Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Finish where I started

      I'm in Nashville! It's my last day of Love Works: America Tour and I can hardly believe it. This year has been the most amazing, life changing experience and I'm beyond thankful for every day of the journey.
     I got to Nashville on Friday and my time here has been so good! I love that I get to finish where I started. Nashville was my first city of LWAT- where it all began! On Saturday I went out on my own and quickly found some people to feed and talk to. It was a group of about seven people hanging out in a grassy area and they were so open to talk. They were really sweet people too. The one that opened up to me the most was a guy named Allen. He told me about his background and his family life and some of the guilt he deals with about his drug addiction and the way it's affected everyone he knows. It was good to be able to speak life and hope into his life and his situation. The group talked a lot about the injustices they face being homeless. How they really don't seem to have anyone on their side. The government treats them like pests that need to be gotten rid of or at least out of public view, police officers often mistreat them and don't take their requests or need of help seriously, kids throw things at them shoot them with pellet guns, thugs beat them up, and they feel like a lot of the people in programs that are meant to help them don't truly care about them, they just care about the image they want to portray and the tax write offs. It's insane the abuse they take for no reason. Kids they don't even know come up and beat them, throw things at them, and shoot at them for no reason. And then it's crazy how often homeless people, who have hardly anything, get robbed of the tiny amount that they do have. A lot of them can't ever really feel safe because they've been woken up by abuse so many times. A lot of them go through so many things that most of us can't begin to imagine dealing with. These are people with not many to defend them and they're so often overlooked. They are people, but are often viewed as less than human.
     I worked at East Nashville Cooperative Ministry yesterday and today and it was so good to be back there! Yesterday I worked and served in the kitchen. It was so funny being there again and thinking about how much my life has changed since the last time I was in that place. How new everything was to me then and how many experiences I've had now. It's amazing what God can do in nine months! But it was super fun getting to see some familiar faces at ENCM. Two of my friends I bonded with most last time I was here aren't here anymore, which was a bummer. But there were plenty of people that still are! One of my friends I got to see again was Paul. Paul is such a sweetheart! And it was awesome how he remembered me and he still remembered a lot of the conversations we had! It was such a blessing to see him again, especially since Juan and Shannon weren't there anymore.
     If you read my entry where I talked about Paul my first time in Nashville, you know about all his random treasures he collects, one of which is Homie, his little figurine he's had for about thirty years. Today as I was leaving, he gave me Homie!! It was so, so sweet! It's such a little, insignificant thing to most, but it was one of his treasures, so it meant so much that he wanted to pass it along to me!
     Here's me and sweet Paul!

    So today I head home! It's so crazy to me that the trip as planned is coming to an end! It feels like it hasn't been that long since I left the first time, but at the same time I feel a lifetime away from when I started. I can't even put into words how great it has been, and I know I will keep all of these people and memories in my heart for the rest of my life. And even though it's the end of this chapter, I know that this is really just the beginning. It's the first of many adventures to come with the love of my life, my Savior Jesus Christ. If there's any message I would want to get across to people, it would be to just say yes to God. Saying yes to Jesus and accepting Him into your heart is the first yes, but definitely not the last. All God wants is your willingness and it's amazing what happens when you give Him that. When you continually say yes to God, your life will never be the same. It will be so much more amazing than you ever could have dreamed of. And the best part is, He's with us every step of this beautiful love journey. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The beginning of the end!

