Tag Archives: homeless

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

Glenn’s Plan to Shake Things Up…

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I came into the coffee shop to write, walking past a homeless black man holding a sign asking for change. I didn’t make eye contact; I read the sign surreptitiously. A few minutes after I walked by, Glenn came in. A large middle aged black man, he was loud and happy. He greeted the baristas by name. He mentioned his friend Reggie sitting outside with the sign.

“I’m sorry for being so boisterous this morning,” he smiled broadly to me.

“Not at all, I love it!” I said.

We began a conversation. He was a man who didn’t believe in negativity.

“You do look like you pumped yourself up before coming out this morning,” I said.

“You know it,” he chuckled.

“Do you really know him? Reggie?” I asked.

“I try to talk to every black man I see on the street,” he said, “find out what their story is, what they’re doing. Because they can’t stay on the street.”

“They can’t,” I repeated back.

“No. The street’s not a place to be. ‘Cause the cops are going to come. You think they’re going to say, ‘You want some coffee and a donut?’ They’re not. They got a job to do. My uncle was a cop. They got to do their job.”

“Do you give them resources, tell them where to go?”

“The black muslim temple’ll take him in anytime any day. But you can’t be on the street.”

He talked about race. I listened. I opened my mouth to confirm one of his viewpoints once. His head tipped and the polite look he gave me was chastening. It wasn’t mine to affirm. It was my turn to listen.

He talked about Colin Kaepernick and his comments about the flag.

“I’m gonna have Colin come out and talk to Reggie,” he said, “right here on Post and VanNess. ‘Cause this is who he’s talking about. And maybe he doesn’t know. There’s BlackLivesMatter, the new black panthers, and this guy you may have heard about, Barack Hussein Obama. I mean Barack Hussein Obama! You know where he is, right? He’s not a senator. He’s in the white house.”

He shook his head, “You gotta love this country. How is the black man supposed to accomplish anything in America if they hate America? We need to love America like Barack and Michelle. We gotta have their mindset.”

We talked about generational messages of negativity and oppression.

“How do you break chains of generational messaging like that?” he asked, quizzing me.

“Little by little, one generation at a time?” I asked.

He chuckled, “I’m afraid it’s gonna take something a little more drastic than that. Let me tell you. You want to hear my plan to shake things up?”

“Yes.”

He leaned in and locked eyes. I had no idea what I would hear.

After a long pause he said, “We abolish the NBA.”

“The NBA?”

“The NBA.”

He continued, “We take all these fine African American men and put them in college and see what they can do.”

“By taking away options?” I said.

“Options?! There’s Google right here. The world doesn’t need another LeBron! We need a black Mark Zuckerberg!”

He called himself a social engineer. I found out he was a writer, self-published author, and Christian. I told him about my kids. He told me I needed to self-publish my book.

It wasn’t a long conversation. In the time I could’ve read an article and share it on Facebook, Glenn and I did the work of two strangers reading each other. In the time it would’ve taken me to click through a link and read Colin K’s comments, we shared a conversation.

Jonah Moment…

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I nearly tripped over a homeless man today on my way to the bust stop from work. He was tucked up on one elbow, reading a book, and precariously wedged into the very small space available between sidewalk and parking garage exit. As I stepped broad to miss him our eyes met and he scowled at me. In my imbalance I had fumbled the unspoken cultural politeness of ignoring him in his living space.

I checked in with God if he had a message for this man who flipped his page angrily at me in rebuttal. I mentally sorted through the contents of my bag, if there was food or anything for him. There was half a chocolate bar, but that was for me for later, my chocolate bar. God knew his name, hadn’t forgotten him, blah blah blah. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t speak. I didn’t go back. And who would blame me, I thought. No one would blame me.

For one, it’s after work and I’m on my way to catch a bus. But two, I’m a woman and, you know, I don’t want to be unsafe, as if God has called me to safety. And three, well, I have plans for that chocolate bar.

