Updated: Jan 9, 2021
Give Me Eyes to See
When you think of unfathomable joy, what image comes to your mind?
We have many joyous memories - too many to count.
But unfathomable joy, for me, speaks of joy that transcends reason. When I think of unfathomable joy, I have one distinct picture in my mind - one distinct memory.
It's the picture of a homeless man.
I met him, albeit brief, on the corner of the road near a popular stop light in my town. As I pulled up to the light, I noticed the apple sitting in my cup holder. I rolled down my window as he approached, and I offered the fruit to him.
The next image is forever locked in my memory.
He smiles a toothless grin, spreading from ear to ear, as he tells me the obvious, "Thanks darlin' but I have no teeth," then proceeds to jollily perform a series of dancing hat tricks for me.
My heart melted.
I don't know his name.
I don't know his story.
But he will forever be engrained in my memory as an example of joy despite circumstances.
It makes me wonder how many times do we drive by those less fortunate than us and never really see them? Sure, we see their sign, maybe their one bag or bucket of belongings, but do we really see them?
I hate to admit it, but sometimes I try to avoid eye contact as I pull up to the light.
Maybe, you've done that, too.
Thankfully, there's grace for us in this.
A Helping Hand
This thought inspired me to branch out a bit and do more. Not just offer an apple or bottle of water but have a conversation.
You see, we all have a need to be known.
When thinking of who to invite to join me on this endeavor, I immediately thought of the newly married, sold out to Jesus, hearts deeper than the ocean - couple, the Saunder's.
He's 6'5", I think. Not sure his exact height but I'm 5'4" and he towers over me. I once made the mistake of inviting Austin and some friends to run - the kind of run where you run in a single-file line and the last person sprints to the front. Ten minutes into the run, I realized this was not going to work. The dude can run, and trying to catch up to those long legs...
But anyway, he's the fun-loving guy who is up for anything and makes time for anyone. Yes, anyone. Even those in prison. He has a real heart for people.
Austin's beautiful, kind, down-to-earth, salt of the earth, smart, brave new bride. When she's not serving our country in the United States Air Force, she's serving the young adults at our church. As one of our friends said, "She's a student of God's Word," and it shows. One conversation with Grace, and you immediately want to be her friend.
She oozes goodness.
Yep, I had the right people in mind. Now, I just had to ask.
You know those moments when God shows you He is forever in control and He is the source of our creativity?
Well, this was definitely one of those times for me. After gaining Austin's enthusiastic support, he says, "Now tell Grace. She's gonna be all about it!"
I share with Grace my heart behind this idea, and without a moment's hesitation, she says, "Oh, I'm so in! I don't know if you realized this or not, but my brother - my own brother - is homeless. He fell into addiction, and we don't know where he is right now."
My heart sank. The question that started this whole endeavor came rushing back to my mind, "Do we ever really see them?"
The men and women we pass on the side of the road is someone's son or daughter, maybe someone's brother or sister. I have a tendency to jump to judgement rather than extend mercy and grace.
That has to change. Lord, help me.
So fast forward a few days, and here we are sharing conversations over sausage biscuits with a few neighbors in our town.
Walking up to an older woman who we soon came to know as Laverta, she stands up from the chair next to her tent. Her tent is surrounded by empty boxes and a shopping cart filled with bags and belongings and draped with plastic hangers. Her shelter, backed up to a cement wall and perched next to a tree, is protected from the harsh winds and sun.
At first glance, she seems a bit suspicious of us. Soon, she warms up and she's telling each of us how "very familiar" our faces seem to her.
Although she spoke in circles at times, she grew to trust us. Soon, she was speaking to us as old friends. Over the next few minutes we learned she is a helper. As a mother with an estranged relationship with her son, she defines a good day as "going home." When asked what home meant to her, she painted a beautiful picture of helping the children and preparing a meal and taking care of those around her.
I can't help but wonder if this "good day" is a dream of her's. Maybe a dream she once lived or a dream she held as a little girl but never fully realized.
She tells us about the plastic hangers she collects in her grocery cart and how useful they can be throughout her day. Although the thought of collecting hangers made me smile, I now realize I will think of Laverta's sweet smile as I hang my own clothes.
A simple hanger will be a reminder of thankfulness of the Lord's provision and care in my life. I'll offer up a prayer of provision and care for Laverta, too, praying she is able to experience God's love in tangible ways and for healing and transformation in her relationship with her son.
Noticing a few men were gathered near a portable restroom, a man with long, black hair pulled back in a messy ponytail and a ball cap with a burgundy sweatshirt stepped aside to greet us. His name is Rodney.
Similarly, we ask him what makes a good day for him, and he tells us, "Any day I'm alive! I'm just happy to be alive!"
We learn he is originally from South Dakota and served in the military when he was younger. He endured a head injury and now struggles with pain as he lives on the streets.
