October 06, 2010

What Breaks Your Heart?

I have to start with a caveat: I don't know where this will lead.

A year ago in summer, I found myself in a Bible study with a lot of other people and my son. He was on the 12 side of 13 and very interested in the style of study; read, consider, discuss. One of nights, we stood in a circle, discussing the injustice we coexist with - the things we find hard to reconcile.. The leader asked us directly: "What breaks your heart?"

For his wife, a very beautiful and stylish gal, it's that group of young women who don't know their value and turn to the streets. He looked at her with his deep brown eyes and leading voice and said, "Do something about it." The ante was immediately upped. We will name it and then be called on to change it in some small way.

For my son, it's racism. He can't imagine the values that drive us there and has little tolerance for it. He can name it and he finds a great way to stand in the gap whenever he's near offending behavior. He's strong and gracious in his approach. 

I immediately gulped. Because for me, it's homelessness. I lived surrounded by it for a while, in Santa Monica, where you can't turn away. When you try, there's always another homeless person or people. I have felt entirely helpless to do much of value because the problem is so big. (One person on the street without shelter and food is big.)

At Christmas time a year ago, it really came into focus for me. My friend, Mary and I drove in the early, early morning hours to the flower mart, downtown Los Angeles. We drove through the edges of Skid Row, past the tents and tents and tents and past the Midnight Mission, where on this particularly cold night, hundreds were crammed into a patio area for whatever warmth could be afforded. I asked her how often she sees this and she explained that the tents and the people are there every night, until the sun comes up and then they're rousted - sent on their way. I have no idea what it means, what their days are like, how it works. What I know for now is that it moves me. Not just in the tears that stream on my face as I observe, but deeply inside. How can this be in our land of excess?

I don't really know exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. I take small measures, largely because I have a very persistent daughter who is also broken by homelessness. We've been moved to stop acting out of common thinking (the turning away because you shouldn't give money, etc.) and have found some of my own personal stop-gap measures. But it doesn't feel like enough.

A year later, I'm still broken over the homeless. I have had several opportunities to do something. Buy a jacket and gloves here, dog food there (feeding puppies is important too), and lunches. I haven't solved well for the men at my Sunday and weekday off-ramps. But others are on the radar. We drive by, see the need, go shop and return. My girl's heart beams in her chest all the while. She calls the homeless a blessing. I think she's right - and I know there's more for me here.

It seems, for now, that God is showing me the people who live in the margins.

The amazing 6th graders from this summer who live at or below the poverty line. The sandwich makers. Beautiful, lovely, interesting and interested kiddos with big hearts. They have home situations beyond my understanding. I feel called to know more about them and to actually be involved in some way. I don't know how - yet.

And then there are the Alzheimer's victims who are too advanced to live in community with their families and are "placed in institutions." We learned about this by going to visit a friend who has lost the life we shared with her. She lives in an interior place we can't go. My eyes were opened to a whole new community, behind closed and locked doors. I can hardly assimilate this life. My heart breaks here, too.

This Sunday, this same question was raised, "What breaks your heart?" I'm pondering. I'm sure more will be revealed as I do. I'm also sure, that like Nehemiah, the man we're talking about around our church in these days, I'll be called to do something about it. The pondering will lead to action.

Oddly, as I ponder,  I hear the strains of an old song, "Only love can break your heart." I'm wondering about the selfless love involved and required here. It is love in some way. I need to know more and I'm confident I will. Pondering and wondering.

So, how about you? What breaks your heart?

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