Tag Archives: God

‘I can take the cold weather but I can’t take cold hearts’ – Tom

It was a crisp, autumnal morning and the skies were slightly overcast, threatening rain. The day started off seemingly uneventful; the usual morning commute comprising a leisurely stroll to the office – providing necessary thinking time – whilst also drinking in the scenery of this beautifully historic part of London.

But as I walked through the little church courtyard, I came across a homeless man sleeping on a bench. Not unusual but what happened next was. Out of habit, I said good morning – looking him directly in the eyes and ensuring my body language conveyed an openness to conversation. He replied good morning. I asked how he was doing, expecting a simple one word reply. Instead he spoke about how much he’d enjoyed last night’s sleep noting it was ‘one of the best nights in a while’.

In his fifties, white and of fair appearance, what struck me most about his obviously dishevelled exterior was the blue rosary around his neck.This would normally be my cue to say ‘God bless’ upon departure but the words froze in my mouth. And as if he were a mindreader, he looked me straight in the eyes and said the very words I couldn’t utter. ‘God bless you.’ I replied sheepishly- surely I should not have been afraid to say something to him?

The next morning, I saw him, Tom, again and we had similar conversation but this time with a little more detail. Someone had given him coffee and it said it made him feel alive and warm. I promised to bring him some tomorrow if he would like? Yes please he responded.

I didn’t buy the coffee. It rained so heavily the next morning that I knew I wouldn’t see him. Eventually I did see Tom, the day after, and came equipped with a mini snack pack of pastries, coke and a banana for energy. This time we spoke for a little longer. Tom told me some of his story; he had an alcohol addiction and wanted to be rid of it. Tom also spoke of his faith – he believed in God – and how thankful he was to the faith- based charity which was currently supporting him.

What struck me most about our conversations was how grateful Tom was just to talk to someone. He said so many times people would walk right past as though he didn’t exist, even when he’d say hello. To make matters worse, Tom does not beg, he is not interested in people’s money or pity. Tom just wanted to be acknowledged and his inherent dignity and worth respected as any other human being would.

We both agreed some people are just plain rude, whilst others are simply oblivious to those around them, especially in London with all it’s hustle and bustle. Tom was from up north originally and because I have family based up there too, we noted that, generally speaking, northerners were a tad bit more warm, open and friendly compared to us southerners. What he said next touched me in a way I can’t express: ‘I can take the cold weather but I can’t take cold hearts’. Looking me deep in the eyes.

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It echoes a similar episode in ‘Overrated‘, written by an American Korean called Pastor Eugene Cho, who I heard speak at the London School of Theology’s annual Deo Gloria lecture a few years ago. In the book (which I would highly recommend reading) Pastor Eugene shares his experience of playing a homeless person in a play at high school. Noticing his inability to get into character, his drama teacher challenges him to be ‘homeless’ for a day, in the hope that it would improve (by his own admission) his abysmal acting skills.

Rising to the occasion, Eugene noticed people would give, in some instances, throw money at him but completely avoid eye contact or any sort of meaningful interaction.

All he wanted was to be acknowledged and known, yet, in his own words, he felt utterly invisible. It was this – not the tiredness, the lack of sanitation, privacy, absence of a peaceful night’s sleep or place to rest – that most affected him. Tom was saying something similar.

We spoke some more but ever conscious of being late for work, I weakly attempted an exit, but how could I leave knowing full well Tom wanted to continue the conversation? Eventually another gentleman passed by who he knew. They greeted one including shaking hands. At this point I acknowledged the substantial amount of dirt under his finger nails, like talons. I would be lying if the sight of it and the prospect of a handshake, didn’t make me flinch momentarily. But as if by divine prompting, I knew that this is exactly what was going to happen next.

As I said goodbye, and that I hoped to see him next week (although really hoping he would be in a shelter rather than outside) I told Tom I would pray for him even if I didn’t see him. He wished me all the best for the day, favour with my manager but more than this, he did the very thing I knew he would. Tom took my hand, shook it and then did something beyond beautiful. He kissed my hand and said “I wanted to treat you like the lady you deserve to be treated. God bless and thank you.”
To this day, this act of kindness overwhelms me, even with all he was going through.

I have had several divine encounters like this with homeless people who have such a deep sense of spirituality. I can’t help but wonder- could we be entertaining angels without knowing it?

The winter chill has settled in and as I reluctantly reach for my winter coat, admitting defeat that summer is dead and gone, I can’t help but remember those who don’t have a roof over their heads.

