I sat with a son and his father tonight as a friend, encourager, and as a fellow sojourner. The son is in his mid thirties and has been an active Meth user for years. The father is on a small disability stipend and struggles financially and because of his son’s addiction suffers emotionally.

The son was released from county jail yesterday after serving 6 weeks for criminal trespass. His latest in a string of offenses. I’ve known him for over a year. He lived in his truck until last November when it was towed for sitting several months in a storefront parking lot.

I met the father once and he called me this last Monday wanting to know what to do about his son once he was released from jail. We talked for a while and I felt the pain of his heart. He mourned for the loss of the little boy he raised. He said he could not let him live with him but he agonized daily not knowing where his son was.

I had no answers. I had no advice. I am of little help and I said so. “I understand,” I said. “You’re not alone.” I felt frustrated and powerless. The only Hope is that his son allows Jesus to change him. But that’s his choice. I am confident that Christ’s Love extends to and surrounds this young man. I am confident in the expansive Grace that embraces all of us in our darkness. 

The father and I talked for some time. It was difficult. 

The son was released on Wednesday and they called and we met on Thursday. After a month and half in jail the son was sober and so we were able to have a calm and coherent conversation. Just the three of us.

He wants to go to a program but he wants to go to one that he can get a job and work. I don’t know of any like that I told him. The programs I have a relationship with require him to be the job. He has to work on himself for about a year. During that time they’ll feed him and give him a bed to sleep on. They’ll tell him when to get up in the morning and when to go bed at night. He’ll have Bible Studies, chores, and will have to hand out food on the street and other ministries.

He’ll practice responsibilities and disciplines necessary to reenter life. He’ll develop structured living. 

“I need to make money,” he said.

“You shouldn’t care a rat’s a** about money right now,” I told him. “You are more important than any amount of money. Invest in yourself. Let Jesus do for you what you’ve never been able to do for yourself.”

I gave him several programs to call. I don’t contact the programs for guys anymore. I was counseled, wisely, to let them do it. And they will if they want it enough.

We talked a little more. He seemed to take it all in. His father looked encouraged. 

We walked outside and I pointed at his father and said,”this man loves you and is your biggest cheerleader. Remember that. You can do this and it may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do but see it through to the end. Trust in the Lord because He’s cheering you on too and will get you through this.”

The son looked at me and for the first time since I’ve known him, he reached his hand out to me and as we shook hands and with tears in his eyes, he pulled me close and said “thank you.”

The father and son got in their truck and drove away. Will he make it? I pray he will. I know he will if he allows Jesus to help him.

We in Terrell know it has been a drenching cold couple of days. Most of us are sheltered and warm inside somewhere but on the streets of our tiny community are some that shiver from the rain under any covering they can find: a store awning, a shed, a tree, a bush. Not only are they exposed to the elements but have nothing to eat. It seems odd that for the majority we are in between Christmas and The New Year and our thoughts are back on ourselves. The explosion of generosity has faded and our hopes and dreams for the promise of the New Year lighten our hearts. But for some in the shadows there is still little hope. They grasp onto a thin thread of strength and fight for each moment of life.

These ignored and downtrodden are not forgotten though. We may forget. We might ignore but God in Heaven has them in His sight. He catches their tears in jars, labels them with their names, and cherishes each of them. He says to us, “Go and Love them. Feed them. Shelter them. Clothe Them. Warm them. Visit them in their sickness.” And as we do, in them we find Jesus.

I sat in our room at Serenity yesterday with some of our Brothers who have no shelter or food. The rain was cold and was not going to let up. “Where are you staying tonight?” I asked.

“Wherever we can,” they said.

I got with our landlord and he graciously agreed to let them stay in our place. Joe Cobb, our part time care-taker agreed to stay with them for two nights. I contacted the Police Department and let them know the guys would be in the building.

We don’t have cots. Just an L shaped sectional sofa. The guys have to sleep slouched on the sofa. There is a small coffee table they can put their feet on but it’s only big enough for 3 people to share. The good thing is the sofa has cushions and it’s warm dry inside. There is also a television they can watch westerns, movies, and sports. It allows them to get out of survival mode for a little while.

Last night four homeless men found reprieve from a night of survival and found a night of rest. Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” Matthew 11:28-30 | MSG

A real rest. Isn’t that what we all want. 

Last night and tonight my Brothers are resting. They’re also safe. At rest and safe. A  small example and experience of Heaven. The door is unlocked for them. It’s revealed to them. It’s a picture of the Eternal Rest that waits for us. A place without hunger or thirst. A place where there no homelessness. A vision of what should be and will be.

