If you’ve been to Palo Alto, you’ve probably been to Town & Country. If you haven’t actually visited, trust me….you’ve driven by this bustling shopping center. It’s located across the street from Stanford University and is a popular destination for students and peninsula residents alike. My family goes nearly once a week; you’ll find us at either our favorite sushi spot OR at Gott’s.
As the picture implies, Gott’s is the kind of burger joint you’d expect in an upscale part of Silicon Valley; kids get their organic Niman Ranch hot dog while parents enjoy a grilled ahi-tuna burger and glass of wine.
No, my blog is not slipping into the food and lifestyle genre. Remember? #NotThatCool. So, what’s my point?
My point is this: today, I learned what’s next to Town & Country. Across the street, in what looks like a completely normal building, there is a homeless shelter. After reading my blog post yesterday, a good friend who has been a ‘missions mentor’ of sorts, sent me an email saying, ‘I’m feeding lunch to the homeless tomorrow. Want to come? I can give you a ride.’ It was mid-afternoon. I was in the middle of what felt like my 30th trip back and forth across town to get my precious kiddos to and from their multitude of afternoon activities. I decided to just jump-in and say ‘yes’ before I over-thought it too much (that approach seemed to have worked with the blog).
Fast-forward to today. It’s late morning and nearly time for me to leave for the homeless shelter. I pull up the address on my computer, so that I can figure out where this place is located. I knew it was in Palo Alto, but I wasn’t sure exactly where……that’s when I realized….this shelter is just feet away from the place I’ve been shopping and eating for YEARS. I had no idea. So, here’s what I learned in the last 24 hours, since I decided to ‘go public’ with my pursuit of a more missionally-minded life.
- Tell someone. If I hadn’t talked to people or posted this blog, I would have missed out on both the fellowship and accountability that come from getting outside of my own head. And, frankly – it makes a difference when you’re doing something with a friend. I might have never made the leap, without that loving but direct offer: ‘I’m going tomorrow, want to come?’.
- The need exists RIGHT WHERE WE ARE. You don’t have to cross the globe or even railroad tracks (not that you shouldn’t, but just sayin’). People in our own community need help.
- Not all homeless are the same. Sure, some look like they slept under a bridge. But, the first guy to walk into the cafeteria where I was working with others to serve lunch, reminded me of my husband. He was a clean-cut Asian man, dressed in nice athletic gear, carrying some kind of tablet. Had you dropped him into the sushi or burger joint, nobody would have thought twice. But, he wasn’t there – he was here, at the homeless shelter. I could have cried. It makes you rethink the assumptions we walk around with.
- The shelter is busier at the end of the month. Today, we fed 53 people, which they said was a bit on the low side. Why? Someone explained to me that the checks poor receive from the State, come at the start at the month. So, in these first couple weeks, life is less dire. But, by the end of the month, the food line is much longer as greater numbers are desperate for a free meal. I just don’t have words.
- They like eggs. This could be their only solid, hot meal for a while. A hard-boiled egg is a great source of protein they can take with them and eat later. I eat what I want to eat or what seems healthy….I don’t make my choices out of fear or worry about where my next meal is coming from.
- #FirstWorldParkingProblem. I’m putting this near the end of the list for the very
logical reason that I’m embarrassed. You see, I was rushing to get there on time. I figured that I’d just park at the shopping center, like I normally do when grabbing a bite to eat. Except, this time, I couldn’t find a parking spot. So, I used valet parking (cringe). Talk about God hitting me over the head with a 2×4 (again!) – it was like He wanted to make it ABUNDANTLY clear, the blessings and provisions that He’s lavished upon my family and me. I might not be running around town in a Rolls Royce, but I’ve got a very functional car that I can afford to run/insure without hesitation…. You get the picture.
- Make it work. Today was early dismissal day for my kids at school, so I was scrambling to get from the shelter to their school. I was a few minutes late. But, it was okay. There were plenty of mamas who are part of ‘my village’ who watched my boys till I could get there. And, when they asked me ‘why were you late?’ – I couldn’t wait to tell them.
- Tell a story. The hard part for missionally minded moms, is that not all charities will let you bring your kid. The next-best thing to bringing your kid is telling them a story. Yes, as early and as often as you can – get them out there! Nothing can replace first-hand experiences. But, realize it or not, we tell our kids a narrative about what matters by the things we choose to do and talk about in the time we are with them. If all we talk about is good grades, guess what they’ll think is most important? If all we do is watch, participate in or talk about sports, guess what they’ll become obsessed with? If we are so busy with our careers that everything else comes second, guess how they’ll rank order our priority today and theirs tomorrow? Even if they can’t participate, I think the stories we tell around the dinner table as we debrief our days, can still make an impact.
- We see what we want to see. I had never known that such a shelter existed just 5 minutes from my neighborhood. Then again, I never looked.
- Keep Trying. This wasn’t my first time feeding the homeless or participating in some sort of charity or service related activity. Clearly, the existence of this blog is evidence of my struggle to get it right. But, don’t quit. I refuse to believe that some of us don’t have a place. #WeAllHaveAPlace
A few months ago, KQED partnered with dozens of organizations to do in-depth stories for two weeks, just on this topic of homelessness in the Bay Area. I remember being struck by stories that challenged my assumptions. For example, there are over 500,000 homeless children in the state of California (not all homeless are like that drunk dude on the corner). Not all homeless people are unemployed. To be fair, the main reason many are on the street is because they lost their job. But, many others actually have jobs and are functional member of society – they just can’t afford housing. (They’re not all lazy or unwilling to try to pull themselves out of hardship.) I could keep going….
There’s this great Lauren Daigle song called First. She sings about letting God be the thing that leads all else. So, as I’m getting ready this morning, First, is playing in the background. I hear that line, ‘You are my treasure and my reward’. For a second, I reflect on the power of that line…that it challenges me to reorient my view of blessings…that He’s it, better than anything this world could ever offer. A split second later, I think about how this line could be flipped as God’s love-song to us, that WE are HIS treasure. For a moment, I’m overwhelmed that God might see ME as that. And, then, God flips it one more time. In my heart, I hear Him telling me that these folks that the world has forgotten….THEY TOO ARE HIS TREASURE AND HIS REWARD.
I think I’m going back.