Take Time for Josie

I don’t always feel like hearing someone’s story. Sometimes I am busy.

Me teaching a class in the Willard Learning Center
Me teaching a class in the Willard Learning Center

Sometimes I have other things on my mind. But never did it cross my mind that if I don’t hear what he or she has to say right now, I will never get the chance again. Well…it does now.

I was in the Willard Learning Center at Watered Gardens, a place where I help teach people who have been through hell how to get back on their feet. Some are homeless and still active drug users; but others live here, which means they have taken some very significant steps forward. If you are a resident, you have to be sober and attend classes, such as the ones I teach.

I was testing out the new projector when Josie walked in to clean the desks. At Watered Gardens, if you want food, clothes, a shower, or anything else, you have to earn it. A strong work ethic is something they begin instilling in individuals the second they walk through the door.

Charles, who was once homeless, is working roasting coffee beans for their delicious Redeemed Bean custom brew.
Charles, who was once homeless, is working roasting coffee beans for their delicious Redeemed Bean custom brew. Try some here: http://goo.gl/5G1p6B

The concept is sometimes shocking to people who have been living on government handouts for years, drinking and drugging away their days. Living on the streets or under bridges, many anxiously await the first of the month when Uncle Sam indiscriminately puts more money into their accounts. Recipients can get fifty cents cash for every dollar of food subsidies, and then it’s off to buy the drink or drug of his or her choice.

I introduced myself to Josie and could immediately tell that she was doing well. Clear eyes, coherent speech, and a sharp mind meant she had overcome many of the demons that drag others to the grave.

We began to dialogue and I asked her some benign questions: Where are you from? What brought you to Joplin, Missouri? etc. It didn’t take her long to sense my sincerity and then she started to tell me her story. Everyone who ends up on the streets has a story, and I am yet to hear a single one that begins in a happy, healthy home. Josie’s story was no exception.

“My mom died recently,” she told me. “Before they put the casket into the ground, I walked up to it with a black rose clasped behind my back. Then, with the preacher standing right beside me, I placed the rose on her casket and said, “I hope you rot in hell, you b—-.”

Josie then told me about her step-father who molested her from the time she was 2 until she was a teenager. Her mom would stand in the doorway and watch.

She started drinking at just 12 years of age to ┬átry to silence the pain. Running away multiple times proved fruitless. The police would always bring her right back to the people who were supposed to love her more than anyone else on the planet. But they didn’t love her. They violated her.

But her story didn’t end in disaster, as many do. She stopped drinking before it consumed her, which amazed her counselor. She was now in a relationship with a kind man and they were just about to get their own apartment, which is a major accomplishment for someone who has been homeless.

Watered Gardens had given her a safe place to earn life’s necessities and be around people who helped her to grow.

She then paid her boyfriend one of the most significant compliments I can imagine coming from a lady. “Even at 50 years old, he makes me feel pretty.”

I thanked her for sharing her story with me and asked if I could share it with others. I then asked her if I could be praying about anything specific for her. She told me she had a blood clot that her doctors were concerned about, then I gave her a hug and she left the classroom.

I saw her a week later at Watered Gardens, but for the next few weeks noticed that she wasn’t around. So many people who come here are transient, though, so you never know how long someone will be around.

About a month after I met Josie, I was walking up to the front door and passed Joshua, who was locking up his bike. Joshua is an incredibly nice guy and a regular at Watered Gardens. I have run into him other places as well, including a grocery store on the opposite side of town. He puts a lot of miles on those tires.

I stopped to ask him how he was doing.

“I’m just trying to make it, Brian. Life just knocked me down pretty hard.”

I told him I was sorry, then asked what had happened.

“My girlfriend died. We were only 3 days away from getting our own place. She died in her sleep…in my arms.”

His next four words broke my heart.

“Did you know Josie?”

Yes. Yes I did. But I had no idea the two people were connected. I was so glad that I had taken advantage of the only significant encounter I would ever have with her on this side of the grave. And it didn’t surprise me a bit that Joshua was the one about whom she had spoken so kindly.

He fought back the tears as he finished fastening his bike lock and I told him how sorry I was. I also told him how well she had spoken of him. I tried to offer him some comfort and walked on into the building, where every week I do my best to take time for Josie.

*For information on how you can make sure someone like Joshua or Josie has a safe and clean place to sleep at night, along with training and mentorship, please check out their “One Night” campaign with the link below. You can help sponsor the bed I chose (bed #1) for 1 night a month and have an enormous impact on somebody’s life. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

http://wateredgardens.org/onenight/

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Life with Headphones On: Hearing What you Never Knew Was There

It is amazing what you can hear when you really, really listen.

