~ 42cd Day ~
Reality Church...State St...Pershing...Cottage Hospital...Karen.
Being Sunday morning, I was excited for where God would lead me to go to church. His choice was Reality Church (the Santa Barbara location) and this would have been my choice if He had left it up to me to decide. Often, I'm lead to go where I wouldn't choose, but when I listen and obey His G.P.S. it always is for reasons beyond what I could have mustered. Today happened to be a time when my wanting matched His will.
I forewent the coffee this morning, though couldn't forego my oatmeal. The drive to this church was not far and I had a childish grin on my face when I pulled in the parking lot. I had been to several services in my past Sundays in SB, but today I would be walking in the sanctuary with my head held high rather than downcast. This church has grown and expanded so much in the past years. The original Reality church in Carpinteria is where I used to attend and it is still alive and thriving, though they now have churches in Santa Barbara and Ventura. I ike that each of the locations has live pastors speaking and they rotate. Telecasts can still be effective ‘cause the message is being spoken and heard, but I’m more fan of seeing the pastor in person as he gives the word. It’s more personal. Pastor Britt is the main pastor is this laid back surfer has an approach to Jesus that is highly respectable by all age groups. The Santa Barbara location would not be graced with Brit today, but Pastor Chris was who God knew would deliver the message to my heart and he was so on point. Oh my, was he ever. Reality has been doing a series on the spiritual gifts (all of them, not just the more talked about ones) and today, he talked about the spiritual gift of serving that some people have. This is the manifested gift of serving and these people are wired to serve. They are also cheerleaders to others who are still called to serve, but aren’t looking to serve all the time like those with this manifested gift from God. Pastor Chris dove into the Living Word of God and I willingly followed. Much was learned and more revelation was revealed this morning. And the continuation of worship before and after the message was a joy-full and worship-full time of imperfect people singing and dancing to/for our perfect and holy God. I’m usually pretty pumped up and a ball of energy to begin with, but this morning, I was bouncing off the walls. I left a rock with the verse James 1:2-3 (one of my life verses) on the bathroom window sill. I was washing my hands when I girl my age walked behind me and into the stall. I saw her go to close the door, but then saw the rock. She picked it up and read it, then flipped it over (to where the most important words were written) and then looked out towards the sinks to see if maybe someone had forgotten it. It was indeed left, but it was left for her. Though our eyes met, I walked out without drying my hands, for I didn’t want the rock to have been from me, but from her Abba Father who knew that she needed it today and possibly her tomorrows. I rarely get to see the random rocks I leave be picked up by people, but today I was encouraged that they were being picked up and God was the orchestrating the “pick-up” appointment. I too, had an appointment (State Street) and though I wasn’t running late, I wanted to be on time for what God had planned.
Before I left to go to a very real church at Reality, I told Karen I might be gone most of the day. This was a true statement, for the rest of the afternoon into the early evening would be spent looking for ways I could pour out the overflow of faith, joy, truth and love that had just been added to my already full heart. I parked Tumbler near Pershing, but didn’t walk into the park. Walking slowly to State Street, my backpack had been restocked with bland rocks ready to be scribed and handed out, but I the extra weight wasn’t bothering me. I felt light and buoyant. This was another day the Lord had made, and wanted to keep reJOYing in and through it. This morning’s message was still ruminating in my heart and mind as I walked the few blocks to the main strip. Pastor Christ had talked about how people think the opposite of love is hate. He pulled out a different word that is a more accurate antonym of love: Selfishness. Wow, that hit me like a softball in the chin. He shared a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. “Sin is the inward bend of our hearts toward ourselves.” Another line drive to the chin. My friends, God made us and created us to pour out…to love and to serve. So sin (the destructive and unhealthy selfishness is whatever we do to serve ourselves. I’m the first to admit that my heart bends and curves inward all too often. I sin in more ways than one every day. That’s why I’m so in need of God’s grace. I need Him to take my human nature of inward curvature (selfishness and sin) and bend it outward to other people. Staying malleable is so important. And though we were created to love and serve others, we were first created to love and serve God, the Creator of our hearts. When our hearts are curved (rather bowed) to God, we can then love others out of the overflow of love that has poured out and first filled us. It’s quite difficult to love others when we are empty, or even partially full. All of this and more was keeping a big smile on my face as I walked. The worship and message at church was over, but the worshipping and being fed God’s truth and Living Word hadn’t ended… it was simply a continuation.
