Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Shepherd, My Pasture

      I'm in Kansas City! I've only been here for three days, but these days have been so full and glorious! Yesterday was my first full day here, and when I woke up I immediately started thinking out my plan of action. I was going to go to the store and get bread, make sandwiches, visit some organizations, go out on my own to find people. Before I went out, though, I spent time worshiping, praying, and reading. While I was praying, I started crying out to God, "I want to be your loving servant!" And He said to me, "You can't be my servant until you've learned to be my child."
          That really hit me because I thought I had already grasped that. I know that my God is not a distant God. I know that He loves me and He paid a huge price to adopt me as His chosen daughter. I call Him Papa! So when He said that, I thought, "Woah. What do I do? How can I learn to be your daughter more?" And He said, "Just be. Just be my daughter and receive my love." He told me that He didn't want me to do anything that day.
        I really struggled with that at first, because I felt the need to be productive. I thought, yeah, that sounds awesome, but I can't just spend a whole day here without doing something. I even dared to think that a day without me doing something would be kind of a waste of time. It makes me sad to say that! Because it makes God sad! And it's not that I struggled with not doing because I feel the need to do to earn God's love. It isn't that at all, I love doing! I love volunteering, I love hanging out with the homeless, and I love getting the pleasure of giving them things and meeting their needs! But I don't ever want to see that as more important or more "productive" than spending time with my Father. So I knew, even though at first I was a bit reluctant, that I needed to obey Him and just spend one day without doing anything.  It's kind of funny, because I really did put up a fight at first. I reasoned with myself saying, "Well, I won't go out to organizations or looking for people, but I can at least make sandwiches or write messages on the sandwich bags. That's not really going out and doing something, but it is productive!" But I don't want to ever reason my way out of obedience, so eventually I just gave in to having a day of nothing other than being God's daughter and receiving His love.
         So I spent a while longer just on my own in my room, and then I went to IHOP's prayer room and just worshiped and soaked in God's love and His presence. It was amazing. He really showed me His shepherd heart. He showed me that I was that one sheep that He left the 99 for. Because I was His silly little lamb that thought I knew best, so I wandered off to do my own thing even though I had the perfect guide. So He sought after me. He saw me and was by me calling out my name, but I was too stubborn, weak, and stupid to know that He knew what was best for me and I should probably stick with Him. So He had to pick me up and carry me to the pastures and still waters. He did that for me in April when He healed me and changed my life. When I was too stubborn, weak, and stupid to follow His lead, He picked me up and carried me to the cross. And He did that for me yesterday. When I was too preoccupied with productivity to be His child, He picked me up in those loving arms and carried me into His perfect love and peace.
        "How amazing that He seeks me out! That He calls me into intimacy with Him! How amazing that the God of the universe feels cheated when I put service and works before Him! How amazing that He desires my affection! And He cares enough to pick me up and put me in His pastures of peace when all I'm doing is running. He knows what I need better than I do. And He cares enough to intervene. He shows me the path. He is my Shepherd. He is my pasture."
         And we're sheep for a reason. He could have called us something strong and ferocious like His wolves or His tigers, but nope. We're His little sheep. Because sheep are weak and fragile. Sheep are dumb and easily led astray. Sheep are dependent. And we, as His sheep, have the perfect, loving Shepherd.
        I love it when God reveals more of Himself to me! His love is so astounding and His mercies are new every morning! Yesterday was truly amazing, just getting to soak up His love! I got to IHOP at 10:30 am and didn't get home until 11:30 pm. And I could have stayed longer. Who knew, a girl that once was bored to tears at the thought of church would one day spend over 12 hours at one and still be eager for more. But that's because it wasn't church that I was experiencing, it was God. The majority of my time there was just in their 24/7 prayer room, but 6-10:30 was their Encounter God Service, which is kind of like a Friday night church service. That was the most beautifully, gloriously joyful corporate worship I have ever been a part of. I love services like that! Where it takes three hours to even get to the sermon! God is so amazing and He wants to fill us with joy! His joy is so life altering!
       Just like that song, I really could sing of His love forever. But He wants His family to grow, and that happens when we experience Him, then go out and share Him. So today that's what I did! This morning I went to Hope Faith Ministries, which is an amazing ministry that provides food, showers, clothes, laundry, haircuts, and some medical services to the homeless and needy. Today I worked in the laundry room! After that, I drove around downtown and God led me to some of His beautiful, hungry people!
These are my new friends Eric, Micheal, and Greg:
I got to share the joy and love of Jesus with these guys! And some sandwiches, socks, Bibles, gloves, scarves, blankets, a pair of shoes, and a few other random things (huge shout out to people who gave donations!). They were just awesome people that were really fun to talk with. I loved getting to spend time with them, love on them, meet some of their physical needs, and pray with them and tell them that they are loved by Jesus. These are some of God's most precious children! I'm so glad He shares them with me!
Here's sweet Eric getting some new kicks!
Oh, and here's a picture from St. Louis of me at the Dream Center in the food pantry. At the Dream Center food pantry they have boxes of random donated food items that they call "banana boxes" which are stacked up in the back. I loved it when they said, "We need banana boxes," because that meant I got to climb!
And just a side note, that paragraph that's in quotations is in quotations because it was a snippet of what I journaled yesterday in the prayer room. It might be weird to share things out of my journal, but God feels that same way about you and He wants you to know that! It's so cool how we are all God's little children and I get to share my Papa with everyone and I don't have to worry about Him having less attention or love for me, because He has more than enough for all of us!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Familiar faces

