Please Know...

As I come to know these fine people, they share with me more of their personal and sensitive stories. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist. "Blog names" have occasionally been given to me by the person whose story I am telling. Names are never their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

In Memory of "Diane"


For as long as I live on this earth, I will forever remember my first moments with Diane.  I met her in the fall of 2017 at the north end of the Frankford Avenue bridge community.  I knew that this lady was new to the streets.  When we were close enough to talk, I introduced myself and asked her name.  She smiled and told me and then she asked:

"Chris, How are you?[1]  It's nice to meet you.  Are you from a church?"

"Yes.  I'm from Urban Hope Church."

"I love the church.  I go to Mass every day that I possibly can even living out here."


And She Slept

…. I want to tell you about a young woman in her mid-20s.  "Diane's" spirit shines bright with the inner light of her Christ who I know lives in her heart as she worships Him almost daily in Mass at the local Roman Catholic Church.   On Sundays, she occasionally attends a contemporary worship service at another church and invited me to join her there some Sunday.  She does what she can to stay physically clean and well dressed.  She always has a smile and an extra hug to give away.

To num the emotional pain of her childhood and through no fault of her own, addiction found its way into her life.  Having been cut off from her family, she financially supports her life by walking the streets looking for dates.  As she prepares to do so, she looks at me and says “It’s time to go humiliate myself.”  A tear, perhaps God’s tear from deep inside her soul, spills out and down her cheek even before she can complete that short sentence.
                       
The mental anguish of self-humiliation and long hours with no sleep bring with them absolute exhaustion.  Upon returning to the bridge, "Diane" curled up on a piece of cardboard and covered herself with a nearby sheet.  As the cold dampness of this late fall overcame her, she began to shiver with no immediate solution to the problem.

Enter the Quit…

Barely an hour before this, a neighbor in Glen Mills gave me a queen sized quilt that had been sitting somewhere in their house unused and not really needed.  She gave it to me to give to someone in Emerald City.  When I saw Diane asleep and shivering just outside the cover of the bridge, I grabbed that quilt and wrapped her in it as snuggly as I could.  She awoke enough to say “Thank you.” as her teeth chattered. 

I knelt in close to her and said softly, “Jesus loves you just as you are.”  She nodded her head as one who knows such a fact as fact would do so.  

And she slept.

**********


Diane

In the early days of her time on the street, she attended Mass every single day as much as she possibly could.  She told me last night that she has not been to Mass for quite some time and misses it.

Diane cries as she thinks about doing what she feels she must do to raise funds for her addiction that she despises. Each and every time she references what she needs to do, she tears up and refers to such moments as leaving to go humiliate herself.

This young lady is something of a fine porcelain doll in appearance. She appears as though she could be easily broken. Her lifestyle requires her to be on guard for her own physical safety at all times. She carries a knife and has had to threaten to use it a few times as 'men' have tried to do unspeakable things to her.

About a week ago one of the students from the Studies in Urban Ministry Program at Urban Hope Church gave me a Christian book called Jesus Calling for me to give to a specific person within Emerald City.  I knew Diane would love this book. I found her about an hour later. When I handed it to her and she saw the title, tears ran down her cheeks. She knows how much her Lord loves her. 

Please pray for Diane.
**********

I share these blogs with you at this sad time to bear witness to Diane's Christian Faith.  Diane's Commitment to her Christ and her Substance Use Disorder occupied equal space within her being.  One did not cancel out the other.  It is in this fact that we can know that our "Diane" moved to Heaven during this Holy Week and is with her Savior in Heaven as we mourn this first week of knowing she is gone from this earth but not from our hearts.

Diane's first week in Heaven is the most holy[3] of weeks in God's Church.  What a fantastic first Sunday for Diane to worship her King in the King's presence - Easter!  This Easter Sunday, please consider attending a church if for no other reason than to honor our friend whose life lives on in our hearts and in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

For those of you in Kensington, I invite you to join me - and I could really use your presence this week - at Urban Hope Church, 210 East Tioga (Tioga and A Street).  Our worship starts at 11:15 am with a special Easter breakfast beforehand at 10:00am. 

