17 March 2014

Wired with Compassion?

 This past week, we had our monthly homeless outreach at Glendale's homeless shelter.  As you know, each month we go with a small core group that is familiar with the surroundings and what we need to get done. And then we have a few new volunteers who sign up as well.  I think it's really important that we keep extending the opportunity and experience.  There are familiar faces among the residents and there are new residents as well.  Our crew served up meatloaf,  baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, peas, green salad and ice cream for dessert.  All served up with smiles and a heavy serving of love.

If you know me, you know I'm a sucker for babies.  I spotted a cute little one year old in a stroller that was pushed close to one of the tables.  All smiles and curiosity, his eyes were following his mother who was in line for her dinner.  His mother had to be all of about 20 years old.  A pretty girl, with sad eyes.  As she walked toward her smiling baby, I could see she had a marked limp and no use of her left arm.  I circled around the dining room asking if I could get anyone anything.  She asked me if I would wash out her baby's bottle and fill it with juice.  When I returned with the bottle, she asked if I could help her cut the baby's food. I noticed an odd scar on her face and didn't think too much about it.  I noticed that when she spoke, she spoke softly, barely opening her mouth.  Later, talking to Edward, the resident manager he commented about the baby...and how nice it was to have a baby around the shelter.  He said that everyone had taken to him sharing with me how smart he was at only a year old.  And he told me about how he and his mother ended up at the shelter. Edward called the baby a "miracle from God".  He said the baby's mother was shot in the face in her 8th month of pregnancy.  The bullet had caused her paralysis.  Thank God, the baby was born healthy.  It was a long time before this young mother was able to leave the hospital having to learn to walk again and fend for herself.  Thankfully, they are at Ascencia for the time being and in a program to get their lives back together.

For the past 3 months, I've noticed this beautiful girl at the shelter.  She is delicate, and pretty.  Always has her make up on, hair fixed, dressed as nice as she can be.  This month, she came to the dinner line with flowers in her hair.  She looks like a model.  When I asked about her, the resident manager shook his head. He said, she was here years ago as a litte girl with her mother.  They went through our program and moved on.  Then her mother met a man, and she was gone.  Left her daughter with nothing, no family, no home, to fend for herself.  Since this happened, she hasn't been the same he said.  She dresses up every day as if he were leaving to go somewhere.  Heartwrenching.

Stories like this are not uncommon.  They are happening all around our country.  Lives are broken and shattered.  There is a lot of sadness out there,but thankfully, there is a lot of hope as well.  Those that help on our outreach for the first time around very moved.  And more importantly, they are hooked.  I have never had someone help that didn't ask me to let them know when they can help again.

One of my core crew, my friend Lida, shared a speech that her son Leo had written.  A few months back, we took a crew of teens and young adults with us to crew.  Leo was one of our team.  His mother said that he was so moved by the experience, that he couldn't get it out of his mind.  So much so that he wrote a short presentation about it for one of his classes.  I just wanted to share excerpts from it with you.

He writes:
"In the U.S., more than 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year.  35% of the homeless population are families with children - which is the fastes growing piece of the homeless population. People become homeless for many different reasons....

"...One of my memorable experiences was when I volunteered to help out at a homeless shelter.  When I was first invited to volunteer by our church, I asked myself several questions:  Why am I doing this?  Why would I have to help out complete strangers when they've done absolutely nothing for me?  Why would I waste my time?

"...When I got [to the shelter], we started cooking, putting together a nice meal for those in need.  As I was examining the place, I realized that there are a lot of people out there who don't have a roof over their heads, a simple bed to sleep on while there are others out there who are stressing about what their next car is going to be, or when the're going to get their next iPhone.  In the process of serving food to the people at the shelter, I came acorss an African American family of 5 children and their parents who had a great affect on me.  This family consisted of a mother and father, 4 young gilrs and 1 young boy, who was the most grateful and polite kid I've ever met.  When asking for something, he always made sure to say, "please" and "thank you," and when served dessert, this kid had the biggest smile on his face - as did his whole family, repeatedly saying thank you for everything.  

"...As we were cleaning up, I reflected back over my life and all the times I had felt I had nothing.  It really made me realize I had more than enough.  After serving the people food, the counselor at the shelter took us on a little tour around the place.  I got to see what it's like for people to live with absolutely no privacy at all. At least 40 people of all ethnicities shared one, big room filled with bunk beds."

Leo went on to say how much this experience had changed his life, and how fulfilling it was to help those in need.

This past week, my young cousin Ani joined us on our outreach.  She too was moved with the experience, yet shared it a little differently.  She said that she neither experienced pleasure, nor pain from it.  In other words, she didn't feel that happiness to serve that many experience.  Nor did she feel pain in experiencing the struggles of others.  What she did experience was a strange feeling that she was right where she was supposed to be at that time.  That she was doing exactly what she should be doing.

In both of these instances, in opening up our outreach to our youth, we provide the opportunity to experience
what most people - young or old - wouldn't normally experience.  To put themselves in the shoes of the needy, the homeless, and to get an inside glimpse of what their reality is like.   And by doing that, we raise the level of compassion within us, to carry on Christ's message of love to those we come in contact with.

It's important, don't you think?  To raise our children with compassionate and loving hearts.  God is within each of us.  I think that's the reason that helping others feels so good to us.  To some it's what they are supposed to be doing.  To others it's a way to understand how blessed their lives are as they put things in perspective. But I think in all instances, helping others with caring and compassionate hearts is an innate desire that is planted within us.  It's there for us to nurture, to nourish, and allow it to grow, if only we follow God's call in each of us.

Do you have a story to share about volunteering or helping the needy?  I'd love to hear from you.  Please leave your comments here on blog.

~Special thanks to Leo Ananian for sharing his reflections.

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