The past two years have been a whirl wind. I've had the opportunity to see so much of the beauty across the western part of the U.S. My absolute FAVORITE part of all of the amazing scenery were the unbelievable, gargantuan mountains.
The Rockies, Cascades, and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges are the most breath taking thing I have ever laid eyes on. Just ask my children because as we were driving near these glorious beauties I never stopped shouting, "Look, look over there! Do you see that?!? Are you looking?!? I don't think you're looking. Stop reading, stop looking at your iPad and look!!! You might not ever see this again!!"
And don't get me started on snow covered mountains. When we lived in Eugene, Oregon I would drive to the top of Skinner's Butte several times a week during the winter to see if I could catch a glimpse of The Sisters when they were covered with snow. It always made my heart skip a beat.
Every. Single. Time.
Every. Single. Time.
It was always awe inspiring. Something that my eyes just couldn't quite grasp, and my brain would try to process that it was real. I wasn't looking at a painting. I was really there.
Just below Skinner's Butte was the Whitaker neighborhood. It was the "rough" part of Eugene, although it was making a major transformation. Many eclectic restaurants and breweries were making their new homes there. It was was becoming a really cool place to go for lunch or dinner.
College kids, hipsters, middle aged adults, and beyond had begun to frequent this part of town for the unique cuisine and funky northwest atmosphere that only a neighborhood like "The Whit" in Eugene, Oregon could provide.
What made this area even more interesting was that while it was experiencing this new growth, it was also a home to the homeless. This is where most of the transient wanderers would gather, sleep, and spend their time. The parks where children would play were often where the homeless made their beds.
I've lived a very sheltered life in small town Alabama. This was a new experience for me. I didn't know how to handle seeing the homeless man sitting on a park bench, reading the newspaper that he had gotten from the trash can. Then watching as he patiently waited for people to finish their lunches. As they put their discarded leftovers in the trash and then left the park, he would go to the trash can and take their scraps and make that his meal.
Over the summer my children and I frequented the park where a particular homeless man spent his time. I watched him. He stayed back. Away from the children and the parents or caregivers. As if he knew that his presence would be off putting. No one seemed to notice him. He waited patiently for his meals to come on the heels of what others found as refuse.
It was hard to watch. Here I was with four children. There wasn't really anything I could do. I was scared. What if I tried to talk to him? What would I say? Was he dangerous? Was he so drunk or drugged or just mentally unstable that it would even make a difference if I spoke to him? So, I did the only thing I could think of. As he disappeared into the public restroom, I walked over to where he had his pile of blankets, newspapers, and other personal belongings, and I gave him our leftovers.
I gave him what we didn't want to eat. What we had left. I didn't give him our best but just what we could spare. I had every intention of coming back the next day and leaving him a real meal. But I didn't. Life got in the way and I put him out of my mind. I know. I have a family to take care of. Children to feed and I shouldn't cause myself grief for not feeding a homeless man the best that I could but that's not what we are called to do. While we are not called to shame ourselves, we should show love.
I learned much more about love than I think I even realized from my experience in the northwest. I learned that it's love that we desire when we are hurting. It's love that we need when we are angry. Love is the only thing that can diffuse a tense situation. Love is what we need but yet it's the hardest thing to put into action.
My time in the northwest was primarily filled with just trying to wrap my mind around the transition. Trying to adjust to my new life. Trying to help my children adjust to their new lives. I was an observer most of the time that I was there. But those observations changed me.
Had I not gone to the northwest I might never had attended a Bible study with a transgendered teen. He was homeless. One of the ladies who attended the Bible study also volunteered at the homeless shelter for youth. She worked her shift and offered to bring some of the girls with her to the study. He wanted to come along too.
This was one of the only times I had ever made it to the ladies Bible study. I'm not going to make it sound like I was involved and leading studies. I wasn't. Like I said, the transition and adjustment rocked my world. I had a nursing baby when we moved to Eugene, then I became pregnant 6 months after being there. It was a crazy hormonal time for me.
Nevertheless, this was one of my first "stepping out of my comfort zone" experiences. I realized after listening to the young, homeless, transgender teen talk that he just needed to know he was loved. He talked about being rejected by his parents, grandparents, and step-parents. He talked about being treated like trash and used for the amusement and pleasure of others.
Not once did he talk about a time that he ever felt accepted and loved unconditionally. Not once did he say that he had someone who told him that no matter what, they would always love him, regardless of his life choices. He felt a harsh judgment by people of the church due to his experience with family members and others.
Isn't that a common thread that we all grab a hold of from time to time in our lives? Attributing who God is to experiences that we've had with people who go to church or hold high positions in the church. I know it's something I have held onto. I have had a bad taste in my mouth for church or anything to do with it because of people. I've distance myself from God because of people. I've also been one of the people who has caused someone else to steer away from church and God because of my actions.
It's a relief to know that people are just people and regardless of their church position or affiliation, they are not God. People are going to make a mess of things but not God. That's why it's so imperative that we try to keep His love on the forefront of our minds.
When we are feeling alone and rejected, we need to be loved. When I am feeling like I've screwed everything up, including my kids, I need to be loved. When my children have screwed up, instead of screaming at them (my automatic response), they need to be loved. The people who look like they don't want anything to do with love, look like the hardest to love, or reject love, need it the most.
No matter what we've done God is always looking for us. He wants to be with us. People might reject us and tell us we have to live a certain way or look a certain way to earn love, but that's not God. He wants our time and he wants our hearts.