Final Thought: 

As I sit here at my computer on this rainy Saturday morning, I can't help but envision Diane on her first Friday in Heaven and our "Good Friday" the day we remembered the Crucifixion of Christ.  I can easily see her giving God and Jesus a hug, looking at each one and saying "Thank you.  How are you?"  She would really want to know. 




[1] Diane always asked not because it's a custom in our culture.  She always asked because she always really wanted to know. 
[2] Diane read every blog in which she was mentioned by "name" and thanked me for telling her story.
[3] dedicated or set apart for religious purposes, devoted to the service of God, relating to, belonging to, or coming from a divine being or power

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Days of Their Lives

After a bit over two years of visiting the good people of the streets of Kensington, I’ve been privileged to have them reach out to me by text, Facebook messenger and even that oldie but goodie – phone conversation.

Sometimes people contact me when they need something.  You might be thinking that it’s only when someone needs money that they contact me in hopes of getting some from me.  There’s a little of that but not much and people these days know that I won’t give money anyway.  Apart from being flat broke myself these days, it’s dangerous if that money goes toward their “medicine.”  That one five dollar bill could be unwittingly exchanged for that one packet laced with something that ends their life.  I don’t want to know that I gave them the money that ultimately killed them. 

As trusts grow between us, I get calls for help that include the more vulnerable aspects of living on the street.  I’ve been asked to take an individual to an emergency room for a condition that has arisen as a result of living on the street.  These have included orthopedic injuries from being hit by a motorcycle, or soft tissue injuries from an infected abscess, the result of an ill placed injection.  I’ve taken people in when pneumonia was taking over.

I’ve been called on to help move belongings from Emerald City to a new residence.  And, yes, I’ve even been called on by a lady who was stranded at a distant hotel when her ‘date’ left her without paying for her ‘services.'  In that situation, I was not able to get there but I thanked her for the trust she showed in reaching out to me – knowing that I would not judge her.

Each of these opportunities to serve these men and women bring with them the knowledge that there is trust in these relationships.  From time to time, things don’t go as expected or desired.   Whenever something goes not quite right, I try to take it as a learning opportunity to adjust how I do things and move forward. 

There’s a new aspect of this reaching out to me that I’m loving.  It’s those times when a person who I met on the street contacts me to tell me they’ve moved into an apartment.  More than once now, I’ve had the joy of sitting on their sofa, drinking their coffee that they made in their coffee maker as we watch a movie on their TV. 

It’s only through meeting people on their terms that this privilege can come to be.  By providing water and fruit and occasionally clothes and care packages, the doors of communication and caring are opened and established.  Closely related to this are the song sheets that I create and distribute at the same time.  The songs that I choose are current Christian songs that have lyrics of topics raised in conversations. 

As the water, bananas and song sheets have been more and more recognized as my typical things to hand out, it’s not unusual to be told by an individual that they don’t need the water or the banana but they do want the song sheet. 

As these months tick on by, I’ve noticed a growing trend, one that I appreciate.  It’s when one of these wonderful people contacts me just to say “Hi” or “Hey.” And “How are you?”  The needs of the street to occupy their every woken moment are giving way to the joys of their re-established life.  They are able to focus on the feelings of others. 

In all of these moments, I’ve come to understand that these days that turn into weeks, months and occasionally years are the days of THEIR lives not mine.  It hurts to the point of shedding my own tears to know that he is sleeping in an as of yet uninstalled drainage pipe in the I-95 construction project as he recalls that fateful night not so long ago and wonders why God killed his entire family in one swift car crash AND to know that she sleeps in some location that she thought was safe and secluded until she woke up only to realize she was “mostly naked with a guy almost on top of (her).”

It is indeed, our joy and privilege to demonstrate the Love of Christ with a blanket of  dignity, honor, respect and love covering these men and women and to walk with them as they navigate the days of their lives…