The Word on the Street - 1.12.2023
Chantel was only 29 years old and homeless. Always wearing sunglasses when she came to us on the corner of Church and State streets. I remember her bright, happy smile peaking out from under her sunglasses, like the sun peeking through clouds, a mop of strawberry hair. I found a note I had written to myself on my iPhone to pray for her from October 8th. She had a three year old daughter. We learned last Saturday Chantel had been hit by a truck while riding her bike on Cameron Street, December 27th, pronounced dead at the hospital. It said in her obituary she was a Christian.
So, I will share my hope for Chantel that she is now with our Lord, who has received her into the eternal glory of His presence, where Chantel is homeless no more, resting in peace.
About the time I was praying for Chantel in October, I was also reflecting on the poem Autumn Day by Rainer Maria Rilke. The first line came to mind:
Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.
I had a friend I ran around with when I attended third grade in Folsom, PA, back in the 1960’s. He was a newspaper boy. One night, he got home, only to realize that he had missed a stop on his paper route. He asked his mom if she would drive him back to the missed stop, but she reminded him the paper route was his responsibility. He was also struck by a car and killed, riding his bike on busy MacDade Boulevard. I think that poor woman, his mother, never recovered from her anguish. Maybe we could all of us slow down a little, mindful of kids on bikes, of whatever age.
We never know when the Lord will say to us, it is time. The huge summer of our lives goes by faster than we had imagined it would and sooner than anticipated the shadows overlap the sundials. Autumn Days come for us. When I was young enough to not yet feel the warning signs of my aches and pains, my limbs now like the boughs Shakespeare called bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang, I believed that we were immune to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy, until we were about 70, when our wrinkles would finally catch up with us. But the law is always in effect without statute of limitations and, like buildings, our bodies and our minds inexorably crumble into dust over time. I passed another elementary school I had attended when it was brand new, everything then still shining in my memory with the luster of newness. After fifty years, it was appalling how decrepit and decayed it had become! I wonder if my fifth grade pals wouldn’t think as much of me, if they could see me today. I know there is younger version of myself who finds himself appalled by the aging fellow staring back from the mirror!
The best we can do is live out our lives before God for Christ, every day we are given through His mercy our only treasure, laid up in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt . We waste so much of our time! That is my first New Year’s Resolution. As Jesus said in the Parable of the Rich Fool:
“And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
So, I’ve skipped over Christmas which was for me most memorable for both the singing carols on Christmas Eve together with Mike Leonzo, Mike Bongo and others, led by our own Mrs. Brown, to the people on the street and our kids arriving at our house that same day dressed in matching pajamas, a shimmering reminder of when they were little and sitting on the steps, waiting for permission to see what was under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree for them. The singing on the street made up in volume what it lacked in harmony and was hopefully heard even in the refectory, down in the bowels of the Catholic Church, which was filled to capacity with folks taking shelter from the cold; no room for us at the Inn! How perfect was that?
It was so cold Christmas Eve; the United Churches opened a temporary shelter in the former Rite Aid on Market Street so that our friends would have somewhere to stay warm during the day from 10-7 pm that weekend. The regular shelters are only open overnight and people must go out of them first thing in the morning. I was so cold I was still about half frozen most of the morning after I came home!
We had given people quilts in late December that were said to have been donated by a woman whose mother collected them, buying a quilt whenever she felt sad. The unfortunate lady must have been sad quite frequently, to judge from the number of quilts donated! When she died, her daughter gave them to us because really you can’t take it with you. There is a better, eternal Comforter! May we be wrapped in Him!
Didn’t miss a weekend over the holidays – we were also there on the first day of the New Year, with Christmas cookies and other treats. Ashlynn and her sister Alia, Angela’s daughters, joined us that day and what a wonderful way for the New Year to begin! Some of the men said they were “princesses” and though without their tiaras, I have to admit Ashlynn and Alia were certainly inspired an ambiance of royalty on the corner of Church and State! Their faces sparkled like tiaras in the cold!
The girls helped me hand out tracts from Ray Comfort’s Living Waters organization with a picture of someone walking near the ocean and the question “What is the Meaning of Life?” in large font on the cover.
Anyone well schooled in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) would automatically answer, “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”, but most folks today are not so well-schooled in the historical statements of faith we have as a gift from Christians past. As the tract said, “Happiness is not the meaning of life. Your meaning is much grander.”
I think those we meet with, however - and after almost a year I am starting to know them on sight - who can smile, who can show kindness to others, despite the many miseries of homelessness, must be understanding the truth in their hearts that the pursuit of happiness in this world is nothing compared to the joys of heaven.
I gave my Wolverine boots that walked with me on a mission in Romania back in 2002 to a man named Paul who was wearing some shabby sneakers in the cold. I am thinking about Michael Card’s song about the freedom we find from the things we leave behind. Like Peter’s nets drifting away from him when he followed Jesus to become a fisher of men. I imagine my bootprints becoming the imprint of my bare feet on the shore in Ray Comfort’s tract as I leave them behind. Follow Jesus and don’t look back!
And that is the Word on the Street!
For more information, or to learn how to join us in reaching people for Jesus, please email Living Water’s Director of Outreach, Mike Bongo, at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will get you plugged in! You will be blessed as you become a blessing to others!