Joy that flows

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As I sit here at the end of the week, in the wee hours of the morning (when I should be sleeping or studying or at least looking at a textbook), I can’t help but want to dump the contents of my heart onto this blog. I really do feel like my heart could explode. So, for that reason, I am getting it all out on this blog post. Here it is, an explosion of my heart, that Jesus caused, yet again.

Man, I am so antsy to jump right to the exciting part (what happened tonight), but I know that I haven’t blogged for a while, so I will catch you up on what Jesus has been up to here in Springfield since I last spoke with you. My goodness, He really has taken me on quite the adventure here. And the best part is, it is only the beginning.

I have been praying since I got here that Jesus would give me opportunities to love on people. That’s it. I just wanted Him to put people directly in my path to love on. To say He has done exactly that would be only a tiny fraction of the crazy and wonderful adventure He has been taking me on.

One of the greatest things He has done since I’ve been here, is connect me with a real, pulsing, and moving Body. The neatest part about it, is how He brought me to it. One of my closest homeless friends, invited me to this joint. When he told me he found a church that he felt comfortable in, and one in which he actually felt loved, I knew it was my kinda place.

So I started going to this church. It’s called The Venues (yanno, ’cause the church is not a building, it’s everywhere). I’ve been noticing recently that Jesus is so amusingly wonderful at times. Before I started going to The Venues, I had been spending a lot of time in Galatians simply enjoying the revelation He gave me of what it means to live freely and fully in His grace and love. The first Sunday I came to The Venues with my homeless friend, we sat in the front row and listened to Jesus teach us about the beautiful freedom we have in the never-ceasing grace He lavishes on us.

My friend, who I am just going to arbitrarily refer to as Tom from here on out, and I have been going to this grace-loving, truth-seeking, radically-functioning church for about a month now.

It’s funny actually. Right here in the middle of the “Bible-belt,” I was pretty pessimistic about actually finding a church that didn’t preach Law. I was nearly sure there wasn’t a place that existed that actually taught grace, and one that didn’t teach religion. Well Jesus sure did give me the most wonderful surprise ever.

So, why all this talk about this new church that I found (well not me, Jesus brought me to it)?

Because, Tom, whom I mentioned earlier, is one of many that have felt loved there. One of many that has had a warm place to sleep at night. One of many that has had food in his belly, and people that know his name and greet him with a loving embrace.

Springfield, MO is home to so many churches, it nearly makes me sick. What? Why would that make me sick you might ask?

Simple.

There are so many churches here. Sure that is great, I guess. But how many homeless, hungry, broken, and hurt people do the churches keep their doors shut to? How many of our brothers and sisters sleeping right outside their doors and sleeping in the woods just beyond their buildings aren’t even aware of the love of the Father? All they see, is a bunch of fancy buildings, full parking-lots with nice cars, and nice-looking people that go into the building and then exit it. They see these people who claim to love a god who is good, and who is loving, and they claim it their objective to imitate this god, yet these nice-looking church people don’t even see them. They don’t see these sons and daughters of God that have been directly placed in their paths, because they are too busy planning banquets, church programs, and events.

I could go on with my not-so-patient and not-so-loving attitude I have towards the church, but I know that it will not do anyone any good. I really don’t mean to bash the church. I know the church is filled with people who really do desire to love God and love others. I think the problem is, they just don’t really know how to. Religion has complicated that. With as many churches are there are in this city, and with the number of people without places to lie their heads, the solution should be as clear as day. But legalism has messed all that up. When grace comes in, destroys all the rules and everything that is expected, normal, safe, easy, and predictable something liberating happens. JESUS runs the place.

And let me tell you, it is absolutely breathtaking to watch.

Want to know what it looks like?

It looks like a church filled with people hungry for grace, for mercy, for love, for Him. It looks like a church willing to set-aside the need to be perfect. It looks like a church that can play non-churchy music like the Beatles and Louie Armstrong. It looks like a church that is ready to be honest about the unspeakable. It looks like a church that has a grace-filled small group for our brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered where they can be honest, be who they are, and not fear someone condemning them or shoving Law down their throats.

And it looks like a church that opens its doors to the homeless. This is the really exciting part guys.

I’m not sure it gets much better.

