The novel coronavirus has revealed to me that we have more in common with our Christian heritage, more lessons to learn from the past than I would have anticipated. May we all ponder what the Lord is doing in our lives and hearts as we celebrate Holy Week from home this year. Linking to an article I wrote for Christian Woman Magazine, please enjoy!
Hi guys! I’m linking here to my latest article in Christian Woman Magazine. It’s all about this wild understandjng of the Gospel Gos has been teaching me lately. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
For your Saturday reading–my newest article on Christian Woman Magazine on the simplicity of Christmas, and the One who came with nothing to give us everything.
Hi ladies, how are you? I’m saying “ladies” because with a title with the word “beauty” at its center, it’s likely that there aren’t any guys reading this. But, who knows, there could be. So. For you random men checking in, perhaps you’ll stick around until the end of this blog post and gain some insight into the psyche of your wife/girlfriend/fiance/adult daughter.
Beauty is one of those polarizing, controversial topics these days. It’s something that women, that people, aren’t supposed to care about anymore, but one glance at YouTube, Etsy, Pinterest, the check-out line at your local supermarket or pharmacy, the plethora of products on the shelves at Ulta and Sephora tells you that we still REALLY do. Not only do we care about beauty, we worship it, we strive and spend to prolong it as long as possible.
Yet we aren’t supposed to discuss it. Women are not supposed to care about or comment upon the beauty they see in another woman, lest it portray them as petty or competitive or insecure. Men dare not admire or remark upon a woman’s beauty, lest they be labeled lascivious, patriarchal or shallow. Women are privately maligned or criticized for either not doing enough with their looks, or for paying them too much attention. And this is one area that all women eventually migrate to in their focus, regardless of their age, ethnicity, career path, religious affiliation, economic status, political preference.
One has to ask WHY that is? Well, as a woman who believes very strongly in a loving and wise Creator, I think one reason is because God enjoys beauty. I think it brought (and brings) Him great joy to see the beauty in His creation–in the hues of the sunrise and sunset; the intricate design of each snowflake falling from the sky, of each sand-dollar washed onto the beach; the colors of the trees across a mountainside in the Fall; the regal feathers of the peacock; the patchwork of fields and swirl of mountaintops beneath you when you’re flying in an airplane; the sinewy body of a wild horse, and in the people He has made to carry His image.
Now, this is the part where I usually include some scripture that backs up my opinion. But this time, I actually couldn’t find anything in the Bible to support my theory that God loves beauty. I only believe that He does because of what I’ve observed in nature and in my opinion that the design of the human form is inherently beautiful because it reflects the image of God.
If we look carefully, we can see God’s intention in His creation of beautiful things, and the deliberate omission of attention to beauty throughout scripture. In avoiding the topic, He is making a point: beauty is all around us and is a marker of His glory, it deserves our admiration as it points us back to Him. But it is not to be worshiped, idolized, or to become our obsession or place of value. Conversely, it is also foolish for us to pretend that beauty has no place in society when God himself invented the concept.
But we’ve cheapened it. I’ve cheapened it. And in doing so, we’re hearkening back to the very thing that got Satan in trouble and bought him a one-way ticket out of Heaven in the first place. He saw that he was beautiful and he began to worship his beauty, to identify with it and to imbue it with a false power. (Ezekiel 28: 12-19)
And when I read every scripture passage about beauty since the fall of Lucifer, I see a warning. I see warnings about the focus we place on beauty, the time we spend praising it, seeking it, desiring it, then mourning its loss, denying it, vilifying it, pretending it doesn’t exist. The warning is repeated throughout scripture, because whether we paint beauty in a positive or negative light, the space and attention it gets in our female minds is space and attention that we are not giving our beautiful Lord. So that’s another reason I think that we all tend to hone in on beauty–because the enemy tends to use it as a distraction to turn our praise away from the Creator.
