Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 38 ~ West Coast Rock Tour

~ 38th Day ~

The Wall...Treasured Tracker...The Feast...Doctors Without Walls.

This was a super packed day. 
An emotional roller coaster to say the least.
Forewarning at the length this post might become.

I woke up in the backseat of Tumbler. Telling Karen that I needed some time alone for a couple of nights (the night before, sleeping outside and last night sleeping in my truck) she understood after I explained that getting too comfortable at someone's house was trying to be avoided as well as needing time to be by myself. When I came back to her hospitality, she didn't quite understand the sleeping on a bench part, but there are others who probably wouldn't get the reasoning behind this either. I was grateful for her "come and go as you please" attitude.

Today had some known and unknown mission fields. The first two were known, yet the first still held an unpredictability for I was going back to my main stomping ground while living on the streets of SB... "The Wall." If a book was ever to be written about this farm-girl's life both on and off the farm, there would be a whole chapter written about this place where I traded a pocket full of corn kernels for a pocket full of rocks (and not the ones I carry around these days). It's hard to write a short description of the Wall, but I will try my best for those of you wanting to read other news feed in your allotted time on FB.

When I lived here, the Wall had no opening and closing hours. It was active 24/7 and though the nighttime was often busier than the normal hours people were up, we weren't afraid of doing dark things in the daylight hours. This is how addiction can take affect and all of us living there, were living for the next high. There were 5 main dealers, 3 main call girls, 7 other guys who didn't deal but had come to call this place home and countless men and women who would frequent this place to pick up and either smoke there or take it another location. The main group was another family unit who I grew very close with. Though many would question their loyalty, love, and protection, they were these things... just not all the time. We were dysfunctional, to say the very least. We argued, fought, swore at each other, burned each other, lied, cheated and stole from one another at times. But we were a family. We understood each other, laughed, joked, hugged each other, looked out for one another, consoled each other and love was shown in many ways. Our dynamics and deep bond would never be used as an example in family counseling, but we were a unit of drug addicts who survived the circus of chaos by sticking together.

The first picture you see is one side of the bridge where we typically congregated at. The fences were climbed with ease, for they were our front door. We had the leap down to a science and if chain-link fence hurdles were in the Olympics, we all would have gold medal records. Over the fence, the dirt mound was traversed to the top and flat portion of compacted dirt. Their is 3-4 feet gap from the top of the mound and the bottom of the overpass bridge. We would crouch while walking up there and there was a science to this as well. People driving or walking on the road and sidewalk below could see constant activity up here. There were always a few of us who would be hopping the fence, crouching and moving or sitting on the top against the cement wall, standing/sitting at the bottom on the other side of the fence, but there was one place that we most often were that no one could see us while there. On one side of the bridge and on the top, compacted area, we had built our own personal hideout. We stole some shovels and dug a pit that was 4 feet deep and a queen sized mattress was laid at the bottom of the hole. When we were sitting on the mattress, not even our heads could be seen from the bottom as people passed by. In a way, it was our "bed of thorns." Everything was done here... from selling rock, smoking rock, and doing things to get money for another rock. When I first started frequenting the Wall, I wasn't allowed in the hole cause the family is very selective about who is and isn't allowed in it. But after a while, I not only was allowed to do anything in it, but I spent many hours of the day and night holed up in this hole. But this was only one of the many places I would do all types of dark things at.

Next to the bridge, there were sections of grassways, bushes, trees and other cement walls. The bridge is located right next to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission where the men live for the inpatient program, where the outpatient program is located and the men's shelter is held. The cement wall that separates the grassway and hill leading to the freeway that goes over the bridge is where we would also congregate. I remember many times when I'd be sitting on the hill under a tree near the freeway, seeing the men in the program watching us. Surely, we were not helping their minds be free of triggers by doing deals and smoking crack in eye-sight. This area behind the Mission was active non-stop. There were beaten paths where we would walk back and forth from the street into the deeper parts of this section in between the freeway and the Mission as well as other buildings and lots along this stretch. It was a neighborhood block per se. The paths led to thicker sections of bushes and trees and in these more dense foliage places, we had studio apartments of sorts scattered throughout. We hung sheets on tree limbs and on the tops of bushes to create a sectioned off place where we would do deals, smoke, trick with men, and on the very rare occasion, actually sleep. Most of us would go days without sleeping and then crash when our bodies or minds would beg for rest. I was typically up for 3-5 days at a time and I remember being up for several 7-day stretches. This is typically when my dealers/pimps would refuse to sell me more and would tell the men who called for me that I was off-duty. This was usually when I would wander to Pershing Park to drink vodka and smoke pot till I passed out and would wake up a day or two later... only to get liquored up and stoned again till my appetite for crack would rear it's head and I'd wander back to the wall (against my Pershing family's pleading for me to stay with them and not disappear for another 3-7 days). What a crazy cycle, but this is how strong my addiction had a hold on me. Still, I was allowing it to run rampant and not willing to take any steps to stop the running madness.

 The cops were certainly on to the activity at the Wall. They drove by several times a day and night visits were also common. Problem was, we knew this area like the back of our hand and most raids ended up with them crouched over, hands on their thighs or hips, panting for breath, while we were out of sight in the maze of paths, bushes, holes cut in fences and metal sidings that led to other sections we knew the way through. Oh, we did get caught once in a while and a few of the night raids were planned and staked out well in advance and ended in handcuffs being snapped on our soiled and calloused hands. I was arrested twice at the Wall, once for a glass pipe (they couldn't find the 3 crack rocks I'd discarded right before they pounced on my friend and I... I found them later that day after I was released) and the other for hiding out near the creek bed in a cluster of bushed with a random guy who had just purchased my services for the rocks I was now smoking with him (They did find the crack that day and I was locked up for a few days). Most of the raids were done at the bridge as well as the area most commonly referred to as the Wall... a section of road that the 3rd picture shows. This used to be the place where 30-60 men would stand or sit while waiting to be picked up for a few hours or a day of work. People would drive by and pick one or more of the guys to do handiwork for them. Among the men actually looking for legal work (though many of them were not legal immigrants), the dealers, pimps, call-girls and addicts were scattered throughout the sea of men. Though we didn't actually blend in with the others, it was a smokescreen of sorts and we tried to look at normal as we could in our state of mind (or lack there of) when the police would drive by or stop to search us not at all gently. I remember countelss times being in the port-a-potties getting high when suddenly someone would pound on the plastic wall to let me know that a black and white was pulling up. A lot of things were flushed and/or stuffed in those bathrooms. And more things were done in them than using the facility and getting high... it was a place where much darker things were done. This stretch of the road was well-known in SB and though I had already drove by this area the 2cd day I was back, today I would park Tumbler and walk these streets to stand in front of some of the many places where I hit rock bottom... in more ways than one.

I was meeting a dear, sweet friend at the Rescue Mission, and purposefully arrived an hour early. I knew at some point on this return trip to "Egypt" that I would go back to face and feel what needed to be physically walked through at the Wall. I parked Tumbler under the main bridge (there were others nearby that we used to chill under, but this was the primary one and location behind the mission with the hole we dug). I was surprised at the lack of activity and when I got out of my truck, not a soul was seen. This was actually a blessing for I needed to be present with my feelings at the sights and smells without the presence of anyone else nearby. It was as if God has scattered the people so that my mind could stay focused on the place and not any person. The bridge was the same, but newer fences had been put up. They weren't bent over in places (except one section) and the garbage that usually littered the dirt mound and around the fences, was cleaned up fairly well. The slope of dirt had eroded away so much and when I looked to see where the hole once was, it appeared to have been filled in (I could see this through an eroded crack of dirt). My eyes were taking it all in and I wrestled with the plethora of memories that played through my mind like previews before the main movie. I had purchased the ticket to the show when I willingly came to re-visit this place, but I wasn't exactly sure how this movie would play out... and the previews of memories were like premiers in and of themselves. Trying to be mindful to not suppress the emotions, I sat with each memories for as long as was needed to acknowledge that it happened and left a scar, but that it wasn't happening now and I wasn't the same person I was back then.