Weekdays bring buses of people to Santa Barbara, but the weekends bring them in by the boatload. The weather was a pristine for this summer afternoon and I probably should have been wearing sunscreen like my mom and others encourage me to do… but I tend to put more emphasis on the condition of my heart and other’s rather than that of my skin. This is a justified copout, but it is still the truth of what I am more concerned about. Today, I needed to stay mindful of the potential caner of my heart as well as be discerning of where other people’s hearts were struggling. While walking, many people were tugging on my heart and I kept asking God, “Can I stop and talk to him? Is she someone You want me to encourage? Is that someone who needs a rock? Can you please let me stop walking, so I can help them?” Keep walking, Katie… and don’t stop praying. I constantly have to remind myself of something God whispered in my heart a couple years ago. He said, “Katie, the most powerful and effective action of love is prayer. For then it is my hands that are doing the work and not your own.” Yep, another softball not only to the chin, but straight to the jugular vein connected to my heart. We often think that loving and helping (hey, here’s a great place for that word “serving”) usually entails a action such as giving a hug, listening or giving advice, feeding someone, opening a door, giving up a better seat, buying a gift, sending an encouraging text or card, helping change a stranger’s flat tire or whatever your language of love is. And all of these things are great things and ways to show love and serve others. While God allows us to be an extension of His hand, feet or mouth, prayer is often not considered to be the action of love that it is. We can’t always see the person being helped or served or the need being met ‘cause we don’t always know what their specific need is, but we pray for them in general, knowing that God knows their every need. Sometimes, we are called to intercede for someone, which is a more specific type of prayer and often God’s Spirit reveals things that a person is going through… this topic could be another lengthy post. But even praying for someone, friend/family/stranger, generally is more beneficial than physically doing something for them. We move from the physical to the spiritual realm… addressing not what is only seen, but what is unseen. To save on words, you and I must trust that when God tells us to keep our hands in our pockets and pull out the hands of our hearts to pray, we our love and service is still active… and in an increasingly and unmeasured way. Trust this, know this, and continue giving praise to our God who will meet that person’s needs according to His glorious riches. I could go into the difference between “needs” and “wants” here, but shall choose to leave that for another time.
Can you tell that my mind was like a Chinese ping pong match today? But as the plastic ball kept bouncing up and back down to my heart, it soon rolled towards a man whose face was familiar and my walking feet were giving rest as our paths intersected. This was Shannon, and I had met him in Pershing Park a few days ago. He was one of the 3 guys who had just arrived in Santa Barbara and were welcomed with some extra cheeseburgers and French fries left over from feeding the Pershing family. I had talked with him on that afternoon but in a group setting. This was a chance to get to know him one-on-one. He was looking for a place to squat and ask people for spare change to buy some food. We started walking together in the direction I had just come from. It’s great not having anywhere in particular to go or place to be, ‘cause the day’s route is often a retracing of steps and going around in circles. We often don’t have the opportunity to have days where we are totally free and have time to turn around and walk where we just came from, though even when we are busy and have appointments, there are always times to take a few minutes and see the “opportunity in the interruption.” Look for these chances amidst our scheduled days. There are unforeseen blessings in these moments of bending the usual curvature of our hearts.