And listen, I am guilty of this. It’s why I’m writing this post, and it is not easy for me to be vulnerable about this topic. Vanity is a true struggle for me–there, I admitted it. There are parts of my body that I’ve been proud to have throughout my life. There are parts of my body that have been the source of much complaining, that I’ve wished weren’t there. And in recent years I’ve begun to see a change in the physical attributes of mine that I would call “strengths.” And the change has not been welcome. As this year marked my 41st trip around the sun, I am seeing the orbital pull on my skin–that it is not as tight, taut, smooth or spot-free as it once was. My hair is not as thick. My muscle takes longer to tone and more easily hides behind fat. My nails are becoming more brittle and my stamina is flagging. When I was in my teens, 20s and early 30s, I think I secretly believed that I would never show signs of aging. The realization that it really is happening to me, that the appearance that I have become so familiar with and grown to appreciate is wavering and fading, is a pivotal point.
Here is where I, and many women, grapple. Here is where I begin to understand the message that Paul preaches about contentment in Philippians 4:10-13. The world would try to persuade me to prolong my youth, to not let my beauty suffer because of aging. It pushes medical creams, organic serums, and various aesthetic treatments to try to sell me the lie that I can retain my youth, that I can improve upon something God has designed according to His will. It turns something God inhibits in Himself into a sinful distraction of discontentment. (And you can hear that the world also tries to convince us that beauty means youth, not maturity). But, my choice and my challenge is to listen instead to the Lord, whose message, although I struggle to accept it, is that I’m still imaging Him as I age, in my peaceful acceptance of the order of His design. The gradual loss of young beauty reveals the condition of my heart and the strength of my identity in Christ.
I did not write this blog post to fish for compliments. I wrote it to acknowledge the question that every woman asks, either out loud or to herself: “am I beautiful?” And to answer this question and close this blog post, I think it’s worth our time to turn our attention to the creation story in Genesis chapter 1. When God created Adam and Eve, the crown jewel of His creation, they were described in this way:
“So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1: 27, 31).
That should be enough, for you and for me. To carry the honor of imaging God in exactly how He made us, knowing that when He sees us, He thinks that we are very good. We carry His creative fingerprint in the gender that He has assigned to us, the hair we have, the tone of our skin, the sound of our voice, and the natural changes that occur in our bodies as we grow. To try to downplay or exceed His work is an act of rebellion itself, yet enjoying and appreciating how He has crafted us is an act of praise.
So yes, ladies, you are beautiful because you were beautifully made. Rest in that fact, but when you begin to doubt, trust the One who made you to reassure you of the wonderful beauty that He sees in you when it seems that the world has turned its gaze to lesser things.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14
I bought a huge bag of oranges from Costco a couple of weeks ago–mostly for school lunches, healthy snacks at home, and soccer games. I pulled a few out of the bag for our tabletop fruit bowl when I got home, then stored the bag with its remaining oranges in the pantry. Then I kind of forgot they were there.
So when I decided to reload the fruit bowl, I was disappointed to pull the bag out of the pantry and find that at least four of the oranges had turned–they were mushy, smelly and coated in this brownish-green dust that was rubbing off on any good orange they touched. I managed to salvage some, but even those had to be scrubbed after resting in the bag with the bad fruit. It was discouraging to carry that bag, and a good portion of oranges that were too far gone to consume or just too near the mold, out to the trash in our driveway. I thought of the money I was throwing away, the fruit that had gone to waste, and realized that I could have prevented it all if I had been just a little more careful about how I stored the oranges.
As I stood there slightly disgusted, a parallel formed in my mind between the oranges and the life of a Believer, specifically in regard to where and how we rest, spend our downtime and “store” ourselves, and how these choices impact our lives and the lives of those around us.
I have heard pastors in various churches preach their ideas of what it means for Believers to be “in the world, but not of the world”. This exact phrase is actually nowhere to be found in the Bible, but is a summary of a section of scripture from John 17, where Christ is praying the night before His crucifixion.
“...I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it…As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17: 14-16, 18).
And then in Galatians, Paul explores the “fruit” or byproducts of walking closely with Christ and in step with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
That Christians are called to be a part of the world, rubbing up against non-Christians, living a life that reflects Jesus by the fruit of the Spirit is not ground-breaking. We all know this to be our God-given role and responsibility. The struggle with this is often in the how we do this. Just how do we represent Christ while being relevant to our culture, our demographic; how do we maintain that “set apart” aspect of walking as a Believer while forging relationships with people who can have a vastly different world view?
