28 June, 2017

Change


Yesterday I shook hands with a homeless man. His name was Grant, and he was sitting out the front of a shopping mall, head down, dog beside him, and a sign which said hard times had come and every bit of change counted.

Call me childishly innocent, but once I see people like that I can’t get them out of my mind. I’ve been sheltered from the scary scratch-to-make-a-living world. I knew about these things; I’ve read books about people who are homeless, addicted, or abused. I know it’s reality, but it’s never been real to me.

I remember the first time I saw someone’s makeshift bed up an alley. I looked twice before I realised. That’s someone’s bed. That’s where they sleep. That’s where they live. Something out of the storybooks was in front of me, and I had to realise it was all nonfiction. I can still picture it now. 

Back to yesterday: my mum had to go to the city, and I decided to go along and do some busking while she was busy. She dropped me off in the city centre, and I started walking through malls and along streets of shops looking for a place to set up. I went down a street, and the first thing I noticed was a bright purple blanket, laid out to the footpath. It had something underneath it, and at first I thought someone was lying there, but when I got closer, I saw it was a sleeping bag.

A man shuffled past me, and stopped. He was dirty and unkempt, and he had a cheap bag over shoulder. He pulled the bag off, and got out a pair of scuff-like shoes, which he put on and kept walking in the frosty morning air. 

I went through a mall, and that’s when I saw this man sitting with his piece of cardboard in front of him. People were rushing past, pretending he wasn’t there. I couldn’t get him out of my head; I wanted to give him something, but most of all I wanted to talk to him, to understand, if that were possible.

I went and busked for a while, and came back with what I’d made. He was still sitting there. I joined the flow of foot traffic, and walked right past him into the next mall. Why was it so hard to approach this man, a human being just like me? Why was I worried what people would think of me?

When I went over to him and emptied out the bag with the small amount I had, he thanked me profusely. Now what? I wanted to help him yes, but I wanted connection. I wanted to know what life was like for people like him. So I asked, and he told me. He told me how it started when he was thirteen, and struggles he’s had with his family, and how he has health problems now. He told me he was more fortunate than most because he had a car and his driver’s license. He told me he doesn’t drink or do drugs, and how he helped a few other homeless people out that morning and told them where they could get help. He told me he was a Christian and his faith in God helped him through. In the end, he asked my name and extended his hand.

I went back to my spot and busked some more, but things were different. My stereotypes were shattered. I played on, and observed from his perspective, from their perspective. I was a person on the street, and I was ‘asking’ for money. I saw how people ignored, pretended I wasn’t there – or noticed but didn’t acknowledge except by glancing at my case to see how much I’d collected. I watched the kids stare and the parents make sure they kept moving. I’ve had it before, but I realised what it would be like if I were sitting instead of playing, had a cardboard sign instead of an open case. I would be inferior, not worth a glance: too familiar to have any impact.

Again, this is new to me. I’m not desensitized. I still see people, and I want to stay that way. I don’t want to be one of the crowd. I don’t want to be so consumed by materialism I forget people are people, just like me, just like you. 

But there are redeeming factors. Parents gave their kids some coins to put it in my case. A lady told me it was a beautiful song. People smiled. A man said he’d give me something except he was broke. A dad said to his kids while I was setting up ‘that lady’s going to play some music.’ The connection made it worth it. The smallest smile kept me playing. The kids’ curiosity made me happy inside. 

So I’m only asking one thing of myself and of you: next time, be that redeeming factor.

40 comments:

  1. Every word of this post is magic. <3

    I've felt the same way before whenever I walk through the city. There's a crossroads between two parts of a mall and you see a few homeless people as well as buskers. I understand what you mean when you said it's hard to stop and approach. It's that feeling of being world's apart and at the same time the desire to understand.

    And I think you make a really great point when you talk about your homeless man breaking the stereotype. I don't want to be desensitised either, and I don't want to forget.

    The first time the stereotype was broken for me was when I was visiting Korea. There was a homeless man laying on his stomach with his legs splayed out behind him. His sign told me that he need the money to get an operation, get handicap equipment and make it through the night. It's only later I found out that men like him never get their money because other men took it, night after night, like the gangsters who remove the eyes from Indian children on the street. All for a profit.

    Your story reminded me of that, and also how it's so so easy for us to pass off homeless people as drunks or addicts. But they are really just the visible victims of misfortune.

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    1. Wow, you get it. I hope this isn't creepy, but I saw a comment on M's blog (The Life of Little Me), and I'm pretty sure we're talking about the same city here.

      Yes, that's it. We're so different, but bound by our humanity. It's good to be reminded of what life is like for some others.

