Monday, February 19, 2018

Day 38 South Coast Rock Tour

South Coast Rock Tour
~ Day 38 ~

Ann…Derek…John…Choose Hope.

It was so good to be back in Jacksonville. This city feels comfortable to me. There is a downtown area as well as many beach areas. I stuck mainly to the oceanside. When I went to Ocean City Church last Sunday, God had placed Ann in my path… not only to be friends with while in her home mission field, but to remain friends through eternity. I sent her a text last night to let her know I was back in the area. We made plans to have breakfast together at Delicomb, a really cool restaurant and coffee shop. After our egg sandwiches were ordered, we sipped on the super strong coffee outside. “Want to go eat at the church on comfy couches?” Ann asked. I nodded as the cool wind blew our hair and created goosebumps on our arms. We got our sandwiches in to-go bags and headed down the short stretch of buildings to the church. Ann works at the church with First Impressions and Integration. She rocks this role. My first impression of Ocean City Church was a big thumbs-up because of Ann. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit was very palpable within… both in the church and within Ann.

The two of us sat on those comfy couches in the light of large windows of the lobby. We talked about many things: How God had brought our paths together, the homelessness in Jacksonville, the place and space where we live, our entrusted spiritual gifts, and how our friendship was already kindred. When Ann and I stand or sit to talk, time ticks by with our conversation that circles around in waves. We both like to be the ones who ask questions and gather people’s stories, so we took turns being the one who opened up. I love Ann. Her heart is full of grace, intentionality and compassion.

The pastor of Ocean City Church (OCC) rode up on his bicycle and flipped down the kickstand inside the lobby. His name is Derek. OCC is 5 years old and they had been in this location just a block off the ocean for 3 years now. Derek shared some of his heart’s desires for the church. His love for Jesus and love for people is uber evident. He is a pastor, a husband, a dad, a brother and a surfer. I gave him a “Purpose” rock. It was fitting for this man of purpose.

Ann and I went back to our deep conversation. At one point, she gave me some gift cards to Delicomb, a 1-day bus pass, and some cash while saying, “For gas… Just in case you want to go downtown.” Neither she nor I knew how it would be used, but God had it planned out perfectly. The morning shifted as there was a knock on the front door of the church. “Sorry to bother you, ma’am. Ya’ll had given me a bus pass the other day and I was wondering if you had another one. I’m trying to get to this interview for a job today.” His name was John. Ann helped him with giving him a bus pass and went to ask Derek if the church had clothing vouchers. While they were in the back office, John and I started talking. He was trying to get off the streets. We used street lingo and admitted the struggles as well as affirmed the determination. He wasn’t going to stop by this church today, but was glad that he did. It was a set-up by the Holy Spirit. I gave him a “Choose Hope” rock. It was the rock that Gypsy from Savannah had said was for someone special. The rock was meant for John.

Ann and Derek came back into the lobby and they talked with John about what he needed and how they could help. I heard John say that he wanted to get some clean clothes before the interview. “Hey Derek, I can give John a ride to Goodwill and then take him to the interview.” --- “That’s cool, Katie. You coming to church Sunday?” I nodded then looked at Ann. Our breakfast was being cut short. I wanted to spend more time with my new friend. John’s interview was in a couple hours and it was near the downtown area. Ann and I hugged. We would spend more time together before I left Jacksonville.

The passenger seat of Tumbler was cleared of ponchos, hats and pouches of rocks. John got in and we lit up our cigarettes. “I put my pants on the same way you do every morning, bro. And it looks like both of our pants could use a wash. Let’s go get us some fresh pants.” We talked as we drove to Goodwill. John was polite and easy to talk with. Gave him $20 before going inside. “We’ll both go in with money in our pockets.” He hugged me and I recalled the many times that others had helped me when I needed clean clothes. It can be hard to receive a hand-out from someone, even when you truly are in need. I wanted John to feel at ease and that he wasn’t a charity project. There is a big difference in having someone pay for your clothes and being able to pay for clothes with money from your own pocket. John was a grown man who had fallen on hard times. Men are wired to be providers of themselves and their family. John wasn’t able to provide for himself in the current chapter, but he didn’t need to be reminded of that by having a woman pay for his clothes at the register. We separated in the stores and met back at my truck later. He was excited about his new clothes. I was excited for him too. It’s the little things that are actually the bigger things in this hard yet beautiful journey we all are on.

