Christmas of a different kind

My alarm went off at 4AM. For the first time in my entire life, 38 years, I was awake at 4AM on Christmas morning. I was also completely alone for the first time, with the exception of my cat, Mr. Glitter Sparkles.

Typically Mr. Glitter Sparkles wakes me up demanding a morning treat, but this was too early for even him.

I groaned. It was Christmas morning, and I groaned. I rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom to get ready for what would be a really long Christmas day. I threw on my Rescue Mission t-shirt, some jeans, and boots, did my hair and makeup, and headed out the door by 4:30.

Fort Wayne was a ghost town. It was dark and cold, but there wasn’t any snow. I needed Starbucks badly, but even on a regular day they wouldn’t be open this early, so I was definitely out of luck. I put on some Christmas music hoping to lift my mood, and even Andy Williams and his “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” didn’t do it.

I love my job. I love The Rescue Mission and what it does. I love that God uses us to help homeless people find and follow Jesus and change their lives for the better. But on Christmas morning, I just wasn’t feeling it. I wished I was sound asleep in Florida at my parents house like usual and not due to wake up for another four hours.

After dropping my things off in my office, I went to the lobby to greet the reporter who would be interviewing me live on their morning news show. I put on my happy face and greeted him with very convincing, “Merry Christmas!” He was genuinely filled with joy, which was slightly irritating at the time, but I didn’t let my disdain show.

“Well, I’ll do my teaser here in a few minutes. I won’t need you until around 5:40,” he said.

“Sounds great,” I replied. “I’m just going to go do some work in my office until then.”

Going back to my office meant trekking through the courtyard again, since my regular route would have been through the chapel, and the chapel was filled with sleeping homeless men. But I as I turned to head through the courtyard, I saw something I didn’t see when I came through before. I glanced down the hallway and saw homeless men sleeping on cots. As we often do, especially in the winter, we had run out of room in the chapel, and men were sleeping in the hallway.

IMG_5462Getting up at 4AM on Christmas morning suddenly didn’t seem so bad. Working on Christmas day suddenly felt like nothing. I stood and stared at the sleeping men in the dark hallway for awhile. Being homeless at Christmas. Sleeping on a cot in a hallway at Christmas. I grabbed my phone to capture what I saw, as I knew it would be a pivotal moment in the day for me.

As I walked outside into the courtyard, I began to cry. I felt super selfish for hating my Christmas morning. I woke up in my own house, in my own warm bed. I drove my own car to my job, which I love, that gives me a paycheck every two weeks. I had so much to be thankful for.

I pulled myself together by the time I went back up front for my live interviews.

“I’m here in downtown Fort Wayne at The Rescue Mission with their Director of Marketing & Donor Engagement, Natalie Trout,” the reporter said into the camera as he began the interview.

With a cherry disposition, I spoke with the reporter about how we were planning to give away more than 3,000 Christmas meals between the hours of noon and 3pm. All were welcome, whether homeless or not.

I had a few hours between my interviews and when I needed to be back at work to take photos at The Rescue Mission’s Christmas dinner and to tend to any news stations who might show up. I ran home, had my boyfriend meet me there, made some cinnamon rolls, ate breakfast, and then headed back to The Rescue Mission at around 11AM. I planned to be done by 1PM, at which time my boyfriend and I would go out for a delicious Chinese dinner.

Things did not go as planned. While the Christmas meal was turning out to be a huge success, my bad attitude somewhat returned when one particular reporter was hanging around longer than I would have liked. The other two news stations had finished, and all I was waiting for was for this one reporter to leave, so I could leave and spend the rest of the day with my boyfriend.

It was almost 2:30PM when I thought the reporter was finishing up.

“I’d like to talk to one more person,” he told me. “Maybe someone with a really great story of why they are eating here today.”

I text my boyfriend: “Who knows when I’ll be out of here. This reporter won’t leave!”

Noel, my boyfriend, was very understanding and patient. Chinese food would have to wait until I could leave work.

48427577_2175054049181395_2107974123585011712_nThe reporter ended up interviewing a man probably in his early 60’s. He was by himself, and appeared to be talking a lot to the reporter. I was thrilled, hoping this meant he was about to wrap things up. I was right.

“Natalie would you mind sitting across from him and chatting with him while I shoot some b-roll?” the reporter asked me.

