This California girl is not used to weather ranging between 9 and 28 degrees (brrrrrrrrr). This girl gets cold when it’s 50 degrees in Seal Beach (but after a week of snow, I’ll take 50 degrees and no coat)! I have come to truly value big, puffy, water and snow resistant coats and warm gloves. Oh, and now I know why defrosters and seat warmers were really created.
My coldest moment was on 400 South in downtown Salt Lake City outside The Road Home, a shelter for the homeless. Ken and I volunteered with K2 The Church to put together bags filled with socks, gloves, snacks, cup of noodles, etc. and then distributed them to the homeless.
This was a first for me. This was the first time I was seeing firsthand how the homeless live. This was the first time I was experiencing bone-chilling cold (I literally could not feel my legs). This was the first time I realized how precious a beanie, socks and gloves are to people living on the streets when it is less than 10 degrees outside. I was only outside for maybe 30 minutes, but they LIVE outside. Sure, they may have a shelter to cover their heads at night – but it’s so cold during the day, and many are curled up on the sidewalk doing everything they can to stay warm.
The distribution team was encouraged to not just hand out bags, but to engage with people. Ask them their name, listen to their story, let them know they matter. I can pretty much talk to anyone, but I was scared to engage. What if I said something offensive? What if I wasn’t sensitive to their plight? What if I came across superior? What if they could not see Jesus’ light in me? Um Megan… this is not about you. It is about them and meeting a need and showing God’s love. Oh.
What an incredibly humbling experience. Though I could not feel the ends of my fingers and toes, my heart was filled with so much warmth. Ken led the way, and soon after I was able to start up conversations on my own.
It was so touching to talk to Keri and to hear about her 18-months of being free from addiction, and to see her support of Donna – a young woman new to Salt Lake City, living on the streets and very ill.
Then we met Jason, David and Annalise. David was eager for the holidays to be over so he could get back to work at a local construction site. A car salesman for over 20 years, being on the streets wasn’t part of his plan. He is also a father of two daughters and has grandkids.
Then there was Francisco in the wheelchair. When asked how he was doing he responded, “Great.” He was so positive and even had pennies inside his penny loafers! He was a construction worker who got injured which ultimately led to him losing most things and living in the shelter. But he is traveling to California next week to live with his daughter.
Later on at the city library (where many of the homeless hangout during the day to stay warm) we met Daniella. Mother of three – a 20, 18 and 9 year old – who was clearly heartbroken by the separation from her children, especially her young boy Kiani. She shared how hard it is to live on the streets because other people living on the streets steal from each other; very little honor among the homeless. Just after Christmas she had her backpack stolen which contained virtually everything she owned. She was having to start over, again. It was all I could do to not cry for her.
I walked away from all of these encounters realizing that each person is no different than I am. They experience life just like anyone else, except their story or their journey took a different turn. Whether it was addiction, poor choices, a disability, abuse, mistreatment… whatever brought them to 400 South, they are still loved, deeply, by God. And God needs us – uses us – to show His love. It is easy to judge people who are disadvantaged and blame them for their circumstances. That is not our place. We are called to love one another as God has loved us. I know I am not always loveable, but God never ceases to love me. He will never cease to love Keri, Donna, Jason, David, Annalise, Francisco, James, Kyle, Charles, Daniella, John and Cornelius the Great (at least that is the name he gave). They matter to God. My prayer is that they come to know how much they matter to God and are consumed by His love.
I may say I am freezing, but in truth I don’t really know what it means to freeze. I will never again take for granted a coat, a blanket, gloves, a scarf, umbrellas. What a blessing it is to be warm and to have a roof over my head. The homeless know what it means to freeze, daily, hourly. Out of respect for each person living on the streets, I will honor what it means to freeze, and I will think of them whenever I am cold and pray for their protection and warmth.