Monday, February 3, 2014

Counting The Invisible

"So God created human beings in His image. In the image of God He created them. He created them male and female." ~Genesis 1:27, NCV

Last week, while I was at our family’s favorite bagel shop, a headline from one of our local newspapers caught my eye. It read:

“Counting The Invisible”

Intrigued by the title, I picked up the paper and quickly scanned it to find they were speaking of that community of folks who live hidden among the shadowy fringes of our society:

The homeless.

I bought the paper and returned home to read the rest of the article.

I learned that members of an organization here in our area recently took a day to launch themselves throughout our neighboring city of Trenton for their annual count of its homeless population.

The team of people took the time to speak with each homeless person, asking questions about their basic needs, where they were currently staying, and then supplying each one with a backpack containing sandwiches, water, socks and a resource card offering info on social services available
to them. They were also encouraged to come to the local shelter to stay, as the temperatures here have been in the single digits lately.

The article went on to give figures from last year’s census (a total of 668 homeless men, women and children in our county alone!) and to say just how difficult it is to get an actual true figure for the homeless, because many ‘couch surf’ with friends or spend time during the day and evening hours riding the River Line (a fairly inexpensive, light rail system which travels between the cities of Trenton and Camden).

The director of this outreach organization told his teams to be sure they paid attention and listened to the responses of the homeless, without cutting them off if and when they opened themselves up. He’s quoted as saying:

“Don’t get so caught up in the logistics of it that you miss that part of it, because we’re talking to people.”

That really hit home and stuck with me. As did the moniker of 'the invisible.'

For the past several years, I’ve been volunteering one night a week at a local soup kitchen operating out of the basement of a tiny neighborhood church, as well as doing intake at their once-a-month food pantry and clothing closet.

Last Thursday night, after having read that article, I looked more closely than usual at all of our guests -- familiar and unfamiliar; homeless or living well below the poverty line -- who filed into the building for a hot meal. I wondered – did they feel invisible? Did we make them feel invisible by our words, our facial expressions, our interactions or lack of interactions?

How easy it can be to deem the folks who frequent these outreaches as ‘the invisible,’ as we hand them their dinners or bags for their groceries and clothes while proudly feeling we’ve done our civic, Christian duty.

Because they are precisely the people society doesn't wish to see. Those whom we would much rather remain invisible.

Some barely speak above a whisper, mumble continually to themselves as they rock back and forth, or suddenly laugh out loud for no reason. Others shout things I cannot repeat here, sometimes picking fights with us, their table mates – or with tormenting demons none of us can see.

Their clothing is wrinkled, ripped and grimy; their hair unkempt and greasy. Many reek of body odor and alcohol.  Or worse.  The hands that reach out to take their food are often dirty, bruised, shaking and housing who-knows-what beneath their fingernails. 

Their faces are dirty, too; some with teeth missing or eyes that are sunken in, displaying broken windows to souls that appear to be long dead and best forgotten.

And yet – the Bible tells us that we – human beings – were ALL created in the image of God! What a revelation, then, that each face that stares at us from a street corner, or through our car window while sitting at a red light, or across a table at a soup kitchen is the face of Christ, just as we are attempting to show the face of Christ to them!

It would do us well -- and I include myself in this -- to realize that, in spite of all the blatant differences and blaring oddities I mentioned above, the members of this ‘invisible’ population are like us in a variety of ways.

Like us, they have a name; a name that desires to be known, remembered and spoken out loud with joyful recognition, welcome and tenderness.

Like us, these folks have a story containing a beginning, a middle and someday, an ending. A story which begs to be told; to be known; to be laughed and cried over; to be understood and remembered.

And like us, they came into this world desperately needy from the get-go. Displaying wrinkly, tiny red faces, with eyes closed tight against the blinding light of life. Arms flailing and fists clenched, lungs filling up with their first breaths, and exhaling angry cries of protest at being torn from the warmth and safety of their mother’s womb.

And then someone, somewhere, cleaned them up, swaddled them in a blanket and gently placed them into a parent’s waiting arms to be held. It would be nice to believe that these who are now invisible were welcomed and loved once upon a time, their entrance into the world rejoiced over.