I could tell Shannon was truly hungry and wasn’t going to use the money for another tall boy beer. Instead of giving him a granola bar and a few bucks, I asked him if he liked the food at The Habit, a local fast food chain. He said he was just hungry and he would eat about anything right now. The strip has a Habit on it and we were only a couple blocks from it. I blasted him with a barrage of questions on the way and he was really open with his answers. This man has a story like all of us and it was a page turner. Telling him to order whatever he wanted, Shannon was not greedy and just wanted a burger. Fries and a drink were added to the order and he put his calloused hand on my shoulder as he sighed and smiled. We continued the conversation while his food was being cooked and we took shelter in the shade to keep from cooking from the intense sun. I learned much about Shannon and his story is for him to tell. He was encouraged to keep handing the pen to God and allow Him to write the pages of his life-story. Shannon doesn’t really feel he belongs anywhere… hence his years of wandering from place to place, never really staying in one city for long. I told him that he could make a decision today (on this page of his life-letter) to ask Jesus into his heart and become a part of God’s family. In doing so, even if he continued to wander, he would always belong… be a son of God and a beloved child of the One who could never be wandered away from even if Shannon tried. God is the best companion when traveling or being comfortable in one place. Shannon got this and I believe he made the most important decision of his life this afternoon. And it wasn’t the burger he chose from the menu, but the beginning of a beautiful relationship with his now Heavenly Father. He now belongs… even if he continues to roam the country. Joy, Joy, Joy!!!
When Shannon’s food was placed in the pick-up window, I grabbed it and handed it to my brother… not just street brother, but hopefully brother in Christ. He was all smiles, and the food in his hand was simply the bonus blessing of the nourishment his heart was now receiving from the Savior who gets all the glory for what happened in this 30 minutes. We took a picture after I gave him a “Hope… This too shall pass” rock. It came out tinted blue, but both our hearts were far from blue as we parted ways.
Though I wanted to walk further up the strip, I felt led to keep retracing my steps back towards the ocean. An open bench a block away from the beach caught my eye and the backpack was dropped along with my body on the green metal bench. Both scribed and unscribed rocks were pulled out and I began to add to the “ready” collection. This stretch of the strip doesn’t have many shops and only a couple restaurants line this block, but the people who are walking from Cabrillo Drive (the road along the ocean) have to walk this block to get to busier part of the strip. Meaning, countless people were walking past this bench. I showered as many as I could with prayer and asked God to prick their hearts and draw them into acknowledging His undeniable Presence. There was no shade and I was sweating from the hot air. When I would pick up another rock to write on, they had to be cooled off by slowly rubbing them on my corduroy shorts. Many people walked past and smiled, told me they liked my rocks, or looked away. I offered a few people who commented on the rocks that they could have one and they were free. But they declined and kept walking. I even heard one woman say, “I don’t understand why people like that don’t just get a job to get off the streets.” Some people don’t know how to accept something that is free. They don’t stop to talk to the person, they just assume and judge them on appearance. Granted, I was undercover homeless, but I wasn’t like those making the palm leaf roses who said they were free, but really wanted a person to give them a few bucks. “cling to the Rock” ministry isn’t about the money, but some people think that if you give them something, then they are obligated to give you something in return. Though I really wanted to grab a rock, get up and run after this women to explain the message behind the ministry, I just prayed for her and trusted that this “action of love” was what she needed.
There was a couple who stopped, said they liked my rocks and picked one up that they both liked best. It was a “Live life to the fullest…” rock. They asked how much and I told them it was free. They looked at each other with raised eyebrows. They were on their second honeymoon and they truly looked like the sweethearts that they once were and still are. I asked them if I could take their picture so I could remember their faces as I would pray for them. When they saw the picture I took, they again looked at each other and smiled at the snapshot of their love and joy for one another. I was smiling too. Their names were Tino and Gloria. Tino pulled out some money from his wallet and even though I pushed it away and said meeting them was priceless, he pushed it back in my hand. I thanked them and said that they had just paid for a meal for another person, for what they gave me was the amount of Shannon’s meal I had bought. God works like that so often.
