Monday, August 23, 2010

It is God

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast,because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. Isaiah 26:3-4

So, in previous posts I've been telling you how abnormal it is for me to be out talking to people on the streets because I'm a quiet, awkward person. That is so true. I mean seriously, you put me in a crowd and I shut up. Even around friends, the bigger the crowd the quieter I am. And that's also true in talking to people I don't really know. Typically, I joke that you have to know me about 2 years before I'll actually really talk to you in any sort of normal way. That's not because I don't want to talk to you, it's because I'm weird and talking is just not normal with me. It's like my brain is literally blank... not a thought in there at all. It takes a good person to stick it out and befriend me. However, I don't hate being quiet, I mean, I regret the awkwardness; but, I honestly don't even always notice lulls in conversations around me sometimes.

I tell you the above just because I want you to know that my participation in the homeless ministry is a God thing. It is God. It is God. It is God. I wouldn't have the opportunity and I wouldn't be capable of participating if it wasn't. Yesterday, I was talking with a fella I had never met before. As I already told you, I was doing the needs list so I had a task to perform in talking with the man. But, as I was talking to him I was learning a little about him. I found out he was a 60 year old Vietnam Vet. What do you say to that? "Thanks for serving, sorry you are having to live on the streets now?" That doesn't seem sincere... I mean it might be true... but it seems sort of generic.... I mean the man served our country and now he's living on the street! Now there may be some other things going on with him that led to where he is now, but that doesn't mean it's not sad. And, I'll tell you, he told me that part of his story looking for an answer, an answer I don't have. I didn't have much to say but I did give him a hug and he seemed happy with that answer, for now. If you know me well, you also know I am not a huggy person. I'm not. If you get hugs from me, you are among few. But, I think that hug was an answer from God. He gave me that answer and I was grateful for it. Because whatever his story is, it seems he did deserve something.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Today the homeless helped me

After the worship service this morning, I was walking down a hall I don't normally walk down in order to get to my new Sunday School class location. This hall took me past boxes and boxes of donated items for the biscuit ministry. Now years ago, I had heard someone started a ministry for the homeless at my church but I didn't know it was still going on until recently and I certainly didn't know any details about it. I still don't. But, as I walked past all the boxes of things I started to think about the hands & feet who would be delivering it all and the people who would be receiving it. I couldn't help but say a little prayer for them. I am sort of looking forward to passing all those boxes each week from now on and getting to see how the items change. I will not take that walk for granted. Each week I will be blessed by it and I will pray for the people that I don't even know who are involved on both ends of that ministry.

All week I've been looking forward to seeing my friends downtown. When I tell you they are a blessing to me, well that doesn't really convey it all. There truly are no words to describe what it's like to just have the opportunity to show up and love somebody because of who God is. He is love. But today after lunch I was feeling a little down and a little hopeless myself and I just didn't know of what use I would be or could be. But as always, God was good to me. The minute I got out of the car under the overpass my woes started to disappear and I began to just see the men who had come for food, necessities, and company. Plus, JM asked me to do the needs list, that's simply just taking down any needs that people have so that we can try to help fill them. I was grateful to have a task to do to help keep the woes away. I immediately noticed Q, C and T were not there. Q and C always show up so I'm a little worried about them. I heard Q was in church today but I'm still a little worried. I hope C is alright and, of course, you know from last week I was already worried about T. Please keep them in you prayers.

All that said, Here is where my great blessing came from today, it was from talking to J, a fella I briefly mentioned a few posts ago, the guy who gave away his sandwich. J doesn't seem to be your average homeless fella. He's clearly very educated and loves the Lord. He is a definite example on how you can make a bad decision or face difficult circumstances, struggle with it and still love God. Right before we left today, RC and I were talking with him. He was talking about his faith and how hard it is to trust God sometimes. But he said, "God is mighty and He is all you need, you just have to remember that." J explained that sometimes you get knocked down and that's what you need. How you grow from such times, thats what makes you who you are and we have the Holy Spirit to help us. Today J told me what I needed to hear because I was ready to count God out on my problem. I'm still not sure what God is going to do. I've been praying about it for years and years but I shouldn't count God out. That'd be a bad move.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Under the Overpass

I just finished a great book called Under the Overpass. It’s by Michael Yankoski. If you haven’t heard of him, then you have probably heard of his wife Danae. She cowrote Crazy Love with Fancis Chan.

I stumbled across Under the Overpass a few weeks ago and immediately went to my local library to check it out. FYI if you live around me, it’s not at a library in our area but you can still get it through Inter-Library Loan which is what I did.

Even if the homeless are not a calling for you, it is a very interesting and eye-opening read. It’s an account by Yankoski of living 5 months on the street in 6 different cities and what he experienced. Really, it’s a very interesting read and a fast one. You should get it. It's the story of what it’s like for someone to live on the street and how people, even people who call themselves Christians respond to them.