We punched in the address to the restaurant where John had an 1:30pm interview. It was noon and we drove towards the downtown area. I thought of Ann and her gift of gas money. Unbeknownst to us, it was meant for this journey with John. We found the restaurant and being that we were early, I asked John when was the last time he had had a big omelette. “Wow, it’s been a really long time. I usually just eat whatever they are serving at the local food missions.” We drove to an IHOP that was passed on the way. I was not hungry from eating breakfast with Ann a few hours ago, but wanted John to have a choice of anything on a menu. Again, little things that we take for granted, that are actually big things. Most of all, I wanted quality one-on-one time with John. As we ordered omelettes with hash browns and toast, John began to share past chapters of his life-story. And what a fascinating story it was. He showed me scars from gun bullets on his arm and chest, he talked about his family, he shared about the struggle of living on the streets and his desire to get back on his feet, he opened up about his PTSD and panic attacks and social anxiety. John carried a backpack full of his few possessions, yet he was carrying a much heavier burden that was not visible to others.

Such is the case with every person… we all have so much that we are carrying, be it experiences from the past or our present chapter. Some people choose to be open books, talking freely about their story. Others, the majority, don’t put a voice to their story. Be it fear, pride, shame or learned behavior, we choose to silence our story. Something powerful happens when we rip the muzzle off the mouth of our heart… we bring to light what was kept hidden in the dark. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. Though it’s hard to talk about the ugliness of our stories, it can be made beautiful by the One who rescues, redeems, and restores. John and I both shared portions of our pain over piled-high omelettes. We talked about Jesus and His faithfulness in the valley lows and the mountains highs. We sat together at the IHOP booth as friends.

We had lost track of time. It was 2pm and we were 30min late to his interview. We laughed as he said, “Not the best first impression, but this omelette sure was good!” Drove to the restaurant and we got out of Tumbler together. We embraced in a long hug. He thanked me. And I thanked him. Our friendship gave each other different things in those few hours together. One doesn’t have to have much to give much. Told John to walk in the doors with confidence. I told him that I was proud of him. He teared up and said that it had been a long time since someone had told him that. We all need an “atta boy” or “atta girl” throughout the day. Words of encouragement speak life into others. May you and I choose our words carefully and be intentional to speak life into others… and ourselves.

I drove back to the ocean and sat on my red mat for two hours. Many rocks were scribed. Many thoughts went through my mind. Many emotions stirred in my heart. I prayed for John and for Ocean City Church. Jacksonville is a beautiful area and the scenery and people had already plucked my heart-strings. God would keep me here for the next two and a half days. He would merge my path back together with John and Ann as well as many others. He is faithful in the sun and in the rain, in the valleys and the mountains, in pain-full chapters and in joy-full chapters.

Speak Life.

Unshakable Peace and Purpose
Cling to the Rock

Psalm 18:1-2

Friday, February 9, 2018

Day 37 ~ South Coast Rock Tour

 South Coast Rock Tour
~ Day 37 ~

Intercostal Islands…Rocks for Someone…Carrying Shaggy.

The Georgia rest stop had only a few cars in the lot when I fell asleep. Upon waking, the place was packed. I missed the Walmart hotel, yet my morning routine wasn’t altered due to different location. It was 9am and St. Simons Island was only a 20min drive. Today would be one of reflection and restocking rocks. I loaded up my backpack with extra blank rocks and went through my Sharpie bag, throwing out ones with fine tips worn all the way down and then replacing that colored marker with one that had a new, fresh tip. Oh, how I love Sharpies.

