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More than a Number

She was walking down the road to the farm. I couldn’t make out who it might be. It wasn’t unusual to have new volunteers park at the gate and walk down. The “No Motorized Vehicles” sign doesn’t apply to the farm volunteers, but new folks don’t always know that.

It became clear that she wasn’t a volunteer as she got closer. Her pink top wasn’t a blouse but a cropped tank top. Her pants were a dinghy tan and her feet bare. It was a warm winter day, but winter, nonetheless. Maybe it was all she had. The clothes obviously hadn’t been washed in a long while.

The arms were quickly swaying back and forth, hands pointed outward. It was the addict’s walk – “schizting” and talking to herself.  In my old life I would’ve called it the “hoe stro’” and laughed at her. Today, it simply made me sad.

It may have been fifteen years since I found myself in her shoes – or lack of them – but I still have enough street sense to know to keep my eye on any addict. Stuff tends to disappear quickly. Addicts are quite resourceful when it comes to the “getting and using and finding means to get more”. I figured she was going to ask for money, but she walked on by without so much as a word or a sideways glance.

Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash

I continued working, making sure to keep her in my peripheral vision. She stopped by the old compost pile at the south end of the farm. She looked carefully as she started walking slowly around the pile. Then it hit me – she was looking for something to eat.

I pick up culled produce from a couple of local grocery stores and add them to the compost area each Monday. It makes for great soil amendments, but I’m always saddened to see the amount of food that gets wasted each weekend. I realize stores aren’t supposed to sell products past their “Sell by” date. I know how people are about “ugly” produce – stuff that isn’t picture perfect. Much of what I pick up is still good to eat.

Many times, I’ve made food boxes to give away instead of throwing it all in the compost. Most Mondays I leave a good box of produce next to the pile. The farm is surrounded by hidden homeless camps and I don’t want it to go to waste. Maybe that’s what the young woman was looking for. Maybe she learned that something to eat could be found by the compost heap.

She had stopped circling the pile and stood there; sad eyes cast toward the ground. I put down my garden hoe and began walking towards her. She didn’t see me at first. She stood silently and never looked my way. As I got closer, her face came into focus. She must have been quite an attractive young lady at one time, but now her face was dirty, tired, and weathered, her eyes sunken and hollow. She probably wasn’t over thirty but looked to be much older. Hard living tends to age one quickly.

She looked up and saw me walking toward her. Her eyes showed fear and she hurried toward the river. One needs to be careful on the streets, especially a woman. I didn’t want to scare her, so I stopped and watched her disappear down the levee, headed for the river.

I wished there had been a box of food there. I wished she’d stopped for a minute and let me offer her some of the snacks I keep in my truck. I wished that she – that no one – had to pick through a compost pile just to have something to eat. I hurt for her.

She soon reappeared, made it up to the Trinity Trail, and walked out of sight. I went on about my work, but I couldn’t shake the image of her despair and shuffling searching. The lines on her face were burned into my memory. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she had a home to go to and people who cared about her. My heart broke for her. Empathy is a bitch sometimes.

When I first started fundraising for Opal’s Farm, I threw out a lot of statistics about food insecurity, food “deserts” (a misnomer but I’m not going to get into that now…), and our city’s low-income neighborhoods and how the farm would make a positive impact on it all. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see past a statistic, to see the face of someone else. I can’t empathize with a statistic.

Statistics are great, collecting data important and necessary, but it’s easy to see large numbers and be blinded to the individual. Quantification and identification aren’t solutions. Statistical data generates a lot of sympathy (usually in the form of pity), meetings and commissions but little action…

The young lady searching for food in the compost is more than a statistic. So is the old man I see regularly outside the neighborhood convenience store asking for change or simply something to eat. So are the kids who rely on a free school lunch to make sure they have something that day.