I lingered under the bridge for 15 mins, taking it all in of what was the same and what was different. I peered through the chain-link fences to the paths that were still noticeably walked. Though the desire to hop the fence and traverse up the slope, walk down the path to the thicker foliage, and then run across the freeway to the wide median where other paths and places were once carved through the thick trees/bushes, I didn't need to physical go to these places that I still mentally could go with ease. It's okay to go back to dark places, but how far we walk into them, is a personal choice. Some may need to "jump the fence" and others can find closure simply by staying on sidewalk. I chose the later.

There were 45 mins before I was to meet with my old "Tracker" and still dear friend, so I took a right on the road the Rescue Mission was located and walked towards the area where the cement sitting area, port-a-potties, and men used to stand and wait for work. This place did have people nearby and I braced myself for potentially seeing some familiar faces. The tree that I used to climb and smoke up in the branches was passed... so many memories of countless hours I perched up in this tree. I saw 3-4 men I recognized but they didn't remember me. Whether it's because I looked different, it had been too many years and their minds were more fried, or God put a hedge of protection around me, I'll never know, but besides looks of curiosity and slight confusion at this lone girl walking in this area known to not be the safest, no one stopped me to inquire of why I was walking here. I gave a few nods to let some know that I meant no harm, but I didn't stop walking... till I passed the men near the bathrooms and walked to the other side of street. More memories flooded my head when I walked passed certain places where we would jut into the foliage to other paths and places where we would stun and deadened more brain cells. There were cement tunnels that water would trickle through where we would crouch inside along the curved walls to get high. There used to be hollowed out clumps of bushed that had sheets and blankets spread on the ground, but I couldn't see if they were still hollow or had grown in from where I stood. I walked past the creek where I would take men who paid for my services, and my skin tingled with regret of how I was not only used but also using their appetite of pleasure to feed my appetite for the drugs that kept my mind foggy enough to perform such things. I don't share these things to made anyone shake their head in disgust, for pity, to highlight the depravity of my mind, but rather because I'm not afraid to voice the truth of my past. This is part of the reason my heart beats a little faster (out of compassion and empathy) for women who prostitute. It's part of my story... and the muzzle that used to be clasped on my mouth has been ripped off and forever discarded. Though it's not easy to put (written or verbal) words to these dark time in SB as well as in other cities in IL, I will not be silent to the truth. God gives me the courage to voice my largely painful past in hopes that the purpose is for encouraging others to find the courage to unbuckle their own muzzles with help of God's strength and then allow Him to use their own dark chapters to bring light to others. May some of you reading this post feel a rise in courage and a boldness mustering up within your heart. After all, what we've experienced in life is not just about us. I'll keep saying this over and over in hopes that at least one really, truly gets this. Ooops, rambling rant over 

My this post is already long! I'll speed things up a bit here. When I was walking on the other side of the place where the men were gathered (and some were passed out on couches that had newly been set up along the metal fence), one of the men stood up and walked to his edge of the sidewalk. "Hey, whatchu doing 'round here? I saw you take a couple pictures. Do you work for the city or police or something?" I took this as good cue to walk across the street and not a warning to quicken my pace toward the Mission area. "No I don't work for the city. I'm taking a few pictures of this place cause I used to live under the bridge up there and this place here was where I also used to hang out a lot of the time." I was standing in front of him now. I stuck my hand out and when I told him my name, he introduced himself as "Black." I could write several paragraphs on the conversation Black and I had over the next 30mins, but that will be saved for that potential book. To an on-looker, Black was rough, hardened, and up to no good. But I got to know the man inside that exterior front. He told me about his past life, his present situation and the challenges he faces daily. I stood with him near the hang-out area for awhile and then asked him to walk me back to my truck. A funny thing happened on this walk. My old tracker (counselor) at Bethel House, whom I was to be meeting in half an hour pulled over by the sidewalk where Black and I were walking. The last time I remembered seeingAlana was the same sight she was seeing now... I had been walking with an older man on the sidewalk (having just turned a trick with him). I couldn't help but laugh out loud when she pulled over and said "Hey girl" just like she had years ago. I told her that this was not what it looked like, and though I was still going to get a rock with this man, it was a different rock than the one I was going to purchase years ago. Alana laughed and said she wasn't assuming what I though she might be. We agreed to meet in the Mission parking lot after I finished ministering to Black. When Tumbler was reached, I pulled out a rock that said "Live each day the fullest you can; Not guaranteeing there will be a tomorrow; Not dwelling endlessly on yesterday." He pulled me into a tight side hug and told me that he wished so many of his friends and family could here my story and get a rock to remind them that there is a Rock higher than any other "rock" (whatever that may be). I felt honored that God would have me meet this man and hopefully encourage him to one day drop the "rock" he used to fill his void, and allow the Rock, the Void-Filler, to be his positive and purposeful stronghold. I would see Black the other times I drove by the Wall area, but I didn't stop to talk with him again. Still, he has been added to my long list of people from the Wall to pray for.

More pictures will be posted along with several other paragraphs about my time before and now at the Wall, but the hour is only 11:30am in this post and so much happened this afternoon and into the evening that I have yet to share. When Black and I hugged for the last time and he walked back towards the other men, I hung a right into the Rescue Mission parking lot to meet up with my beloved old counselor. Alana was using her lunch break to grab some food and fellowship with me. We hopped into her car and headed to a nearby restaurant. A big smile remained on my face for most of the next hour or so. I was so full of joy to be sitting with someone I not only looked up to while at Bethel, but still have a deep respect for. Though she isn’t working at Bethel any longer, she has been a counselor at the outpatient recover program at the Mission for the years since I last saw her when living on the streets. Alana has always been a huge cheerleader in my bleachers whether I was using or trying to stay clean. Her love is unconditional, like the Savior who saved her from a destructive lifestyle as well. Her testimony is radical, like everyone’s story that was once dark (without God) and has now been transformed to one of light (walking with God). 

There was so much to catch up on with this woman who sat next to me as we ate our filling food. The conversation was nourishing as well, and the time went by too quickly for my liking. Still, I was grateful for this quality time with Alana and it wouldn’t be the last time our paths would cross while back in SB. I love her so much. She is a beautiful representation of Jesus and she continues to impact not only my life, but everyone who has the honor of knowing this compassionate vessel of God’s hope and love. A "Peace" rock was placed in the hands of this beautiful woman of grace.

It was a after 1pm when I our paths parted and a parking spot a few blocks from the Wall was found to simply sit and inhale and exhale the feelings that were still ruminating in my heart and mind. Though there were some tears that slipped out through the cracks of a few wound that had been re-opened, I didn’t find myself breaking down like I had been prepared to possibly happen. Though I was open to letting the damn of hurt and sadness bust open, it was if God was saying, “Not now… not yet my child. I will allow you to feel enough for this day, and I will hold you tight. But I will allow a slow release of tears over the next few days and I’ll comfort you in these days too. But the full release of tears will come later. Trust Me, beloved daughter… you won’t break beyond my bestowing my peace in the pain.” I sat there will this “enough” for over an hour. My mind was full, but not racing; My breathing was deep at times, but not gasping for breath; My heart was full of both pain and gratitude, but it didn’t consume me. My steady and sure Counselor was with me and at times, I could literally feel His strong, gentle arms around me. This only happens once in a great while, where I can tangibly feel Him… and this was one of those times.