It was Thursday and people were lined up on the bridge and road that lead to the island. There was a fork in the road where most vehicles were veering left to go to more well-known beaches and main streets. Tumbler veered right and we found a more desolate beach down the road. I spent the next five hours here. Did some walking on the beach, but mostly sat at perfect perch for this pilgrim. It was a large, weathered telephone pole that had been washed up by the waves. It sat 200 feet off the ocean shore and the view was pristine. It was not a busy part of the long stretch of sand shore. Occasional individuals and couples walked the beach, most of whom had a dog on a leash or ran leash-free on the beach. One guy and his dog were playing catch with a tennis ball. The guy would launch the bright yellow ball down the beach and the dog would retrieve it, then bring the ball back. It was metaphorical to me, for when the dog would drop the ball at his master’s feet, he would take off running in a full out sprint. Without turning back, the dog was already 25 feet ahead when the yellow ball would zoom over his head, bouncing in front of him. I watched them play fetch for a while. Not once, did the dog turn back to see if his master was going to throw the ball… he simply had full trust in his master. If only you and I could have this same unfaltering faith and total trust in our Master.

Dozens of rocks were scribed as I sat against this washed up wooden log. Many were left along the beach where people were combing it for treasures. It’s fun to think of how God would have specific people find the rocks with words specific to them on their current path. My time here was solitary and pensive. It was a needed time of reflection. Though I had spent two days resting at my friend’s Georgia home and only been back on the streets for one day, I needed to unpack the weight of which I was carrying. The Savannah mission field felt like a week had been spent on it. I was still carrying Shaggy’s impressionable heart in my own. “God, please send others to love on Shaggy. Help me to trust that You are with him as well as ahead of him.”

I had a beautiful phone conversation with a friend who has lived states away for most of our friendship, yet I still consider her a close friend. We literally were on different oceans, she a few blocks from the Pacific, and I a few hundred feet from the Atlantic. Yet the differing oceans were all the same water that touched together around the continents. Such is our friendship. She is a gifted writer who had played an important part of my journey. At a young age, she was the first person I handed some pebbles of pushed-down pain to… and she put them in the pocket of her heart that I trusted then, and still do today. Our stories are different, yet are similar… again, like the ocean.

At 3pm, I drove to Jekyll Island. There is so much history here, yet I did not come to see the landmarks, rather to spend more time alone with the lover of my soul. Tumbler took a full loop of the island and during the second, slow trip along the island perimeter, he pulled off the road to park at a dirt patch. I made my way through the brush and came out in the clear for a sight I had not anticipated. The beach was covered in fallen trees that erosion had uprooted. It was so ugly and absent of order that is was beautiful and complete. I explored the area for two hours, taking in the rare beauty and leaving rocks in random places... There were no interactions with people on either of these islands, no stories heard, nor hugs given. God knew who would find them. God knew their hearts. God knew their story. We don’t always see the soil of which our seeds are scattered on.

Fernandina Beach was an hour away. Tumbler took the detour off the main highway and we drove around the town. Though I wanted to park and walk around, it was clear that we were to keep driving. I was hungry wanted to stop for food. “Keep Driving.” I pulled out a fraying plastic bags from my backseat and ate a few slices of bread that I picked up at the day shelter back in Panama City. Surprisingly, it was still soft. It reminded me of Christopher, Milton, Shoshane, Brandon and little Cheyanne. And it reminded me of the Wilson’s who had opened their home and hearts with love. Memories played like a projector reel in my mind. It continued to play one slide after another as Tumbler got back on the main highway and we headed to Florida… back to the Jacksonville mission field. I would spend the next three days in this epic city. God had specific people scattered along the path He would lead me on. Today’s solitary stillness would carry me through the beautifully busy days and nights to come.

Grow every day.
Plant seeds every day.
Trust the Gardener every day.

Unshakable Peace and Purpose
Cling to the Rock
Psalm 18:1-2

Day 36 ~ South Coast Rock Tour

South Coast Rock Tour
~ Day 36 ~

Savannah…Gypsy…Shaggy…Super Moon.

It was oh so good to rest for a couple days and spend quality time with my long-time-loyal friend. Still, I was excited to move on to the next mission field the Spirit had planned. I was itching to get back on the streets and be in a “I-don’t-know-who-or-what-is-next” state of heart. The way God has wired me, the unknown and unexpected bring more comfortableness than the comfort of what is known or expected.