I read the gospels over Lent which particular activity always leads to an uncomfortable stirring sensation within my too-viscous soul. And something that jumped out at me, tweaked my nostrils, and slapped me upside the head in a very three-stooges fashion was how frequently it talks about Jesus healing in response to being moved.

It’s so comfortable for me to think of Jesus as already knowing everything, no surprises, “I’m gonna heal a lame man today and I’m gonna do it like this”. It’s decidedly uncomfortable to wonder if he didn’t. Maybe he went out to preach and just happened to come across these holy prompts in their broken physical forms and healed them urged solely by a movement in his heart. How undefinable and unpredictable! No one would have blamed him if he had kept walking, would they have? No one would have blamed him. And it wasn’t like he avoided it, he went to the cities, he walked along the ways where the broken people waited, and he listened for them.

I have had Jesus in my heart for a very long time. I am becoming more like Jesus every day. I have covered the very longest of distances to get to the point where my compassion can move me to think a silent prayer on the bus.

And as I traveled home on the one-bus waiting for the massive breakdown in which I would have to yell over the screaming, “It’s me! I ignored God’s message! Kick me off the bus and save yourselves!” and return to the angry reading man and give him half of a chocolate bar, I thought, thank goodness Jesus is Jesus and not Barbara. Thank goodness Jesus is moved to do more than pray. Thank goodness he is moved to touch us, heal us, and weep with us.

This is my God. He works in me every day so that, hopefully, in another thirty years I can give away my chocolate bar.

Fear…

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It has been unveiled to me lately, the amount of fear hiding inside me.

One day, about a month ago, on a walk I asked myself, “Barbara, what would you be able to do if you did not fear? Who would you pursue into friendship?  Who would you extend hospitality to?”

I was overwhelmed by the breadth of the image that came, what could be accomplished if I was not subject to fear. I have since been trying to feel the edges, notice the limits, and recognize the deceitful promptings of this fear.

In New York I was baby free for a few hours and my brother and I made a mad dash through the MOMA and grabbed a coffee. So as we’re cutting past the park I’m stuffing my face with the flaky corners off of an excellent cheddar chive scone.  I’m half watching this long line of what could only be Texan cheerleaders on vacation when I notice this homeless woman lying in the middle of it all on a bench.

Eight million people revolved around her, yet, she was unseen.

I walked a few more steps, stuffed another bite in my mouth, hesitated, and then stopped my brother.

“Just a sec, Dave, I feel like I’m supposed to give this lady the rest of my scone.”

I began to feel the pressure of the fear. It was determined to make me feel insecure and insufficient to this moment.  Which I was, always am.  I approached the woman.

She lay on her side with her eyes open. The eight million people she was invisible to were invisible to her.  She stared through them.  Her makeup was so ridiculously thick, that she brought to mind a geisha.  But she was under there, in there, somewhere.

The fear arrived and sat heavily on top of me as I prayed desperately for the words this woman needed to hear. Why was I standing here?  What exactly was I supposed to say?

“I have half of a cheddar chive scone here. Would you like it? I only used my fingers to break off chunks.”

She glanced at me then away and shrugged concession. I laid it by her head.

“God bless you,” I said.

I was aware of the triteness of my statement. It’s my fear that hides behind a generic blessing and carefully avoids naming the more polarizing Jesus Christ.  My heart pounded and I made myself stay as I waited for the words, awkwardly standing over a homeless lady outside Central Park just staring at her.

“God loves you,” I said.

The look she gave me was odd. I couldn’t read it, maybe anger, maybe disbelief.  It unnerved me and I succumbed to the weight of the breathless moment and left.  As I passed the line of Texan tourists the words arrived suddenly and in a flood.

I was supposed to tell her that she was not invisible, that God saw her, and that, though I didn’t know her name, he knew her name. This is what I could’ve told her if I had rested under the fear another minute until the words had come.  Is it strange that my fear would try to eat the very thing that is my strength and my love, glorious healing words?

I did not turn around, but kept walking, the words burning inside of me. There was grace for me in that moment.  God and I stared down the massive shape of my fear that had suddenly become oh-so-visible.

Oh, friends, there is work to be done!

It’s coming down.