18 November 2013

All Under One Roof, Under One Sky

Last week, my friend suggested a topic for me to cover. He said, "How about when we feel guilty when we stop to help people that always use us when they're in trouble...over and over again, without them doing the right thing for themselves. How does this make sense?" That's a big one, right? I'm sure all of us can relate to this - and it doesn't just pertain to the homeless but to anyone in need. Some people are just needy. Always making the wrong choices, asking for help just one more time. We help, and then the next thing we know, they're in trouble again. Sound familiar? It does to me. I have people in my life like this - who have been like this their whole lives. What do you do when it's someone in your family? More than likely, you'll not turn them away, but help them, albeit, help them knowing it's not the last time, right? Of course, because family is family. But let's take it a step further, because I think my friend was talking about people on the street. Do we just continue to help the same people on the street - even though we know they are not doing the best for themselves? Do we give money to the homeless guy who asks for money to buy something to eat knowing he's going to buy alcohol or a fix? I want you to hold on to this for a little bit, while I tell you what happened to us on our homeless outreach on Thursday evening because it was very special, and beautiful, and because even though 4 days have passed since then, I still can't stop thinking about it.

Last Thursday, it was our night to prepare food for the homeless shelter in Glendale - Ascencia. For the past 6 years, our In His Shoes outreach has been feeding and clothing the homeless of Skid Row, and earlier this year we expanded our outreach to cook dinner at the Glendale shelter. From the very start of the evening it was magical. Late Wednesday evening, I received a text from my sister asking when we'd be going to the shelter since she had girls' clothing to donate. She has great timing. I dropped by at 6:30 Thursday morning for pick up. When I got to Ascencia that afternoon after work, I was the first of our group there. This was the first time for us at the new facility which opened last month. And I noticed a lot of people out front. I guess the rule maybe that the doors open at 4:30 for the evening, and the residents had started to gather. Within the group, I noticed quite a few children in the group, and along with them, tired parents. I rang the bell, my arms filled with groceries for salad. A few minutes later, they opened the doors and everyone came in. The kids went into the common area, some watched TV, other's played, a saw one teen doing homework. It was very homey. I went to the kitchen to get started. And then I remembered the clothing. 

Edward - the resident manager - helped me with the bags in the car. I told him I had clothing for little girls and some adult clothing that I had collected as well. We brought the clothing in and put it in the dining area and I saw Edward give the "come here" hand signal to a middle aged woman. He told me, "She has 7 kids. She'll be able to use these clothes." Seven kids. Wow. She came over and I told her about the clothing and that my sister had said there was a duffel bag as well as a child's sleeping bag. She thanked me, and I went on to the kitchen to tend to the salad. But I was able to watch what was happening from where I was. The next thing I saw were two little girls that she had called over. (Later in the evening I got to meet them). These two little girls were so excited. It was like Christmas. They went through the bag of clothing, the woman holding the shirts/sweaters/pants up to size on the girls. The older girl got the pack. The little girl got the sleeping bag. They left the clothing that wouldn't work for them, and they in turn called over another couple of girls, older this time. And they were able to use some of the clothing. And this went on with more and more gathering. each taking only what they could use. I wished that my nieces could have been there to see the joy that this simple act of giving brought to this group.

Fr. Vazken came next, and I put him to work chopping tomatoes for the salad. And we talked while working - enjoying the time together before the rest of the group showed up. Next Yvette came. I had asked her to bring fruit to fill the fruit bowl. She had brought beautiful apples, oranges, bananas and pears,and they were brimming out of the large stainless steel bowl. It was really beautiful, just like those Thanksgiving cornucopias that symbolize abundance. As we took the bowl of fruit out to place on the table, I noticed the faces of the children as they were using the communal space. And then slowly they made their way over....taking an apple or a pear. The sparkle in their eyes as they were so happy to have such beautiful fruit. It made me remember stories my mom used to tell us when we were kids. Always at Christmastime, when we had finished opening our gifts on Christmas morning, amid the torn wrapping paper and the toys that we had just opened, she would tell us about how little they had growing up, and that always on Christmas morning, Santa Claus would bring them an apple. An apple! As a kid I remember thinking wow..what a gip. Right? I would think, she must not have been a very good little girl if that's all he brought her. But there and then, standing there watching these children enjoying something to basic that we take for granted, it made me understand what my mom had shared so long ago with us.