When it was time to move, both physically and mentally, I found myself driving towards Pershing Park. I had made a promise to the group there (especially Gator) that I would stop in at least once if not twice every day I was here, and I held that promise not out of duty or sake of keeping my word (though that was important too), but because I wanted to. As my last days drew near, I sensed that this may very well be the last time I see Gator. Though none of us are guaranteed another day on earth, I felt that Gator’s time was drawing near and I wanted to spend as much time with him on this visit as possible. Before walking into the park, I did some writing in Tumbler as the group was in full view. I was spotted by them and my writing was paused a handful of times when some of them individually came over to chat for short periods of time. Some of the deepest conversations were had with my brothers and sisters who would hang on my passenger door after I rolled down the window. These talks were one-on-one versus the group dynamics of talking with everyone vying for attention and wanting the microphone. The talks around Tumbler were more focused with individual attention and ministering. I finally put my laptop away when I realized not much was getting wrote on the screen, though much more important things were being “written” in real time.
My backpack was strapped on after more rocks were pulled from my large containers in the back. I was starting to make a dent in one of the 3 I had filled with rocks when I left Woodstock. It was not a race, but I did smile that I was finally seeing the bottom of this bin. When I walked up to the group, I greeted Gator even though he was passed out. The others were flashed peace signs with "What's up my family!?!" Bruiser was the first to stand up and tackle me in a big bear hug. I love this guy… we were close in the time I lived here before, and that hasn’t changed. He is one of the few who is making an attempt to fight his addiction to alcohol. He often leaves the park for a day or two in order to sober up, but it’s a hard fight to stay sober when he returns. One can rarely stay clean and sober when spending much of their time here. That is why it’s called “Prison Park” and unless you leave (for days or years), you will end up not only sitting but consuming the substances that make this park famous (not in a good way). While I was here visiting, it was important for me to repeat over and over to Bruiser that I was proud of him for fighting the fight and not giving up. When dealing with people who struggle with any addiction (alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, sex, work, etc) one needs to acknowledge the small things that the person does, even if they keep going in and out of their unhealthy behavior. We are hard enough on ourselves and our own guilt can encourage us to continue using, so more guilt and shame by those around us doesn’t help us in the fight. There’s a whole post (or 16) that could be written about this topic. Just be mindful to pat them on the back and cup their downcast faces in your hands as often as possible. There are always things that can be commended, instead of constantly berating them for the poor choices they are well aware they are making. A balance is necessary here… be honest about the ripple effect the addiction is producing, but lace the truth with love and encouragement. Hope is never lost until we give up loving them where they are at in their journey. Enough said on that for now 

Bruiser and I had another talk about where he was with the fight today and I felt it was time to give him his rock. Since he had gotten in a little scuffle with the police yesterday (that was the picture I posted in yesterday’s post that showed the cop cars at the park), and he was released with a minor infraction, I laughed at the rock I knew was perfect for my brother who can let his pent up anger (from a past filled with pain) get the best of him and often is released onto others. The rock was shaped like a face that had it’s mouth open like it was shouting. I had written “It’s okay to be angry, but don’t sin when you are.” This was a paraphrased verse from Psalm 4:4. I typically don’t write things like this on rocks, but the way this rock looked like an angry face, it was the verse that came to mind. Bruiser busted out laughing and said it was totally the right rock he needed to keep in his pocket. Again, I have so much love for him and truly hope He either has or will one day surrender his life to God. He may not stop drinking, but God doesn’t ask us to clean up before becoming His child… He wants us to come as we are and it’s His job to do the restoring of our lives. Some never change their lifestyles, but I can testify that to continue willingly living with addictions and habits is all the more miserable when you open your heart to the One who sees both the good and bad in us… yet still loves us unconditionally. How sad that many people (especially Christians) put conditions on who can and can’t (in their minds) be welcomed into God’s family. Oh boy, there’s another long, long, long post in that sentence! I’m not even going to go further on this… except to say that judgementalism is one of the most undiagnosed and unrecognized addictions in today’s society.

While talking with some of the others, I was reminded that today was Wednesday. The importance of this announcement wasn’t to inform me of my lack of awareness of what day it was, but to trigger my mind to the regular happenings in the park on Wednesday evenings: The Feast. The usual people at the park are joined by several dozen other homeless people on this night, for an organization called Common Ground (which is largely made up of people who come from all different churches) that comes with literal car loads of food. They come at 5:30 every Wed… and I mean EVERY! They were coming when I lived here before, they had been here every Wed in the time I was away, and they were coming tonight. Oh what a reunion this was. Though none of the 25+ servant hearts remembered me (I looked a little different with all my teeth and somewhat clean clothes), but I pulled 3 of them aside after they had served the food and told them I remembered them. It was important to thank them for not only feeding us plates piled high with home-cooked deliciousness, but for the love and grace of God that they were handing out every Wed here with the people most ignore and don’t take time out of their busy schedules to spend time with. The 3 people I began to tell tidbits of my story with, soon became a larger group as others were pulled in to hear how their seeming small act of kindness had left a deep impression on one wanderer (though others were being impacted, but may never come back to tell them). I encouraged them to continue this tradition of planting seeds of nourishment for the body as well as the hearts of the homeless. There weren’t many dry eyes in the group, including my own eyes. I gave one of the most remembered ladies a “Love” rock and hugged each of the men and women before walking over to another group of servant hearts that had shown up while I was conversing with the Christ-representatives.

Every Wednesday in Pershing was not just about the Feast, but it was also the night “Doctors Without Walls” comes to the park. This is a group of doctors, nurses, and people in training/school to be medical practitioners. But all that is required to volunteer in this stellar organization is a willing heart, whether licensed or not, to meet some of the medical needs of those living on the streets. They come on Wed nights, but they also pop in the parks and walk the streets throughout the week. I remember them well and was taken care of several times while last here. I had a staff infection 2 different times as well as a treatment (mostly compassion doses administered) for times I was beat up during rapes. The hearts of these people bends to meet the needs of the homeless… though sometimes the needs are not always medical. One person in particular was pivotal in ministering to me: Jennifer. And she was here tonight. 

When I walked toward where she was standing, she looked up and recognized me immediately. A big smile busted out on both our faces. “Oh my gosh... It’s you! What happened? What are you doing here?” I told her about my parents coming to get me 5 years ago and how I still slipped back into addiction after a 9 month rehab, but then clocked into what would be my last program. When she heard why I was back in SB, her smile grew wider. Jennifer radiates joy. She is well-known in the community and in the homeless community. She is one of a few who started this amazing organization and my, how it’s grown since I was last here. What started with just a few volunteers, has now blossomed into several dozen people who frequent the streets of SB. I was so proud of her and how this free service is helping so many people who can’t afford trips to the hospital. They go TO the people… they meet their needs as much as they can right where they are. Jennifer and another guy named Jason may never know how much they helped me in those dark times. 

