Spirit Whispers – Part 2

Spirit Whispers – Part 2

A formerly homeless man was interviewed on TV. He explained how many different places in New York City he could get a hot meal, a shower with fresh clothes, and a bed for the night. All that, and more, was readily available. But he didn’t know how to escape homelessness and dependency—because his real poverty was within.

Homeless Series - No TrespassingMother Teresa said, “People are hungry for love, they are naked of human dignity and respect. They are homeless because of rejection.”

Yet, we live in a time where skeptics say, “Watch out—everybody’s working an angle.” Good people become cynical in a culture where they feel played. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” (Jesus foretold in Matthew 24:12).

Talmadge Wright, a sociology professor at Loyola University Chicago said, “When you are desperate and poor, you will do anything to survive and prosper. Somehow we seem to hold a moral standard that says as long as you don’t scam and oppress others you are okay, but if you con others you are not okay. The point is…any poor population will have both tendencies happening at the same time. If you don’t like it, make it so they are not poor.”

So how do we respond to people on our streets or in the world at large for that matter?

spiritualThe apostle John said, “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1John 3:17) Notice he did not say “give him stuff,” which includes money. That requires wisdom in each situation. The main point is to not close our hearts. At the very least, we can pause and pray.

Secondly, relationship may be the key—even if it’s relationship for a moment. Let me explain…

Picture 2009 169I remember strolling arm-in-arm with my two teenage daughters. While scoping out colleges in the northwest, we stopped in Seattle to shop for prom dresses. Talk about feeling privileged.

We came upon a man in a heavy brown overcoat, sitting on the curb. I’ll be honest—for a second, I considered crossing the street. Yet a still, small voice in my head urged me to go on.  He is also my son, the Holy Spirit whispered. A burning heat filled my chest.Continue reading

Spirit Whispers – Part 1

Spirit Whispers – Part 1

Jagged hair framed the haggard face of a thirtyish-looking woman. She wore no makeup. Her bulky pants looked like they belonged to a short, fat man—but matched her XXL gray sweatshirt. She stood by McDonald’s on Main Street.

I stopped to take a second look. The woman held a cardboard sign with four words that have long represented an accepted spectacle across the American landscape of free speech: “Will work for food.”

iStock_000008405256SmallBack in the 1980s, sign-holders in our small town were a new phenomenon. I’d not seen this kind of thing before. The way my heart pounded, you’d have thought I’d just witnessed a car wreck. Who would do that—overcoming personal shame enough to stand out there on public display?

I hurried into McDonald’s and spoke to the assistant manager in chopped sentences.

“There’s a woman…and a sign…she’s in trouble…”

He nodded and politely informed me that the owner had already offered her a job—which she flatly refused. She was hustling far more money with her sign.

In that moment, I grew older and wiser.

Homeless Series - No TrespassingA man in a torn overcoat stood shivering in blinding snow by the grocery store. Who would fake that? His sign said, “Stranded—anything will help.” I bought him some hot soup and a roll from the deli. He seemed thankful and asked for money, but I didn’t have any cash. I returned to do my grocery shopping, but later, as I left the store, I noticed the soup and bread abandoned in the snow. Untouched. Uneaten. He had moved on.

Now I was irritated.

Nearly a decade passed. I continued to struggle with walking or driving by people holding cardboard signs. The Good Samaritan story pinned me with guilt if I did nothing. On the other hand, what about the sting of feeling scammed? Giving money without accountability didn’t seem like a good use of resources. How would I juggle compassion with suspicion?

Eventually I came to know a woman who’d lived a transient lifestyle. Continue reading

Not Enough Trees

Not Enough Trees

Years ago, a landowner in northern California made his wealth planting vast fruit orchards. His kids grew up in the business. They rose early to irrigate and stayed up late, making fires to prevent killing frosts. Together, they’d gone through both lean years and bumper crops, and the business prospered steadily.

Early on, the father did all the planting and pruning. The son worked much harder than the rest, striving to be his father’s perfect child. The oldest daughter proved to be a lollygagger, dragging herself out of bed while voicing her complaints. She didn’t like the intensity of tending orchards. Her younger sister often picked up the slack, in exchange for borrowing clothes.

Distraught DadOver time, the operation grew, and the man hired a much larger staff. He put his younger daughter in charge of scheduling and administration. The son, now a young man, went into sales and distribution. But the other daughter wanted a different life. One night at the dinner table, she announced her move to New York to become an actress. The father’s cheeks lost their color, and his eyes became glassy. He stifled a deep sigh, knowing he’d have to let her go.

Her attempts to break into the theater world proved costly. Her father had given her a large sum of money so she’d have time to put out feelers and audition in different venues. The first week, she stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and ate at a different restaurant every night. A shopping spree for city clothes followed. Life was grand.

She landed bit roles here and there, but eventually her money dwindled. She’d need to make a living on the side and took a waitressing job. A studio apartment took most of her wages and tips. At night, she learned the art of dumpster diving near her favorite restaurants, concealing herself in a dark hoody.

young woman drug addictShe mingled in the bar scene to get out of her tiny quarters. That’s when she met the guy who’d become her dealer. He seemed friendly enough, passing out party favors—a variety of designer drugs. Heroin rapidly became her new solace, helping her escape failure, loneliness, and homesickness. Date rapes were easier to bear when you’re high. One night, a man handed her money, assuming she was a prostitute. Insulting, yes, but an easy way to keep the drugs flowing. She lost a few acting jobs after failing to show. Then, the restaurant manager fired her when she dumped a pitcher of ice water on a customer who put his hand on her inner thigh.

That night she texted her brother. “I don’t know what I’ve become.”Continue reading