I blinked and summer was gone. Isn’t that always the way? Once again I’m doing the college thing…disappointed by Lucky Charms lacking in marshmallows, slowly rekindling my romance with the library, the usual. Except Queens round 2 is fantastically, terrifyingly, mind-bogglingly unusual. I have had the honor of meeting quirky, haven’t got it all together, life lovin souls who are completely humbling my heart with their wisdom, honesty, and joy.
Maybe you’re interested in hearing more about classes, the international exchange students who recently discovered my snapchat username, or church life…but I really, really need to introduce you to the people transforming my heart. So bear with me.
First, there’s Nathaniel. Nathaniel was hanging out in the parking lot of Housing Works (an Urban Ministry Center component) yesterday. He’s known for collecting Snapple bottle caps and sharing a fact a day. A friend and I asked him what our fact of the day was. Nathaniel turned to us with a toothy grin and said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!” We told him we liked that one and he grinned even bigger, pointed at a woman getting in her car and yelled, “I like that one!” I couldn’t help but laugh.
Then there’s Barbara. She cleans my dorm with fastidiousness and incredible speed…I actually saw her running down the hall with her cleaning cart the other day. Running. Yes. The woman is the definition of efficiency. I was washing my hands in the bathroom while she cleaned mirrors and I felt like introducing myself. We got to talking and she had marvelous insight.
She told me about a woman who came to her church a while back, “She was drunk as a skunk, she just looked rough, you know?” This woman was heartbroken. What did the sage Miss Barbara have to say? “Girl he can’t do like Jesus can.”
There once was a man next to Barbara on the bus, “…he was in a suit, all professional like and he had all these books in his lap, and I just looked at him and said, ‘Have you ever read the Bible? Cause God wants you to.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Mm I know that’s God talkin straight to me.'”
Sharing God’s love isn’t always easy – especially on a college campus where people assume you have ulterior motives, may contaminate them with Jesus-freak-ness, or just aren’t engaged. The week I met Barbara, I had been feeling anxious about offending people with my faith. Of course Barbara had the perfect words, “I used to be shy as anything…but I prayed to him for boldness and said Lord help me cause if you don’t give me boldness I can’t save like I know I should. And he just tells me to open my mouth – he gives me the words to say cause I know I can’t do it by myself.”
I felt like pulling a Barbara and running around the hallway after that conversation.
Finally, there’s Justin. An incredible guy on the Queens campus, William Yates, started a project called Our Heart, Our Home this year. This project pairs Queens students with Housing Works tenants as a means of telling the stories of those who were homeless. Each student involved with the project is partnered with a soul-friend and mine is Justin. Yesterday was our first session as a team. Justin began the conversation by telling me he hadn’t heard the names Justin and Amy together in years because his ex-wife’s name is Amy.
I first met Justin two weeks ago and my heart gravitated towards him. We weren’t partners at that point but something in his eyes unnerved me. I could tell he had a beautiful yet painfully complex story. When we sat down together I knew my heart was going to grow so fond of him. Justin is 44 years old and has an MBA but he was homeless for about 3 1/2 years. He knows he’s proof that homelessness is only a few paychecks away from all of us. I still have so much left to learn about him, but I know he is the perfect soul-friend for me. He’s an avid reader, has always wanted to write a book but feels he can’t, and he loves to travel. We talked about his diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. He shared about his 3 children – 1 of whom is a daughter in college. He wanted to know more about my childhood in England and we pondered what it’d be like to see the pyramids in Cairo.
One of my favourite things to hear about was Justin’s addiction to adrenaline-rushes when he was younger. He lived in Colorado and skied often. He joined a rescue group of sorts which made sure the trails were safe to use during the winters. He and his partner would ride a snow mobile up into the Colorado wilderness and bring one set of skis with them. Their job was to blow up the potential avalanche sites so the avalanches happened in a controlled environment and didn’t become a threat to the people down by the slopes. The guys would flip a coin and whoever lost the coin toss would have to ski back through the woods after they set the explosion while the winner got to drive. I just shook my head…boys, right?
This is the stuff that warms me through and through. Developing relationships with people who are comfortable in their own skin, wading around in the past even though it’s hard, being transparent together – it all creates a trust like no other. I am so terribly busy this semester…I need to keep my head on straight and manage time with dogmatic, slightly embarrassing diligence. But God’s reminder to me has constantly been Amy, I will sustain you. Do not miss out on precious interactions with my children because you’re so caught up with your studies. So I pray daily for opportunities to meet new people and experience God’s love through them. So far, this prayer hasn’t returned void.
Be on the lookout for those who will give you the warm and fuzzies, challenge you, and take your breath away. Some real treasures live just beyond your front door.
Check out the Urban Ministry Center here: http://www.urbanministrycenter.org/services-a-programs/outreach-a-engagement
Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”