Wednesday, 6 November 2013

On being Homeless (And on being Home)



It snowed again last night. Winter is wrapping its icy arms around Minnesota and very soon will be squeezing tightly.

I dropped a few more wedding Thank-yous in the post today on my way to work and right outside the post office stood a man bundled up against the cold, holding a cardboard sign reading, “Homeless. Anything helps. God bless.” 


And I couldn’t just do nothing. 


Last night Charles and I started watching a dated documentary on street children in Bucharest, Romania. When I was 20 years old, I spent a few months working with abandoned babies in that very city and had my heart stolen away by their glinting brown eyes and bewitching smiles. Our babies had been saved from the streets and the sewers. The children in the documentary had fled to the streets and the sewers. These particular ones were sleeping in a subway station with a little gang of other children who had, for various reasons, ran away from their hopeless homes, chosen the streets rather than remain under their tormented family roofs.  The streets kept them hungry, constantly tired, cold, and riddled with lice. Huffing paint kept them from noticing those things too much. When they’d get any money, they’d spend it on paint rather than food because when high, they’d forget they were hungry. One of the children maneuvering his way through life on the streets was the same age as my little niece Abby. 


And I struggled to fall asleep with images of their sunken brown eyes in my head. What was heartbreakingly bittersweet was watching their childish nature break through as they played together. Their lives were desperate and their worlds were more adult than any 8 year old should ever have to deal with, and yet, their eyes would light up as they’d strip off their dirty clothes and play in a fountain with a dog, or walk through a buzzing metro station singing to themselves and dancing…

When I worked in Romania in 2007, it was just after the post-communist country had become part of the EU.  I rarely saw any street children. It was rumored that to clean up to become part of the EU, the corrupt gov’t had rounded them up one night and taken them away to be killed and buried in a mass grave, because one day they were there—an estimated 20,000 of them in Bucharest alone— and the next day, gone… Their numbers were only slowly building back up as destitute families in the country would send their children in to the city to beg. 


The documentary makes me want to hop on a plane and get back there, even if it was over a decade old since its filming. But my life is very different than it once was, being back in America and having a husband now. The struggles in front of me are very different struggles. The heaviness is a very different weight. And our good Father is reminding me to do whatever I can to live it well, to live it for Him. Reminding me that wherever He has me, I am called to be all there. Fully present. Listening for His voice, extending His hands…


So when I saw the homeless man standing in the snow at the stoplight by the post office this morning, I couldn’t drive by. And I was strangely afraid to approach him. I am led far too easily by fear which cuts me off from my faith… So I stopped at a grocery store and picked up a few things to sustain him, and then pulled into a nearby parking lot, took a deep breath and some of Jesus’ courage, and walked up to him. 


He had eyes as blue and clear as the Minnesota winter sky. He was gentle and kind. I told him that this was a particularly cold state to be homeless in. He agreed and said he tried each night at 6pm to get a bed at the local salvation army, and that he was trying to get back down south. I asked him about his life. He told me that his father was a pastor in Arkansas and actually ran a homeless shelter! I asked him if he had any way to contact him. His Minnesota-winter-blue eyes shifted and he changed the subject. I wish I would have told him that I know what dad-issues look like. He told me he had kids in Wisconsin, and a girlfriend in North Dakota in the hospital. I wondered why with so many connections, he was homeless on this cold street. He gave me a smile when he told me how much he appreciated the groceries. I gave him a smile and a “bless you”, but didn’t tell him how much I appreciated the lessons taught in his eyes. 


Maybe he was on drugs. Maybe he drinks away his money. There are usually reasons for being on the streets. I would fix it all for him if I could. But this morning all I saw was Jesus’ love for him. All I felt, once I pushed past the fear, was God’s tender heart for him. And a longing for Him to bring us all home…


I think we’re all a little bit homeless. I know I am. I think we’re all a little bit desperate and somewhat choosing to live on the streets and huff paint to ward off the hunger pains. Hunger for heaven, hunger for the deepest connection with the designer of our hearts which it is so hard to maintain this side of heaven.  So hard to hold on to how He loves us when everything around us is beating the tender flesh of our hearts against the rocks. I’m realizing with sometimes overpowering intensity that even the most decent of people are walking perilous inches away from devastating evil, sometimes flirting with it, sometimes jumping right in and dancing with it. Letting it break them, and those who love them. Sin does this. Sin breaks our world down. Sin leaves us homeless, high on drugs to numb the pain. Jesus said that our sin was unbelief in Him. “Lord God, I believe, but help my unbelief.” We are all sinners, we are all breaking one another down. 


But, oh, how He invites us to be built up, and to build one another up. To turn our faces from our unbelief and believe. And after realizing the depth of His grace, to be set free from the system of breaking down ourselves and those around us with our sin. It’s the most basic tenet of Christianity, really. Belief which changes us. But things have been so very hard. I’ve felt so very broken down. It becomes a new realization all over again. 


Somehow, He’s constantly speaking to me most powerfully in encounters with “the least of these”. And it gives me hope that even when I am at my weakest and most broken and at my least, He can use me to pull someone else’s eyes up to His face… 

His grace, His love, His attention, His care is just astounding.
And I want you to see it, feel it, know it, perceive it for yourself.
I’m praying (albeit a weak whisper at this season in my life) for you reading this. How I want you to find your Home in Him.…
Love,
Leah

7 comments:

Hannah said...

Wow Leah! This was so good! I love that you stopped and talked with him and became Jesus in flesh!

Gabi Dickinson said...

Thank you, Sis...

Emily Johnson said...

Leah, thank you for this. Thank you for sharing your heart and compelling me to look at my own. You never fail to convict me.

Lizzie S said...

I just read this after our earlier conversation and can't believe how much this post sums up the essence of our conversation! God is amazing the way He speaks :)

Brittany Johnson said...

Oh Leah, I connect with this on so many levels. Seeing homeless children in Ukraine. Longing for my true home. Daddy issues and extending a helping hand to a man with the exact same eyes you describe only on a corner in Park Rapids. Sometimes I think they're angels...sent by God to give us a chance to live the faith we talk about. Thank you for posting!

Brittany Johnson said...

Oh Leah, I connect with this on so many levels. Seeing homeless children in Ukraine. Longing for my true home. Daddy issues and extending a helping hand to a man with the exact same eyes you describe only on a corner in Park Rapids. Sometimes I think they're angels...sent by God to give us a chance to live the faith we talk about. Thank you for posting!

Brittany Johnson said...

Oh Leah, I connect with this on so many levels. Seeing homeless children in Ukraine. Longing for my true home. Daddy issues and extending a helping hand to a man with the exact same eyes you describe only on a corner in Park Rapids. Sometimes I think they're angels...sent by God to give us a chance to live the faith we talk about. Thank you for posting!

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