Meeting The Neighbors On 16th and K

As I drove home to a nice, warm abode, I looked around at the horde of cars around me. And in that moment, I felt more alone than an hour before, smiling and shaking hands with the people who inhabit the streets of downtown.

Let’s rewind, shall we?

Two months ago I stepped into community with a zany group of weirdos that like to hang out on  Sundays, Tuesday nights, and because we like each other so much, throughout the week one-on-one. They call themselves Mosaic San Diego, and they just moved to an empty warehouse at 205 16th Street. Being that we’re the new kids on the block, the leaders thought it appropriate to make goodie bags, pass them out, and introduce ourselves to our neighbors—that is, those who call the streets their home.

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Domestic Goddess welcoming you home via Pinterest

Every fiber of my being fought against going. Let’s be honest: homeless people scare me. There are tons of crazy people out there, and you can never anticipate how someone might react.

But I’m learning so much about what love is, and really, love does. In the Bible, love is always followed by action. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16), all so that God wouldn’t have to be apart from you whom He loves so much (yes, you!).

How many of us say we love someone, but don’t want to tend to even their smallest need? This was definitely me in all of my relationships; I took so much more than I was willing to give. And how much greater is that need for those on the streets? Our gut reaction is to throw a dollar or leftovers to a panhandler, but do you know what the homeless crave more than anything? To have a sense of purpose, and to be known. That’s right. The homeless aren’t hungriest for bread or drink, but to be in community and to know that they matter—the same thing all of us are looking for.

Mind, blown.

On this night, a chilly Tuesday eve in November, my Mosaic peops and I marched out to those streets, happy to hand out bags but eager to meet our neighbors. Here are some of my takeaways:

1. We’re not here to save anyone

It’s easy to think that whether we’re helping the homeless or a third-world tribe, we’re the ones swooping in to save the day (see: The Book of Mormon).

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Image via playbill.com

But what makes us better than? In God’s eyes we are all on the same playing field, despite what society says. I loved meeting these folk and having honest-to-goodness conversation about their lives; their struggles; their dreams. How often do you sit around the table with people more engulfed in their phones than in you? I don’t feel sorry for the men I met tonight, because they were honest with us; with themselves, not to mention, they were some of the most gentlemanly men I’ve met (fellas, step your game up!). Instead, I feel for those who pretend they’re okay, because I’ve slapped on the fake smile and it is a lonely, lonely place. All of us are struggling with something, and you’d be surprised how opening up with your pain could affect someone else going through the same thing.

Serving the least, last, and lost does not a hero make. God is the only true hero of this story called Life, and our “yes” simply allows us the privilege to partake.
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Background via @alliemtaylor Instagram 

2. You are not your greatest pain, nor your greatest achievement

“I used to tour the country as a drummer in different bands, and now look at me. I’m nobody” -one of the men we met tonight

I know what it’s like to feel like a nobody and like a somebody, but in both instances, I let the things and people around me make up those definitions.

Well, people leave, and accolades fade.

To know that the God of the universe planned me, prepared me, and loved me before I was even born is the only position I want to boast about—and the same goes for you. You are one of 107 billion people who have ever walked the earth (with more poppin’ out each day) and yet God designed you with a fingerprint, personality, dreams, and desires unique to you. 

So don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not a special snowflake 😉 No matter what you do, what you’ve done, or what you will do, you are loved. 

3. Anything is possible in community 

“The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.” – Johann Hari, author of ‘Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’ 

On Sunday, Derrick spoke of a study that showed drug-addicted rats were less likely to return to their addiction if they were surrounded by a community of caring individuals. And yet, when facing troubles, how many of us feel the need to run?

I did. That’s why I booked a one-way ticket to Asia—I was so at war with my inner demons I didn’t want to deal with, or burden, anyone. But in just a few months, I’ve seen the power of God, love, at work through the people He’s put into my life.

The drummer we met spoke of his addictions—to alcohol. Heroin. He’s tried to make a better life for himself through AA and other resources, but he just hasn’t been able to quit. You know, we were all created with a God-sized hole in our hearts that only God was meant to fill, but we tend to try to replace Him with other things: drugs. Drinks. Sex. Sweets. You name it (I’m guilty of at least half of those). But you’re not meant to carry your cross alone. Not even Jesus did.

We weren’t meant to do life alone. 

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Thanks Mosaic for providing a platform for change in my heart. And thanks Tara for your determination to go, which made me finally decide to go, and for using your baker’s talents to make premium cookies for our neighbors. Like I wrote above, I felt more at home connecting—really connecting—to these open, honest people than I ever expected.

What about you? Have you ever stepped into a situation unwillingly and changed through it?

Finally, if anything I wrote spoke to you, please hit me up. I’d love to talk more about it.

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