On the way to school this morning my 15 year old daughter asked me to explain the difference between sympathy and empathy. Bless her heart. I think she just wanted a simple answer, but...her momma works in the ministry of social justice.
I explained that sympathy feels compassion, takes genuine pity, and hopefully responds with some degree of comfort. Empathy, on the other hand, seeks to feel what the other person feels, relates personally and emotionally to the other’s circumstances. It feels the heartbreak, the fear, the injustice, and the desperation. It runs deep and responds authentically.
A few days ago I left the campus early to head across town for an appointment. I made my way into traffic and got stuck at the light at Oak and Harkrider. I looked over towards Walgreen's and noticed a guy flying a sign. "He's new", I thought. I haven't seen him around before. I wondered what his story was and was he homeless or an "entrepreneur" as I like to call them.
I scanned the horizon and saw someone I did recognize crossing the cross walk towards the man on the corner. I will call him "Jacob" for the sake of protecting his identity. I met Jacob my first summer with the Ministry Center. We had just launched the Storehouse and it was a blazing summer day with only one A/C unit working in that old building. I called Jacob's name for his turn to shop. "JAKE" are you ready... and saw a young man in a suit with sweat pouring off of him. He looked at me and said my name is "Jacob". I apologized and told him that I wouldn't get it wrong again. We spent some time talking while he waited in line to shop and I realized that he was both childlike and brilliant and struggled with mental illness.
As I watched him cross the street my mind reeled back to a day earlier when I saw him in another part of town. He was walking as always, his fist in the air screaming at a car that had cut it a bit close as it railed into a local fast food joint. To be honest, I probably would have raised my fist in the air and yelled also but I can get away with it because I don't look homeless. I also knew that Jacob was having one of his bad days because on his good days he wouldn't have said anything. He is one of the most gentle souls I have ever met.
Case Manager - Conway Ministry Center
near, comfort and guide. There is something that happens down deep in our soul when people that love Jesus lift you up and lay you and your brokenness at the feet of Jesus.
As I have thought about those moments...my mind drifts to our clients. I wonder if they experience that heavenly exchange of brokenness for hope when our volunteers and staff pray with them. We never force or require prayer with our clients but we make a place for it in every thing that we do. If someone is willing to venture into that space we gladly ask Jesus to come fill it.
Housed and unhoused... those with abundance and those facing food insecurity. Stability and poverty mingling together...African American, Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian all intertwined. Life circumstances are the great equalizer. We will all experience the death of the people we love, we will all experience health crisis' in one form or another. If we live long enough, we will all experience our golden years and the challenges that comes with our bodies preparing to go back to the dust from which it was formed.
We are all the same no matter how society likes to put us in respective boxes of class, housing status or ethnicity. We all need to be lifted up to our Creator. We all need to hear the Gospel message of a Saviour that loves us, that died for us and that wants all of our broken pieces.
We all need to experience the heavenly exchange of hope for brokenness that happens when Jesus steps into our midst because two or three are gathered together in His name.
Author - Mike Rush
and long-term drug addiction. He's between homelessness and residential security; between poverty and self-sustaining; between a lost significant other, and a life on his own.
So, we spent the day together and he volunteered his time on projects throughout. We talked about what could be a plan for his life. Get, and maintain, sobriety; maybe we could help you get into a facility. Obtain his Medicaid card, and his SNAP provisions, which our case management program could help him do. After those, secure affordable housing, just for you, where you could take care of just you.
I waited in the truck while he turned in his key, to an apartment on which he hadn’t kept up payments, to his landlord. I thought over his situation and prayed over his heart. When he returned, I said, “Just think what your life could be like when you’re sober, eating a good diet, and getting the sleep you need. Imagine that no one in your life manipulates you into doing something you don’t want to do. And you never make a decision out of guilt, or shame, or fear.”
Later, I dropped him, and the small bag he carried which held all of his worldly belongings, at Bethlehem House for a shower and maybe a meal and conversation. Before he got out of the truck I told him that I loved him, and that I was proud of the progress he’d made that day.
