and was met with every polite exit from conversation she could fit in.

“God bless,” she shouted before she skittered past earshot.

There was no show of neediness like the beggars who spell out stories in Sharpie and cardboard on highway exits. But I sensed a need nonetheless, and she wouldn’t let me meet it.

On regular days at home, I shrink back and get stingy when my kids hang on me and tell me just how to serve them. Then when I take note of my ugly attitudes, my joy drains all the more, leaving me to give out of mere obligation.

But under the lamppost, where the desire to serve felt like electricity waiting in wires to light up the street at nightfall, I got a glimpse of myself in a different light. I felt the potential energy, a hint of past enthusiasm for service that isn’t gone for good. Somewhere within lies the best version of myself eager to give.

{I’m taking notes as I go, keeping a field journal on my quest to become a more cheerful giver, learning what it is that stirs up my compassion and what drains it. What about you? What situations or people make you feel most energetic about serving? What makes you want to shrink back and get stingy?}