“Sure,” I said, and I sat down across from the man and introduced myself. He said his name was Jerry.

“Have you been here before, Jerry?” I asked him, as the reporter walked around us taking video.

“Oh yes,” Jerry said. “I love the Mission. Many years ago I stayed here. Now I come back for holiday meals because I have nowhere else to go. But mainly I come here because there’s always someone who is willing to listen. I don’t have anyone in my life who will just sit and listen, but there’s always someone at The Rescue Mission who will.”

Then, the reporter tapped me on the shoulder, “I got what I need, Natalie, so I’m going to head out. Thanks for everything!”

With the reporter gone, I was free to go. But here was this man across from me, who just wanted someone to listen. I text Noel and told him I’d be even longer, that I had something important to do.

Jerry and I talked and talked. He told me that at his lowest point, he wanted to end his life. He drove onto the interstate, parked his car, and got out with intentions of walking into traffic. He said God then spoke to him and asked him if he really wanted his 11-year-old daughter to hear that her father was scraped off the highway. Jerry’s answer was, “No.”

The man I talked with wasn’t homeless. He has a home, a job, and a car. Jerry was just very lonely. He came to The Rescue Mission to find someone to listen, and God put me in his path. Although it meant putting off Chinese food even longer, I was incredibly thankful that for the second time on Christmas Day, God reminded me of what Christmas was all about – love for God and love for others.

It was a strange Christmas. It wasn’t what I imagined or hoped for. It was so much better. God reminded me of what’s important, and I hope to carry that with me for the rest of 2018 and into 2019.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
Luke 2:14

This love thing goes both ways

heart-700141_640She’s at it again. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to her as “Alice.”

Alice is a nightmare, especially for someone in charge of the image of the organization she targets.

Alice, one of the loudest naysayers of the nonprofit I work for, got on her pedestal last week to alert her friends and family that she doesn’t support the work we do. Instead of seeing us as a solution to helping the homeless, she sees us as a problem.

You see, although the organization I work for has worked with the homeless for more than 100 years in our community, she’s read some articles about homelessness. She knows best. Not only that, but she loves old buildings. It appears she loves them more than people.

I shouldn’t care as much as I do, but I do. It makes my blood boil. The way she inaccurately portrays my employer, the way she talks about homeless people as if they were animals, the way she has not an ounce of compassion for the homeless and talks about how they “infest” downtown as if they were rodents… it kills me.

Where is her grace? Where is her compassion? Where is her heart? Does she not know that Christ was VERY clear about loving people, ESPECIALLY the poor?

And then it hit me.

If Christ truly calls us to love everyone, that means I have to love HER. I have to show HER grace. I have to have compassion for HER.

Love and grace are great when people give it to us. But it sure is a pain when we have to dish it out for someone else, someone we feel doesn’t deserve it.

From what I’ve been told, Alice is a Christian. “Yeah right,” is my first thought. How can that be? She claims to love Jesus, but yet she’s running around talking trash about a Christian organization that helps the homeless?

After I had that thought, I almost literally felt the Holy Spirit tap me on the shoulder and ask me about a few un-Christian-like things in my life. And yet I claim to be a Christian.

The thing is, Alice doesn’t deserve love and grace from me. But I also don’t deserve love and grace from Christ, and yet He gives it to me every single day. Every. Single. Day.

If I’m going to go around preaching that we’re to love our neighbors, ALL our neighbors, and if I openly accept God’s love and grace for me even though sometimes I’m a terrible Christ follower, I have to love Alice. I have to have compassion for her.

Ugh. That’s just how it is. We’re supposed to be a representation of Christ. Christ loves Alice. I can’t say that this will happen overnight. I’m still human, I still have human emotions that take over when Alice, and a select few others, say terrible things about the people in this community facing a homeless crisis.

But I’m going to try to show Alice some compassion.

This love thing goes both ways. It means loving the people we don’t want to love. It means Alice should love the homeless. It means I should love Alice.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

 

 

 

My first year working for a homeless ministry…

dsc_0015bI still can’t believe I almost didn’t take this job. The only reason I was hesitant was because I had been at my previous job for only 8 months. Had I not listened to God’s obvious calling, I wouldn’t be at the greatest and most fulfilling job I have ever had. Yes, it took until I was 35 to find it.