I believe the key is found in not our action, but in our inaction, in our rest. And specifically, the kind of rest and relaxation to which we habitually turn.
In Matthew 6: 33, Jesus said:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
And then in Matthew 11: 28-30 He continues:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Even when He preached these words thousands of years ago, Jesus was timely and relevant for today. His audience wasn’t plagued with an overabundance of information, a competitive job market or endless fundraisers. Yet, they needed rest, and although the advancements in technology have made our lives easier in some ways, so do we! We 21st Century Believers have so many choices for how we can spend our downtime–at our fingertips this very moment are, more than likely, 15 things we can do today to unwind. But if you think about it, most of them are simply distractions.
I have been learning this year as my children have gotten older and become more involved in things outside our home, forcing me to become a part time taxi driver (without the pay), that it is so important what I do with my free moments and where my stores of peace lie. I’m learning to be wary of the things that my flesh thinks it NEEDS to relax. If I reach for my phone, I’m bombarded by images and sounds that could be drowning out the voice of God. If I habitually reach for a beer when I’m sitting alone on the sofa for a rare ten minutes, I’m filling my body with a substance that offers a counterfeit joy, and possibly feeds an addiction. If I turn on the TV and zone out, I’m surrendering to the fantasy of escapism.
After reading the paragraph above, some may assume that I’m labeling each of these things as evil in and of themselves. Not true–all of these examples, and others, are indulgences that can be perfectly harmless when relegated to their proper place or occasion. However, I think it’s worth paying attention to where and how we habitually rest. If we run to the Lord when we need filling, respite, and peace, we’ll be fresh and ripe for the harvest, much like my oranges would’ve been if I’d stored them properly in a temperate refrigerator. They would’ve stayed delicious and pleasing, enjoyable to everyone. If we begin to depend on these created things that weren’t meant to fulfill us, the things that offer a counterfeit “rest,” they start to eat away at us and spread rot in our lives. What grows in the darkness in isolation and out of God’s ideal climate can never be healthy for us or for those with whom we come in contact.
If you know the Bible well, you’ll notice that I omitted part of the passage I quoted from John at the beginning of this article. It’s worth noting at the end here:
“Sanctify them by your truth: your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
We can never forget this crucial nugget of Jesus’ prayer to His Father the night He was betrayed and sent to die for us. It is ever so reassuring to me that Christ knew that we would struggle in this world, that it is important for us to know the truth in the midst of our struggles, and that we would recognize the Word (i.e. another name for Jesus) as the truth. And it is only when Believers are resting in Jesus, seeking Him as our means of true escape, that His essence begins to permeate us to the point that we no longer have to try to image Him to our world–like an essential oil, He anoints us with His fragrance which is easily noticeable to those we rub up against. May we not succumb to the false fillers of the world as our means of rest, but run to the One who offers rest in its purest form.
I’m linking to my article on forgiveness on Christian Woman Magazine. Enjoy!
This post is not for perfect people or those unwilling to get real.
I’m always grateful when the Lord gives me an object lesson to share with you guys. If you saw my story this morning, then you know I had a confrontation with a nasty little critter, a roach, that I had to chase down and kill and dispose of on my own. And it got me thinking about sin. (And I’m using this photo because I figured it’s a little better than a photo of a roach, and also, because sin is black-and-white, serious business).
Sin is an unpopular word today. Non-Christians don’t want to acknowledge it because they don’t believe many things are really “wrong” but a matter of perspective, human nature, or the fault of others. Christians don’t like to talk about it or face it in themselves because it forces them to confront that they still battle it. It makes them vulnerable and reveals how, even with salvation, they fall short of perfection.
Much like the roach that surfaced in my hallway this morning, sin is insidious. It lurks in the darkness and festers where ugly things grow. It’s always around, looking for an opportunity and space where there is no protection or guard to invade your life, catching you by surprise, threatening to spread its disease in your home, life and relationships.
