Posts Tagged ‘#lowereastside’

Though cheesecake is heavenly, and creamy mochas divine, I had no idea that I would be dining with God yesterday.

After purchasing a promised Christmas gift, my daughter and I wandered the streets, enjoying the sights of the downtown of the city. At eleven o’clock on Boxing Day, the streets were quiet, yet still festive.

As we crossed a street to walk through an artfully painted alley, a woman met us, telling her tale of woe … a poor sleep due to fear of a lady neighbour … and imploring us to buy her a coffee …

As my eyes looked behind the woman, dressed in dirty clothes, long sleeves under an aqua-colored men’s polo top, hair pulled back into a not-so trendy-looking ponytail, I noticed the more upscale cheesecake restaurant … one for date night, for trendy people looking for organic fare.

Immediately I said that of course we could buy her a coffee.

What followed was two of the sweetest hours, that rushed by in what seemed like seconds.

We encouraged her to choose whatever she wanted.

It would seem our new friend has a sweet tooth, so not just a coffee, but a mocha, topped with decadent whipping cream. Not just a savoury scone (what we shared), but a slice of mocha cheesecake.

She was careful to remember her manners (she mentioned this a couple of time).

Our conversation had to do with how it is what is on the inside of a person that matters. We laughed. We just chatted … like three old friends.

She told us about how she got from her small hometown of Sault Ste. Marie to Vancouver, with a boyfriend (now long gone). Of how she had never been beat up … until she got out of jail. How she had been clean for two days straight.

She told us about how she used to do competitions at her childhood church. That someone had stolen her Bible. Then she recited verses, long ago imprinted on her mind, her soul.

“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:19

I started to say, “I bet I know one that you know …”

before I finished the sentence she was reciting John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

We continued our chatting, went to pick up some toiletries for her (my daughter jumped in to pay this time), then walked her back to her place.

How do I describe her ‘home’? There was table of clean needles in the entry, the dirt, the clientele with heads hanging (life wiped from their memory) … but it was warm, the manager at the desk seemed sincere, the lady across the hall who had crawled into her bed the night before when fear overtook her mind.

We exchanged hugs, and thanks for the chance to get to know each other.

As we walked the sidewalk to our vehicle, we wondered how she, any of them, might ever get clean in such a place, such a life. The problems are so much more complex than we like to think when we sit in our warm, and safe and color-co-ordinated homes.

I shared with my daughter something that I had once heard.

I am only responsible for the opportunities that God gives me to share in His care for his people. If I am asked for money, or food and if I give it, my gift might be wasted … but it also might not, and that is not my worry. My concern is simply will I respond? Will I give as the hands and feet of God?

As Mother Teresa was known to say, “we cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”

I may never know if our friend makes it to three days clean, or if she slept safely that night, or if she will ever remember us … but we will never forget her, she has changed us, for we sat across a table from a beautiful soul, and we saw God in her eyes.

Gotta go … I have to mail a Bible to a friend.

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Early Sunday morning I read the quote (above) by Saint John Chrysostrom. Hours later, as I lifted the communion cup to my lips, his words remerged in my mind.

do I see Christ in the beggar at the door? in the homeless in the park? in the addict standing in front of me?

Typically I would say yes.

I am one who has given money, smiles and run to the store for a bag of food for the beggar, the homeless, the addict. I have included and encouraged our kids to do the same. I have felt a peace that passes all human understanding as one of our daughters has worked with women in addiction and is now on a committee in her community regarding the opiod epidemic.

I am not saying all of this to pat myself on the back, for what I am about to share with you I do so with head bowed low, humbled by my inactions, paralysis of body, mind and … soul.

It was just over a year ago that I was on the Lower East Side of Vancouver. An area rich in the history of Vancouver, BC, and poor in almost every other way. It is a community of contrasts with tourist shops galore, trendy and expensive shops, and tasty eateries alongside the homeless, the beggars, prostitutes, and addicts shooting up right before your eyes on the sidewalks.

As I walked on the sidewalks that day I chatted with a homeless man about his gorgeous, well brushed dog, a toothless woman with a generous smile and a man who I made eye contact with, who said, “God bless you” to me. For balance I also said “sorry, I just gave away my last coin” to a man who was begging, who told me to “F–K off.”

Gotta love when people are real.

It has always been easy for me to see people … all people … as children of the King of Kings.

Then, late in the hot afternoon, walking down the crowded sidewalk, I came face to face with her. She was a bit shorter than my five foot, three inch height, with wild and unkempt hair. She was wearing a romper with spaghetti strap strings draping it over her skeletal frame.

As my eyes met hers …

I repelled.

It was as if something deep inside of me recoiled. It wasn’t fear, for I think that if I had blown a whiff of air towards her she might have collapsed. It wasn’t disgust, or pity, or even sadness.

When I looked into her lifeless eyes I saw a lack of life looking back at me, it was as though I was looking into the eyes of death, but what caused me to repel was my own reaction to our ever so brief meeting … for I did nothing, I felt nothing for her.

I did not see her soul … and I recognized no Christ within her. Something in that moment kept me from seeing her a who she is … a child of God, and I still ache for the missed opportunity to whisper hope in words, or a smile, or …

After we continued to walk in opposite directions, I looked back, wondering if I should seek her out, offer to buy her a sandwich, a bottle of water … inspired by my guilt for feeling no life connection with her. But she was gone, as if she vaporized into thin air.

Over a year later, and I am still agonizing over that brief interaction (lack of interaction) with the woman. I have found myself wondering if God placed her in my path, for some greater purpose, to teach me something.

That interaction has taught me something about myself … that my heart is not yet soft enough, that I do not love everyone, that I am not full of compassion … that I do not, naturally, see everyone as a child of God.

But, what I have also learned is that one poor interaction has caused me to lift that woman up to God, begging that she might find peace from her addiction. I have also learned that I now see her as that chalice cup, contained within her the blood of Christ which gives eternal life.

And, because of her, my communion will never be the same again.

“ … in your journey you will meet broken people, hateful people and people who have lost the sight for their glory. And the beauty of it all is this: I will tell you to love them, to love them deeply and show them how some of us still care. Never give up on them, for to give up on them is to destroy a reflection of ourselves.”
Robert M. Drake, Black Butterfly

Those who give to the poor
will lack nothing,
but those who close their eyes to them
receive many curses.”
Proverbs 28:27


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