[orginally sent Dec. 2nd, 2005 to the subversive underground subscription list]
*This article recently appeared on the new SEED STORIES website this week.
By Keith Giles
Earlier this week Wendy and I confessed to each other that we don’t really like our new life right now.
It was an honest expression of our frustration with the slowness of things. We long, we ache for our new life to begin here.
Getting settled into the new house has been an up and down transition for us. My transition into a new role at my job has been agonizingly slow. Transitioning out of the old church and into the new house church plant has been the most difficult of all. We’re still praying, still talking, still meeting with friends and still trying to work out the how and the when of it all.
Of course, we also miss the old patterns of life we once knew, and during this “in between” time we can’t help but to turn our heads back and look over our shoulder at the way things used to be.
Maybe I’ve been expecting too much, too soon? Maybe I just miss the familiar sort of ministry I’ve been used to these last few years?
The other day I was driving around our new town and I felt like God was urging me to look around and to see “our poor” here in Orange.
Just one street north of our house is Chapman, a major street peppered with fast-food chain stores, gas stations, and a few poverty motels where families and the working homeless try to get by. The motel just across Chapman from our neighborhood is called “The Castaway Motel”. Doesn’t that just make you sick? What an awful name for a motel where people are forced to raise their children and struggle for a dime, an identity, or a handful of dignity. It makes me want to buy the motel and change the name to something that offers some hope, or to re-paint the building a shade of light, or to offer an affordable rate to these people who are working their guts out just to feed their kids and have a warm place to sleep.
Maybe, in attempting to discover these new patterns of our life, I need to get to know our local homeless? I’ve already noticed a guy who’s always sitting on a bench near the Castaway. I’ve nick-named him “Barney” but I know I need to get know his real name and hear his story.
I’ve also seen a woman, fairly young, who stands at the corner of Chapman and Main with a collection of matching black luggage. She’s usually outside the Starbucks, sitting near her small island of black bags, wearing a black dress, a black hat and black sunglasses. She looks as if she’s waiting to take a trip somewhere, or for someone to show up any minute and pick her up and take her home.
I’ve begun to wonder how I can meet them. How can I walk up to them and introduce myself, ask their name, find out their story? What would Jesus have me to do in their life?
As always, I’m usually held back by the awareness that I have nothing that I can give them. I have no great resource or plan to make their life better. I can listen to their story and I can offer compassion, but when it’s all said and done, there’s not much I can do except extend to them a smile, or a short prayer, maybe a meal or a handful of cash for the night. It seems so meager, so weak.
Of course, this small offering is more than they get from anyone else each day. Most people walk past them, maybe offer a disgusted glance, and move on.
It’s the hard reality that accompanies the ministry of compassion. No matter how much you do, no matter how great your program or the size of your offering to the poor, you always come away feeling that you didn’t do enough. At least that’s always been my experience.
I’ve driven away from the motel after a Saturday afternoon where we’ve had a free bounce house for the kids, passed out free bread, diapers and water, had a game time, puppet show, music time and prayed with the families there, only to have a feeling in my heart on the way home that it was all for nothing…that we didn’t do enough. No matter how much I pour out, the insignificance of the offering is monumental and overwhelming.
Still, I can’t help it. I have to keep going. I have to keep in touch with these people. I have to know how their children are doing. I have to know if they’ve found a way out of their situation yet. I have to make them smile, I have to lay a hand on their shoulders and pray God’s mercy and blessing over them.
It’s the lack of this that has me in such a place of sadness lately. This is the pattern of life I long to return to.
We need to develop new patterns for our life now. The old patterns are gone. It’s this process of finding the new pattern that is so difficult for us to endure.
What I want is to have a life where I go to work and make a difference. I want to have time to stop the car and spend time with these people in our community who are homeless. I want to get back to visiting our friends in the senior centers. I want to start meeting in our home with other believers who are hungry for community and a relational form of Christian life. I want to see our friends at the motel on a regular basis. I want to preach and teach and pastor again…and for now we’re in a season where all we can do is to wait for God to open more doors and reveal the patterns to us.
There’s a senior home just about two miles south of us where about five or six of our friends from the Hacienda are living now. The activities director there called me just before our move to ask if I’d be willing to preach a Sunday service there once in a while, and to ask if we could bring the kids and visit them on Saturdays. Of course, I said yes, but now I wonder how and when we can actually begin to serve in this way. I long for it, I desperately want to make room in our new life for this, and maybe in a very short while we will see these patterns emerge again.
For now…we continue to wait…and to hope…and to dream.
"It is not how much we do but how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God." - Mother Teresa