02 December 2013

On Love and Thanks

It's Monday, and we're back to business as usual after celebrating Thanksgiving this past Thursday, November 28 here in the states. Thanksgiving weekend has always been one I look forward to because our offices are closed the following day after well as Thursday, so we always get a 4-day weekend.  I've always loved the non-commercial aspect of Thanksgiving.  No gifts to buy.  Just a beautiful day to think about all that we're blessed with, spend time with family,  and give thanks to God.  But this year, for the first time, we heard of stores opening on Thanksgiving day - advertising sales, and urging people to shop on that day.  I thought this was really sad.  I have a coworker who has 5 children.  I asked him what he was doing on Thanksgiving.  "Nothing," he said, "my wife has to work."  His wife works at Macy's department store. Without mom at home, the whole family would have to forego having Thanksgiving dinner together.  "It's not the same without her there."

Where is everyone?  5:15 a.m. on Black Friday at
Eagle Rock Mall
I fear that in the future, this beautiful tradition/holiday of giving thanks will take a back seat to commercialism. That's just sad.  And really the only way that we can combat this is to not fall for it.  Black Friday started at midnight the following day.  That should be enough, right? Now don't get me wrong.  I love a good sale.  In fact, my sister Sona and I have our own tradition.  We do a 5:00 a.m. Friday morning run to Macy's and Target.  This year, there was no one there.  When we were coming home from Thanksgiving dinner at my daugther's, it was close to 10 p.m. as we passed the mall.  The parking lot was PACKED with cars.  This is on Thanksgiving evening.  My sister and I were at the same mall at 5:00 a.m. the following morning and there were very few cars in the parking lot.  What I'm saying is, why ruin your thanksgiving with lines, and crowds, and miss spending quality time with your family when you can get the same deal in the following morning without all the hassle?  Doesn't make sense; does it?  You can shop anytime.  And actually, isn't the precious little time that we have with our children and family worth it?  I don't know...that's just my thinking.  What are your thoughts about shopping on Thanksgiving day and department stores that are open touting Thanksgiving Day sales.  I mean, I know there are business that are open that day, namely, grocery stores for last minute items.  Hospitals, of course....but these are necessity stores.  I'm talking about the retail stores.  Tell me what you think (leave a comment!).

I wanted to write about Love and Thanks.  Specifically as it ties in to our homeless outreach.  When we help the needy, it's not out of false thanks, like the Pharisee in the parable, who thanked God that he was not like the lowly tax collector.  It is out of love.  And because as Christians, we are commanded to do so by our God, Jesus Christ.  This week we had an opportunity to extend a hand up twice in one week.  On Monday night, our In His Shoes homeless outreach took to the streets of Skid Row in a very special evening.  Friends of our In His Shoes family, Sonig and Kevork had donated the evening's meal in memory of their nephew, Harout, who was taken from us tragically at a young age.  They had provided sandwiches, and our usual fare of soup, snacks and water bottles. But in addition they had donated these beautiful green apples. (I seriously felt like the witch in snow white, offering pretty apples to my friends on the street.)  So we had plenty of food.  We had also collected a record amount of clothing this time around.  We went on our outreach with 4 cars (where we usually take 3).  And we had a LOT of clothing to distribute.  In fact, we had so much that I thought we wouldn't be able to distribute all of it and as we usually do, we'd drop the remaining clothing at the rescue mission.  But there were many on the streets and the people were so grateful as the weather has taken a turn for the cold. 

As happy and grateful as they are though, it's also difficult.  Tempers do flare up.  And sometimes we do witness anger and frustration.  As you can imagine, when we do our outreach, we all have something to do. Whether it's distributing soup, passing out water bottles or trying to find the right size of clothing for the right person, we're all doing something.  And what I do is to help wherever needed, but mostly to be the lookout to make sure things are running smoothly, and to give the call to pack it up if there's anything that might put our group in danger.  As the food was being distributed, I heard voices being raised.  I didn't see the soup fly, but I heard about that after the fact.  But I did hear one man raising his voice to another, and tensions started rising.  I called out to our team..."Pack it up!  We have to go!"  As much as we love being there to help our brothers and sisters, we do need to be safe.  So I had made the call.  Until Dolly came up and asked if we would please stay.

If you follow my blog or podcasts, you may remember me mentioning Dolly Dotty Dorothy.  She is a small woman from Ghana and she is a missionary.  She is on the street by choice.  A vision on the streets of Skid Row, she wears all white. She very rarely asks for anything for herself, but knows who needs what.  When the fight broke out, and I was ready to pack it up, it was Dolly who asked us to stay.  "Please don't go.  I will make him stop."  The man who was causing the problems was a large man, and Dolly was small comparitively.  But she went right up to him and said, "All these people will not get to eat or get the help they need because of your anger. You must stop."  I don't know if it was Dolly's vibe.  Or the man's realization of the situation, but I heard him say, "I'm not fighting.  I didn't do anything."  And he just walked away. Watching this, I really appreciated how Dolly had approached this man.  He was combative, and later, I learned that he had thrown soup at one of the people that was waiting for food.  She didn't yell.  She didn't meet violence and anger with the same...but she approached him with love.  She was firm, but her reasoning for this man to stop the way he was acting was out of love and concern for the others.  Approach all things with love.  A great lesson witnessed in action.