The hot sun was getting the better of me and I kept hearing my mom’s voice encouraging me to take care of my skin while I was younger so that it would be in better condition when I grew older. The rocks were put away and my feet began walking once again. A dip in the ocean sounded refreshing, but so did sitting with my family at Pershing Park, so this was where I walked next. When I arrived, the gang was there to greet me. The boys were lively and talkative. Gator wanted to know why I hadn’t visited him yesterday and I told him that I had come to the park, but he was passed out in an afternoon coma. “You know how I do, sister… I can’t hang with the youngin’s anymore. I missed you yesterday, but I’m glad I’m seeing ya now. Having you back around is like sunshine on a rainy day. Hey, do you like butterflies?” I nodded my head. He searched his pockets and finally pulled something out. When Gator gives you something, he doesn’t just hand it to you. He keeps his hand in a tight fist and holds it out. You then have to hold out your open hand, and slowly cup your fingers under his till both hand’s fingers meet. Then Gator will slowly open his fingers that are pointed down towards your upward fingers and the exchanged is then made. It’s a trademark of his and tears are filling my eyes as so miss my sweet friend who does this special exchange with the many things he gives to people. Gator is a giver and he may not have much, but the trinkets and small things he gives come from a heart that surely has been given the gift of serving. I have been given countless treasures from Gator over the years and on this return to Egypt. Today’s treasure given in his trademark way with the slide of hands was a tiny butterfly earring without the back. To some, it may seem insignificant and incomplete, but to me it was priceless… as was the words he said while slowly transferring it from his hand to mine. “Katie, you are a butterfly. I knew you when you were in that dark cocoon. But even then, I could still see what you would one day become. You were beautiful to me even in your darker days, but your beauty today is like a butterfly who has found its wings and become what it was created to be.” I about lost it right there, but the moisture in my eyes and his didn’t become the tears that would become another day. They are flowing right now… and I’m not trying to keep them in. I miss Gator, but the tiny butterfly, his voice and his spirit have traveled with me since I left Santa Barbara. I truly believe I will see Gator in Heaven. His relationship with Jesus is close and fully alive even though other’s who would look at him wouldn’t think this man is the least candidate to be part of the family of God. The love of God stretches further than our judgmental eyes keep us from seeing. Read Luke 23:33-43 and see how the least likely (or seemingly least deserving) can become Christians and be adopted into the eternal family of God. We all deserve death that leads to eternity in Hell, but that is why the grace, mercy, forgiveness and love of God is for everyone… it is receiving what we don’t deserve. We may be totally surprised to see who is in Heaven… and surprised at who is not. You can know for your own certainty that Heaven will be your true home for eternity, but the decision to acknowledge your need for a Savior and surrender you heart to the One who created it needs to be made. Make this choice today, if you haven’t already. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow and our past “performance” or present condition doesn’t qualify us to be a candidate for this adoption… it’s a heart condition, not a health condition. Okay, enough said.
I stayed with the Pershing group for over an hour and some more gnarly conversations were had. Ray Ray was the only girl among the brothers and she was vying for attention amidst the boisterous boys. Yesterday, she had asked me to drive her to Cottage Hospital to visit her boyfriend in ICU, and it had been hard to say I couldn’t. I truly could have cause I had the time, but I felt God saying “not now… I have other assignments for you.” She was asking for a ride again and today I not only still had the time, but felt a God’s peace about saying yes. There is a cool verse in the Bible that (paraphrased) says, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” There are times we, ourselves, want to say “yes” but God is saying “no” and we need to be mindful to listen to His voice and say what He says to say… even if it doesn’t make sense to our human eyes. What God sees is the big picture, and His ways always lead to the best way. Yesterday’s “no” was for a reasons that I didn’t see till I came upon them and knew that I would have missed them if I had said “yes” to Ray Ray’s request. But today God was giving me the green light on driving her to the hospital. It took her awhile to get ready and find someone (sober enough) to watch her belongings. We finally made it to Tumbler and she made herself at home in the passenger seat with her bare feet propped up on the seat. Most might have asked to leave them on the floor bed of the truck, but I wanted to her feel comfortable in Tumbler… and that she was. I always cover my truck in prayer and ask God to massage the hearts of those who are near it or in it, but an extra covering of prayer went out towards Tumbler as we were driving. We talked non-stop, more words from Ray Ray than I, but I love this lady and know she is often not heard above the choir of men in the park.
