The boy didn’t seem to notice that his mother looked lifeless. She sat rigid at the table in the coffee shop, unblinking and lost in a deep stare. If I’d seen her on the streets and not sitting in this Starbucks just a few minutes after its doors opened, I would have thought her dead. But she was alive—just entranced by her depression. Or maybe reliving the horrific realities that brought her and her son to this moment.
I was traveling on business that day in Emeryville, Calif., and stopped for coffee with some business contacts as we walked toward the office. The place was already full of customers and every table was occupied, including a few with the obviously destitute.
One homeless man sat alone with a drink of his own. His face was lit by the sharp, orange glow of the new day angling through the windows. Once he caught my attention, I began filling in his backstory on my own. He likely slept all night out on the bay, where the temperatures dipped into the upper 40s, and he was finding his first real warmth in several hours from his steaming coffee.
This man was also oblivious to the business around him, but he was clearly with it and alive. His eyes blinked. He moved his hands around his coffee cup and he occasionally looked down at it and lifted it to his mouth to take a drink. I carried my coffee past him and waited at the end of the bar for my friends to pick their orders, and that’s when I saw the woman and her boy.
She wore a beige trench coat that showed the dirt from sleeping out on the streets. Her skin was deep-dark brown and her hair was pulled back and tucked into a pink hat that resembled a towel-wrap she’d spun halfheartedly around her head after bathing. I couldn’t guess her age, but I thought her to be much younger than she appeared.
Her son sat to her left, leaning over a drawing book. He was maybe 10 years old. He balanced himself with his left arm and made long, elaborate pencil movements with his free hand. I was glad he was occupied and that his attention was diverted from his mom. Her eyes were lifeless and dull like unpolished marbles, and her facial expression was locked into a combination of physical agony and a sick hypnosis. And she never moved, not even a slight lean, for the several minutes I observed her.
The boy continued moving his body with his pencil strokes, shifting to one side or the other and pursing his lips in concentration, but that did nothing to break up her stare. I was instantly haunted by her. If this had been my own city where I’ve done work with the homeless before, I might have felt less helpless. When I worked downtown, I carried packaged food, bottled water and Bibles to hand out. I almost never gave money and it didn’t occur to me to buy them another coffee so they could prolong their stay. I did nothing but look at them and wonder what would come next. Where would they go? Would they stay together? Did she have enough life left to care for the boy? I just didn’t know.
After a few minutes, my friends and I had our coffees and we stepped out into the new morning to get on with our purpose there. This moment I just described occurred about three weeks ago, and I still wonder about those two, mother and son. I read a headline today that said California is home to about half of the United State’s homeless population. I believe it. They are everywhere in San Francisco Bay area, lining sidewalks and pushing shopping carts. The warmer temperatures and relax law enforcement have to be the draws.
In scripture, there is place in 2 Samuel when David begins to feel uneasy that he is living in a palace and the Lord’s Ark of the Covenant, which he has just re-acquired in battle, is resting outside in a tent. When he determines to build a temple for the Ark, the Lord tells David, “I have never lived in a house …” I read this passage in 2 Samuel 7:6 last night and it reminded me of what I saw on the streets of my hometown when I would hand out food, water, and occasionally Bibles. The Lord has his hand on the homeless. He protects them and rescues them on the coldest nights when they couldn’t possibly survive on their own. Many of the people I met on the streets were Christ followers and more than once I stood silently while one of them preached their own street sermon to me. God puts his own roof over their heads—a veil of protection that deepens my belief in him.
All this time later, a thousand miles separating me from that coffee shop, and my thoughts still tell me to worry about that woman and her son. My faith, though … my faith, tells me something different.
He crosses every barrier for us—his lost sheep wandering off alone.
Raging waters and dry deserts—he settles and endures.
Mountainsides and deep valleys—he prays and baptizes.
Across the thresholds of his followers’ houses and the dens of reviled sinners—he teaches and turns hearts.
In temples, standing among those who hate him—he preaches and speaks truths.
Fireside, on shorelines and under tree cover—he reveals and rebukes.
Jesus Christ’s eternal embrace—he runs to his prodigal sons and daughters who spoil their inheritance of glory and welcomes them back into arms that never let go.
My necklace fell heavy against my chest as I scaled the rocks. Moving between footholds, I felt the metal cross swing out like a door-knocker, rhythmically pounding a reminder into me: “I want more space in your heart. I want to be right there.”
