Can you share the love of God with people when you feel like you are in need of detox? That's a question I had to answer for myself.
Today I went to Turning Point Center to embark on a slightly new outreach effort. Our church has been involved with Turning Point for around 20 years, hosting them for an annual Thanksgiving dinner. We also teach a Bible study there on Thursdays and come by on Sundays to transport any "takers" to church.
There are close to 90 residents who live at the facility, a homeless shelter in the Spring Branch area for adults who are 50 and older. It has puzzled me greatly that only 4 or 5 attend the Bible study and even fewer come to church each week. Why was that? I wanted to find out for myself.
I took one of my outreach partners with me, Wayne. We had met with George, the Client Services Director the week before to talk about "possibilities" for ministry. After various suggestions from George that involved our church either cooking a meal or giving away "goodie bags" with toiletries, etc., I finally told him, "Look, we don't have any agenda in mind here. No preconceived expectations. We just want to come and hang out once a week with the residents and see what happens."
After a while, I think George finally understood that this was what I had in mind and I was not going to be swayed. So he conceded.
Fast forward to today -- the day after the night before. My husband and I helped with a lock-in at our church last night; or I guess I should say this morning. We had the 1-4 a.m. shift. So we got a few hours sleep ahead of time and maybe another hour or so after our shift, before I had to turn around and pick my kids back up again.
My brain was fried. Focusing was a challenge. And I had a headache. The same on-again, off-again headache I had been nursing for several days. I can't sleep when I have a headache; and when I don't sleep, I get a headache. It's a vicious circle!
So on my way to Turning Point, I thought to myself, "Well now, just what kind of an impression will I make on these folks if I melt into a puddle in front of God and everyone?" (That's just what sleep deprivation and an annoying headache will do to you.)
Detox. Just like it sounds, it's a process of cleaning all the toxins out of your system. You wouldn't believe the results I got when I googled detox. Apparently I am depriving my colon and other digestive body tracts of a life-changing experience by not taking the various detox products offered.
But I digress.
I felt like I was full of poison this morning. I was worn out. I felt like poop on a stick. I was pretty sure I had nothing to offer to anyone. So when I pulled into the parking lot, I shot an arrow up to heaven (which, by the way, is not as far away as we think...). I said, "OK, Lord, I'm breathing you in and breathing me out. Help me bring your love to the people here. Just lead me into something, I don't know what."
Jesus is recorded as having told his disciples as much in John's gospel. He is trying to prepare them for the ministry they will inherit after his death and resurrection. You might say he is giving them their marching orders. Here's what he says:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." -- John 13:34-35
We don't have to like everyone, but we do have to love them. It's just that simple.
OK, here goes, off to loving ...
"Lucky" met me at the sign in gate. He was wearing an A&M cap. I exchanged a little playful banter with him, telling him he needed to change the sign in form. The order of the various columns didn't make sense to me. Could he change that before I came back next week? He said no and laughed.
Wayne was waiting inside the gate. We wandered into the dining hall, only to learn lunch wasn't quite ready. So while Wayne stood by the door, I ventured toward a guy who called out to me, "You coming to see us today?" His name was Doug. He carried his eating utensils in his back pocket and his cigarettes in his front shirt pocket. He also had a cane, explaining to me he had sufferend a stroke and did not have full use of the left side of his body. What a shame, too, he said, telling me how he used to play the piano for a nearby church. I told him I was there to just hang out. He raised his eyebrows and responded jovially, "Well you must not have much excitement in your life."
I received a similar response from Craig, Henry, Ray and Rudy. Why were Wayne and I there? What was our "real" business? Just what in the dickens were we up to?
I kept telling them, "We're just here to hang out with you guys and have lunch."
On that note, I will tell you that the lunch part of this assignment is going to be the toughest. Going through the line, I stared hard at my choices. Dark grey cream of mushroom soup, day old pizza, overcooked ham slices. "Hmmmm, well I guess I'll have the pizza -- no, just one slice, thank you!"
I made easy conversation with those around me. I confess there is this shy girl that lives deep inside of me and she makes an appearance now and again, but I kept her at bay today. In fact, I enjoyed the challenge of striking up conversations with complete strangers.
My most enjoyable conversation was with Craig, who apparently serves as the facility cook on many occasions (everyone who lives there has to pull some kind of duty). I introduced myself and he said, "I've seen you here before, but I didn't know your name." We talked briefly about my church, then he launched into his various philosophies and practices concerning spirituality. And you know what? The dude made a lot of sense.
I shifted seats when those immediately around me began to get up and leave. That's when I started talking sports with Ray and Henry. Thank the Lord I grew up with 3 brothers (see, my Mama always said I'd be thankful for my brothers one day!) I've watched a heck of a lot of football in my day. We compared notes on our favorite college teams and wished back to the days when the Southwest conference still existed.
When Wayne and I finally left, I saw Doug up on the balcony. I called goodbye to him and said we'd be back. He called back, "Tammy, right?" Yep, that's me. "OK, I'll see you then!"
No churchy stuff, as Wayne says. No evangelizing. No Bible thumping. No prayer vigil. Just simple, friendly conversation that says, "You know what? You're more than worth my time!"
I don't know what this new ministry is. Don't even know what to call it. I just know I felt like a new person walking out of there. (Hey, my headache was finally gone!) What a world of difference a little detox can make...