We heard yelling… A lady was having a loud argument with a man in the parking lot. He was grabbing her arm. She was trying to get him to leave her alone. I was unloading sound equipment for our monthly worship night as I heard their voices escalating. The commotion was getting the attention of other people smoking cigarettes outside. I stopped what I was doing and walked towards them and asked if everything was alright. When they saw me coming they both edged towards the neighboring bar and assured me that everything was fine and they didn’t need any help. I tried to see if the woman might be trying to send some sort of unseen signal for me to step in but didn’t see any. I probably should have stepped in anyway. I said ok and left them to help unloading...
A while later she came out from behind the bar in a frenzy and said she got hit. Her ear was bleeding. I don’t know what else happened… A small group gathered around her to comfort her. I hugged her and told her to get away from there. She caught a ride with a friend and left. The man was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile inside, another man who we know is on heavy medication and has had outbursts in the past was going off. Something triggered him and in the middle of the meal with a hundred plus people around he started screaming all the "no-no" words. I saw him burst out of the door and into the evening, crying and cursing away. Prior to all of this I was in and out of conversations with different people who had all been camping in a certain spot down the road. They had been kicked out by the police and had to pack up their belongings before nightfall. They had nowhere else to go that night and it was going to be very cold.
At this point I was pretty torn. I needed to set up for our worship night but felt really distracted.
Why was all of this stuff happening right now?
Did I handle the situations right? Could I have done more? Were all of these people going to be ok? All I knew to do was pray and keep going… People were going to start showing up soon and there was still work to be done. Our meal finished up next door and we kicked off worship. Some of the homeless folks that were eating came over which is what we always hope will happen. It’s a special thing seeing people from all different walks of life coming together to worship God. It’s how it should be. One man in particular stood out to me. He could barely walk and was using a bamboo cane. He hobbled in at the start of the worship night and laid down on a back row of three chairs. I’m pretty sure he slept the whole time. Towards the end of the night he sat up so I took the opportunity to go and talk to him. As I sat down I felt a warm dampness seep into my jeans. The smell made me gag. He had urinated in his sleep which is was what I was apparently sitting in along with the smell from alcohol on his breath, body odor and feces. His hands were brown more from dirt and grime than the sun. His eyes were red and his lips shook when he talked. I was stuck. I had to focus on keeping my breathing shallow so I wouldn’t suck in the smell, and I tried not to move so I wouldn’t feel the wetness underneath me. Something in me just couldn’t leave though. I asked him what his name was and how he was doing. He said he was in pain, that he had degenerative disc disease. He told me he was tired of sleeping out in the cold and that his pain medication got stolen at his camp so he was drinking to take the edge off. My heart broke for this man. I asked him if I could pray with him and he said yes, so we did. I asked God to heal him, to do a miracle and give him new cartilage in his back and knees. To take away his pain and comfort him. To help him in his situation…I wanted so badly for this man to be healed. To be free from his pain and be able to walk. I believed God could do it. I have seen God heal people and work other miracles. I have seen God change hearts and restore people that have been far away back to Himself. I have also prayed for those things and not seen them. One thing I try to hold onto is that our hope cannot be in the outcome alone. It is in the One who holds all the outcomes within Himself. Our hope is in a person, who is always good.
While we were praying, Larry (one of the main guys who works at Love and Care) came over and asked if the man needed a sleeping bag. He said he could use another one but what he really needed was some pants. Larry left and I just sat there, listening to the music in my damp seat.
Larry came back and gave the man some jeans. I helped him up and walked him to the bathroom to put them on. While he changed I went back into the prayer room feeling distracted again. What else could I do? What else did he need? Why did any of this matter if this man went back out on the streets, if the woman who got hit had to go back to a bad relationship, if the man who had an episode was left all alone with his thoughts? And then I got this picture... I saw Jesus sitting in a chair that I had soiled. Sitting next to ME when I felt like I was so unclean there was no way anyone would want to come near me. He sat close enough for our knees to touch. He looked me in the eyes and just… sat there. What I saw was HIS heart. God’s heart has always been to come into our mess. Not to stay on some ethereal plane, disconnected from our humanity and everything we experience here on Earth. He CAME here. Sometimes the most comforting thing for me is knowing that He truly knows how we feel. He did not spare Himself from experiencing hardship, sorrow, pain. God is so much about relationship that He did the very thing that would make Him most relatable: He became a man. I wonder if Jesus smelled? How many miles did he have to walk on already sore feet? How many meals did he miss or how many nights did he have to sleep outside on the ground? Jesus seems to be so woven into the faces and circumstances of the downtrodden. And that’s his heart too... for us to go to those that don’t have, that are hurting and broken, that are dirty and pushed aside… and to love them.
I asked this man if he felt any better after praying and he said he felt the same.
I don’t understand why the man wasn’t healed then. But he did get a new pair of jeans to replace the tattered pyjama pants he was wearing. He had a warm place to sleep for a few hours while worship played over him. The woman from earlier got a ride to safety, and hopefully the man who had an episode would be leveled out in the morning. On top of all that, all of the people that were kicked out of their camp were given vouchers by the police to stay in a hotel for the night! Mandy, one of our awesome volunteers who does a lot with the Palm House was able to work out a dea for them!
At the end of it all after the night was done I had peace. I saw God work. I think the love of God is offered in a smile or a hug just as much as in healing or a prophetic word. It seems like a lot of times we can make love too complicated, or as Christians we can grade ourselves based on how "spiritual" something feels. With as many facets as there are to having a life with God, the bottom line as it relates to others is that we get to see every single person, encounter and conversation as an opportunity for Gods love to be displayed. Countless moments for HIM to be made known.
“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing - that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor we’re participating in something sacred.” - Fred Rogers