“The poor are not a problem to be solved, but a portal to the very heart of God.” (Richard Galloway)
I couldn’t stop crying for 45 minutes. Tears kept streaming down my face as I tried to wipe them away pointlessly. No, I was not watching This is Us (although that has happened many times). I was sitting in church. From the moment my friend, Juan Galloway, Director of New York City Relief, appeared on stage, I was overwhelmed with emotion.
You see, Juan’s prior week had looked a lot different than mine. I had spent the week moving Jared into his new home in Pittsburgh, spending time at Target and Big Lots, and going out to dinner with family. I had slept in Allen’s 10th floor apartment overlooking the beautiful Monongahela River, enjoying the sunrise over the water each morning. Yes, it was very chilly, we worked hard and I was exhausted by the end of it. But I had food in my tummy, a coat on my back, and love from my family. Juan, on the other hand, had spent six cold days and nights living as a homeless man on the streets of New York City. He panhandled the first day enough to buy a blanket that became his lifeline to stay warm. He slept on the E-train, at homeless shelters, and only ate what he was given or could buy from his labor. He wanted to find out the answers to these questions: “What does it feel like when people look down on you all day? What does it feel like when someone blesses you and helps you?” He also desired to SEE those who were homeless, HEAR them, and KNOW them. He believed that in that process, he would SEE Jesus, HEAR Jesus and KNOW Jesus.
As some of you know, Allen has been on the board of the New York City Rescue Mission for about 20 years and now he serves on the board of the Bowery Mission, as those two have joined forces to serve the poor more effectively. Our son Jared interned one summer at the Rescue Mission. Our daughter, Sarah, teaches second grade to children in poverty. We do serve the poor. We give our time and resources, go to fund-raising galas in fancy clothes and hand out meals on occasion. However, I have always viewed the poor as a problem to be solved. And boy, am I a problem solver. I fix things most days from sun up to sun down and do it all again the next day. Makes me feel good about myself.
Until last Sunday. And then all week as tears continue to well up even this morning as I ponder what God spoke through Juan to me. You can see by my tagline that the whole point of this blog to bring hope and healing to the heart-broken. That’s you and me, all of us. And God promises that healing to us. But how? When? What kind? I may have just stumbled across an answer. I am mostly uncomfortable with “if then” statements because it seems to reduce life down to formulas, removes the complexity of brokenness and tends to create a fix-it mentality. Therefore, I don’t take what I am sharing with you lightly.
As many of you also know, I am at the tail-end of my forty-day fast from chips, chocolate and cheese (only six days left). I have been praying over my “Hosanna” (COME SAVE US!) list intermittently during this time (Happy Palm Sunday, BTW!). I have continued to ask the questions: what is the point? why am I doing this? will you really come save God? what really matters?
Enter the reading of Isaiah 58 last Sunday.
Is not this the kind of FASTING I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
I naturally want self-preservation and self-advancement. I spend a lot of time and energy on those two things. Just look at my to-do list and my calendar. Thank God His heart is the opposite. He joyfully gives Himself to me. He doesn’t need to preserve or advance Himself. He knows those things only enslave me and He wants to gently move me into the place where He lives, the best place of all, the place of healing and freedom.
But how am I moved there? The “treasure map,” as Juan calls it, of Isaiah 58 makes it plain. There just doesn’t seem to be anything complicated about it. One true path to my healing includes the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast, the oppressed, the broken. Of course, when we see how Jesus lived, He seems to have clearly understood this unpopular path. He engaged with and loved those who were on the fringes. He spoke of the poor, the prisoner, the needy, the sick, the outcast and their value to Him. He believed that the poor are the portal to the heart of God because as we see, hear and know them, just like Juan did, we see, hear and know Him, the one who reflects this best. They are the portal to the heart of God, not because they are a problem to be solved, but a people to be loved. I am not God’s gift to the poor. They are His gift to me.
I want as much healing for MYSELF as I can get in this lifetime. I want my heart to be fully and deeply satisfied. I want to remove the “pointing finger” of judgment from my life and replace it with the loving hand of grace. I want to hear God’s inner voice of love on this journey rather than my own voice of condemnation. I want supernatural strength for my human frame as I am approaching the next years. God promises all that and more as I take the uncomfortable journey towards the poor. I’m not sure how it works, but I am hopeful to take another step towards compassion and connection.
I also want as much healing for OTHERS as they can get in this lifetime. I want that for you. It’s my overarching goal. I want my personal inner garden to be well-watered so that I can be a place where other can come and drink deep the love of God, especially those who are thirsting for meaning and hope. And mostly, I want a new name. I want to be called (and Allen, take note for my grave headstone) REPAIRER of Broken Walls and RESTORER of Streets with Dwellings. I want the broken to be healed and their true homes to be found in God Himself. REPAIRER. RESTORER. What really can be better than this? Nothing. And God promises this to me. I’m counting on it.
This is and is not about the poor. This is about God. This is about your healing and mine. This is about hearing God’s words of love to my heart. There are broken, hurting, poor people all around me. I don’t have to travel far to see them and to go after them in their brokenness. God came after me in mine. This is the best stuff! Right now, there are people who are just waiting for me to come to them. I want more of God. They are the portal.
REPAIRER. RESTORER. It has a nice ring to it!
(If you would like to hear the talk from Juan that changed my heart, please click HERE. You won’t regret it!)