The good news is here, and it really is black-and-white: that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), that He has provided a way of escape for us to stand up to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), that if we confess and turn from our sin He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and that we are no longer burdened under a yoke of slavery to sin (Galatians 5:1), but are set free in victory.
What this means for you and me is that all the struggles in emotions and relationships that drag us into dispair, that make us feel guilty, that threaten to swallow us—have no true power over us. When I recognize sin in myself, it makes me angry, it repulses me. I can’t ignore or deny it, because it doesn’t belong in my life and doesn’t represent who I now am. Instead, I call it what it is and reach for the weapons that God has given me to fight it (Ephesians 6:10-18). I can’t give in to it and let it bring disaster and decay upon my life, because God has promised me abundant life (John 10:10), so I have to face and fight it, even if I don’t want to, and do what’s necessary to remove it.
But whereas this morning there was no one home but me to chase down, kill, and dispose of the roach, when it comes to sin, I have a Helper. I have someone I can ALWAYS call to fight it for me, because I have to recognize when some enemies are too big for me to battle alone. He never laughs or belittles me when I have to run from the room in disgust. He never shakes His head and rolls His eyes when I come to Him groveling and in shameful tears. And even when I come to Him with a blind and haughty spirit, He lovingly changes my mind, my heart, breaks down my self-worshipping pride and shows me how much I need Him.
So for those who have made it this far—my hope for you is this: recognize the little creatures that attempt to infiltrate your spirit. Be on guard against “roaches” that fit through the cracks in your heart and try to turn it from Jesus, to harden it to His voice. Listen for the “roaches” that creep across your mind and make you doubt His word and His promises (2 Corinthians 7:1). He has fitted you with the power to chase them down and rid them from your life.
Linking to my new article on Christian Woman Magazine. This one is on chivalry–it’s not dead, just different today and hopefully looking more like Jesus.https://www.christianwoman.co/the-new-chivalry/
Linking to my article published today on My Christian Daily. This Passion Week, reflect on the difference Easter should have not just on your Sunday schedule, but on your life.
I was uncomfortable to say the least. From the moment my Uber pulled over and I stepped out of its pristine cleanliness onto the wet and trash littered sidewalk in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, I felt my guard go up. My shoulders tensed and my head swung left to right as I looked for number 232 Jones Street. The storefronts lined the sidewalk without a break, many of them plastered with posters, decorated with graffiti or marred by cracked glass and rust stains. Somber faced people passed on either side of the road without making eye contact with me, but somehow I knew they still saw me. The drone of traffic was occasionally broken up by people 20 feet away from each other shouting jokes, a woman babbling nonsense to herself as she pushed an overloaded shopping cart.
I stuck out like a sore thumb–clutching my purse, wearing clean Nike sneakers, eyes wide and afraid. This was not my suburban North Carolina sidewalk. I walked up it a few feet, counting the numbers before deciding that I’d gone too far and then turned around and retraced my steps. It was nestled in among buildings I’d just passed, and seeing the sign on the door, I breathed in relief:
San Francisco City Impact Mission
Opening the door I was greeted by a smiling young woman who invited me to sit while I waited for someone named Andrea, who had been emailing with me the week before and had given me instructions for meeting her at the City Impact office. When she emerged and introduced herself, she apologized as she confessed that she’d forgotten who I was and what I was doing there. I chuckled and repeated what I’d told her over email. My husband was in San Francisco for a work conference. I’d tagged along on his trip as a little vacation. I’d never been to San Francisco before and the trip was mostly pleasure, but I liked to take a little bit of time serving in a local mission as a way of getting to know the city and not spending my entire vacation solely focused on pleasing myself. Despite my altruistic explanation, there was a slight swell of pride in my chest as I spoke. I thought of the old Friends’ episode where Joey tells Phoebe that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed and she sets out to prove him wrong.
Recognition came to her face as I explained my presence and she started nodding.
“Oh THAT’S right! I’m sorry I just totally blanked about why you were here because you didn’t come through our regular volunteer pipeline. I do apologize.”
“It’s okay,” I said.
“We’re so glad to have your help though. Thanks for coming down. I’ll take you over and introduce you to Randy and he’ll get you settled.”