I didn’t want to hold her up from the others volunteers she was training tonight, but it was important to look her in the eyes and thank her. After this acknowledgement of my gratitude for her was voiced, she then told me a story that left my mouth open. She told me that I had given her a rock 6 years ago and that she not only still keeps it in her car, but she uses it as an analogy to at least one person a week. The rock I’d given to her was one that had broken down the middle, but I had glued it back together and written “Embrace The Brokenness” on it. Now my smile was growing even wider. She said that the words were a bit faded, but the message had not. I couldn’t even remember giving this rock to Jennifer, but she did. This merge of our paths would not be forgotten. She is another woman I greatly respect and look up to. Please look them up on the web and play a role in helping them mend more medical and emotional wounds. 

A real bed was beckoning my tired, in more than one way, body and mind. But a stop a HotSpots to check in with Daniel and Salvatore was made before I would venture to a roof over my head. We talked for an hour or so and I was introduced to a local artist whose studio was around the corner. His name was Danny and he was known for his “Santa Barbara Rocks” rocks. Another fellow rock admirer and artists… I had to meet him and wanted to give him a rock. His art on the rocks was mainly skull-heads and it was interesting to hear how he wanted to bring a smile to people’s faces with something that points to death. To each their own. 

He was an interesting person and what intrigued me most was not his rocks, but the poetry he recited that was all about Jesus, the cross, salvation, repentance, surrender, and love. This man was certainly gifted in writing and I wish the poems he recited from heart had been captured on camera. This man who was infatuated with skulls (death) was all about eternal life in Heaven. I left him with a “Love Rocks” rock and our paths crossed several times in the remainder of my days in SB.

I drove to sweet Karen’s apartment and when I dropped my backpack, I put my head on her chest a couple times as we talked about both of our busy days. The role of a mother was needed this night and a deep sigh was released as she stroked my head, knowing this was a calming technique when I am in need of human comfort. She was used by God in so many ways during this visit back to a place that brought up more memories than I remembered. This wouldn’t be the last night I needed her to hold me in her motherly arms. I slept well this night and would need the good night’s rest for what tomorrow would hold.

Pat people on the back more than you point a finger at them.
We all struggle with something… visible or unaware.
Search your heart for weeds that need pulling.
And seek to encourage someone,
Rather than to judge them.
Grace is for everyone.

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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 37 ~ West Coast Rock Tour

~ 37th Day ~

Bench vs. Bed...Starbucks...Police at Pershing...Surfer Mikey...State St.

Funny how the days are already getting jumbled. Though last night I did make it to bed to lay down in, it was not the plush king-sized bed at Karen's place. After I left Pershing park, I wrestled with wanting to find a patch of grass near Gator and the group to bed down for the night, but instead, I contacted my friends Daniel andSalvatore to ask if they had room for my sleeping bag in their squatting spot. They did... and I met them at the secret location at 1:30am. Some writing was done in the safety of Tumbler till this meeting time. When I met my brothers in the dimly lit location, we laid out our bedding. I was shocked that Daniel only had a sheet and a thin cotton blanket and Salvatore had nothing to sleep on or cover himself with. His sleeping bag had been stolen a week ago after he stashed it in a cluster of bushes. It's hard to stash things in a city where so many live on the streets and sleep outside. Something needed to be done about their lack of bedding, but that would be addressed later.

Daniel and I sat on the steps that led to the cement balcony the 3 of us would sardine ourselves on tonight and we talked for 40mins till Salvatore's silhouette was seen coming towards us. Our trio was firmly planted in the foundation of our Provider and King... my 2 brothers are mighty men of God who defy the normality of most Christian lifestyles. Yes, they live on the streets; they have minimal comforts; they live day to day; they are homeless... and they are the closest to being modern day disciples than anyone I know. Daniel and Salvatore stay together much of the time ("road-dog disciples") but they often part ways during the day to minister to individuals for periods of time. Many Christians would question their situation, lifestyle, ministering, evangelizing, and even sanity... but I will vouch for these two amazing men in the Christian courthouse that leans more towards comfortable complacency and judgementalism than sacrificial living and boldness for sharing the Gospel with those outside of their Christian cliques. That was harsh, I know, but it's the sad truth. I was so blessed to be linked up with my brothers who not only minister on the streets, but live there themselves with the people who most ignore. I'm not suggesting everyone sell their house and car and start living on the streets, but this is where God has called a minority of His children to be most effective in their mission fields. I am a total fan and advocate of these few and tonight, I would sleep outside with 2 of these few.

All didn't go smoothly in the first spot we spread our bedding (or lack there of) for a cop car pulled up to us and parked 15 feet away from us. He didn't get out and shoe us along, but his presence was all the hint the 3 of us needed to move our bodies and belongings. I was used to this relocation at all times during the night when I slept outside years ago. Sometimes, the cops would shine their light on us and yell at us to move along, other times they would arrest us (I was locked up twice for transiency when in SB, but this was not unwelcomed for the cot and 3 meals a day were a nice vacation for a few days each time) and there was even a cop that would come to Pershing late at night and bring us all McDonalds (but this was a rare visit from the normal perturbed police). Neither of us were salty from the surprise black and white car, and we packed up with smiled on our faces. This was part of living on the streets... being moved along.

We walked a few blocks to a place that was behind another large building and the concrete balcony was traded for long benches for each of us. It was now almost 3am and our bodies were beckoning for rest. I felt bad for my brothers as I snuggled inside my warm sleeping bag that my mom had purchased for me for last summer's "Europe Rock Tour" and I made a mental note to find a store that sold sleeping bags for the cooler nights my brothers would be sleeping outside through. We got 5 hours of sleep before being rudely woken up by a business man who was on his way to work. Maybe his $100 shirt wasn't starched correctly that morning or he had missed his evening yoga class the night before, but compassion was not one of his strong suits. We learn how to act or how not to act with everyone we meet.

The morning mission field was a nearby Starbucks, and the 3 of us chased the sleepiness away with cups of caffeine for the next couple hours. Coffee shops may seem like luxuries to those living on the streets, and they are. They provide a place to drop our bags, use the bathrooms, and get a cup of coffee like most people who have houses start the day with. Daniel and Salvatore also use Starbucks, the local library and HotSpot WiFi shop to get off the streets and recharge themselves for ministering on the streets. And these places are mission fields themselves, for many people congregate there with whom they have conversations about Jesus and the assuredness of eternal salvation. These 2 men are mission minded... much more so than most I know who go to Starbucks to simply fill their tank rather than filling others hearts with truth and love. It's a beautiful thing to witness these 2 witnessing. I scribed some rocks while there, made some phone calls outside and had a couple brief conversations with people sitting on benches outside the coffee house. When I went back inside to say I would be parting ways with my brothers, Salvatore pulled out a cross he had made for me and I was touched by his servant heart that is always looking to give rather than take. This cross will be cherished for all my earthly days and a reminder of the sacrificial love and forgiveness that Christ gave in dying on the cross for me and for everyone else no matter was class or social status they are labeled. He died for everyone... and loves everyone regardless of our lifestyle. 

Off to the next mission field of the day, I walked to where I had parked Tumbler for the night and drove towards Pershing Park to see who was gathered there on this beautiful gift of another day. To my delightful surprise, my old friend and brother Surfer Mikey was there and he recognized me right away when I walked up to him. We hugged and smiled and laughed at how the sun had given us both more wrinkles around our eyes. Mikey is seemingly always smiling and this may be adding to the permanent crinkles on his boyish face. He is nearing 50, though his personality is one of a teenager. The ocean is admittedly his daily therapy session and he has been surfing since he was a toddler. Mikey doesn't live at Pershing but he frequents there often. Unfortunately, a couple years back, he was jumped by some guys and they beat him up real bad. The doctors put a metal plate in his head and the effects of the beating have left him slightly impaired in his mind... but he is still the lovable and sweet Mikey. He was curious to where I'd been since leaving SB and I gave him the gist as I pulled out a "Love is the greatest gift" rock. He was so stoked that my rocks had been switched and he told me that he remembers me talking about Jesus even when I was still addicted to rock cocaine. I chilled with Mikey and 3 other guys including 2 Feathers for a while longer till I sensed it was my time to leave.

