Driving frantically to gas stations, fast food restaurants, past apartment complexes and pawn shops, I chase the vans from our church that are handing out food and supplies to the homeless of Austin.
This caravan of seekers, of which my own family is a part, is trolling the streets, looking for people in need.
I chew on gummy bears to calm my anxiety. In my car are warm coats for my own children, and I hope they are not too cold while they are waiting for me.
I finally catch up with the CHI Street ministry team.
It’s a cold night, we are all bundled up. The people we are hoping to help are called homeless, but they have these make-shift homes next to gas stations, or they wander out of treed areas that no one else seems to claim as their own property.
Their dogs welcome us with wagging tails and a friend hands one man a sleeping bag.
I imagine what will happen after we leave. I wonder how it feels to make a bed of the dirt and what it’s like to wake up and live here.
Boy 1 dons the jacket I brought for him. It is light and he is still cold. He stamps around, trying to get warm.
I give him my scarf, winding and tucking it around his neck and into his jacket. He smiles big and hugs me.
My boys climb a stone wall next to the Exxon station. Kids are kids no matter where you go.
Boy 2 falls, cries, and begs, ” I want to go home!!”
Clearly in my mind is the revelation that having a warm home is one of the most wonderful blessings a person can bear in life. Standing here under the fluorescent Exxon sign, I am almost embarrassed that I have never known a day in which I didn’t have a place to go called home.
At the next stop Boy 3 drinks too much Pepsi and throws up in the grass.
Like Old Testament prophets my children are apparently experiencing the life of those they are here to help. Cold, hungry, hurting, and sick, they just want home.
At one stop we can hardly find anyone to help. When it gets cold, the homeless recede to cozier spots.
At the next stop there is a crowd, milling around, getting bags of food and blankets. Mr. Fantastic stands in a circle of men, talking, laughing, offering friendship and kindness.
Some of them tell us their stories.
One man is hoping his boss comes back soon with his paychecks. Another man tells of his girlfriend, how he hasn’t seen her recently, doesn’t know where she has gone. A man mentions his son who is almost the same age as my friend’s son. A musician in the group hopes to find some music gigs in the spring.
The Lady looks at a man being given a blanket and a bag of food and asks, “Is that man poor? He doesn’t have food?”
“No, baby, he doesn’t. That’s why we’re here.”
I tell my children that when we help care for God’s children, the Bible says we are caring for God. We talk about our own discomfort tonight, and how it is short-lived, but for the homeless there may not be an end any time soon.
Some of us are physically homeless while others are homeless in their hearts; the truly unfortunate are both.
My heart cries out for courage for these children of God, that they would be brave of heart and find the path to stability.
Everyone I talk to is kind. They thank us for coming, they wish us Merry Christmas.
We get home, give the kids warm baths and some dinner, and we tuck them into their beds.
Mr. Fantastic looks at me and says, “I’m glad we went, aren’t you? I hope the kids got something out of it.”
I think of the night, their misery, and I say, “I think it’s a value that they absorb, not something they can process all at once. We need to keep going. It’s good for all of us.”
By all of us, I mean our family, the homeless, the city, God’s kingdom. We are never closer to God’s heart than when we care for one another.
There are many reasons to take to the streets like this, but the greatest reason is love.