Here’s the thing about me, as much as I love going down to my overpass each Sunday, if you were to transport me to a different location today with similar circumstances, I don’t know what my behavior would be. Would I show compassion for people? I don’t know.

I can tell you that last month when I went out of town, I found myself surrounded by men clearly living on the street and I did not respond in any way that might be considered compassionate… I responded in an unsure of my surroundings/nervous/careful not to make eye contact way. And, it didn’t even occur to me that I had done that until a week later. If Michael Yankoski had been one of those men, he wouldn’t have been able to report anything good about me. NKW was with me at the time. She responded to the men as if they were normal as if it was no big deal they were around us and I remember thinking at the time, “You are crazy. These men do not look like the people we need to be around.” I didn’t say that out loud, I just thought it. But now looking back, I realize that she was just treating them like people. While I’m not saying you shouldn’t be careful on the streets, I am saying I don’t want to treat anyone like they aren’t people or like they don’t matter. I hope if I am ever in that situation again, I respond like NKW or better yet, like Christ.

Yankoski’s book isn’t judgmental…. But I’m telling you, it might make you see things differently.

Monday, August 16, 2010


This past Sunday I also spent some time talking with T. It was his second Sunday to be down there with us. He’s a mid age/older man. Maybe in his 60s. It’s so hard to tell sometimes. Life on the streets is hard so I don’t know if he really is older or if he has just aged faster. Anyway, he seems to be a quiet man. I myself am quiet. I really struggle to talk to people sometimes so I tend to notice that in other people and sort of feel a connection with them. Last week, I had welcomed him and asked him how he found out about us. He answered with short answers. Not much for me to follow up on. But he smiled when we talked a little.

Yesterday I was excited to see him under the overpass waiting on us. I wasn’t sure I’d get to see him again. I went over to tell him how happy I was to see him again. He just smiled. Then he quietly got his lunch, sat and ate it. He doesn’t seem to separate himself from others really. He’ll sit nearby and listen and grin from time to time.

Right before we were leaving, I wanted to talk to him again. I’m really not good at talking to people. I cannot stress that enough. But I wanted him to know he mattered to me. So I went back over and asked him where R was. I had learned he followed R to the group last time. He said he didn’t know and that he really didn’t know R that well. I said, “Oh.” Then after a minute he looked at me and said very quietly, “I really don’t like myself.” I was a little startled and not sure I heard him correctly because I really do have a hard time hearing people sometimes and he speaks very softly. So I stepped closer to him and said, “What?” And he repeated it. I asked him why. He said he didn’t know but he just didn’t and he didn’t know anyone. I’m telling you, heart to heart conversations and counseling sessions are not my thing. They really are not. You know how girls are known for being all emotional and caring…. That’s not me. I somehow missed that girl gene. I was somewhat lost. I told him that no matter what he thinks or feels that he matters, that he matters to me and that God loves him. He mumbled, “I know.” Then I pointed to the group and asked, “do you know any of the other fellas here?” He said no, so I turned to C and Q and introduced them to him. Q, immediately started talking about his shoes and invited him to follow him back to his place, the parking deck, to see if he had some shoes that would fit him. I could have hugged Q’s neck for that. I wasn’t sure that was the thing to do really but I couldn’t imagine living on the streets and feeling so alone. Before they left, one of the guys for the ministry prayed for Q and C and he prayed for T too. I heard him but I think T had stepped to the side so I’m not sure he heard it. I hope he did. Prayer is so powerful and it’s always nice to know people are praying for you. I assume that’s true even if you don’t know if you believe.

If you read this, feel free to pray for T and pray for the people in the ministry and me to have the words to encourage T. He broke my heart this week. I don’t know his story but I want him to be happy. I want him to have hope.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Friends on the Street

Yesterday, I was back down at the overpass. We had a lot of people go down there with us this time. I think there were 12 of us that ended up down there. When we arrived, there were 7 or 8 men waiting on us. Most of them were new or newer faces. By the end of the day we had served about 15 men under the overpass and the leftovers had once again been delivered to others on the street. So, I’m not really sure how many men were fed yesterday.

Last week I told you that Q had been attacked and unable to come to lunch. But he showed up yesterday with a smile and a hug. He and C stood together. They always seem to stick together. I asked them how long they had known each other. C answered me, “About 8 months.” That’s when C moved into the parking garage that Q had been living in for 2 years. They’ve been looking after each other ever since. Q was quick to tell me that when he had been hurt last week, C walked with him to the hospital. And when he got out the next day, C was there waiting for him. Then C spoke up and said that when he is sick, Q is there to take care of him. (C suffers seizures). Q said, “We’re all each other have.” I really like the two of them. I wanted to tell him that’s not true, that they had me. But, I didn’t say that because I don’t know that it’s true. I do care about them but I show up for a couple of hours each week, when I can. They don’t really have me to count on in all circumstances. I am such a small part of their weeks. And, of course, that is what makes JM, who heads the ministry, so special. He is committed to the men he meets on the streets. He is their advocate. They really do have him to count on.