It was early in the afternoon and I cranked out a day post while sitting in toasty Tumbler. The weather was so pleasant in SB but with no breeze, 80 degrees outside meant 90-95 in my truck. All the water I was drinking was making my visits to the bathrooms, that hold more memories than I can remember, a common trip during these times of writing and resting, but I was creating new memories of using them for what they're intended for. Many scars were opened up and became, once again, bleeding wounds during my almost 13 day stay in SB, but the bleeding slowed, dried up, scabbed over and healed into another scar during this time. I needed to face and feel many things while here... and God allowed me to feel enough emotion not to break to a point of being vulnerable to falling back to old habits of numbing. He allowed me to feel enough to not be in denial, but the breakdown (in a good, needed way) would not come till after I left SB for a second time. More on this later 

Putting away my laptop and pulling out my heavy backpack, I left Tumbler once again to walk State Street with the Rock ministry. Oh, the people God would have me cross paths with into the late evening on this busy strip. The walk from where I parked at Pershing to the beginning of the strip is 5 blocks and a beautiful jaunt. State St. is super long and the strip is about 2 miles long (guestimation). On my days and nights there, I would usually walk a total of 2-3 miles and this was quite the daily workout with the cargo I carried on my back. This late afternoon and evening entailed the typical walk as well as stopping to set up my rocks at 2 different locations: one a bench a block away from the ocean and the other on the sidewalk against a closed up shopl that was 7 blocks from the shoreline. Both places produced many conversations with people who stopped to look at the rocks and hear the message behind them. But the most interesting conversations were had while walking. One was with Charles ("Chuck") Taylor who walked with me to my second place I set up. He ended up sitting with me for a good 30min before I had to somewhat ask him for some space. Some people will sit for longer than God wants them to stay and gentleness needs to be laced with setting boundaries. We did have a stellar talk, though, and somehow got on the topic of dying and God sparing our life so as not to take it for granted. I shared about my heroine overdose and Chuck shared about a skateboard accident while high on speed. The paramedics that happened to driving past him when he crashed, saved his life by performing a trecheotomy procedure. He showed me his scar and we both agreed that it wasn't our time to die, so all the more reason to treasure every gift of another day. I gave Chuck a rock that had a simple blue heart on it and encouraged him to acknowledge our God who had spared our life for reasons and purposes both known and unknown.

Another interesting and unique person I met was named Chris. She was elaborately dressed and her personality matched her bright and eclectic clothes. She wanted a rock so badly and had trouble choosing which one she liked most. When she finally chose another heart rock I'd made, she pulled out a large handful of change to give me in exchange, but I dropped it back into her purse and told her they weren't for sale. She told me that my treasure was surely in Heaven and I may not take money from her, but God would give me something wonderful in exchange for the gift of the rock. This was the best "payment" I could have received along with the long hug and kiss on my forehead that Chris gave me before walking away with her head bobbing back and forth like a little kid whose dad had just bought her a balloon.

My time was almost up on the strip, and the walk back to Tumbler grew darker as the streetlights dwindled with each block. I no longer fear the dark, but there still is a needed sense of caution and wisdom when walking alone at night. I pulled out one of the unscribed rocks from my backpack and clentched it in my fist the whole way back. My mother's voice along with so many others echoed in my head, "Now you be careful out there on those streets late at night, Katie." My pace wasn't quickened with fear or uncertainty of the alleys and large trees, but I was aware that an invisible war was waging around me all day and into the night. Satan was not liking the light and love of God I was trying to bring to the people here. Every article of the armor of God was repeated over and over as I walked. I was claiming my victory in Christ, my Captain and heard Him saying to walk by faith and not by sight. He would light my dark path and I trusted Him to be my Staff and Shield in this familiar territory. I knew God was victorious and though satan may win many wars with the choices of free-willed people, the entire war would end with his defeat. I clung to the feeble rock in my hand while walking... but it was the Rock I was clinging to as this journey continued in the land I once lost many battles on. I was a different woman today. I was a warrior in God's Army.

When the day is over and you take off your day clothes,
Don't take off the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).
When you wake up and put on your day clothes,
Remember to keep the armor of God on.
It's good to know Bible verses.
It's better to walk in them.
Live the Living Word.

~Unshakable Peace, Trust and Purpose~
cling to the Rock 
Psalm 18:1-2

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 36 ~ West Coast Rock Tour

~ 36th Day ~

Carpinteria...California Mom...Dar...Karen...Hugs For Hydro.

Today would be a day of reuniting with beautiful people whose paths haven't been crossed since I left Santa Barbara. Anticipation ran deep through my veins when I woke up from a deep sleep. The first person I would re-connect with required a drive with Tumbler to the city of Carpinteria, which is located a little south of SB.

I took my time leaving from Karen's abode for she and I were still pinching ourselves that we were together again. She is so sweet to open her place to me while here and the gift of hospitality is certainly a strong character quality of hers. She wants me to feel I can come and go as I please, but I know it's hard when I'm gone for most of the day. So when I know the daylight hours will be spent with other people or on the street, I try to linger a little longer in the morning. Karen is so fun to be around... she is always making me laugh and she is like a friend, sister and mother-figure all rolled into one. And the woman I was going to meet in Carp was another person who played these roles and more when SB was my home years ago.
Tumbler and I took Hwy 101 and pulled off at the first Carp exit. I wanted to see more of this town and see if any foggy memories would become clearer as we drove past certain places... they remained cloudy. During my 2 years in SB, I rarely left except to occationally hop on the bus or hitch a ride to Carp or Montecito to attend a church service (Reality in Carp), do a little side job (some legal, some not), visit friends, or venture to a drug house with another addict. I thought I might remember some of the downtown area, but I didn't... so the cute town was fresh to my eyes. My friend, Tamara, who lived in Carp and was the reason for my visit, wasn't expecting me for a couple hours. I found her house, parked down the street and pulled my backpack out of the back seat. As much as I wanted to bust down her door and tackle Tamara with a big Katie Bug hug, I would wait for that nearing time.

Walking around Carp was a time of reflection. Though there weren't many memories made in this town, the quietness of this place was so contrasting from SB and this stillness had a calming affect on my racing mind. Already, so much had happened in the 3 days I'd returned to "Egypt." I grabbed an iced chai and headed towards the beach, but stopped at a bathroom a block away. When I went inside, the mirror over the sink immediately brought back memories. Many of the public bathrooms that I used to frequent in SB looked the same as this one... instead of a mirror where one could see themselves, they were made of a shiny metallic finish that left one's reflection foggy and distorted. Honestly, in my previous years, this was metaphorical, and I wasn't really wanting to see my true reflection. But today, I was cool with seeing myself in the mirror, not because of vanity, but because I'm okay with seeing myself (both the good and the bad). I was not comfortable with mirrors before... they showed how I really looked and the shell of a person I had become. I couldn't see any good in me back then and therefore, the distorted metallic mirrors were ones I could look into and imagine myself being cleaned up (on the inside and outside). Even though I was completely cleaned up today (for I am a constant work in progress), I was well aware that there was still much that needed the hands of the Potter to continue molding the clay I am. 

