I am very fortunate to work in a career field that allows me to have six weeks off in the summer. It seems that every year we are able to cram so much into those few weeks and it is amazing to me how different I feel after the time off and the opportunity to relax and recharge. I do not take that for granted at all.
This year was even more fun because for the first summer in a very long time we had both of our children under our roof at the same time. My kids bring me so much joy and I miss the activity that young adults bring to our home when they are away. We’ve had a really great summer and I’m sad to see it come to an end soon.
Last week, my daughter and I were able to tag along with my husband on a work trip to San Diego, California. I’ve had the opportunity to take this trip with him a few times and it never disappoints. The San Diego climate alone makes me smile with glee. Warm, breezy, summer days with no humidity are not something we are blessed with in Tennessee. It’s no wonder many Californians look so happy and healthy!
In direct opposition to the beautiful healthy individuals, I am always emotionally moved by the sight of the large number homeless individuals that occupy the parks and downtown streets. As the sun sets and rises, it seems that you can find one or more of them on almost every park bench or dark corner. I often wonder about their stories and how they wound up there. I’m grateful that the weather is kind to them and hope that the tourists and passers by are as well. It’s one of those overwhelming scenes that makes you wrestle with what it might take to truly make a difference that matters. It breaks my heart.
On one of the morning walks I enjoyed near the Harbor, I was moved to tears as I observed several of the outdoor overnight guests begin to wake up for their day ahead. As I often do when I walk, I was listening to a recent sermon from one of my favorite pastors and was reflecting on the beauty of the scenery around me. I like to use that time to worship and to pray as I get my day started. As I was doing that, I noticed a man on one of the benches with an open book in his lap. Beside him was a shopping cart piled high with bags and I assumed it contained all of his belongings as he kept it very near to him. As I was able to get closer, I was able to make out the title of what he was reading. The Holy Bible. He, too, was beginning his day seeking hope in the Word of God.
Our lives could not be any more different. I was a spoiled woman on a vacation in a beautiful city who probably had more “stuff” with me in my suitcase I brought from home than what this man owned as a whole. I slept in a plush hotel bed and showered daily in a comfortable room that included someone coming in behind me to change my sheets and wash my towels. This man slept on a park bench surrounded by slips filled with boats and yachts that symbolized wealth and success as measured by worldly standards. His appearance suggested he hadn’t bathed in days or maybe even weeks. I had already consumed a $6 cup of coffee and he likely hadn’t tasted coffee in a very long time. His stomach probably growled with hunger, which he had learned to ignore until he was able to find morsels of food left behind by others. I couldn’t help but be overtaken by the comparison between the lifestyles represented in that one place. Tears fill my eyes as I reflect on it even now. But this is not the end of this man’s story.
In that moment, God impressed a thought on my heart so clearly that I could almost hear an audible voice. “The day will come when his rags will be exchanged for heavenly garments. His feet will dance on streets of gold and he will feast at banquet tables with his maker.” I was reminded that God looks down from Heaven and sees no difference between a man that is overlooked every day by hundreds of people and the most important VIP who sails in to that harbor on one of the costly yachts. Oh that I would learn to see people as He sees them and love people as He commands us to love…..no matter who they are. We are told in Jeremiah 29:13, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” and in Matthew 19:30, “But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” I am not God and I certainly don’t know that man’s heart, but I choose to believe that he knows my God and that one day he will be given a place of honor in the Kingdom.
I did not approach the man, as many of the individuals suffer from significant mental health disorders and can be dangerous (or maybe because I was too fearful or ashamed), but I haven’t quit thinking of him since that morning. I have been overcome with new awareness of those that I pass by in my daily life who may not look like this man externally, but who are just as lonely and are seeking hope of any kind. May my heart be broken by what breaks God’s heart and may I be the salt and light He has called me to be. May I be a messenger of the only hope that transcends this difficult world. I pray that I enter this school year with the profound understanding that I may not walk daily among a homeless community in California, but I do walk daily in the halls of very large schools full of opportunity to love the unlovable and to be a messenger of hope. We all have a mission field….what’s yours??
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:13-16 Message Translation