Moments Matter

Being Rescued on Skid Row

Editor’s Note: Last week, my nine-year-old daughter shared her thoughts about  serving with our church at Los Angeles’s Skid Row. In case you missed it, here’s her guest post The Day That Changed My Life. Now it’s my turn to share  about this life-changing experience…the day I was rescued.

You read the headline right. Yes, I was rescued from Skid Row just a few weeks ago.

How’d that happen? Well, it all started one Saturday morning..

I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. I began to hold my breath, which is a bad habit when I’m under stress. A sense of fear had settled.

Entering the cement city, my car followed the pace of the caravan. Turning the final corner, I exhaled as if I had just come up from being under water.

My mind raced…

What was I thinking? Why would I leave my bubble of security and comfort? Why would I willingly expose my child to danger? If anything happened to her, it would be my fault.

hope-hands1My throat tightened.

I knew we had entered “the zone.” We were in Los Angeles’s Skid Row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the country. And there was no turning back.

I glanced to the right and left. Groups of people were milling on the sidewalk, while some sat on the ground, or lay on flattened cardboard boxes. I could hear echoes of deep bass music. Momentarily, the clouds passed in front of the sun casting a dark shadow.

I looked back at my daughter. She sat quietly in the backseat scanning this new, foreign scenery. Her eyes alert through the reflection of the glass window. The look on her face was similar to when she intently watches a movie. But this was no movie.

This was real life.

Never Enough
Within seconds of parking our cars, we were asked for clothes and sleeping bags. Popping open our trunk, a group had formed at the trunk of my car. They called out their needs and raised their hand.

“Pants! Do you have any pants?” one man called.

“Jacket? Do you have a jacket?” a lady asked.

This went on for about 10 minutes. We didn’t have enough for the entire crowd.

Closing the trunk, my heart sunk that we could not supply everyone’s needs. I thought of someone being cold tonight. I thought of someone going hungry. That’s why we came.

Right?

Meeting with our pastoral street guide in the middle of Skid Row we formed a circle for prayer and discussion. In my head, I began to berate myself for not fulfilling our assignment. “We didn’t bring enough,” I kept repeating.

Raising my hand in the group, I expressed my frustration that we did not have enough for everyone. The guide bluntly responded: “You’ll never have enough…you’ll never have enough. Get that idea out of your mind, okay? You are here to connect with people. You are here to let them know you care. And that God loves them.”

I let his words sink in about our purpose, our mission.

Our group was then led on a brief informational “walk around.” Our street guide explained some of the social, economic and political issues of Skid Row. He also shared some touching, personal stories from his many years of ministering to those on Skid Row.

As we walked, men stood on corners and sidewalks. Down the street, a game of “roll the dice” or Craps was being played. There were plenty of “tweakers” roming the streets either talking to themselves or flinching uncontrollably.

I wondered how these people landed here. I thought about how they couldn’t fend off their demons. Walking farther, the pungent smell of marijuana filled the air. Someone was getting high. Someone was numbing the pain.

Meet Loretta Marie
And then, something incredible happened that changed the entire tone of the morning.

My nine-year-old, who had been by my side throughout the morning, asked if she could give her jacket to someone who needed it.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, mom. It’s too small for me anyways. Please,” she pleaded.

Walking back towards our car, we noticed a petite, elderly black woman pushing a shopping cart. With no direction, my daughter approached her and asked if she needed a jacket.

The woman looked up and said in a slow, almost flippant voice, “Guess I could use one.”

Meet Loretta Marie. Loretta wore a loosely fitting skirt, top and knit beanie. Parts of her dark hair were faded orange from the sun. Letting go of the cart handle, she slipped on the jacket. Lifting her arms, she inspected the jacket. “The sleeves look a little short,” she said.

We offered to let her keep the jacket if she wanted it. “That’s okay. I don’t wanna to take nothin’ that shouldn’t be mine,” she said.

She agreed to let us pray for her. I placed my hand on her bony back and together we bowed our heads in prayer. I looked at her cart, which only had four or five items in it. These were probably all her belongings in the world.

She then told us how blessed she was in her life. And, how good God was to her during these 80 years of her life. She spoke lovingly about her children. Her level of gratitude was like nothing I had witnessed – ever. I knew at that moment that we were the ones being rescued. She was showing us a true heart of gratitude.

Searching for Answers
All around, there was both a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Ironically, though, there was a sense of strength and survival. Driving home, I felt exhausted and numb. I thought about the years of serving homeless in my small town with my mother. I thought I knew the destitute and forgotten. I did not.

Like human beings do, I was searching for answers.

Why God? Why allow your people to suffer like this?

Life can be so bittersweet.

Early the next morning, I was prompted to get up and write this passage below, which was straight from the Big Guy himself. I take no credit for the words. I am the messenger.

