new resolve

Working in downtown Portland has its pros and cons. Many aspects of downtown I like—Powell's for instance—but sometimes working downtown is hard. And in this post I'm not talking about the commute, the mundane-ness of my job, or even the pervasive cigarette smoke I smell outside. Sometimes working downtown is hard emotionally, even spiritually. Here's why:

{Portland is home to one of the largest homeless populations in the country.}

I see homeless men and women every single day I go to work. I used to ignore them and look the other way, because they made me uncomfortable. In general conference last month, I heard many talks about our duty to help the poor and needy. Then I realized I couldn't keep pretending they didn't exist. Because they do. And maybe it's a good thing they make me uncomfortable. Maybe I need that.

I saw a person last week huddled on the sidewalk as I walked to work in the morning. He (or she—I couldn't see a face) was wrapped tightly in a grubby sleeping bag, with feet in dirty socks peeking out the end. His shoes sat next to his head. That image burned itself in my mind, and my heart suddenly felt raw.

I used to rationalize giving cash to those who begged on the streets, thinking excuses like "They're just going to spend it on drugs and alcohol." And you know, maybe that would happen. Then again who am I to judge another's heart? I know that I am a child of God, and I feel so blessed to really know that. Most of the homeless here probably don't know who they are. But here's the thing: I know who they are. Our Father in Heaven cares just as much for that man sleeping on the sidewalk as He does for me. That is reason enough to care and to give.

I can't change the world, or even Portland. Whether through a smile, a greeting, or a few dollars tucked inside those worn shoes, I might be able to change someone's day or hour or moment. I might be able to help someone know that someone else cares. I know that God cares, that Christ cares. And if for no other reason, that's why I should care.

I don't know these people or what their lives are really like. But Christ does. Christ wasn't discriminatory in his love or service, and I shouldn't be either. Going forward I resolve to be a little more kind, a little more accepting, a little more aware, a little more compassionate.


emilymcb said...

Sometimes I buy those big packs of single-serving trail mixes at Costco and pass those out...I have a hard time with it, too.

A Mitton said...

I've been thinking about this quite a bit, too. Boston has a lot of homeless people. The thing that always kills me is when they're on the T and ask for money so they can get something to eat, or catch a bus. I rarely have cash on me, so I can't give anything even if I want to.

And you think the cigarette smoking in Portland is bad, it is NOTHING compared to the East Coast. I swear, I'm going to get cancer from second-hand smoke out here.

paws said...

Right on, Charlotte.

That's a good idea, emilymcb.

hannah said...

When Josh and I lived in downtown SLC, the police asked us not to give money to the homeless. So instead we found a local charity that provided health care services for the homeless. That way we were following our local law enforcement officers and still contributing to the less fortunate. It helped ease my conscience when I had to turn someone down. Giving is an intensely personal decision. I know you'll find the right way to give back for you.

Shilah said...

You're so brave. Things like that make my heart so sad, every time I see them. I couldn't imagine being in Portland every day, I don't think I could stand it. You're a stronger person than me.

Since those conference talks and our bishops talk a few weeks ago Craig has especially become sensitive to it. But we always think "what can WE do? What could I possibly do that would actually make a difference?" But we decided anything is better than nothing so we've starting keeping a box of Nature bars in our car to give to people we pass on the rode. A lot of the signs they hold up say "anything helps." And anything DOES help. Trail mix and things like that are great ideas, I wish I had enough money to give everyone I see who needs it a sufficient amount to change their lives but I don't. Food is something everyone needs though, and that way you help remove the very difficult temptation of spending any money they're on things that aren't good for them. Finding ways to help makes you a hero to another person every time =]

m.estelle said...

charlotte, you are so awesome. in every way. love you, lady!

can't wait to see you in the happiest place on earth! i'll be the one with the mouse ears!

Jill said...

I loved this line, "Most of the homeless here probably don't know who they are. But here's the thing: I know who they are."

I don't have an answer for you with this because I feel the same way about it and get overwhelmed by it.

Steffys Pros and Cons said...

ive never been to portland and have always wanted to visit!
<3 steffy
Steffys Pros and Cons

emily said...

I really admire your viewpoint towards the homeless you encounter. It's probably more draining emotionally when you view them as God's children, but you are also able to be more compassionate.

I love you!

michelle said...

This is lovely, Charlotte. When we are living in Paris, I am confronted with this issue a lot as well, and I struggle with it. I too love what Jill quoted from your post, you totally nailed it.

There were so many Conference talks about helping the needy, thanks for the reminder.

Denise said...

Beautiful post, just beautiful. Amen to Jill's comment--what you said really struck a chord with me.

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