It’s now been one year that I have been the Marketing Director of The Rescue Mission in Fort Wayne, Ind. I know that no job is perfect. But to be honest, I believe that this is as good as it gets. It’s the first Christian organization I’ve worked for where they actually practice what they preach- love, grace, and mercy, all while also having a firm foundation in TRUTH. I didn’t think it was possible.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned this past year, my first year working for The Rescue Mission, whose mission is: “To provide, through the power of Jesus Christ, a home for the homeless, food for the hungry, and hope for their future.”

14650670_10153778882461573_435273107762062935_nLesson #1: Christian women can be nice, non-judgmental, loving people

Seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? While I’ve known many nice, non-judgmental, loving Christian women, I’ve known far more who weren’t, especially in the workplace. My faith has been completely restored in fellow Christian women this year. Don’t get me wrong, we do NOT always agree. There have been tough conversations. Women have hurt my feelings. I have hurt other women’s feelings. But we have the conversations that are necessary to move past them. I work with the most phenomenal women. I couldn’t ask for better women to have in my life, and the example they set has improved my faith and my walk with God.

Lesson #2: Everyone thinks they’re an expert on homelessness

20170113_142108-1New ideas can be groundbreaking. But they can also do more harm than good. I’ve learned this year that everyone has an idea of how to “solve” homelessness. These ideas typically come from people who haven’t even spent any time with the homeless. The Rescue Mission, on the other hand, is on the cutting edge of everything related to helping the homeless. We feed them. We give them shelter. We welcome them into our programming and show them how to find real change. But most importantly… we talk to them. Every single day. Our organization has been doing so for more than 100 years. And yet random people in the community think they have better ideas on how to help the homeless.

Lesson #3: Enabling is everywhere

real-change-logoI learned early on that enabling the homeless to stay homeless is very prevalent in our society. I sort of understood, but didn’t fully understand until I had a conversation with one of our residents.

This gentleman, in his 50’s, explained to me that people in town were keeping him homeless. Because they gave him everything he needed, he could easily stay homeless without being held accountable for anything. He could drink. He could do drugs. He didn’t have to get a job. Luckily, someone from The Rescue Mission offered him REAL CHANGE, and he entered the program. He told me, “With those people giving me everything I needed, I would have been homeless for the rest of my life.”

It’s tough to hear, especially when people’s hearts are in the right place, but it’s true. The whole idea of “toxic charity” and “when helping hurts” is a real issue. If you want to help the homeless, direct them to a place where they can change their lives. Don’t put a bandage on the problem. Don’t keep them homeless.

Lesson #4: Because of the nature of our clientele, there will be heartbreak

“Relapse is part of recovery,” they told me early on here at The Rescue Mission. Still, that didn’t make it any easier when people you grow to love and have so much hope for end up relapsing. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

But the worst heartbreak of the year, for me, was when one of our older residents relapsed. He had fought alcohol addiction from a very young age. He lost everything because of it. He had been sober for two years at The Rescue Mission, and for some reason, one day he just left and didn’t say goodbye to anyone. This was heartbreaking for many of us. He was so caring and loved the Lord. But he left. And he relapsed, and it lead to his death.

I didn’t expect this kind of heartache when I started working here. In one year we had three memorial services for men who died. But what I do know about those men is that they loved Jesus. I know that each of them is now with Him. Their battles with mental illness and addictions are over. Praise God for that!

Lesson #5: God works miracles in the homeless

fb_img_1467557409741Earl. Kha. Doug. Samantha. Shannon. Robert. Aimee. Jennifer. Kurt. Derricia. David. Renee. Dave. Mary. Rose. Demetrius. Vickie. Megan.

Those are the names of either residents who have completed the long-term program at The Rescue Mission in the past year, or residents who have told me their stories for newsletters and videos. And let me tell you, to put it bluntly, these people have been through hell.