Randy is a diminuitive man orginially from the Phillipines, a former youth pastor who was now dividing his time between overseeing operations at City Impact and setting up events at the Moscone Center, San Francisco’s convention center. He took my hand and gave it a firm shake, smiling warmly when Andrea introduced us.
“Great! Thanks so much for being here. Come on in and I’ll show you what we’re doing.”
As Andrea said goodbye and turned to go back to the office, I followed Randy inside the meal hall. It’s a basic cafeteria-style room–tile floor, white walls, folding tables and chairs set up the length of the room, about enough to accomodate a maximum of 50 people. All the chairs were arranged to face the small stage at the far end of the room, where a simple podium stood in front of a cross mounted on a backdrop of shiplap.
The air inside the hall was warm, close and musty. I wasn’t sure if the smell came from the bedraggled people already lingering in the room or the crates and boxes of donated produce that were stacked up just inside the door–perhaps it was both.
Several eyes followed me as I followed Randy, who was walking quickly and greeting people just as quickly. He took me back to the small kitchen behind the main part of the hall.
“So I’m a little disorganized today.” he chuckled amicably. “Cara who usually runs our meal service isn’t here, and I don’t really know what I’m doing. But we’re gonna figure it out.”
He introduced me to an older Asian man named Yomo who didn’t speak any English, but who was so accustomed to the flow of the meal services that he didn’t really need to talk or understand what you were saying. The entire time I was there he rotated from one task to another, filling plates, washing pans, and wiping tables. I quickly learned that he was one of those invaluable, behind-the-scenes people who is often unnoticed, but without whom the entire process would crumble.
Randy continued to describe his plan for the meal.
“Since it’s raining today I asked them to make some soup in the kitchen. That’s a treat, we don’t normally have soup. We’ll walk over there now and see what else they have.”
I wondered if I looked as awkward as I felt: my small purse clutched tightly against my side, my Columbia rain slicker zipped up to my throat and my wedding ring turned to the inside of my hand so that my diamond wouldn’t be obvious to people who may see me as a mark. I mentally kicked myself for not leaving my ring back at the AirBnB.
“Is there a place I should put my stuff?” I asked Randy, hoping for a locker of some kind, or a drawer in the internal office that I could see through the window.
“Uh, yeah, you can just stash it in here.” He gestured to a stainless steel cupboard full of dishes and pots and pans and aluminum tins. “Alright, let’s go visit the kitchen. I’m supposed to have more people helping serve here today but I think a lot of them are running behind with the rain…hopefully it won’t just be us!” The smile had never left his face, but he chuckled nervously.
I only considered putting my purse in the cupboard for a moment, but quickly decided against it, afraid that one of the rough-looking men staring into space in the cafeteria would wander into the room and discover it and take my phone and credit cards.
On the way out, an African-American man named Russ (who unfortunately bore a resemblance to Bill Cosby) stopped to talk to Randy, and when Randy introduced me and said that I was there to volunteer, Russ’s eyes went wide and his arm swung open in the direction of the office.
“Well, I’ve glot plenty for her to do! Follow me young lady. I’ll put…”
“Um,” I chuckled nervously. “I’m actually here to help Randy with the meal.”
“Yeah, sorry Russ,” Randy said. “She signed up to do the service.”
“Oh! I’m sorry! I didn’t realize that. I shouldn’t have assumed.” Russ apologized.
Randy waved him off. “It’s okay. We’ve gotta get over to the kitchen.”
As Randy and I went outside and walked around the corner to the kitchen, he asked me where I was from and how I’d found out about City Impact. In turn, I asked him a couple of questions just to find out a little more about him, but I was distracted by the people on the street–either shuffling along and staring at the ground as though every step was a movement of great effort, or aggressively striding down the sidewalk with a pace that indicated you should not try to stop them or speak to them. Expletives were flying through the air, horns were blaring incessantly, steam was hissing up from the ground, the occasional used needle littered the sidewalk, but Randy continued smiling and chatting with the ease of someone who had become accustomed to the noise and subliminal intensity that set all my nerve endings on edge.