      I'm still having fun in St. Louis! Saturday night I ended up serving at Peter & Paul's, a homeless shelter. The guys there were really sweet! I handed out towels and helped serve dinner. While I was in the office handing out towels through the window, there was a man in there being interviewed because it was his first night. Peter & Paul's is a 90 day shelter, not just a walk in shelter, so when new people come in they have to be asked a lot of questions and have paperwork filled out. I overheard this process going on, and one of the questions was, "How long have you been homeless?" and the guy's answer was, "Since yesterday." That shocked me, because most of the homeless people I've met have been homeless for quite a while. I can't imagine that first day of homelessness: going from living in your own home one day to an old building full of a bunch of strangers the next, having to follow rules and schedules, and being fed meals that someone else decided on. The loss of a home is the loss of privacy and choices, and the initial adjustment has got to be one of the hardest things these people have gone through. But this particular man was so sweet and such a soldier! He still had a smile on his face and was really respectful, appreciative, and pleasant. I think most of us would be bitter, sobbing messes if we were in his shoes!
Here are some of the girls that I served with at Peter & Paul's! They were so sweet and fun!
      Last night I went to a park to give out sandwiches and hang out, and when I got there I saw Sabrahleah! I was so excited! So I sat down with her and we started talking, and then I looked down and at the end of the long bench we were sitting on, and there was Donna, who I had met the day before sitting outside of Starbucks! She's a really cool girl, she's from Australia and hitch hiked there for a while and she's in college here studying Jazz. You meet such awesome people when you talk to strangers! 
Sabrahleah, Donna, her friend (I'm pretty sure his name is Herbert), and me at the park!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

St. Louis!

        I'm in the first city of my second loop: St. Louis! It's been great so far, I really love what I'm doing!
Before I start talking about what's been going on in St. Louis, I have to post a picture of Evalene, the sweetest lady ever that I met on my last day in Birmingham right before I left.
I love Evalene so much! If I wasn't travelling this year, I probably would have taken her home with me! If I had, I don't think we ever would have stopped just telling each other how much we love each other, because that was about half of our conversation! She is so loving and affectionate, I felt like I had known her forever, and we only talked for about half an hour. My favorite thing was she would just look at me, hug me, and say, "I just love the hell out of you!" Jesus already did that, though!  I could not not post about Evalene, though, not only because I love her so much, but after I took this picture with her, she told me to show all my friends!   So here is sweet Evalene, I wish everyone could have the privilege of getting to meet her!
        My first few days in St. Louis, I didn't go to any organizations, I just went out on my own and handed out sandwiches and talked to people. Yesterday I went to the St. Louis Dream Center for the first time. It was really fun! In the morning I worked in the food pantry stocking shelves and walking people through to shop. Then I served lunch in the kitchen. 
        After I served at the Dream Center, I went on my own again to find hungry people to feed and talk to.  I met this beautiful lady named Sabraleah. I gave her some sandwiches and a bunch of other stuff, and one thing I gave her was a Bible.  A lot of people that I meet already have Bibles, so before I gave it to her, I asked her if she had one already, and she said no. She seemed kind of curious, so I asked her if she'd read the Bible much before. She said a little bit. I asked her if she knew about Jesus. She said not much. It was so different than what I'm used to. Most of the time, the people I meet tell me about their favorite Bible characters and they talk to me about how they rely on God, but Sabraleah was the first person I met that didn't even really know Jesus. She was such a beautiful, soft spirit, and so valued, I just wanted her to know how loved she is! So I told her about God and how he loves us so much and is our Father, and I told her about Jesus and how he died so that we don't have to be separated from our Father anymore. Then I asked her if she wanted me to read some of the Bible to her, and she said yes. So I read Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 to her. I just want these people to know how loved they are. I hadn't been to the part of the park that I met her at before, but I'm so glad I did that day!
        This morning I went back to the Dream Center and we went out into the really poor neighborhood and went door to door and talked with people and gave them flowers and pastries. It was so fun! 
Here are some of the kids I met Davion, Isaiah, Asiana, and their brother who came out for the picture!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My big, happy, continuously growing family!

