Monthly Archives: February 2012

generosity.

Homelessness isn’t something that can be scheduled.  Because of that, we get people checking in at all hours of the day.  Sometimes it’s because their bus didn’t get in until late, and other times it’s because they got into a fight with the people they were staying with or the cops found them wandering on the road and couldn’t just leave them there.

Whatever the case, they come to us.

It is not an easy task to be welcoming within minutes of being woken up by a phone call.  I found myself sick a lot this winter and I always felt like the people I was checking in were a little bit terrified of my raspy voice.

But I digress.

A few weeks ago, a woman checked in around 1 in the morning.  She had gone to another city to try to find her son, but was unable to for some reason or another.  In the process, she spent most of her money, gave up the lease on her apartment, and lost most of her possessions.

Despite all of this, she still found things to be joyful about.  There were definitely times when she got frustrated with the people around her, and she told us a few slightly unsavory stories…but for the most part, she plowed through her days with an “I can do anything” attitude.  I spent most of my interactions with her trying to get her to smile, because man.  Her toothless grin (she’s 70.  also her false teeth hurt her mouth.) took over her entire face, and it was, without a doubt, the highlight of my days.

And this woman was one of the most generous people I have ever met.  On Valentine’s Day, she came into the Family Shelter office with bags of things for us.  Among these things were two boxes of valentines, at least four blocks of cheese, and some cans of soup.  She had found a good sale and thought that we could use them to start an “office pantry”.

This was not an isolated incident, and she is not the only one who has done that.  I am often offered cups of coffee, candy bars, weird toys (I usually say no to those…), and various other items.  It seems like nobody goes to a store without first asking if I want them to bring something back for me.

Despite the fact that most of the people here have very few resources, they are still willing to share.  And their generosity goes far beyond material possessions.

They are generous with their time–I rarely have to look very hard to find someone when I need help with something.

They are generous with their advice–though, to be honest, I don’t follow it very often…a lot of it doesn’t actually relate to my daily life…

They are generous with their concern–I am asked multiple times a day why I’m not wearing socks or a coat (I tell them I’m trying to get spring to come faster).

Working here means that I am constantly challenged to be more giving in all of these areas.  I am reminded regularly that the things I’ve been given (tangible or not) aren’t really mine, God has just made me a steward of them for the time being.  For more on that, check out Matthew 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents. or, oddly enough, bags of gold. depends on your translation.).

As of today, I have worked at the Mission for 8 months and I am just now beginning to fully understand how much of God’s character is reflected in the people here, regardless of whether or not they always recognize it or even believe it to be true.

Because, really, God is the epitome of generosity.  He invites us into a relationship with Him, He consistently gives us things we don’t deserve, He forgives us, He runs after us, He forgives us again, He loves us without hesitancy, and so much more.

Friends, we’re blessed.

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just listen.

Some of you may remember from an earlier post that a woman once threatened to call the President and tell him about me.  I have yet to hear from him, but she has been back here several times since then, including this morning.

At around 10, my office phone rang.  I answered with my best professional voice, and the guy on the other end said, “Jessica?  I need to see you for a minute over in the Hub.”

This was concerning for several reasons.  One, I rarely get called to the Hub (Basically the main entryway.  Everyone has to pass through there to get to anything else) on Sundays.  Two, he didn’t tell me why I was needed, which usually means it’s kind of an emergency.

For some reason, it is generally the case that the amount of information I’m given is inversely proportional (I’m using that term for the sole purpose of making my father, a math teacher, proud) to the seriousness of any given situation.  I get all the details when someone just needs a bathroom unlocked, but if there was a person waving a machete around, I’d probably just get a “hey, come here” call.

Hence, my alarm.

I hesitantly made my way over, having no idea what I was about to walk into.  I was directed to the front entryway, where a woman (The woman previously mentioned.) had seized control of an entire picnic table and was yelling and swearing at anyone who went near her.  At this point in time, I felt as though every single person in the area stopped what they were doing to turn and look at me.  Like they wanted to know what I was going to do about the unfolding drama.

What I wanted to do was turn around and go back to my office.  That didn’t seem like the best idea, however, so I decided to take a more direct approach.  I have found that, when about to enter into a confrontation, it is best to appear as though I’ve stumbled upon it by accident.  So I walked past her.