The mirror was a small trigger, but it brought up a lot of memories. I was also being taken back to similar bathrooms like this one where many things were done once the stall doors were locked. Details will be withheld on these things, but when the door was unlocked, another part of me was either taken or given away to someone else. My mind was now playing like a projector reel and the quietness of this town was not helping any longer. There was a bench near the bathroom and I sat down to steady my breathing. This was the closest I'd come to a panic attack in a while. I knew these experiences weren't happening right now, but the sight, sound and smells were fresh like yesterday. I wasn't going to run and numb... the feelings needed to be felt. And they were as I pulled out some rocks and my Sharpie markers. This was therapy for myself, and I was praying for the people who would eventually hold these rocks in their hands. They, like I, would need a reminder of the Rock who clearly sees our heart and beckons to be our stronghold in every season we go through.

Sitting on that bench and conversing with the Counselor for the next hour or so was a much better version of laying down on a long sofa in a psychiatrist's office. I'm all for therapy and counseling with those gifted in this profession, but going to the Source of peace, comfort and understanding is free, a no-wait appointment, and the sessions never end. Still, I was excited to see my dear friend, Tamara... to give her a long overdue hug and to received a much needed hug myself. I didn't tell her about the flashbacks and near panic attack 'cause I wanted this visit to be about her and not myself.

I had let Tamara know that I'd been in Carp for a couple hours and we could meet when she was ready (hint, hint:) She was surprised I was there already and said she would start walking towards the area I was. Putting my rocks away, I too began to walk towards her house. When we saw each other from a distance, I outstretched my arms with peace signs in both hands. We both started running towards each other... and collided in a long, long hug that left our hair trickled with each other's tears. It was like a movie scene and this image will forever be etched on the reel of my heart.
We went back to her house and spent the next couple hours basking in each other's company. It was just like old times, yet not at all the same. I can't remember the last time I had seen Tamara, but I do remember times when I'd find her when I needed someone to hold me. She was a surrogate mom when I lived in SB. My mom calls Tamara "her angel" for she would keep tabs on my whereabouts, calling my parents when there was a "Katie spotting" at a park, on a street or under the bridge. Tamara was who I would go and find after particularly brutal rapes... to be held for an hour or a night until I'd jump out of her car to return to the park or bridge. As much as this frustrated her and so many others who wanted to rescue me from the dangerous lifestyle I was living, their unconditional loving arms couldn't pull me from the grasp that I allowed my addiction to have. I wasn't ready to stop running. She was the one who called my parents and told them they needed to come get me from SB before they came to pick me up in a casket. This was no exaggeration. They had wanted to come rescue me all the while, but you can't force someone to stop running. Even though my parents did come and I choose to go home with them and go back into my 7th rehab (which I completed after 9 months), I still went back to running and numbing with drugs for another year before I allowed God to do the needed heart surgery on the roots that kept my addictions growing. I was fortunate to have someone like Tamara to encourage the needed relocation from SB back to Illinois. Tamara and so many others loved me through my whole journey, and this afternoon with her was one of reflection and gratitude at how far we'd both traveled since our paths were parted. Our hearts have remained close and we kept in contact through phone calls and FB over the years. It was hard to give her a last hug, not knowing when our paths would cross again, but we won't let the states in between us hinder our forever bond. I left Tamara with a journal and a rock necklace. She is in a season of her journey where she needs to write about the mountains and valleys (the "purpose in the pain") as well as be reminded that her heart is hand carved by God and she can't take off His unconditional love like she can the rock necklace. The two of us would have lingered our reunion longer, but I had another special woman to meet with a 5:30 and that time was drawing near. 

Plans had been made to grab a cup of coffee with one of the top 5 sweetest people I've ever met. Dar was a counselor ("Tracker" as they called them) at Bethel House, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission women's inpatient program I came out to SB for, though only lasted 4 months in this rehab. Though she wasn't my main tracker (I had the amazing Alana), Dar was still a pivotal staff member in my time there and she filled in for Alana when she took a leave of absence to get married to the man God choose for her to walk this journey with). Dar was a unique tracker, for unlike the usual effective drug and alcohol counselors, she didn't have a history of addiction to substances. Normally, my sassy and rebellious nature would have used her lack of experience and responded with "Who do you think you are to tell me anything... you don't understand what I've been through. How can you help me when you haven't been there!?!" BUT this was not my reaction to Dar at Bethel House. Surely, I was a hard case and stubborn as a mule with letting anyone inside the walls I'd built around my heart, but Dar was someone I truly respected and even looked up to. She had (and still has) a heart that is wired to love people unconditionally and her faith, her deep and wide faith in our King is what intrigued me with Dar. Though she doesn't work at Bethel now, her mission field has been relocated to a school where she counsels kids who are going through hard times. Her very presence is a witness and testimony of our loving God. Dar loves people where they are and encourages them to live their potential that she sees in them even if they can't see it yet themselves. Our times together on this visit back to SB was one of catching up on what God has done, is doing and will continue to do. A ""Trust" rock was given to her. It was important to thank Dar for the investments she made into the soil of my broken heart 7 years ago, and how the seeds she planted have taken root over the years. I wanted to encourage her to continue to trust that all the seeds she plants (past, present and future) are in God's hands to take root and He would cause them to grow. It's our job to plant and water... God will make it grow. Dar's trust and faith in Jesus Christ is something I want to emulate. Oh, and we both share a love for Africa. Dar is a rare diamond in this world.

It was a little past 7pm when I left the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. There wasn't a known next mission field, so as I was driving away from my sweet friend, I prayed and asked God where He wanted me to go. He led me to park near Pershing Park, but when I strapped on my backpack, I didn't feel led to walk into the park, rather to keep walking... to State Street. For a Monday night, the main strip was busy and bustling with people. Summer is tourist time, and both locals and tourists filled the sidewalks, restaurants and shops. Interspersed throughout the high heels and deck shoes, were those with weathered sandals and bare feet... and these were the beautiful people who my eyes were drawn to. Many conversations were had with those "spanging" (spare-changing) and holding signs that said "Hungry" or "Homeless... please help." Granola bars, trail mix, bottles of vitamin water, and rocks were handed out. But words of hope, love and of the Rock whose hand is always outstretched were the most valuable things left with my new and old friends. Some of them I recognized, though their skin had leathered more with the sun, and some recognized me along with my name (or called me my old nickname "rock girl") though I had couldn't remember their face or name. Most were people I had never met before. One of them that remembered me said they still had the rock I'd given them years ago. So cool to hear these type of stories of how God used me even in those dark times.

One of the girls I stopped for was Cherese who was handing out hand made roses made from palm leaves. She was with another guy, but she was the one God wanted me to talk with. When I introduced myself after being handed the flower, she introduced herself and told me the meaning of her name: "Cherished One." God gave me some specific words to speak into this young girl. I don't remember what was said, and it wasn't lengthy, but it was for her to take along with the "Walk by Faith and not by sight" rock I placed in her hands. Throughout this trip, I have learned that when God gives a message to give to another person, that I need to close my mouth after His words are spoken. Though I often say more and don't always shut up when He says to, this is an area that God is growing and stretching me in. His words and the message for that person is most powerful and effective when it's not diluted by my on words after. This time with Cherese was one of those times that I actually listened when God said to zip it. 

