The Homeless Dignity Project (Part 1)

For years, I have had a unique desire to know what it feels like to walk in the shoes of a person who has no place to rest his head at night.

I have a vivid memory from when I was 22 years old. I had just closed my first big sale as a retirement consultant; picture Jerry Maguire blasting music as he sped down the highway after landing his main client Kush. I pulled up to a stoplight and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man sitting on the sidewalk. As I deliberately looked in the opposite direction, I noticed a bill sticking out of my wallet. For some reason, in that moment, I felt the seemingly strange urge to pass it on.

The elderly man nodded his head in gratitude. We didn’t exchange any words at first but as he sat back down I felt desperate for the light to turn green. We both sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity until his mouth opened.

“Can I ask you a favor?”

Hesitantly, I replied, “Sure.”

“Will you please put on your seatbelt.”

I clicked my belt on in compliance, nodded a thank you back in his direction, and then drove home.

Over these past 10 months our family has given out over 100 ‘goodie bags’ to people we’ve met on street corners, in city parks and seated outside of coffee shops. But how much insight have we really garnered into a single person’s life from brief momentary interactions?

Whatever preconceived notions I had about homelessness have been dramatically redefined while we were in Northern California earlier this month. On May 6th, I spent twelve hours alone on the streets of San Francisco. I had $4 in my pocket, a phone (only for emergencies), a granola bar, my diabetic pump and sugar tabs. In that short time, I felt curious, scared, confused, lonely, and exhausted. I am going to try to share with you the scope of my experience broken up over the next few blogs, so I don’t put anyone into a deep slumber all at once.

At 8:15am, I kissed Bex and the boys goodbye, as they dropped me off at the train station. img_3604I was dressed in my best ‘worst’ attire and while I found myself somewhat excited for the day that lie ahead, I was equally, if not more so, very nervous.

I arrived in downtown San Francisco about an hour later. While my mother will be horrified to read the remainder of this sentence, I deliberately hadn’t showered, put on any deodorant, eaten breakfast or brushed my teeth that morning.

I started walking towards the Giants baseball stadium, as I knew it was near the water and figured I could get my bearings down there. While I did have my cell phone on me, I had tucked it away deep inside my small backpack and decided that I wasn’t going to use it unless there was an actual emergency. That meant no GPS, no texting (except a quick SMS to Bex after lunch to let her know I was doing ok), no Google searches, and not even a check of the time.

The only pre-research I had done for the day was to figure out the cross streets of a soup kitchen which was near a “Homeless Church” that I had read about a while back. A pastor from LA had relocated to San Francisco a few years ago and felt called do life with those who were living on the streets.

So with that, I was off.

I found myself very quickly learning the “etiquette” of being homeless. Not a single person made eye contact with me over my morning walk through the financial district. Now that probably isn’t any different than what would occur in any major city, no matter what clothes I was wearing. But what I did find interesting was how people walking in my direction would very intently, and swiftly, move out of my path. In a black and white world, I found myself feeling very gray in the eyes of those around me.

For quite some time I stood in front of a glass covered subway map of the city. I searched for the cross streets where I hoped to receive my free lunch. While it only took me a few minutes to determine the best route to walk the 24 city blocks, I became fascinated watching the reactions on peoples’ faces to my presence in the glass reflection.

I walked by a place called Mercy House, which looked a little too nice to offer a night of shelter to a guy like me, but curiosity got the better of me. I caught the door before it closed from exiting patrons and made my way to an office with a title plate that read ‘Manager’. I tried my best not to startle the middle aged African American woman seated at her desk, as my words trickled out.

“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

She reluctantly glanced up from her computer.

“What do you all do here?” I asked.

Her stern response caught me a bit off guard, “The waiting list is very long, and full.”

“Is there a place around here that I could get some help?” I asked.

After a moment of thought, while staring at her screen, she replied “Housing Authority”.

I waited to see if she might elaborate any further but the sound of her fingers clicking on her keypad pushed me to ask another question.

“Could you point me in that general direction. I don’t really know my way around town.”

“You can just look it up on your phone.”

I paused now as the feeling of not belonging was starting to sink in. “And what if someone didn’t have a phone?”

“I’m sorry I can’t help you, the waiting list if very full.” she repeated.

As I continued on my 3+ mile walk in search of my lunch destination I found myself becoming increasingly more intimidated to even look up from the ground towards the eyes of other walker byers. I also felt a growing pain in my stomach as people cruised past me holding various delicious smelling sandwiches and other lunchtime treats. The idea of asking someone to tell me what time it was seemed like a mountain of a request but I was getting worried as the soup kitchen stopped serving at 2pm. I looked up and noticed a large stone clock on one of the enormous buildings in which both the little and big hands covered the Roman numeral 1. The realization set in that I needed to get moving.

