So just a little background for those of you who don't know about our homeless outreach. We started visting Skid Row 6 years ago. Skid Row is the area in downtown Los Angeles, that has large homeless populations on the streets. The poorest of the poor. Some who are fortunate, have a tent to sleep in, others have a flattened box to lay on, and still others have nothing at all. When we go out to visit our homeless brothers and sisters, we take two large thermoses of hot water, many cases of Cup o' Noodles, water bottles, wrapped snacks, used, donated clothing, and always after The Feast of the Assumption, we take blessed grapes.
This small gesture, of taking grapes to the homeless, is very well received and appreciated. Food and clothing are always appreciated by those that have very little. But sharing a blessing is different. And I don't know who it's more special to: the deliverer of the blessing or the recipient.
First off, receiving any kind of fresh fruit is a treat. Those that live on the street are used to eating the leftovers of others. Finding food in the trash, or if lucky, receiving the doggy bag of someone walking by. So here's what happens. We drive around the streets finding encampments of people and pull the cars over and serve them. When we pulled out the grapes and offered them, their eyes lit up. I didn't tell all of them that these grapes were special, but to those that questioned our new menu item, I would tell them. "These grapes are blessed. And we brought them for you to receive the blessing as well." When I talked about the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, some of their eyes would soften as if remembering something in their teaching from long ago. Others knew. One young man was very moved. He told me, "I am going to eat these grapes and receive God's blessing. Thank you so much." And he turned to his friends and told them "If you don't want your grapes, you can't throw them away...give them to me...they've been blessed. In church."
The blessing of being able to reach out to the homeless is one that I so appreciate. As much as I have a soft spot for the homeless, and my heart hurts for them, I am spoiled. I complain about my job. I complain that I can't get a grip on the housework. I can be wasteful in my ways. I focus on stuff that is so trivial sometimes. Stupid stuff, like, for example, maybe my pillow cases don't match my sheets, y'know? Does that really matter when my brother doesn't even have a pillow, let alone a sheet, a blanket..or a bed. So you see what I'm saying? It's humbling. And being able to share God's love with them helps me, helps all of those that participate on our crew, to put things into perspective.
It's a privilege to serve. Once we load up the cars for our outreach, we gather in a circle on the lawn of the church for a prayer. We thank God for the opportunity to be his hands and to reach out. We ask for protection and that He help us not to judge. And that He allow us to bring His light and love to those in need. Last Monday we fed and clothed about 160 people. And that helps the rest of the week seem a bit lighter.
And then on Thursday, when I listened to this week's episode of the Next Step with Father Vazken and his conversation with Linda Zadoian about the Feast of the Assumption...and grape blessing, it made sense about why this week felt so different. I was at church last Sunday, and I felt that magic they were talking about...and it did carry forward thoughout the week. We were still riding on the wave of that day and its lesson. I think that's the beauty of these special days...that they are supposed to carry us with their meaning so that we can live the message not just that one day but for the remaining 364 days of the year.
So I started thinking of ways that we can reach out to others...and be tied to the vine. It's not only about feeding the homeless. Maybe that's just not your thing. But there are other ways to extend the love. We can show others the love within us...the love that God has empowered us with. When we are loving and compassionate, we understand that we all belong to one another.
We can be kind to one another. And to ourselves. If we view everyone, including ourselves, as gifts of life that God has created, we can see in one another the possibilities for greatness and change in the world. By encouraging one another, being kind and nurturing, we can increase that potential to make the world a kinder and more loving place. And sometimes it's easy to be kind to others, but not to ourselves. How many of us are hard on ourselves? How many of us are forgiving of ourselves and our failures. Let's say we're walking down a flight of stairs and we trip. Should we then throw ourselves down the whole flight because we messed up and didn't do things perfectly? No, right? So then in life, why are we so easy to toss in the towel when we make a mistake...or have a set back? See what I'm saying?
We can show, every day, that we are instruments of God's love and peace by living that love and peace. Be loving. Make peace with those that have wronged us (or that we've wronged). As for forgiveness, don't be a party to negativity or gossip.
We can extend the hand of friendship to those we don't know...or those that need a friend. Don't be shy. What about that new guy you see at church who is just standing there at coffee hour. Be welcoming. You know, one of the neatest men at our church, Baron Sarkis, is part of our church family because we took the time to say hello. He went to two Armenian churches before ours and he said no one even said good morning. After watching Fr. Vazken on television, he decided to try our church. And he is now part of the family. Why? Because he felt welcome. He's 76. His family lives in another state. He is here all alone, and we are now his family. He tells us that we extended friendship to him. Just a smile and a hello is all it takes sometime.
And finally, I read a beautiful article today that I wanted to share with it you, and it's about this very thing...spreading the love and how a group of women made a difference in so many lives and how the lesson of sharing that love spread to others.