As I sit here on my comfortable couch in our cute little air conditioned apartment in Chattanooga, I'm again amazed at how God works in our lives.
Several years ago when Rick mentioned that he would like to check out the church at the local homeless shelter in Menominee, Michigan, I'll admit I was hesitant.
No, that is not accurate.
I was opposed to it.
There, I said it. I.did.not.want.to.go.there. I was open to attending another church, just not that one. Let's go to Faith, I said, or maybe New Life. Rick was fairly insistent, he wanted to go and check out the church that was affiliated with the shelter. I.did.not.
There's always a "but God" in a story like this it seems.
He had a different plan, He could see to the future. He could see to today, May 27, 2019. I could not.
We went to church at Abundant Life Church & Mission. We met a homeless man and his cute little dog who were traveling through town that first Sunday we were there. The man was pleasant, his dog was adorable. That's about all I remember from that first visit. That and the fact that I felt I'd done my duty, I attended church there and next week, we could attend a church of MY choosing. We did not do that. We continued to visit Abundant Life, me still feeling like it wasn't home, going because it was where Rick wanted to go.
Slowly, very slowly, I began to feel like it was our church. Like the people were our family. I began to allow myself to get to know Pastor Dave - who by the way is a great guy - in no means your normal, run of the mill pastor; in fact, I dare say, not like any other pastor you have ever or will ever meet. Yet, he is a man of God, firm in his beliefs and convictions and with a heart of gold and a desire to serve God and others! On the outside, he is a big, bold, gruff former Marine turned pastor. Some may even say he is intimidating which he can be until you get to know him, or if you cross him or those he loves and is called to protect. He is truly one in a million - in every good way! We also met some good people who became dear friends while there and have enjoyed walking a road of loving them through foster parenting, the birth of a baby, adoption, divorce and a pending new marriage with a beautiful blended family of eight, yes EIGHT children! God is good, He is faithful. He led us to Abundant Life. He loved me through my stubbornness about not wanting to attend Abundant life. He brought me full circle to loving Abundant Life. He gave me a church family where I least expected it. Even when we moved out to Dunbar which was an hour away from Menominee, we made the drive at least twice a month to worship there. He allowed Abundant Life to be one of the hardest things for me to say good bye to when we moved to Chattanooga.
He allowed all those things; no He blessed me with all those things for more than just the obvious ... He was preparing me for bigger things. He was preparing me for Chattanooga, and for Brielle, and for the Community Kitchen here in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Brielle, my sweet new friend who God brought into our lives through Soccer Shots. Brielle who has experienced loss, Brielle who shares having had to say goodbye to someone she loved way too early in our earthly way of thinking. Brielle who is living to give back to others, and has invited me to join her on her journey of being a blessing to others!
A few weeks back, she asked me to help in the evening at a local elementary school as she and her mom brought books for children while helping to feed them pizza and playing games with them. That was fairly easy, I play soccer with children every day; I relate well to children, I enjoy children! Pastor Robert was great with the kids, the kids had fun and so cute; we had a blast!
This time Brielle asked if I wanted to help serve breakfast, at 6:45 in the morning, in the not so nice area of downtown Chattanooga ... and on a holiday no less! A day I could sleep in, and get up and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee with Rick She wanted to know if I wanted to help serve breakfast at the downtown Community Kitchen ... the local homeless shelter. I wanted to tell her thanks but no thanks, maybe some other time ... but, God! This shelter is unlike the one in Menominee, it's a day shelter only. These folks are truly homeless, as in living on the streets, under the bridges, not being temporarily housed in a shelter setting while being given help and instruction and direction while they get back on their feet and secure jobs and eventually housing. This is not said to diminish the work of Abundant Life, but to compare the difference of the people utilizing the services being offered. The people utilizing the Community Kitchen in Chattanooga are truly carrying everything.they.own with them. They come with backpacks, or black garbage bags. They come hungry, hot and probably tired. They come possibly hungover or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They come with a myriad of problems, that truly I cannot imagine.
By the dozens.
For a hot meal.
Maybe for a kind word spoken to them.
Maybe for a smile given to them.
Maybe in hopes that today will be better than yesterday.
Maybe in hopes that today will be cooler than yesterday.
They come, homeless, helpless and maybe hopeful.
He sees past the homelessness.
Past the tattered clothes.
Past the obvious signs of drug and alcohol abuse.
Past the mental and emotional struggles these precious souls face daily.
God sees them.
He sees them as He sees me, as He sees you.
He sees them as His precious, blood bought child.
He sees them as His own.
He loves them as He loves me, as He loves you.
He died for them, as he died for me and for you.
He sees them. He loves them.
To us they may be like the woman at the well, or the man with leprosy, or the blind man beside the pool..
To Him, they are the forgiven woman at the well, the man cured of his leprosy and the man with sight returned to him.
God began preparing my heart for these people of the streets of Chattanooga years ago when I met the pleasant man and his dog at Abundant Life Church and Mission. He began preparing me for them when I had no idea I'd ever be living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He began preparing me for them before I ever knew how important it would be for me to be able to look each one of these precious human beings in the eye, give them a sincere smile and offer them all I could offer them today ... a warm bowl of oatmeal, a day old bagel, a carton of milk and/or a cup of coffee. He began preparing me to love on those who the world may look on as unlovable in a very small way.
Today, He showed me why He brought me to Abundant Life church.
Today, He taught me yet again that His hand on my life knits my days together in ways I may get a glimpse of here on earth and may not fully understand until I get to heaven.
Today, He showed me again His precious guiding hand in my life; He reminded me that He has written every chapter of my life up until today and that He has also written all the chapters that will follow. He reminded me He is always there orchestrating things greater than I can ever imagine.
Tonight, I will fall asleep thanking Him for teaching me yet again that we are all precious in His sight, praying that I may have been a blessing to just one person this morning, and asking that I will be a blessing again ...
Tomorrow, Brielle and I will be going back to serve breakfast at the Community Kitchen. We will be offering a hot meal, hopefully an encouraging word, a smile, and hopefully being a good reflection of Jesus as we may be be the only Jesus they see tomorrow; and I want to reflect Him well!
Brielle, my sweet friend, thank you for inviting me to join you on your journey of giving back to others ... you may never know this side of Heaven just how much you have blessed me in the few short months I have known you!
I can't wait to serve breakfast tomorrow!