Next, Suzie and her mom came. They had prepared the main meal for the evening: chicken tikka, basmati rice, spiced lentils, rolls and butter. Lida and Jenny came to join us and brought with them dessert and juice, and there we were, working side by side in the kitchen, preparing the meal, getting things ready for the feast. I have always felt comfortable with the homeless. I've written before about how our parents would share our food with the homeless of our community. We grew up understanding that they are no different than we are. All of us created by God, who loves us all. Equally.

One of the residents there is a man I've seen for the past 3 times we've been there. He's got long hair, a wild look in this eyes, and wears a lot of jewelry, some of which is intricately beaded. I was admiring his bracelet as a fellow beader, and he told me he made all his jewelry himself. A fellow artist, he told me he had made some bad choices in his life and ended up on the street strung out on heroin until Jesus Christ saved him. He had been clean for 22 years. He shared with me that he wanted to put on a show/exhibit for the community, to give back, and had spoken to Fr. Vazken about talking to our teens about his story. He was so open and honest and ready to share his message with those who will listen. I was glad for the opportunity to talk to him and hear his story.

Dinner was served. Such abundance. Our friends lined up on the one side of the glass, with us on the kitchen
side, customizing their plates. No rice? More chicken? Sure you can have a plate for your brother. So many beautiful faces, but the most beautiful of all were all the children, so hopeful, so excited. Once everyone has been served, we get a chance to make a plate for ourselves and join the residents in the dining room. At this time, we brought out this large sheet cake. Suzie had chosen this cake with pretty autum colored icing roses in the center. The little girls came over, "Who's birthday is it???" I said, "No one's birthday. We just wanted to share with you!" They watched as I cut the cake, eyeing it but not taking a piece. And then I connected. It took me way back to when I was a little girl. Watching the cake being cut and waiting, patiently, until the icing flowers were near so I could ask for a flower. These little girls were no different than I was. I stopped cutting, "Would you like a piece with a rose?" Punch stained mouths said, "Yeah!" I took the knife and cut into the center of the cake asking them which rose, what color. They were so happy! These two little girls were Shalyn and Lauren. Sisters. I could tell without asking from their beautiful blue eyes. I asked where their mother was? They told me their mother didn't live here. I asked if they lived at the shelter with their father. No, they said, they were here with their grandmother. All seven of them.  

A cute little boy came over to the fruit bowl. Same pretty blue eyes as my two little freinds. Eyeing the fruit, he was digging deep into it and pulled out a pear. "I love pears!" He said biting into it. A little while later, I saw him finding another pear. I asked his name. Nathan. We talked a bit. When I commented that he was pretty smart, he said that yes, he was smart, and his favorite subject was science. And he confessed this was his fourth pear! I told him to save one for his lunch tomorrow and asked if he had gone to school today "Not today," he said, "The district didn't give me permission. But I'm going tomorrow." I'm not sure how school works when you're a homeless child, but from what he said, I guess he had to have some sort of clearance to attend.  

The mood was so comfortable. We were enjoying just being there. Shalyn had become Suzie's new best friend, and was happy eating her cake and chatting her. As I was walking over, Nathan came up and tapped me on the arm. In a soft voice he said, "I really loved dinner." It was so sweet and heartwarming. I could't help but hug him. I told him how special he had made us all feel and that it made us so happy that he loved it. I asked if he'd like to meet the person who cooked the meal and took him over to Suzie. He told Suzie the same thing. She was touched, as was our whole crew. When I introduced him, he extended his hand to shake hands with us. Such a gentleman. Later, I found his grandmother who I noticed was probably close to my age. I wanted to tell her how sweet her grandchildren were, and how polite. When I first approached her, I felt her guard was up. But as soon as I told her how sweet Nathan's comment was, and how much we had enjoyed talking to him and her other two grandchildren. Her face softened and she got a little misty eyed. "Thank you," she said. "They can be a handful." I can only imagine how difficult it would be to raise 7 grandchildren on my own. God had blessed this woman with Love, strength and patience to raise these children so beautifully.

We were all so touched by the evening. There was so much good going on. During last week's bible study, Fr. Vazken talked about the family and explained our Armenian word, "Undaneek". Family. Literally translated this work means, "under one roof." Our brothers and sisters at Ascencia are family to one another. Sharing a home. Sharing life and themselves with one another. And once a month, sharing their live and love with us. God bless them all, and God bless the staff at Ascencia for the important work that they are doing.

So now back to my friend's original question, about feeling guilt when you don't help someone that continually asks for your help because you know they aren't helping themselves. I'll give you my take on it, and you can tell me if you agree or disagree.