         Today is my last day in Birmingham! It's been amazing, and I'm going to miss all my new friends!
I can't believe it's the last day of my first loop! It's gone by so fast and it has been so fun and life changing. I've been so blessed by this trip!
       One thing that amazes me is how sharing these people are. These people who have so little are willing to give up what they have for someone else in need.  Everywhere that I've been with the homeless, if someone asks for a cigarette, they share.  If I give someone my last two sandwiches, they will willingly give one or even both to someone else that didn't get one. They have so little and are so sharing, yet we who have an abundance of things we don't even need are so stingy. We're afraid to give to people because we don't want to run out of things for ourselves. So we live with our hands clenched tight over our money and material possessions. Yet these people that already have nothing are so willing to pass things on to others in need. It's so backwards! It's because these people really get it. They value life more than things. They know, like Juan said, "We are not less than sparrows." God is going to take care of us, so we can afford to share with others. He sees our needs, and it makes Him sad when we are so stingy with our money or when we want to hold on to our things, because that says to Him that we don't trust Him to take care of us. He's our father and He wants to take care of His children! And He wants His children to share with each other. It's something every parent has had to go through, teaching their children to share. Nobody thinks it's cute when a toddler snatches a toy and says, "Mine!" Nobody thinks it's cute when a toddler wants to keep all the toys to itself while another child has nothing to play with. So why do we think it's acceptable once we're adults? Daddy doesn't want His children to be stingy like those greedy toddlers that don't want to share their toys. It's unattractive! And if we're all honest, sometimes when we see kids like that, we automatically judge the parents. We see the child's behavior as a reflection on the parent's poor disciplining. So when the world looks on God's children, don't make them see a bratty, greedy toddler that makes them think less of the Father. Show them a child that cares more about the needs of others than their own needs. Show them a child that finds joy in giving to others. Show them a child that truly reflects the Father's hear. It really is a joyful thing to do! Giving is joyful! Giving is fun! Giving brings a smile to God's face, and the more you love God, the more He will give you His heart, and the more giving will make you smile! It's a beautiful process!

This is sweet Chuck!
Herbert! Ah, Herbert was such a little angel! He has such a gentle persona and is so appreciative!
Fredrick and his Honey Buns he requested!
     These people make me so happy! I love all the friends and sweet children God has blessed me with. He's increased my family so much this month! All my host families, the people I've worked with in ministries, and the homeless people I meet on the streets all have such a special place in my heart and they really have become a part of my family! These people keep growing my heart more than I thought possible! I love them all so much and I love my Daddy so much! I love how He showed that since we're all His children, I can't look at anyone and see a stranger, all I can see is a brother or sister who maybe doesn't know who their Father is yet.  


Monday, October 8, 2012

Faces of Birmingham

       Birmingham has been so great! I don't have one certain ministry that I spend most of my time at like I did in Nashville and Atlanta, but I've had fun just hanging out with the homeless people in the parks.
       This is my friend Terry! I met her on Friday in the park, she was such a blessing! She's one of the funniest, most joyful people I've ever met! We hung out and talked for a long time. She stays in one of the shelters and she talked to me about how she ministers to the people there. It's so inspiring all the people that I've met that use their circumstances to show God to people and give others hope rather than just being sad or wishing for something different. We can bring God glory no matter what stage of life or social status we're in, and these people do that so beautifully!
       This is such a story of redemption! This man is "H", formerly known as "Po Pimp."  H used to live on the streets homeless, and was a drug addict.  Some people started talking to him and saw potential in him started taking him to Bible studies. H now is sober, has a home, and is a lover of God. He encourages others to allow the change that happened in him to happen in them, also.  The woman is Charlotte, one of H's friends who he is encouraging.
       This is my buddy Micheal! I met him today at the park. He had so much to say! He told me that both his mom and dad could talk forever, and he got their genes! But I so enjoyed listening to everything he had to say. Micheal's a great, funny guy!
        Birmingham has been different from the other cities, but still so good! 
This is my awesome host of Birmingham, Spira! It's so crazy that I just met her at church Wednesday, and now I'm staying with her for the week and I feel like part of the family. It's been so fun spending time with her and her daughters!
        And a bonus of Birmingham is that one of my friends was in town this weekend visiting Highlands College! While she was here, she and her family invited me to go to a movie with them. It was so fun to see people I know! I love strangers, but seeing familiar faces was refreshing!


Friday, October 5, 2012

I love "setbacks"!