The last-remaining snow was frozen to the shadowy places on the hillside. I kept my arms and legs as balanced as I could before taking the next step so I wouldn’t slip off to the bottom. But even in my carefulness, I found my thoughts distracted by this knocking on the door to my soul.
I am doing my best to give Jesus a place in my heart—lately, I’ve been on a personal mission to make his heart mine. To exchange my heart for his. I’m afraid I’m failing miserably.
Earlier on my hike, I lamented to myself that I needed to do a better job of setting an example of a Christian man, for my friends who are followers and also for those who are non-believers. I even went as far as to nod my head in agreement with my own thought while walking through a lonely spot in the woods. Oddly enough, the very next word out of mouth (further up the trail, when my camera wouldn’t cooperate) was profanity. Another failure to add to the list although I didn’t miss the humor in that quickly broken promise.
I’ve been reading the book of John in various translations for the last month hoping to find some insights into Jesus’ … essence, I suppose. Just before heading into the woods, I was reading from Chapter 4 in the Passion translation, and the “earthly perspective” of the woman at the well suddenly came as clear to me as if I saw that moment myself.
When Jesus tells the woman he can give her living water, the kind that will quench her thirst forever, she thinks immediately in human terms. She responds in part by saying she wants a drink so she “won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” I smiled at that. She is completely clueless to Jesus’ deeper meaning. He is speaking of eternal life while her mind is focused on removing the labor of this errand from her day.
Jesus’ followers were often so focused on the world, they missed what he was teaching them about the spirit realm. How could they have fathomed it even if they did understand? How can we begin to imagine a place where we’ve never been, let alone think like a God who lived there and walked there, who knew us for thousands of years before our birth? My suggestion for setting our sights on Heavenly things is to draw nearer to our Lord and Savior and do our best to share in his unfailing love and grace.
A few months ago I would have scoffed at that notion and said it was impossible. Now I will tell you through the Holy Spirit we can come close to our God in the places he resides. We have to be open and undergo a genuine heart change. We have to listen. Then the door opens. He spoke to me by using this symbol of his sacrifice that I wear around my neck. Despite all my imperfections, I didn’t miss that.
Finally, this afternoon, when the house was still—the snow trucks had passed and even the appliances were silent—I went up to my prayer room and spent some time in scripture. I’ve been reading the book of John this week and it’s mesmerizing how Jesus comes alive in the text. You can feel his joys, his sorrows and his anger. You can even feel him breathe. Nowhere does he seem more genuine or vulnerable than in John 13. This is the “last supper” that has been immortalized in paintings. These are his final few hours with his closest followers. He knows he’s going to be betrayed later that night and the cross awaits him the next day. In those last moments together he speaks plainly—practically pleads for his disciples to understand he is the way to Heaven. He reminds them who it is that rules this world (not him or his father). He tells them about the Holy Spirit and says they won’t be alone, even when…they are. And he issues a commandment, the heart of which is to simply love. There is so much of Jesus that is fascinating in scripture, so much to learn and sort through, and things we can’t fathom, including the descriptions of him bringing the dead back to life. But it’s this moment with these men and the love and care he embodies for them that make me a believer.
My heart wants to become his heart. And yet everyday I find myself making a mess of things. Leave the stones on the ground: that should be my mantra. Learn to love like Him (it’s so hard when people are involved.) Jesus set an impossible example we can never live up to. What we can do is love the best we can, give grace, and see something of ourselves and how we want to be treated in others.
Only prayer could call down a snowfall this beautiful. Someone must have knelt in solitude, morning after morning, asking for the world to be blanketed white. God obliged and now millions of answered prayers drift down from the Heavens by the hour, unnoticed as such by those of us whose hearts and minds are full with the world.
Imagine seeing life this way—as if everything and every person in it were God-sent, placed here for a purpose and with a right to love. How that would change things.
We view this world in reverse with our human eyes. The darkness and the cold seem inevitable—waiting patiently to overwhelm the light. But the opposite is true. Darkness will someday be extinguished. It is the light that is eternal, and it is embodied in the one who loves us (for all eternity) and always meets us with bottomless grace.
Whomever prayed for the snow … I love you. God loves you. But you already know this, don’t you? You must have a gorgeous heart, and I can see that you use it.
Listening for the softest voices.
Close enough to hear silent prayers.
He is everywhere around us
and yet no one has ever seen Him
but the one and only Son.