      Oh that's so sad about homeless people in Korea and India! How can people do that?! I can see why the Bible says money is the root of all evil. Some things have a strong hold on people.

      Thanks for sharing, Jo. I really appreciate your comments!

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    2. Hahahaha I just died a little bit inside from laughter. That's so crazy! What if the three of us passed each other on the street and never noticed?? Life is insane.

      I definitely agree with the Bible there. As soon as we starting putting a numerical value to things that are invaluable - I suppose it was all a slippery slope from there.

      Thank you for listening and responding to my rambling story. :)

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    3. Isn't it?! I couldn't believe it when I saw that. It would be crazy if we saw each other without realizing.

      Yes, definitely. Haha, you're very welcome - thank you! :)

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  2. Jessica, this is so powerful! The way you stepped out to learn to see the world from the perspective of someone in such a different type of life - though still human... I can learn so much from it. I'm so glad you listened to that voice inside prompting you to push past the worry of what others would think. I'm so glad we can learn from your experience and hopefully be changed by it. Had you busked before? And (randomly), do people call you Jess?

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    1. Yes, I'm so glad I took the leap too. It's incredible to gain even a small insight into someone else's life, and it makes me rethink things I take for granted. Oh, I hope the change stays with me too!

      Yes, I have busked before, but not a lot, and not in that location. And yes, people call me Jess. You're welcome to, if that was the question. :)

      Thanks so much for your comment, Jordy. xx

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  3. Wow, This is incredible Jessica <3 I sat here with no words for quite a while, your story really touched something deep in my heart.

    You expressed something into words that for me is so hard to express.
    I've been volunteering at a food bank for one year now...I heard stories each months, saw things each months, and those things (some horribly sad and heartbreaking happenings) ...worked their way into my heart and changed me from inside.

    It is so easy for outsiders to assume and to pass by, so easy to blame and forget...but that moment when you get inside and your view switches it's a "boom" moment of realization. It's interesting because this has shaped me so much it's in my WIP, and I guess those stories I can't tell to others have bloomed into a story that everyone can hear.

    Well Jess, thanks again for this lovely post! And sorry for my rambling, :) it is quite a kindred subject for me

    God Bless you <3

    Anna - www.worldthroughherheart.blogspot.com

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    1. Wow, I've wanted to volunteer for something like that for ages! You're so right - we judge and presume, but once you see first hand it's all blown away. They're real people with hearts and souls. It's so nice to hear someone who feels this too!

      It sounds like you have an amazing ministry happening, and God is using you. Your heart of love and compassion is so encouraging and inspiring. It's interesting you said this shaped your WIP, because that's one of the things that drew me to the book you're writing. It's so good you're making this real and accessible to more people.

      Thanks for your comment, and don't apologise! It's great to read your rambles. Many blessings to you too! :)

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  4. Beautiful post.... it's easy to think of homeless people as just homeless... not people. It's also really hard because you don't know if they're pretending just to get money or if they really need help.
    The story about the man was touching... thank you for sharing :)

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    1. Praise God. :) Yes, that is hard. I think that's one of the things which put a barrier there for me - they might not be genuine, and they'll probably use the money for alcohol or drugs. But it's just about realizing that's not always the case, and even if it is, they're still people, like you said.

      Thanks heaps for your comment, Sarah!

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  5. Amazing post! It can be so easy to look away and pretend we didn't see them, but even a smile can change someone's day. Thank you for your beautiful story! <3

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    1. Melissa, thank you for reading and commenting! You're so right. Little things can be powerful - I remember a story I read once where someone's smile saved a life, literally. It always inspires me. Thanks again! xx

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  6. uhm, I think I can only say one thing. wow. Jessica, my dear friend, you are that redeeming factor.
    This is the most beautiful thing I've read in a long long long time.

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    1. Aw girl, you are too kind! Praise God, because anything good in me is all Him!

      I'm so glad this could touch you, and thanks heaps for your comment. It made my day. xx

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  7. Wow! This is so good, and something I've been struggling with quite a bit. I am faced with poverty every single day, and it's always a challenge to know what to do and how to respond. Lately, my prayer has been for God not to let my heart grow hard. Not to let poverty and suffering become such a 'normal', everyday sight for me that I stop noticing it and stop caring about the actual people who comprise the depressing statistics about the place where I live.

    Thanks, Jessica, for being the redeeming factor. And thanks for reminding the rest of us to stop and value the people around us, no matter how uncomfortable this might make us feel.