      I'm in my last city of the first loop: Birmingham! It's so crazy to me that I have less than a week left on my first loop of this journy. Time has flown and I've loved every second of it!
      I got to Birmingham Wednesday night. While I was on my way here, the person that I was supposed to be staying with for the week texted me and said that she thought I was coming later this month, so she could only accomodate me for the first night. I read the text, laughed, and thought, "Awesome, God is about to do something cool!" That seriously was my immediate thought. Then I laughed and thought, "Tori, shouldn't this worry you? I mean, you are about to be in a town where you don't know anybody, and you only have somewhere to stay one out of eight nights." But I couldn't be worried at all! All I could be was excited, because God has proven over and over again in my life that when my plans don't work out, it just means He has something better for me.
        So that night I went to Church of the Highlands. I got there a little early, so I went in to get a seat and I sat down next to Eric, Spira, and Nadia. I just started talking to them and telling them about what I'm doing. Then I told them how the person I was supposed to stay with couldn't have me for more than one night and I said, "So if you guys know anybody that wouldn't mind housing a stranger, let me know!" And now I'm staying with Spira! I'm really seeing a huge purpose in why God has me where I am instead of where I planned. He always has so much more in store for us than we would have planned for ourselves.
         It's so crazy to me how radically God has changed me! A year ago, or even less than that, I didn't like new situations and I was uncomfortable around strangers. I was especially uncomfortable when I felt like strangers were looking at me weird. And I always needed a safety net, like an escape route if I got uncomfortable or someone I knew to be with me so I wasn't awkwardly alone. Now I revel in all the things that would have sent me into panic attacks! Every day is a new situation, plans are constantly falling apart, I've often not known where I would be in the next 24 hours or even the next hour, all I do is talk to strangers and even move in with them, and I love it when people look at me as if they're trying to figure out whether or not I'm homeless! I absolutely love all of it! Most people try to convince themselves that they don't need to worry. I've been finding that sometimes I try to convince myself that I should worry, at least a little bit. But I can't! Fear and worry are seriously becoming impossible for me! God has proven Himself so trustworthy, I can't worry or fear if I try. I'm okay with going wherever He wants to take me, and this is the best place to be. I've never known such peace and boldness, and it all comes from Him, being totally in love with Him, and knowing He loves me. No one can reject you when you're accepted by God!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Another Goodbye

        Today was one of those bittersweet days that this journey requires! It was my last day at Mercy. It's so sad to have to say goodbye, but I am so thankful for my time with them. They are all such beautiful  people! During my time at Mercy, I grew in wisdom, I grew in love, I cried, and I laughed. I laughed a lot! They brought me so much joy! I love how quickly I bond with all the people I meet.
Tom and I! Tom's a Vietnam vet and he taught me some self defense moves so I stay safe on the streets! haha. He called me his granddaughter!
A bunch of the Mercy crew!
The Mercy mascot, Serius Black!
Dave, Jesus the soup master, and I!
      It was a great last day with them, they're such a fun group! And I can't be too sad, because I still have two more days to love Atlanta! It's been raining though, which is a bummer because it makes it harder to find people because they all go to find shelter. I've had such an amazing time here and I've met so many cool people! The Mercy crew, Shorty, Teddy, and I met this guy named Gabe the other day after I talked with Teddy. I only talked to Gabe for a few minutes while we were walking, but we connected really quick because he's into homeless ministries, too. He actually does a summer camp that volunteers with the homeless of Atlanta. What's really cool about it, though, is that in order to really understand the homeless community, he'd been spending the last few nights at a homeless shelter! I told him I thought that was amazing and I'd love to do that, but it probably wouldn't fly with my mom, haha. It's inpiring to see people like that who take compassion to the next level and really try to walk in homeless people's shoes rather than just giving them a new pair.
       Atlanta had a homeless newspaper called Atlanta Overlook that's gone away for a while, but they're trying to get it back. They had some old issues at Mercy, so I read some of them. Here is a poem called "Unconditional Love" by Marshall Rancifer that was in Vol. 2 Edition 3
"I don't need your plate of food, I don't need your coat, I don't need your shelter.
I do need your time, I do need your hand, I do need your support. Help me to stand.
A coat can only provide warmth, it can't provide dignity.
A plate of food can only provide sustenance, it can't provide pride.
Shelter can only provide protection from the elements, it can't provide courage."
Feeding souls means so much more than feeding stomaches. Don't get me wrong, giving food, coats, and shelter is really important, but giving dignity, pride, and courage to these beautiful people is so much more fulfilling to them. I look at it like parenting. How appropriate after my last blog entry! But if parents only meet the physical needs of their children like shelter, food, and clothing, they are going to have some pretty sad kids. Children need nurtured and told that they are important, valued, and loved. The same goes for God's children of all ages! Especially the ones that society looks down on. Like Teddy said, these are all my children, and even though I love getting to meet some of their physical needs, I know what's much more important is making them feel loved by myself and even more by God.
         My heart is so full! I love the way God designed our hearts so that the more love we pour out, the more full of love we feel!