“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.

I received a call this evening from a hungry friend who is very street involved. In other words homeless. I jumped in the car to go get him something out of our pantry. We have scheduled days and hours to hand out groceries but knowing this man’s situation I couldn’t put him off.

I got him a frozen dinner and heated it for him, gave him a box of tuna fish salad snack, a pack of peanut butter crackers, and a bottle of water. I told him “God Bless you” and quickly locked the door and got in my car before anyone else showed up. Normally six others would be rushing me for food if they saw me. I just wanted to go home.

Unseen, I made my getaway. I turned the corner and went over the train tracks and looking to my left I saw Mitch, another one of our homeless Brothers. I hollered at him him and waved. I had no reason to but I quickly turned into the parking lot to talk to him for a minute. 

As we visited I asked about his day. It was nice weather. He spent his day walking around town. The police stopped to tell him to move on when he was resting in front of a business. He told me he had eaten a bean burrito from Taco Bell.

I was still eager to get home but this was my friend. He would find someplace to sleep outside tonight. I would be inside on a nice mattress and sheets. I would get dinner when I got home.

I reached in my pocket and pulled out some folding money. It wasn’t much but I handed it to him. 

“I wish I had more,” I said.

“This is fine.” He paused and added, “All of you have always treated me like I’m somebody. Thank you for being so nice to me.”

“Well, I happen to know that the Lord thinks highly of you so how could we not? I’m very honored to know you my Bother.”

A few more words then we bumped fists and said our goodbyes.

I pulled back onto the street and within two blocks I see Duke, another Street Brother. I honked and waved, let the passenger window down and yelled his name.

He paused in his fast walk and raised his head, waved and yelled my name. He smiled at me.

I could not have been more honored if he had been the governor of Texas and recognized me. 

I kept driving and began thanking our Father for the special people I know from the street who have made my life full. It’s like discovering very dear family members I never knew. 

Palm Sunday. The streets were crowded when Jesus came into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, would have dinner later in the week in a borrowed room, and end up in a borrowed grave.

He lived the street life wandering the cities and country side and by His own admission said, “Foxes have holes, birds have nest, but I don’t have a bed to lie down on.”  The Savior of the World was homeless. 

He wasn’t the tall, clean, handsome man we show in paintings. Instead, the prophet wrote: 

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him,nothing to cause us to take a second look. (Isaiah 53:2 | MSG)

An average non-assuming man living homeless on this planet. He created this place so he owned it all. He showed His greatness by giving up all His Rights. 

He sacrificed all he had and in the end became the Sacrifice so that we could be His Joint Heirs. He became the lowest of us so that even the lowest of us could become adopted into His Family. Not just the best of us. All of us.

What if we really believed this? That God’s Heart is to bring all of us into His Family. What if we really believed we are One, Bothers and Sisters because of this Man who had nothing and had to borrow during His Last Week? Would the full understanding of Grace open our hearts to the full Compassion of God’s Love within us? Would we finally become the answer to His Prayer: The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. (John 17:21 | MSG)?

Can we pause for a moment in the middle of the joys and sorrows of today and remember when The Man of Sorrows entered into Jerusalem with the shouts of celebration and ended the week in abandonment so that we will never be alone again? Rich and poor. Educated and uneducated. Influential or not. Talented or ungifted. All standing together in the Circle of God’s Compassion celebrating His Salvation.

Today is Palm Sunday.

“Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for Justice! Stand up for the poor and destitute!” Proverbs 31:8-9 MSG

That’s what we try to do at Serenity Corner.  In times like these with Covid-19 causing sickness, fear, selfishness, economic troubles, separation, and a number of other problems, it’s hard to keep focused on the calling of our Lord for others.  And yet it is in times like these that The Lord is calling out the called. 

Over the last several weeks we have continued to distribute food bags, feed those that come by during the week, make water available, offer our time and other resources to our Brothers and Sisters on the street.  During this time we have met four new homeless men who have joined our ranks. 

