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Being 99

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People who live to be 99 are remarkable by the sheer accomplishment of their age.  But my oldest friend, who turned 99 in February, is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known.  She is funny, smart, candid, loving and generous.  She taught me about the importance of an ecumenical faith and to never doubt ‘young people.’  When you are 99, almost everyone seems to fit into the category of “young people” but perhaps she was teaching us about trusting each other!  Though I met Pauline through my involvement with the non-profit, she founded, I like to think that our paths first intersected in 1976.

In 1976 I was born (so, that’s a start) and my friend Pauline felt called to start spending most of her days in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. This is a neighbourhood, usually described as “the poorest postal code in Canada” but I much prefer my friend Helen’s description, “a neighbourhood wrought with poverty and rich in community.” It’s a neighbourhood filled with people caught both in addiction and often untreated mental health struggles. Pauline’s story is woven into the lives of hundreds of residents on the Downtown Eastside even though it’s not the place you would expect a well coifed 60 year-old woman to be wandering around by choice.

Pauline, trying to be nothing other than herself, spent 25 years making friends in the local bars and hotels or as we love to say “doing a pub crawl.” Drinking 7-Up or tea, Pauline would sit and visit with people and pray for them on their turf. And when times got tough, she would also visit people in the hospital or prison. She became well known and loved by all the regulars. Pauline wasn’t trying to ‘get people saved’ so she could check them off her list, but she loved Jesus and would talk about him sometimes.

She sat and chatted with drug dealers, prostitutes, lonely old men and girls she knew were too young to be on their own almost daily for 25 years.  At the age of 85, she asked God what he wanted her to do with her life (bold for 85, eh?). She felt like God asked her to give away her inheritance. Pauline was confused because she was living on a pension and spending her days drinking tea in the inner city. Money was not something she had a lot of!

But God revealed to her that money was not her inheritance – instead it was all the friendships she had made in the neighbourhood.  The faces of John, Rob, Susan, Jeanette, and more flashed before her eyes. She was reminded of the bartenders who would clear a spot for her and the men who would open the door for her as she came in to sit and be with people. These friendships were what was to be given away. People, created and loved by God, were a gift to Pauline and one she  was meant to  share. She felt compelled to find others who loved God and loved the DTES – people who would receive this gift and tend to these friendships.

In June 2001, Pauline and a few friends opened the doors of the storefront at 239 Main Street and began a ministry based on loving people of the Downtown Eastside well. As my friend Joyce used to say, “she didn’t come to fix or save but to love.”  Jacob’s Well is where I, and many others, met Pauline. Her story was passed down to us and we pass it on to others.

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Jacob’s Well – Photo by Marion Luttenberger

I finished almost ten years at Jacob’s Well in May 2013 but I continued to visit Pauline.  She stopped doing the pub crawl a few years ago and now we go and visit her. I saw her two weeks ago, in a grey, small hospital room,  and she was very frail, tired and quiet. Although when we put her glasses on she recognized us, we barely recognized her. Her perfectly done old lady hair was messy and unattended to. Her spunk and wit were hidden under the layers of blankets keeping her thin body warm. My friend Dawn and I knew it was time for Pauline to die.  There is something profound about this feeling of readiness, maybe because it feels so rare. So many deaths seem like robbery – too soon! too young! too fast! But with Pauline, the opposite is true:  She is 99 and ready to die and we are ready to let her go.  Her inheritance of friendship has been given away,  and her legacy of love will continue. Go in peace my friend.

** During the weeks between my writing this piece and posting it, Pauline passed away with her family and a few close friends nearby. We rejoice together in her life and in her death. For those of you in Vancouver we will celebrate her life on April 25th from 2-4pm at St. James Anglican Church.

 

Listening to the Marginalized

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I’m super excited to share my latest post with you all because it is has to do with a topic I’m passionate about. Not only do I love listening to people share their stories and their lives (I do this for a living as a coach), but I love encouraging others to listen. During my time at Jacob’s Well I had the privilege of listening to a lot of different voices and am so thankful for them all. This is a great opportunity for all of us to listen at the margins.  The following is an introduction to a post that is on Momentum (a blog I regularly write for), as well as, a blog that I’m so glad I discovered: Do Justice.

As people, we naturally gravitate toward those similar to ourselves. It’s simple, easy and it’s comfortable. We gain friendship, empathy and encouragement from such relationships but a problem ensues when we solely hang around those similar to us – we end up only listening to like-minded voices.

We often don’t realize how enveloped we are in like-mindedness until our beliefs are challenged in an abrupt fashion. Perhaps we see a tweet that jars us or a guest preacher stirs something up at church. “What? People believe that!” or “I have never heard scripture interpreted that way!” We are forced to deal with the dissonance that sometimes comes with new ideas.

Keep reading here or here (triple post!)

 

 

What should I do when someone on the street asks me for money?

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 This is my first Christmas in ten years not being employed by Jacob’s Well, a small non-profit in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, BC.  In more ways than I can explain, Jacob’s Well shaped who I am today. It was a challenging and formative time, forcing me to face my fears, judgements and God’s call to serve the marginalized.  You can read the top ten things I learned during my time there here.  In all the teaching I did with my co-workers, there was one question that we were asked the most.  Can you guess what it was?

“What should I do if someone on the street asks me for money?”

I wondered the same thing for years too. And even while working there I asked myself a myriad of questions along the same lines:

I’ve been told by people who ask for money not to give it out because it gets used for the wrong reasons. Why do I do now when asked?

What should I do when I know you can eat for free more than five times a day in my neighborhood?

What should I do when I have money in my pocket and don’t want to lie but don’t want to give cash?

What should I do when I want to be a good influence (or maybe look good?) to my kids or friends?

Like I said before, I learned a lot of things during my time at Jacob’s Well, but what to do when someone on the street asks me for money is something that stands out.

 The answer: do whatever you want.

Not that helpful? Ok, I’ll expand. You must listen to your gut (or we would say the Holy Spirit). You must be open to listening though!  I do not say this flippantly. It is easy to just think we know what to do because we have made a firm commitment: “I will always give a dollar” or “I will never give money.” We must tune our ears and our hearts to that particular person at that particular moment. You have have a different response at different times. If you gave money every time or never gave money, it is ok if you are doing it for the right reasons.  Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

The most important thing is not to ignore someone who asks for money.  I am not saying you have to give them money (that is up to you, remember). But I can ask you not to ignore someone. Give them a smile, a hello, a polite head nod or a whole conversation but people deserve to not be ignored.

If not to someone on the street, give somewhere. God calls us to love, to fight for justice and to be generous (and a whole lot more). God cares deeply for the poor and marginalized. It doesn’t take much Bible reading to figure that out. If you don’t feel called to give to someone on the street then please do a little research and give somewhere. If you want ideas email me (I’m serious).

Remember we don’t know everything. We must remember that we (probably) do not know the story of the person asking for money. Chances are their journey is one that is complicated and harder than our own. People do not just wake up and think “I’m going to quit my job, be homeless and start panhandling on the street.” They have walked a long road and we must remember that we are all created in God’s image.

Don’t make assumptions. Please don’t assume the person you are talking to wants to talk to you. Imagine if you spent the night sleeping on the sidewalk, then had your shoes stolen, were hungry, cold, tired etc. Would you want to talk to a stranger? Probably not. It is ok to ask if they want to talk but don’t assume ‘you deserve’ their attention.

Have some respect. Lastly, if you do decide to give someone something instead of food please please, please, be kind and courteous. Would you want someone’s leftovers or dirty socks?  Don’t assume that someone on the street does either.  People are people, whether you have an address or not.

What do you do?