The kitchen was full of hot food, with not a soul in sight. It was almost as if it had been prepared by ghosts. There were at least six huge pans of penne pasta; two vats of an indistinguishable brothy soup (which we later mixed with the pasta); ovens containing four whole baked chickens; two pans of corn-dogs; two enormous plastic bins of salad; one filled to the brim with sliced oranges and another with slices of baguettes; and three metal pans containing what we assumed was meatloaf, which we ended up smothering with barbecue sauce.
As if on cue, a couple of teenage boys showed up and loaded all the food onto a cart with Randy’s help and wheeled it back over to the room we’d just left, which I now realized wasn’t really a kitchen after all, but more of the assembly station. Randy quickly filled a styrofoam container, showing us how he’d like the food to be presented and then left me and Yomo alone to get started. About five minutes later, a young Latino man walked in, donned an apron, snapped on a pair of latex gloves and, smiling, introduced himself to me as Allan.
I’m ashamed to admit that my first glance at Allan produced a combination of fear and judgment. He was dressed in all black, his pants hanging low on his hips, and he walked with a cocky swagger that didn’t fit his childlike, crinkly-eyed smile. His hair was closely shaved and the sleeves of his baggy black hoodie were pushed up to reveal tattoos that covered his muscular forearms. I just knew, that in my regular life in my upper middle-class, mostly white neighborhood, if I was ever alone on a street at night and saw Allan approaching me, I’d assume he was trouble and would cross the street to get away from him or look for storefront to duck into until he’d passed.
As these shameful thoughts came to my mind, I intentionally pushed them aside and started asking Allan questions about how he became involved with City Impact, because the fact that he was beside me, already scooping out the mystery meatloaf onto the plates I was passing him and neatly arranging them on a cart without a word of instruction or a glimpse of hesitation, spoke volumes to me about the heart under the intimidating exterior.
“I drive the truck, pick up donations. And this part of the job is just a kick-back,” he said, still grinning and looking directly into my eyes. I found myself grinning back–it was impossible not to.
“A kick back? What do you mean?”
“I get to see these people smile, just because they’re getting a warm meal. It makes my day.” It would’ve sounded cliche, fake, except that it came from someone who looked, on the outside, like they wouldn’t care about such simple, yet essential things. I liked him so much in that moment–he reminded me of my brother, and I would’ve hugged him if I had known him for longer than five minutes, and if I’d known that he’d have let me.
Soon the room was full of helpers: the same lanky teenage boys who had brought the food over from the kitchen, me, Yomo and Allan, and then an Asian woman in her 40s named Jen, who seemed to take on a leadership role once she arrived. The two teenagers cut up and joked with Allan while our assembly line passed Styrofoam trays, but their joking around never led to idleness. They were funny and happy and never once seemed to begrudge their time being spent in a soup kitchen. At one point, I heard one of them tease Allan about prison, and he calmly but firmly said:
“Man I’m never going back there.”
It was then I wondered whether this young man had to have had an experience with God, whether through Randy, someone else at City Impact, or maybe no one connected there at all, that had changed the course of his life. And he was here out of gratitude.
Someone turned on some praise music, and as the cart filled up with trays and the talking ceased, I focused on the words to a popular song, “Build My Life”by Housefires:
“Holy, there is no one like you, there is none beside you, open up my eyes in wonder. Show me who you are and fill me with your heart and lead me in your love to those around me.”
This chorus was one I had just heard for the first time when attending worship with my parents the Sunday before flying to San Francisco. It was meaningful while standing and singing it, but it was so much more powerful as it rang in my ears in this tiny makeshift kitchen in the slums of San Francisco, working side by side with people I would normally never encounter–people outside my age group, outside my socioeconomic category, outside my preference. We were there not to be seen, not to be noticed, praised, graded, or critiqued. We were there because we’d been led by the Father, in love, to serve those around us, regardless of the legitimacy or caliber of their stories. And it also explained to me how things just seemed to happen in this place without discussion and even when my first impression was that things were completely disorganized: God was so active here, His love so palpable, that people joined in where they were needed without complaint or rush, because they just wanted to be His hands and feet.
