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

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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.

Screenshot_2014-11-18-11-16-06-1
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