I noticed a lot more young people on the street this month.  One young woman sat expressionless on a blanket on the sidewalk, staring straight ahead while her friend sat  beside her trying to engage her in conversation.  My crew appoached her with clothing, with food, she didn't want it.  You could tell there was just emptiness there.  She remained still and unmoving the whole time we were there.  We didn't know if she was on drugs - numb to everything.  Or if she was angry.  But this young woman was very real, there on the street sharing a blanket with a man over two times her age.  And it makes you wonder what happened that caused such a disconnect.

We met a young man in his 20's named Ryan. Yeretzgin. Susan and Hourig had been working with him to find him clothing and shoes that would fit.  This man was so grateful for whatever they had provided him.  He had only the clothing on his back.  He was newly homeless.  His problem - meth addiction.  He had come to California with his girlfriend.  But the drugs took over his life.  Soon he was unable to pay the rent because of his habit, and he told us that although he and his girlfriend loved each other, she told him that he brought too much darkness into their relationship.  They got evicted, she left him, and there he was on the street.  I was surprised by how likeable and articulate he was.  And he was very much aware of his shortcomings.  He was in a recovery program and said he was not using. Checking in with his probation officer, he was subjected to daily drug testing and was clean.  It was terribly sad.  There he was trying to fix his life, yet he was right in the center - the worst possible place to be as a recovering addict - right where all the drugs are.  You wonder, where are the parents?   He mentioned to Susan that his father had come to visit him and stayed in a hotel as Ryan was on the street.  What would cause a father to abandon his son?  But in all fairness, we don't know what the situation is.  I've learned that drugs can cause people to do very strange things....lying is one of them.  So who knows what the situation was that caused him to want to numb himself in the first place.  So we talked to him.  Tried to encourage him  I gave him a the names of a few agencies that might be able to help him with temporary housing and programs to help him out of his current situation.  As we left him, he was so thankful.  We told him we would pray for him.  We were trying to encourage him and told him to fight for what he wanted.  "Love conquers all!" we told him.  "I believe that," he said.   As we hugged him goodbye, he said that he hoped to see us again.  Susan told him that as much as we would love to see him again, we hoped that he next time we came around that he would be in a better place off the street.  Then he said that maybe someday he would join us by doing what we're doing -  helping others on the street. We left that spot feeling a lot heavier in the heart.  As a mother, I hurt for him and I couldn't get him out of my heart.    And it made me realize that Ryan could be any of our own children, taking a wrong path that lead him down a difficult spiral. Our prayers continue with Ryan, and I've asked many to pray for him.  I ask that you please remember Ryan in your prayers.  He will need God's strength and united in prayer, we can help him.  That was our Skid Row outreach.  

A beehive of activity as we box the food for distribution
On Thanksgiving Eve, we had our annual canned food distribution.  Fr. Vazken had asked us to be at church by 6:00 p.m. to sort through and box all the canned and dried food that we had collected.  When I got to church that night at 6:15, the church was buzzing.  It was like a beehive of activity.  Seriously.  Boxes were lined up on the pews in several rows.  There were piles of canned and dried food sorted out, and basically, you picked up the food and put one or two of each type into the boxes.  This way each box had a variety of foods.  Rice, tomatoe sauce, beans, fresh and canned fruit, peanut butter, meat, you get the idea.   So anyway, everyone was sorting or boxing and before you knew it, we had all these boxes ready for delivery.

But first, as we always do on Thanksgiving Eve, Fr. Vazken called us to a short Thanksgiving prayer service, after which he blessed wheat and salt for each of us to take to our homes.  We then waited for our assignments to deliver the food boxes to needy members of our community.  Sonig had a list of families that would be receiving the boxes.  Each family would receive a box of food and a turkey as well.  Some of the
Each needy family will receive a
box of food and a ham or turkey
families had come to our prayer service and it was nice to share this beautiful service with them.  And I hope that they understood that our offering to them was made out of love.  

I had coordinated with Ascencia - Glendale's homeless shelter - and asked if they had some transitional families that might need our help.  We were able to help four families there that were in housing, working, but barely able to make ends meet.  The families were contacted and told to pick up directly from the shelter.  It was after 8:00 p.m. by the time I drove there.  Peeking in the glass door to the dining room, the room was dark with only the kitchen light shining.  I pushed the button to ring the bell.  In the kitchen, I could see the woman I had met last month, cleaning the kitchen.  A little boy came to the door and opened it.  He had to be around 5 or so.  Sarah, one of Ascencia staff, came to help me with the boxes, and together we carried them in.  She was so touched.  When I had told her over the phone that we had food to bring over, she said she never thought it would be so thoughtfully put together with a variety of foods for a family.  She thanked us and said what we had donated would help so many for a few weeks.  She got all misty eyed when she wished me a happy Thanksgiving.

We said our goodbyes, knowing that we'd be seeing each other on the 12th when we'll be preparing the meal there on our monthly outreach.  As I drove home, it was close to 9:00 p.m.  Later than I thought I'd be. Ned sent me a text, "Are you okay?"   I was better than okay.  The question made me think about what I was feeling.  
Content - Because I live a full life. It may be busy and chaotic, but I don't think I'd have it any other way.
Happy - Because I was able to make others happy
Blessed - Because I am able to do God's work
Thankful - Thankful for all the usual things.  My health, job, family.  And that I am part of an amazing church family that joyfully (and actively) follows the teachings of Christ in helping others through acts of Love.

Today, on this December 2nd, I want to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.  Because just as everyday is Christmas for the Christian, and every day is Easter for us too as we take the message of victory forward in our lives, every day for us, is (or should be) a day of Thankgiving.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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