Last night I was sitting here thinking, I can’t believe that a week ago Thursday, I was landing in Portland. Three and a half days I would spend there. Visiting an old friend, whom I have not seen in eighteen years, in a town that I have never been too. Nor did I realize the wonderful people I would soon meet.
My first day in Portland was unbelievable. Arrived late afternoon, grabbed my bag and stood on the curb waiting for my dear friend to pick me up. I was nervous but excited to see her. We had exchanged emails and phone calls over the years, but now face-to-face, what would it be like? I saw her green van approach and my heart started to race. Part of me wanted to run the other direction, would we still hit it off after all these years? A friendship I valued so very much and I didn’t want to blow it now. She greeted me with a big hug and I realized in that moment how much I really did miss this old friend and how much she had been a blessing in my life. I couldn’t wait to spend time with her and catch up. Made it to her house and for the first time met her absolutely awesome family. Then it was out the door again.
I was dropped off at Ken’s house to join him and a few of the people from his HOME PDX group in downtown Portland. I was thinking on the ride to downtown, I just flew in a few hours ago, met up with someone I have not seen in eighteen years, in a town I have never been to, jumped in a car with three people (one I have only met briefly) and we are going to go hang out on the streets in Portland with those who live on the streets. Hell, made perfect sense to me. Then again I do live in my own little world, I have been told.
We arrived at the square and I was in awe as to the number of people who were there, those who have no homes. I have to admit; I was a little out of my comfort zone. I do not like to intrude on what other people have established and I had never been with this group and did not want seem like I was butting in. I am also a doer not a talker; I am the one who will always sit in the back, hoping no one will notice me. For me talking to people, it takes me out of my comfort zone and that first step is always hard for me. I stood around making small talk to some of the people down there, and then I saw a group of young kids across the street. They go over to smoke, can’t smoke in the square. O.K time to step out of comfort zone.
I walked across the street and joined this group of kids for a smoke. Their curiosity prompted many questions. Who are you, why are you here, small talk stuff. This opened a door for me to find out more about them and my heart broke. My first encounter was with a 22 year old, who was from Boise. He had been on the streets of Portland for two years. He had traveled around, but ended up there. He went on to share about his mom who still lives in Boise and the abuse and neglect he encountered at home and how he was thrown out on to the streets at a young age. We talked for a long time and he shared his heart with me. Then his eyes began to well up, he asked me for a hug and whispered in my ear “I miss my mom, I have to go now” and he walked away. My heart broke for this young man. I watched the two girls playing with food coloring. One was spraying the other with the stuff. My first thought, are you flipping nuts? It will take a week to get that off and she was covered from head to toe with it. She said she was under age and had been in Portland for a few months. I thought about these two for a few days. Yes, they are street wise, but they are still kids. Kids trying to have a little fun, even if it's spraying each other with food coloring. For a brief moment they were just kids laughing and having fun. There are so many more I met that night, the young man who kept circling and getting closer wanting so badly to be noticed and had the most beautiful smile when we finally had a chance to talk. The young man who took me to get another pack of smokes and introduced me to his friends along the way, almost all of them wanting a hug. They wanted so badly to be noticed and touched, wanting that human connection. To the writer I met that night. I will treasure your book always. He maybe living on the streets, but he expressed such compassion for wanting to write and express his thoughts. To my excitement, I would meet him again on Sunday. Will tell you more about Sunday later.
We jumped back into the car and headed back to Ken’s house. As I waited for my friend to pick me up, I got a chance to meet Ken’s wife. What a beautiful lady not just outside, but her heart as well. Wish I had the chance to get to know her better. It was hard to sit there and make small talk while thoughts of what just happened were fresh in my mind. The hardest part for me is leaving and walking away and this was extra hard, because in a few days I will be flying home and probably would not see these beautiful kids again. I held back my tears, but I can still feel that part of my heart that broke that night. Thank you Ken for allowing me to join you that night, it is a night that will not be forgotten.
Well, first few hours in Portland went way to fast. Would have liked to have spent more time downtown, but there were three more days I would spend here, catching up and meeting new and wonderful people. Three more exciting days left. Will fill you in on those days soon.
“It is one thing to discuss a issue with someone-It’s another thing to truly listen to his voice.”
-from the book Jesus Save Us from Your Followers