When the world awakens at dawn,
He shows himself in heaven-breathed hues,
shot vivid across the sky.
The marks of his hands streaked through the clouds.
His spirit descended from Heaven like a dove,
burned like fire on His Son’s first followers,
and now it overflows in us.
His light fills the universe
and yet He still cares to think of us.
With only His voice, He made all we know.
Created everything we can see.
And a realm we can only sense.
On my knees, I send a few words back your way.
Humble words of love and praise.
I know they won’t be lost,
For you care especially for the wanderers,
for the ones who pray incessantly,
Through tears and heartache and joy.
Listen for the softest voices,
Draw close to hear unspoken prayers.
You are everywhere around us.
Go on revealing your face.
I woke this morning to the sound of pouring water. Just before opening my eyes, I heard a cup being poured out—maybe over something … or someone—and then it was gone. There was a quick splash followed by running water, and then it was over. Disappeared. I heard it plain as anything, and now I am sure the Holy Spirit was speaking to me.
This is the second time I was awakened by a clear but inexplicable sound while lying in bed. The first occurrence was a blaring alarm days before Christmas. The noise filled the whole house.
My daughter was staying with me that morning, too, and it startled me. I was about to run upstairs to see if she was safe. But when I opened my eyes, it stopped. I didn’t know what it could mean then. Was something trying to stop me from hearing the Lord?
Lately I have been under heavy spiritual attack. I won’t reveal the details because they are deeply personal, but I will say I was being bombarded with thoughts not consistent with my faith. And I abruptly put an end to them. How? Strength that can only be found in Jesus.
I am wondering if this new sound means I won this battle or at least a skirmish. I never fancied myself as one of these Christians who “hears” things or who has any sort of spiritual gifting, necessarily, beyond my writing. But I am beginning to wonder: Lord, what’s my purpose? Let me hear you clearly. I’ll do whatever you ask!
My house becomes a spiritual retreat of sorts on Saturday mornings. The world is reduced to the space between my walls and the knowledge revealed to me in prayer and scripture readings. This morning I was reading a familiar passage in the book of John—a story I’ve read and heard taught numerous times. In John 2, we are told the story of Jesus revealing his glory for the first time by changing water to wine. For many of us believers, this seems a curious way for our Messiah to introduce himself to the world. Why use your power in such a trivial way, saving newlyweds from embarrassment at their wedding reception? Certainly the Son of Man has larger concerns than this. Why choose this moment to stand in God’s glory?? But as is often the case with scripture reading, this story came across to me in a different way today. Repetition of the word “servants” (see below) began to stand out to me and then it came clear. This passage is to be read as yet another parable, and we are to put ourselves in the place of the nameless servants. We must do what Jesus tells us, without question. And when we do, He reveals himself to us. We are then to share what we know about Him (what we know to be so beautiful and glorious) with those who have never felt his glory!
John 2:5 — But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
John 2:7 — Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”
John 2:8 — He said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.”
John 2:9 — When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.
My walk toward the Lord began on a path paved with something far lesser than gold.
His plan was a secret to me, so I didn’t realize when I took my first steps toward Him. For years I was lost and wandering, trying to find something that brought purpose to my life. I thought I could find my own way without any instruction. I found myself in the strangest places, none of which were holy. My feet were dirty with dust from the road and the filth of the terrible houses where I deliberately set out to ruin myself.
The walk was tiring and at times I slipped into dazes. Once I awoke to find I was piling debris on the street—pulling litter from the roadside into huge heaps ahead of me. My hands and arms and even my face and chest were marked with bloody scratches where I tried to climb over or crawl under my own mistakes. I tried pushing high with my hands, and then low with my shoulder. I couldn’t budge the pile. The shadow loomed over me.
My strength gone, I dropped to my knees and put my head on the pavement. My lips began to form a prayer, not of desperation or hopelessness, but rather one of gratitude. He broke me there on the street where I knelt. I was overcome with an awareness of my blessings. Everything he had given me became so clear, the gift of my children especially. How could I not praise him for it all? How could I not recognize where it was that I was walking? Straight into his heart.
When I opened my eyes, I was still kneeling … but now in a city. I was in the middle of its greatest street—golden, as pure as transparent glass. He led me here through a path of complete submission. Heaven was opened to me and for the children I am raising. On this golden street of a golden city, I closed my eyes to it all so I could pray again to my Lord. One day I hope not only to visit, but to make my home along this very street. I don’t know its name, but I understand where it is now.