In these in between days of Christmas and New Years, four ignored and downtrodden souls found a Piece of Heaven on earth and I can’t help but think Jesus smiled and maybe whispered, “Thank you to all who did this to Me.”

The other day someone brought up the discussion of being fortunate. The root of fortunate of course is fortune. I copied this explanation of fortune: fortune is wealth, good luck or what is going to happen. An example of fortune is what someone had after inheriting millions of dollars. An example of fortune is the luck of having oil discovered on an otherwise useless piece of your land. 

If anyone was to come across either of these examples of fortune they would certainly be fortunate. However, the use of the term “fortunate” is not reserved for huge fortunes. Everyday use is for much smaller things. But the size of the fortune has no bearing on the significant impact it has.

Several weeks ago Pastor Pete called and asked if we knew of anyone who could use a pair of shoes. Yes we do! Everyday. I was going out to the dry cleaners and called Pastor P and made arrangements to come by and get the shoes. They were a pair of new New Balance sneakers. Very nice. I noticed they were my see size and I began to think of how I could keep them for ME. Just so you should know I quickly dismissed that thought…reluctantly.

My next stop was at a car wash in town. I had received a call that a homeless man was seen sleeping under a covering at the car wash. I stopped at a fast food place and picked up some sausage biscuits, coffee, and orange juice to take with me. Sure enough Tony was asleep on the concrete under a thin blanket. 

I rolled my window down and said, “Good morning.” He pulled the blanket off his face and looked at me. We introduced ourselves and I handed him the grub. He was grateful and let me know what a blessing that was. I also had a hoodie left over from a batch we had bought to hand out. Our last one and coincidentally was his size. So I gave that to him as well.

At the foot of his blanket was a pair of rubber mud boots. I asked about them and they were his only shoes. I asked his shoe size he said 10 1/2. Again, coincidentally, that was the size of the New Balance sneakers I had picked up from Pastor P.

We talked for awhile. I go by to see him a couple of times a week. He earns a little money by washing, drying, and cleaning the interior of cars. It’s not much. Certainly not enough to afford shelter. 

It’s getting colder and he feels fortunate to have the hoodie and a pair of new comfortable shoes. He feels fortunate that we bring him a couple of bags of food each week. He feels fortunate that several people notice him and check on him.

In a small way, Tony considers shoes, a hoodie, some food and new friends a fortune. These are his treasures. 

A fortune is relative to each person’s situation. In coming close to brothers like Tony who cherish each blessing as a fortune shames me for taking for granted all that I have.  Scripture points out that we are responsible to share our fortunes. We are stewards of the treasures of those less fortunate. We have been given much so that we can share with the unfortunate. We’re not better than them, especially if we horde our treasures.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

I believe Jesus was clear about how to store Heavenly riches: “35 And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me,I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,I was homeless and you gave me a room,36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes,I was sick and you stopped to visit,I was in prison and you came to me.’”

(Matthew 25:35-36 | MSG). We store up by giving away.

This should be our investment. This is where our fortune lies. We are fortunate to be trusted with what we have been given in order that we may give. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, “it is in giving that we receive.”

Thank you Pastor Pete for sharing a fortune. Thank you for all who share a fortune.

Tony thanks you for his fortune.

Almost five years. In March of 2016 Serenity Corner planted itself at our current location on the corner of Rockwall and Grove in Terrell, TX. We decided to follow Jesus’s example of “moving into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 MSG). We had a desire and a vision but it was smaller than what it has become.

We came to help and to serve and we have become the recipients of grace and deep kinship from so many. We have experienced and are experiencing the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:

“Make me an instrument of Your Peace:

Where there is hatred, let me sow Love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to Love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen”

This journey has included laughter, tears, joy, heartbreak, excitement, and disappointments. Which has been greater? I would say the scale is balanced. That’s life. Has it been easy or hard? Yes. We need balance. Balance is the even distribution of weight in order to do what needs to be done. We pray for miracles and the greatest one we’ve experienced is the realization that where ever we stand Heaven is under our feet. The Kingdom of God is in us and the Spirit of Christ moves us to reveal His Kingdom.

This journey has also been joined by some deeply loving and committed congregations: Faith Fellowship, First United Methodist Church Terrell, First Christian Church Terrell, Good Shepard Episcopal Church Terrell, West End Church of Christ, and Colquitt Road Church of Christ, and The Rock Church Terrell. They have provided food, clothing, hygiene products, and blankets. They have volunteered time and contributed funds. They have reached out with Love and Compassion.