I have found, that there are two types of people that ask for help. The first are those who really need help, and the second are the scammers...those who take advantage of a soft heart. These are the ones that scope us out in the parking lot at the grocery store and tell us the story about how they need X amount of money to get a busride home because their car broke down, blah, blah, blah. Or that they can't afford diapers for their babies, and could I just spare $20. I know, I know. It could be true, but in these cases, I know they're lying because I fell for it, and then was approached by the same person a couple days later with the exact same story. Regarding the scammers, I don't contribute to them.  But I do help those that are in need. Regardless of drug and alcohol addictions. But one thing I do, rather than just hand them a passing dollar is stop and talk to them. What is their name? And what is their story? Believe me, most of these people are so used to being "invisible" they're often surprised when I stop to talk.  

If you want to help but think your money will go toward drugs or alcohol, then you can ask if they're hungry and get them something to eat. If you work in the city or some place where you see the same person on a daily or weekly basis, maybe you can offer them something to wear. Ask if they can use some socks (this is something we always get asked for on our homeless outreach). If you have nothing to give, you still have something important you can contribute. A smile. A conversation. Offer to pray for them. But don't give up on them. Because God NEVER gives up on us. As Christians, it's not our job to judge anyone. We will be judged the way that we judge others. Think about that. Is that what we want for our final judgement? Uh, I don't think so, right?

As far as feeling guilty for not helping them -- I understand how that feels too...and that's why I started talking to the homeless. Because I can't always give money. But I can smile or say hello. On those days, I just say, "I'm sorry, I can't today. But how are you? Are you doing okay?" At least you have acknowledged their presence rather than ignoring them as you walk by. And always, always, imagine that that person is Jesus. I saw the face of God in a homeless man when I was about 12 or 13 when my father had me take a plate of food to him on Christmas day. His eyes were piercing, blue, and kind and etched in my memory forever. I knew it was Him. And that's when my ministry started. I am doing it for God. Because of God. And because I follow the teachings Christ. To love and care for my brothers and sisters. If my God commands me to do it...then I do it, right? So that's how I view it. What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, so please leave your comments for me below.

So that's pretty much it. But before I finish up, I just wanted to share with you this week's list of the "little things I'm thankful for." As you know, I'm focusing on being thankful for the little things that make life so beautiful. And I'm hoping you're doing this along with me. So there it is:

1. Mobility! I think I take for granted so much that I am able to walk. And I walk A LOT. But I view it as a given. I am blessed with mobility. I can get around and not have to rely on someone else to get me there. You know, I often complain about my weight, or my legs, but these legs have carried me through life. I'm so blessed to have them to get around.

2. Clean water. All we have to do is turn on the faucet and we have clean water. Do we realize how fortunate we are? We're spoiled. The water is clean coming out of the tap, yet how many of us have to drink bottled water because tap water doesn't "taste good." Did you know that 3.4 million people die each year from water related disease. tthat's about the size of the population of los angeles!) And every 20 seconds a child dies from it? Check out Water.org

3. Popcorn - I love popcorn. Have you ever thought about who thought about popping corn first? And then who thought of putting butter on it??

4. Compassion. I am thankful for compassion and the ability to help others. Some get defensive. "They're milking the system," they say. But "they" is really "we". We all belong to one another. We're all part of the same family and it's up to us to take care of one another. I'm blessed with a compasionate heart and would rather be this way than any other.

5. Saturday morning coffee. It really is the small things. Saturday morning. Relaxed coffee at home. The best ever! One cup before breakfast when I'm cooking. The second cup with breakfast. The third cup about a half hour later, after I've cleaned up the kitchen. Coffee always tastes so much better when I'm at home.

6. Beautiful colors in nature. Look around. In my front yard the leaves on my tree have changed to bright vivid
yellow. Last Saturday, I took a basketmaking class and the colors in the pine needles were so subtle and beautiful. Be aware of the way the sunlight affects nature at sunrise and then at sunset. The palette changes right before our eyes.

7. And finally, this is a big one for me...

I am thankful for the ability to create. My life is happy because I get to create. Basketmaking, crocheting, jewelry, cooking, drawing, blogging. Creativity is happiness for me and I am blessed that I have the ability and means to create.

So I showed you my list...now you show me yours!! Oh come on....at least list a couple in the comments section below!! Okay, give me one! When we focus on the little things that bless our lives, we'll appreciate each day a little more fully. I hope you all have a wonderful week ahead.

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