When we pulled up to the hospital, she didn’t want to get out right at that moment even though she was excited to see Shaun. I sensed this and found a parking spot that had a “`15 minute parking” sign, giving us these minutes to keep the conversation going. We talked about many things in this time, but mainly about where she was right now in life and where she really wanted to be. I could see the battle around her as she voiced the battle within. She didn’t know I was warring in the spiritual realm as we were physically sitting next to each other. My heart sighs deeply for Ray Ray. She is beautiful in her own unique way. After the 15 mins had gone by, I told her it was time for us to part ways. She asked if the scarf on her head looked stupid and I cupped her face and told her she was beautiful… cause she was. We hugged over the center counsel and she got out while flashing a peace sign at me and kept it up as I watched her walk away in my side mirror. Love her so much.
I had been dropped off at this hospital in past years, but not to visit someone. This was the hospital where I had two separate stays in their psych ward facility. Yep, you know I could write more than a few paragraphs on those gnarly vacations, but I shall save you of reading about those stories today. Maybe another time. All in all, these visits were full of more comedy than tragedy and the people I met while being caged in the “crazy house” (I use that phrase cause that’s what they call it, not because all the people including myself, were crazy. Though most of us were diagnosed as that!). I so wish cameras were allowed in up there, cause the pictures would have said a thousand words each. I have pictures and movie clips in my mind even though I was heavily drugged in these week plus long stays. The memories bring more smirks and smiles than frowns and furrowed brows.
It was now early evening and I had left Karen alone in her cute apartment all day. It was time to venture back to my resting place with my sweet friend. She looked ready for me to have some company when she opened the door and saw my sweaty self. I pulled her into a big hug and told her she had been missed. Karen went into a long and detailed description of what her day had entailed and I sat down to listen to my friend who needed someone to be interested in her day. Often, when we have been by ourselves for most of the day, we need another person to want to listen. Even if we don’t truly want to listen, we need to act like we do. I was interested in how Karen was doing, but honestly, I did need some time to breathe and be still after a long day myself. Living with my grandma has taught me a lot about the importance of sometimes sacrificing what we want (or even need) for the sake of investing in listening to what one needs to voice. I tend to like unwinding after I get back home (or to a temporary resting place), but living with my grandma and my time with Karen, I was stretched to get out of self and (here it is again) bend the often inward curve of my heart outward.
After an uncounted amount of time, Karen did ask me how my day was and though I could have shared the detailed events with her for another long amount of time, I choose to say, “It was awesome… God continues to amaze me.” And this was a sufficient enough answer for my dear friend as she then started to talk about another thing that happened in her day. I pulled out my laptop and continued listening as I checked messages and the news feed of my friends around the world. I was admittedly in many places at one time. Karen’s cat Mecha was laying outside, basking in the striped sunlight and I thought to myself he had quite the life. Last night, I had made Mecha do some tricks like sitting and also standing on his hind legs. There were some cat treats involved, but Karen was flabbergasted that I made him sit and stand. She had tried to make him do the same last night and tonight with treats as a treat for obeying her commands, but Mecha wasn’t very complying for her. So funny!!! Karen said I was a “cat whisperer” but I think Mecha was just being stubborn like a little kid can with their parents versus another adult. This cat is so cool…. Especially with his new “lion” haircut. He knows he is handsome.
