Sometimes we'll see such painful things on the streets, that I ask myself, "How did I get here doing this?" When I was younger in the faith--a "baby Christian"--I surrounded myself with the beautiful things of God: majestic vistas while mountain hiking, the sublime history of art and music of the Church, I enjoyed mystical works and deep peaceful prayer, and I helped raise our beautiful babies. Then God said it was time to emerge from this protected place, and go amongst the ugly things. But I was only leaving Jesus to find Jesus again in many of the poor, and I was bringing Jesus (hopefully) to many others. This last Sunday's walk brought much of this home.
We had many edifying conversations along SE 122nd (which I'll write about later), but the walk ended with a delightful homeless girl named "Adeline" amidst sloshing sewage. Adeline was playing outside her broken-down RV as her parents argued inside. The mother, Amanda, was shouting at her man, "I am so sick of this!" He was moving about frenetically without much purpose, probably on crystal meth. Our presence ended the conflict.
I learned Adeline was three, and began to empty my rolling cooler of anything that might delight her: a rosary, trail mix, candy canes, and a figurine from a Nativity set. We had found some smashed figurines along Springwater corridor months before, and I gathered them up. The figure of a shepherd boy holding a lamb was preserved, and so I gave it to Adeline. While Adeline's parents were in a bad state, Adeline was oblivious, full of the innocence and joy of a tiny child. (Thanks be to God.) She brought out a doll from the movie Frozen. It was the character "Anna", and so I began to sing, "Do you want to build a snowman?" I didn't get very far into the song before I was undone by tears. I had sung that song many times with my daughter at home, and I couldn't bear what I was seeing.
The father mentioned that they were about to be towed, and asked if we could help push the motor home to a different spot. We agreed, even though the RV smelled like raw sewage. We pushed and groaned and hoped the speeding cars wouldn't clip one of us. About every thirty feet a puddle of sewage would splash down as we pushed with all of our might. We got the job done but received little thanks. Adeline had gone inside and so there were no goodbyes.
I'll continue to pray for Adeline and her parents throughout the coming years. We know Jesus is Lord, that he has conquered, and that our true home is in Heaven. He has a perfect plan for every one of us, provided we come to Him like little children.
A Providential Encounter
About once a week I still walk solo. I also look for opportunities to witness as I go about my daily activities. Today had a marvelous moment thanks to Divine Providence. I was running errands to gather everything we would need to welcome a new Malamute/Husky puppy into our home (puppies are proof that God is good!). As I was driving away from Petsmart, I passed a 30ish homeless man delivering an angry monologue to himself. I listened: "People only care about themselves! Everyone is narcissistic! America has gone to Hell!" As the flow of traffic carried me away, I thought, "I'm going to circle back around and show him it's not all bad. I've got a trunk load of stuff I just bought at Costco."
I parked in the direction he was walking and hailed him. His anger immediately faded when I asked if he wanted free Gatorade and gloves. He said he had just given his gloves to a friend and had cold hands. I gave him an extra pair to also give away. I complimented him on the simple wooden cross he wore around his neck. I explained that my friends and I often walk further north helping the homeless. His name was "John" and he grew up nearby in the little town of Damascus. He lamented the increase in "meth crimes" for towns like Damascus. When I offered him a few cigarettes, he was buoyant, "Wow! Are you for real?" After that we settled in and had a good talk--including swapping stories about malamutes preferring to sleep on ice all Winter.
I regretted when I had to leave to pick up my daughter from school. John's day had dramatically changed thanks to God's grace and a little moxie on my part. We've all seen angry or disoriented homeless. Almost all of us just keep driving, and sometimes that is God's will. But other times we're called to step out, and exercise our Baptism as "new creations in Christ". So go boldly forth in peace and friendship, and be a "little Christ" to those whom God has put in your path. God's grace will surprise you.
Suffering with the Poor
The night was full of bonhomie and gallows humor. Our homeless friends love it when we are out there suffering alongside of them. One hobo regaled us with a lighthearted monologue on his rubber gloves, noting that they utterly failed in every type of weather, actually increasing his misery by trapping in moisture or cold. Later a young man rode up on a bike and told a funny tale: "People kept telling me I needed to hurry up because there were three monks wandering around giving away stuff. At first I ignored them. I thought everyone was just crazy or high, but here you are!" We got a good laugh at being described as monks.
