Homeless Dignity Project (part 2)

If you missed Part 1 of the Homeless Dignity Project, please click here.

A man from India hobbled towards me and was staring directly into my eyes. It had been almost 4 hours since a person had proactively acknowledged my existence.

His words were fast and all seemed to blend together at first.

“So here’s what happened, I got this problem with my leg, I gotta use this cane but they let me out” he pulled at the white hospital bracelet, which dangled from his wrist.

“So how can you help me man?” he asked.

While I felt somewhat overwhelmed, it was actually quite refreshing to finally have a human being address me as fellow human being. I wryly responded “I’m sorry man, but I was gonna ask you for some help.”

“Whatchugot?” he shot back.

“I’m looking for a place called Martin’s. They give out lunch there. You know it?” I said.

“Ah man, that’s right around the corner.” He pointed just up ahead and to the left.

I thanked him and continued on. I turned down the final block and could see the colorful letters, which spelled out M-A-R-T-I-N ‘ S. As I arrived at the soup kitchen door I noticed a few younger guys standing there speaking Spanish, but strangely were not moving towards the entrance.

As I got close enough to push open the large wooden entry, the words on this piece of paper, stapled to the door, came into focus.img_3600

How could this be?

Is this for real?

Who can I talk to about this?

I tried to conjure up my best Spanglish to ask the guys if there was another place nearby that had food. They pointed me to a different piece of paper tapped on the wall about 20 feet away. This 11” x 8” detailed all the shelters and soup kitchens in the city of San Francisco, along with their address, phone number and the days/times they provided a free meal. In that moment, I realized that all the info in the world doesn’t help very much if you don’t have the luxury of a cell phone to get to your destination.

I started to panic. “Cerca de aqui? Sabes, comida gratis cerca de aqui?”

Unable to understand their response I raced back up the street to the closest bus stop. I had learned from my morning walk that most bus stops had a full map of the city. I started scouring for the street name of the only place listed on the paper that was open until 2pm. Without the use of a phone, I couldn’t simply take a picture of the paper, or even easier just ask Siri to look the place up for me. Without a pen, I wasn’t able to write down the street name, and in my state of dismay I found myself now second-guessing if the street name I saw was McKinnon (which was 15 blocks south) or McKinley (which was 20 blocks west).

I sat on a bench and noticed on the wristwatch of an elderly woman next to me, which read 2:06. It didn’t matter what the street name was – lunch was over.

I took out my granola bar and 2 sugar tabs as I sat there. I felt irritated, helpless, but most of all exhausted.

I decided to go back to my original plan and walk the additional 6 blocks to try to find the “Homeless Church”. Well, if you weren’t aware, there just so happen to be a few hills in San Francisco, and of course, these next 6 blocks were all straight up.

View of San Francisco streets

As I arrived at the cross streets of Rhode Island and 21st, which I had committed to memory the night before, I found myself in a wealthier neighborhood than near Martin’s. Unfortunately, there was clearly no church of any kind in that neck of the woods. Hesitantly, I stepped into a small store and asked the man behind the counter if he knew of any churches nearby that might be offering food. He said that there was nothing on the two cross streets I had mentioned, but there was a brown building 2 blocks away that might be able to help.

Physically and emotionally drained, I inched forward and knocked on the large door of what looked like some kind of community center. A petite Asian woman opened the door about 6 inches wide and asked who I was looking for. After a brief back and forth I discovered that they did offer a weekly food pantry at 3pm on Wednesdays. She kindly invited me to come in and take a number.

As I held my small slip of paper with the number 5 written on it, a stalky man wearing a Golden State Warriors hat walked over to me. He introduced himself as Carlos and said that this place had the best food he had tasted since he was a kid growing up in Mexico. He held up his paper slip with a #2 on it, and smiled broadly. While the community members continued to arrive and the paper numerals climbed towards 100, Carlos and I helped the staff unload the truck and get the various food donations organized in the main room.

As we stood together next to the empty truck, I noticed the same white bracelet on Carlos’s wrist that the Indian man who I had encountered earlier wearing.

“Everything ok Carlos?”, I gestured to the band.

Hesitantly he responded, “Yeah I’m fine. Got out yesterday.”

“What happened?”

“It was nothing. They got me pretty good this time. But I’m fine.” He stated.

“Who got you?” I pondered.

“You aren’t allowed to report it to the police or nothing. That’s just the rules.” He explained.

After a few seconds of silence he continued, “I just don’t know why they keep doing this to me. I’ve been in this thing for a lot longer than some of these guys have been alive.”

He described how his gang would sometimes do internal “training” on certain members. It turns out that this was the 3rd time that Carlos had been dropped off at the hospital, unconscious.

“It’s just the rules you know,” he said as he looked up at me.

And then he said something that will stick with me for a long time.

With water filling his eyes, he stated “I just don’t know what to do man.”

Now, I wish I could tell you that my response brought Carlos some deep insight or inner peace – that I could do or say something that would really help him…

But I couldn’t find a single word.

How do you help someone who has been in a gang for more than half their life, and doesn’t know how to get out?

As Carlos and I moved towards the front of the line I whispered, “I’m sorry man.” Focused on the food in front of us he shook his head, “I don’t know why I told you that stuff man. I shouldn’t have said nothing.”

I skipped on most of the pantry items and ended up with 2 small apples, a large orange, and a jar of peanut butter. As I walked toward the door, Carlos approached me.

“Thank you, amigo,” came from his mouth as he wrapped his good arm around me.

As we walked out of the community center, in our separate directions, I found myself praying in a way that I never have before. I begged God to help Carlos – help him to know what to do and who to trust. Help him to have the courage that he needs.

I also found myself feeling more grateful to the Father for the amazing support system He has put around me in my life.

As I walked back down the hill, I noticed how slowly I was chewing my apple. What a gift a simple piece of fruit can be. From the top of the hill I could see the entire city below, filled with millions of people engaged in their own daily struggles. At 3:25pm, my fear of not eating lunch that day had come to an end. While my stress from the previous 480 minutes felt enormous, the reality was that I would, in a few short hours, be back with my family, have a roof over my head, and a seemingly unending cabinet of food before me. I tasted each portion of my apple in a new way that afternoon.

img_3608-1I descended into the city and retraced my steps through the same dirty, trash covered sidewalks where I had walked just hours before. For some reason, the bodies that were strewn out over the pavement next to steaming bongs, broken needles and grocery carts filled to the brim with packed trash bags of belongings, seemed to have taken on a different appearance. I felt like I was starting to see each human, not for what they lacked, but for who they may be, in the past, present and future.

My hope is that I’ll never have to fully experience the true emotional duress of a person who doesn’t know when their next meal may come, or where they will sleep tonight. Moving forward, I am going to try to do a better job to express my respect to each and every person I meet in this life. I am convinced that dignity is the single greatest item that people on the street are lacking.

While we all may have felt the need to ‘give’ to someone at some point in our lives, let’s remember that sometimes giving the thing that doesn’t cost us a dime may be the most valuable gift of all.

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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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