Another interaction among the many that I will share was with a woman I knew from the streets before. There was a poem I wrote about Karen that I may pull from my archive writings when I get home and post. It will tell you more about this women who no one can seem to reach. She hasn't changed in that way. I recognized her immediately when I first saw her the 2cd day I was here, but didn't talk to her then. Tonight I would, though the dark, mind-binding spirits that oppressed her years ago, still have her tangled in her reprobate mind. I will post the blurried picture I took of her this night when I share the poem titled "Karen." I offered her the other half of my Chipotle chicken bowl, but she didn't want it... nor my presence standing in front of the bench she was sitting and talking to herself on. She remembered me and asked me where I went when I left SB and I told her. She was friendly towards me till I told her that I had never forgotten her and I'd been praying for her since I left... then a visible switched was seen and her lips became terse as she said, "Leave me alone" through her clenched teeth. This was the reaction and response of the spirits operating in her and I recognized them and responded with praying against their hold on Karen as I walked away. Karen has grown comfortable with their company and thought they are harmful to her mind, they have become familiar and friends to this young woman who has isolated herself from everyone except the demons that live in and around her. My heart breaks for Karen. If hard not being able to help someone who doesn't want to be helped... or maybe doesn't know that they so desperately need help. God taught me so much about spiritual warfare with knowing Karen when I was here before, and He continues to teach me about this very real spiritual battle. Some spirits can only be dealt with by not only prayer, but with fasting and praying. Such is the case with my friend Karen. 

My time on State Street was over, but there would be many other hours I would be led to walk this street and converse (and pray for) the people here. The last stop before going back to my other friend Karen's apartment, was Pershing Park, where Tumbler was parked near. For sake of you who are reading this longer than usual day post, I'll keep my time there to a minimal wording, but a lot happened in this hour there. Besides spending more quality time with Gator, 2 Feathers, Bruce, Ray Ray and the others, I was reunited with my brother Hydro. He was a stable family figure during my time here before, and we embraced long and hard when we saw each other. Hydro has one of the most giving hearts. He doesn't have much, but he always had something to give someone even in his own lack. He tried to give me a sweater and some shoes, but I declined saying there would be someone else who would need them more. He is also good for comic relief in a park that is full of pain and hardship. I had been there for 45 minute when a familiar thing happened... the park sprinklers popped up from the grass and began their soaking of not only the grass, but the people sitting on it. This was a common happening when I lived there and I remember well being passed out from my intoxicated and drugged up state only to be suddenly woken with the (not the typical small shower of a garden sprinkler) water. These sprinklers were high powered, and I'm sure neighbors are woken up by the steady stream of swear words that would come from our mouths at the reaction to being woken up so rudely. So when the sprinklers came on this night and we were all awake and in deep conversation, one popped up near us and started spraying the group and myself. We didn't swear, but we did begin to grab our backpacks to move out of the stream of spray. Hydro, being the clever one, grabbed one of the tops to a garbage can and walked over to turn in away from us, then put the top over the jetstream. He got super wet in the process, and I got it on camera after my backpack was in a safe, dry place. We were all cracking up at this small man wrestling with a big sprinkler... and Hydro won the hydro battle. I gave my palm rose from Cherese to one of the guys hanging with the group that night. He had handsome, hazel eyes but I can't remember his name. Hugs to everyone in the group, it was now time to leave to let them all pass out in a place where they would stay dry tonight. I felt fortunate and blessed as well as undeserving to be going to lay down in a plush, king-sized bid tonight, knowing my friends would be sleeping outside. I fought the urge to pull out my sleeping bag and nestle down among my family that night but knew I wasn't to stay. My body was one place till morning, but my heart was still at Pershing Park... my home was no longer "Prison Park." I was just visiting.

When we have flown from the cages that once imprisoned us,
We must never forget the prison we once willingly lived in.
How we escaped and how we mended our broken wings
Is not the way others may unlock the door of freedom.
We can't force someone else to fly out of their cage.
But we can love them till they love themselves.
There will come a day when each of us
Will go back to that prison caged cell.
Not to brag or point our finger.
But to love, listen and pray.
Fast for a fellow friend.
Their freedom calls.
Jesus is the key.
~Unshakable Peace, Prayer Purpose~
cling to the Rock 
Psalm 18:1-2

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 35 ~ West Coast Rock Tour

~ 35th Day ~

Jerusalem...State Street...Pershing...Harbor Meeting and Memories.

Daniel had stayed the night at Karen's. We stayed up late into the night and if not for our drooping eyes, we could have pushed through into the morning. I crawled into bed with already sleeping Karen and Daniel slept on one of the living room chairs. It was important to get a few hours of sleep in, for both him and I were going to church the next morning. Karen slept in and we headed to Calvary Chapel which is on the same street I used to walk for the men passing by. It's so ironic that "The Wall" is located in between this large church and the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission... darkness and light cannot live together, but they certainly can live in close proximity to each other. When pulling into the entrance to Calvary, memories flooded my mind of how I would be high and watch the cars and people coming through this entrance as I either sat up in my favorite tree or was laying on the grass. I would watch the people gathering for church while I would gather my paraphernalia and go to a less visible place to numb my feelings of knowing my lifestyle wasn't what I knew it should be. I went to a few services even while living under the bridge and I remember walking in the sanctuary all scuzzy with my heavy backpack. Some people would stare (and most likely smell me) but I do remember a few people who acknowledged me, gave me hugs, and asked how my day was going. Most likely, they knew I was one of the girls who lived and worked the streets, so their extension of love and compassion was appreciated all the more. More people like these few are needed in the church... those who aren't afraid to reach out and touch the so-called "untouchables."

I tried to feel the emotions I needed to feel as we pulled in, but this wasn't the time to face these memories... there would be another upcoming day to do walk these streets once more. I did see a lady sitting on the now dirt, not grass, as we drove in, and I wanted stop and not be one of those people who saw her but drove by. Still, it wasn't my time. This was difficult, for I didn't see her again and wished I had taken that present moment to talk with her and ask about her story. Praying for her to this day is of some comfort, for this is all I can do without seeing her again.

Daniel hadn't been to church in a while, so I was not only excited myself to be in the fellowship of other Christians, but expectant for him as well. But this wasn't the typical Sunday morning message. The continuation of worshiping our God, who is constantly worthy of our praise, was beautiful. The chosen songs were so pertinent for the season I'm in and I wasn't shy about the volume of my voice or hands extended down, on my heart, or up in the air. People around me are forgotten when praise music is played... it's just me and the King (the audience of One). I felt drunk in the Spirit when the music stopped, but my heart continued to sing and dance.
The pastor came up and his announcements weren't really heard due to my state of heart. I wished there had been more songs played, but still, I was excited to hear the message. We were told that a guest speaker would be sharing with us this morning... and he was from Jerusalem. Honestly, I was slightly bummed, for probably meant we would be fed some meaty message. But I was to be pleasantly surprised at the "steak" that would be shared. The man's name was Iddo (don't know if that's how it's spelled, but it was pronounced like E-doh). This mighty man of God was not only from Jerusalem (The Holy Land), but he knew all about the places where Jesus walked and talked. It was flat out fantastically fascinating! Though it was geographical, with pictures of places and all, it was Biblical and there were dozens of sermons within this 45 mins. When he finished talking and the worship band came back up, we sang another song and then I heard God whispering to "get up and go to the bathroom." Meerrhhh? I hadn't heard or felt this leading before and was quite torn between staying for the last song of the service or doing as I was led. Plus, I didn't need to use the ladies' room, so why was I being told to go. Good thing I listened to God's leading, for when I walked out of the sanctuary and rounded the corner where the bathrooms were located, there was Iddo standing by himself right in front of the ladies bathroom! I smiled while tilting my eyes upward, reached into my purse where I had placed 1 rock before leaving Tumbler, and walked toward this holy man who had come straight from the Holy Land. 