This week marks the third week in a row that my church has been sheltering homeless youth, ages 13-21, overnight.

The only church in Springfield that is doing this.

I remember the day I found out. Tom and I were sitting in the front row one Sunday when one of our friends got up and announced that the church was going to start an overnight shelter in the basement. I think that was the first time I had ever peed myself in church.

Among many reasons for our excitement, the most evident one was the fact that Tom had just become homeless again. I say “again,” because prior to that Sunday he was living temporarily with his sister. That was until they were evicted, and he ended back up on the streets again.

But hey, no biggie. Jesus solved that. He said, “Hey Tom, no worries my son, I made a place for you here.”

Since then, Tom and many others have been sleeping warm and safe in the basement of the grace-filled, Jesus-led church.

The night that I got to volunteer for the overnight shelter for the first time was a night I will never forget.

There are certain policies that overnight shelters have to follow. One being, there has to be two persons chaperoning or facilitating the shelter as the homeless sleep. After collecting knives, backpacks, and what other little belongings they had from living on the streets, I helped them make their beds. Every person had a cot to sleep on and a sleeping bag. I even handed out a little pre-bedtime snack to them, just ’cause.

There were many that first night that I knew, and many that I did not. It was exciting. I got to meet an 18 year old girl who had just come from a shelter that she got kicked out of. I couldn’t understand why, she was probably the most kind and gentle 18 year old girl I had ever met. I saw her smile before she went to sleep.

There were others. They quickly became my friends. We laughed together. They were my brothers, and my sisters.

Before they all went to sleep, I had a beautiful conversation with Tom. We talked about grace. Tom and I had been sitting in church together for over a month listening to message after message about this new concept of a grace-filled gospel, that is actually good news. Tom asked me questions. He pulled out his old, black, leather, KJV bible and read to me. Then I read to him. Then we listened for Jesus. Then I smiled, and he smiled. At just how darn wonderful Jesus really is. Tom knew it. He finally knew it, because he could see it. He could feel it. The Father’s love was everywhere we looked.

It wasn’t too hard to keep myself awake that night. I was too darn excited to be anywhere near tired.

So I journaled some, listened to some Bethel, talked with Jesus for a while. But mostly, I just kept starring at one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. I saw rows of cots filled with my friends. My brothers and sisters whom I loved. They were all there. They were safe. They were warm. All in one place. I felt like a mother for the first time. Sometimes I forget that it is His heart that beats in me, and when I feel strange things, such as motherly feelings towards my homeless friends, I am reminded that they are His children and it is He who desires to nurture and to love on them.

Geez, no wonder they are so darn easy for me to fall in love with.

It is hard for me to even organize my recollection of this beautiful adventure He has been taking me on, because it really is too exciting to make sense of it.

Sometimes it’s just little snipets here and there of His love in action. One day after spending some time with Tom, a friend and I did some homeless grocery shopping. We got Tom some random food items that we knew he liked, and some others we thought he would too. Apparently, Tom doesn’t like Vienna sausages. So on the way back from visiting Tom, my friend and I ran across a couple of homeless men at a busy intersection. With a green light ahead of us, I held out a few cans of Vienna sausages and handed them to my brothers. And you better believe, that not a single car behind us honked.

The little joys like handing out Vienna sausages in the middle of traffic and listening to stories from my brothers and sisters downtown at the laundry-mat, are gems that I get to pick up along the way and carry in my pocket.

This journey has been more than I could begin to put into words.

Tonight, when I showed up at the shelter I just couldn’t stop smiling. I really think it is the happiest place on earth.

Tom was there along with other regulars. After celebrating Tom’s first day of his new job – oh yeah did I mention Jesus got Tom a job? Oh yeah, well He did!

Anyways, after celebrating with Tom, I took my friends outside for a smoke before bed. We stood outside in the cold, while they passed around cigarettes, and laughed. Tom taught me how to long-board. It was pathetically funny. But hey, it made them laugh.

One of my new friends actually asked me if I were homeless. That may have been one of the greatest compliments I have ever received.

