Tag Archives: homeless

Public Prayer…He hated it and so did I!

22 Apr

As the man approached, my guard went up; while his words conveyed he was simply a stranger in distress, I found myself doubting his story. We were in the heart of San Francisco, two blocks from the water; Ava and I sat waiting for my father outside a Starbucks on Market.

“Good evening mama, could I bother you for just one second,” the man had made eye contact with me and was approaching humbly, his two boys in tow. “I was wondering if you could help me out. You see, we just came into town and this morning both our luggage and our car were stolen. I have called a local hostel and they are willing to accept us for the night, but we need some money for a cab to get to the east side of town. Can you spare any extra change?”

Having lived in the Bay Area all of my life, requests for financial aid from people on the streets is a common occurrence. Are they really in trouble? Maybe…maybe not. Are they lying to you for money? Maybe…maybe not. Yet while his story might or might not have been true, his question was still the same, “Can you spare any change?” At this point in my life, the answer to that question simply depended on my mood and what I had in my purse. Most times the answer was “No,” and I would walk off quickly, a tinge of guilt trailing behind me, hoping they wouldn’t ask again or shout something rude. Other times, I simply ignored the question, trying to pretend I hadn’t heard them or hoping they were probably speaking to someone else (avoiding eye contact is essential in this scenario). And rarely, when I was feeling really generous, I would hand over a few dollars. In my head, this looked a lot like Mother Teresa ministering in the slums.

As I was about to make a decision on how to respond, my dad came out with his coffee and joined us. And while the gentleman re-explained his situation to my dad, I watched his two boys; they were about Ava’s age, five and six. Climbing all over the brick planter box, they appeared completely uninterested and emotionally unconnected with their father’s attempts to get strangers interested in their cause.

After hearing the man out, my dad made a decision and asked; “Can we pray for you and your sons?” my dad asked the man.

“Wait, what…No!” I thought to myself. “The man is asking for money not prayer!” I was repulsed by the idea for a number of reasons. 1. I don’t know these people. 2. He didn’t ask for prayer. 3. We are in PUBLIC. 4. We are in PUBLIC. 5. Did I mention, we are in PUBLIC…in the middle of San Francisco…with cars and business people passing by!

While I was having my own issues with my dad’s “monkey wrench,” it seemed so was our new acquaintance. Almost like a teleprompter, his face displayed extreme disgust. He seemed annoyed at us for wasting his time, and to add insult to injury, now he had to endure some old man’s ministry time with no payoff at the end.

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, all six of us formed a circle and joined hands on the sidewalk of the bustling city-center. Just before I closed my eyes for prayer, I caught a glimpse of the two boy’s faces. My cold heart melted as I saw their eagerness for prayer. These two boys, who just a minute prior were in their own world, trying to avoid their father’s “hustle,” were now completely engaged and anticipating someone doing something different, something that felt like love.

I don’t remember what my dad prayed; I’m sure it was amazing. What moved me (and I think the boys too) was not the words of the prayer, but simply the power of praying for someone personally. Caring, really caring, for the needs of another person enough to petition God on the matter, that was sparing something maybe even more valuable than money; that was real “change.”

“Could we spare some change?” Apparently that was the same question God had for me. Was there room enough in my life for “change?” Could I drop my prejudices and judgments? Was giving and caring for the needs of others something I even had the right to quantify or pass through a series of litmus test for validity?

As the man grabbed his boys, thanked us curtly for the prayer, and moved onto his next prospect, the boys’ eyes lingered on my father. Still in shock, but quietly grateful for what just happened, I began to notice the strongest, most fragrant smell of roses. It was as if a bouquet was right under my nose. As I panned the area looking for flower carts or passing perfume wearers, nothing seemed like a logical explanation. And as the wafting sweetness stayed for nearly five minutes as we made our way to the cable car, it seemed to me, this was a gift from God in acknowledgement for my “Change.”

While my story is great, here’s a real class act!

Luke 10:30-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan

30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”


The Hat said it All

11 Apr

We were in a stand-off.  The only reason she didn’t begin eating the whipped cream off the top of her caramel frappuccino was because I had insisted on paying for it and now had the power to withhold it from her.  Our three bags of breakfast and single coffee drink were held as hostages until we could come to an agreement about their fate.  Visibly irritated with each other, we sat on the edge of our chairs, not talking, in the downtown Starbucks of Newport Beach.

Surrounding us were very beautiful people.  Their outfits were perfect, their hair was perfect, some sat typing away on their laptops intensely while listening to their favorite tunes on their iPods, some read the Sunday paper looking very smart as the ideal couple relaxing together over coffee in the early afternoon.  Everyone looked so self sufficient and successful; there was little need for God here.  Ava and I had come to this impasse only minutes before while we waited in line so I could purchase a breakfast sandwich.