He didn't looked surprised at my walking right up to him and interrupting whatever he was doing standing there by himself, nor did he look like he was expecting someone to round the corner. His big, warm smile as I neared him, did tell me that he welcomed whatever it was that I was about to say. It wasn't much. "God told me to go to the bathroom and here you are, so here is something to take back to Jerusalem with you. Keep it if you want or give it to someone else who is needs to reminded that there is a reason for everything. Thank you for coming here and sharing about Jesus." With that, I handed Iddo a "There Is Purpose In Every Pain" rock. We snapped a picture and then I walked away from the bathroom area to find Daniel, as the last song had been sung and people were filing out of the sanctuary. Though it would have been nice to spend more time with my friend, Daniel, I knew our paths would cross again. Plus, there were some places I needed to go with my heavy backpack, the first being Pershing park.

It was early afternoon, and my family was midday "two sheets to the wind." Most of them were passed out or near to being. I didn't know whether to cover some of them up to protect them from the sun or to pull down the covers of those who were sweating profusely under them. I remembered times when I'd come back from the Wall, be offered vodka chased with Juice (not the fruit kind) and my tired body and mind would beg for sleep. I'd start off freezing from my body's withdraw, crawl into the fetal position in a sleeping bag and wake up a whole day or more later in a pool of sweat... only to jump up, slam some more vodka and soon after, tell my Pershing family I'd be right back (knowing I'd be at the Wall for another 3-7 days). The cycle was maddening, but the people here were always kind and welcoming of me... They weren't ones to judge for they had their own cycles of insanity. Don't we all, yet we still judge other people for their own struggle while temporarily forgetting our own. Heard this saying this morning and it's been one for me to ponder: Criticism is usually a cowardly form of self praise. This makes me re-think the first sentence of this paragraph, for in what ways have I been "two sheets to the wind" today whether it be physically or mentally. Often, our destructive cycles live within our minds. I am an admitted work in progress even though I have smashed the vodka bottle and crack pipe in my life. 

As I was about to walk out of the park I'd just walked into, I saw a familiar face in the distance. This was surely my dear sister, Paula. Though you can't see them well in the picture, her eyes are crystal blue. She was one of the many who loved me unconditionally and was always good for a hug. I called out to her and she put her hand up to block the intense sun. We both picked up our pace and met each other with a long overdue hug. "Wow, you came back... what are you doing here?" I told her I was visiting and not staying, and that it was important for me to come back not just for myself but more so for her and the others who were still here. She smiled and hung her head, but I pulled her close into another hug. Paula had had a rough week... rather life. Pulling out a peace sign rock from my backpack, I placed it in her hands and reminded her of God's peace that is available in every season of life. She said, "Jesus is still my all, Katie. He has not given up on me yet and I have to cling to Him out here." Paula was never quiet in talking about Jesus, and she will always be my sister in more ways than one. I haven't seen her since that day, but am hoping to give her one more hug before I leave SB once more.

A Jamaican guy and his friend were playing the drums at Pershing and I remembered him from the drum circle gathering Sat nights near Chase Palm Park, another park I used to get high at. I listened to a few of their jams and then felt it was time to relocate fields to State Street. I left Tumbler parked near Pershing and walked to the busy main strip. This walk would be made several times during my stay here, but this was my first time walking it instead of driving down it. 

Some salmon, granola bars, trail mix, and vitamin water were bought at the 99 cent store and stuffed in my already bulging backpack. When I stepped out of the store to step foot back on the State, there was a girl my age sitting on the sidewalk. I passed her by, but turned back around after 2 more steps. Crouching down, I asked what her name was. "I'm Exodus. My name means 'exit of the people'." Her hair was short and her clothes unwashed, but her eyes had such a bright luster to them. I smiled and told her to never forget the origin of her name, for there was is a true and powerful story that brought about the name 'Exodus'." I pulled out the trail mix and vitamin water for her. She took it with a big smile and said, "You know about this story of the leaving a land of slavery and then returning to it. Thank you for turning back around to help me." Walking away, Exodus' face stayed with me. I walked for an hour up and then back down State St., not stopping to set up my rocks, but simply to pray for the people walking past me. Now on the other side of the street, when I turned my head to the place where she had been sitting before, Exodus was looking right at me with those same bright eyes and smiling. Though I'll never be sure, I believe Exodus was an angel. I haven't seen her in the week since that day.
A block down, I saw my old friend, Paul, walking ahead of me. Don't know how I'd not noticed him before. He had aged, though his kind eyes behind his glasses were still the same. He was holding a heart design constructed of twisted balloons. I jogged up next to him and commented on the bright creation. He didn't recognize me, but was friendly despite. Paul used to set up these elaborate displays with random trinkets that had a message laced throughout it. All his set-ups had a Biblical message and the end of the journey he took people through this maze of random objects was always an invitation to accept Jesus into your heart. I have an old picture of one of Paul's set-ups on and around a bench. A rock with words about every day being a gift was handed to Paul. His already existing smile grew wider and he said, "Oh this is beautiful. God has given you and I another day to share His love with others. Do you know how much Jesus loves you, Miss?" I did, but the Bible verses that he quoted and spoke into my spirit were welcome reminders that God's love is for everyone and our lives our lives are letters that speak of His redemption in our lives. Paul and so many others, including myself, are proof that God uses the most unlikely and unqualified to minister on the streets. 

The Rock ministry was set up on a bench near the end of State St, a block away from the ocean. The cool breeze from the water was a relief from the hot sun. A few rocks were scribed and a few people stopped to look at them, but none were handed out. Many homeless people and I exchanged nods and some I would have conversations with in upcoming days. This "rock girl" was still new on the block, but they recognized I was not a threat as many peace signs and smiles were flashed at them. It's interesting being undercover homeless... the responses of those living and visiting SB were all being observed. Some things doing change. People on the streets most often welcome you, while those with homes think you're just another person with dirty feet. And mine were certainly that.

I put away my Sharpie markers and rocks when the temperature began to drop, encouraging me to grab change my shorts for parachute pants and my tank top for a long sleeved shirt. Tumbler was my changing room and I was not ready to go to my 3rd NA meeting in SB. This was the Harbor meeting and again, only a few familiar faces were seen, but it was a speaker meeting and God wanted me there for more than re-connecting with old friends. During the mid-way part of the meeting and right before the speaker was to give his story of experience and hope, we all went out for a cigarette. Most, but not all, people in recovery still have this habit to quit, including myself. The people there were all in smaller groups, puffing and chatting about this and that. I was off to myself and simply enjoying being there without being drunk and high. An older man walked over to me and started asking me questions cause he hadn't seen me before. I told him about living here years and ago and that I was just passing through with my Rock Ministry. More questions about this were asked and when I told him about God switching my rocks, from rock cocaine to the Rock that He is, the man's face turned sour. "There ain't no room for talking about God in these rooms. We have all tried this church and that, and none of us want to hear about God. You can take that crap and leave it at the door before you go back in that meeting." I smiled and told him that I would never stop telling others about the Savior, wasn't trying to push it on anyone, though I wouldn't be shy about the Rock and would pray for him. He shook his head and we both walked up the stairs to hear the speaker who was about to share his story... which was all about God being the reason he was clean and sober today. The speaker was certainly not shy about talking about the highEST power who had pulled him out of the miry pit and onto the Solid Rock that God was. LOL :)

Sometimes we plant the seeds.
Other times, we water and fertilize.
But it's God's job to make it take root.
The growth is not always seen right away.
Our role is to continue planting and watering.

~Unshakable Peace, Planting and Purpose~
cling to the Rock 
Psalm 18:1-2