You’ve seen them. Holding cardboard signs with scrawled pleas for help, they stand at freeway exits, hoping for a handout. Should you give them money? Should you circle around and return with food and water?

There have been times when I’ve done both those things, but mostly, I’m traveling the freeway because I’m in a rush. I look away and wish it were different.

Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.
Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

So when I interviewed Judi Messer, a registered nurse who has spent the last 10 years working with the homeless, I was intrigued. “Nurse Judi,” as she is known to many, developed care packages to give to the needy, especially the ones we see at intersections and freeway exits.

Basically, it’s a package with useful items like toothpaste, clean socks, a water bottle, etc. You go to the dollar store and pick this stuff up, pack it into bags and keep it in your car so you’ll be prepared to help the needy.

Giving thanks no matter what

Just a couple hours after interviewing Judi, I received a call that my husband was injured during a softball game. The emergency room doctor told us Pipo had sustained a crushing injury to his tibia, the shinbone.

For reasons that I still can’t fathom, we had to wait six agonizing days at home for surgery to rebuild his shattered knee. During all that time, my husband’s round-the-clock care was provided not by a nurse, but by a journalist (me) and several young men (our sons). Pipo actually apologized at one point.

“Hey, this is where the for-better-or-worse, in-sickness-and-in-health clause of our marriage vows kicks in,” I kidded him.

Finally, the day of surgery came. Though we were told full recovery would take a year and that a knee replacement was in Pipo’s future, we were hopeful.

Four hours after bone grafts, titanium screws and a plate were added to my beloved’s physique, we were sent home. Our insurance wouldn’t pay for an overnight hospital stay. Unfortunately, Pipo’s condition deteriorated during the night. The next morning, we were told to return to the doctor’s office.

As we exited the freeway, I saw a young man holding a cardboard sign, asking for help. This particular beggar, however, was different from any other I’d ever seen. He was missing a leg.

I thought about him later that night, after the ambulance ride back to the hospital. Who was this man imploring our help? What happened to his leg? I believe he was one of God’s messengers in disguise.

We should never doubt that God desires to communicate His love through the everyday occurrences of our lives. The man with the missing leg was God’s reminder to me that my husband and I are incredibly blessed. It’s a serious injury, but Pipo still has his leg. We have each other. We have our children and our faith and our community. We will get through this.

It’s always a temptation to focus on our troubles, on what’s going wrong, on injustices suffered. When I call to mind a callous remark one nurse made, that “no one ever dies from pain,” I’m tempted to be angry. But then I remember the very compassionate care that so many other nurses and doctors provided. I think of the person who checked “yes” under organ donor so that Pipo could receive bone grafts.

When I see the eight-inch, jagged scar and 30 staples in my husband’s swollen leg, my heart breaks. But deep down I know that sooner or later, we’ll be floating in the pool, helping him to regain strength.

In spite of the troubles and pains of this life, one thing is for sure: God is with us through it all. He carries us to the finish line, because this world is passing away. We live for that day when we will see Him face to face, when every tear will be wiped away.

Until then, our hearts beat with gratitude for all He permits to happen to us, knowing that we are ever in His arms, even when — or perhaps especially when — disaster strikes.