I AM LISTENING, AGAIN

You thought you knew hopelessness
You did not
Yesterday you saw me in the faces of those people
You thought you saw indignity
But you actually saw hope
I was in their eyes
You felt a sense of despair
But to me there was much more than that
Yesterday you felt a small glimpse of who I am
Who I serve
Who I love
You came with an open heart
And you might have left feeling discouraged
But wait
I control all plans, all destinies
These souls are not all lost
For many know Me
I heard your prayers
But I must warn
Do not turn your face
or even shed a tear
For they, too, will see my face
Hear My voice
And we will walk hand in hand
Oh, the joy they will feel
The food they will eat
The bed they will sleep
Fill your heart with love for them
Pray, Pray, Pray
For once again, I am listening

May God bless you and keep you full of gratitude and hope. I have been overflowing with it since this day. And, I couldn’t agree with my daugther more when she described this as “the day that changed my life.”

Spoken from the mouth of babes.

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Guest Post: The Day That Changed My Life

Editor’s Note: This special guest post was written by my nine-year-old daughter. The topic? Hope and Gratitude. Last weekend, we left our idyllic bubble in Orange County and headed to Skid Row in Los Angeles. Working along side me with a group from our church, we distributed supplies to those in need. I was shocked by the amount of people who approached us. Yet, the supplies seemed less important as the morning progressed. Once the supplies were gone, it was about connecting. It was about praying for people – to help give them some sense of hope. To let them know they are loved – most importantly they are loved by God – even in their darkest of hours. (More to follow in another post from me). I think you’ll agree my little girl has a heart of gold. And, she’s quite wise for her young age. I am both stunned and blessed by her fearlessness each and every day. As a parent, I couldn’t be more proud. Without further ado, darkness made light through the eyes of a child…

Hi, I am Sarah, one of your favorite blogger’s daughter. This is my story about when I went to feed and give clothing to the homeless in Los Angeles.

I had the most life-changing experience that changed my heart this week. The streets were so dirty and the sidewalks were covered in trash. When I was driving down the street, I noticed a bunch of blankets and clothes lying on the side of the street. I asked my mom, “What are those shirts and blankets doing there?” My mom told me they were people’s homes.

I instantly knew what I was doing would make a big change in somebody’s life.

Hand-Made-Heart-540x405At first I was scared, but later I felt good helping people who aren’t as fortunate as me. When we first opened the trunk of our car, people crowded around us, asking us for different items of clothing. There were so many of them, I felt bad because we did not have enough clothing for everyone.

Later, I tried to give my leather jacket to an old homeless woman, but unfortunately it did not fit her. We talked to her and prayed. Even though she was homeless and only had a shopping cart with a few items, she was very nice. A kind woman in my mom’s Bible study group gave away her shoes to a woman who was barefoot. Some of the homeless people were grouchy and some were very nice.

One homeless man on the street made a comment that I was a soccer player, which is true. He probably knew that because I was wearing my favorite soccer ball earrings.

Now Your Wondering…
How did this change my life?

Feeding, giving clothes, and blessing the homeless made me think of everything differently. How, you ask? Well, if you take a book or item of clothing, you think: “I get to see these every day.” If you look from the eyes of a homeless person, having a book is a big deal for them. We don’t see how lucky we already are. So take a closer look and you will see what I am talking about.

Next time you want a new car, or want cool sunglasses, stop and think about how fortunate you already are. Think about the people who don’t have what you have, think about the people who live on the streets. Stop and ask yourself, “Is this what I need, or what I want?”

Coming back to Orange County, I felt so grateful to have a nice cozy home. I also felt great making a difference in peoples lives.

How can you make a difference in our world?

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Sue and the Four-Leaf Clover

Editor’s Note: Each year, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I tell a child-friendly version of this story to my young daughters. One day, they’ll get to hear the unedited story. I’ve decided to share the complete tale of “Sue and the Four-Leaf Clover” from the eyes of a six-year-old girl growing up in a hippie commune and now a “grown up”…

For Sue. You will always hold a magical place in my heart.

The brakes squeaked on my mom’s red station wagon as it pulled up to the park. I had been sitting on the grass for quite some time in search of an infamous four-leaf clover. I finally spotted the rare clover and quickly picked it by the base of its stem.

As I closed my eyes, the wind rustled the trees. My whispered wish blew away. Moments later, my mom called me to the car. (These were the days you could leave your kid at the park alone). Sprinting barefoot, I could barely contain my excitement.

I held the clover with two fingers high in the air as if to not destroy its magical power. “I found a four-leaf clover! A four-leaf clover!” I sang, while sliding into the backseat. My mom smiled from the driver’s side. Next to my mom was a woman, Sue, who was one of the many friends living at our commune farm.

“What did you wish for?” Sue asked. “A watch. I’ve always wanted one!” I said, bouncing up and down on the seat.

In the mid-1970s, we met Sue, her husband and three young kids as they hitch-hitched by our farm one day. Sue was married to a lively, hot-headed Italian named Dave. It was pretty clear he loved three things in life: 1) His kids; 2) Sue; and 3) Alcohol and drugs.

An old photo of Sue.

An old photo of Sue.

Sue had thick, curly black hair with a flawless, glowing olive complexion. She was a naturally beautiful woman. She spoke in a soft, velvety voice. She struck me as passive – but strong.