After a couple steps, I turned around as though I had finally realized who I had just walked by, and feigned surprise that she was there.  “Oh, hey!  Haven’t seen you in awhile, how are you doing?”

She bought it.  She was so taken aback, in fact, that she stopped ranting momentarily.  Just long enough for us to lose our audience (praise the Lord).  Now I was stuck, and I had no idea how to even begin to respond to her now rapidly cycling moods.  One minute she was weeping, mourning the loss of a child and her “only love”, and the next she was laughing to herself and twisting her mouth into a kind of smile.  It was obvious that she was on drugs, and she just seemed so so broken.

I knew I couldn’t just leave, but I had no idea what to say.  So I didn’t say anything.

Mother Teresa once said, “Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart.”

And that’s what I did.  I stood there and listened to her.  I listened to her tell me that she didn’t want me to kick her off the property, that she knew she had messed up, that she had nothing left, that all she had wanted was to be loved.  She talked herself into a frenzy, and then just as quickly talked herself out of it;  the whole time I just stood there, silently praying for her, asking Jesus to speak clarity to this girl who had been forced to grow up way too quickly.

After a little bit, she was quiet.  She just looked at me like, why are you still here listening to me?  And in that one look, I realized that she had somehow been convinced that she was not worth someone else’s time.  She had bought into the lie that nobody loved her, that nobody cared enough about her to listen or even just look her in the eye.

I learned something invaluable today:  I can’t fix everyone.  There are no magic words that I can say to keep people from hurting.  Sometimes the most essential thing is just to show people that they are worthy of being listened to, that what they have to say is important.


come home.

“I’m looking for my daughter.

Have you seen her?

If she shows up, can you give her this number?

Can you tell her we miss her?

We don’t know what to do or how to find her.

If you see her, please tell her we just want her home.

I have at least one conversation like that a month.  It doesn’t ever get easier to tell people that I can’t help them, that I don’t know where their daughter or sister or wife is.

And I have yet to see the end results of any of these calls.  The women they’re looking for don’t usually show up, so I wonder for awhile where they are, and then I stop thinking about them.  Until the next phone call.  Then I am flooded with the memories of all the past conversations I’ve had with desperate people anxiously searching.

My heart aches for these people.  I have no idea what it’s like to have someone that I love just disappear.  Thinking about it evokes a kind of grief that is open-ended.  There isn’t a date or a time that these families can hold onto in anticipation.  It’s simply living day by day with the slowly dimming hope that they will once again be reunited.

I can’t help but wonder what the ones who are lost feel like.  Do they know they are being looked for?  Do they care?  What must have made them leave in the first place?  It’s hard for me to understand what makes someone just walk away from the ones who love them and care about them.

But…I’m realizing more each day that I have been that person, and at any moment I could become that person again.  Time and time again I have turned my back on the One who loves me because I’ve fallen for the lie that there is something better.  The little voice in my head–the one that says I can do it on my own–is very persuasive.

And even though I’ve been there, done that, I don’t ever seem to learn.  I can’t seem to remember that Jesus will take me back no matter what.  I let my pride get in the way, and so I wander aimlessly for far too long before I allow myself to finally slink back to the only consistently safe place I know.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of his relationship with us, but he makes it subtle and calls it The Parable of the Lost Son.  It’s a fairly well known bit of Scripture, but I’ll break it down nonetheless.  This guy (that’s Jesus) has two sons.  One of them (you guessed it, this is us) cashes in his inheritance early, leaves his family behind, and proceeds to squander his newly acquired wealth.  He ends up living with pigs, eating what they eat, and basically hating his life.  After what probably feels like forever, he realizes he’s made a terrible decision and he returns home to his dad.

When his dad sees him coming, he rejects him, tells him to go back to the field where he came from, and…nope, that’s not what happens at all, but I bet I confused you for a second.

Rather, the father is filled with compassion for his long lost son, and he runs out to meet him.  He greets him with open arms and throws a huge celebration in his honor.

I have read that story so many times that I have cheapened its meaning.  When I stop and think about it, though, I am overwhelmed by the implications.  Jesus is telling us that no one is beyond redemption.

There is nothing we can do or say that will keep him from loving us, from running after us with reckless abandon.  Regardless of how many times we run away, he still searches.  He wants his kids home, and he’ll do anything to bring us back.