      On Sunday morning I began the first day or my last loop of Love Works: America Tour! I can't believe I'm already on my last loop. Time has flown by! Yet at the same time I feel like I've lived so much, seen so much, and experienced so much life change that it can't possibly have only been a year! It's hard to believe it's only been a year and a couple weeks since my encounter with Holy Spirit that changed my life. It's only been hardly more than a year since I gave God my life, and man! It's crazy what God can do with a year! LWAT has been a huge part of God changing my life totally around. I'm so thankful for this journey He's taken me on and all of the beautiful people I've met through it. This past year has been the best year of my life, and it's all because of Jesus! He's the only true and eternal joy, peace, comfort, and freedom and He totally has my heart!
      The first city of my last loop (where I am now) is Orlando. I got here Sunday night, so Monday was my first day to actually go out. Sunday night I was talking to my host and she warned me about Orlando's laws against feeding the homeless. Apparently you can get arrested for it! So that was a weird thought to go into my trip with, but I figured that I would just find people and start talking to them and we'd become friends and then I'd offer them a sandwich. So I wouldn't be feeding homeless people, I'd be feeding my friends, and surely there's no laws against that!
      So on Monday I set out for my first day in the city knowing that I could possibly get arrested (though I knew that probably wouldn't happen) and then not 20 minutes into my time at the park, a bunch of cop cars, fire trucks, and a bomb squad truck come surround the area and tape off a section of the park because there was a "suspicious package" found. It was an exciting start to my time here! It didn't take long for all that commotion to die down. Apparently the suspicious package was just a homeless guys backpack full of clothes and such that he left under a bush. Anyway, the first group of guys I met were Donny, Solo, And Will. They were such funny guys! Especially Will, he had lots to say! He told me about his plans of writing a book, how he got hit by a car a while back, and a bunch of other stories. Will had this little dog named Sonny that he got five years ago. He said she makes him money because people have sympathy for the dog. He said sometimes people will fuss at him and say the dog doesn't need to be outside all the time. And he just thinks, "I'd like to not have to be outside all the time!" It's crazy how some people care more about the dogs well being than the human's. But he sure does love Sonny!
      One thing I liked that Will talked about was how one time his brother told him he was a flash. When his brother said that, he thought, "Yeah, I like that!" But his brother said, "No you don't want to be a flash. When you take a picture in a dark room and the camera flashes, it makes you flinch and it hurts your eyes. And it only lasts a second. You don't want to flash, you want to blaze. A blaze like a fire lasts. And a fire doesn't hurt your eyes, it draws them. Be a blaze."
      Isn't that good? I'm so glad my destiny isn't just to be a flash. Just to meet God and have a "spiritual high" that just lasts a minute then leaves and I go back to my old self. And a spiritual "flash" honestly does hurt people's eyes. It hurts their perception of God. But that's not our destiny! Our destiny is to be a huge blaze, burning bright with God's love! Our destiny is for that fire to grow eternally and never go out! And when you really burn for God, and become totally consumed by Him, people see and God's love through you draws them in!

This is me with Will! You can't see it well, but I'm holding a flower that Will picked for me! So sweet!

      Yesterday, my second day out, I spent a lot of time with a sweet lady named Donna. She is such a funny character! Earlier that day I felt like God was telling me to let go of my agenda. He was telling me to remember that it's never about how much I get done in a day or how many sandwiches I give out a day or meeting any kind of expectations. It's just about loving the person in from of me with no agenda. His timing is so good! He was reminding me of all that right before I met Donna. Donna didn't want any food, but she was so hungry for love and attention! I sat with her and we talked for a couple hours. For Donna, love looked like listening. She had so much to say! She told me all about herself; how she's from New Orleans and she plans on going back soon. She told me about her painful family life growing up. She talked a lot about her late husband Leroy who she really loved and misses. She played me a few songs on her guitar, too. She is so funny about her guitar! Before she started playing, she told me that a lot of people tell her that her guitar is out of tune, but "that's just because they've never heard my songs before." So I was expecting a different sound, but honestly that guitar is the most out of tune instrument I've ever heard. But she swore it wasn't! And I don't think she played a single chord, she kind of just moved her fingers up and down. But I loved every second of it, and so did she! She loves her guitar and she loves her music and doesn't believe a soul that tells her there's anything wrong with it. A couple of the songs she played for me were scripture put to music. She also wrote a song about Jesus called "The Greatest King." Donna's music is a prime example of a joyful noise, and God LOVES it! She really puts her heart into it!
      Donna is such a beautiful soul! And even through all of her hardships (which I know is a lot just from the stories she's told me) she has such a strong faith in and love for God. She really loves Him and wants to do what pleases Him. She also wants everybody else to know they're loved. Donna will sit on a park bench and as people walk by her she greets them and says, "God loves you!" She she just wants people to know that and get His name in their head at least one time that day. She is so sweet! And she is herself no matter what reaction she gets.
This is me with sweet Donna!

