**I realize this is a super long blog post, but if you stick with it till the end….you’ll never be the same. So, take your time with this one.
Its easy to get stuck in routine. To get tunnel vision. It’s a slow fade into life being about us, what we need, what we want, survival mode.
I recently had an encounter with a stranger that rocked my world.
There was a man that caught my eye. He would sit on the same bench every Sunday morning. I notched him for about three weeks straight before I finally got the guts to go over and say HELLO. I actually never noticed anyone talking with him. He was always alone. He carried all of his personal belongings stuffed tightly in plastic crates, wrapped with bungee cord. When I walked over to him and introduced myself….our conversation grew effortlessly.
His name was Al. And Al was seriously awesome.
Al was homeless and living on the streets in Montana.
His laugh was infectious and his love for people and Jesus was so inspiring. After our 15 minute conversation, I walked away thinking he is the epitome of “Even though……I will.” Whatever those dots represented [I have no money, Lost my job, Living on the streets]….I WILL get back up. And getting back up meant small steps like getting to Church every single weekend. This man inspired to me.
“The Church in the Wild will choose to see what some have chosen to ignore. Churches get used to the noise, get used to the crying, stepping over people on the way to their prayer meetings.” -Pastor Carl Lentz
Brokenness & hurt surrounds us all, but it’s forcing yourself see it. It’s about slowing down. It’s about engaging. Its about truly leading and showing people the face and grace of Christ.
Al brought to light a few realities of his experience at my church. Don’t get me wrong, he loved my church, but he had a hard time connecting with people. [enter sad face here] Although it stung to hear this about his experience….its made me a better person and a more intentional worship leader for it. We all play a part….but greeting and acknowledging people isn’t just the job for the hospitality team at the front door. Its for every single one of us, even if its your week to just attend. Serving and loving people is a lifestyle.
Who are we walking by on the way in to church? Who are we not looking in the eye? Its the little things…that are big things to people who’s stories aren’t like ours.
After getting to know Al for a a few months [and learning that he was planning on leaving town for a warmer winter climate] I knew I wanted to give Al some amount of money to help him on his travels, but it was obvious to me that Al wasn’t just about the money. He was a people person. He mentioned that the hug I gave him the day we met, was the first hug he had been given in months! He also told me a story where someone pulled over on the side of the road to give him a hug, instead of money, and being that four years had passed since that happened and he’s still talking about it…I knew Al was a people person. I knew that money wasn’t all I had in my possession to give. There was more……and something we all have……Al appreciated TIME and he greatly valued it.
In 2010, my dad unexpectedly passed away, and the message and legacy that my dad left on my life is all about TIME. My dad made time for me. He made time for strangers. He helped people out. He helped the down and out. He was very aware of those around him.
On September 23rd, which just so happened to be on my dad’s birthday [SO not a coincidence] ….I spent the morning with Al- enjoying breakfast and treating him to a haircut and straight razor shave.
Al shared with me that he’s been writing a book….a book of his life, his story, his travels. He showed me his street setup–what all he carries around in his roller pack, how his most precious and treasured items are carefully wrapped in plastic, inside paper bags.
Al shared his fears…..anxious thoughts that plague him daily, which most recently included whether or not I would even show up for breakfast or if he would be stood up. Obsessing over how people will react to him in public places, including the Church he attended and the breakfast joint we ate in. Sounds a lot like what you and I may be anxious about from time to time. Conversations like this bridged the differences we may have in this season of life….and boiled it all down to sheer fact that we are all human beings and more similar than we may think, once the veils are pulled away.
Before it was time to say our goodbyes, I asked him to tell me what he would tell the world if he had a microphone loud enough for all to hear….and this is what he said:
“Don’t walk by like we have cancer, or we have the plague or leprosy. Find out where we came from before you judge us. It’s okay if you give us a dollar, but when people take the time, it’s worth so much more. People don’t take the time these days. They just don’t have the time. We are all from somewhere…we have all been places. We may have things that prevent us from keeping a job or prevent us from being a part of society. Just take the time…five minutes or ten minutes you sit there and watch tv or play with your gadgets, but you see someone on the side of the road holding up their sign and you don’t even take a moment to look up, smile or talk to them.”
And this was pretty amazing too:
“I have to remind myself that I am a mighty warrior because sometimes I feel like I am not enough. I feel like I need to have more to do more, but those are lies from the enemy. I can still make a difference in this world. I’m a warrior.”
Yes, I took Ezra along with me [and a friend- so we were NOT alone]. I want my son to see more of this in mine and his life. I want him to learn from a young age that time and attention are things we all have in our possession to give and it’s how we choose to spend them that matters. I believe the lessons in life worth fighting for are to be taught by example. Words alone aren’t always as effective.
Sometimes we face guilt, opposition and/or misunderstanding when doing good, especially when posting online. Many of us feel like we would be “bragging” if we posted about how we took hold of an amazing opportunity we had to show someone the love of Jesus. Social media can be weird in that way, but in my opinion only YOU know the motives in your heart and the judging needs to stop. I mean, how many fashion posts or home tours do we see on a daily basis? I believe those kinds of posts can also be opportunities to encourage and inspire others who are passionate about nesting and making their house a home- so why would posting content such as serving or loving someone wrong?
Last night, I received an amazing email from my friend Jeremy Cowart. His encouraging words came at the most perfect moment. I love what he had to say about sharing inspiring stories: “More people can’t be helped if stories aren’t told. Stories are what move people to action. We realized we [Help Portrait] were paralyzed without being able to show photos and tell stories.”
I believe that God is redeeming social media and my desire is to be light among men, using any and all platforms that I’ve been given, and leveraging those to point people to Jesus.
I also believe there is great power in sharing our stories and our experiences, especially when inspiration and courage rises up and leads to action.
What are we choosing to ignore?
What can we get in the habit of doing on a daily or weekly basis that would remind us that its NOT about us?
I thought I was approaching Al to serve him, to pay attention to him….and bless him, but do you want to know the honest to God truth? I NEEDED AL MORE THAN AL NEEDED ME. I love that God works this way…..This encounter rocked my world. I am forever changed…..
LOVE WRITES A BEAUTIFUL STORY….and I don’t ever want to miss out on that!
Be encouraged. Be inspired. Be brave. Be love.
SEE YOU IN GLORY, AL!