There are plenty of ways to get involved and support those experiencing homelessness including volunteering at your local homeless shelter (The Robes Project, ASLAN, Brixton Soup Kitchen); volunteering over Christmas – through Crisis; donating money or supplies to a homeless project; buying a hot meal for someone or a bed for the night (there are several initiatives which allow you to do this); give money if you feel compelled to (there is huge debate about this- trust your gut) or supplies (personal hygiene packs, jumpers, jackets, socks etc)- these are some of the most obvious practical things to do.

One of my favourite initiatives, Wrap Up London, is a three day campaign by Hands On London, where they collect coats from the public to give to those who need it – including people who are on low incomes and homeless people. This year’s collection is taking place in various locations across London between 7th – 9th November- check them out if you have any coats spare!

But whether you do this or not – one of the simplest and most effective things I have learnt is to show kindness; look a (homeless) person in the eyes, smile (if appropriate) and just say hello- open to conversation and simply recognising they are also made in in His image too.

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Grief: the unwelcome but necessary Christmas ‘guest’

I have not been looking forward to Christmas. Not because I am bah humbug but because it is and has been painful thus far. This will be the first Christmas without my dad, the third without great uncle and the fifth without Brian, my godfather. No matter which way I look at it, it is going to be miserable.

Over the last two months delayed grief has hit me like a bitch. She has drawn out emotions in me I never knew existed. The extremities of anger and sorrow swinging like a pendulum has been physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting; interrupted by sustained moments of calm ‘acceptance’.

This may come as a surprise to some because I hide my grief ‘well’. And it’s true; most times I am actually ‘fine’ – I smile, I laugh, l live, I love – most times… But when I come home and allow myself proper space to decompress, not filling up my time with work, socialising and other meaningless activities to keep myself preoccupied, grief greets me in unexpected ways.

The only thing I can compare it to are literal waves of emotion engulfing your entire being threatening to take you under; you just don’t know which emotion it is going to be. I have even briefly entertained suicidal thoughts – the sorrow can be that overwhelming-but I would never have the courage to do it; I am far too cowardly.

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This is one of the many phases of grief which has to happen. It cannot be bypassed; you just have to go through it, one painfully agonising step at a time.

The countdown to Christmas has felt like a blur, days merging into each other. I hear the noise, excitement and buzz around Christmas but I just cannot partake in it. Something literally feels dead inside.

Flashbacks from last Christmas come thick and fast, despite my best efforts to suppress it. Facebook unknowingly complicit in torturing me with memories from ‘This time last year’ as if I need reminding. But that’s where I am going wrong; the emotions, the memories should not be suppressed but expressed. The healthy thing to do is to talk them through and be real. I have since parked the pride and opened my mouth with those I want to share the journey with and it feels like a positive step.

My personal faith in God during this season of grief has for the most part, been an anchor;  at other times, a noose. There are instances where I believe in Him with all my heart, His presence an undeniable comfort in the dark and unknown places. Yet there are moments when the anger comes and it gets ugly… Multiple profanities piercing the air, emotions raging, asking why a loving God would take away my three father figures one by one, back to back, just like that?

Unsurprisingly, He doesn’t answer because He doesn’t need to. And even if God did, the answer could never be satisfactory in my eyes. For a long time I thought peace would come if I knew ‘why’ , but it has literally ended up being one of the most frustrating and futile things I could have pursued. Since I have forfeited the right ( the need) to know ‘why’ it has given me unexpected, much needed peace. (I really recommend reading this article by Pastor Jo Naughton, which helped me come to this conclusion).

Grief has made me lack energy, lash out at loved ones, cry like a baby, swear like a trooper, be a crap friend who let’s everyone down at the last minute, a sloppy worker… It has undone me.

Equally it has also brought out some hidden gems like increased compassion and empathy for others and being an excellent worker on occasion (workaholics eat your heart out).

At times, I have felt guilty for grieving not just because of the obvious negative side effects but because it seems so selfish, so self indulgent. Why can’t it be over already? There are so many problems and sorrows in the world and you want to cry about losing a loved one? How many people lose loved ones every day in more tragic and trying situations?

But the thing with grief is that it is not rational, it’s not logical and it is perfectly fine not to be OK and to take all the time you need to adjust to life post death. Grieving doesn’t have a timetable, it just takes it own natural course.

A good friend of mine, actually several good friends who have lost multiple family members, have given me great advice to hold on to during times of overwhelming sorrow and that is to be grateful. Grateful for the lives of loved ones passed, your life, your health, your friends, family- there are endless things worthy of thanksgiving.

Truth be told, this is not always easy to apply, but I am trying and so far, it’s been alright.

 

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