Sue and Dave seemed to be quite different, like oil and vinegar. The clashing couple lived on the extremes in marriage – either madly in love, or in a heated argument. There seemed to be very little middle ground. And, in some sick way, I think they liked it that way.

The family had been hippie nomads making their way around the country using their thumb as the primary mode of transportation. As a family without an established home, Dave worked odd jobs while Sue would make her own “sacrifices” in order to meet the family’s basic needs from town to town. Some of these choices may not have always been the most ethical. Of course, it’s my hope that she did what she thought was right in order to survive.

This particular day, as I admired my four-leaf clover, Sue flashed me a wide smile. Dangling something shiny, she handed me a gold-plated watch necklace.

“You’re wish came true,” she said. My eyes lit, I had never seen anything like it. The watch had detailed etching on a brocade-style face with Roman numeral numbers, which I couldn’t read. It looked like jewerly for that of 60-year-old rather than a six-year-old. But, it was a watch.

A watch. The magic of the four-leaf clover worked.

Stepping Back Into Magic
A few years back, I was fondly reminiscing about this story of magic and wonderment. My mother then blurted out that Sue had stolen the watch from a jewelry store before picking me up at the park.

I felt a sadness overcome my heart. Stolen? My magical four-leaf clover was not real?

I wanted to believe.

Growing up is confusing; we become educated, buy houses, cars, have children, pay taxes… Most people evolve into responsible individuals who make grown-up decisions, and yet, we remain kids inside. We want to believe in the make believe – in magic – even as grown ups. We also want to believe the best in people.

After learning the entire story, I decided to continue telling the “unedited” version to my children. Also, when re-telling the tale of the four-leaf clover without its darker side, I felt less sad.

I wanted to remain in this magical story. I wanted to push aside the desperation of one woman. I wanted to hold close to my heart her glowing beauty, peaceful nature. I wanted to honor the deep love she felt for her children. I wanted to acknowledge the kind thought of giving a watch to a little girl who wished on a four-leaf clover.

I wanted to still believe in the most beautiful magic of all…love.

Was there a childhood story that was full of magic, but you later learned its magic faded or disappeared? How did you handle it? Is there someone who had good intentions, but you later found out that what happened was not only unethical, but illegal?

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Ready to Run

Her long legs wrapped around the horse perfectly. Holding the reigns with one hand she guided the horse along the trail. Approaching the stream, she kicked her heels into the bloated sides of the horse. The horse picked up pace through the icy water while giving a distinctive snort. Gripping the horse tighter with her thighs, they began to ascend the steep hillside.

The quiet breath of her horse soothed the fresh wounds she felt so deep. She could hear her mother’s voice before leaving her in this transient place. “I’ll be back soon, sweetheart,” she said in her smooth voice.

Reaching the open field, rolling hills sang to her in a tender whisper: “Run, run, run.”

The setting sun cast an orange hue on the hillside. Standing still, her horse cantered his front legs. Ready to run. Ready to run from this place. Just like her.

Ready to run.

Bareback, she held the reigns loosely with two hands. She leaned forward to command a trot from her one and only friend in the world.

The beginning of the trot commenced. Her flowing dark brown, bone-straight hair bouncing, the rhythm gave her this moment. Her breath settling and body near limp, she felt the tears flow while heading towards the old abandoned barn.

An old snapshot of the abandon barn adjacent to my little red house.

An old snapshot of the abandon barn adjacent to my red house.

Meet Sandy. A real-life girl, who was one of many who lived at our communal home over several years during the 1970s. My mother had always opened our home to runaways, displaced, abandoned – even homeless people. Naturally, she had a special spot in her heart for children and teenagers.

Sandy’s mother who battled drugs and alcohol “left her” at our house around age 11, and disappeared for what seemed like years at a time. As a child, it was rather normal to have new people living in the red house on the outskirts of town. When someone would arrive, my mother would often explain, “A new friend has come stay!”

In the case of Sandy, her mother would make an appearance here and there, but seem to leave as quickly as she arrived. You could always sense unrelenting sadness, almost grief-like vibes from Sandy – except when she rode her horse in the country. Over time, she became part of our hippie commune farm life. She became family.

As a child, I admit it was difficult to relinquish my bed to a stranger. To watch someone, who was not even related to me, eat the last of the cereal, or to watch my mother doting on this child, who was not even flesh and blood.

These were, to say the least, challenging life experiences to grasp, to overcome. Now a grown up, I reflect back with a sense of admiration for my mother’s acts of love. It’s only taken me 40 years to reach this point of authentic admiration.

My mother role modeled nearly every sense of the word love. Most importantly, she helped many children like Sandy run into her arms of love and beauty – rather than running into the streets.

“They say that abandonment is a wound that never heals. I say only that an abandoned child never forgets.” – Mario Balotelli

Did you have a child in your life who was fostered and/or adopted by your family when growing up? How did that help shape your belief or values? Would you consider fostering, or adopting a child as a grown up? I’d love to hear your insights.

 

 

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