Learning this, it struck me he didn't say a good day for him is a day without pain. No, a good day is being alive in the midst of the pain.
I'm thankful for my moment with Rodney as I need the reminder to not dwell on the pain of my circumstances but the gift of life before me.
Walking towards another area of town, we cross paths with a man who has a bounce in his step. His face full of excitement as he shares, "A man down there is handing out blankets and twenty dollar bills!"
Joining in his elation, I said, "Ooh, that sounds like a good day!"
He said, "Yes, you bet! It is a good day!"
Soon, we find ourselves talking and laughing alongside Dennis in the shade of the curb. He's wearing a polo layered with an OKC t-shirt and topped with a sweater, all nicely tucked into his jeans. His beanie a bit lop-sided as if he threw it on in haste.
He tells us his name is Dennis, and soon we learn he is one of twelve. TWELVE brothers and sisters, y'all!
He speaks highly of his mother in Missouri and how she raised him and his siblings to take care of people. We learned he has a twin sister named Debbie, so of course I asked if all of his eleven siblings had a "D" name. He laughed and said only 4 and that his mom must have run out.
He starts telling us about God and how His relationship with the Lord has impacted his life. Yes, he lives on the streets, but he serves the men and women around him as a street pastor. But, I think the message God has laid on his heart is meant for all of us.
He shared, "John 3:16 is written in the Bible, but you know what?! It's also written on your heart and your heart and your heart" as he points to each of us.
He believes a good day is found in being honest with those around you.
He believes we all have a story to tell. If you start sharing your story and someone discounts you, don't let that get you down. Tell your story. Be honest. It's like a chain. We're all connected. He may see a woman hurting over there on a curb, but because of what you or I have gone through, we may be the ones God is leading to help her.
We must go and boldly tell our stories.
Preach it, Dennis!
Although it's a story we may not have wanted to endure, it is our story. As we share, others are helped and encouraged through their walk. After all, it's God's story - we just get to be a part of it.
Meet Melinda and Alan (aka Flame)
Turning around the corner, we see a few people sitting on the back-side of a building taking in the morning sun. We offer sausage biscuits and take a few minutes to get to know them.
Melinda has a petite build and blonde hair, pulled back with a small clip. Between the collection of bracelets on her wrist, the glittery eye-liner above her eyes, and the purse she keeps beside her, I can tell she's a girly-girl.
Opening up about her struggle with addiction and the intense weight of shame she's carried with it, Melinda shared how she's recently been able to reconnect with her mother. Experiencing unconditional love from her mom has changed her life. Her mom told her, "You're my daughter. I will always love you. No matter what."
A man is sitting near her. Similarly, he must like jewelry, too, since his left arm is covered from wrist to elbow with watches, rings on every finger, and his chest is a showroom of gold chains. Paired with the laid-back nature of his army green jacket and pants with the camouflaged hat, he strikes a balance between subtle and flashy.
It took every ounce of self control within me to not ask if he knew what time it was. But I figured he may not share my sense of humor so I better just listen.
He introduces himself to us as Alan from Alabama but tells us we should call him Flame. He shares how he came to Oklahoma seeking love with a woman he met online but said it didn't work out.
For Melinda, a good day is waking up to health and food. For Flame, a good day is about being real. They both believe in the power of friendship and even expressed their thankfulness to one another.
It was a beautiful and unforeseen reminder of the gift of friendship we all have in different, often unexpected, ways.
What a Friend We Have
The struggles and hardships of these were expected, but the thankfulness they each shared for home, life, Jesus, honesty, health, food, and friendships were touchingly eye-opening.
Even in the midst of the pain and struggle, we can be thankful.
This means gratitude is a choice. We can wake up each day and dwell on the pain or dwell on the gifts around us.
This year has seen a lot of pain, and thankfulness may not be our first thought. But even if just for a moment, let's choose to lead our thoughts toward gratitude. Let's offer these cares and burdens and struggles to the Lord in prayer and find renewed closeness in His presence - in His friendship.
As the cherished hymn sings,
What a friend we have in Jesus All our sins and griefs to bear And what a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer Oh, what peace we often forfeit Oh, what needless pain we bear All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged Take it to the Lord in prayer Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness Take it to the Lord in prayer -What a Friend We Have in Jesus
As we near this Thanksgiving holiday, I pray God's nearness for you and those around you.
May we find strength in the community God has placed around us. May we find joy in friendship with them and most importantly, Jesus. May we not forfeit our peace but be washed in peace as we bring these cares and struggles to Him, resting in His power with thankful hearts.
The good life, well it starts with a good day. Then another. Then another. Let's choose to live #TheGoodDay one day at a time.
I love hearing from you, so go ahead. Leave a comment. Be brave. Maybe your comment will speak life into someone else!