And as I watched him go, I hoped and prayed that he would follow through with his plan to stay at our warming station that night. And, that in the morning, he’d show up and we’d figure out another day together.
Author - Laura King
Volunteers are what make the Warming Station happen during the winter...hundreds of them in a ten week period. Folks to cook meals and serve them each night. Men and women prepared to stay awake all night long to ensure the safety and well being of our guests.
A few weekends ago I got the opportunity to stay overnight after we unexpectedly had some spots that needed filled. I have helped in overnight shelters before but I was deployed to disaster areas where mother nature had ravaged a communities. I knew that this was going to be a different experience for me and was excited to spend community time with those that I only get to have small infrequent conversations with.
My night to serve finally came and it was bitter cold...the wind was howling. I got to the Warming Station a little before 6pm and our friends were huddled everywhere waiting to check in. It was so cold that we opened early so that they could get out of the elements. The Station was quickly almost at capacity. Each guest signed in and checked their one or two bags and then headed over to the community room for dinner.
Dinner time was jam packed. Every seat was taken and many were standing. Volunteers were serving an amazing spread. Plates were heaped over and some were going back for seconds. It just so happened that it was family meeting night. A night where Spring comes to the Station...ok, let's be real she is up there a lot of nights. But certain nights are set aside to give any new information and go through light housekeeping details.
There were a lot of interesting questions being asked, some of it to colorful to write about and then there was prayer. After going through her list, Spring simply said "let's ask God to help us" and begin to pray. That tiny, packed room went quiet. Heads began to bow, weathered hands clasped together. As she finished, you heard some of their voices crack as the "amens" rang out. I will never forget those moments. Moments when Jesus showed up in a room full of voiceless, unseen people. People who are normally discarded had an audience with Jesus and it was beautiful.
Not long after a movie was put on and some pretty intense games of UNO ensued. I had the privilege of interviewing a handful of folks who wanted to tell their story. They wanted to give back in some way because they were so thankful for what the community was doing for them. I met people who had only been homeless a few weeks, some over a year. I met moms with children, young couples and senior citizens all with a story...all with hopes and dreams for their future,
It was 10:30pm and time for lights out. I cut the lights and my friend and I settled into our chairs to begin our watch over the room full of women and families. It wasn't long before the life song of snores rang out. We looked at each other and knew it was going to be a long night. I don't know if snoring is a prereq...but they all had it down pat. It was peaceful and warm as we put in our earbuds to make sure we stayed awake over the next several hours and also to drown out the snoring.
I watched the sun come up the next morning as I recounted the events of the evening before. Thankful that I gave up a night's sleep to see what God was doing first hand. Thankful to be a part of something so amazing going on in our city. Thankful to have a meaningful connection with the very people that we advocate for everyday. Now I know their names and their stories. Now more than ever before I know that they are just like me, with a past and families, hurts and victories.
I cannot unsee what I have seen or unhear what I have heard and with that knowledge comes responsibility. The call to give voice to the voiceless rings ever louder in my heart.
Author - Laura King
I walked out the office door with my backpack on my shoulder. The wind hit my face as I stepped out and caused me to look up. There were already cars in the parking lot, people were already gathering in our courtyard. Not just a few...dozens...dozens of Conway's unsheltered and they were here for the Winter Warming Station. Men, women and children huddled together waiting for check-in which was over two hours away.
I have spent more time at the Warming Station this year than last, although not nearly as much time as the rest of our staff. I was there when the doors opened on December 16th and saw the worn out bodies begin to steam in, fear, relief, and exhaustion splashed across their faces.
I slipped in on Christmas Eve Eve or December 23rd to some, as the new church volunteers were being trained for the evening. I saw a different kind of fear along with excitement and wonder as they got ready to open the doors for the night. I had the pleasure of taking my Dad with me and watched him struggle to take it all in...trying to reconcile what he was seeing.
