Wanna Help Me Change the World?

Once upon a time, I wrote on this here blog so frequently that mere mortals had a hard time keeping up. Strangely enough, all that writing never turned into the massive money-making machine one would assume. Sad though that is, it’s fine because I’ve found a new money-making venture that’s sure to lead to the fame and financial windfall which, I’m sure we all agree, would be mine in a sane universe: feeding homeless people!

OK, OK, so feeding homeless people doesn’t exactly sound like a great money-making venture but that’s because you just haven’t seen the way we’re feeding homeless people. It’s new! It’s revolutionary! It’s going to get me the money to buy that new car I’ve been needing for like 20 years and pay for plastic surgery to remove these two weird bumps on my nose. Just you wait and see.

So, all joking aside, I do need to tell you about this crazy, brilliant thing I helped build called LoveTalks, Baby! And it really is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s the brainchild of my sister Linda and her husband Adam. There’s an entire movie and several books worth of background story to how LoveTalks, Baby! came to be, but for our purposes, let’s start this spring when the lock-down began. For years Linda and her family have passed out food and spent time with people experiencing homelessness in the Old Town area of Portland. They had paused while Linda and her grandson recovered from COVID-19 in early March, but while driving to the hospital for her grandson, Linda and Adam witnessed an encounter between a homeless man they knew and police that left her very disturbed.

ltb2The thing about Linda is she can be a bit . . . extra. She follows her heart, does everything BIG and once she sets her mind to something all you can do is follow along and hope she doesn’t get hurt. She’s the sort of person who witnesses an accident and gets out and shuts down traffic on the expressway while she pulls the people out of a burning vehicle. After seeing this encounter between the police and one of her homeless friends, she worried that with the streets empty the homeless were even more vulnerable to abuse by those cops who are bad actors than usual. So she and Adam went home, made meals for 40 people and went out in the middle of the night to pass them out. She knew that people needed food, but as importantly she wanted the cops to see housed people around to signal that the homeless weren’t actually alone.

ltb8While on the street, Linda learned that the bathrooms and water fountains in the area had been turned off. The restaurants were closed and even fast food places were inaccessible except by car. Social services agencies were either shut down entirely or had limited operations. It was the end of winter and the elderly, disabled and sick were too weak to even get up and move. People were relying on each other to bring back what food and water they could find. Alarmingly, Linda saw that all of the windows in the area were boarded up. Other than an approaching hurricane, the only reason to board up all the windows in an area is when violence is expected. And really, if you leave impoverished orphans, widows, autistic, mentally ill and severely traumatized people to die on the street without access to food, water, bathrooms or human connection under the supervision of police whose interactions tend towards violence and humiliation, violent outbursts are inevitable. It had all appearances of a set-up. Vulnerable and potentially volatile people who are already widely despised would lash out and their behavior would be used to justify subjecting them to violence and forced confinement by the government.

So, Linda did what Linda does and intervened. She told me, “I may not be able to stop terrible things from happening, but no one’s going to say that when a holocaust was brewing on the streets of my city, the body of Christ failed to show up.” She contacted the mayor’s office and got categorized as an essential service so they could be on the street every night, serving. It started with making large quantities of food at home to pass out ltb21in take-out containers, along with water and whatever blankets, tents and other supplies they could get their hands on. Soon, they got a rig to cook food right on the street. The smell of cooking food attracted a crowd. And just like at home, people needed something to do while waiting for dinner to be finished. So Linda and Adam brought a rug for people to sit on, then some chairs, tables, music, art supplies and sometimes even a TV to watch movies together. They provided charging stations for people’s phones, tents and other supplies for those who needed them, vitamins and supplements for the elderly and sick and most importantly, love and boundaries and acceptance, regardless of difficult behavior, questionable appearance and whatever baggage people had. A Street Family started to form.

Linda and Adam are not rich people – she’s on SSI and he’s been out of work since being laid off from eBay 2 years ago. They put every penny that came to them into food and supplies for their evening gatherings and when that wasn’t enough, took out a $20K loan to get through several months of lock-down. The homeless themselves gathered donations from each other. While the world was shut down, the homeless were having parties on the streets of Portland. When they were forced to move from a sheltered location near a parking garage, party tents and lights were brought in along with more seating and decorations. Their gatherings took on the appearance of a fancy party happening on the street, except all of the attendees were homeless people.

ltb10For the longest time, no one except the cops and their friends even knew they were there because they came late and cleaned up before leaving. The cops kept their distance and didn’t interfere. Occasionally one of them would privately thank Linda and Adam for sparing them from spending their nights dealing with the problems that homeless people in mental and physical crisis tend to create on the street. Not only did a violent showdown between cops and the homeless never happen, crime rates in the area remained consistent with historical levels rather than going up as one would expect given the conditions.

