Abiding Love and Grace

Guest blogger Heather Thompson is an artist, mother, and graduate student in Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry‘s Master of Divinity program.  Her ministry revolves around “the healing power of art, walking with those on the margins, and exploring a theology of daily living.”  Heather writes about her experience meeting a man named Bear at the window of Facing Homelessness, and the love and grace she observed there in the connections between people.

Facing Homelessness represents one of the ways that people find small grace in strangers.  To get involved and respond to asks like Bear’s, visit Facing Homelessness’ Facebook page.  There you will find photos, stories and requests from people experiencing homelessness in the Seattle community.

Facing Homelessness - IssaquahHeather has since started a branch of Facing Homelessness  in her own community of Issaquah. Visit Facing Homelessness – Issaquah to learn more and get involved.


By Heather Thompson

A man named Bear approached the window of Facing Homelessness. A constant stream of people arrived at the window before him with requests ranging from food to socks to water to boxer shorts.  Two women specifically requested sanitary pads along with hygiene kits after they were finished at the needle exchange next door.  Others simple stopped by to check in, sharing stories of pain, suffering and ultimately resilience – broken bones, drugs, terrifying police encounters, a blood soaked sleeping bag, all a reality of daily life for those living outside.

I met many people that day, but it was Bear that stuck with me.  He was covered in tattoos and his head was partially shaved.  The skull rings on his fingers reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne, yet it felt shallow to draw such a comparison.

Bear approached the window and asked for Rex, the founder of Facing Homelessness.  “I am getting my tools today,” he said.  “Rex and I are supposed to meet up.”  The hope beamed from his piercing eyes.  Then I remembered seeing his face once before.  He had been profiled on the Facing Homelessness Facebook page as a carpenter in need of tools just a few weeks before:

Bear - Facing Homelessness 4-16-16

Stephen “Bear” Gibson. Photo Credit: Facing Homelessness

needsTOOLS:

Please meet Stephen, you can also call him Bear, he won’t mind, he’s a friendly guy, Bear is his street name in the U-district, where he feels connected, loved by the beautiful street family there.

 Bear is 38 years old, there’s been lots of struggles in his life, like the devastating stabbing death of his 18 year old son January 1st of this year, it consumed him, they were close, it was his son that got him clean off heroin and meth, it’s his son now too that he draws daily strength from.

Bear recently found labor work at Everything Under the Sun Construction, he was told if he was able to get carpentry tools, they would give him more responsibility and a raise, a bigBIG step towards long term employment.

 To all of you who have an extra hammer in your garage, and extra carpenter’s belt, speed square, tape measure, chalk-line, gloves, skill-saw, battery drill, goggles, or whatever is in good working shape, please consider donating them to our friend Bear.

Facing Homelessness is an organization rooted in LOVE.  With more than 35,000 people gathered around the Seattle page alone, people in NEED are able to ask for help… and those with the resources to GIVE have a means of contributing directly to the lives of others.  Within a week, the Facing Homelessness community responded with a BIG donation for Bear, as documented by this follow up post:

Bear---Facing-Homelessness-4-27-16

 

Back at the Facing Homelessness window, I was standing with Bear as he spoke about what the gift of tools meant to him personally.  Tears filled his eyes.  “Thank you,” Bear said. He grabbed his cup and took a long sip while his eyes turned a deep shade of red. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a home. A very long time.”

In that brief conversation with Bear, I felt shivers on my arms, and I realized that authentic connection is something ingrained in all of us. It is the awakening of an inherent knowing that everyone and everything comes from a single source, like waves upon a deep and vast ocean.  The Facing Homelessness page concluded with the following:

Bear starts to tear up, he says, “Thank you, you guys gave me a chance to prove what I am worth, you saved my life, now I get to go to work every day, thank you all for taking a chance on me, for giving me the opportunity to get off the streets.”

 Bear then went on to talk about his dreams, for changing his life in this beautiful way, for honoring his son with a new dedication to living good, healthy, and strong and giving back to those in need.

 After a long hug, I walked back to the office, tearing up the whole way, so happy for Bear, so veryVERY happy to be in this beautiful compassionate community that gives LOVE so freely.

Every experience at the Facing Homelessness window deepens my awareness and appreciation of the active, collective and immanent nature of LOVE. It doesn’t come from me. It doesn’t come from another. It is a presence that becomes known in the moment. Some may call it the Holy Spirit. I simply know that it is always there, just yearning to be noticed like the air we breathe. Grace.


