Dear Inner Circle,
Ducking into the building this morning, a face not seen for some time blocked my path. An arresting smile met me as he delivered his familiar and affectionate greeting “Good morning, D*#&head!” As we were about to embrace he was soon interrupted by someone who didn’t recognise him – “Hey, don’t call him that, that’s our Rev!” He paused and bowed deeply, “Oh sorry, top of the morning to you, Rev. D*#&head!” He extended his hand in mock ceremony. We went for a walk to the local park to catch up. It was one that he had slept in when his world had crumbled and as we stood together in that place, he proudly told me of his new job and the slow way he is re-building trust with his ex to begin visiting his kids again. His brow only furrowed when he spoke of fuel prices and how lately he had to choose between eating properly and going to work. Small things make a big difference to his budget, so he had popped in to buy a few takeaway meals from our community cafe, “They are always so kind to me there, and the food is amazing and cheap.” They say that the best things in life are free. At Wayside, whilst we might not be able to do much about the rising cost of fuel and living, we can offset it by providing all the love we can to make life better!
Later that day my phone rang and the female voice on the other end was short of breath, and for a moment I feared the worst as the words were not coming out properly. Much to my relief they were issuing from a heart full of joy, “I have just signed the paperwork to buy my own place!” For many this kind of news is greeted with sarcastic comments like, “Welcome to the great Australian dream, lifelong debt!” Yet events that may seem inevitable to some find a deeper significance when you’re in this place. “Just think about that Pastor Jon, (the honorifics are often interchangeable which is fine by me) when I first came to Wayside I thought my life was over, and I was ready to finish it. Yet, I met something here that I was never expecting, a love through people that saved me. At first I couldn’t accept it, but they were so persistent that I began to slowly believe I might be worthy of it!” A lot of time and love was invested into her life, over many years that go back further than my time here. A life of domestic abuse of the worst kind led to a dangerous and desperate escape attempt that left scars, bruises and possible police charges. Yet she fought her way back to heal and a cast of people supported and loved her along the way. Now she has a place to call her own, a partner who adores her and a life full of hope and possibilities. Stories like hers don’t come along every day, but when they do, we all roar in celebration.
These two are a reminder that we can never really take a snapshot of a person’s life at a particular point in time and call it the whole movie. From birth we are meant to be woven into networks of care, love and kinship that form us as relational beings. We find ourselves as child, friend, partner or lover, to name but a few of the many forms we take. Yet when this doesn’t happen, or when life falls apart, we end up quite naturally lost. Sadly the systems established to provide support first have to “make an assessment” often performed through a process which “de-forms” us in order to make us conform to the image that these systems are then funded to assist with. Labels like “homeless”, “addict”, “dysfunctional”, or even “victim” are nasty things, and they have a habit of attaching themselves permanently to the soul. When they become the primary marker of identity, it cuts us off from the very networks and identities that constitute us being human. Only the love of a community of care can help someone transcend and lead them back into who they always were, as complex, multifaceted human beings, all worthy of love.
At Wayside we get to be a link in a long great chain of love, always extending care and respect at the heart of what we do, not knowing how many lives we may touch along the way.
Thanks for being part of our Inner Circle,
Rev. Jon Owen
CEO & Pastor
PS. This week is National Homelessness Week, where we shine a light on the impact of homelessness in Australia. Warm a Heart this winter and show the most vulnerable members of our community that they are loved, and not forgotten. Donate today.