I’m never quite sure what to say.
I don’t know what to say this Saturday morning either when I walk up to their makeshift table shaded under the overpass where they are eating biscuits and white gravy and ham brought to them by another group of Christ-followers and eating hot Krispy Kreme donuts brought to them by the group in our van.
I ask a question or two to get us going, nothing important, just chit-chat stuff, like conversations I would have every day with people who live under bridges and sleep in tents every night.
Except that I don’t have those conversations every day because until a year ago I couldn’t have even called one person by name who lived without a working refrigerator and who did all their cooking unplugged and who didn’t use a real toilet one more time before turning out the lights at night.
So when I don’t know what to say, I don’t say much and I just listen more to what somebody else has to say.
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Today the Lord was giving me ears for Kristi’s voice.
At first she doesn’t say too much either but the more she’s heard, the more she talks so I borrow Matthew’s chair (well, sort of a chair) and draw in closer to listen to Kristi.
- She tells me she was a daddy’s girl which made it all the harder when he died a few years ago and I tell her my daddy is gone, too.
- She talks about why her new boyfriend is so much better than her last one because this one treats her with respect and doesn’t try to control her and he lets her have conversations with everybody in their camp without getting mad at her. I amen a respectful man anytime, anywhere.
- She says her baby girl was stillborn last December and she named her Allie (and I tell her about my sweet baby Kali) but before she has another child (she wants a boy next time) she wants to be in a better place in her life and she says how her other daughter is growing up so fast and how she’d like to go visit her mama in Tennessee one day soon but her step-dad isn’t so easy to be around.
And I throw in a “yeah, I get that” when I can and when I can’t, I ask another question to try to understand or at least to let her know I’m still here and still listening and still wanting to love on her in some tiny way in this very real space in the Kingdom.
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Then before I know it, time’s up and I need to walk back to the heated church van with a tankful of gas that will transport me back to suburbia and big screen TVs and wi-fi and toilets with a handle.
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But now I can’t stop talking, not just yet.
Because I have a bit more words in me now that we’re friends and all, and so I ask Kristi if I can pray a blessing over her before I go and she says yes (why am I always surprised when almost everyone answers yes?).
We hold hands and I beg God in my head to spill the words out of my mouth that he wants to say to Kristi in this moment and so I voice what I hope I’m hearing right, then I say amen in Jesus’s name, so be it.
Before I walk away she says maybe next week her boyfriend will be here and she’ll introduce us.
And I say I’d love that because I really would love that.
I smile on the outside and on the inside too because her offer means she knows I was listening to her.
And maybe my listening more than talking was just what she needed, this beautiful creature named Kristi made in the image of God just like I am even though she lives in a tent near the railroad tracks and I live in a three-bedroom house with two baths.
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Sometimes I don’t have much to say.
I hear it’s by the grace of God.
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See photos here by Eric Schultz of the annual Point in Time homeless count, January 2013