Christmas morning...I saw weathered men and women sit reverently still as a ten year old little girl opened a small pile of presents by the tree. Each one opened with the most gentle touch, I am forty years old and I still rip the paper open with wild abandon. She took her time, paused to examine each item before moving on. I can still hear the "oohs" and "aahs" and "isn't that nice" from chairs around her. I watched her parents and their conflicted emotions as each gift revealed itself. Their first Christmas without a home. So thankful that their child had presents to open. yet I saw the defeated look of failure at the current place they found their family.
Grown men with cracked hands reached into stockings and their eyes lit up as they pulled out the items within. One woman let out a squeal of excitement as she squeezed her new pair of socks. You could hear the conversations going on and on about the gift cards to local fast food places that they had received. The cards ran out before the people did and several folks offered to share theirs until we could buy more.
January 2nd, I made my way to the Warming Station right as check-in was taking place. I crossed the parking lot and headed up the stairs. I looked across the yard and saw a well dressed young woman get out of a mini-van with a car seat in one hand and a toddler in the other. I remember thinking that she looked out of place and just figured she must be with the volunteer church that week.
I was catching up with Neil one of the night managers when that little curly headed toddler beat her mom to the top of the stairs. She ran to Neil and grabbed him by the legs. He picked her up as she grinned and laughed and then he proceeded to tell "Mom" that check-in had started and she could go sign in.
"What??? They don't belong here". The confusion in my mind found it's way to my face. Neil told me that they had shown up Christmas day not long after I had left that morning. My mind was racing. What was their story? How had they ended up here? How is it possible that I still hold a stereotype of homelessness after all this time?
I know better. I've seen the faces...I've heard the stories. I tell the stories when I go to churches and organizations and speak. I tell people that homelessness isn't just the guy flying a sign on the street corner. Over and over I tell people that the causes of homelessness are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Part of my job is educating the public and trying to break down the barriers and stereotypes. Yet, there I stood, speechless...trying to reconcile how this well put together woman and toddler could need the Warming Station.
The truth is...I encounter people everyday and I size them up and judge them based on what I see. Even knowing the truth, I still get blinded by prejudices in my heart that I thought were no longer there. Jesus showed up in the form of a beautiful, curly haired toddler that night and gently laid His finger on a darkness that lingered in my heart.
I think it's easy to look past people that don't run in our circles and even the guy on the street flying a sign. We have to be intentional about truly seeing people. We have to be vulnerable and allow the pain that ensues from what we see. We need to let Jesus in to fix our brokenness.
I am immersed in this culture everyday and thought I was immune. I thought I was immune to the stereotypes and prejudices but I still had blindness in my eyes. I am still broken and in need of a Savior just like my homeless brothers and sisters... just like the folks that run in my circle.
There is an old children's song written by Joel Hemphill - He's Still Working on me
"He's still working on me To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be 'Cause He's still workin' on me
There really ought to be a sign upon my heart
Don't judge him yet, there's an unfinished part
But I'll be better just according to His plan
Fashioned by the Master's loving hands
In the mirror of His word Reflections that I see
Makes me wonder why He never gave up on me
But He loves me as I am and helps me when I pray
Remember He's the potter, I'm the clay
He's still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
'Cause He's still workin' on me
This new year I am seeing with new eyes. I pray that He would never cease to prick my heart and open my eyes to His Truth over my own perceptions....that He would keep "working on me".
Author - Laura King
I felt Him tug on my heart before I was even what you call "good and awake". I sat up on the edge of the bed and felt this urge to spend some of my day volunteering in the Storehouse Pantry. The thought hadn't even finished processing before I told God how much I had to do at the office and I brushed it off and went about my morning routine.
Thoughts of the day ahead of me flooded my mind as I went through a mental check list of what needed to get done while I fumbled with my keys at the office door. I began to hear footsteps behind me getting closer. I turned and saw one of my favorite clients from the Pantry.
