Today marked the end of a chapter for our family. 5 years ago, in November of 2006, we felt compelled to serve on a street corner in downtown Omaha. 14th and Douglas St. to be exact. I’ll never forget that first Sunday. And I’ll never forget the heart of a 9 year old boy. The week prior to our first Sunday, we scouted out the area. We were parked one block away on 13th andDouglas. I’ve told the story before. Robin stressing out because she didn’t know “how we are going to save all these people?” Me just thinking that we needed to go. That we had to go. And honestly, Robin was right there, if not ahead of me in that regard. AndErin at 6 years old and Christian at 12, willing to entertain whatever crazy thoughts mom and dad were having. And then there was 9 year old Nick. In the back seat with a snack bag of Cheerios. As Robin and I discussed, in the front seat, how we’d try to pull this off, ol’ Nick is in the back saying something along these lines – “Dad, I have this bag of Cheerios, we could just start now…” And so it began. The beginning of one of the most awesome and amazing 5 year stretches of my life. The following week, we showed up with an awesome pot of soup, enough for about 25 people, a case of water and a heart to serve God and anyone who might be willing to come along for the ride. I’ll never forget literally running through the park, gathering up fellows to come hang with us for a little while. Surely they were hungry, right? Little did we know… I’ve chronicled much of our journey through various blog entries with the intent of making sure I had a little perspective to someday look back upon. I’m so glad I took the time after each outing to simply put some thoughts to “paper”. Pretty sure I’ll treasure these journal entries for some time, as we’ve seen some pretty amazing things and met some incredibly amazing people along the way.
So yesterday was a day for turning the page. We’d been fasting and praying for some time. Attempting to get some discernment or clarification on what God might have next for our family. We were pretty sure our time of service in this community was coming to an end. Now we never say never because I realize I’m not in control. We did this once before and ended up right back down there on that corner for another extended period of time. But this time is different. The last time we took a break, we really didn’t have a plan. It really felt like it was time for a break. After 3 pretty full years of weekly gatherings on that corner, it just seemed as though we needed a break. We were fortunate during that break to find a church community, something we didn’t have previously. I don’t think we ever really looked at ourselves as rebels. Initially, we just really felt the need and desire to do this thing weekly. What that meant was that we wouldn’t have opportunity to be involved in a church community. We spent our Sunday mornings prepping for this amazing opportunity with our downtown community. Kinda like bringing church down there. We never looked at ourselves as “qualified” or experienced in this arena. In fact, we were pretty naïve and pretty much rookies. But we went anyway. And I truly hope and pray that our friends in that community came to know us as a community. A group in communion with one another in the presence of God.
So this time we think we have a plan. More on that later…
As we prepared for our last time on that corner, it was definitely with mixed emotions. There was relief, especially with winter approaching, that we’d not be down there on the absolute mind numbing, freezing days of winter. There was relief that all the clothing that has passed through our garage would now be going to other destinations. I have no idea how many thousands of pounds of clothing I’ve sorted in our garage. No idea how many thousands of bottled water containers have been handed out. No idea how many thousands of meals have been prepared and served on that corner. I’ll just say a lot and leave it at that. It was weird getting everything prepped for the last time. Right down to the winter clothing I’ve been storing in our shed since last year. We had just enough to fill all of our containers. And when I was loading the trailer before heading home yesterday, most of the containers came back empty. Just enough. Always just enough. He cares about the details. And there were other pretty clear signs that we should call it a day on the venture. So it surely seemed as though God was giving us the green light to turn the page on this chapter and prepare for what’s next.
As we prayed in our kitchen before heading down, I was just struck that this was the last time we’d do this as a family before going to serve our friends. Again, mixed emotions. Awesome that we’ve been blessed with this opportunity. Sadness that it was ending. Relief that we’d be getting a bit of a break. A bit nervous and anxious about what lies ahead.
As we arrived at our corner, which is now at 14th and Farnam, we had quite a crowd waiting. And word had gotten out that this was our last time. Numerous people asking, telling us they’d miss us, etc. It was a bit difficult, but fortunately there was work to do, so we didn’t have much time to reminisce just yet. The only thing we forgot on this day was our coffee pots. We had plenty of coffee and cups, just no pots to serve the folks in line as they waited to get a meal. But we had plenty of hands and feet to run coffee. It all worked out. So considering how crazy the previous couple of weeks had been, just to have forgotten a couple of coffee pots? I think we’d survive.
One last time on the wall. With my trusted and beautiful assistant, Erin, we ventured up on the wall one last time. I was able to share once more with our friends the importance of our relationships. With one another as a community. With God. I was able to share about our faith and how much we’ve loved being involved with each and every one of them for these awesome years. I was able to share that we love each and every one. And that more importantly, God loves them and so desires an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. I pray that all those opportunities on that wall have not been in vain. That the seeds of God’s unbelievable love and mercy have been received and planted and that they will bear fruit. I know some of the folks down there think I’m absolutely off my rocker. Out to lunch. And that’s ok. I’ll take that as long as some of them have heard over the years that He does indeed desire a close, personal relationship and that He does indeed LOVE! When I got down off the wall, I had one young guy tell me that he does indeed have the love of Christ in his heart. Had tattoos on his arms that spoke of his faith. I’d never seen or met this guy before, but we had a brief conversation and I’m convinced this guy gets it. Erinswore she saw a guy crying in line as I was speaking. But then I realized it was my buddy Mark. His eyes are always watering, so I’m pretty sure he wasn’t crying.