Randy spoke to the crowd of wet men and women, about 30 of them, and he brought them a message of hope, of challenge. His diminutive frame seemed to grow larger as he filled the musty air with fragrant truth. He reminded them that Jesus is able to change their hearts, their desires, to reflect His own heart and then use them for His glorious purposes. His angle surprised me, because on an average day I would’ve looked at these people as beyond hope, as expendable, as weak.
Their faces lit up as we brought them food.
“Thank you.” “Please.” “Where are you from?” “I used to live in North Carolina–Winston-Salem, do you know it?” “What brought you to San Francisco?”
My own eyes were opened in wonder in those two hours in the Tenderloins. I marveled, and inwardly praised God, for these reminders and the urging to come to City Impact, so that I could see again how wrong I was and how easily my assumptions block the pipeline for Christ’s life-changing love. For these people, so easily ignored and looked down upon by the rest of the world because they outwardly wear their struggles, simply reflect what so many of us are like on the inside: broken, tired, slogging through life, hostile, dirty, hungry. And City Impact was a place where all of these similarities were laid bare.
The meal wrapped up and the people left quickly, arms full of to-go boxes, heads nodding in thanks. A couple of them stopped to say a word to Randy or Russ, but most just walked out the door without looking back. I guess there wasn’t much to say when this place was so familiar to them, such a regular stop in their days.
I helped wipe some tables and then stood up and looked around the room, understanding that my job was finished. I went back to the mini-kitchen and tossed my rag in the sink and grabbed my belongings out of the cupboard, which, halfway through the meal I’d decided was actually the best place for my purse and jacket after I’d tried to dish out pasta with my purse constantly swinging forward into my arm. I went back through the cafeteria toward the door and was grabbed by Russ, who apologized profusely for assuming I was there to help him. I assured him it was fine, that I wasn’t offended.
“Thank you Jesus!” He breathed, wiping his brow dramatically. He then sat down on the edge of the stage and started to give me his testimony, telling me how he became a part of City Impact, and about the biggest roadblocks and problems the mission was experiencing. Something he kept saying over and over again was,
“It’s bad out here. People are hurting!”
He asked me to pray for him. I felt so unworthy to pray for a person, for people, for a movement that was investing in the details of the most difficult environment in San Francisco. Knowing that they would be back there tomorrow pouring themselves out, and that I would never look back and would eventually get on my airplane and go back to my comfortable furniture; my needle-free, swept sidewalk; my suburban life with an expanse of green grass, put a lump in my throat and I had to fight the shame, the thought that Russ didn’t really need my prayer.
But I prayed anyway. It was uncomfortable at first, but as he squeezed my hand and agreed with me in prayer, “Mmm-hmm. Yes Lord, yes Jesus,” my wall crumbled yet again and tears started to well up in my closed eyes, because I felt as though I was praying for a brother. I knew that I’d made a friend, one only God could’ve brought into my life.
Russ said thank you after I said Amen. He gave me a quick hug and then jumped off the stage and disappeared. I shouted goodbye to the rest of the volunteer team, who responded with smiles, waves and a few thank-yous, and then pulled Randy outside for a photo under the City Impact sign. His smile was still there, even in his eyes, as I walked away and called probably my 20th Uber in San Francisco.
A week or so later I was showing my six-year-old daughter how to pot some pansies for the pedestal on our front porch. She was eager to help, but she wanted to just pull the pansy out of the plastic container and stick it straight into the pot. I explained to her that we first had to break the soil that had retained the stiff, rectangular shape of its confined space in the plastic. She watched as I gently squeezed the soil and freed the delicate roots, turning the rectangle into a mess and then placed the pansy into the waiting bed of soil in the bottom of the large clay pot.
“See honey, this pansy can’t grow anymore if it just stays in the same space. It needs to have more room to grow, but first we have to break up the soil and expose the roots so that they can grow deeper and stronger, so that the flowers will grow higher and produce more buds.”
I’d like to thank San Francisco City Impact, for being the space that I needed to see, to experience in order that God might break down my comfort and shallow soil, expose the frailty of my roots and give me the nourishment and inspiration that I needed to blossom and grow deeply into His love.