I had more than a dozen city blocks to cover in less than an hour. As I trudged on, the streets became less filled with bustling business goers and increasing more populated with members who appeared to be outliers of the 96.1% national employment figure.

And then it happened as an Indian man limped towards me, staring directly into my eyes…to be continued.img_3608

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Quebec City to Key West, now San Diego to Vancouver.

Hello everyone. We’ve made our way out to the west coast and are about to cross the Oregon border on our way up to Canada.

We’ve had some great adventures over this past month at world famous national parks including Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Sequoia, King’s Cannon, Redwoods and Great Sand Dunes. We’ve also been able to spend some time with long lost friends in Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting serval blogs recapping the following:

– The Homeless Dignity project: my day in the life in San Francisco

– Matty’s blogs #2-11

– The Foundation of rELATIONship

– Costa Rica creatures video

– Feeding 5,000 update

Here’s a few pics from a few of our favorite moments over these past couple months. Miss you all.

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Josiah and Toby’s First Vlog

Josiah and Toby have asked me to post their very first blog. While Siah would like to take you on tour through our camper, Tobias has shared some of his top secret insight into picking the perfect March Madness bracket. I have a hunch you’ll enjoy this minute and 58 seconds…

Also, here are a few pics from our time in Colorado. img_3313Since we spent most of Jan & Feb in 90 degree weather I guess it’s only fair that we woke up this morning to Birdie coated in 4 inches of snow. img_3337But it has been a bit of a rude awakening to fall asleep these past few weeks knowing that a thin layer of aluminum is our only separation from temps that have dipped down into the lower teens. While we have absolutely loved our time here in the Rockies we are very excited for the journey to continue out to the West coast next month. We’ll try our best to keep you updated as we adventure on.

From Josiah, Toby and the rest of our family, we wish you a happy spring.img_3318

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CREAR (to create)

So apparently it’s March already. We’re back in the US and currently visiting the Pick family in Colorado.

We wanted to provide you all with some background on one of the incredible organizations we had the privilege of serving alongside last month in Costa Rica.

As I mentioned in our last post, we absolutely loved our time in CR. The main reason for that admiration was a simple fact that the people there are so ridiculously friendly. We witnessed this kind heartedness firsthand as we volunteered each morning over the first 2 weeks during our time in Sámara with a local non-profit called CREAR.

For the past 11 years, CREAR has cared for several hundred local children in Costa Rica. The typical public school day in Sámara runs for just 2-3 hours each img_2955img_2974morning. And even more alarming is that it’s fairly standard for up to a hundred days, or more, of school to be canceled each year for a variety of reasons. As you can imagine the school system that exists in Guanacaste has very limited resources, specifically in the area of creative arts. And that’s what brought CREAR  to life.

CREAR was founded and is led by a few women with whom we had the opportunity to work alongside during their winter break. Andrea Keith, the Executive Director, has poured her heart and soul into loving the children of Costa Rica. Lucy Barreto was born img_3275in Spain but has grown up in Sámara and has a passion for impacting social change. And Kimberly Eraca, who moved from New York five years ago, has invested her life to teaching the kids of Sámara (she also babysat for our boys last month so we’re personally grateful for her care). These three women work with a fantastic team comprised of both Ticos and foreign nationals along with more than 130 volunteers from over a dozen countries around the globe.

Our family had the opportunity to work at two different week long camps that CREAR puts on each year. There was nothing quite like witnessing the joy on children’s faces as we helped them build paper mache masks, taught them how to surf and played soccer with kids ranging in age from 3-12 . Our two weeks culminated with the CR version of “field day” in which kids from the entire community came together for an amazing annual picnic.

Bex and I had such a blast helping out and our boys absolutely loved joining in the camps, with little Toby being the designated mascot for the week. One of my favorite moments was when our 3 boys and I were invited in to play Pato, Pato, Gonso (duck, duck, goose;). Toby and I sat together in sheer exuberance and anticipation of our moment to be tapped on the head and hear the word “Gonso!” called out. As Toby’s felt the hand reach down onto his noggin, his 22 month old body seemed to lag behind his little legs as he waddle/ran around the circle in pursuit of his tapper. Although fueled by the roaring excitement from the kids sitting in the circle, Toby was unable to close the gap, this time. But I have the upmost confidence that someday soon, he will experience his moment of zen, and catch that pesky pato.

Keep up the great work Team CREAR. You are creating a difference, one child at a time. img_2948

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Confidential: Paradise Discovered

So here we are in Sámara, Costa Rica.

For those of you who have never experienced the rich coast you should immediately click on this link and book your <$290 round trip, direct flight to soak up Pura Vida. For those of you who have been here previously…

…how dare you not let us in on this little secret.

Over the past 2 1/2 weeks we have learned to surf, explored the Nicoya Peninsula, vegan’d up, hiked a waterfall, trained with the local semi-pro beach soccer team, made new friends, and volunteered every morning at a fantastic org called CREAR. More to come on this non-profit in our next blog but we’ve been so impressed how these folks are running camps and after school programs to care for the local kids here in Sámara.

