Afraid of Jesus

Every one of them could tell I had money. Every one of them vied for my attention to get the quarter, 50-cent piece or dollar I might hand out haphazardly as I walked the streets of Toronto alone. On occasion, the men and women I made eye contact with were obviously psychologically impaired and I started praying even harder for wisdom and the ability to see past potential danger. 

I had $200 in my purse. I could’ve fed all the people I ran into that day — including the ones that had the pride to hide under leaky stairwells from tourists like myself. I’m a mainstream redneck from Alaska, though. I’m well aware you don’t hand money to homeless people. You don’t tell your life story to homeless men just to get them to laugh for two minutes.

But then.. There was Alex. 

As all of his cohorts spoke loudly and jostled me through their three feet of sidewalk, Alex just sat there. Watching. When I got close enough to his corner, he quietly muttered, “Please? I need food? It’s been three days. Three… Long… Days.” He couldn’t have been more than 18.

Before I knew it, I had gotten down on his level, pulled him to his feet and pushed him gently towards the McDonald’s a stone’s throw from his spot. As we reached the counter, I told him to order anything he wanted up to $40.
He ordered a Bic Mac meal. At his small request, I found myself choking back the offer to take him home… As I paid for his meal, I did something I promised myself a long time ago I’d never do. I handed him the change. I heard myself scoldingly tell him, “… You use this on alcohol or tabacco, Dude, and I promise you… Just, don’t, okay? Be different. Please. Be different.”

“You’re the nicest (he probably meant dumbest and most naive…) person I’ve ever met. Thank you, Lady. Thank you so much.”

I was too overwhelmed with the hopelessness in his eyes to be a verbal evangelist at that point. All I muttered firmly was, “It’s not me. It’s Jesus. It’s just Jesus.” I should’ve stayed and talked to him but I couldn’t… 

I couldn’t sit and talk because the look of fear on his face when I said Jesus’ name was incredibly unexpected. The name of Jesus gives my life purpose. To Alex, though, when I said Jesus, he shrank away with white-sheeted fear. He stopped saying thank you. He stopped making eye contact. He just… Stood there. Shaking.

In order to save his dignity and because I couldn’t fathom his fear, I walked away after I squeezed his arm affectionately. But the only questions going through my mind were questions I now pose to those of you that call yourselves Christians:

What have we done to make those we don’t understand believe that Jesus is Someone to be afraid of? What haven’t we done in order to quell their fears and magnify truth? What do we need to do differently?

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Unwanted Hugs & Redefined Love

“You have gorgeous eyes. Here let me give you a hug.” As the man leaned in for a hug, I braced myself for what I expected was coming. I wasn’t threatened by him, but I sure as heck didn’t feel comfortable or respected by him. 

Hug me, Dude? Are you crazy? I mused quietly. Instinctively I found myself reminiscing of what seemed to be another life time. As a kid, I hugged everything that had a heartbeat without asking questions. Jesus? What does this man want?

“I know you from somewhere. I’m gonna give you another hug. We’re all Christians here, right? You can help me teach these people that long hugs are legit. Did I mention you have pretty eyes? Anyway, they took my kid away from me. I come here to the church to get warm. Darn, you have gorgeous eyes. We’re family, though. Can I give you another hug?”

My new “friend” and I talked for ten minutes about everything I know nothing about. Every so often he’d reach in for another hug just in time for me to remind him he was mid-sentence. He finally shrugged, squeezes my shoulder and thanked me for making him family for a day. 

As the man walked away, I grimaced over his use of the word Christian. When he used that word, I felt dread for the liberties I knew he’d take, not joyful fellowship. I felt skeptical, not blessed. I felt slightly used, not united. 

BabyGirl, it doesn’t matter what he meant to accomplish by using that title, I heard God whisper to my heart. What matters is how you live it out to prove his misconceptions wrong. 

I was reminded today what it meant to cling to the God who sees me when I feel as if no one else does. It wasn’t a reminder of security, it was a reminder that I am called to live differently. I am called to love when no one else knows how to love in that moment. 

Because I serve the God who sees me, I can love freely; I can even love purely. I can do my part to redefine love… Especially when doing so pushes me from my comfort zone. 

I Wish I’d Known

In most people’s eyes, I had everything a 22-year-old wanted. I had my independence, a great job, friends and accquaintances on both sides of the religious spectrum. I’d sown my oats and lived to tell about it. I needed nothing. 

I was voted “Most likely to get hitched and have 3 kids by 19” in school. At 22, I was about the only one who had never filed for a dependant on my taxes, left the country to explore or declared a pursuit of some high-falutin’ doctorate. As far as the dating thing went, let’s face facts, shall we? When your fellow 20-somethings harken back to school days and the once-popular football guys still chuckle that, “You don’t mess with Harris. She’s a piece o’ dynamite” you get friends, not dates.