      Today I went back to the park I went to the past couple days. I met some new people who were really sweet, but not super talkative. Then I saw Donna and we got to talk for a few hours again. She has so many stories! And again, she told multiple people, "God loves you!" as they walked by. She's so sweet! After I left Donna, I started driving and I found another park full of people! In each city I usually go to multiple parks, but there's always one that just feels like home. Today I found my Orlando home! And it's so funny how a lot of times the parks that are home are ones I just "stumble upon." This trip gives a whole new meaning to "Jesus take the wheel!" He always leads me right where He wants me!
      It makes me so happy when I pull up to a park and I see that's its full of people laying on the ground, because when I see that I know I'm about to meet some beautiful people and have some awesome conversations. When I saw that area, I knew I was going to love it! So I got out of my car and started going around and meeting my new friends. The first couple guys I met were Buzz and Mark. They were both so kind! And protective! I had only been talking to them about ten minutes before Buzz was getting concerned and told me to be careful about going in certain areas. And they both told me that if I got into any kind of trouble, just scream their names and they'd come running. Ah, it's so precious! And Mark was so open! He has the type of personality that you just instantly feel connected to. He reminded me a lot of my friend Juan in Nashville. They both have such open, loving personalities! He told me about his friend Mike that started a ministry in Orlando called Jesus Loves You, Love Him Back. The ministry feeds the homeless and that's how Mark met Mike. He said he volunteers with them a lot by helping feed other homeless people. That's another way that Juan and Mark are alike. Both of them are homeless themselves, yet they volunteer their time to help take care of other homeless people. It's such a beautiful thing! But because Mark just got out of jail, he hasn't been to their feeding in a long time or been able to see Mike. He told me I should go over to the feeding (at the time we were talking it was about 30 minutes before the feeding started) and tell Mike that Mark sent me and to tell Mike that he got out and was doing well. He said by me going, I would be blessed and he would be blessed by me giving Mike his message. So, I went! And I really was blessed by it!
But before I went, I met a lady at that park named Elaine. She is an amazing woman of God! She talked to me about how she's from Alaska and is trying to get back. We had a little bit of small talk, then I went to hug her and she said, "Hold on, let me bless you!" So she grabbed my hands and started praying over me and speaking into my life in a crazy way! It blew me away the words God gave her to speak to me! She told me about her time spent with The Lord and what He told her to speak to me, and everything she said was so perfect! I was so blown away and blessed by meeting Elaine! I'm so glad Daddy God crossed our paths! She is such a precious daughter! I wish I could have had that recorded!
After I finished talking with Elaine, I met a couple other guys. While we were talking some guy across the park started screaming at me, but none of us could understand what he was saying. One of the guys asked me if I wanted him to walk me to my car to make sure the screaming guy didn't mess with me. I told him I thought I'd be fine, but he walked with me anyway just to be sure. He said he knew all the guys in the park and nobody would mess with me if he was walking with me. I know I say this a lot, but I just love how the people that most would assume would hurt me are actually the ones who are concerned with my safety and make sure I'm protected! It's so sweet! While I was walking with him I asked him what his name was and he said, "They call me the hippie." The hippie was such a sweetheart! I loved getting to talk to him, even though it was only for a short time. As I was leaving, he told me, "Thank you for what you're doing. Now I don't even believe in God, and that's my issue, but God bless you for what you do." He didn't want to talk about that, but from what he said it seemed that he knew God was real but he just couldn't understand how He fit in the world he lives in, so he'd rather just not believe. I didn't try to argue my beliefs with him because God's told me arguments don't change people's hearts. Love does. So I just loved him and blessed him with the love of the Father that he's not so sure about. I'm really excited to get back out tomorrow and hopefully the hippie will be in the same park!
       After I left that park I went to the Jesus Loves You, Love Him Back feeding. The feeding went by super quick! But while I was there I got to talk to this awesome man named Earnest. He has such a joyful countenance and his smile just warms your heart! He was such an awesome guy, full of love! We talked to each other and I didn't even tell him about what I'm doing, but he told me I'm a missionary! It was so crazy! He said before we started talking he could see it in me. Man, I just love it when people say they see Jesus in me or through me. That's all I want! I'm not living for people to get to know me, I just want them to see Him and know Him! Earnest was so awesome! He pointed out the area of the park that he usually hangs out at, so I'm excited to get to see him again tomorrow!
Today was such a day filled with joy! Every day is, but Today was just so special! God is so good and His people are so beautiful and I am so blessed by all His kids that I get to hang out with. I love that what I do is so far from a duty or a service or a "good deed." It's my joy and honor and privilege! I am so beyond blessed and I am so in love with my Savior!