For some of them, ending up homeless came because of addiction. For others, homelessness was due to mental illness. And still for others, it was devastating trauma that left them homeless. Some are in their 20’s, others in their 60’s. But their stories, as brutal and heartbreaking as they are, have taken a turn. They each ended up at The Rescue Mission. They each learned a new way to live life with a faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe in miracles. When I see the transformation in these people, I am blown away that God is so powerful that He can take a woman who was once sexually abused by her own father and make her into an amazing mother with a job and a house. He took a heroine dealer and user and made him into a young man on fire for God. He took a Vietnamese refugee, who spent 20 years in prison for attempted murder, and made him into one of the hardest and most ethical workers at a factory in town.

staff-collageI can’t wait to see what next year brings. I know there will be heartache. I know that 4th quarter (our “Super Bowl” season) will make me want to tear my hair out. I know that I’ll probably grumble when our CEO sends me a text about work before 8AM on a Saturday. But I also know that God is using us to do His work, and I have never felt more purpose in my life.

I don’t have a husband, or children, or even a cat or a dog. But thank you, God, for my career and place of employment. I have never been so fulfilled.

“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”
1 Chronicles 16:11

The homeless in our hearts

Sometimes I feel “homeless.”

Especially going into the holidays, I hear a lot of people talk about going “home.” They’ll visit their parents in a familiar house with familiar sights and smells, and it will offer a sense of comfort throughout the holiday season.

I have no home. Before the age of 18, we had lived in six houses and four different cities. Dad’s jobs moved us around a lot, and I didn’t really know any differently. Since then, I have changed my address 13 times, including two countries, three states, two dorms, and eight apartments. I am 34 and I’ve lived in 19 different homes. For me, home HAS to be “where the heart is,” since I technically have no physical childhood home to return to.

Although I sometimes feel “homeless,” I really have no idea what it’s like to not have a place to call home each night.

This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Never before has this week been so important to me as it is this year. Twice a week I stare into the faces of the homeless around Fort Wayne. I know them. I talk with them. I laugh with them. They are real people. My heart has never hurt more for American homeless people.

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Breakfast is ready to be served at the Rescue Mission!

I’ll be honest. Some days when my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and I have to head into the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission to serve breakfast, it’s the last thing I want to do. But I never, ever regret going. The people are so thankful for a hot meal, and I know that a lot of them are counting on me to be there. There’s one particular man who always spots me from down the hall, smiles, and yells, “Natalie’s here!”

But sometimes, when my bed is warm, and I know I could actually sleep in another few hours… it’s tough to get up.

Why do I still go? It’s simple. Obedience.

I remember being on a boat in Lake Victoria with some friends last year, heading out to the monthly jigger clinic we helped run in a village. The first few times we went, we took lots of pictures on our long journey to the village. But by this time, probably our 7th time going, we were less than enthusiastic.

“It’s all about obedience now,” my friend said to me. “It’s not exciting anymore. We do it because it’s what God wants us to do. It’s the right thing to do.”

She was so right. It IS the right thing to do, whether it’s exciting or not.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Some homeless people are drunks and drug addicts. Many of them are sober. Most of them are super friendly and incredibly thankful for a hot meal. Their stories are incredible. Some have always lived a life on the streets. Some had it all- a house, cars, jewelry, swimming pool- and then lost it. But God doesn’t tell us what type of poor people to help, He simply says to help.

We need to help these people, not because they’re cluttering our streets and sleeping under bridges, but because God commands us to. So what can you do to help? There are three main ways:

Volunteer your time
Regularly. Not once a year. Not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but regularly. Most shelters literally have to turn volunteers away on holidays. That’s not when they need your help. If all you can do is once a month, then at least that’s a start. Sign up with your local shelter to serve a meal with your family or church group. Or do what I do, if you have to, and just go by yourself. Like anyone would, the people love seeing a familiar face, instead of random volunteers. By volunteering regularly, that is how you form relationships. That is how you make a difference.

Financial Support and Donations
I don’t want to bash national homeless organizations, but I highly suggest you invest your money in local efforts to help the homeless. Call your local shelters and rescue missions and see what they need. Maybe it’s just money to help pay the bills. I know the Rescue Mission here in town is in need of more cots, as the winter season approaches. Each cot is $65, and they need 46 more. Find out what the needs are, and contribute what you can.

Pray for the homeless
Their lives are a constant struggle. Whether or not it is their fault that they are in that position doesn’t matter. We have to pray for these people, who are loved no less by Jesus than He loves anyone else. Let’s keep the homeless in our prayers and certainly in our hearts.

If you need a little more motivation to help the poor in your community, don’t turn to blogs, Facebook, and motivational books. Turn to THE book and see what God says about it:

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
be he who is generous to the needy honors Him.”

