There are certain smells that are distinct and unmistakable.  They can’t accurately be put into words but anyone who has experienced them can almost immediately recall specific details at their mention.

The smell of…

A newborn baby

Freshly cut grass

A small child after playing outside on a cool spring day

A morning pot of coffee

A campfire burning on a crisp night

The poor

The last three years I have been working as a social worker.  There is a distinct smell I have begun to associate with the poor.  It is not a bad smell as your mind may lead you to think but it is distinct; almost as difficult to describe as the smell a newborn baby brings.

It is not dirty or a result of a lack of cleanliness. It is the smell of exhaustion, of self-doubt, of struggle.  With every visit to subsidized housing I make and every meeting I have in the home of the immigrant, marginalized, and forgotten, I leave wearing the smell of the poor.

I smell it in the clothes I wear that day.  I smell it in my hair.  I so often come home and immediately change my clothes trying to not be reminded of the hard stories of my day.  I want to forget.  I try to forget.  But I can’t forget.  The smell lingers on in the coat I wore or in the purse I carried.

The smell reminds me that the poor are always with me.  I can’t ignore them.  They are a part of my work, my community, my neighborhood, my life and more importantly God’s redemptive work.  I am strangely thankful for the smell.  It reminds me to tell my boys the stories of their neighbors.  It reminds me to speak up against injustice.  It reminds me to give more generously.  It reminds me that God is at work in the world around me.

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