Photo credit here: http://www.womenspress-slo.org/?p=3883
I've been thinking about her a lot today. Remembering her tear filled eyes locked into mine. Her weathered face, her slow limp, her shame worn all over her small frame. We might never have crossed paths if I hadn't said yes that night, but we did. Me a fair skinned suburban Mom, busy with kids and church and a schedule that always fights for more of me...she a dark urban Mom, with kids and heartbreak and need, on the streets, fighting for hope. In almost every way, she leads an opposite life from me, or what I know of it at least. She walks slow, alone, a mom separated from her kids, a wife without her husband. Her days aren't busy like mine are, but they are hard and filled with stress, the kind of stress that takes years off a life. And if I hadn't said yes on that night, a night when everything in me wanted to say no, I might never have seen her.
There is so much that the Lord has been working out in us over the last 2 years. So many times I've wanted to sit down and flesh out what He's doing and yet, no words ever came that could do this work any justice. I still don't know what the Lord is truly up to or why He is leading us so strongly to the streets of Minneapolis, but He is. For two years He's had Travis' whole heart, but only recently did I finally give Him mine in this call. He's been so patient with me, bringing me back to His Word, putting people in my path, books in my hands, and opportunities to taste and see. When my husband first came home and told me he was taking some students, junior high students, to the streets of our city, I'm pretty sure I laughed. That sounded like a stupid idea, frankly. Stupid because we serve in a suburban church with suburban kids and suburban parents. "They'll never let their kids go there" I believe I uttered under my breath, and seriously, "Why would you even risk that??" I couldn't imagine that would ever work, nor would it be safe. "You don't know what could happen, they are homeless and desperate and probably dangerous. Seriously babe, it's a bad idea."
I'm nothing if not honest. Honest and supportive of course.
Despite my attempts to do everything to talk him out of it, he went. He took a few students the first couple of times, in the dead of a Minnesota winter. They went downtown with our security guy to serve some food and share Christ. Knowing he was with an armed friend did make me feel slightly better, but as he left for hours at a time, I was home alone with a newborn and an 18 month old. Honestly, there were nights when I was more dangerous and desperate than anyone he possibly could have encountered. I remember clearly being irritated and worried as he bundled up with wind chills below zero to stand on a street and hand someone some gloves and a hat. While I held my babies, fed them from cupboards that overflowed and folded more laundry than our drawers could possibly hold. One of us was really sacrificing on those nights and truthfully, it always seemed like me. To my shame and conviction, I rarely stopped to consider what another mother and her babies might be doing on that cold night, without a home or food or clothes. While I complained and took note of all my inconveniences, I never thought of her.
Fast forward a few years and what once began as an opportunity here and there with a few kids, a pastor and a security guy, has now grown into a full-blown ministry. Well, sort of. It's a monthly event with it's own name, even a small budget now, but it is in every way a ministry that shouldn't work. My husband named it Covert Ops in an attempt to keep it under the radar and not a call for praise or show. It's organized via text messages and dominated by junior high and high school students who show up at the church to prepare food, sort clothes, make hygiene kits, and pray. Before there is any effort to minister on the streets, there is a ministry of the heart that has to take place. A plea for the Lord to go before us and to prepare hearts and help us love the unlovable. For truth to penetrate darkness and real hope to be offered, not empty words. In all ways, we hope to leave our selves at the Church and make Christ known on the streets. Every month there are 25-30 kids who come, several adults who go with us and lots of ministry that takes place. Every month is different but we bring food, clothes, Bibles and people who long to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It's not perfect, there is no way to predict the temperature on the streets or who shows up, but as we pull up and get set up, in the blink of an eye several hundred people come to our station, every single month. Travis and his team of staff and students has been faithfully going for such a long time now that they've developed relationships and a trust with the community there. We go onto their turf, on their street and they welcome us. It's a novelty for them to be served by teenagers, not mocked or ignored or dismissed. To hear a 13 year old boy say, "Can I get you something to eat" or "how can I pray for you?" is not a common occurrence in their world. Or in my world. No one expects much out of teenagers.
Except maybe the Lord.
As the months have turned into years, my heart has softened considerably. I've started to take my eyes off my own self and my "inconveniences" and started to pray for the people Travis encounters. When we send Daddy out the door for Covert Ops, I try not to mourn him leaving us again, but try to explain where he's going and have the kids pray with me for what he'll be doing. It's our way of participating in a season when our kids have needed me home with them. And I assumed that was OK for now. But this summer I've been rocked to my core by three books and the message of Isaiah 58. I cannot believe the ways He's woven a new tapestry in me, opening my eyes to a world I didn't see. A world I didn't expect to love. But that's whats beginning to happen within me. I'm starting to really hear the Holy Spirit prompt me, to wrestle with injustices I've previously noticed from a distance and to start putting my feet where only my mouth has gone. Twice now, I've been able to join Travis in our city and twice I've thought I might be ready to pack up our belongings and move downtown. I'm not saying that's a rational thought or one we should act on, but crazy things run through my head right now and suddenly I'm finding myself questioning things I've taken for granted or simply not seen before.