Proverbs 14:31RealChangeBox

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”

Proverbs 28:27

“A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”

Proverbs 29:7

“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

Isaiah 58:7

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
Isaiah 58:10

The missing person I hope is gone for good

It might be time to put out a missing person’s report… for myself. The girl who got on a plane a little more than a year ago and moved to Uganda is no longer the same. I’m not sure where she went, nor was there anything wrong with her, but I’m glad she’s gone.10427690_10152090158296573_1541129307916478648_n

At first I wasn’t sure how I had changed. But as I was home back in America longer, it was pretty obvious. Finances changed,  friendships changed, priorities changed, and my overall sense of peace and contentment with life changed.

Financially

The great thing about living in a third-world country for a year was that I returned to America and decided there were a lot of luxuries I could do without. Starbucks, the mall, pedicures, makeup, television and even flat-ironing my hair were a part of my past.

If you know me, you know this isn’t even remotely true. I’m still the first to jump at a trip to Starbucks, and I do my hair and makeup pretty much every day. I love shopping, Target, Macy’s, and fancy perfumes. The difference is, now I appreciate them so much more. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t look around me and think, “Thank you God! I have so much!”

Sure, I have changed my spending habits. I no longer have to have a Coach purse (I sold them ALL before moving to Uganda- there were lots), and I’m satisfied buying my jewelry at places like Target instead of from Premier Designs. But I’m not going to start doing all my shopping at Goodwill and going Starbucks-free because of my experience in Africa. That’s just not the type of impact it had on me.

Friendships

There were a few friendships I was really excited to come home to. I had warned some of my friends that I had changed, but apparently some of them weren’t ready for those changes. While it breaks my heart to see some of my friends make poor choices, like cut out someone like me who is a positive person to have around, it’s not my job to try and “save” anyone from making mistakes.

I’ve returned from Africa realizing I’m worth more than being anyone’s doormat. I’m not the girl who sits back and lets people walk all over her. Loyalty always has been and still is one of the very top things I value in friendship. When that loyalty was broken in the past, I would feel very hurt but probably let it slide. Not anymore. Life is too short to let some things “slide.” If that changes the degree of some of my friendships, so be it. I’ll never stop loving certain friends, I’ll never stop calling them “friend.” We simply have less in common now and aren’t as close. I’m pretty sure that’s just a part of life.

fortwaynerescuemissionPriorities

Volunteering was something I did on occasion before I moved to Uganda. I always wanted to make it a priority, but for some reason I never went through with it. Since coming home, I have felt an incredible tug at my heart to volunteer on a regular basis. I feel like I’m just not me if I’m not doing something to help those who need it. So, on Wednesday and Friday mornings I head to the Rescue Mission at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast to the homeless. Yes, it’s early. It’s hot and stuffy in there, and I leave smelling like sausage, but the smiling faces of the homeless keep me going back.

I’ve also added working out and reading/learning to my priority list. There’s so much to learn about the world and God, and I believe we should take the time to do so.

My Disposition

I’m different. Maybe it isn’t noticed right away, but I’m different. Things don’t bother me like they once did. I’m not chasing after things or people I know God doesn’t want me pursuing. I am… content. With what I have.

This changes everything.

It changes the way I treat people. It changes the way I see myself. It changes the way I see my future. It changes the way I handle hurt. It changes the way I generally feel on a daily basis. I am content. There is nothing else I “need” to be happy.

These changes didn’t happen overnight. I was nothing like this while I was in Uganda. Uganda was almost like a detox for my soul, and I didn’t reap the benefits of it until I came back to the United States. It reminds me of this verse from Galations:

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Galations 6:9

I might seem like the same Natalie I was before I lived in a third-world country. The outside of me hasn’t changed. But know that on the inside, I’m completely brand new. God used Uganda to do so many crazy and unexpected things in my life and in my heart. I will thank Him every single day for the hurt, fear, struggle and heartache, knowing that it’s what got me to where I am today.

We may not care, but I’m glad someone does…

Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to help. God gave me a heart for the poor, especially theIMG_3029 poor in other countries. When I see poor people, my heart breaks. I don’t question why they are poor or accuse them of being lazy. The things I’ve seen in Niger and Nicaragua are so heartbreaking that it makes me want to do all I can to help.

