What's it really like..

What's it really like to be homeless?? We got a glimpse of that during Give a Shirt week last week, and even moreso as we got to listen to the story of Kevin and Dana, a couple that have been married for 10 years now, and spent 4-5 years of that time homeless. It was interesting listening to their journey and experiences. They dispelled myths and offered insights... here are a few things that stick out to me...

1) There are days they miss being homeless. The people in the homeless community are just that "people" and "community" (you thought I'd say homeless didn't you??). They are people - with families, backgrounds, names, stories. They are not "them" - they are not "numbers". And they are a community. Kevin & Dana always found themselves sitting at the camp of another person/couple/family hearing about their lives and stories (unlike now when you can't just walk into someone's house and say how was your day). They miss the camaraderie, the connection, the constant relationship with others. They never had anything stolen while on the streets (although they did lose everything to flood waters, or to the police coming through and clearing them from an area). And while they never worried before, now that they're in their suburban home, they lock the doors every night. They say there are many days they feel as though they trust their homeless community more than their new community. Huh... Did you ever think you'd hear someone say they miss being homeless? I didn't.

2) Their son learned how to love people during that time. Kevin & Dana have teenage boys, who were living with other family during their time on the streets. Every day one of their sons would hop on his bike and ride down to the camp where his parents lived. When he was asked what he learned from the experience he said, "you always hear that you can't always judge a book by it's cover - and I learned you're right." He said he'd always liked people, but he learned to love people. He learned what it was like to be loved by people as well, as they didn't judge or condemn others. He grew in compassion and the ability to get to really know people. Wow - what a life lesson...

3) What should I do when I see someone standing on a corner with a sign? Dana said she only did this twice. It was too embarrassing. And, she said that people were just mean - yelling terrible things. The worst though was that people look away - like they don't see you. You are already feeling bad enough, and then for people to purposefully pretend to not see you adds insult to injury. So, a few things you can do next time... Look and smile. Yep - acknowledge a person standing there. Someone God created. Smile big! You may want to keep a stash of things you could give out. SOCKS SOCKS SOCKS! You can't have enough socks. Or, bottled water, gift cards to restaurants, granola bars, aluminum cans they can recycle, dog food (because many are eligible for food stamps, but they can't buy dog or cat food with food stamps). If you're headed to a drive thru --- decide to sit in that day, and invite this person to join you and hear their story. So, whatcha gonna do next time you see someone??

4) They know that God is the provider of all things. They are truly thankful for every single thing they have. Every single thing. I know it's easy for me to forget or take it for granted. And they also know that true HOPE is found only in Him. And that's something we all need to know too...

I know I've not included a ton. If you were there to hear them, you can add your insights in comments...I may go back later and add some more. It's still a bit overwhelming - good, but overwhelming taking it all in. I'm so proud of the middle school students and the lessons they've learned from all of this. They are a remarkable group of world-changers --- I pray they will continue to seek Him and serve Him with all they are!! Go change the world!! Go serve! God tell! Go live wholeheartedly for Him!!!

Our next Give a Shirt Party with homeless students from the area is on Friday. I'm sure we'll all be approaching it differently. I can't wait to see who we get to meet, and who we get to hear and learn from, and who we get to bless beyond belief because of the generosity of so many others...


I already promised to write about Kevin & Dana - the couple that came and shared last Friday night about their experience of being homeless in Salem for 4-5 years. Then... JOHN STUMBO STARTED EATING! Then...school started back! Then...MINUTE TO WIN IT! Then... Yeah, there's a lot going on. All that to say, I'll start in a moment where I said I would, but there's lots more to come and I may even find myself posting more than one post a day... whoa... feast or famine, huh? Tell me...what's going on in your world these days???


You have no idea...

...what it's like to be homeless...

As I mentioned in my last entry, last week was "Give a Shirt" week around here. By Friday I was pretty ready to have a new outfit on. I was growing more and more grateful for the simple things. And I was amazingly looking forward to Friday night/Saturday morning - "Homeless Night" - we weren't sure how it would turn out, but middle and high school students plus several leaders chose to (after wearing the same outfit all week) sleep in cardboard boxes for the night. Nearly 90 people CHOSE to lock ourselves in a gated parking lot, CHOSE our sleeping bags, CHOSE our boxes and our neighbors, CHOSE our jacket, gloves, etc., and CHOSE to try to put ourselves in a place that was like a homeless person. What's it like to have the same outfit on? What's it like to sleep in a cardboard box? What's it like to smell like burn barrel smoke? What's it like not to have access to a bathroom? or water? or food? or a pillow?

As we were setting up early in the night I talked to a homeless woman who came by - her name was Karen. She was a "lucky one" (in her words) - she had a bed for the night at the Salvation Army shelter not too far away. She praised us for helping raise awareness that there are many "normal" people on the streets. She talked about how there were a lot of nice people in the city to help care for others. And everything we offered to her she denied - again, she had a place to sleep that night. I was in tears as I talked to her, listened to her heartbreak and challenges...and her heart as she said - "be sure these kids keep their heads covered and their feet warm. They'll be ok if they can do that." About an hour later, the neighbors across the street from the youth center had to call the paramedics because a homeless man had collapsed and passed out in their yard. So sad.