It’s easy to be overlooked or lumped into a category that makes them “the other” if one is just a statistic. Numbers can be overwhelming – “there’s nothing I can do so I’ll let someone else take care of it”. Just say “There but for the grace of God go I ” and go on about business…

There is something each one of us can do – a starting point for all our problems. We can stop. We can see the face behind the number. We can listen. Statistics don’t move people to action. People move people to action. Listening moves people to action. Seeing people as children of the same God and the same humanity as we are moves people to action.

In the oft-quoted passage in Matthew 25, Jesus says,

“I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink, I was homeless, and you gave me a room, I was shivering, and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me… Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me”

I need eyes that see – really see – and ears that listen – not just hear – to do something for the “overlooked or ignored”. I begin the process of identification that allows me to serve the God in each and everyone of us. I can’t think of a better way to live…

Beatitudes, Children, Christianity, Communication, Community, Culture, Faith, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Identification, Labels, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality, Transformation, Uncategorized, Writing


It’s hard to believe that summer is over. Although it will end officially on September 21st, Labor Day weekend is the traditional start of Fall. The kids have returned to school and we can hear the loudspeaker from the school up the street, greeting students to the new day. I know it’s 8:00 AM when I hear America the Beautiful and the faint hum of students saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t know if they do that elsewhere, but they still do in White Settlement…

The other day, a fellow blogger, Stephen Black, posted an article titled “It’s Not God’s Fault that Christians are Idiots” ( I’ve been thinking about that question a great deal over the few days. I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘Christian’ and being labeled as such. What does that really mean anyway? Often, it has negative connotations. Stories of spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse by Christian ministers and church officials are reported regularly. ‘Evangelical Christians’ are frequently associated with extreme right-wing politics and somewhat self-righteous individuals who leave a lot to be desired when it comes to loving God and loving others – the foundation of following Jesus’ teachings. Maybe if I identified myself as a ‘Jesus follower’ it would be better, except that’s what ‘Christian’ meant in the original Greek. Etymology can be frustrating.

I’m told that ‘Christian’ was originally used as a term of derision for those making up the early church because they lived differently from the rest of the Roman Empire. The early Church didn’t quite buy into the whole ‘Caesar’ as god thing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Jesus himself said, “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that – count yourself blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable”. (Matthew 5.10-11 The Message) The sad thing is that religious folk seen to be some of the most vehement prosecutors of other Christians. Maybe truth is just a bit uncomfortable…

So, I’m labeling myself a Christian, whether I like it or not. I’m a ‘Jesus follower’. I believe in grace and redemption. I believe in a God who is loving, and as my wife says, sweet. He created me as one of his kids and, like kid, I simply want to be like Dad. I believe, that despite the fact life has hardships and difficulty, He always has my best interest in heart. I want to share the joy, peace, and freedom I’ve found, so in that sense, I guess I’m even an ‘evangelical Christian’. When I read the daily newsfeed and see what others, who call themselves evangelicals, are doing with the appearance of self-righteousness and false piety, I want to run and hide. I don’t want to be associated with the likes of such. Still, I remain a ‘Jesus follower’, a Christian.

It took me a long time to be okay with calling myself a Christian. I had my own demons and past to deal with. I tried to do everything my way and the results were rather dire. Ask anyone who crossed paths with me then. Such is a life run on self-centeredness, obsession, and compulsion. I finally asked for help and help led me to a real relationship with God. That led me to a lot of frustration with ‘Christians’, since I found that relationship outside ‘church’ walls. Some of you know what I mean…

What I know today, with some degree of certainty, is that the people whose lives touched mine, and the way they lived was nothing like the way I was always taught. I had a religious upbringing, and that really sucks. I learned about piety and fearfulness when what I really needed to know was how to have a relationship with God. In one of my favorite passages, Jesus was questioned by a bunch of religious folks about his propensity for communing with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other ‘sinners’ (my kind of crowd!). His reply was, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this scripture means ’I’m after mercy, not religion’. I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (Matthew 9.12-13 The Message). I’ve always felt I was ‘outside looking in’. Maybe that’s why I took advantage of the invitation to follow the Rabbi, and maybe that’s why I want to be like Him…