On Wednesday evenings we are suspending our Devotional time and on Friday evenings we are doing that for The Circle.  We do believe that while these gatherings are important they are not the most essential thing we do.  Feeding and providing is higher on the list because it reveals The Kingdom of Heaven in a very Real way.  In Matthew 25 Jesus said, “If you do this to the least of these, you are doing it to Me.”

Plus it’s more than feeding, it’s embracing those on the street with dignity and worth. We learn names. We learn likes and dislikes.  We honor them with friendship and value and they return the same to us.  We receive as we give. It’s not where we stand on issues that set us apart it is who we stand with.

A chicken and a pig were walking together down a dirt road when they came up on a disheveled hungry homeless man.

The chicken and pig looked at the man with pity and the chicken said, “We should help this man in his trouble.”

The pig replied, “That’s easy for you to say. For you it’s a contribution. For me it’s a sacrifice.”

The One who accepted all of us, forgave all of us, gave the Greatest Sacrifice of all.  During this time of trouble let us remember it is also the Season of Sacrifice. 

Even in whatever pressures we may be under, think of those we know who have little or nothing and are struggling even harder now. I own several pairs of shoes, and a number of shirts and slacks. I have food in the pantry for longer than today. I have a car in the driveway and still can watch TV, sit in a heated and air conditioned house, and sleep in a warm bed. I have electricity and water.  I have more than I need and I have friends who wear everything they own every day, who sleep in the cold, the wet and the uncomfortable and don’t know what they will be able to eat tomorrow.

We will continue to stand up for the poor and the destitute.

Cotton died a year and a half ago. He lived alone in someone’s shed without water or electricity. Two of his friends found him sitting in a ditch and called an ambulance and they transported him to a hospital.

After two days they sent him to a nursing home and two days later he passed away, alone and unknown by most. A 64 year old man living day to day off food given to him on the street. We knew him well and loved him much.

As I drove down Bethlehem St today someone yelled at me. I turned the car around to go back and see who it was. One of my friends came and told me DC died the previous week and asked if I had heard. I had not.

I met DC years ago. A young man with a good trade and a heavy addiction. He tried so hard to battle his demons and at times it was too much for him. He came to see us off and on. We helped with food and gas. We listened to his stories and experienced the highs and the lows with him.

Neither Cotton or DC fight the lonely struggles anymore. Neither is hungry. Both have a place to rest. Anxiety and addiction are a thing in the past. The Love of God they hoped for is now a reality. I can see smiles on their faces and hear a sigh of relief from their lips. I can see them hugging each other as our Father says, “Welcome Home.”

It’s strange how God has decided to reveal His Love to this world. He uses the weakest of of us to show His Strength. He uses the most foolish of us to show His Wisdom. He pours out His True Riches on the poorest of us. And yet we preach that that the strongest, wisest, and richest of us are the most blessed by Him.

God constantly tells us in scripture that he leans closer to hear the prayers of the broken, downcast, and the ignored. His Heart reaches out in Compassion to the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the incarcerated, and the poor. And yet these are the very ones too many avoid and overlook.

It’s refreshing when someone on the inside steps not only outside but goes all the way out to the margins and experiences the joy of community without barriers. It’s exciting to find freedom from the chains of judgement and condemnation. It’s exhilarating to find kinship outside boundaries of self made enclosures.

This week two young women taught me that Christ’s love is revealed in the most unexpected ways. They showed that the biggest impact can and often does come from the quietest and simplest means. 

Kennedy sponsored a food drive at her high school so the hungry and homeless could eat. But more importantly she showed that someone truly cares for those that most could care less about. Chloe baked homemade cookies for men and women that have not eaten cookies made with Love in years.

I am proud and in awe of these two teens who in sincere innocence show the expansive acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven to the downcast and the ignored. I am proud of the women they have chosen to become showing simple Love without boundaries showing kinship to those on the edges of the community. 

Sometimes the fragrance of Heaven is the aroma of homemade peanut butter cookies. And I imagine our Father gathers the angels and says, “Smell that? That’s what Love smells like.”