With the ever increasing use of social media, I saw all my friends pass me up. Dating relationships, amazing careers, marriages, kids… Fame. They had it all it seemed, and I was stuck in the town where every time you sneezed the mayor requested a new weather report. 

I wanted to be noticed. I felt hidden. I wanted someone to want me… I felt overlooked. People said my high-end(ish) job made me successful. I felt stuck and taken for granted. This was adulthood? Would I ever see beyond the 7,500 people who could still recall in great detail what buck-teethed, awkward 9-year-old me was like?

I missed out on so much because I was constantly comparing my journey to someone else’s or knocking on Heaven’s door asking for a preview of my exciting life 15 years down the road. I wanted everything that wasn’t mine to have. Very rarely did I giggle at the silence and dance when the music stopped.

No one ever told me my desire for more would make my life have meaning if I could be content. The last words out of my mouth at night wanted to be, “Thanks, I guess, for my loneliness, my boredom, my routine, my annoying ho-hum, do nothing life. Yay air. Amen.” To be content in those things? What was the point in moment-by-moment, not fantasy-by-fantasy or expectation-by-expectation?

Doing that would require being content in the constant Person of Jesus Christ. That would require being accepting of the fact that experience builds character, and sometimes that character has nothing to do about me. Contentedness means appreciating loneliness and routine because, if I’m willing to listen, I’ll have more time to pray for people and be a part of an unseen battle.

At 22, no one saw the need to tell me my “stupid routine life” mattered. As a 26-year-old, I wish I had known then the joy of sacrificing my expectations at the feet of the Master who knew the beauty of my future.

I wish I had known the beauty of taking the time to ponder the vastness of never being bigger than the God I serve.

Ashamed to be Seen

It was cold outside. Her little nose was bright red, her ears already white with frostbite. As I carried her down the Shelter hallway to the room she would share with her parents, I bit back angry,  uncompassionate words at her parents. I didn’t know their story. I didn’t need to know their story.

All I knew was it was cold outside. We had an open bed. The three-year-old in my arms needed sleep.

As I sat my youngest charge on the bed, her parents unpacked their daughter’s small plastic bag filled with 2 shirts and a pair of pants. Thank you, Lord, for somehow at least providing this kiddo with a coat, I thought.

I shifted the girl from my lap to the bed and stood up to find the remaining paperwork for the adults in the room.

“That’s our bed, Sweetheart. Bed.. Yeah, you like it don’t you?” I heard the dad choke back tears as he paid attention to his little girl.

I made eye contact with the mom, trying to smile but positive my 22-year-old attempts at not being offensive failed miserably. Her mom answered the unspoken question with tears in her eyes.

“The only bed she’s had was a basinet when she was a baby. She’s always slept on me or a foam pad next to me. She’s… Yeah, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks for letting us spend the Christmas season here. At least she has a bed.”

I cried then. Not because their plight overwhelmed me, in all honesty, they were in pretty good shape compared to the others we had housed in the last weeks. I cried because she was the first client to bravely point out my judgmental spirit. Is that how she sees me, Lord? I cried out silently. Isn’t my purpose here to show love no matter the circumstances? She’s scared of me. What have I done? 

“You’re right, Ma’am, I don’t understand. I don’t have a toddler, but I’m sure she’s what has kept you going this far. We’ll talk more about what got you here when you’re ready. Let’s get you guys some food first.” I learned that day what it meant to take care of the small things God allows me to provide and to let Him handle the rest… void of judgment.

I was reminded of my winter at the shelter the other day as friends and I drove through a city in Ohio. As is typical for busy Ohio, homeless men speckled the highway. One man in particular broke my heart. His sign was nothing spectacular. The scrawled words Will Accept Anything Please Help were haphazardly placed on a cardboard sign. 

What hurt my heart was the fact that he didn’t dare look up at the faces passing by in the vehicles rushing down the highway. As the cars whooshed by, I saw his jaw tighten. I had seen that look of anger a thousand times before. As a man, there was no lower place to find yourself. I knew the lies he was feeding himself as one by one, my car included, no one sought him out.

Whatever your view is on panhandlers, I challenge you to change things up this Christmas season. I am not an advocate for giving cash simply because I don’t know the temptations that loom in that 10 dollar bill. I am, however, an advocate for reminding these men and women they are still a valuable part of the human race. Make eye contact with them. 

No matter how needy people may find themselves this Christmas season, no one deserves to feel shame for being seen.

Who knows, eye contact could lead to a meal for a hungry person. You may become the hands and feet of Jesus.