I smiled and asked her how she was doing. She managed a smile and said things were tough. She looked exhausted and stressed. Thinner than I remember her, shoulders slumped...she is one of our senior clients and what we call a " walker", meaning she doesn't have transportation so she walks several blocks to the pantry.
We talked for a few minutes, she told me that she had just lost her Mom as tears welled in her eyes. My mind raced back to the evening before when I held a picture of my Mother and myself in my hands. I totally understand the pain that was beginning to trail down her cheeks. I asked if I could give her a hug and asked God to bless her and touch her heart. She clung to me and said " thank you for hugging someone like me, i really needed that".
"Someone like her"...I stared into her eyes and saw myself. I saw the same pain and brokenness that so often meets me in the mirror. "Someone like her"...
She asked my if she had to have an ID to shop, she had forgotten it when she left her apartment on foot. " No, go get checked in..they will take care of you" I replied. She said " thank you" as she grabbed my hands. I told her that I loved her as she turned towards the Storehouse.
I am thankful for God's gentleness with me even when I am often not very gentle with Him. I chose to brush Him off this morning and instead of chastising me, He sent a gentle message in the form of my friend. I wasn't about to ignore Him a second time. I dropped my stuff of in the office and headed to find Mike to see if they could use a little help at the Storehouse.
God knows what we need and exactly when we need it. My purpose in the Pantry this morning had nothing to do with me helping and everything to do with God loving on me because i am...I am "someone like her". I was tired, overwhelmed and exhausted just like she was. Our minds both racing as to how we could make things work, yet knowing that in and of ourselves we were going to fall short. Our life circumstances in many ways are different but our spiritual needs are the same. We needed God to show up and love on us this morning and He did. i experienced Jesus in every volunteer and client I came into contact with. Hugs, smiles, joy, prayer, tears, love.
So many broken hearts come to this campus. They come in beat down, feeling unworthy, feeling like they are less than and tired of fighting the daily battles of survival. They come searching to have a physical need met and God does this miraculous thing of meeting them where they are and speaking life into them. He meets all of us broken people that way...right where we are...because no matter if our clothes are tattered or nice, we have a vehicle or are afoot, young or old, healthy or weak, hungry or full, orphaned or not, we are all "someone like her.
Author: Laura King, Director of Development & public relations
Lately, I have felt really disconnected from people. This time of year I seem to withdraw inward and just try to skip from September 7th to November 7th. During this period three years ago my Mother was in the final stages of cancer and as a caregiver & daughter those moments broke me and changed me. So when fall rolls around I go into a subconscious survival mode. I find myself avoiding crowds and just people in general. My frustration levels rise, I don't sleep well, and I grab on to Jesus with everything I've got.
As September 7th neared, I prayed specifically that Jesus would make himself known to me during this time. All I can say is that God moves in the most mysterious and unconventional ways. Three weeks ago, the CMC launched into a remodel and God has shown up in the weirdest and grimiest places. The next few paragraphs will not be a tale of how God helped calm my frustrations, how well I am sleeping or even how I love being around people right now. Instead I will tell of how God showed up in spite of all those things.
It has been hectic to say the least these last few weeks at the CMC, We have been packing, cleaning, moving, painting, laying floors, and everything in between. We had a Saturday move day on September 15th and there were volunteers everywhere...they just kept coming.
I don't know how that entire warehouse of food got moved from one building to the next but I know that everyone was wore out by the time somebody hollered "lunch time". We were all sweaty, dirty, and just plain gross. My brain and body were done and I sat down in a chair in our new warehouse not to far from the makeshift pizza buffet line. I began to watch the volunteers coming through and I was just amazed by what God was doing. There was a medical professional, a local judge, a homeless man, a recovering addict, church folks from multiple churches, school teachers, poor people, wealthy people and everyone in between.
We had all been working side by side and now we were breaking bread together. As I reveled in the beauty of what was, I also realized that all of those people are broken just like me. We all have stuff, we all have things we battle... but we are not in it alone. All of my hardship brought me to that moment in time. A divinely appointed time.