It was hard to pull away from the long embrace of my friend, but I knew there were others waiting on the path who needed genuine hugs. Not knowing where I was headed to, I simply drove East. Tumbler could veer left and head to Savannah or keep heading to the intercostal islands of Georgia. There was not a text message from God or even a nudging as to which way to go. Sometimes, when there or two or more options in front of us, there isn’t always one specific option that is the only one God wants us to take. Granted, sometimes this is the case. I, and maybe you as well, can put so much time, thought, and energy into trying to figure out what God wants us to do, that we fail to remember that He will be with us regardless of the right or left hand turn we make. Again, I’m not saying that we should choose disobedience, darkness, and sin-driven choices and expect that God is going to be for that. Yet even in those choices, He is with us and will use the broad path to bring us back to the narrow path. In today’s choice of which road to take, I didn’t sense that either one was a bad choice. God allowed His pilgrim to choose which road, and had purpose in both regardless of which one was traveled down. Tumbler’s tires were turned towards Savannah… beautiful purposes awaited. And there was one person in particular who was waiting for a genuine love. He would receive more than one big hug.

During this journey, it has been clearly shown that where Tumbler is parked is not by chance. The specific spot is usually a divine set-up. Such was the case again today. We drove around the downtown area observing the rows of shops, restaurants and hotels. Savannah is such a cool town. After the second loop and drive through, I prayed about where to park. The spot wasn’t lit up in a glowing beam of light from Heavenly, stating “Park Here”, yet when I turned on this particular street, I just felt the need to pull over and park. It was 2pm and I put enough money in the meeting box to let Tumbler sleep till 6pm. My backpack was slung on my back with a louder than normal grunt. It had been two days since I wore it and my shoulders were shocked out of their short vacation. My pace wanted to be quick, as my heart was excited to be back on the streets. I had to force myself to slow down. Good thing I did, for I might have missed Gypsy sitting on the other side of the street. He was two blocks away from where Tumbler was parked. “God, you amaze me. Thank you for being so strategic in your everything.”

There were places all along the street that had historic stone steps that led down to a cobblestone street that hugged the river. Where Gypsy sat was one of those places. People commonly passed him either coming up from the river or going down the steps to the famous street. He was “spanging” which is asking people for spare change when they walk by. He was definitely in a good spot for it. I walked by him, not sure yet if God wanted me to stop. “Hey girl, I would ask you for 57 cents, but you look like you’re looking to post up in your own spot.” --- “Ha! I’m just looking for a spot to write on my rocks. Would you mind if I sat with you for a bit?” --- “Pretty girl like you who wants to sit with a dirty Deadhead like me… come on down.” He patted the spot next to him that had more dirt than grass. Gypsy is well known in Savannah and well known in most large cities. He followed the Grateful Dead group since he was a teenager. He also loves whiskey, and the progression of his addiction has taken precedent over keeping up with the concert tour. His face was red from the sun as well as the enlarged blood vessels from years of heavy drinking. My own face used to look like his. We sat together and talked about many things. He gave me the verbal tour of Savannah’s homeless spots. Gypsy had a lot to say. It didn’t always make sense, but I listened. It seemed he needed to be heard. He asked people for money in between our one-sided conversation. Several rocks were scribed as we sat at the stair’s top entrance. One of those rocks was a small stone with “Press Through” written on it with a white pen. “Someone is going to really need that rock, Daisy. Just like I really needed someone like you to just sit with me. It’s hard being ignored for most of the day.” I pulled out my bag of pebbles and extended my arm towards Gypsy. “Pick one. Whatever one you choose is the one God knew you needed.” He reached his hand in the bag and pulled one out. The small rock had “Love” written on it. Gypsy smiled and said, “This is perfect. I’m never going to lose this.” He put it in his pocket and began talking again, pouring out the pent-up words that needed to be voiced. Isn’t this the truth of what every person needs? …to be heard.

