Washing Her Feet

By Carrie Cloke

Photo by Dreamstime

As a shy and insecure 13-year-old, I had a thousand different thoughts when my youth pastor asked me if I wanted to go on an outreach trip.
 
“We’ll be handing out blankets and hot chocolate to the homeless in San Francisco,” he said. “I think it’ll be a good experience for you.”
 
Honestly? I didn’t want to go. But I reluctantly agreed, knowing that my friends had chosen to go. Two days later, we piled into vans and made the hour long drive to one of the poorest parts of the city — the Tenderloin. As we walked to the meeting point, the smell of urine and cigarette smoke burned my senses and I could barely breathe.
 
Around 100 people stood together to receive group assignments and my youth pastor started announcing names. Groups were handing out hot chocolate, dispensing bagged lunches, and giving out blankets. Soon, my friends had vanished, and I stood alone with a few other volunteers.
 
Looking at us, my youth pastor said, “You will be washing feet and giving pedicures.”
 
Me? Washing a stranger’s feet? I swallowed hard, trying not to show my apprehension.
 
We went to our assigned location, and set up everything that we needed. At first, no one came...but then she did.
 
A graying brunette woman in her 40s, hair disheveled and clothes frayed, she looked as sheepish as I did about the situation. She sat down in the chair in front of me, eyes sparkling.
 
We made small talk as I began to rinse her feet, the caked dirt making the water a murky brown color. When I asked her what nail polish she wanted for her pedicure, she began to cry. Unsure what to do, I froze. When I looked up at her, she smiled apologetically.
 
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know I probably seem crazy... It’s just.... I haven’t had anyone treat me like this in a long time,” she stammered.
 
She told me she had lost her job and apartment years ago, and people avoided making eye contact with her, ignoring when she spoke. She felt invisible.
 
All I could find to say was, “I’m sorry. I will be praying for you.”
 
After I finished her pedicure, she thanked me and said, “You were here for a reason today. You know that, right? I’m not sure what God’s plan is in everything, but I do know we were supposed to meet.”
 
I smiled, embarrassed, and watched her walk away with a grin on her face. She looked content and completely refreshed.
 
Driving home that night, I contemplated what she said. I had no wise words to give to the woman and no way to help her. I knew that the woman was right — we met for a reason. When I was forced to let go of my pride and wash a stranger’s feet, I realized that I had to be sent to San Francisco to learn a pretty hefty lesson in humility and God’s will. And, like the woman, I needed a little bit of refreshing, too.