The Hard Life- It’s For You and Me

The Hard Life

I arrived shortly before the café opened and waited comfortably in my car. Heated leather seats and surfing the internet were a distinction between me and the man I noticed by the entrance. Admittedly, I hoped he would leave before the doors opened so I wouldn’t have to interact with him.

I shoved a ten-dollar bill into my front pocket as I got out of my car and walked towards the doors. He was still there everything he owned rested at his feet as he counted money on top of the trashcan.

“Do you have forty cents?”

I’ve been told to never give money to homeless people.

I’ve been told to not buy food for the homeless.

I’ve been told I’m perpetuating a problem by naïve charity.

“What do you need forty cents for?” I asked noticing the three dollars and change he was counting.

“I just want a cup of coffee.”

I knew he had enough. I knew McDonald’s was near and he could afford more than a cup of coffee there, but I know that feeling in my heart and I’ve learned to trust when God calls.

“How about I buy you a cup of coffee?”

He paused, processing, “okay.”

His name is Bryan, just like my brother who invited a homeless man to sleep on his couch on a stormy night years ago while living in the mountains.

It took a moment to enter the first set of doors as he decided what to do with his possessions.

Sandwiched between customers I could feel the discomfort from the middle-aged man behind me. He made me more uncomfortable than the homeless man by my side.

The manager passed by. I smiled and said my usual hello but wondered if he was upset that I brought this man into his café. He passed on and the cashier cheerfully took our order while the man behind brooded.

J. Keller Quote

We don’t like people messing up the perfect environments we create and I was clearly messing up the cute café. Justin Keller, a start-up CEO in San Francisco recently wrote Open Letter to SF Mayor Ed Lee and Greg Suhr (Police Chief)” declaring,

“The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.”

My heart broke when I read Keller’s words. Admittedly, while walking through San Francisco some of the homeless have frightened me, but still, my heart breaks. These people viewed as animals or blight; a nuisance on a good day. But these people are sons, daughters, siblings and fellow human beings. These wounded hearts, some because of bad choices, some because nobody taught them how to handle failure are important.

I happened to read Keller’s article after I read Caris Adel’s article “Icons of Dehumanization: Then and Now” where she contemplates historical dehumanization and how empires use fear to manipulate civilians.

“…they turned people into animals. And how once you have made them not-human, you can justify doing anything to them…You know what’s a lot quicker and easier? Standing up at a podium, yelling about building walls and deportations, criminalizing entire countries and groups of people based on the color of their skin, their language, or their religion.”

I read both articles as my stereotypical family drove home from vacationing in Northern California. While there we visited Fort Humbolt where I read the devastating words “exterminate the Indians” to my children at Fort Humbolt. Did I read that sign correctly? I stared, frozen at the words. Frozen by Keller’s current words.

What have we learned? That those with money and clout can decide which lives are of value? The moment we lose humility and understanding that every life vulnerable we continue history’s brutal story.

Unsure of Bryan’s beliefs I told him how important and valuable he is. Yes, this man living on the streets missing a few teeth is as important as you and me. Not because I said so, but God proclaims it. We are all created equally in God’s image.

Talking with various homeless men I’ve found a common thread and Bryan’s fit the stereotype. “I had a job and a house. Then I had an accident, got into drugs and lost it all.”

Hard life is unavoidable

A single accident completely changed his life. It’s common. No level of education or hard work can prevent the unexpected. It doesn’t take a physical accident to spiral down quickly. Depressed and discouraged rebounding is difficult. Few bank accounts are padded for an economy tanking or and industry collapsing. In our world of superficial, not many have deep-rooted support systems that can offer sustained help through difficult times emotionally, physically or financially.

Bryan asked for my number, “Can I call you?” I hesitated and declined.

“I don’t think my husband would appreciate that.” He laughed. He hadn’t noticed my simple understated wedding band I’ve been wearing since I broke the band on my engagement ring. Then he asked a difficult question, “Do you have an easy life?” implying being married and having a family was “easy”.

Pause.

It’s certainly not the hard life of getting beat up on the streets, wondering where to lay my head each night or where the next morsel will come from, but I answered, “I do.”

He agreed and added, “You have the harder life. I get to wake up and do what I want. Nobody tells me what to do, not even the police.”

Inner prayerful pause.

“I have a hard life because what I choose to do is hard. What I write about is difficult, it costs me (to remember the past and face inner struggles) but I see it encouraging others and renewing hope. It’s hard following God, but it’s good. Hard isn’t always bad.”

Jesus says following Him is a certain hard life. As hard as circumstances vary, the hard life Jesus refers to doesn’t mean you’re living on the streets or paycheck to paycheck. Jesus is referring to the difficulties that come when we surrender our hearts and yield our time, attention and aspirations for His glory. Are you living the hard life?

 

 

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12 responses to “The Hard Life- It’s For You and Me

  1. “Do you have an easy life?” – oh wow. What a hard question. :/ And oh my word wasn’t that Keller piece just awful? ugh. So much hard stuff to work through. Glad to have more people to wrestle through this with!

    • Such a hard question and your article was so well written and provoking as well. The path the Keller mentality is frightening. When will we learn?

