Skid Row is a section of Los Angeles with one of the largest population of homeless in the United States. Every Sunday morning, a small group of people from my church take a warm meal, hot coffee, clothes, and flowers downtown and serve the people there. A few weeks ago my husband and I were given the opportunity to photograph the Sunday morning ritual. I knew the poverty was going to break my heart, but I didn’t know that the love I found there was going to melt it.
I am a homeschool mom. Everyday is pretty much the same for me. I wake up and make coffee. I unload the dishwasher and get laundry started. I get the kids up and start school. By the time lunch time is over, I am running the dishwasher again. Around four, I start picking up the house and unload the dishwasher a second time so it is ready for dirty dinner dishes. I make dinner, have dinner with my family and then do more dishes. I have a very helpful family, and yet, I had been getting bitter about dishes and cleaning and picking up. I felt like I some how don’t deserve doing mundane work day after day.
Then I met this man. This is Giuseppe. He is one of the 4,000 people who call Skid Row home. When we arrived with our chaperons, Giuseppe was the first person I met. He came to the car and welcomed us with a big smile. He had plastic gloves on and a trash bag in one hand. I didn’t think much about either, but I would soon learn the bigness of this man’s heart through these items.
You see, while hundreds of people were fed that morning, Giuseppe went up and down the block picking up trash. He was cleaning the street. And not just any street, but Skid Row itself. I decided to stop and ask if I could take a few pictures and asked to hear his story. It is not one I am going to share with you here. It is his story and his to tell. It is powerful and causes my heart to break every time I think about it. However, at the end of his story, he started talking about our church and how thankful he is for our faithfulness to Skid Row. He told me about the friends he has made and how he is able to take the left over food and hand it out during the week. He began telling me how groups can be ticketed by the police if they leave trash. In order to prevent this from happening to our church, he makes it his job to clean up the street on Sunday mornings. His church is cleaning the trash of Skid Row. His worship is picking up used napkins and plates.
At one point of our conversation he looked deep into my eyes and said, “After everything God has done for me in my life, this is the least I can do. ” Oh, my knees went week. Here is a homeless man whose joy and pleasure is to clean up one of the dirtiest streets in Los Angeles talking to woman who is bitter about unloading clean dishes from her dishwasher. He cleans up after homeless strangers in the name of love. Where is the love in my day to day tasks?
While a big part of me wanted to go home and clean the house day after day with this crazy joy, I knew that wasn’t something I could conjure up. This was a deep heart issue I knew what I needed was to change my perspective. I needed to I wake up and make coffee and be thankful that I slept in a big warm bed. I needed to unload the dishwasher and get laundry started and be thankful that I have a machines that washes my dishes and clothes. As I get my kids up, I need to remember that they slept in a safe place, with so many blankets that half get pushed off through the night.
I needed to remember.
I cry when I remember his story. But I am not the same woman that wrote this post. You see… my heart did change. As each mundane and boring chore came along, Giuseppe would cross my mind. And one question would invade my heart, “Where is the love?”
Slowly, my heart found joy in small and tedious tasks. Slowly, I found a value to cleaning dried spaghetti sauce off a chipped plate. Slowly, my heart began to resemble Giuseppe’s… poor in spirit and great in love.
Today, I still remember.
Philippians 2:8 – And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.