“Hi, come wait with me in line; I don’t want to loose my place,” said the woman now behind me to the man across the room.  I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, “Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed.  “I can’t believe he’s dead!  He was so healthy too.  He exercised all the time and never smoked.  Oh that’s so sad.”  I just had to turn around and catch a glimpse of her; yep, she too was perfect in her tight black pants and eyes lined carefully to highlight their shape.

After I had ordered the sandwich, Ava held fast to the register, waiting for Grant the barista to return so she could order something else.  She and I had gotten into the bad habit of “additional orderings.”  Ava usually brings along babysitting money when we go out so she can supplement my purchases for her with extra items she knows I won’t pay for.

“Can I please have a caramel frappuccino and a bagel with cream cheese, toasted?’  However, not even fifteen minutes earlier I had just purchased cinnamon mini-buns from McDonald’s for her.  By no means am I a health food nut, actually Ava and I are known for “Donut Day” every Saturday morning and “In-N-Out” day on Tuesdays.  Yet even for me the combination of cinnamon mini-buns and a caramel frappuccino for breakfast, was ridiculous (the bagel was for the car ride home back to northern California).

So as Grant was preparing Ava’s order, I felt the Lord say to me, “Don’t let her purchase what she just ordered.  You pay for it.”  As I handed over my credit card, Ava looked at me with a smile, thanking me for what she probably assumed was just another gift for her fourteenth birthday.

One day earlier, she and I had been posing for pictures outside Cinderella’s castle in Disneyland.  It was a surprise road-trip for her birthday.  It had even been a surprise to me!  In the past, we have tried to host her friends for special trips or parties, but this year nothing was coming together.  During a Wednesday morning prayer and praise meeting, I felt the Lord continuously bring Disneyland to my heart and than began to see the word “Disneyland” strongly in my mind’s eye.  I don’t like Disneyland.  Knowing it was the last (not happiest) place on earth I wanted to go; it seemed God was asking me to take Ava to Disneyland for her birthday that weekend.  And while I felt He wanted to make the statement loud and clear that, “She is my Princess;” He also hinted that the trip was going to be a teaching tool for Ava and I to learn how to minister alongside one another.

“You’re not drinking that,” I told her as we grabbed a table right next to the counter.  Her face of joy slipped into confusion and then landed on irritation.  “That’s far too much sugar for one sitting.  You need to figure out what you want to do with that drink, because you’re not drinking it.”  The battle had begun.  There were only a few combinations of moves we each could make.  She could resist, rebel, give-up, give-in or obey.  I could demand, coerce, bargain, back-down or lead.  Neither one of us reacted initially, partly because we’ve learned to think things through before we act and also partly because we were hemmed in on all sides by very quiet, perfect people who would be instantly alerted to any non-conformist Starbucks’ activities.

So there we were, on the edge of our seats, with three bags between us and the fate of a coffee drink hanging in the balance.  After my initial objection, I began to notice a certain weightiness to the situation; like this moment in time was not really about someone’s sugar intake or a balanced breakfast.  There were larger implications to what was transpiring, likely becoming more obvious on the other side of this decision.  I had a dim awareness of what I felt God might be doing, so I stayed calm and hoped that God was at work doing something very big in this seemly insignificant moment.

Two minutes went by, silence.  Three minutes went by; a daggered glance in my direction told me she was not finding any happy options.  “Well, I could throw it out!” She stated this option less as a threat and more out of frustration.

“Okay, that’s one option.  Do you feel led to do anything else with the drink?”  By then the Lord was making it clearer to me that this whole frappuccino ordeal was an exercise for growing Ava’s faith.  Ava is not new to Christian ministry; she’s been raised with the concept that there are people in need around her.  Praying for others on the street and handing out food in Berkeley was something our family did regularly since she was eight, she asked her friends to join her self-made bible study at the age of nine, and most recently she joined us on a mission trip to the Philippines at age thirteen. However, while she ultimately ministered to those brought before her; Ava had yet to step out and feel confident enough to minister to someone through God’s leading based on her own relationship with Christ.

Eight minutes in.  Glancing over her shoulder a second time, “I could give it to someone?  But everyone in here has drinks already!”  Very true, one of the downfalls of being surrounded by seemingly perfect people is that they appear to need nothing.  In fact, they can even become quite insulted by the idea that they could be a “charity case.”  At first glance there seemed to be no need for God here.  Yet, while we had stood in line to order, a man at the far side of the room had caught my attention.  While everyone else seemed engrossed in their own world, this guy sat alone at a table, one earbud in, one earbud out, looking around the room with a gentle smile.   Ava seemed to have noticed him as well because as she scanned the room those two times, she paused on him for a second.  “I don’t know,” she said despairingly.  “That guy over there maybe,” motioning to the same man I felt led to as well.  “But he has a coffee. Why would he want my drink?”  Just as her faith began to rise, she was pulled back down by doubt and objections and she questioned me, “Do you know? Do you have any sense what I am supposed to do with this or who I would give it to?”

