Making Yourself a River

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Looking for camps by the rivers

The past few months, I have been interning again with Open Table Nashville, a homeless outreach and advocacy non-profit that I have been involved with for the past four years. I was first an intern with them when I was a nineteen year old college student one summer, and I have volunteered with them ever since when I was home for weekends and breaks. I knew from the very beginning of me working with them that I had found my calling and my people. Over the course of college, I geared my other internships and studies towards the goal of being the best homeless outreach worker and street chaplain I could be. My goal was always to work with Open Table again, and I fought to make my path align with staying in Nashville so I could do this work. I sacrificed some great offers at other seminaries and divinity schools, because I knew this was the community I was to do my work with and live my life with.

Well, even at some point, one gets cold feet and doubt. As I was about to begin working with OTN again, I wondered to myself–have I been building up in my mind an unrealistic image for what this work is? Four years is an okay amount of time to forget the stressful moments and substitute them with the most beautiful memories. I really shouldn’t kid myself– this work is incredibly difficult at times. It is very hard to maintain good interpersonal boundaries, to not overextend yourself, to not give in to panic attacks, to say no, to do self-care, to not sink in the endless waves of need.

It is now nearly November, and of course I have had fair shares of difficult relationships, difficult conversations, difficult moments. Sure. But there is a subtle hum beneath all these encounters where one steps back and sees the glow of the Divine at work. Christ is present in our friends. One doesn’t even need to look past the dirt or tear stains to see God on the streets–She is fully here. She is whispering, “Hello. Can you help me?”

Over time, I find myself wanting to run away from the hurt and brokenness less and less. Sometimes it is overwhelming. Othertimes, I find myself falling in love. Recently I have found myself around a lot of mothers–friends, pastors, coworkers, classmates. Lots of mommas. One friend of mine recently welcomed her second son, and she said,

I was afraid of having to juggle my time, and divide my love between two perfect boys. I was worried how I would care for them equally and divide my love. But instead, I find that this idea of dividing love is ridiculous. Instead, my heart grew. My heart doubled in size.

I remember reading this as well:

In the sutras there was a time when the Buddha taught like this: “Imagine there is someone who is holding a fistful of salt. They place it in a small bowl of water and stir it around with their finger. Monks, do you think people could drink that wa­ter?” And the monks said, “Such water would be far too salty to drink. How could you drink it? You’d have to throw it away.” The Buddha said, “That is correct.” Then the Buddha said, “But if, for example, you were to throw that fistful of salt in the river, then would the people who lived in the villages alongside of the river continue to drink the water of the river?” And the monks said, “Yes.” “Why?” “Because the river is vast and the fistful of salt cannot possibly make the water of the river salty.” Make your heart a river.

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Searching for campsites

I include these quotes and excerpts to summarize my point: Friends, my heart is becoming a river that is widening and flowing more freely than it has in years. Often, my heart is broken. There’s been days that I spent in ICUs with friends broken by speeding cars. Days I spent on the curb in front of detox facilities coaxing and encouraging someone to go in. Days I spent on the sidewalks of the city talking someone down from an alcoholic ledge. Days I spent wandering my way around the underbelly of the city, finding camps and people who have been hidden and forgotten for decades. “How did you find me?,” one woman asked. “Because we looked,” we said. Our work is that of waiting, waiting for the healing, accompanying each other to the resurrection that is possible.

There’s a golden moon that shines up through the mist
And I know that your name can be on that list
There’s no eye for an eye, there’s no tooth for a tooth
I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth

He was down there by the train
Down there by the train
Down there by the train
Down there by the train
He was down there where the train
goes slow

If you’ve lost all your hope, if you’ve lost all your faith
I know you can be cared for and I know you can be safe
And all the shameful and all of the whores
And even the soldier who pierced the heart of the lord

Was down there by the train
Down there by the train
Down there by the train
Down there by the train
Down there where the train
goes slow

-Tom Waits, “Down There By the Train”

Kintsugi

Kintsugi

When my heart is broken, that is where it grows wider. There is a form of Japanese art, kintsugi or kintsurokoi, where the broken parts of pottery are pieced back together and the cracks are cemented with gold. The pottery widens a little, and the finished piece is more beautiful than it was before. My heart is such a piece; each time it breaks, it is filled with gold and it grows.

I am still not often present in church, but by God, am I trembling in the presence of God. There is so much love. And love wins.

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