And not just me but others. The homeless man...hardship brought him here also. He's been on the street for a few months. He got sick and missed work which caused him to be late on his rent and he ended up on the streets. Chaos breeds chaos and he lost his job. We asked him this week to tell us his story. He said "you know, I had been coming and getting emergency food packs for several days. I was sleeping not far from here and saw y'all working. I just wanted to be a part of what you were doing". This man has been a God send to us. He showed up and has kept showing up for three weeks. So much talent and ability and God has used his hands to help us get ready for the next chapter at the CMC.
God just keeps bringing hurting people to this place. We work together and break bread together... and Jesus binds up our wounds and mends our broken hearts. God makes provision for us and the people we serve. There is story after story to be told of how God has provided for the CMC's needs during this remodel. God has made himself known to me over and over these past few weeks. And our new homeless friend...God has provided for him as well. Our friends at Bethlehem House accepted him into their program and he is on the road to rebuilding his life.
God is in the middle of our heartache, our brokenness and even our hopelessness. He loves us and He uses our life stories and circumstances to draw us ever closer to Him...the cool thing is He uses our life stories and circumstances to draw others to Him as well.
I have learned to let my pain speak for itself. I used to be ashamed of it actually, but I realized in the middle of all that is broken is where my Creator shows up. As much as I want to be rid of the sleepless nights, irritability and panic attacks...what I really want is to be in the middle of God's presence. And I have found His presence in all sorts of places...my drive to work, Lowe's, power washing the sidewalk, and in the warehouse breaking bread with my neighbors.
Author: Spring Hunger - Executive Director
I am in love with my work at the CMC. And the staff team God has allowed me to work with. And the volunteers that show up faithfully each week. And most especially, the beautiful, unique, precious people we get to serve.
More than all of this, I am in love with the way Jesus is at work in all of it and I am amazed at the lives that are changed in big and small ways here. For some, a warm sandwich and a cool drink of water after a long hot day in the streets. For others, a cabinet full of groceries or help on an electric bill just in time. For a few, it's a chance to have a home of their own or a partner in fighting that addiction that destroyed their life.
So often, I feel like we are allowed little glimpses into what God must feel toward his children. When a client makes a really tough decision that could change the course of their life for good, we jump for joy. When they are deeply struggling, we press in even harder. And when they walk away from all their progress and potential to return to a life of dysfunction, we weep over them.
This week as the case manager and I teamed up to work with a client, I caught one such glimpse. We have collectively worked with this client for about two and a half years on a variety of needs and challenges spanning from physical and mental health, to food and utility assistance, to legal issues, and always working toward getting her into more safe and stable housing.
Against great odds, we were finally able to secure a new home for our client and we were excited to pick her up for the final walk-through and signing of the lease. Finally our client would have her own safe, clean home where she could start a new life. But when we arrived to start the process, things had taken a turn for the worse. Our little lady refused to go, she had convinced herself of numerous reasons that she couldn't go through with it. At the core of it all was fear of the unknown. We sat and watched as she talked herself into staying right where she was, even if it was destroying her physically and mentally. As I sat and attempted to beg my client to step out in faith and take hold of the good things that God had placed before her, I was reminded of Deut. 30:19 where God says he has laid before us Life and Death...Oh, that you would CHOOSE Life!!!
My Granny used to have an old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". Jesus has offered us a Living Well to drink deeply from, but he will not force us to partake. He offers us a life abundant, but we must reach out and take hold of it. As we walk alongside our clients at the CMC, we stand by their side when they come to a crossroads, but we cannot choose Life on their behalf. While many of our clients choose Life and we rejoice with them, some do not. Sometimes we have to let them journey ahead in a direction that we cannot follow. But we always let them know, "If at any point you decide to turn back, we'll be here waiting..."
Thank you, Jesus, that you were there waiting when I finally turned and ran back to you. How could we do anything less for those you send across our path?