THINGS YOU CAN DO:

  • Join the Facing Homelessness community. Though it started in Seattle, there are now groups based in Tacoma, Everett, Issaquah, Renton and Vancouver, WA, and in cities across the country and world.
  • Say hello. Honor the dignity in everyone by making eye contact and saying hello. Folks who are experiencing homelessness and/or living in deep poverty often feel ignored and marginalized. You’d be surprised what a simple acknowledgment and “hello” can do.
  • Explore the healing power of art, as Heather has, by connecting with organizations and groups like Path with Art, Love Wins Love, and Art from the Streets (a program run by Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission)
  • Go further. Share stories and encounters like Heather’s and Bear’s with neighbors, friends and family. Advocate. Educate yourself about local, state and federal policies that impact housing, healthcare, employment, homelessness and contact your council members and legislators to encourage them to act for justice. Consider getting on lists for actions alerts from organizations like the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Firesteel, and the Housing Development Consortium.

heather3Heather is a graduate student at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry in the Master of Divinity program. She is a former award winning CEO turned working artist. Heather’s ministry focuses on the healing power of art, walking with those on the margins, and exploring a theology of daily living. She lives in Issaquah with her daughter, horse, baby goats, bulldog, and cats. You can learn more about Heather at www.bluephoenixart.com.


Cover image is excerpted from “Surrender to Fluidity,” an original painting by Heather Thompson.

Advocacy Art for Social Change Faith and Family Homelessness

Moving From Fear to “Us”

Meet Luke! Luke is doing a year of service through Serve Seattle and is currently interning with the Faith & Family Homelessness team at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. In the piece below, he shares about the evolution of his perspectives on homelessness and the journey that brought him to Seattle and to us at the School of Theology and Ministry!


Luke headshot

By Luke Hoffmaster, Serve Seattle Intern

I remember walking through downtown Chicago with my parents when I was young. Covering my mouth and nose to avoid the smell of smoke, I was deathly afraid we’d be mugged or hurt. Walking past people slumped against buildings holding signs I thought to myself, Those signs must be lies. I thought they were lying in wait for us to notice them so that they could spring up and steal whatever we had.

I was afraid. I didn’t understand.

That was my first experience with homelessness, and I don’t think my reaction was unique. My thoughts and fears were a product of the culture  we live in, where the homeless are so often demonized and simply ignored. One could perhaps make the argument that I was a very ‘jumpy’ child, or that the fear of the unknown that accompanies youth was to blame; but it was more than that. My reaction was emblematic of the way much of American society fears that which it does not understand.

It wasn’t until the summer of my junior year in high school that I was exposed to a differing — and ultimately more accurate — viewpoint. I had the opportunity to go on an urban mission trip to Los Angeles with the youth group at my church. I wasn’t very involved in my church at the time, but my parents pushed me to go and the trip ended up being transformative.

The moment when my walls were ripped down and the veil was torn away was profound. We were doing a brief outreach/scavenger hunt activity in groups of four or five, and the first thing my group did was talk to someone sitting on a bench in a plaza. Until then, I had never taken the time to dialogue with someone experiencing homelessness. I was afraid. To my surprise, he was just like you or me. He had his own passions, interests, and beliefs. He wasn’t going to lunge at us to hurt us or rob us. He was just a person. He was human.

Being afraid was appropriate, but I realize now I should have been afraid for a very different reason. The realization was a harrowing one, because the implications were immense. If it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone. Humans were sleeping outside – humans with opinions, passions, ambitions… And yet, society walked by without so much as a cursory glance. Where was the humanity in that?

The L.A. experience was amazing, but after coming down off of the ‘mission high’ I was left without a clear direction for what to do about these newfound truths, and such concerns were quickly buried by matters of college plans and my future as I began my senior year. Ultimately, I decided to shelve college until I was ready, and, without any real plans for this year, I felt lost.

But then, over this past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a six week program called Serve Seattle. I had signed up for it because I had no plans for the summer, and I figured it would be a great first step into independence — seeing as how it was a long ways away from my home of Wisconsin, and I had never been away from home for more than a week. I had no idea what I was really getting into, and no idea how much that decision would alter the course of the path I was on.

Serve Seattle House

The Serve Seattle House in Capitol Hill. Photo Credit: Rae Love

Serve Seattle’s summer intensive was a six week program focusing on intentional community, biblical discipleship, and selfless service. Over the course of the program I was able to directly serve with the homeless population of Seattle, and it was a chance to deepen my understanding of the issue and those affected by it. The program was transformative for me, so much so that I decided to sign up and commit to the year-long program offered by Serve Seattle.

The opportunity to engage with the issue head-on, while also living in a welcoming and unique environment in a city half a country away from where I call home was one that I couldn’t pass up.

Not only is it a rare experience, but it’s a meaningful one. In a world that so often turns a blind eye, I am able to be immersed in a community fully pledged to meeting eyes and joining hands with the ignored, broken, and lost — because we acknowledge the truth that we are all broken in our own ways and we could easily be the ones slumped against that building or sleeping under that bridge. I was told over the summer by a guest at the Union Gospel Mission’s kitchen, “It’s not about me, it’s not about you — it’s about us.

It really is about us: us as a people. As brothers and sisters, the ones with and the ones without, it’s really just a matter of recognizing that there is no us and them. There is only us.


Luke just graduated from Waunakee High School in the state of Wisconsin. Living in Seattle for a year of service, he’s passionate about writing, helping others, and petting cats. He aspires to a degree in communications, and dreams of being a journalist and author. He is currently interning at the School of Theology and Ministry, working with the School’s Faith & Family Homelessness Project team.

Faith and Family Homelessness School of Theology & Ministry Social Justice Stereotypes