83586444_10220356242309666_1940147078197936128_oWhen the protests started in late May, Linda and Adam rented cotton candy and snow cone machines and provided a safe haven for their people in the midst of chaos. When the noise and chaos threatened to overwhelm, they played soothing music and sat with everyone to help them remain calm and in control of themselves. Sometimes passing protesters stopped to share food, often leaving donations and thanking them for what they were doing. A couple of local police told Linda and Adam privately that without them the protests would almost certainly have been even more explosive and violent than they were.

So now it’s July and the nightly gatherings are still happening. The loan money is gone so we’re operating hand to mouth and donation to donation each day with the help of a few generous individuals. We’re hard at work creating partnerships with local businesses and charitable organizations to meet the need. We’ve formed an official registered charity (501c3 status pending) with a fancypants board and everything, built a website and are about to start selling merchandise to raise funds. We’ve met with a city commissioner, been given official clearance to keep using the city sidewalks for the gatherings and are working with her team to start integrating what we’re doing into the city’s efforts to serve the homeless. We met with US Senator Ron Wyden and his state director who will be visiting the gathering in the near future. Next month, Linda and I will complete training curriculum for people who serve vulnerable populations on issues like trauma, autism, deescalation, safety and building trust which everyone we encounter has told us is desperately needed. That training will become workshops which will create the revenue stream needed to fund the street operations.

ltb6I started the story with what happened this past March, but really, Linda and I have been laying the groundwork for this for years as part of a larger vision. The lock-down forced us to launch rather suddenly and unexpectedly, but we were able to make such a heavy lift so quickly is because we’d already laid out the vision for a model that can be replicated in other places to bring fundamental change from the bottom up. Once we get this pilot in Portland self-sustaining and solid, the plan is to train people in other cities to do the same. And as important as it is to make sure homeless people are ok, by getting the community actively involved and invested in providing people with a safe, healthy place to just rest, relax, dance and sing and share a meal together, the divide between the community and the people in the community who are unhoused can begin to heal.

Beyond that, our real mission is to trigger a fundamental shift in the way that we treat each other generally. Homeless people – even the difficult, troubled ones – are fellow image-bearers and deserve to be treated as such. It’s why we feed them good food in an attractive setting and treat them like valuable human beings who deserve good things. Because when homeless people have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong, then we all have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong. Which is a shift that very obviously we desperately need in this country.ltb13

So I’m asking for donations, not for my new car or to remove those weird bumps on my nose, important though that may be, but to keep us up and running through the end of the summer. By then we should have rustled up enough community and government investment to keep us going until we’re self-sustaining. You guys have come through in the past to provide clothing for naked grannies in India, medical care for injured children in Pakistan and even to help me pay my family’s rent. So I know you’re the sort of people who will pitch in for a good cause when you can.

We need at least $5000 to fund operations for the next 6 weeks. It’s more than I’ve ever asked you folks for, but seeing as only the very best people read this here blog of mine, I believe we can do it. Pray about it and if you feel lead, chip in whatever you can – it all adds up. Pass this on to your family and friends. Share it on social media. Stand on a street corner with a sign and a can if you want. Whatever we need to do. I really do believe that working together, we have what it takes to change the world. After all, the world is on fire and if we don’t show up and do it, who will?

You can make a donation using the button below or at our website where you’ll also find more pictures and videos from our gatherings. If you’d like to do something more personal for our Street Family, go to our store and pick items to meet specific needs. While you’re there, be sure to leave your email address so you can receive notifications when LoveTalks, Baby! Merchandise becomes available and to receive a monthly newsletter sharing what we’re up to. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with what’s happening on the street. Or, just click on the donation button below to make a cash donation today and know that we’ll put it all to good use. All donations are tax-deductible. And when we make our goal, I’ll be sure to let y’all know. Come on – let’s change the world. You know you wanna! Donate button

Several Times a Year, This Comes to Mind

Several years ago I came across a story about an amazing little book called Be Bold With Bananas which is described by a high-end art book seller on Abe Books as “an imaginative cook book issued in the 1970s by the South African Banana Board” and  an “unusual and eccentric photo book”. It made quite the impression on me and is something I find myself remembering several times a year at least. And now it will come to your mind several times a year at least too, because what has been seen cannot be unseen:

Book Riot’s take on it still makes me laugh:

This monstrosity is called a Banana Candle, which consists of a banana stuck in a pineapple slice, with mayonnaise and a maraschino cherry on top. And it is a crime against nature. If someone brought this into my home, I would slap them, and then burn my house down and salt the ground where it stood. This photo is the reason flocks of birds inexplicably die and fall to the ground. Goats and gangrene, who approved this picture??? Imagine my horror – I actually touched this book.

The book looks like it started with conversations among bored dock workers during the slow season about what you could make with bananas. And photographed by an extremely sarcastic marketing team. Like, what the hell is this supposed to be?

