Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Engagement Tears

Last August I was wandering around the city and I noticed a girl singing on a microphone out on Swanston St, in front of St.Paul's Cathedral. She was singing Christian songs, shyly, to a backing tape, virtually all alone, except for a couple of guys nearby handing out tracts (printed Christian material). She was very pretty and I stopped, watched and listened from a distance. As I stood there I thought to my self 'any girl who loves God enough to sing songs to Jesus in the street, is a girl I'm interested in'. Now, just over a year later, we are engaged to be married! :)

Love on the Streets:

When I started my Faith Walk I never had any intention of getting involved in a relationship. In fact I had never even been in a relationship (except with God). Sure I grew up interested in girls, it's just I never went 'looking' for a relationship. I was always focused on exploring my spirituality and the few times when I did express my interest in someone, it was never returned. Making the decision to leave my career and sell all I had also included an acceptance within my self that I may never experience that side of life, as I wouldn't consider myself of interest to any girl (based on today's materialism and financial security priorities, let alone the psychological and spiritual complexities added into my life's journey this year).

When I started attending a Church comprising of homeless and street people (Church of Hope) I was happy to discover the girl I had seen a couple of moths earlier was helping out with the singing and worship music during the services. And when I joined the Flinder's St Steps outreach choir, late Saturday nights, she was there too. I stood next to her when we sang, but never made any attempt to communicate with her, as I was fully loaded with dealing with being newly homeless at the time.

I was immersed in the street world, living and sleeping rough, with guys like Warren (wrapped in cardboard down alleyways) and it took all my attention and focus on God just to survive. Actually, I had once mentioned to a friend that my biggest enemies to watch out for would be 'the distraction of girls' and 'pride'. One person from America emailed me some questions about the issue of female relationships in my situation, and I pretty much rebuffed the suggestion of any possibilities. Not that their aren't any relationships on the streets; their are lots, albeit they tend not to be very healthy ones. I remember one girl was walking along with mention "I've lost my boyfriend, I can't find him.." "What's his name?" I asked. "I'm not sure" she said. "How long have you been going out?" I asked. "He's my third boyfriend today.." she replied!

After a few months I started helping out at the Church, which later grew into a leadership role. I discovered the girl's name was Nella and we became friendly, chatting and helping each other with tasks and supporting each other on the streets. She had come to Church of Hope a few years ago as she felt God asking her to change from hating drug dealers and addicts (that influenced one of her friends) to loving them [Love your enemies]. This is her testimony that gives on the Sat night 'Steps' microphone every few weeks (last week she gave her testimony and someone listening decided to give their heart to the Lord!) So we started singing duets together at Church, chatted as a team at the food vans and visited people in hospitals together.

As Winter approached I was quite interested in Nella but the implications of making a step in that direction seriously concerned me.. could be a gift? could be a distraction? I had to weigh up and think about all the implications and what God would want, before I even gave a hint of interest. I thought talked to a few few people about the theology of singleness Vs partnership, and an Orthodox priest said something good about 'walking hand in hand together towards God'.

I worked on the friendship a bit more: the first time I called her from a pay phone I hoped the conversation might go for at least five minutes.. it went on for three hours! (well I just listened mostly) At one point I was tired from standing so I reached around the side of the booth and grabbed some milk crates to sit on. And then one night we were at the Steps and she was nearby with a friend talking to a girl (stranger) about the grief and difficulties of the recent death of that girl's mother. She was standing quietly in the dim light, with a hood up (almost biblical) and she was full of compassion. I said in my mind (and I guess my heart) 'ok God, I choose her', which surprised me, as I have never really asked god for any thing before.

I am always very strict on myself for saying 'what you will Lord', and this was the first time I actually bypassed that. Well I said nothing and it started to rain, so we all went our separate ways. After Nella went to drive home I went back into the city (about 12:30am) and sat and thought about things more. About half and hour later Nella called me on my mobile and asked me (as it was raining) if I wanted a lift back to the Shed. I was surprised and thought 'she must be half way home by now' but said 'sure!' right away. [She later told me that despite the fact she had left the city she felt prompted by the spirit to call me and come back to offer the lift.] So we drove back to the shed and as we neared I was trying to work up the courage to ask her out, but my adrenaline was pumping too fast and I chickened out, and she went home.