“What about the homeless in America? Don’t we have enough people to help here?”

That’s a common statement from many people here in the U.S. Honestly, it holds no weight with me when it comes from people who aren’t doing anything about the people in the U.S. that they claim to be so concerned about. Who are they to judge my passion and tell me I should be more concerned about something else?

1403438_jacky_-_our_young_jack_russel_dogYears ago, I remember getting frustrated at a commercial for the SPCA. Dogs? People were concerned about animals when we had people dying in the world! How ridiculous is that? But then I realized, what if no one cared about the animals? What if no one was their advocate?

God gave everyone a heart for something or someone different. If we all cared only about the homeless in America, we’d be in some major trouble.

Who would help those in countries where their own governments won’t help?

Who would look out for the animals and their safety?

Who would work at nursing homes to take care of the elderly?

Who would stand up for our planet and work at keeping it clean and beautiful?

While someone else’s passion might not be the same as yours, it’s important to realize that EVERY passion for humanity, animals and the planet is necessary for our world to survive.

Some people don’t understand my passion for Africa. I don’t know where it comes from, other than it’s the heart God gave me. I look at my friend Kim who works with special ed kids all day long, and I don’t understand her heart. It’s a heart I don’t have. While I hurt for those kids, I don’t have the desire to work with them.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but I wish some people would be more sensitive to the different passions we all have. We think the world is falling apart right now, just imagine what it would be like if NO ONE cared about the kids in Africa, the animals, or taking care of our planet.

I don’t have a burning passion for animals or making sure the planet is taken care of, but I’m glad that someone does.

Life Without a Home

We were there to help, to lend a hand, to show God’s love. But before we could do any of that, I was approached by a boy who looked to be about 10 years old.

“Can I pray for you, ma’am?” he said to me.

I was caught totally off guard.homeless

“Uh… of course we can pray,” I said.

“I’ll find you later,” he said and went to hang out with some of the other boys at the center.

About a dozen of us from my church went to Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) to serve a meal and spend time with some of the residents this evening. I think it’s safe to say they probably touched our lives more than we touched theirs.

The families there were homeless without the help of IHN. But IHN gave them a place to live while they looked for jobs and went out on their own again. I can’t imagine life without a home. Having a place to stay is something we take for granted. We just assume we’ll always have a home.

There were about seven families there, different races and different ages. They were all so appreciative of the giant Pizza Hut pizzas we brought, and the smiles on the children’s faces were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

One family in particular really stood out. It was a mother and a father, a few sons and a daughter. The daughter looked to be about 13, but she was severely handicapped. She would repeatedly slap herself, make strange noises and could barely walk, even with the help of leg braces. Her mom and dad’s faces told a story of great struggle and of pure exhaustion.

I wondered what their story was. Could they have been made homeless because of medical bills? Was their darling daughter like this from birth or was she in an accident? I didn’t know the specifics, but I do know that it broke my heart, and I will be praying for them.

After we served dinner, some of the kids asked me to play Ninja with them. It’s basically the hand-slap game where you try to move your hands before someone else slaps them. We had a great time, and of course, I was almost always the first one out. Need to work on my reflexes I guess!

I spent some time with a little girl named Peyton who insisted that I wear one of her rainbow-colored beaded necklaces she had made at school.

I talked to one teenage boy who is finishing high school by taking night classes and plans to attend Ball State next year. He’s not sure what he’s majoring in, but his face lit up when I told him how cool it was that he wanted to go to college.

Eventually I ended up with a beautiful two-year-old girl in my arms. Her hair was beaded in pink, purple and white and her big brown eyes made me want to never have to put her down. She loved my jewelry and played with my earrings and rings for as long as she could.

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Pastor took some pics at IHN. Here I am, ready to serve some pizza!

The little boy who wanted to pray for me ended up having to leave early, but the fact that he wanted to pray for me at all was enough to make my night totally worth it. We were supposed to be there for them, for the homeless, and here was a boy who wanted to pray for me.

Jesus said we’re supposed to help the poor, and that when we do, we have served Jesus. But what about those who are poor? Who are they supposed to help? I saw tonight that they can help those of us who aren’t poor by asking to pray for us, or simply allowing us to come and serve them a meal.

I’ll be praying for the people at IHN, and as I learned tonight, at least one of them will probably be praying for me.