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    1. Mmm, that would be hard in your situation! It's so easy to become accustomed to these things, and I don't even see them often.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Janie! It's great to hear from someone who's out there doing it. I pray God continues to bless you and your ministry! xx

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  8. WOW I love love love this! So many times we overlook, see only our own little world. We pretend not to see, not to hear the brokenness. In my job I see that too - coworkers unwilling to admit that the kids get no love and only want love in return. I want to hug each one but instead I pray, pray for chances to bless these people God places in my path.
    Lovely post!

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    1. Mmm, yes. It reminds me of a quote I can't remember exactly, but something like 'our greatest sin is not hate, but indifference.'

      I pray God gives you those opportunities too! I'm sure He will. Thanks for your comment, Kara! So nice to hear you relate! :)

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  9. Wow, Jessica. This is a beautiful post, and thank you for being bold and going to talk to that man. You just did so much good and inspired me and so many others because of that. I will remember this post for a looong time. Thank you. <3

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    1. Thanks so much for your sweet comment, Katie. Really all I can say is praise God. It totally wasn't something I could've done on my own, and to think He could use my experience to touch other people is incredible. xx

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  10. OKKKKKK. Let me just sit here for a sec and try and get some coherent words together.
    ...
    ...
    ...
    Jessicaaaaaaaa. *tackles* I mean, seriously, YOU ARE ONE SPECIAL GIRL. That is one of the bestest examples of loving others I've ever seen. That is a beautiful thing that you did.
    I have seen homeless people before. And yeah, most people just pass them by. I have. But Jesus wouldn't. I've got to remember to CARE.
    I'm going to link to this post on my blog, because girl, PEOPLE NEED TO READ THIS.
    -Ariel

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    1. Oh, and by the way, what is 'bunking'? Must be some sort of Australian term... xD YOU AUSSIES ARE AWESOME JUST SAYIN'. <33
      -Ariel

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    2. Ariel! You are one special girl too, and you happen to be awesome at writing lovely encouraging comments. :)

      Yes, I've got to remember it to. There have been plenty of times I've looked the other way, sadly.

      Well, thanks for linking it! I'm honoured. I realize your blog is private, etc, but I've been meaning to ask if I could read it! Feel free to say no, but I'd love to see what you share! :)

      Thanks again for your comment! Stay strong!

      P.s I'm pretty sure we agree on aussies there. ;)

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    1. Lol, I was wondering the same thing so I looked it up. The definition is: "play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways."

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    2. Ooooh, I see. People downtown from where I live sometimes do that...it's pretty cool. ^_^
      -Ariel

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  12. wow girl. <3 you are amazing! Keep letting God work little miracles through you!!

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    1. Aw, thanks Paige! God is the amazing one - it's all because of Him! xx

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  13. This is really good Sister! I'm missing you already!

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    1. Thanks fabulous. I miss you more. :)

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  14. Man, you gave me a lot to think about. In our area there's a lot of homeless and out of work people. Since I see them practically every time we leave the house, it's very easy to become desensitized to their situation. Thanks for putting it in a new light for me.

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    1. Mmm, I see how it would be hard to stay sensitive to them! We tend to become immune to what's normal to us, unfortunately.

      Thanks a lot for reading and commenting, Gloria. <3

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  15. I loved this post <3 you gave me a lot to think about. I've seen homeless people before, and it's honestly makes me realize what all I have that I take for granted. I am SO blessed by God, and I can't just sit around and do nothing, y'know? Go you for being brave and busking! i don't think i could ever work up the nerves to do that haha! That's so sweet that you helped that guy out.

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    1. Yes, yes, it makes me see the same thing! It really puts things in perspective.

      Haha, thanks. It is a bit daunting, but it's easier to play for people you don't know sometimes, you know.

      Thanks heaps for your comment, Autumn. :) xx

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  16. Beautiful post, Jess. I especially appreciate you sharing that you walked by the homeless man, because it relates with me. So many times I feel convicted to do or say something...and walk right past the person. Thankfully I sometimes turn around again. It was encouraging knowing that others struggle with the same doubts/thoughts I do.

    We don't have many homeless people in our city, if any. But God put you in Australia for a reason. And He put me here for a reason. As you said, I want to be that redeeming factor.

    This post was beautiful...thank you. (and by the way, I wrote my post on materialism before reading this...funny how God can convict us of similar things, huh?)

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    1. Thanks Hosanna. Yes, that's me so many times too! By God's grace I want those times to be fewer and fewer between though.

      Thanks for the encouragement. God certainly has a purpose for each of us right where we are. And yes, I noticed how your post on materialism fit right in with this! It was a convicting and beautiful post. Blessings friend, and thanks for your comment! :)

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