Related image

Is that a turkey under there? Did they glaze bananas onto a turkey? And paper crowns on the ends of the bananas? Really? I just really hope that’s a plastic turkey under there and no one actually had to spend hours roasting a one perfectly to get this picture.

What brought this gem to mind was a picture a friend recently shared on Facebook of a recipe card from Mccall’s Great American Recipe Collection:

Image may contain: fruit and food

The early 70s need to explain themselves is all I’m saying.

 

It’s a Disaster but Everything’s Perfect. I Guess

 

So, two weeks ago today I fell on an icy driveway and broke my ankle. It was classic; my foot started to slip on the ice, hit dry gravel and stopped. I continued my fall, my foot did not. Just like in every other broken ankle story you’ve ever been told, I heard the crunch of breaking bones, screamed and went into shock. There was no safe way to move me and both my oldest son and my husband have their own issues with balance/stability, so an icy pile-up nightmare was a real danger. So there was nothing to do but call an ambulance.

I live outside of town so it took a solid 15-20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. During which time, all I could do is sit there. And try not to think about yet another set of medical bills we can’t afford. (I’ve lost track of how many times the local hospital has sued us.) Definitely try not to think about the implications of being unable to drive and largely immobile for any extended period of time. In a household of 7. Or about how much pain I was going to be in once the shock wore off. I’ve tapped out all my pain tolerance over the last few years.

And as I’m sitting there trying to figure out how to feel and think about all this, I had the strongest sense of God saying to me, “it’s ok. This is exactly where you’re supposed to be. Everything’s perfect and exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” Like the Spirit was pleased that I was sitting in the snow on a hill overlooking the field next to my house on a cold December morning with a broken ankle. I reminded myself that I was in shock. Obviously a broken ankle is pretty incompatible with perfect. But at the same time, I couldn’t seem to muster up any panic, anger or despair over the situation. I felt pretty at peace actually.

The ambulance finally arrived and with some amount of difficulty they got my fat ass into the back. I looked up at the clock above the doors right after they closed them and kind of stared at it, bemused. It was 11:11. I’ve had a weird thing with repeating and sequential numbers going on around me for a while now. It happens so often, in such unexpected ways that it’s become a joke in our family. When I saw that, I kind of laughed and decided that I might as well accept that the universe is in charge and everything’s exactly how it’s supposed to be somehow.

I had surgery on my ankle last Friday to put in a plate and several screws. I don’t know if you know this – but when they screw things into your bones, it hurts. Of course it hurt before surgery too, so it’s been a couple of weeks of pain and pain killers. Neither of which are good for writing. Or moving. Or being nice to stupid people on social media.

Thankfully I am being well cared for, children are still putting on clean, weather appropriate clothing every morning and going to sleep on clean sheets every night. Everyone is being fed. Even if it is an endless stream of dad’s pasta dishes. (I would be perfectly happy to never eat pasta again in my life. It’s just me.) So I have nothing more to complain about. I just wish I had a fast-forward button to skip over the next couple of months.

But I keep coming back to this assurance that everything is exactly how it needs to be, regardless of what it looks like. And I keep thinking that it’s probably a pretty apt analogy for what’s going on in our country right now. I wasn’t nearly as shocked by Trump’s election as everyone else was. I’ve spent too much time around too many different kinds of people not to recognize the power of appealing to people’s most base instincts, peddling ignorance and putting on a good show. I believe that we are all made in God’s own image, but I also know that a lot of people have layered a seriously flawed value system, a stunning lack of self-awareness and a markedly shallow relationship with reality over the top of their true identity. So I was irate at Trump’s win (I still am), but not too shocked.

But the whole time, I’ve also had this sense of peace underneath. Like everything we can see in the material world is about as big a disaster as it can be without tipping over into actual mass violence. But the Spirit keeps saying, “oh, this is perfect. Everything’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” And just like with my ankle, I don’t think there’s any rescue or miracle coming to fix everything; just a long, hard trudge of doing what needs to be done to deal with the situation. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that we have what it takes to walk from here in the middle of disaster to the other side of healing and rehabilitation. We’d rather not have to. We’d rather just carry on without the disruption, the pain and the difficulty. But that’s not an option. So we’ll do what we need to do.

I have often said that keeping faith in my fellow man has been the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. I genuinely like people, but I also hold most of us in low regard. Some days I’m down right misanthropic. People are idiots. And stupid to boot. Yet, I do keep faith. Not because of the greatness of humans, but because I know that the same God who created this body of mine with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct itself created human nature as well. And I trust that God also created human beings with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct ourselves at the spiritual and cultural levels as well. Sure, this capacity hasn’t always gotten the job done, but we do learn. 100 years ago, without surgery, my ankle wouldn’t have healed itself to the point of restoration. We do need to pitch in for best results. It’s a co-operative venture between us and God.