“Yep, I think so.  But I can’t tell you.  God is trying to teach you how to hear his voice.  If I keep telling you what I hear, keep taking the lead, how are you supposed to grow?”  Now it had crystallized in my mind.  This silly frappuccino incident was all a big exercise in hearing God’s voice and inaugurating Ava into her ministry.  In a safe environment, with low stakes and my support, Ava could learn to move where she felt God was moving.

Eleven minutes have gone by and we are still at an impasse; our strange interaction is now beginning to make our table neighbors slightly uncomfortable.  The woman next to me would quickly glance our direction and stare only long enough to assess the situation, but not long enough to call attention to herself.

Thirteen minutes in; I was impressed with Ava’s willingness to hear me out, but I could see she was getting to the end of her patience.  Just then, in walks another local carrying his daughter on his hip.  As he makes his way to the line, he looks around the room and singles out the same man that has caught our attention by the window sitting alone.  “Hey, Robert!”  He smiles and adds, “It’s good to see you.”  Robert raises his hand and waves, very receptive to the attention.

“Ava, so what do you think?  That guy by the window has been highlighted to you several times; do you think he could be someone God is pointing you to?”  I was trying to encourage her to connect some of the “God dots,” but still wanting to let it be her decision.  The reason this exercise was so timely and important was that in less than two months Ava and I would be leaving for our second mission trip to Sierra Leone.  While I have been called upon to help spiritually lead the trip, it has recently been brought to my attention that God’s heart is for Ava to come along side me as a spiritual partner in ministry, and eventually pass me by.  Within this context, the wait, struggle and uncertainty of the moment, the decision of the fate of the frappuccino was well worth gaining a spiritual partner to minister alongside with in Sierra Leone.

“Alright fine!”  Apparently the evidence was enough to cause Ava to be willing to offer her coffee drink to the man by the window. “I guess we can go over there and see if that guy wants the frappuccino.  But you need to go first.  I’ll go with you, but you need to ask him.”

“No,” I responded.  “That’s the whole point.  You need to be the one moving to the front, hearing God’s voice and acting on it.  I’m here as support.  You walk over there and I’ll be right behind you.”  I waited for her to move, and then followed her over to his table.  Now according to Ava, she was still worried about if and how she was going to be received by this man.  She was pretty sure that he was going to be uninterested in receiving her frappuccino (for the record, it had been un-touched with a straw and looked fresh from the barista…fifteen minutes earlier).  Interestingly, Ava said that when she finally approached him, she just then noticed his black hat that stated in big block white letters, “JESUS.”  In block red letters below it read, “Is My Boss.”  Jesus was literally written across his forehead!  You don’t usually get any clearer sign than that.  She admits to feeling a little stupid for questioning God about whether or not this man by the window would be receptive to her gift; what apparently had been a struggle for her all along, had never in reality existed.

“Excuse me, but would you like this caramel frappuccino?”  That was all she got out.  With compassion in his eyes, this man looked straight at Ava and began to let out moans and grunts of gratitude.  He was mute.  Formless words poured out of his mouth, but his heart emanating out of his eyes told the whole story.  His loud groans fluctuated with emotion while his hands gave the most beautiful prophetic blessing over Ava.  Repeatedly he made the Sign of the Cross, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, over Ava’s head and chest.  He then mimed and groaned how his heart was so full because of her gift.  He motioned to his cup, pointing to the bottom and how it was almost all gone.  He clutched his chest saying how precious it was to receive her drink, how full and loved it made him feel.  He then circled her head with his hand forming a halo and then gestured that the Lord had been with her since she was a little child and he was going to grow her into a powerful woman of God.

It was about this time when I began to cry.  This man’s compassion and love was so tangible.  To think we had ever questioned going over to him.  To think that we thought we were the ones bringing the blessing?  To think that we might have missed this moment altogether if Ava had rejected this test? To think that I cold have been more focused on calories then on the larger goal?  To think that all we had to do was spend a few minutes listening for God’s voice? So many near misses along the way, and yet so right on target.

We hugged our new friend Robert (I found out his name by calling the store the next day), and headed out to the car.  We were both stunned by how the whole thing had played out.  I feel strongly that God wanted to bless Ava with a Disneyland birthday, after all, she’s his princess.  However, the whole trip could very well have been about Robert.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to find out that God’s main reason for our road-trip was this random half-hour encounter at a small Starbucks in Newport Beach to meet Robert the mute believer who radiates Christ’s love, and Disneyland was just the bait.Image