We welcome all who come our way. Not everyone that we have met are homeless or unemployed. We are a vital mix of rich and poor, educated and uneducated, strong and weak. We are a family from different places, different experiences, and different lifestyles. We are a family that doesn’t look alike, talk alike, or dress alike. We are a family.

And that is the Call. To become a family. To become one even as The Father and Son are One. To Love one another. Not just those who are like us. The only way our joy can be complete is by letting God’s Joy be in us as we Love one another.

This is the Season we consciously pause to remember that Christ moved into our neighborhood. He came and showed what a human is supposed to be. He provokes us to give unselfishly and generously. He died so that our sinfulness payment would be paid. He arose so that we could receive His Spirit because God in us is better than just God around us. He did this and now we can receive and experience each other as Brothers and Sisters.

We are Family.

“When you do it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me”, Jesus said.

This time of year we seem to become more generous and sensitive. A lot of Thanksgiving meals were prepared today and handed out to the under-employed and housing-insecure in our communities. And we feel pretty good about ourselves because of what we did today.

Around Christmas there will be another surge of giving. Meals, clothes, and gifts will be distributed in certain neighborhoods.

But what about the rest of the year? How can we forget about them the other 10 months? For those who claim Faith in Christ, does He stop calling our attention to those in need January through October?

He also said when we don’t do these things for the least of these, we are neglecting Him. There are some that step up to the plate with contributions like clothes. But they bring them unwashed and wadded up in big garbage bags to the doorsteps of ministries and let them work at sorting, washing, and organizing their throwaways to hand out on the street. The poor, the homeless, and addicted ought to be grateful, right?

But if we really believed were were clothing Jesus Himself, is this what we would bring Him?

I sleep in a nice house, in a comfortable bed, next to my loving wife and yet I loose sleep because I have friends that are curled up outside or in an abandoned house or car tonight. I pray for their safety and health. I pray that I can keep feeding them. I pray that they will feel welcome in my life. I pray that I can help restore their dignity. I pray that I give them my best. I pray their souls will feel their worth.

I pray that my friends that are like me, secure and comfortable, will step out and allow Christ to use us to not just to contribute but to sacrifice so that others might live. I pray that Christ will give us the vision that the downtrodden and ignored are our brothers and sisters. I pray that we become aware we need them as much if not more than they need us in our Spiritual journey.

If I believed that Jesus was the recipient of the shirts, pants, shoes, socks and underwear I brought, I would bring something fresh. I would bring toothpaste and toothbrushes. I would bring soap and detergent.  I would give to ministries that are on the frontline and volunteer time with them. 

At least I would do those things if I believed Jesus meant what He said. 

We carry the Spirit of Christ with us. He has entrusted us with the Keys to the Kingdom. We sing and shout In our church services while people are dying in the shadow of our steeples.

The least of these surround us. What will you do?

“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” James 1:19 | MSG

Be quick to listen is how some Bibles say this. I have a bad habit of listening up to a point and then I start forming an answer, rebuttal, comment, or opposing viewpoint. My thoughts of how I’m going to respond shut off my my attention to what’s being said. I get lost in preparing my reply so I miss out on personal connection. I miss out on learning something new because I have a selfish heart. My reply becomes more important than the other person.

One day a Pastor friend was driving us to a small seminar in Dallas on feeding the homeless. Serenity had been open for only a few months at that time but we had already met a significant number of people in the community. I asked the Pastor to stop by The Corner (Serenity) so I could get my notepad. 

He had never been in the room before so he came in to take the 60 second tour. We opened the door to leave and a man I had never seen walked up and asked if he could talk to me. I said sure and invited him in. He sat on the sofa and I sat across from him in a chair and Pastor stood beside the sofa.

“I’m King and I just got released from Bradshaw (one of the prisons),” he said. “I heard you can help me.”

“Well, you heard wrong. Only Jesus can help any of us. But I’ll be glad to listen and maybe between the two of us we can come up with something.” That’s sort of our standard beginning. We can’t fix anybody. Only Christ can if they’ll let him. We can only help them read the compass so they will no longer be disoriented. We believe this is what the Bible means by being Lost. We are disoriented people until we find the True North (Christ) and get headed in the Right Direction (His Kingdom).

King began to tell us how he was released two weeks earlier, was on parole, moved back to Terrell, but his family and friends wouldn’t have anything to do with him.

He had talked about two minutes and Pastor interrupted him and asked, “Are you drinking and doing drugs?”

King looked at him, squinted his eyes, and said,”Yes.”