After talking with one of my new friends that I just met, whom I am just going to call Jack (man I’m real creative with names), I learned that Jack was only staying at the shelter for one night. Tomorrow morning he is leaving for Colorado. By foot. Well, and hopefully some kind truck-drivers. Jack told me he didn’t have much supplies to make that kind of a trip. He had $2.70 to buy what food he could tomorrow before he left town. My heart instantly ached to provide him with all that I could. But I knew exactly what he needed.

I took him over to my car and showed him what God wanted to give him. I wanted to word that carefully so you know I am not telling you what happened next to make myself seem pious, generous, special, or worthy. Guys, this is all Jesus right here. I had nothing to do with this.

I usually keep about 20 or so Hot-Hands (pocket hand-warmers) in the door of my car. So I handed him those. Then, I gave him something I had been wanting to give him for several months – yes, you read that correctly.

Several months ago, I made a little joyful bundle for someone. I had no idea who it was supposed to be for, but I knew Jesus would show me. I had been waiting the whole time I have been in Springfield to give it to the person Jesus showed me. And finally tonight, He showed me who it was for all along – and that was Jack.

I bundled up a thick, wool pair of socks, a hat, some thick waterproof gloves, hot-hands, a bible, and a note. I don’t remember exactly what Jesus had me write on that note, but I do remember it was full of the truth of who Jack is. A son of the Living God, who is so loved. No matter if he doesn’t have a place to lay his head or a family to call home to. Jack is a prince, an heir to the inheritance of King Jesus.

I don’t know if he knew it before tonight, but he knows now.

Jack was excited about the bible. He told me that his had just gotten tore up by some friends who used the pages to roll up joints. He shared with me the parts that he was familiar with. Proverbs and Pslams. And then he said Galatians, and Colossians. And that made my heart pretty happy.

So we talked for a little while about grace (I’m seeing a reoccurring theme here, aren’t you?) and I encouraged him to read Philippians and II Timothy when he was feeling cold and weak.

Jack gave me a warm hug and a big smile and told me thank you. I told him that Jesus gave that to him tonight. That Jesus had it for him months ago, and had been just waiting for the time to come.

With Jack on my left and Tom on my right, and the rest of my brothers and sisters huddled around, I asked them if I could pray over them. They said I could.

And so I did.

I proclaimed the Father’s love over each of His worthy, and beautiful sons and daughters.

I hugged them, told them goodnight, and sent them to bed.

And as I walked away, I felt my heart fill. It reaches a new capacity every time I am with them.

When I say that Jesus made me fall in love with these people, I mean it. I am. They have my heart.

And I want everyone to get to experience that kind of love. I want all of my brothers and sisters to know how wonderful they are. I want my homeless brothers and sisters to see how much love and joy they bring to my heart, and more – how much love and joy they bring to their Father’s heart.

They have no idea. They have no idea how crazy in love with them He really is.

It is my heart’s greatest desire to make them know.

One more little thought I want to dump out before I head to bed for the night:

I walk a lot. I walk all around the city. I enjoy it. I like seeing people’s faces.

Whether I’m downtown, or walking amongst a mass of people on campus, I can’t help but look directly at each face that passes me.

I can’t help but wonder,

Do they know?

Does she know she is worthy and loved?

Does he know that he is a beloved son of the Most High?

Do they know that there is a God who created them, just to love on them?

And He gives me peace in my heart by assuring me that He desires to tell them much more than I do.

He desires to make His love known to Tom and to Jack much more than I do.

He desires to keep them warm at night, spend time laughing with them, enjoying them, and simply loving on them, so much more than I do.

Guys, Jesus is in love with His children. He really is. I see it. I feel it.

He will pursue you when you are homeless. When you run away. When you’re broken, when you’re too weak to stand on your own two feet, when you have fallen out of love with Him, when you turn your back, even when you stop praying, even when you stop caring.

He chases after us.

He is persistent.

He wants to make His love known to us.

That’s it.

To love, and to be loved in return.

No strings attached.

Isn’t that beautiful, freeing truth? If you really want to know what that looks like, I would recommend making a homeless person smile.

Now that, my brothers and sisters, is pure beauty in the eyes of the Father. That is pure, unexplainable joy that flows right from the heart of Jesus.

It is a beautiful journey indeed.

I will keep you updated.

Peace and joy brothers and sisters.

His peace and joy, and now, our peace and joy.

Your sister,

Carrie

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