After some time had passed while sitting on the patchy grass, a young guy was noticed crossing the street. Lots of people had done the same, yet he distinctly stood out. He was a street brother, a handsome one at that, and he had an orange and white cat on his shoulders. “Hey Gypsy, who’s the new friend?” --- “This here is Daisy. She draws on rocks.” He pulled the “Love” rock from his pocket and showed it to the young man. “Very nice, Daisy. I like you already. How do I get one of those rocks?” He sat down on the other side of me and the cat crawled down his arm and laid half on the ground, half on my shoes. “That’s D-O-G. She likes you already too. My name is Savannah Shaggy.” Not going to lie, I liked Shaggy already as well. The three of us sat there for a while and Gypsy focused more on spanging as Shaggy’s voice took the microphone. I was going to give him the “Press Through” rock, but when Gypsy told me that it was a specific person, I put it back in my backpack. God would put that special person in my path two days later when He led me back to Jacksonville. Shaggy got a “Truth” rock and he said it was perfect, for he is all about the truth. While we sat there talking, I touched up his faded tattoos with my Sharpie markers. While tracing the lines and coloring in some of the empty crevices, he said, “Dang, that looks so ‘sca’.” --- “What does ‘sca” mean?” I asked. “Savannah College of Arts… SCA. It’s a way of saying something is artistic.” I now have a new word that I use. “Not going to lie, I also like the human touch, though.” Don’t we all.

We parted ways with Gypsy and another young guy who had just rolled into Savannah. Shaggy and I walked to a park that sits in the center of town. Lots of people come here to sit on the cement steps that surround the park. He wanted to introduce me to some of his friends. I met Leaf, Kid, Cricket, Tiny Katy and many others. Gave rocks and hugs to all of them. They welcomed me into their family. There were four dogs playing together and D-O-G- did not get down from Shaggy’s shoulders. We stayed there till things got rowdy with one of the girls who was trying to be the matriarch of the family. Her excessive consumption of alcohol today slurred her voice that yelled and swore about things that didn’t justify her rage. Leaf and I were in a deep conversation about choosing joy in all circumstances. The girl’s anger painted a picture of how not to act. Leaf kept asking for hugs as did Kid and Tiny Katy. I loved each of them so deeply. They were starving for affection. And I was not starving, but was growing increasingly hungry for food as time passed. It was 4pm and I hadn’t eaten since having a banana that morning. Shaggy must have heard my stomach growling, for he asked, “You hungry? There is a soup kitchen that serves food at 4:30. We could walk there together. Plus, I kind of want to spend some one-on-one time with you.” As did I. It took a while for us to walk there and it provided the two of us to learn more about our stories.

Not knowing how long we would be gone, I needed to put more money in the meter box where Tumbler was parked. Told Shaggy I needed 15min by myself and he was reluctant to let me leave his side. Promising I would return, he sat down by a McDonalds, D-O-G hopping down to lay down by his feet. I rounded the corner and ran to my truck several blocks away. With my heavy backpack, the run was awkward. Threw in enough money to keep Tumbler legal till 8pm and made the ridiculous-looking run back through the blocks. Stopped to collect my breath and rounded the corner to where Shaggy was waiting. “You came back! Thought I wouldn’t see you again. People always say they will come back, but they never do. I want to keep you forever, girl.” We continued walking and talking. When we reached the soup kitchen, he introduced me to many more people. This feeding spot was just a small building that had a kitchen and large room where hundreds of people came to eat every day. Shaggy couldn’t come in because they didn’t allow animals inside. “I’m not hungry. Just wanted you to be full. I’ll wait outside for you.” He was truth-full and followed through on his word.

We then walked to another park that was outside the downtown area. It had cobblestone paths that wove through the tall and broad trees that had moss hanging from their branches. This place was beautiful… and the perfect place to spend more quality time with my new friend. He chose a wooden bench with tree trunks on either side of the armrests. D-O-G had a shoe string for a leash that was attached with a small carabiner to one of Shaggy’s belt loops. He undid the clip and let D-O-G chase the squirrels that were playing hide and seek around the bases of the trees. We laughed at the cat’s feeble attempt to catch the jittery critters. It was a good softening to the depth of conversation that ensued for the next hour. Shaggy opened up about his childhood, his family, his belief in God, his choice to live on the streets, and the pain that came from both his home-life and street-life. He was not having a pity party nor was he sharing it to provoke empathy… it was simply the truth. Like his rock. I leaned my head against his shoulder at times and his arm occasionally wrapped around my shoulder. It was innocent… and sweet to extend affection that didn’t have ulterior motives. We were strangers four hours ago, and now we sat together as two friends who had bonded as if we knew each other for four years.