One of the things I’ve learned over the past few months is that people really aren’t that interested in the homeless. Sure, they are interested the first couple of times it is mentioned but after that, they lose interest and seem to wish I’d shut up about it. But I can’t. What I see happening is so amazing and such a blessing. How can I not talk about what I see God doing? People get hungry every week. People need to know they matter every week. The blessing of being a part of that is huge and there is plenty to go around so no, I don’t think by showing up one Sunday that I shouldn’t have to show up again for a while. I’m not saying that’s true for everyone. People have different callings and passions but that is the sort of attitude I get sometimes, that maybe I should put other things ahead of my street friends from time to time. But, I don’t want to and honestly, I’d miss them. I’ve thought about C and Q a thousand times since I saw them yesterday. I look forward to seeing them next Sunday.

A coworker and I are planning the Sunday meal in a couple of weeks, She, RC, has been going down there on Sundays too. She has become such a blessing to me. It’s so wonderful to have someone to share experiences with, who understands them. Like C and Q, RC and I have a common bond. We work together and we spend our Sundays under the overpass. When someone on the street tells me a story, I know I can tell RC and she will understand and know what I mean and where I coming from. I am so grateful for her. We asked C and Q what they might like the day we cook lunch. Q asked “What?” then they both just laughed and said whatever we cook will be fine. I don’t guess anyone has asked them that question in a long time. We still don’t know what we’ll cook for them. I’m pretty sure it will involve beans and maybe some banana pudding but outside of that, I guess it’ll be a surprise for C and Q.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Out from Under the Overpass

"The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people from everyday Christian life in community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; for in the poor sister or brother, Christ is knocking at the door." Dietrich Bonhoffer, Life Together

After we had given the men their lunches and their needs bags on Sunday, we had a lot of sack lunches left. So after leaving the overpass JM (the leader of the ministry) drove us around the streets looking for other folks who looked in need of a meal. A couple of the fellas from the street had hopped in the back of the truck for a lift. We stopped by a brick warehouse that appeared to be abandoned. There was a large cardboard box laid out on a porch. An older man was there sleeping. I was told, “that’s his place”…. Meaning that’s his home. JM knew him, and said that he could talk your ear off. I wondered if that was a God given talent… (If you are an introvert like me you see that as a gift) or did he spend so much time alone that when he found someone to talk to he just couldn’t shut up.

After leaving there we went by a gas station where a couple was standing. JM knew them too. He said they were bad news. They refused our meals and we left quickly. They were most likely up to no good and perhaps smoking some crack. I don’t know and I don’t want to know but they made me nervous. JM told us a little more about them in the car. They definitely live a shady lifestyle and I never want to come across either one of them alone.

From then on I kept glancing to the back of the truck to see how our friends reacted to people we saw. If they smiled and waved I felt better. Finally, we stopped by Lynn Park. We gave a guy a meal and as soon as we did we had about 50 people rush the truck. PW, one of our friends in the back of the truck said, “This is trouble.” We gave all the food we had away and there were still 20 or 30 people who didn’t get a lunch. We gave them bottled waters. Many of the folks at the park were not happy with us for running out of food. They scowled and turned their backs on us. J a new fella who had come to the overpass for the first time that Sunday was in the back with PW. He gave his sack lunch away to one of the men at the park. That was such a generous thing to do, but the recipient didn’t even thank him. Stopping by the park was a very eye-opening experience for me. In a weird way the Overpass in its own way was a comfort zone for me. I know the rules there. I know the people there. And although I have a healthy respect for what it is I’m doing there and my surroundings, there is a sort of comfort in it. But seeing another side of homelessness was shocking and even more heartbreaking. I wonder if there is hope for some of the people I saw there. How trapped are they by that lifestyle? It is a sort of community. Do they want that lifestyle? It’s very dark there, I almost never want to go to that park again. In the past, for various reasons I’ve gone through that park several times. I will never go there again without being more aware of my surroundings, without knowing that the girls on the corner, they aren’t just hanging out. It’s a very scary, heartbreaking world. I’m sad for them. I dont know what to do but pray for them.

C's Birthday

I feel there is so much to say about what I’ve seen happening in downtown Birmingham since I started going down on Sunday afternoons. I don’t know that I can actually catch you up.