My brother Allen enjoys and selects his music like a connoisseur enjoys a

My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.
My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.

good bottle of wine; dissecting sounds, instruments, techniques and influences. Unless you do the same, you have probably not heard of Animal Collective, Boards of Canada, or 90% of the other bands he listens to.

Many, like me, simply listen to the music on the radio. Allen will hear a random song he likes, find out the band, then purchase their music. If he really likes it, he will begin reading about the band and who inspired them. “What other bands influenced them?” is a question he is always asking. And since he has been enjoying music like that for many years, he has gone back from one level of influence to another to discover the pioneers of various styles of music.

Recently we were running errands together and he played a song from his Ipod on the stereo in his car. We listened to a few other songs by the same artist as we went to a couple of stores and then made our way back home.

When we got back, he pulled out his very nice V-Moda headphones and said, “Now listen to the same song on these.”

I sat down, put them on, and began to listen. At first, my eyes got big. There was so much to be heard, my mind couldn’t take it all in. I noticed my eyes were looking back and forth, like they could actually find the source of the many layers of instruments; instruments I hadn’t even known were playing when I listened to the exact same song in the car.

For four minutes and thirty-two seconds, I was transfixed. Then, when it was over, I still sat there for a while in an attempt to process all of the input my brain had just been exposed to. I stood up and simply said, “Wow!”

We process the vast amount of what goes on in our lives like we listen to music on the radio. We hear or experience something, and we like it or don’t like it. We keep going down the same road based on this preference or lack thereof and keep moving on, often taking little time to truly process what we experience.

We experience hurt and pain, exhaustion and depression…joy, love, passion and apathy. The stimuli are people, events, challenges and even the weather. Each one tossing us around emotionally like a rudderless ship on sometimes calm, but sometimes very turbulent seas.

Life is seldom dull. It is seldom easy, either. Especially not for long.Music Director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 2011 European Tour

Believe it or not, in the midst of all the chaos, an entire symphony is playing in the background of our lives. As we drive to work, sit in boring meetings, eat our breakfast…it is constantly performing, its beautiful notes and harmonies practically begging for an audience. Heard or unheard, the symphony plays on.

There is, however, only one way to hear these instruments that are drowned out by our daily lives. Silence. You must do for yourself what headphones do for your ears and block out any and all external noises and distractions and simply listen.

At first you may hear nothing, because your world is silent, but your mind is not. It is still rambling on about how you need to pack your gym bag so you can work out this afternoon. If you have a pen and paper handy and write that down, your mind no longer feels the need to think about it, so it is gone. Do so with the other things that come to mind and eventually even your mind can experience silence.

That is when the first notes become audible. The tune will likely sound somewhat familiar, since you’ve caught glimpses of it from time to time, without ever realizing its source.

Soon, more and more instruments break their silence and an entire symphony is playing. But it is not playing for your entertainment. It is playing because it IS. It exists at all times, whether or not you ever take the time to notice. It is a mysterious combination of your deepest thoughts, your deepest feelings (including the ones you try so hard to suppress), your own mind’s analyses, and most importantly, the quiet whispers of a loving God.

All of these sources are not simply conveying information. They are intercommunicating in a complicated, yet beautiful, musical piece. As you allow yourself to think your deepest thoughts and feel your deepest feelings, God not only hears them, but also speaks into them, often giving them new meaning, new significance.

Something from your past that you don’t even like to think about comes to mind, and with it the pain it always brings. This time, however, you don’t retreat from it. You allow yourself to hurt and acknowledge the wrong that was done to you.

As the initial swell of pain begins to subside something new emerges. On the other side of the pain, a kind voice speaks to you and reveal the mysteries behind that event. As He brings to light the glorious blessings that would have never come to pass in your life and others’ otherwise, He almost magically transforms that time of intense pain into a source of deep and lasting joy.

A part of the song that sounds much like the source of daily stress that eats at you comes to the fore, and at first you start to get up and turn off that dreadful tune. But you stop yourself. You force yourself to sit and listen to a collection of minor notes and clashing chords. It hurts your ears at first and it is more cacophony than harmony.

But as your peace returns, you begin to make sense of the song, and almost enjoy it. A flash of insight comes! For the first time, you clearly perceive the source of this internal conflict, and even better, what you can do to alleviate it.

When you feel the musicians are done performing, and get up from your chair, you will notice a difference. As you go through your day, some may think you seem distracted a bit more than usual; less affected, somehow, by the frantic goings on around you. And in a rare quiet moment at the office, someone will look over and see you looking very intently at something, follow your gaze, and find nothing at the end of it to justify such a stare.

“What is he looking at?!”

No, not looking. Listening.