In the end, I suspect that Trump’s election will prove to be the societal equivalent of re-breaking an improperly set bone. Right now all we can see is the break with the sharp jagged edge of a bone pushing up against the skin, threatening to break it. But, if those of us who know a broken bone when we see one put one foot in front of the other, fight through the challenges, do what is right and what needs to be done, I think we’ll be OK. Although I still wish that fast-forward button were real. 😉

“I See Men Like Trees”

“They came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” ~ Mark 8:22-26
trees

When Praise is a Sacrifice

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. ~ Hebrews 13:15

Do you know that sometimes praise is a sacrifice? When there’s nothing left to praise but the air you are breathing and you praise God for air. When you’d just as soon not wake up for another day and you praise God for the bed you’re lying on. When there’s no comfort or relief so you praise God for revealing himself so you have somewhere to direct your thoughts when you’re suffering.

Sometimes praise hurts. Sometimes it starts as a bitter complaint. Sometimes praise has no emotion or action behind it because only your will can move in the direction of God. This is a sacrifice of praise. This is the sort of sacrifice God will never, ever turn away.

If your praises are sacrifices right now, I want to share a song with you. Many Sundays in our home after yet another week of one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, my husband will put this song on repeat and dance around with the kids. Because sometimes there’s nothing left to do but praise him!

Here’s the link for those of you reading this by email. Continue reading

Godly Thinking vs The World

“Encourage one another and build each other up ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Godly thinking believes you can be the person you heart desires to be and accomplish the things your heart longs to accomplish.
  • The world believes you can be the person they want you to be and accomplish the things they think you should want to accomplish.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ~ Romans 12:2
  • Godly thinking celebrates every little victory as evidence that you will accomplish what it is you’re working towards and see the setbacks as irrelevant to your ultimate success.
  • The world views setbacks as proof that the whole way you’re doing things is flawed, probably fatally and certainly evidence that you should be adopting their vision of success, a good life and yourself as your own.
“They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. ~ Jeremiah 1:19
  • When you’re frustrated or discouraged, Godly thinking reminds you of all that you’ve accomplished already as evidence which points to the reality of ultimate victory.
  • When you’re frustrated or discouraged, the world sees all your accomplishments as evidence that you should be doing better than you are. Past victories are evidence of potential not met.

We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

  • The world believes coloring outside the lines is evidence of failure.
  • Godly thinking knows that people who do great things almost always color outside the lines.
He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” ~ Luke 16:16
  • The world focus on failure.
  • Godly thinking focuses on potential.
God began a good work in you and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished. ~ Phillipians 1:6
  • Godly thinking believes that what we get right is ultimately more important and more powerful than what we get wrong.
  • The world believes that what we get wrong defines us.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ~ Phillippians 4:8
  • Godly thinking believes that everything works out in the end and if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end.
  • The world believes that each moment represents a point at which success or failure can be judged.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ~ Romans 8:17-18

Stages of Forgiving

As far as the east is from the west, I will remove your sins from you.  – God

That’s the offer of forgiveness we all want to take.  But when it comes to forgiveness between us humans, as far as the east is from the west is a bit much to contemplate.  God knows this.  In fact, when the disciples were told that they had the power to forgive sins, they were also told that they had the power to declare someone bound to their sin.  I have found that this power is an essential tool for forgiving deeply without being a perfect saint.  It’s a process that you take in stages as you are able:

Stage 1. I forgive the person by letting go of my right to demand to have things fixed.  (See yesterday’s post Steps to Forgiveness.)  I will no longer try to hold the person accountable for what they have done and I hand that job over to God.  At this point, I ask God to bind them to their sin if I need to.  My desire is that at some point of God’s choosing, they will understand exactly how much pain they caused.

Stage 2.  Once I let go of my right and desire to make the person who hurt me do something about it, I have more resources to heal.  Healing takes away my desire for the person who hurt me to suffer as I did.  Now, I ask God to hold them to account by giving them just as much understanding as they need to repent (ie be sorry for what they did).  I still consider the person bound to what they did, but not as fully as before.

Stage 3.  As life goes on and what happened to hurt me gets inextricably woven into the past, I will often get to a place of deep forgiveness and release.  When I am ready (and this is a process which can take years), I pray this about the tie between the person who hurt me and their sin: “God, if they need to be tied to their sin for their own benefit, please use it as you see fit.  But I don’t need them to be tied to it anymore and I hope that they don’t either.”

And that is how a non-saint learns to forgive as we want to be forgiven.

Desiderata

I found a small framed print of this old devotional at our local Goodwill a couple of months ago and bought it.  Many of you have probably seen it before, but I don’t think I had.  I hope my children take the time to stand looking at the wall and read the whole thing every now and then.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.