Take a minute to read the note to the right if you haven’t already. A Jesus Center participant wrote it on a napkin at breakfast and handed it to one of our meal volunteers last week. When I first read it, I was touched—and at the same time, I was heartbroken.
“The likes of us.”
Imagine that you have spent your childhood in an abusive home where your sense of self-worth was constantly toppled by the people who should have been building it up. Imagine that you have a mental illness that puts voices in your head telling you that you’re despicable and disgusting. Imagine how the experiences of abusive relationships, of feeling abandoned after returning from deployment, of severe addictions, would all impact your self-confidence.
“The likes of us.”
Imagine having daily interactions in which you are demeaned, insulted, humiliated, judged. Imagine people crossing the street to avoid you, mocking you, pinching their noses as they pass. After months or years of such treatment, how is your self-esteem? How would your self-worth affect your ability to put yourself out there and apply for a job, find housing, or even to just make friends with people who do have healthy self-esteem?
We don’t have the power to turn back time and undo the toxic mixture of traumatic events that thrust someone into homelessness. But we do have the power to stop claiming the authority of knowing which “kind” of homeless are worthy of our help.
Whether someone’s homelessness was caused by the Camp Fire or by a fire in their personal life decades ago, Christ calls us to know everyone as a beloved child of God and share God’s abundant love with them, not just by giving donations of clothes, food or money, but through giving respect and dignity.
There is hardly a page in the New Testament where Jesus isn’t blessing the “easily despised and the readily left out,” as Gregory Boyle says. Jesus commands us to invite those who cannot repay us to our banquets, to touch the untouchable, to reach out those who we are told are “unclean” without hesitation.
God is always calling us to love those who can’t love us back. To turn the other cheek.
In a month associated with love that comes in the form of chocolates and hearts, of cupids and romance, we can’t forget that true love, the love of Jesus, is unearned and unmerited. No matter what kind of love we think we deserve, God’s love is always calling us home.
Join me this Valentine’s Day in sharing this love with folks who have deemed themselves unlovable. Join us with a gift so that we can continue the work of coming alongside folks and loving them into transformation, dignity and community. Join me in proclaiming that we are all as broken as “the likes of us,” but by God’s grace, we are all made whole in Christ.
Blessed Valentines’ Day!
Laura Cootsona, Executive Director