I stood behind a container of used clothes, a jumbled mess of cotton and polyester, rayon and wool, fumbling for something to fit her. She didn't say a lot at first, but I could tell she was looking for something specific. I tried to prompt her to tell me if I could help her look, help her get what she needed. "Something for her kids" came out of her mouth, although I couldn't quite hear her. I leaned forward to ask her "How old are they? Girls or boys?" and she told me they were girls, one who was nerdy and one who was stylish. She smiled at the thought of them and before I knew it, I was digging for gold, determined to get her something they would like. I found a couple of things I knew suburban teenagers would wear and offered them to her. She gasped as if we hit the jackpot and then said, "My kids, my kids...clothes for school!" I wasn't expecting her joy, she was so stoic when we first met, but I joined her and kept digging. "Here are a few more things, would these work?" She didn't answer me, but she nodded and then whispered, "I never have anything to give my kids, I never have school clothes for them." My heart sank for her and as I walked from behind the bin to her side, tears welled up in her eyes and began spilling out. "I'm sorry" she said, "I never cry, not about my kids, not out here..." I didn't know what to say, I could tell she was about to break open, so I put my arm around her and said, "That's OK, I'm a Mom too..." In that moment I realized, the streets hold so much pain and the people more pain still. So many souls bottle up their emotions there, what good does it do to compare stories? Everyone has heartbreak that follows them, but who are you to suggest yours is worse? I choked back my own tears and looked in her eyes, asking her to tell me about her kids. It was then that I realized she had no teeth, no wonder it was hard to understand her :) But she told me about her girls and I think I caught about every third word.
As I stood there with her, I heard the ache of a mother's heart who longs to do better for her kids. She noticed my wedding ring and told me that she longed for her marriage to be restored, she asked me to pray about it. I strained with everything in me to catch every word, to know how I could pray, but what I missed in translation I caught in emotion. One of her daughters was 8 months pregnant, with a little boy who would be named Christian. She was also in a shelter, but it was Christian based one and my new friend C, had hope that this would be the dawn of a new day in her family. A new legacy. I told her that reminded me of King Josiah from the Old Testament because he too was a cycle breaker at a very young age. She listened intently to that and I tried to explain it, told her I thought that was a wonderful thing we could all pray for our kids...that they would break the family cycle of sin and be a generation that did better than their parents. As we locked eyes and chatted, suddenly we were interrupted by her friend who told her the shelter was about to do a bed check, and she needed to go. I hugged her tightly and prayed quickly for her...I asked her to tell her grandson that someone named Stephanie prayed for him before he was ever born, praying that he would be like King Josiah in their family.
And just like that we parted. She limped across the street and I looked around, taking in all the needs and the ministry that was colliding on that street. There are no fireworks when we go there, no one asking for applause or anything more than a few thank yous. But I am certain that the Lord is there and when we look into the eyes of those who are down and out, enslaved to addictions, scarred by injustice, and left to fend for themselves...When we look with love first and offer the gospel as hope, we are often looking into the eyes of the Lord.
To serve them is to serve Him.
To love them is to love Him.
To see them is to see Him.
I don't know what God is doing in my heart, but I know He is messing some things up in my life to get my attention right now and after He swings that wrecking ball, what I keep beholding is her face. The face of the forgotten, the abandoned, the poor and the homeless. It scares me a little bit to realize how much I love those faces and how much compassion is welling up within me. More than that, I'm having a hard time reconciling what I feel in my heart with my comfortable, wealthy life. And I'm kind of bothered about that. It's a lot easier to be blinded by excess than to be horrified by it. And I am horrified. We both are. The very thing we work hard for is something we are growing to hate. But not always yet, we're still human, we're still Americans and a need for "bigger and better" seems to be bred in our DNA. But rather than just go with the flow, we are finding ourselves in the midst of a struggle as we flesh this work of the Spirit out. It's gotten so intense in us, I recently texted my friend and basically begged her to go to a Nursing Home with me and our kids, because I knew the Lord told me to do it and she was the friend He put in my head. How is that for guilt induced friendship?? It shouldn't have surprised me at all when she told me that she had been "randomly" thinking about nursing homes that very day!??! OF COURSE she was. Because who doesn't when you're 30??? I told you, the Lord is not messing around with us. I have no idea where we're going from here, other than back to the streets in a month where we can love on some people who haven't been loved on in awhile, with some incredible students who love Jesus and aren't afraid to love like Him either.
Here are 3 books I DON'T recommend, unless you want to become undone. Then by all means, go ahead and make it a party. I read two of them in 2 days and Travis and I are fighting our way through the 3rd one, stealing it back and forth from our respective nightstands.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
These will mess your life up.
Happy weekend! Ha ha :)