The day was a sunny Sunday morning, March 15, 2015. I walked and walked in the beautiful city of San Diego, California, while my husband, Donny, attended a conference. As I moved along, I hummed a favorite song, seeing the lyrics in my mind: Brave, by Sara Bareilles. Carrying my Bible close to my heart, my plans were to find a Presbyterian Church about one mile from our hotel and worship there at the 11:00 service. I soon discovered that instead, my day would be spent in “a church” on the streets of San Diego and not inside the walls of a building. Heavy-hearted, with my husband’s dear Dad on my mind with his recent hospitalization in the CCU with pneumonia, paired with grief over the very recent passing of the son of our precious friends the Reads, I sat on a bench to rest right outside The Old Spaghetti Factory, at the corner of 5th and K in the Gaslamp District. Weeping quietly, I took this picture of my Bible, my cup of hot coffee, and a San Diego map.
Just after taking this picture, as I glanced to my right, I saw this woman standing alone right next to my bench. Homelessness is a concern in every big city across our great big world, and sunny San Diego is no exception. In fact, locals this past weekend told us countless times that the reason for their multitude of homeless folks is because of their year-round pleasant climate.
I am not my mistakes. I am not my old habits. I am not my PAST. I am a beautiful reflection of God. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am free. Shanel Cooper Sykes
To help minimize panhandling on every corner, the local San Diego community installed meters like this one to collect pocket change to aid those without a home. I thought this was a good idea to share with folks at MUST Ministries back in Georgia who work tirelessly to help the down and out in our hometown community. Many humans have similar thoughts regarding the homeless population, wondering how they got there, are they alcoholics or addicts, is mental illness a part of their day, and isn’t it “their fault” that they are in this situation? Raised by such compassionate parents, my heart has always been tender towards these souls in need. In fact, back in 2002, when Leah was in 8th grade, I taught her class all I knew about this subject, using Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise as a springboard. And after recently reading Yankoski’s story in the book Under the Overpass, my heart has become even softer towards these folks in need, believing “every heartbeat has a story.”
I am like a pencil in God's hand. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used. Mother Teresa
So when this woman showed up next to me, my response was not a surprise to me. And when she shared her name, Pamela, I smiled through my tears, understanding intuitively that her being there was no accident. Pamela is my niece’s name, the sister of my late nephew Brad (Brad’s story is here: 525,600 Minutes, Remembering Brad Today, Celebrate Me Home). Though Pam, all alone in this big city, did not approach me, I invited her to have a seat as I moved myself and my things over. Note: I am not looking for accolades with my story, I simply followed my heart like I do in most every circumstance I find myself in these days. Pam was not the only one who was in need, I was in need, as well, and I believe that was the reason she was placed in my path that day. (See two recent past posts to understand this better: Choose Not To Be Blue and Choose Not To Be Blue: Part Two.)
First things first, I figured she was hungry. She nodded. Waiting for our table at a quaint sidewalk cafe, I was moved by the irony of this pleasant young woman who would soon escort us to our table, quietly folding napkins for the many guests who would be by for a meal on this Sunday.
As we sat across from each other, Pam told me her story. She was stranded in San Diego and needed to get back to Austin, Texas, she had no money to her name, and there was a safe home for her in Texas with her boyfriend and his mother. Though I did not tell her this, and I certainly wasn’t sure how the day would play out, I knew by the time we finished our omelets that my husband and I would be her ticket back to Austin.
With a full stomach and a good break in the cafe’s clean restaurant bathroom, Pamela and I hit the sidewalk, first purchasing her a big backpack and then heading to nearby Macy’s. We went through several different departments, finding her new lingerie, t-shirts, jeans, and socks. Each time we made a purchase, the employee would snip off the tags, and Pam would slip back into the dressing room to change into her new things, coming out with an appreciative, humble smile on her face. Later, when Pastor Ike called me from Georgia, and I burst into tears telling him all about our friends who had lost their son and Donny’s Daddy, Pamela was the one who was consoling me, putting her arm around me and whispering how sorry she was for my sadness. I shared with Pastor Ike about who was standing next to me and he said, “Joan, that is exactly what I spoke about in my message this morning.” (Click Here to hear Pastor Ike Reighard’s message Passion For Compassion.)
We packed her backpack full, including her old, used, soiled things which went into a plastic bag until Pam would be able to find a way to wash them. An affordable ticket was purchased at a nearby Greyhound Bus Terminal and I left Pamela to wait until the 10:45 p.m departure. Just before 10:30 p.m., Donny and I were strolling around downtown with some friends from Georgia when I realized we were only a few minutes from the terminal. We said good night to our friends, and walked a few more minutes arriving in time for Donny to meet Pamela and for us to bid her farewell. Pamela’s trip would take 36 hours arriving mid-morning on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, and Pamela would call me to let me know she had arrived safely.
Once again, I am reminded of The Boy and The Starfish Story, (click here to read it). It was an indisputable fact that my husband and I could not solve the huge problem of homelessness in San Diego, California, but we made a difference for that one beating heart—which at the same time made an even bigger difference for our own hurting hearts.
Yes, weeping may endure for the night, but JOY does come with the morning. Psalm 30:5
Psalm 30:5 came true on the following day as the sun rose on Monday, March 16, 2015, starting with a long phone visit with my grieving friend in Virginia, Kelly, as I walked along the water, stopping in the loveliest places for a moment of quiet reflection and prayer.
Later, I was thankful to see pictures of my precious Tennessee Tech sisters loving our friends The Reads, as they represented our group at Taylor’s Celebration Service which I was able to watch on livestream.
That afternoon, though his wife, Annie had to work, our nephew, Evan, and their 14 month old son, Noah, was able to drive a short distance to meet us at the beautiful Torrie Pines Reserve. Again I was struck by irony: grieving with our friends over the loss of their son…while watching this beautiful boy’s journey begin.
As we continue to pray for healing for our Dad, Don, and peace for our friends The Reads, our faith reminds us to be brave.