The sun was going down and the park’s lights came on. As the temperature dropped, Shaggy offered me his jacket. D-O-G was sleeping under the bench, tired from the cat and squirrel game. “Want to walk down by the river for a while?” I nodded and he picked up D-O-G and placed him on his shoulders. We went through the big park again, but it was empty of the street family. We walked a few more blocks to another park where we met Tiny Katy again. I love hugging this lady and after a long embrace, I gave her a rose that I had picked on the way. While we talked, Shaggy’s name had been yelled from an SUV that pulled up to the park. He went over to it and was talking with who I learned was his sister. Shaggy called me over and I gave Tiny Katy one last hug. I met Shaggy’s sister and there were 3 other street brothers in the car. “She got a hotel room for tonight. Let’s go.” He had already put his backpack inside the car and was halfway in the middle seat that had 2 of the guys and their bags scrunched inside. I wanted to get in. I wanted to go to go to the hotel. I wanted to stay with Shaggy. But my heart did not match my mind’s desire. God was saying “No” to going. I shook my head and told Shaggy to go ahead. I did not tell him that I would see him again… for I knew this was a promise I couldn’t keep. He got out, pulled me into hug and whispered, “Please, don’t leave me.” This did not help the fight that was raging inside me. I pulled away from his strong arms then walked away. Shaggy got in the car and it pulled away. It was such an abrupt parting.

The almost five hours with Shaggy was so intense. It felt like five days. And then it was over in seconds without warning. I didn’t like it and I was not happy with God. And as I walked away, I let Him know by having a little temper tantrum. My steps were that of a kid who wasn’t allowed to go the party with their friends. I kicked some of the fallen leaves on the sidewalk. But below my anger, was sadness… I already missed Shaggy. I walked to the place where I met Gypsy. Took the historic steps down to the cobblestone street to the river where Shaggy and I had planned to go just 10 minutes ago. Still upset with God for suddenly snatching Shaggy, I plopped down on a bench. I was not “Choosing Joy” like Leaf and I had talked about earlier. My head had been downcast the whole time, and when I looked out towards the river, the sight before me made me say “Oh Wow!” out loud. The huge, bright super moon was coming up behind a hotel that was lit up with beautiful white lights. The moon’s brightness bounced off the river and made a streak of reflective light off the water. It was breath-taking. Tears formed in my eyes not only at this beautiful display of God’s awesomeness, but also at my childish pity party with my sovereign, holy, Heavenly Father who gives and takes away. In this case, He took away and then gave. I repented of my lack of trust and questioning His steadfast goodness. I thanked Him for the time He gave me with my new friend. Knowing I wouldn’t see Shaggy again, I asked God to send others to love my street brother. Others to hug him. Others to plant seeds in the soil of his heart. Others to water those seeds. I fell in love with Shaggy and his handsome yet hurting heart.

Watching the super moon rise into the Savannah sky was a beautiful way to end my time on this mission field. Only one day was spent here, but it was enough. I was full… and tired. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until Tumbler pulled onto the road that led us down to the intercostal Georgia islands. Might this have been more reason as to why God had said “No” to going to the hotel tonight? Probably… among other reasons only He knew. I pulled into a large rest stop off the highway and my eyes were heavy and red. A phone conversation was had with my dear friend Kellee Stall. Such an encouragement she is. Such a kindred friend she is. Such a tender heart for Jesus she has. I had crawled into the backseat of Tumbler while we talked and was laying down as she began to pray for me. Her soft voice and Spirit-filled words lulled me to near slumber. I fell into a deep sleep minutes after we hung up with “I love you’s.” It had been a full day of love… and purpose. Tomorrow would hold its own purpose divinely planned out by God and His faithful goodness.

One plants.
Another waters.
But it is God
Who makes it grow.

Unshakable Peace and Purpose
Cling to the Rock
Psalm 18:1-2