Monthly Archives: August 2012

fifty-five.

While I enjoy the spontaneity and the day-to-day surprises that this job brings, there are certain things that happen here regularly enough to make me wonder if there’s not some calendar somewhere that I don’t know about that would help clue me into what’s going on.

It would just be extraordinarily helpful, for example, if I knew when certain kids were going to all of a sudden start screaming in the parking lot.  Or dining room.  Or the middle of chapel.  I’m sure there’s some sort of secret schedule that all of them are on, but I can’t quite figure it out.

Also, if I could figure out which days people were going to run out of their medications (or just decide to stop taking them), I could, in theory, be better prepared for those encounters.  I am sometimes accidentally overconfident when it comes to certain conversations; I assume that the responses to my questions will be rational, and then am caught off guard when someone tells me my dad’s just given them a job (he hadn’t) or they’re being seized by the government (they weren’t).

And then there are the people who come back to the Mission near the end of most months because they’ve spent all of their money.  One would think that I would remember this because it happens so often, but I get caught up in other things and then am genuinely surprised to see them back here.  This creates a pretty chaotic environment at the end of the month, and this month is no exception.

Currently, we have also been inundated with people who have come up from camping at the river because the police are doing what are called “sweeps”.  They go through the camps every so often, looking for people who have outstanding warrants and things like that.  Some of the people who come here are hiding from them, but most of them just don’t want to be relentlessly questioned while having their worldly possessions picked through and examined.  Can’t say I blame them.

Rarely do those last two events occur simultaneously; when they do, though, things get hectic.  Currently we’re in a season like that.  I’m being dramatic by using the word ‘season’; at the end, there will really only have been about 10 days of being filled to the brim.  Yesterday a couple, a single woman, and a family of 3 all checked in, bringing our side of the Mission nearly to capacity.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about the fact that there are several nights a week when I’m the only person overseeing all of these women and families.  Last night I sat at dinner and counted 55 different people in our section–that means 55 different life stories that I’m familiar with, 55 different plans that have to be thought out and worked through, and 55 different personalities that I have to figure out how to relate to in a helpful way.

It’s absolutely worth the exhaustion that I feel, however, when they begin to trust me enough to ask me to pray for them or they tell me the truth about something even though they’re not sure what my response will be.

I’m learning to listen both to what is being spoken out loud and to what is actually being said; it’s necessary for all relationships, not just the ones with the people I’m working with.  People can tell when they’re being genuinely cared for, as opposed to simply being dealt with or managed.

So even though there are times when it feels like I can’t even keep track of my own life, let alone the lives of friends/family members/coworkers, I’m reminded of how important it is to even just remember small things–to ask about things that they care about, even when I have no interest in the topic.  If we all listened to others as much as we want to be listened to, I think the world would work a little more efficiently.  And I think Jesus would be pleased by our efforts; after all, he created us to love…so we might as well do it, right?

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a thought.

An online Q&A forum (Quora) recently asked people outside the U.S. what things they’d heard about our country that they didn’t believe could possibly be true until they actually came and visited.

I’m just going to go ahead and quote straight from the website rather than try to paraphrase and lose some of the impact…some of the things they said were:

Poor, hungry kids.  Really hard to believe this one. I read somewhere recently that 1 in 5 kids in the US is at the risk of hunger. That’s a lot for a country that boasts to be in the first world…

The astonishing number of homeless people on the streets in San Francisco. It is presumably one of the wealthiest cities in the wealthiest state of the wealthiest country in the world.  I expected to see wealth. I didn’t expect to see poverty like this. It seems a little worse each time I visit. I have visited lots of countries, and lots of cities, but I was shocked by the severity of the situation.”

If you have a minute, look at the other responses on the site; some of the other things are actually pretty funny (like, our penchant for wearing way fewer clothes than necessary in freezing weather conditions). I’m posting this for a couple reasons.  One is because I just realized yesterday, as I was walking around my city, that there’s such a disparity here (as in a lot of cities, I’m sure) between the wealthy or even middle-class citizens and those who live below the poverty line.  There are at least a couple places where an incredibly nice house sits adjacent to one that’s broken down or condemned.