“Then you need to stop all that and come to Jesus.”

King looked at him for several seconds and then at me and said his goodbyes and left.

I’m sure he had more to say and we could have entered in to a real conversation if not that day at least over time. We have found that if we reveal God’s Kingdom in tangible ways patience, trust and respect are established and The Lord will set up the proper time to talk. 

I got in the car with Pastor and prayed asking The Lord if I should say something and if so what should I say. I believe in boldness. I also believe we should be wise in our timing. I often think about the conversations that Jesus had with people and how He handled Himself: Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, and others.

Jesus seemed to be able to ride the waves of conversation in a much more comfortable stance than we do. He seemed to listen better than we do. He seemed to let the flow of the conversation take its natural course. He led with his ears and followed the heart of the the person he was with.

Sir William Osler wasn’t exactly wrong when he said, “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.” As those who have Christ living in them, this should be our practice. It’s been said we learn more by listening than by speaking. It takes many conversations to learn about someone. The more more we listen, the more we learn, and the better we can understand and respond. But this requires us to invest time with people. Another way to say that is we have to be patient. It takes a long time to dig for gold but miners understand that.

I eventually turned to Pastor as he drove and said, “Sometimes our best sermons are the ones when we never use words.”

Lead with your ears.

…I was in prison and you came to me. Matthew 25:36c | MSG

At Serenity Corner some of our friends have life styles that run contrary to the law. That’s just the way it is. We don’t endorse or participate in those behaviors and neither do we condemn our friends. It’s a narrow path we have chosen to walk. A path that doesn’t condone behavior nor condemn the person. For us it is a necessary narrowness and we understand that some may not agree with us. We’re okay with that. 

It is a narrow way so we have to shed some of our baggage in order to squeeze through the cracks and crevices to get to the souls along the way. Heavy rules and regulations have to go to make room Light and Kinship. The need for success is unloaded and replaced with the call of Faithfulness.

When we unpack our expectations of people and exchange it for the Love of Christ for others our yoke becomes easier and our burden lightens. It is no longer us carrying the load but Christ in us. We no longer have to change anyone. That becomes God’s responsibility. Our role is just to demonstrate His Love and reveal His Kingdom.

That can take different forms and tasks. Because those we love and stand with live on the edge of the law, they end up behind bars. Sometimes they are innocent and are quickly released. Most often they spend time in the county jail. 

We try to go visit them when we can and deposit a little money on their commissary accounts so they can get some necessities and treats. It’s not much but it’s our way of showing they are important to us and we’re still friends in all circumstances. Our acceptance is as close to non conditional as we demonstrate. God’s Grace is so much more expansive.

This week we deposited $120 spread into four men’s accounts. Thirty dollars each. Most guys are released within a couple of weeks or months. This time though one was already sentenced to 8 years in the state penitentiary and two others are repeat offenders and may be facing 20-25 years for assault charges. The fourth has been in the county jail since October and has possession and delivery charges that could send him away for several years.

But they know that we have not forgotten them. They know the God-of-angel-armies is with them. Their friends on the street will lose touch. We won’t. When this virus quarantine is over and the jail allows visitors, we’ll be there to see them.

This we believe reveals the Kingdom of God. 

We walk this narrow way because it leads to an expansive land bigger and better than we could ever ask or imagine. A land large enough for the outcast and downcast, despised and broken, the disoriented and forgotten.

Bling Bling came and ate with us last night. We had a massive buffet available and it was all good. Bling sat with Kathy and I. Just the three of us in the room.

She’s been coming by every Wednesday and Friday to get food for herself and her sister. 

Bling is always smiling and grateful. I’ve never seen her angry but she does seem down on occasions. No matter if she’s happy or sad though she’s always polite.

Last night was the first time I felt comfortable enough to have a real conversation with her. I think it helped it was just the three of us. It was conducive to speak freely without worrying about too many ears catching something that wouldn’t be their business.

Questions were meant to be innocent and asked so we could learn more about each other. I was particularly interested in hearing from Bling. 

I thought she was from Terrell but has only been here since 2001.

Originally she lived in LA until she was around 8. Her family stayed in the Crenshaw area. It was known for gangs, crimes, and riots. She told of being a girl and not knowing what side of the street she could walk down because the sidewalks were controlled by gangs. She and her friends were so terrified that they walked down the middle of the street. Even then she was threatened and even beat up as a child.

In hopes of getting away her family moved to several different areas of Las Angeles looking for a safe neighborhood. Having exhausted any hopes in LA they moved to Dallas.

