On Tuesday, as I was leaving my house for the day, knowing I was going to spend time out of doors, in the elements, walking through tough terrain, I remember struggling to find the right gear to wear. “Which hat should I wear? How many layers can I handle? Do I need to bring dry stuff to change into? Puffy coat or wool?” I finally settled on what I thought I needed and came into church. The whole day, before I left, I wondered if I had brought enough of the right kind of gear to be warm and dry as I trounced through the woods and city streets, meeting people experiencing chronic homelessness and hearing about the dream of tiny homes.
I felt nervous and quite out of place as we made our way over to the section of River, South of downtown St. Paul between Robert St. S and Hwy 52 to meet Alex, a Navy vet and long-distance runner. After grabbing the hot chocolate and cider, we headed down the path to visit his spot, a bench next to the river with a great view of the city. I felt unqualified and a little silly as I talked to him about sports and the weather and what life was like on the streets, moving from place to place in order to stay warm, searching for resources and trying to stay out of jail or worse.
We talked. He drank 5 cups of hot chocolate. I was impressed. The whole time his gaze shifted this way and that, as though he was offering a window into the rhythm of his daily life… his eyes, like his self, never resting too long in any one place… always on the move… always ignored… always aware that he doesn’t fit in… never still.
Then he stopped shifting his body. He stopped looking around. Now, he looked directly at me, right through me. Now, I wanted to shift the focus, but I couldn’t look away. Like a lightning bolt, it destroyed me.
In that moment as we stood there, eyes locked, talking about where he would get his next meal or how he was going to get enough money to pay for a hotel room once it got too cold and dangerous to be outside overnight, I saw his pain and fear. I knew his tenderness and compassion. Overpowering all my defenses and excuses, he showed me his full humanity, his belovedness in a way that I will never forget. In him, I saw myself. And that’s something I can’t ignore.
With one look, he dissolved the stereotypes I’ve been holding onto and gave me new understanding. He showed me that it’s not about how awkward I feel or having a Master’s degree in “homeless-ology”. It’s about the simple things I can do and what I can give to these beloved children of God. It’s about seeing them as no different than me. It’s about understanding their situation and how I contribute to, even create, it with my (in)actions.
I’m ashamed that I didn’t discover this sooner. I’m motivated to be a part of a better solution… and I’m convinced that the dream of tiny homes can become a reality here at Faith. Because we are led by the Spirit to share God’s grace.