The following week she dropped me home again and gave me a shiny new blanket to help keep me warm in the night. I thought I would try a little tester and so asked her if she was curious would she like to come back and see the shed? She said yes and we walked round the back of the house for a look. After she was happy it was solid and fairly weatherproof we walked back to the car. As she said goodbye I asked her out. She was fairly shocked, thinking I was like a monk and not interested in that sort of thing, and I explained that I was but being independent gives you leeway to make your own rules :) She said she was concerned that she wouldn't want to be a 'distraction to the mission' and despite my assurance that she was a valued support, not a hindrance, she left to drive home, leaving me standing there thinking 'right, time to move on.'

Two days later I was at a friends house when she called me up. She wanted to explain further that she was interested but very concerned about a relationship impacting my work. I too was similarly concerned but I had the benefit of chewing it over for a couple of months first while she only had a couple of days. We discussed it for a few hours and by the end we agreed to give it a go! Woo Hoo. The next night she called me back and grilled me for another three hours about my history and intentions. She didn't want her time wasted and we agreed we were both only interested in the relationship as long as we were looking for a marriage partner and that God would be first in all things. That night I got out the blanket she had bought me and slept in it, even though it was a bit cold (without the sleeping bag), as a metaphor that I would commit to the relationship even if it wasn't always providing me quite enough warmth. I got through the night and a few days later we went on our first date.

We got on better than we expected and were constantly surprised about how much we had in common. We worked on keeping a high commitment to street mission as well as alone time, and I kept a sharp eye out for any signs from God as to approval or disapproval. In fact the street work went even better and we felt good about being a good example of a proper Christian relationship to our street community. A few times she had strong headaches and I prayed for healing and they instantly disappeared (once stopping in the middle of Flinders St to pray, while crossing the road, with cars streaming by each way, because it felt good to have a partner you could pray with instantly whenever the need arose, wherever you were!). Early on I gave her my only valuable possession: my 'FAITH' stone that I had carried around in my pocket from the start of the walk. I told her we were now growing in faith together, and she has carried it everywhere since.

Were there any negatives? Not really. We acted as a team, organising Church of Hope, out on the streets when she was available (she works full time as a civil engineer during the week), and talked to people together about God, and she was with me every step of the way as I worked to get Warren into De Paul House Detox unit, where I visited him every day. When he walked out after four days she supported me in my stress and struggle to cope with loving him further as he went back to the drugs and alcohol and sleeping rough on the street. She also had some spiritual gifts that blossomed together, that gave us confidence in our partnered relationship with God, except.

Except there was one time when she had a dream about finding a stick, with the star of David carved on it, in a park. She had to return the staff to a synagogue which she was very reluctant to do. She told me about the dream the next day and later we went to Church. After Church there was some games on in the hall and we decided to go for a walk together first. As we walked along we went through a park we had never been to before, and she suddenly exclaimed that this was the park from her dream the previous night, and then she got worried that the stick symbolized me, as I had slept in a few parks and had a Jewish family background. She certainly didn't want to have to give me back.. and I thought deeply about it, and we carried on, taking extra care to make sure 'Jesus was at the steering wheel, not us.'

Well after four great months of dating I was thinking asking her to marry me. There was no real need to make an actual decision. In my mind the decision was made back on the Steps, just before I asked her out, when I said to God 'I choose her' and everything that followed was just enjoying seeing how God planned for things to unfold. I was pretty laid back and happy about the relationship. She would often ask me 'Do you have any specific questions, anything you need to know?' and I would say 'not really'. I was just happy to trust in the Lord to see what happened. Trusting him that my decision was his decision, planned from when he knew me, before I was born.