         I'm now in Nashville! My time in New York was so amazing!
        My last day was really good! I have a friend that was in New Jersey, so we met up at Central Park to hang out and get me out of the concrete for a while! It was so cool because we didn't go out with the intention of finding people to help or talk to, we were just hanging out. But as we left Central Park and were walking to the train station, we saw a guy with a sign that said, "Will take verbal abuse for 25cents." And once we sat down with him I saw inside of his box he had out for money he had written some things, kind of like a journal about how he was surrounded by people but felt so alone and felt invisible.
        It kind of broke both our hearts and we knew we couldn't just walk by and not do anything. So we went up to him and started talking and speaking good things into his life. Then we saw that he was reading a pamphlet from a Jehovah's Witness about "What Does the Bible Really Say." So that was a great conversation starter! He told us about how he'd been kind of searching and trying to find out more about the Bible. It was so awesome, we got to pray over him and just speak truth into his life and give him a little guidance and help with some of his questions. I asked him if he had his own Bible and he said no, he hadn't seen one in like over a year. So I was so excited, I got to give him my Bible! I think that will be good for him, because since it was my personal one and not just a donated one, it was marked up and highlighted and had notes in it. I think that could help him since a lot of people who haven't read the Bible much don't really know where to start, so they start from the beginning and try to read it from cover to cover and then they kind of get confused or bored and give up. He said that had happened to him, so I was just like yeah, you don't have to read it cover to cover and I suggested starting in the New Testament because that's where Jesus is. It was so cool how he received everything we said. Even if he had questions, he was more than just open to hearing what we had to say, he actually really received it. It was incredible. It was so cool just to see the way God is pursuing Jessie. He was searching and wanting to know about God, so God made sure we crossed his path that day to guide him, encourage him, pray for him, and get a Bible in his hands so he could really know what the Bible really says.
       It showed jhow there's no separation between outreach and everyday life. When you're touched by the love of God, you don't have to schedule time to share it with others. You just live your everyday life and it overflows into every day encounters. And I love that we as Christians get to partner with God in His pursuit of His kids. It blows my mind. Me and Hye walking by Jessie was proof of God's pursuit of him. Every time we talk to someone, we get to partner in God's pursuit of their heart. That's such a privilege and a beautiful opportunity that I don't ever want to turn down. We get to be a walking encounter with God for lost kids. When we talk to people, they should encounter God through us, God in us.
      I love the way God uses His children to show His love for His other children. It's just such a beautiful tapestry that I'm honored to be a part of.