But I will tell you about yesterday…. beginning with last Sunday. Last Sunday after helping serve the food I was sort of standing around awkwardly. I’m an awkward girl so that’s what I do. Since I’m also kind of a quiet girl…. That adds to the awkwardness. So I was standing around being odd when R drove up on his bike. R is one of my favorites. Is it odd or bad that I have favorite homeless men? I feel like I shouldn't but I do. R is a younger fellow. I’d guess him to be around 25. I have no idea what his story is but I like him and as soon as I saw him drive up, I was happy. I knew I’d have someone I could say hello to. He came over and gave me a hug and we talked about sunglasses, ice cream, and the weather. Then he started talking to another fella from the ministry team. So, I went over to say hello to a couple more guys from the street that seem to hang out together. Q and C. Q is probably in his 40s. I don’t know his story either. But, he is always nicely dressed. He’s dirty but his clothes are nice. So, Q tells me that next week (yesterday) was C’s birthday. At that point, C took off telling me about how he was going to walk proudly down the street on his birthday and drink a big ol’ Dr. Pepper. He went on and on about that Dr. Pepper and he seemed excited that he would get to spend his birthday with us.

So… now to yesterday. Knowing how important it was to C that it was his birthday I had gotten him a button that flashed Happy Birthday, and a small cooler with some ice and Dr. Peppers. I put it in a grocery bag with his name on it so it would blend in with other bags we had for the fellas. A coworker of mine had dropped off some cupcakes from Savages for him as well. I also kept those out of site for most of the afternoon. People get jealous of what the others get so I didn’t want to cause trouble or hurt any feelings. But as soon as we got to the overpass where we meet on Sundays I went over to give him a birthday hug and put his birthday pin on him. Immediately he started talking about his birthday Dr. Peppers. He said he had walked to the train station and paid $2.50 for a bottle of Dr. Pepper that morning only somehow he lost it. I think he said he put it down to do something and went back and it was gone. But he seemed happy to have gotten a few sips from it. Q wasn’t able to come to the overpass yesterday because earlier in the week someone who stayed in the same rundown building had beaten him up and injured him. I can’t imagine living in such a way. I worried for Q and felt sad for C because even his friend couldn’t help him celebrate his birthday. KM (a lady who heads up a lot of what the ministry does) walked over and joined us. She asked him how his birthday was going. He said it was better now but he had woken up sad because he was alone and didn’t have anyone to celebrate with. So KM told him we had something for him and we gave him the cupcakes and I told him about the Dr. Peppers. We sang Happy Birthday to him and he was so pleased and excited. We gave him so little and it meant so much to him. I think the only way I would have looked that pleased and excited is if someone had decided to pay off my mortgage.

R was also there again. He came over to me and very proudly showed me his “new” tennis shoes. These were shoes the ministry had been able to get for him from a local running shop. They were used but they looked brand new. R was so grateful for them. He told me that when he picked up his needs bag last week that he had no idea he’d have shoes in the bag and that he was so excited when he saw them. He had needed some new shoes for at least a month. I’m a little worried I didn’t respond to R as well as I should have because I was so focused on C and his birthday. I wouldn’t want to hurt R’s feelings for the world and he was so appreciative.

These men are such blessing to me… These men are homeless… and they bless me. I sort of wonder why that is. How can I be blessed by their poverty? Am I blessed because they are grateful to me for little things? That makes me feel like a bad person. But, I do care about them. I think about them all the time… When I’m outside and hot, I wonder if they’ve found a cool place to rest. Even today in the public bathroom at work when I saw toilet paper on the ground and a smudge on a door, I snarled a little at it not being perfectly clean and then I thought about my homeless friends and how they didn’t have bathrooms like I do let alone toilet paper. It’s a different world for some people. And most times we all just walk by and not even blink at it. It’s amazing.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


For several months now I have been going downtown with a local ministry to help serve lunch to the homeless and to help meet their needs. The ministry's goal is to build relationships with the folks on the street, to tell them the good news of Christ and to offer them hope and a way out if possible.

Someone this past week thanked me for my servants heart. But I don't have a servants heart. I have a grateful heart. I cannot believe God has blessed me with the opportunity to see Him in action each week. Granted he is in action around me all the time. But this is an out of the box, away from the church building... In the dark sort of thing... Where people don't really have hope. They don't have a bed or a change of clothes. They don't even have a toilet, much less hope for a better tommorow. They are sick, they are addicted, they are without work and they need to be loved. They need to see God's love in action and they need to know of a hope in Christ. They need to know they matter. That Christ paid a high price for them and they are of great value...

And each Sunday I am privilidged to see the Love of God at work. It is an awesome blessing and I am honored beyond words to be a part of it. And I can't keep from talking about it.

So maybe instead of annoying my friends as much with these stories on twitter and facebook maybe I'll blog them. I can't promise to stop the tweets but I will try.

And fair warning, I am not above taking the clothes off of your back for my friends downtown. Especially if you happen to be a man.