Another reason I’m posting this is because I think it’s important for us to realize that these things shouldn’t be the norm.  We should be appalled by the number of hungry kids and the amount of people there are without permanent living situations, rather than thinking that that’s just how it’s going to be.

Just two days ago, an amazing group of Jesus-followers here in Yakima handed out 5000 backpacks to families because they love our city and the people in it, and they wanted to meet a need that they saw.  You can read the story here.  They recognized that they needed to put their words into action, and they believed that it was up to them to rise up and make a difference.

Maybe right now you don’t have resources available to gather a huge group of people to hand out school supplies, but what are some small steps you can take to begin to make changes in your community?  It could be donating time to a local shelter or food bank, going through your closet and giving away some of the things you don’t wear or use anymore, or even just beginning to educate yourself more about the things already happening around you that you can partner with.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” (Mother Theresa)


you do what?

One of the best parts of working at a Mission (i.e.,  homeless shelter) is the reactions that I get from people when I answer their questions of what I do and where I work.

Some of the time I get a knowing nod accompanied by an “oh daaaang” (or something along those lines) that makes me feel like I’m crazy.  Like, they wouldn’t have expected me to give any other answer or they’re amazed that I’ve lived to tell stories.   Those are usually the people who try to get a better idea of what I do by asking me to tell them about things or people that I’ve encountered.

So I tell them about the woman who wanted to sleep under our Christmas tree, or the women who lunged at me (3 in one week!).  Recently, someone called me from the front desk to tell me that “a woman with hair like a lion” was looking for me.  It turned out to be the same woman who had tried to get me to help her with her belt and GIANT pants the week before…that’s an entirely different story, however.  There’s also the person who called our office and told my coworker that they’d found a dog that they were sure belonged to us because it was “acting homeless.”  We’re still not really sure what they meant by that.  But anyway, I try to always keep at least one good story in my repertoire just to be prepared for this response.

There are also people who give me this face that lets me know they’re thinking that I must be a really good person.  Let me assure you that I am not.  I mean, I do what I can, but there are a lot of days that I find myself wondering what in the world I’ve gotten myself into.  I enjoy talking with these people because they’re the ones who want to hear the encouraging stories, the stories of people whose lives have been changed.

There’s the woman who decided to follow Jesus after sitting through a few nights of chapel, or the countless people who come here because they’ve taken the first step towards breaking the addictions that are controlling their lives.  These are the people who also ask about my kids (a topic that I could talk about forever if given the chance), so I tell them about the 6-week-old baby that I got to hold while his mom unpacked their belongings or the kids who follow me in single-file lines across the parking lot, making me feel like the Pied Piper.  I love this response because they are eager to hear about how Jesus is the source of grace and patience and without him I’d never make it through my work week.

The third most common response is the blank stare.  People find out I work at a Mission and they have no idea what to ask about or what to say because it’s completely out of the realm of their thinking.  I think this is the hardest reaction for me to respond to, because I always assume that everyone wants to do what I do.  I’ve been assured that’s not true, but I’m still skeptical.  I get to look into the faces of so many different kinds of people, knowing that the Lord created all of them for a very specific purpose.  And then I get to watch as they begin to realize that truth, and discover what their purpose is.

To the people who stare blankly, I tell stories of normalcy, in an attempt to get them to a place where they fear less and understand more.  I talk about how conversations with people at the Mission are enriching experiences, and that I walk away from them having learned so much more about the world around me (granted, the things I learn aren’t always things I ever thought I needed to know…).  I tell them things like, we provided shelter to over 150 people in July (true story) or no, I don’t know every person who stands on the side of the road with a cardboard sign (I get asked this often, and am still surprised by the question every time).

The thing is though, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to me how people respond.  Because I get to give every person I talk to–about the Mission and the people here–a small glimpse of a part of their world that they may not think about very often.  And I want them to think about it, because these people that are so often overlooked are important to me!  But more so than that, they’re important to Jesus.