While on my own I couch hopped and at times stayed wherever I could stay including some nights on the streets. I stayed in a mission once and swore I would never stay in another. I never felt good about having to hear the preaching in order to get the food. Neither did I feel safe in a mission as a young man at the time. The streets and being on your own gave a form of independence, staying in a mission to me was a way to take that independence from me. It wasn't that I couldn't take care of myself at the mission, I had had to do that for most of my life but there is something about strangers at night and their advances that never set well with me. There were just too many red flags from personal experiences to subject myself to.
It is ironic as I was given an option to stay in a mission last summer when speaking in California. I had my wife with me, and still couldn't bring myself to stay there, it may have been a great mission but it brought back too many personal memories. There was something about those feelings even some 35+ years later that remained with me. It is one of the reasons I have enjoyed giving counsel to some missions and homeless programs in recent years. I am grateful that some things are changing but there is still a lot of work to be done.
In my later teen years, mostly during my Junior and Senior years of High School and a year of college I was blessed to stay off and on at a YMCA Transient Shelter in Erwin Tennessee. I had a room, a hot plate (which I wasn't supposed to have,) a bed, dresser and closet. I didn't like the community shower due to memories of the abuse I had gone through in the years prior. Staying at the YMCA though, and those community showers got me used to getting up early as I would get up to shower before anyone else. I write some about this in my book which is available at Amazon from anywhere from 99 cents to $30 or more depending on if one gets the kindle, paper back or hard back. One can get the audio book for free from Soundcloud.com. It is professionally done and I am very pleased with it. The name of the book is The Keystone Kid.
Now after that shameless promotion. I don't mind talking about being homeless for a couple of reasons. I have had the honor of telling my story to as few as a few, or one to one in casual conversation up to thousands at a time. I don't mind because, 1) there is a sense of credibility I gain among the abused and homeless of which God has blessed me to be in ministry with. They hear my story and know of its truths. In this process I have seen God use my story to help others. While I am far from totally delivered emotionally from my past and memories, I have new memories and a promising future. There is also the reminder of how good God is and what he brought me through. I know this may sound crazy, but years ago I had a conversation with my friend Glen Kaiser from Jesus People USA and Resurrection Band. I was having trouble in feeling loved by God and he reminded me of the passage of scripture that says those who have sinned more has been forgiven more and therefore loves God more. I don't like the pretentiousness that can come about from thinking like this, but I will admit, I love God with all of my heart. I know from where I came, where I am and the promises God has for me. While His people, His church, our society often fails, God never has and I don't expect ever will. I know my story and my past and I know God knows me better than I know myself.
I will admit, when homeless and on my own, I enjoyed the ease of life and not having to be accountable to anyone. I had no responsibilities and a number of Christians were there to help me. I hated not being understood, of course looking back on it, I wonder how much more I could have done to let people know about my situation so they could better understand me? I think a lot of it was the times I was in the situations I was. It was an ongoing issue. I think though that those on the streets or experiencing the tough times think they are responsible for communicating their feelings and experiences when in reality, they don't always understand them themselves and how they came about.
I was homeless and stayed with others the later part of my high school years and then some before, a little after those years. There was one instance while in high school where I was sick and literally had to serve a month or more of detention because I didn't have a parental excuse for the school. One day while in the guidance counselors office during detention they, (a married couple, Doc and Gail Clark) asked me why I was there every day. I didn't seem like a bad kid? I went ballistic saying all they, (the schools administrators) had to do was call the YMCA and they would verify I was homeless and lived at the Y. The Clarks made a phone call and easily verified that what I said was true. They got me on the free lunch program which was a big deal for a kid used to eating meals made either on a hot plate or bummed from someone whose home I just happened to show up at during meal time. The YMCA which was funded by private donations and The United Way was a huge help. Neither can I ignore though some of the Christians and others in the church I was attending that helped. This is how, where and when I met my wife.
There is a lot of things I can reflect on. I would say to those on the streets; as hard as it is, don't give up. Faith and my relationship with Christ was also critical for me although in those early years I wasn't very good at living it out, mostly because I didn't understand it. It was a learning process but one I took seriously despite my own ignorance in the area. I wanted to learn and was blessed to be smart enough to seek out those who lived their faith for advice and teaching. I figured if they didn't live it, they weren't worth learning from. I will also say, I was the one that had to take on the responsibility of finishing school. I look back and consider that a miracle. My education was an important part of my getting to where I am. While many may not think the place I am in now is a good place, compared to where I was, on the streets living a life most can't imagine, to where I am now, this place is a tremendous place that has involved a tremendous and exciting journey.
In closing, in looking back, the things people did for me are greatly appreciated but they were not as important as the understanding that I knew someone cared for me. In this, remember that sometimes the things one does gives another the understanding that they are loved. Doing for others helps one earn the right to reach in and touch another persons life. I am not disputing the importance of the things but I'm saying the things in and of themselves are not the end all to what one should be doing. The need to feel loved and in fact, be loved and accepted has far more value than the things people do. Everyone needs to remember that. I get hugs, voluntarily without asking for them from people I am blessed to do ministry with because I think folks who know me, see me and know I care for them whether they are on the streets or not. I know I can always do and be more but nothing replaces someone knowing your name and telling you they care for you and then you, because of their actions, know they in return, care for you.
For me and my house know, we have gone the extra mile for those we are called to love. We don't just do the things we do for some people where they are, we engage them in our lives and for some, we live with them, literally. We have given our lives, our home, and made tremendous sacrifices to show love and be Christ as best as possible to those we are called to love. I am bold about the services, agencies and churches I like, and those I don't like and think may be doing more harm than good. Why? It is simple, the people I am blessed to serve and speak out for aren't projects, they are family. I have learned from my experiences, not my experiments, I am blessed and see God in the individuals I am honored to live and be with, I literally see them as brothers and sisters, not projects that make me look good.
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