Be Loved

Homeless Sign

What touched me most was that Wednesday, the day our mission trip with the middle school youth from my church led us to the Be Loved House.  The day before, I got to run the cardboard crusher at the Food Bank.  It was cool.  Really cool.  Tossing out the 50 lb. bags of potatoes into the enormous dumpster, not so cool.  I don’t dig puss oozing spuds.

Two days before, we pulled weeds at a day care center and sorted clothes for a Veteran’s shelter.  Both were jobs that needed to be done, but neither allowed me to interact to a great extent with those we were trying to serve.

But Wednesday, we pulled up to an old house near the heart of downtown.  The white picket fence in front of the dilapidated home was in fairly good shape.  There was a hand spray painted sign that read:  Black Lives Matter.  The cozy front yard had tables with chairs arranged in groups of four or five.

The kids headed in the front door walking through the porch which was set up as a clothes closet for folks who struggle with homelessness.  They didn’t even seem to notice the transgender person having a conversation with a dude in blue jeans at one of the tables.  But I did.  She, like everyone who walked in that house that day, would be loved.  Because in their opinion, if God can love them, they can surely work hard to love others.

I say folks who struggle with homelessness because Amy, the caretaker of the Be Loved House, informed us that they were people first.  I’m not referred to as a Love Handles Person.  I’m just a person who struggles with love handles.

After Amy explained to us that her family intentionally moved into poverty to try to minister to folks who might need them, we walked across the street to the Senior Center with baskets full of vegetables and breads.  Each Wednesday, they give it all away for free.

The kids had the mini farmer’s market under control, so I took it upon myself to sit with the old folks and listen to their stories.  One 98-year-old told me he liked to dance.  So Michelle and her friends came to his table, and we cranked up some bluegrass on the iPhone.  He wasn’t kidding!

I then spent about 20 minutes talking to a woman who was disenfranchised from her entire family.  She was divorced.  Her children and sister didn’t talk to her – she hadn’t seen them in a decade.  Her parents were dead.  She was sitting by herself.  It might be that I am her best friend.

I did take the time to have a conversation with Dee Dee, the woman who was transgender.  Surprisingly, we talked about arthritis.  She just had surgery on her neck.  I have a bit in my thumb joint.  I’m guessing that’s not the only thing we have in common.

On Sundays, Amy washes clothes for folks in the community.  They just drop them off at her house.  I hadn’t thought about not being able to walk to my basement and wash my stuff any time I darn well please.

Queen Mother was a beautiful African-American woman who led singing at our bible study that day.  She lives in the Be Loved House too.  Her personality was big.  She preached to us a bit.  One of the kids asked her if some people thought she was nuts.  She said, “I’m nuts for Jesus!”  Michelle wrote that quote on her fingers with a Sharpie.

When we passed out popsicles at the park, the two women I met encouraged me to let my daughters know how much I love them.  Maybe their father didn’t.  I will heed their advice.  I can’t get over the open sore one had on her nose.

We were told, although it was technically illegal, that folks who looked like us could get away with standing on the lawn under the tree at the large bank in town.  We could also take a nap in the park.  But if we were perhaps black, or unshaven, or in worn clothes, we’d be encouraged to move along.

The kids had to map out a bus route for a hypothetical man named Mike who lived outside of the city because he couldn’t afford the rent in town.  He had to be at McDonald’s by 6 AM to make the biscuits and his $7.50 per hour.  Unfortunately, the bus didn’t start running until 6.  Not sure what I’d do if I was in his situation, maybe stay home and draw unemployment.  Good thing that’s hypothetical.

It’s hard to raise three kids alone.  It’s harder with an annual salary of $15,600.

You know what I missed the most when I was sleeping on the floor of a church building for five nights?  Ice.  I couldn’t readily have ice in my drinks.

Pathetic.

I missed ice.

These women on the streets didn’t have tampons, they didn’t have a place to pee, they carried their belongings, ALL of them, on their backs.  And I missed ice.  I’m ashamed of myself.

There is a lot of mental illness out there.  Some of the folks I met probably take advantage of the system.

Had I been born under different circumstances, maybe I would too.

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Whippin’ and Nae-naein’ Asheville Style

Asheville

Although I don’t fully remember, I think I agreed on my own accord, with no significant pressure.  No arm twisting, no gun at my head.

Last week, for five nights, I chaperoned a middle school mission trip to Asheville, NC.  There were 11 kids, our youth director, a cool 19-year-old intern, and me.

We stayed at First Presbyterian Church downtown with two other youth groups.  We walked 75 stairs to the fourth floor Sunday School room which was our home base for the duration of the trip.  We weren’t allowed to use the elevator.  They said it was cantankerous.  I suspect they wisely just didn’t want 45 twelve-year-olds pressing the stop button between floors two and three or calling the grocery store from the emergency wall phone asking if they had Prince Charles in a can.

I’ll have to admit, I was a bit nervous about this trek.  Although I worked with these kids throughout the school year on Sunday nights, it has been about three decades since I traveled with pubescents.

Each night, after we’d spent the day working at various nonprofits throughout Buncombe County, we had two hours of debrief activities with the five college interns who ran the program.

Yep.  We sat on laminated tile squares in the church’s Fellowship Hall for hours.  The squares were clearly glued to concrete because when we finally stood up, my butt bones ached like they’d been beaten by a beam of steel.

Now I love Jesus, but if you’re gonna talk to me about Him for that long, I need a cushion.  If I go back next year, I’m wearing biker shorts.

At one point I stood up and got a sniff of my hands.  I’d forgotten the smell of classroom tile floor.  If gray had an odor, this would be it.

My air mattress was comfy enough but occasionally little bubbles would float up and give me a startle.  It was like a kernel of corn had unpredictably popped on an unexpected point on my body.  At 12:15 AM, my left shin.  1:13, the outer side of my right bicep.  3:06?  My aching hip.

Although I left with a great appreciation for a lot of things, while there, I was most thankful for Tylenol PM.  It wasn’t a deep sleep, but that and the 3’ x 3’ floor fan by my head were my saving graces.

I have never in my life seen so many cheese balls eaten within a six-day period of time.  They were everywhere – crunched into the laminate, under air mattresses, and ebedded between some unbrushed-brace-filled mouths.  One kid even used the orange powder to paint eye-shadow on her friend.

By Tuesday evening, the boys’ room smelled like a dumpster:  sweat, farts, worn out boy tennis shoes, sour towels.  I felt like I was sleeping inside a very large jock strap.  I walked into the girls’ room, and there was a faint waft of roses hovering over their Lilly Pulitzer pulled up comforters.

I think I was pretty cool for a 50-year-old father.  I mean, I whipped and nae naed (for you nerds out there, it’s a new dance).

One night we walked through a Labyrinth.  We were told to be quiet and pray for someone who wasn’t like us.

I prayed for the kids.  They are no longer like me.  But they’re a sharp group, anxious to serve.

They have a lot of choices ahead.  My hope is that they have wisdom and that the time we spend with them today has meaning tomorrow.

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