As with most things in life, you don’t really realize what you have until its gone. It’s why its important to connect with people outside our normal social “bubble” because they lead different lives and have something we don’t have, for better or for worse, and it reminds us to be thankful for that something.
An example: ever lost a home?
I’m not talking only about a nice fancy three bedroom structure. A townhouse, an apartment, a studio, a mat on the floor at your friends house; any consistent place that you lay your head down at night. At a deeper level: have you ever lost a place where your heart finds rest?
If your daily resting place wasn’t on the list of things to be thankful for last night, it ought to be.
As of recent in California we have about 52,000+ people in the North that have lost not only their homes (~9,000) but pretty much their entire town to a wildfire. In the South we have about another 400+ homes that were burnt to the ground. All these people are either camping in tents in parking lots of major businesses, sleeping in shelters, or moving in with extended family.
Have you ever thought about what that would mean, to lose everything you own in a matter of hours or days, and then have to figure out what the next step is (i.e., start from scratch)?
That’s what your local homeless folk had to deal with at some point in their life, and now they’ve either given up trying to figure it out or they’re still trying to no avail.
On a single night in 2017, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. For every 10,000 people in the country, 17 were experiencing homelessness. Approximately two-thirds (65%) were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, and about one-third (35%) were in unsheltered locations.
Homelessness increased for the first time in seven years. The number of people experiencing homelessness increased by a little less than one percent between 2016 and 2017.
There were 12 percent more individuals with chronic patterns of homelessness in 2017 than in 2016, but has declined by 27 percent since 2007.
A home keeps you warm in the winter. It gives you shade in the summer. It offers a place for you and your loved ones to enjoy each other’s company intimately. It’s a place where you can get turnt and celebrate with those same loved ones. It’s a place where you can be you without judgement or social constrictions. It’s a place where you can dance, cook, sing, watch, play, eat, drink, and be merry. It’s what you make it to be.
For those people: all of that, gone. Seriously, think about that. Is it any wonder to you then why local homeless folk carry around an aura of negativity around them, enough to make you want to stay away and ignore them?
Don’t Blame, Listen and Encourage
When I was 19 years old and going to college at the same time I got heavily involved in Christian ministry in the local community. For the non-Christians reading this, that means I was going out into the local malls, hospitals, restaurants, movies and other communal gathering locations to share the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus with people. The only difference between my group of friends and what most people have in their mind of “Christian evangelists” is that we were a diverse group of people in age, color, sex, and background commanding supernatural encounters and healing over strangers in the name of Jesus, not handing out tracts. And guess what? He works. Blind eyes being cleared, deaf ears opening, metal plates in backs disappearing, fractured humerus being renewed instantaneously, someone getting out of a wheelchair after being confined to it for 17 years, etc. You name it, I’ve seen it or know someone who has.
That part of my life is a whole story in itself, but the relevant portion here is that a lot of my time then was spent with homeless people. A family relative used to ask me “what the hell are you doing hanging out with homeless people all the time? I mean you’re doing good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but shouldn’t you be out partying, taking a girlfriend out to dinner, or starting your own business? Do something more useful with your time.”
I love my relative, and his attitudes have changed a bit since, but his was a standard “forget about em” view that most Americans have of our neighbors who have been dealt a less fortunate hand then us. I used to tell him how I sat outside Safeway for 3 hours with a crazy old veteran that was talking about Russia, aliens, and teleportation. How I had a knife pulled on me by a drunk former Hells Angel who introduced me to his brother which lived nearby (and denounced him as dead-to-him right in front of me). How an old lady outside Walgreens called me an angel sent from God when I handed her $15 of the $19.72 I had left to my name because it was the exact amount she needed that weekend. Or how I befriended a sweet ol’ man named Ronnel that had no teeth, no hair, lots of medical issues, and yet lots of joy, hugs, and a big smile to pass around.
By the end of our conversations, these people and others had a genuine hope in their hearts that their situations could change if they believed and took steps on that belief to move forward. I couldn’t keep in touch with everyone to see what came about their lives, but the one’s I could I heard differences in their situations manifest.
The point is this: people need love, a listening ear to their overburdened hearts that only gets heavier and heavier with isolation. Tough love comes in to say “you’re better than this”, not “get it together bozo.”
Home For Me, Personally
The last story I’ll share to conclude here is about a young Mexican former gangster I met in Southern California. I went to a Walgreens in a ghetto area and saw a guy all tatted up with a bucket and sponge in the parking lot asking if I could give him $5 to wash my windshield. The water in his bucket was dirty and the sponge look liked it was just going to spread dirt rather than clean it, so I said “no thanks man, but wait right here.” I walked in to buy some groceries and asked for $20 cash back. On my poor college student budget, I walked out and gave Fabian the $20 bill.
“Why are you giving me that? I didn’t wash your car.” I responded “because you’re more valuable than my car. Take this $20 as a gift of grace, Jesus has been faithful to provide for me throughout my life and I trust He can do the same for you.”
I will never forget the way he looked up deep into my eyes as his lip slowly trembled and he started to cry through his green-colored contact lenses. To be honest with you, I didn’t want to give him the money (I needed it) and I was in a hurry to get back to my apartment, but I knew this was a divine encounter and I did my best to obey the Lord.
Through wiping his tears and looking at the ground, Fabian said “Man I can’t believe this. I’m a new father out here trynna make some money to buy food for my girls, and you just fed us for the day and you not gonna let me wash your car? Please, you have to let me pay you back. Please.” Before I could respond he walked over to my car, still crying, and started rinsing his sponge in the bucket. Without looking at me he started cleaning with great care and detail.
“Trust me bro, I’ma make your ride look spotless.” He was trying to be macho and hide the fact that his heart just broke, and in that I felt God’s tender heart for His lost children. After he finished and we exchanged contact info and I drove away, I lost my composure at the traffic light when I heard the Lord say “and you were in a hurry to go home?”
Even though I’m thankful that I have a physical place to call home, all my life I’ve been on the move from one place to another and in my heart I don’t feel connected to one particular place. I’ve come to learn that home isn’t always necessarily a physical place, it’s where peace is found. And it is written: Jesus is the Prince of Peace.