So Monday last week I wasn't planning anything to happen exactly at that time, but when I asked her where she wanted to go for a walk, she decided the State Rose Garden, down at Werribee. We drove there late afternoon and walked around. Tens of thousands of beautiful colored roses all in full bloom, and no one around. Down the back was a little wooden gazebo and we sat down together and I knew it was the right moment. I talked of what she meant to me, got down on one knee and asked her to marry me... she said yes! :) We hugged, kissed and the sun shone as the tears dripped down her face, and I kissed them, those sweet salty tears.


The next couple of days were my happiest, before they then became my saddest. Wednesday, after my first day back at work at World Vision, I hit the streets only to learn Warren had died of a drug overdose. I was devastated. I had never had a friend die before. We had spent a lot of time together over the year, and while he was happy for me to pray with him a number of times for his struggles, I was never quite sure of the state of his soul, and the chance to reach out to him further, deeper, was gone. I walked around the city for an hour shaking with tears and felt like wandering aimlessly all night. But the Lord cut through my feelings to remind me I was partnered now, and so I called Nella and she drove out and picked me up, and comforted me that night as the grief and shock set in.

The saddest and happiest week of my life. A few guys on the street who were his friend turned deeper to their wine. I am trying to turn deeper to my God, my Father, thinking about how Warren like to be a father figure to the kids on the street. And what of the timing? I later found out he died on the Monday afternoon, the very same moment in time I was out of the city proposing to my girlfriend.. Not that I think my location would have made any difference, as he never took the drugs in my presence. I can take some comfort that that he often said to me "Go spend time with your girlfriend, you deserve it".

So I was the rich man that went out to meet Lazarus. Amazed at my transformation to the point where I am grieving for one of Melbourne's homeless drug addicts. Hoping he is now resting peacefully in the arms of Abraham. Now a homeless beggar myself, engaged to a Godly woman, making herself beautiful in the ways of old. Seeking to walk together, hand in hand, towards God, Heaven, and the friends we shall meet there within.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The 12th Month

So many good things have happened this year that I haven't written about yet.. Even though the last month has been one of my busiest.. as I enter the twelfth month of my Faith Walk on the streets, God's plan can still take a sudden turn..

Plan to the 10th December 2008 (1 year):

Last week I saw a job advertised that involved working with street and homeless people, and I applied for it.

Now I haven't been looking for a job as being a single person, with little or no running expenses, I could carry on operating the way I have this year indefinitely. But with a relationship I need to consider the future implications, and that means some level of financial income.

There were a number of options that came to mind. 1/ I could try and raise financial support from people and organizations interested in my street ministry. 2/ I could get a part time or full time job doing anything and fit in my street work around that or 3/ I could get a job with an organization dealing with the poverty and homelessness around Melbourne that I am involved with.

Of course Jackie Pullenger says not to worry about seeking funds. If God wants you there he will find people to invest in your ministry, regardless of what your 'results' are.. and that if God can look after the thousands of Israelites in the Desert for 40 years.. then he can easily look after you, your family and others, so long as you have faith and keep focused on his work.

While I was thinking about these things it was a job in my field of involvement that I noticed, but I was not sure if I was ready to go back to work yet. I kind of feel that it would be good to be on the streets full time this summer, to capitalise on all I have learned this year. So I put an application in, just to keep the door open while I thought and prayed about it some more.

My application required a reference from my previous employer, so I rang my old World Vision Boss and confirmed she was happy to be a referee. She was happy about it but also let me know they were short staffed for the next month and I was welcome to come back and help them out for a bit, on a casual basis. I thought about it overnight and the next day agreed to help out for November. I start tomorrow.

I'll use the trial work period to assess how it affects my street work. Can I find a balance?

In fact, I have now booked a flight to Alice Springs to return to where I started almost one year ago, at Campfire In The Heart (a wonderful christian spiritual retreat center). I will rest there for the first week of December and reflect on an amazing year and the future ahead..