By far the most amazing thing about Costa Rica is not just it’s physical beauty, but more so how los Ticos (Costa Ricans) are so ridiculously friendly. These amazing people are open to Americans, Canadians and Europeans not just visiting their country but welcoming full timers and connecting with them in a way that is truly genuine. The phrase often said here is Pura Vida, meaning pure life. That’s not just a marketing phrase, it’s what everyone says. And what the people live by. Relaxed, in the moment, and with authentic joy.

Not because life is perfect but because that is the mind set they choose to live out each day. It’s hard to imagine feeling more authentically connected to a people group anywhere in the world more than here in CR.

There are however, certainly no lack of challenges here, but many have called this the Switzerland of the west. One of those reasons is that they spend so little on their military and reinvest much of that money into their national parks (27% of the land is designated as such). Also the middle class seems to be thriving much more here than any other Central American country we’ve been to thus far.

On a personal note on the challenges front, so far we’ve experienced a sprained ankle (Bex), stepped on stingray (yours truly), and one of our children has struggled a bit to adjust to our past few weeks out of the States (will remain anonymous, to protect the innocent;). But when everything else is so good it makes the bumps feel so much less, bumpy. As does the consistent reminder of Pura Vida from our friends here in their daily words, attitudes and actions.

…And 90 degrees and sunny with a cool breeze everyday in January doesn’t hurt so bad either.

And with that, I will leave you with a few photos…

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Spouse’s Greatest Joy & Biggest Fear

img_2755-4Happy 2018!

So we finished out the year in good ol’ Texas with some of our favorite people in the world. And while our family was certainly sad to see ’17 come to an end, we’re moving forward into stage 2 of the camper journey with eyes (and ears) wide open.

But before I get to those details, I wanted to share with you two questions that were posed last year that really got me thinking. I’ve had the opportunity to engage in some great convos over these past 5 months with several amazing couples but a few of the responses have surprised me a bit.

So the questions that have been floating around are “What is your spouse’s greatest joy?”, followed by “and what is his/her biggest fear?”. I’ve heard some intriguing answers ranging on the joy side from:img_2911-5

  • the kids/family
  • sex
  • travel/planning
  • knowing Jesus
  • GA/Alabama football

and the fear side:img_20180109_135705-6

  • not being able to provide financially
  • not being a good enough parent
  • not being able to have kids
  • not working hard enough to accomplish goals
  • health (for self or loved one)

While these answers were fairly wide ranging it seems pretty clear to me that all of us marrieds could be asking our better-halves a few more questions in 2018. And hone in on our listening skills (2 ears > 1 mouth ratio;).

Now for the record, I tried to maintain my status as unbiased administer of these two questions and asked both husbands and wives to try not to ‘lead the witness’. But as you can imagine some of the looks I received back (specifically from the wives) tells me that Los Esposos need to ‘man up’ and start going a smidgen deeper with, as my Dad always says, our best friend for life.

With that, here are a few pics from what both Bex and I described as our current greatest joy (this crazy adventure known only as: camper journey). img_2913-1I will however, fall on my sword here as I incorrectly assumed that yoga was the thing that puts the widest smile on her face. And on the fear side it didn’t take long for Bex to accurately describe the thing that worries me the most as not being obedient to God.

Here’s to a fresh opportunity to help our spouse magnify his/her joy in the new year while we walk alongside them as they face (and someday soon, over come) their most daunting fear.

Now to clarify regarding stage 2 of the camper journey. We’ve recently left Birdie in storage and have flown down to Central America. We spent the past 6 days in one of my favorite cities in the world Antigua, Guatemala and are now heading to Samara, Costa Rica. We’ll finish out our time abroad in February with our most loved missionary family, The Millers, in the Dominican Republic.

Let’s make this year the year. Soak up joy. Smack fear. img_2930-1


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You Are Special

Sorry it’s been a few weeks since our last post but I hope everyone is Holiday’d up at this point.

So I was reading one of my favorite books to the boys last night and had such an overwhelming feeling of peace. For those who haven’t read You Are Special, your time has come. I’m convinced that the secret of life can be found in this beautiful story.

Max Lucado does a marvelous job, in this 8 page children’s tale, depicting how each of us is so deeply loved. He reminds us what this life is really all about, and more importantly, what we should be doing each day to soak it up.

If you have kids, nieces/nephews or grandchildren please do them a favor and add one final gift to their stocking this year. The thought of many of you all, some of our nearest and dearest friends, reading these words of truth over your little ones brings a smile to my face.

For those of you who will be celebrating Jesus’s birthday in t-minus 4 days, Feliz Navidad. And to everyone else out there, He wanted me to remind you of something.

God loves you very much.

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