But I know that far too often, that is not always the case. Many are born already unwelcome and unwanted; already despised and rejected.

Already invisible.

But that is not so with God. NONE of us are invisible to our Father. He has seen us and known us LONG BEFORE our physical birth. David, king and psalmist, has this to say in Psalm 139:15-16:

“My frame was not hidden from You when I was
made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body.”

 And in Jeremiah 1:5, God tells the young prophet,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

I’m no Bible scholar, but I HAVE to believe that this visibility and knowledge God speaks of wasn’t only reserved and true for prophets, kings, psalm writers and Bible heroes, but for all of us common folk as well.

God sees us and knows us intimately. He is aware of our comings and goings, even knowing when we sit and when we stand. He takes great delight in each of us. He quiets our raging, chaotic, anxious minds and hearts with His love. He rejoices over us with singing. ALL of us – those whose lives are applauded and bathed in the bright klieg lights of notoriety. Those whose unassuming, ordinary lives tend to give off a softer, more diffused glow. And that so-called ‘invisible’ population -- those who find themselves standing outside society’s borders, living life among the dark shadowlands.

Maybe someone reading this today needs to remember or to be made aware that there is someone in their family, someone camped out in their neighborhood, someone sitting among their church’s congregation, or someone standing outside of their workplace, favorite coffee shop or local train station who LONGS to stop being invisible. Who only wants…no…NEEDS to be seen.

But not seen as just a number on a city's yearly census

Not seen as just a recipient of yet another social services program

Not seen as just part of some church’s monthly or annual outreach project

And not seen as just another poor, unfortunate soul 

But seen as a human being and beloved child of God. Yes, they have a need. But more importantly, they have a name that longs to be spoken. They have a story that begs to be told. And they have a face that wants to be seen. And recognized.

And perhaps, if you look closely, that face you recognize JUST might be the face of Christ

Homeless Jesus, by Timothy Schmalz


  1. Bless you for sharing this. And for being one who is encouraging and loving!

    1. Thank you, Shanyn! You know, this was another one of those posts that I hadn't planned on writing, didn't make a point of setting aside time for it, and had NO idea where God was going with it. I just have to shake my head in awe at how He works these things out.

  2. Pam, you said this so well, my friend. "Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’" This verse came to my mind- you know...there are so many needs, so many levels of needs. May we always see, as He sees. May He who gives life, give us eyes to see the Invisible among us...wherever they may be. I really love that image: Homelss Jesus. It is powerful, and conveys so much truth...He had no place to lay His own head. Your blog is looking just wonderful by the way. Hey, I have Skype if you want to chat about anything. HUgs, and love, via cyberspace.

    1. Dawn -- It's interesting that this whole idea that Jesus had no place to lay His head is something that doesn't come up much in sermons, bible studies, Sunday school class curriculum, etc. We tend to not focus on that which really seems to bring to light those words from Isaiah 53:

      There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.
      He was despised and rejected....We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

      He was despised, and we did not care.

      So much of what occurs here in our relationships with others -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- very often seems to mirror how we relate to Jesus.

      Thank you for your kind words about my blog's appearance. I began setting up a WordPress account earlier today, and I forgot just how much time, effort, brain power etc. goes into creating something new. Not sure if I'm up to THAT particular challenge right now, so I'm going to follow my own One Word 2014...and Wait. LOL!

      Us Skyping?? Oooooo, won't THAT be some fun? Is the evening better for you? Let me know. Much love, gal. <3

  3. Oh Pam, this made me teary-eyed because it's so true. I can't imagine anything worse than being homeless and yet Jesus Himself had no place to lay His head. I too have done my share of looking past the "invisible"

    1. Lori -- me, too, my friend. I did it for years, whether out of fear, embarrassment, pride, ignorance. It's so much easier to avoid society's square pegs than it is to embrace them. But, as both you and Dawn have stated, Jesus had no place to lay His head, and He was despised and rejected (see my comment to Dawn).

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, dear one!

  4. Loved this post! Thank you for reminding each of us that there are people out there that NEED to be seen! Praying each of us will do our part in loving the sometimes unlovable just as Jesus loved us when we were unlovable!


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