Out in SE and NE we are spoiled by gratitude and many friends. It's not that way everywhere. The following day Nick and I were going to set out from the Cathedral in NW, but the first two people I met were not friendly. One of them, a grim young man in dark shades even spit on the Cathedral wall to make his point. So we drove down to Holy Rosary and had a spirit-filled adventure around that neighborhood. There, too, things started out ugly with an angry young African-American man named "G". But patience and charity prevailed on all sides, and we would later part amicably from G, even talking some theology on the intercession of the saints.
I'm grateful that we felt called to change locations, because we found our homeless friend Errol violently shivering in the shade under scanty covering. I begged him to go into the warm church, but he declined as always (he is very shy). He asked for blankets, and we managed to find two, including one donated from Fr. Dismas Sayre, OP. The highlight of the day was our long talk with Lisha, Scotte and Mike. They each in their own way had struggled with homelessness or alcoholism, but now were off the streets (or the bottle). Each of them were grateful to God, like little children, and they asked to walk with us in the future! Glory be to God.
LexiWe've known Lexi for a couple of years now (she's in the foreground of the photo). She's friendly, charismatic and tough, and so is the informal boss of homeless camps around NE 82nd. She also has a motherly heart. Last Summer she gathered up wild blackberries and cooked blackberry pancakes for everyone at a giant, sprawling camp off I-84. Lexi is also a heroin addict. She told me that her mom "has the same vice". She said she and her mother "are more like sisters"; they were even pregnant at the same time when Lexi was a teenager (she had a daughter).
Last January 5th Lexi briefly died from a heroin overdose. It was at her grandmother's house (where her mother usually stays). After injecting herself, she slowly drifted off and things slowed down until her heart stopped. Lexi felt herself leaving her body, light as a feather, and remembers a growing light. Then everything went dark and cold and she was back in her body thanks to paramedics. Her mom had discovered her and called 911. Lexi feels terrible for putting her mother and grandmother through that, and so she has stopped shooting-up. Lexi can't bear the thought of losing her mother, and the feeling is mutual. Lexi asked for one of our hoodies, and Jonathan gave up his.
Our hoodies have a giant photograph of Blessed Charles de Foucauld on the back. We entrust Lexi to his prayers, and always commend her to Jesus Christ. It would be a hard loss to lose Lexi.
Moved to ShareThis ministry is remarkably weird and always full of the unexpected. If you're someone who likes to write, walking the streets as we do would furnish you with endless stories. We have plenty of stories from the last couple of weeks, but many of them are heart-wrenching and so I've remained silent. I'll share those stories later. For now I'd like to share two unlikely episodes of grace.
Yesterday we walked NE 82nd from 2-6pm. At one point we got separated into two groups, with Nick and Jonathan following far behind. We were heading back to the homeless camps after replenishing our supply of burgers, when a ten year old boy popped out of nowhere. He approached Jonathan and Nick and insisted that they share a pack of doughnuts that the boy had. It was very important to the boy that they accept his gift. Nick and Jonathan were baffled, if only because the experience had that weird quality one finds in the lives of the saints--as though the boy might be a heavenly visitor. A more likely scenario is that the boy had seen us earlier (or in past months) sharing our goods with the poor, and was just waiting for the opportunity to see us again and break bread (or doughnuts!) with us. Bless his impulsive heart.
Shortly before this episode, we were talking with many old street friends outside of JOIN. Nick and Jonathan met a new man, Daniel, and learned his life story. Daniel was an older African-American man who used to work at the Port of Portland. After he lost his job there, his life began to crumble. He developed severe diabetes. He had no feeling in his swollen feet and couldn't walk. He begged for water and some food. Jonathan asked to look at his feet, and massaged them. He rubbed his feet until they could move again. Then Nick and Jonathan rounded up a bunch of water and made a special trip to Wendy's for Daniel. Jonathan is the only person I know who would massage the feet of a homeless man. Perhaps that is why a boy mysteriously appeared with a gift of doughnuts.
The photo I've included is a kind of metaphor for our apostolate. If you look closely at our feet, the ground is strewn with syringes--with the needles still attached! The red, needle disposal bucket (marked "hazardous waste") is turned over and empty. Usually addicts are careful in disposing of used needles. The woman in the photo is Bree, a homeless woman we've known for over a year. She was following us from tent site to tent site, guiding us and sharing our friendship.