The last thing I will highlight from this gift of another day involves a small piece of paper from over 6 years ago. Karen had found this index card in a box of other artifacts of memories and had it laying next to the chair I spent a lot of time in while staying with her. When I saw it before she pointed it out, the memory behind it was remembered with clearness. I have already shared that Karen is afflicted with sudden seizures stemming from a brain tumor she has had for many years now. When we first met at the Casa Esperanza, I had witnessed a few of these grand mal seizures and it was scary to see my friend out of control. Though she was and still is on medication for this, she still has occasional spells of seizing, though not near as frequent as she would have when we were in the shelters. To make a long story short (well, kind of short), Karen and I also lived at the Salvation Army shelter together for a short while. I remember the day clearly like it was yesterday. This afternoon, we were the only women in the dorm of 20 beds and we were both laying in our beds doing whatever we were doing. Suddenly, Karen went into a grand mal seizure and her body started jerking violently. I jumped up from my bed and ran over to hers. It wasn’t an audible voice, but I heard God say to lay my right hand on her head and my left on where her back and neck merge. I started praying out loud, but only said “In Jesus Name, In Jesus Name, In Jesus Name” and after the third one, she stopped seizing and went completely still. I kept whispering “Jesus” and after a couple minutes, Karen opened her eyes and looked right at me. Another lady had walked into the dorm as this was happening (God’s hand was in that too) and she had shouted for a staff member who was came up and called 911. The paramedics came pretty quickly, but I don’t know how long it actually took. Karen still wasn’t talking and whenever she did try, I would ssshhh her as my hand will still on her head and back/neck. She was taken by ambulance to the ER and because I wasn’t allowed to ride in the ambulance with her, I ran behind it… literally, until my pace couldn’t keep up with its speed. When I made it to the hospital, they had taken her to a room and doctors were looking over her. I had to wait and it was awhile before they let me into her room. When I walked in, Karen was laying down, but she was fully awake and aware of where she was. For those of you who don’t know about seizures, grand mal in particular, when a person has one, they don’t remember anything from the onset of the seizure. They also come to in state of confusion and because their minds were literally shocked and temporarily paralyzed, they have a hard time piecing together what happened. But when I walked over to Karen lying in the hospital bed, she grabbed my arm and said, “Katie, the doctors told me I had a grand mal at the shelter and they brought me here. I don’t remember any of this, but I do remember hearing ‘In Jesus’ Name’.” I then told her what had transpired and her mouth was wide open as were her eyes. Even though at that time I wasn’t in a good place of my walk with God, He had used me to stop the seizure. As I made very clear to Karen, I will emphasize again to you reading this that it wasn’t me who calmed my seizing friend… This was the power of God’s Holy and All-Powerful Spirit at work, using the broken vessel that I was (and still am, though with a lot of glue in many places). The doctor came in shortly after I was allowed in and told Karen and I that while all seizures are dangerous and grand mals are potentially deadly, the tests on the this seizure was showing that she was fortunate to be alive. He said that if the paramedics hadn’t come when they did, she might not be here at all. I was both shocked and stoked at what Karen said in reply to the doctors reporting: “Doctor, it was not the paramedics that saved my life, it was my friend here, Katie. She prayed over me and this was what made me stop seizing.” The doctor looked at me and I gave him a smirk while shrugging my shoulders and then pointed my pointer finger upwards. I don’t know if he believed in God or believed what Karen had said was the reason for the miracle, but without a doubt, he was witnessed to.
When Karen was released from the hospital, we walked back to the shelter together. It must have been the 4th of July, for we both remember there being fireworks in the distant sky on our way home. Or maybe these bright burst of color exploding in the dark sky were only seen by the two of us and it wasn’t Independence Day. The actual day wasn’t what was important and what we remembered… it was what happened on this day and what God in His power did. When we got back to the Sally and Karen told everyone what had happened both in the dorm and at the hospital, I pulled out an index card and wrote what is still written on it. That she still has it says so much. Though I don’t know if my sweet friend is a Christian and has made the decision to acknowledge her need for a Savior and ask Him into her heart, I do know she believes in God. And this day is proof to not only her, but all who hear what happened that afternoon, that God can still any storm, calm any crisis, and stop any seizure. He is sovereign and when we call upon His matchless and all-powerful Name, miracles happen… some seen and others unseen.
When God allows to see a miracle,
It’s not just that person who is witnessed to.
Everyone around that person is shown the God’s power.
That is why we need to testify about what we experience and see.
Don’t let fear of sounding or looking “crazy” keep you quiet.
Shout to the ends of the earth the great and marvelous
things that God does for you and others.
“Go tell it on the mountains” is a song that wasn't simply written for children’s Sunday school. It's for everyone including you and I.
~Unshakable Peace, Boldness and Purpose~
cling to the Rock