Lately I have been reflecting on how we see things. How we see ourselves...how we see others...how we see God - all of these figure largely into our outlook on Life.
If we ever find that we are spending a little too much time contemplating ourselves, there is an effective antidote: Do something for someone else. I had several such moments today.
Today our church hosted a Thanksgiving Feast and worship service downtown for those who call the streets of this city home. Men and women of varying ages who are homeless and likely have no family around whose table to gather Thursday, made their way to festively decorated tables. Volunteers had prepared abundant food and served plates to each one individually. Moms, dads, children, grandchildren, college students, retirees, single adults - the host of servers defied categorization.
This event is not a one hit wonder, a tip of the hat to doing a good deed for the homeless that pays some collective guilt dues for proximity to a growing homeless population in this capitol city. Grace Place is the ongoing ministry that provides a place each day for homeless men and women to get a hot meal, shower, get in from the weather, and exposure to new skills and hobbies ranging from rooftop gardening to produce food for meals, to art, music, personal management, and counseling. After another center closed this fall, Grace Place attendance jumped from 30 to 100 overnight, I was told.
One artist-dad member who is an exquisite portrait painter and his five year old son volunteer each Thursday at Grace Place. They paint and do art projects with the guests of Grace Place. One man paints with dots. Painted dots beside painted dots adorn his paper. He calls them 'skittles'. The young boy, at first tentative when accompanying his father in this new venture, has developed his own confidence in connecting with the people. Today little Ren brought a pack of skittles to give the man; A simple gift from a young child said, "I notice you."
One man joked with me to put that plate of food in his friend's drawstring bag so he could eat it later. They laughed that hearty cackle-laugh they must have done many times and pulled out the only contents of the bag: a yellow polytarp with grommets for tying a shelter. That was all he had on his back. A rather haunting sight lingers as I reflect and end the day in my comfortable home.
Another church member/volunteer with distinctive British accent was sitting at the table next to a homeless man (even the way I write that looks as impersonal as it is, doesn't it?). My friend said, "This man has the bearing of one who could be a CEO of a company. Can we not make some connections between him and others and see how to find him some mentors and perhaps help him find a job?" He was not content merely to serve a few plates and go back to work. No discharge of a duty for this man. He was ready to dig a little deeper and help find solutions for challenging problems. All this from a man who has faced the death of his son a few months ago and who now is trying to reach out to others to keep them from dying inside from the painful malady of hopelessness.
Cicero, a poet in residence at Grace Place who is a self-described recovering drug addict, gave a poem he had written as a part of the worship service, "How Can You Say 'No' to This Man?" referring to the love of Jesus.
A choir of voices - homeless all - sang a medley of praise songs and hymns that they had only rehearsed four times. Though they had folders with sheet music, I'll wager that not all could read. But they sang their hearts out, ending with "We Are an Offering." They were.
And at the end, my daughter exited quickly and, before I knew it, was bending beside Cicero seated in his wheelchair, to talk about his poetry and thank him. My heart was strangely warmed.
Food and homemade desserts were abundant. No one was turned away. Refills and seconds continued to bless the hungry and the filled alike.
Some of us will have another Thanksgiving feast on Thursday with warm kitchens and fragrant aromas,traditional dishes, family favorites, and someone who cares enough to make special desserts and prepare your sweet potatoes with marshmallows or cinnamon pecans depending on how you like them. But I met some folks today who will not have that option. No one has the porch light on for them.
Thanks be to God for willing hearts and hands who notice those who are invisible to some people every day among us....who can see through the street dirt, the brokenness, the hard edges sometimes... and who find beneath it embers of life that are not yet extinguished and a shared humanity that needs a second chance. We love and serve the God of second chances.
"I never give up on anyone, because God never gives up on anyone." Rev. Dr. Ross Olivier
And I'm thankful for folks like Sally and Leslie, who may not have eyes in the back of their heads, but the eyes of their hearts are open wide, and they know how to see rightly!