They came to the Southside of Dallas and found it just like the LA neighborhoods and then tried the Westside and other parts of town. Poverty, drugs, and crime surrounded them each location. Some in her family joined in to those activities while she became a target for abuse on occasion.

They finally came to Terrell but trouble was here as well. Family members died on the street. Some became incarcerated. Others died of illness. Bling currently cares for a younger sister who has three tumors in her. 

All she has known is poverty, loneliness, injustice, heart ache, and despair. At 57 she still seems like a frightened young girl in a world that ignores her in her desperate state. 

I happened to glance at Kathy while Bling told her story. It was hard to see through the tears building in my eyes but I think Kathy had tears already rolling down her cheeks.

Bling finished her story and looked at me.

“I’m so sorry for all you’ve had to endure,” I said. “You’re so strong and courageous. Thank you so much for sharing with us. You are an inspiration to us and I am very honored that you would open up and tell us your story.”

She lowered her head and released the sobs and tears for a moment as she put her face into her hands.

“God has been with you this whole time and His heart has ached for you through all this. I can’t imagine how deep His Love is for you,” I said. “One day when we all open our eyes, we will be in our new home and will be able walk on either side of the street with no fear. You will see your loved ones and we will all be how we should be.”

How could it be after hearing the horror and pain of her life that there was something pleasing happening for the three of us? It was not just a therapeutic release in her or sympathy from us. It was a joining of hearts. Kathy and I discovered ourselves in her story. We became one and it was a wonderful discovery of souls brought together by our Father. It’s a special place. A pleasant place. It’s a territory with a name.

Kinship.

Last Friday evening Good Shepherd Episcopal Church provided us with three large pans of pizza casserole and two strawberry shortcake cakes.  This is not about the food other than it was awesome.  As a matter of fact, every Friday a church brings by a dinner for The Block. 

There is something special about sharing a meal. It’s difficult to sit and eat with someone without it being an enjoyable time.  It opens us up to conversations, laughter, intimacy, and bonding so easily. It makes us vulnerable in a pleasant way.  Sharing food comfortably makes for comfortable fellowship.

Jesus seemed to like to share meals. He ate with others over a dozen times in Scripture.  Now not all of those times were as pleasant for some as I noted above.  But at most something touching occurred in the story.  Water turned into wine, a tax collector becomes a Disciple, another tax collector returns his ill-gotten gains, a prostitute washes Jesus’s feet with her tears, 5000 are fed with a sack lunch, and the Kingdom of God is presented in every meal.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Jesus knew what He was doing.  What if He got it right?  What would happen if we added chairs to our tables to those we would normally avoid? What if we picked up the reputation of being friends of gluttons and drunkards? Isn’t that how some referred to Jesus?

We provide food in sacks twice a week to those on the street who don’t have food.  The sacks contain pop top cans of pasta, cans of Vienna sausages, fruit cups and other easy to open and ready to eat items. But we believe that shared meals are important too. Maybe more so.

For some it is the only shared meal they will have during the week.  It’s nice to sit and visit over dinner.  Some show up and take the meal with them but we always have a few that honor us by sitting down while they eat.  I don’t write this flippantly.  This is an important part of building kinship for us.  Walls come down and bridges are built over a plate of pizza casserole and strawberry cake. And the Kingdom of God is present with the server and the recipient. Lines of differences and divisions disappear while we eat together.

This is the Way it should be. One day we are told there will be this huge Banquet.  Where will I sit I Wonder?  But more importantly, who will I sit next to and across from? I hope I share a table with Cotton, Sweet Pea, Peanut, and so many others. I want to hear us all laughing at the wonder of it all.  I want to see Jesus come strolling by, stopping and placing his hands on Cotton’s shoulders, and hear him say something like, “I always loved it when you guys got together.”

That will be awesome!

Written by my most Amazing Wife Elaine Ledbetter:

I’m sitting here watching “Touched By An Angel” and the question was asked, “Do you know why God put our faces on the front of the body instead of the back?” 

What has happened in the past, is in the past. We can’t change it. We can’t go back and make a different choice or manipulate the situation for a different outcome. But we CAN move forward. We CAN allow God to chisel off our weaknesses and strengthen us so that we can be used in ways we could never imagine. 

In His Sovereignty, He has given us the free will to determine which paths we choose. Anger, bitterness, sadness, depression are just a few of the consequences of choosing to get “stuck” in the past. Forgiveness, freedom, love, happiness, mercy towards others, a new Kingdom ministry are but a few of the joys that await us when use our forward-looking faces to move forward…which, by the way, is the same way our feet move and our hands reach.