It was an awesome day. Brisk, but not too cold. Our friend Dave Paulsen brought a drummer and bass player to accompany his awesome music, so we had the perfect atmosphere to finish this off right. We had several people jump in to help prepare a pretty awesome chili meal. As always, we had just enough. Not a hint of trouble either. On occasion, we’ve had minor dust-ups on that corner. Never a real fight or anything to speak of, but that’s something that’s always amazed me. I’ve seen guys jawing at each other. I’ve had to get in between people, which I’m sure looks a little comical. All 5’6” (on a good day) of me in between some of these guys, when I’m literally a head or more shorter in most cases. I once had to step in and stop a fight and one of the guys had to be 6’6”. Must have looked pretty foolish to some, and this guy was angry. Found out a little later that he’d just gotten out of prison for murder I think. Can’t remember, but whatever he was in for, it wasn’t shoplifting. But the guy actually came over to me before we left that day and apologized. It was very cool and we’ve seen some very cool stuff down there. God stuff. Amazing stuff.
I know I’m a little wordy this time. But it’s probably the last time I’ll do this, so I really don’t know where to end. It’s been an amazing run. Our family has been blessed far beyond anything we could have possibly imagined. I don’t ever remember doing anything in my short 48 years that really compares to this venture. I’ve made huge mistakes along the way. Got out ahead of what God had for us. Made decisions that had far reaching impact on our family. But through it all, there’s been one absolute constant. One unbelievable, steadying force. One amazing, merciful, loving and forgiving God. Still amazed that he allowed this crazy family from the suburbs to venture into this community with no real skills other than a desire to serve. That’s one of the amazing ways He works. I’m convinced He doesn’t sit up there on His throne wondering who’s equipped to do what, although I’m equally convinced that He knows. Pretty sure He simply say’s who’ll go? I’ll equip the willing. I’ll give the tools and resources necessary to the ones who are willing to lay it down for Me. It’s amazing really. I’ve seen so many awesome things on those corners. Little things. Big things. And I tell you He cares about every single detail. Of that I’m convinced. I had to step back so many times and remember to see those instances where He does indeed care about every detail. In 5 years time, we saw so many instances of God coming through. All we had to do was go. It is His command. Go. Serve. And when we do, the blessings are immense. And I know our friends would see us coming and would probably wonder what kinds of blessings we’d be bringing on any particular day. But unbeknownst to them, we were the ones reaping the benefits. Just an amazing run. And like I said, I made enough mistakes to fill an ocean, but I know we serve a God who forgives. When we repent, He forgives and I pray we’ve been able to pass that little nugget on to our friends.
So we’ve seen friends leave us entirely too soon. We’ve seen others in and out of shelters, apartments, back in shelters, out on the streets and God only knows where else. But through it all, I pray that they’ve seen the hands and feet of our Savior. No matter the life circumstances they face, the ones all of us face, my prayer is that when they saw us coming, it wasn’t necessarily only a warm meal or whatever else. I pray that they saw a group of people who love God with all their heart and that we modeled that for them on a consistent basis.
We’ll definitely miss our friends. This wasn’t something we entered into lightly. Nor was it something we are departing from lightly. But we feel with God’s blessing, it’s time for the next chapter. We have ideas. And once again, they stretch me and our family beyond my normal safe comfort zone. But as I journey through this life here, I know that none of these plans are mine. They have to be His. I screw up far too much and every time He’s there to pick up the pieces. I pray and will continue to pray for our friends. Definitely write this with a heavy heart. But I know that He will continue to provide. Hopefully through it all, we’ve made a difference. I know this little thing called Starfish Ministry has changed my life forever. I pray that our kids have seen enough of God’s love to prepare them for what’s next. I know Robin will thrive wherever we land. I pray that God will direct and lead us to what’s next…
I’m so thankful to all those who’ve helped over the years. In any way. You are truly an amazing group. We obviously could never have pulled this off without the countless hours of those who jumped in to help. Robin and I simply had a desire to serve. God simply provided an avenue to serve. To all of those who jumped in and rode along with us – THANK YOU! You’re efforts have been amazing. And our friends have been the beneficiaries of some amazing love.
Finally (if you made it this far, please accept my apologies!), I give all thanks, honor and glory to our God. This journey we’re on is incredible when we allow Him to use us. I’m thankful that He overlooks our iniquities and silly mistakes and still has a place to use each and every one of us. I’m so thankful that he placed an amazing woman of God in my life to keep this ship righted when I steer us into the rocks. I’m incredibly thankful for a family that is willing to entertain our sometimes crazy ways. I’m so blown away that He blessed me with an amazing mother who is willing to also serve alongside no matter where that seems to lead us. Incredible God we serve. Incredible that He loves us in spite of us. What a ride it’s been.
Microsoft Word tells me that previous to this sentence, I’m at 2421 words. That’s probably 2418 too many. I probably only needed to say God is Love and leave it at that. Thanks to our friends for allowing us in and welcoming us into their community. We will miss each and every one of them. But our love will not stop. Nor will our prayers that each and every one of them somehow finds a way to meet God wherever they are. I’m out. Out of words and out of time. Until we all meet again…
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
Make a difference…it matters.