Fast forward. Time ticks away. It's 2:00 a.m. I see some students talking with someone through our locked gate. Short sleeve black shirt, black jeans. No jacket. (It got to 40 degrees that night.) As I approach I realize he's not that old. He's 16 and he's on the streets. He's been out of a "regular" home since he was 9. In and out of foster care or couch surfing. He recently had a bad foster care experience and left. 10 days later, he had a warrant issued on him - no more school or they would turn him in to jail. He talked about how he goes from place to place all day helping others who are in trouble. He shared how earlier that day he pulled a friend's girlfriend out of a rough place. After a few more stories and insights he spoke words that still are ringing in my ears. "Why are you doing this?" One of the 7th grade girls in our group explained that we were trying to understand what it was like to be homeless and that we wanted to raise awareness so others would take seriously the call to care for those in need. Then... he told us we didn't know what it was like to be homeless. And I asked what we should know... His response??

"You have no idea what it's like to be homeless until you've spent the night under a bridge by yourself with a sorry excuse of a blanket and know you are the loneliest person in the world."

And while to this moment I don't regret what we did last week or that night...I knew he was right. I have no clue. You see, I CHOSE to wear one outfit last week, I CHOSE to sleep in a cardboard box, I CHOSE not to buy a hairdryer, I CHOSE to wear flip-flops... See, I can ask "what will I eat" and others ask "how will I eat today"; I ask "when will I sleep" and others ask "where will I sleep"; I look across the room and see my family - others look around for months or years and never see their family; I can run through a drive thru, and drive-by people who haven't eaten... and the list goes on. Ultimately I could CHOOSE whether or not to participate. For many, their life circumstances at this point don't allow them to CHOOSE like I can. In a way I was embarrassed at our attempt to put myself in the shoes of this young guy. I hadn't thought of these questions: What is it like to be alone? And not just alone...but the loneliest person in the world? What is it like to be hopeless? What is it like to be cold, hungry and achy from sleeping in a sorry excuse of a "home"? What is it like to hold a sign on a street corner and have people yell at you, or just look away and ignore you? What is it like to not know where I'm going to sleep or IF I'm going to sleep? What is it like not to know how long I'm going to live like this? And my heart broke...again. This really is a matter of life and death.

And standing in that parking lot I was reminded of John 10:10 - "the thief comes ONLY to seek, kill and destroy. I have come that you may have life and have it to the full." God does not desire that this be the life of any of His creation. He longs for them to know how much He truly loves them. He longs for them to be cared for...and He's called each of us to do it.

God continues to show me that there is so much more "me" to break, and so much more of "Him" to gain. Lord, I long for Your heart, Your compassion, Your grace and mercy, Your wisdom, Your love...that it may overflow from me to those around me --- those I know by name and those I don't. It's not ok with you that people are literally living on the streets, washing clothes in gas station bathrooms, begging on the side of the street for someone to even just acknowledge them and smile, sleeping under bridges or in cardboard boxes... You know them by name. You know their heart and their deepest need. If You choose to use me, I'm available. Continue to break me...and mold me...


Same shirt...same jeans...different day...

So, it's Give a Shirt week. Some of you know what that means, some of you don't. Just so we're all on the same page, a little synopsis. Last December the middle and high school students @ Salem Alliance voted to get behind a cause that would address a practical need in our community - realizing there are 900+ homeless students in Salem/Keizer, and that many of these students don't attend school because they don't have the basics, including clothing they decided to "Give a Shirt" - literally! They decided to design shirts that say "Give a Shirt" and sell them for $15 - and for every shirt sold, $10 goes to providing clothing and basic needs for homeless students in the area. By partnering with the Homeless Advocate for the school system, we invite students to parties quarterly to come eat, hang out, blend in with a group of students to play games, talk, pick up items from a "store" (stocked with personal items/toiletries), they go "shopping" at our product store (each quarter has a different take home product - last time it was coats - for our event next week - NEW SHOES!) - get a medical screening (vision, dental, medical, hearing, etc.) AND... sign up for a personal shopping visit to a local retailer where we say - go for it - you have $xxx to spend - go get yourself some clothes! In the meantime we're building relationships with students. The "tagline" for the cause is "Give Hope - Restore Dignity." You can check out all the details (including a video from the first party @ www.igiveashirt.org.) This week --- everyone who wants to, in support of these students, has been challenged to wear the same shirt & jeans all week long. Many homeless students do this all the time - we're all challenged for one week. Just one week.