  2. Well said Julie. I see that you were up here in my neck of the woods (Fort Humboldt/Eureka). Homelessness is alive and well here even in a place so remote from the city. It is super important to remember each that every person is a human being, created and loved by God. I once worked a job where I did street outreach and I got to talk to many people living on the street all over my county, and I guarantee that every person has a story and they are all different. They aren’t as nice shiny as our “hard life” stories, but they are equally important.
    I learned the hard way when our business burned down how painfully vulnerable we all are in this world… One unforeseen disaster away from total ruin. Fortunately for us it turned out great, but in that time I learned why for many others it does not.
    I think that the greatest thing we can do to prevent people from ending up on the street is to expand our network of love and care in the communities that we already find ourselves in, so that we can be a safety net for others when needs arise. That said, in some circumstances, the simple kindness of a cup of coffee in the love of Christ can bring more healing to the soul than we can ever know.

    • Allisen, we were to in your area! I nearly reached out to connect at a park with our kids but we were trying to nurture our family.
      Thank you for your additional insight into the lives of the homeless. I was surprised at the desperation as we passed though Eureka, though not as surprised at the plaza in Arcata.

      “Expand our network of love”- I love this. What if we loved like Jesus? There’s a strong sentiment that if we help a homeless person with meal we’re enabling the lifestyle but what if that help, that encouragement is the seed that fuels change?
      Thank you for some practical suggestions!
      Comments like yours make articles better!

  3. Julie!! Wow. What a wonderfully deep, intimate, challenging article. Love, love, love this. So beautifully articulated and referenced. I will have to share it.
    Where I live in northern Manitoba, Canada homelessness is extremely visible. The First Nations people here have been abused and oppressed and have revisited that onto their children and children’s children so that the problem deepens and prevails throughout the generations. Not only homelessness but poverty, physical and emotional abuse, drug abuse and alcoholism. The defeat of a people and generation who are told they are entitled to government aid that only enflames the hopelessness and despair rather than being told they are entitled to live with the dignity and responsibility to choose, act and take hold of a different destiny, the one that God has for them. It is grievous and maddening; and I know it is far more complex and difficult than my few sentences can begin to convey.
    For me the ugliness creeps in when I can identify with Keller’s desire to live in my neat, clean little suburban world with a white picket fence and white people’s problems. I don’t want to walk past a slew garbage on my way to work every morning or when I an walking on a forest trail with my child. I don’t want to see people stumbling half cut into the street while I slam on the brakes so as not to run into them. I don’t want to see people urinating outside or copulating in public or passed out in the centre of the mall while I am taking my seven year old for his haircut. I don’t want to see people staggering to throw a punch at each other that doesn’t connect because they are so intoxicated their aim is off. Or have my ears assaulted with the sound of loud arguing and f-yous as I walk across the parking lot to work. In our small town, I see some version of this and more pretty much everyday. And I always think that the outside of our town reflects the desperate inside of so many lost and hopeless people, homeless and otherwise. So no, I don’t want to see the homeless people but I think the biggest reason I don’t want to see them is because it challenges my heart; I become aware that I am not filled with God’s love for those whose lives are so different from mine. I don’t want to see them because then I will have to learn faith in places that look hopeless, in situations and lives that may never change no matter how many times I pray or buy a cup of coffee or stop and really say hello. How come these things don’t change? How come they don’t get better? These homeless, broken people challenge my understanding of our good good Father. How can these things be God?
    So I don’t like it and I wish it were different, for them and for me. The intereting thing is that these people and this landscape drive me deeper into the mystery of who God is as I search for His heart, His love and His salvation in the darkest of places and find He still is all He says He is and He can make me all I am meant to be.
    I know this is incredibly long and almost an article in itself but your challenging piece compelled me to reflect and respond to something we wrestle with on a daily basis here. Thank you.

    • Your honesty is always refreshing Julie. I’m grateful you took time and space to openly share how this challenged you. Your words surly resonate with many and all of this is completely challenging to me in every way.
      Humbly buying a cup of coffee is such a bandaid to a bleeding heart in need of so much more.

      • I think honesty is one of my gifts, lol. Seriously though, my heart is to be as real and authentic as possible because we serve a real God who does not shy away from our messiness, whether outward or inward. And the honesty with which you opened your article invites honesty.

      • It’s a beautiful, refreshing and challenging gift! This entire article and discussion has me wondering about how much love I actually have. It’s easy to step-in and help and encourage, but the daily grind proves my love may be superficial…..and that sounds like another post:)

      • Yes, it does sound like another article Julie! I look forward to reading it and what you learn as you dig deeper. No doubt it will encourage and speak to many including myself. I believe growth and true love deepen when we have the courage to examine ourselves honestly. And quite honestly, there are not too many of us who can genuinely say we love our neighbour with the selfless love of our servant King. I guess that is why people like Mother Theresa are venerated; they do what the rest of us talk and philosophize about! And yet I think it is important not to underestimate what the Lord does when we love on just one person. After all, we love to remind ourselves that if we were that one lost lamb Jesus would come looking for us. So maybe that homeless man was your lost lamb that day. Maybe he saw in your eyes the love of the Shepherd King and realized he is worth more than just the price of a cup of coffee.

  4. PS – as I was writing you another long winded reply I had a great idea for an article!! What if you (or you, I & some other friend) wrote an article that was a conversation about a topic. Kinda like what happened here. You wrote on a topic, I replied, then you replied etc. It could be a bit more formatted in terms of maximum length per response and total article length. Of course we might just be legends in our own minds so who would read it but I think it sounds fun.

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