Today I had one of those moments when everything stops, the background blurs, and the only thing I can see is the person in front of me - in near slow motion.
And it was EXACTLY what I needed.
Today was one of those hard days as an outreach organization. We go out "no matter what".
Rain, shine, snow, cold, volunteers in the plenty or no volunteers, rested, depleted, etc., you get the point. :)
If our friends on the street are there, so are we.
Today we were at The Bowery Mission's Tribeca campus providing clothing, resources, conversation, and a place of peace and safety for our guests for 5 hours.
We were able to clothe 138 people, have 1-on-1 intentional and transformational life care visits with 5 men and women, including extending a quick and tangible dose of hope to a man named Joseph who had become stuck in NYC and will be boarding a Greyhound bus tomorrow en route to an excited momma in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and then another man that is headed to detox!
All great things.
Stats are wonderful and they provide a snapshot into the life and health of an organization... but they miss out on so much of the brutal heartbreak that is tightly weaved into an organization like New York City Relief that serves some most vulnerable people of the largest city in America.
138 captures 414 items of clothing, but it doesn't capture the 2 people, a man, and a woman, who separately walked off of the streets and into a building completely shoe-less because last night as they slept their shoes were stolen.
138 captures an idea of each number being a person, but it misses the fact of what each of these people had to go through to become 1 of 138.
"I am in desperate need of clothing, I came from over an hour away - I called before coming - can I put my name on the list?"
"I'm sorry, it's 12:30pm, we started taking names at 9am and at this point, there are over 100 people on the list.
I can't guarantee that I will be able to get to you at this point. (Pause as the life and color leaves their face)
You are welcome to stay, have a seat, enjoy some coffee and pastries and I will do everything I can do to serve our other guests with dignity and speed so we can get to you before we have to leave."
Some stay and we do our absolute best - often staying late to see everyone.
Others leave, but not before expressing many words as the pain and frustration exit.
"You don't know what it's like, you don't care about us."
"It's because I'm (insert every race)"
"Fuck you. You're evil and God will punish you for this."
And many other words. Painful words that I don't hold against them at all - pain does a bad thing for the human mouth... but it still hurts the heart. :(
138 is a number that misses out on the man that is really hard to have patience with, but all he wants deep down is to have someone to talk with and be heard because he has no one to listen or care.
138 doesn't capture the woman that only speaks Cantonese, but for some reason, she has adopted you as a quasi grandson and now showers you with unknown flavored candies - I always try them. :)
138 misses the intentionality that goes into capturing a room of 100+ in conversation, dance parties, pop-trivia with both imaginary points and my kids' leftover holiday candy as prizes, and real talk of "we are here to help, we truly love you and are cheering for the day that you no longer have to come here, put your name on a list, and wait 2 hours for 3 items of clothing.".
Despite all of that happening. Today. Less than 12 hours ago...
My heart is overjoyed by the words of a prophet, a homeless prophet who in the midst of this, as I was walking around handing out chocolate Easter eggs pulled me in and said with purpose and peace behind his words:
"Brett, God wants you to know that He is so proud of you for how you care for and take care of us. You love us. Thank you. Thank you all for loving us."
I didn't break down right there, but I was close.
"Thank you. Can I give you a hug?"
"He's (God) so proud of you." he whispers before our hug ends and he leaves.
138 doesn't capture that, but wow, I wish it did, it needs to.
Day after day. This "work" is so different. Amazing. Heart-crushing. Depressing. Painful, stressful, successful, and often the opposite of successful.
But at the end of the day, 138 people had the opportunity to feel seen, cared for, and loved - some for the first time in ever. I want this so bad for our guests. This echoing encounter with love - a love that conquers pain, heals trauma and makes the broken pieces come back together.
"The homeless are not a problem to be solved, they are a portal to the heart of God."
- Richard Galloway
I want to experience that truth and peace-filled heart... and more than just experience it and then leave, I want to live in this place forever.
Much love my friends.