So, Monday - Day 1 - get dressed - clean smelling shirt, regular fitting jeans - life is good. Go to dry my hair, and my hairdryer dies. I made a choice - ya' know, I'll just wait until after this is over to get a new hairdryer. If I was on the streets I don't know that I'd get a shower. Even if I did get the chance to wash my hair, I may not have access to a dryer (except a hand dryer on the wall). So, I can do life without a hair dryer. That night, I attend (along with a bunch of our staff) a district conference for the CM&A. We do get some "looks" at the shirt (but that's normal anyway as people try to figure out just by the name what on earth it's all about). Those familiar with the cause know we're "on" for the week, and there are lots of questions about am I gonna take a shower, or comments like here's a hug now, might not be able to at the end of the week, etc. Ha! Ha! all in stride. Day 1.

Day 2- Tuesday - back to the conference. A few more looks and a few conversations about the shirt and didn't I wear that the night before. Was it just for the conference? No. Facebook messages start turning up on student's pages - lots of comments - eeeewwwwwww, that's gross. And conversations begin about WHY. Because it's not ok that homeless students are on the streets. It's not ok that students don't complete school because they don't have basic needs met. It's not ok to ridicule, look down on, take advantage of, gloss over and look around these students. It's not ok that people created by God (and guess what, that's all of us anyway) in a position to not have people talk to, honor, bless, encourage and care for them. God calls us to care for others, especially those who have needs and hurts. And to do it, no strings attached.

Day 3- Wednesday - hmmm... am i starting to smell?? A little more deodorant please. And I find students starting to talk about how hard this is, how many have stopped because it's hard. I spend a bit of the day encouraging others... and yeah, it's not easy. I'm tempted to wash my shirt & jeans. I lay down and am like - wow, thanks God for this bed. For my pillow. For my house. For my family. For my couch. For my van. For my closet. For my washing machine...

Day 4- Thursday... for my shower, for my toothbrush, for my toothpaste, for a towel... and all day I have been stunned at how much more aware I am of the "things" I have access to, and how ungrateful I typically am each day for them. Today, I've equated this experience to a fast. I'm sitting here wearing the same shirt & jeans I've worn all week. My shirt (yeah this'll sound gross) is a little stinky, has flakes my from dry skin that I try to shake and wipe and clear off, a few small marks you probably can't even see from a splatter of a drink, or a drip of toothpaste, or food that dropped in my lap that I quickly cleaned up, and yeah, there's probably a bit of sweat in there too, in spite of my dear friend Lady's Speed Stick.

Tomorrow is a new day. We have an event tomorrow night, but I'll tell you about that maybe tomorrow or Saturday. For now... what are you thankful for? Would you go for a week wearing the same outfit every day so that you can tell other people that there are some out there who wear the same outfit every day for...weeks, months...and how much God longs for us to care for them?? Would you check out that website and buying a shirt to help us clothe these students (igiveashirt.org)? Would you share about "Give a Shirt" on your blog or on twitter (follow @igiveashirt)? Would you pray that God would continue to break my heart (and yours) to care for the needs of those around us?? No, not just for the needs, but for the people with needs... What do you think?


A tale of two...

It's Holy Week -- the week we remember and reflect on the last week of Jesus' life (at least I do). At a service on Sunday the pastor talked about how Jesus was a part of two processions - a triumphant procession (Palm Sunday) and a condemning procession (crucifixion day). I have been reading this week through the different accounts of Holy Week in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. And in the midst of it, I've noticed a bunch of "two's" --- here's my list so far...

Two processions – Triumphant and condemning

Two elements – bread and cup

Two betrayals – Judas and Peter

Two requests – stay and pray

Two judges – Herod and Pilate

Two criminals – Jesus and Barabas

Two choices – release Him or crucify Him

Two descriptions – betrayer and friend

Two punishments – flogging and crucifixion

Two tools - Spike and hammer

Two bones – in Jesus' arm

Two thieves – mock him or believe in him

Two reasons - Sacrifice and atonement

Two eternities --- heaven or hell

Two ways to live – for Him or against Him

Have you seen any others? Will you look at Jesus' story and see which "two's" you see?? Will you add to this list?? Will you look back at Jesus' story and think about what He did for you during the course of that last week of His life? with His death? with His resurrection? I know my life hasn't been the same since I pondered this story for myself...and each year as I remember and reflect I am amazed again by the love, the intent, the passion... May you know His love for you today...

What's that sound??

I love March Madness. I do. I love college basketball. It's my second favorite sport. Hockey is first. I love filling out my bracket and watching the games and filling in the winners and seeing teams make it to the next round. I love upsets!! It's awesome to watch some seemingly unknown school beat a powerhouse. This year as I was filling out my brackets I kept saying to Steve, there's something not right about this. I know I'm going to be getting things WRONG! I'm not saying that I get them all right...but I can usually hold my own.

This year --- not so much. Here's my Final Four --- Kansas, Kansas State, Villanova and Kentucky. That sound? Yeah, the toilet flushing. That being said I'm LOVING this tournament - lots of really close games, overtime and upsets. It's classic for what the tournament is, can bring and create. Teamwork, excellence and excitement! I love it. Who did you pick for your Final Four?? (Oh, and I picked Kentucky to win... oh well... who's your winner too?)

©2009 Until... | by TNB