(Dedicated to my wonderful team – Jeremiah, Joey, Olivia, Stephanie, Lexi, Allie, Lauren, Kelsey, Erin – thanks for inviting me to a life-changing week. I will never forget our time together and the impact you made on the lives of others. Jesus smiles, not just for what you did this past week, but for everything you will do and say and think towards those who need Him from this day forward. I love you all!)
You can’t spend a week on Skid Row and not come away thankful.
Thankful for new friendships formed and safe travels. Thankful for loving family and friends that await your return. Thankful for a roof over your head and clothes on your back. Inside plumbing and a comfortable bed.
All the prayers that I asked you to pray were answered – for new relationships to be formed, for safe travels, for opportunities to share God’s love and for Jesus to stretch us beyond our comfort zones. I am thankful for answers that far exceeded my humble requests.
But there is burrowed in me, in that deepest place that is my heart and soul, a thankfulness for so many other things.
I am thankful for the stench of urine that burned at our nostrils and greeted us each morning as we climbed out of our red shiny mini vans. The stench that reminded us of where we were and what we were there to do.
I am thankful for the filth that offended our sheltered eyes, littering the uneven sidewalks where these people sat and slept and ate and relieved themselves. A reminder that every day they awake to take one more breath is a miracle.
I am thankful for the things we witnessed that shattered the bubble of naiveté – the selling of things that shouldn’t be bought. The selling of bodies that shouldn’t be sold. A shock to the system that reminded us all that there is, indeed, deep darkness in this world.
I am thankful for the story of a small, homeless child who sat outside the mission, watching adults come in one by one to receive blankets and hats and food, patiently waiting for nothing more than a heartfelt hug. Tears streaming down her face in the arms of a warm embrace. A reminder that every act of love is necessary and life-giving.
I am thankful for the dirt that clung to our faces and hands at the end of every day. A very physical reminder of a very spiritual battle.
I am thankful for an injured foot and the pain and frustration of trying to navigate with crutches on broken concrete. The tiniest glimpse into the daily struggle of those confined to a wheelchair or wrestling with untreated injuries and illnesses.
I am thankful for the sweet heart behind the glaucoma filled eyes. The elderly man who held my hand and asked me to talk more about Jesus with him.
I am thankful for the ugly sound of sirens blaring and police lights flashing, interrupting our conversations and piercing our ears. A loud reminder of the reality of a life lived on the streets.
I am thankful for a hot and crowded mission kitchen that feeds two hundred people every day. It brought the realization that it takes so many hands, so much love and time and effort, to do the same thing differently every 24 hours.
I am thankful for the stinging tears in a Pleasanton teenager’s eyes, the lump in my own throat, that comes with the knowledge that there is so much to be done for these lost souls. So much more than we could ever accomplish on our own. A reminder that we can offer fully what God has gifted us with and trust Him to use others to do the same.
Dirty streets. Broken people. Shattered lives. Profound darkness.
And a minuscule amount of understanding that Jesus did this. On this earth. For us.
We left Pleasanton, but He left heaven.
He walked on our dirty streets. Repaired our brokenness. Healed our sickness. Felt our pain. Experienced our darkness.
But where we could do so little on Skid Row, He did everything on the cross.
Jesus is our answer. Jesus is their answer.
And whether we venture to Skid Row or down our own tame streets, there are people hurting, dying all around us.
I am thankful for the in-my-face reminder this past week. The reminder that whether a person is rich or poor, educated or unschooled, powerful or lowly, we all have one thing in common.
The need for a Savior that forgives and restores. Who offers grace and true life.
I am thankful that a week on the streets will not let me forget…
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” Matthew 25:40