One of the interesting and valuable aspects of serving the homeless is that, unlike a variety of other episodic mission opportunities, the firewood ministry affords the development of more personal relationships with people that arise out of repeated encounters with them over time. And so was the case with Lloyd.
Lloyd lived in a tent on a hill above a modest and redeveloping neighborhood in Nashville. He was one of the many overlooked. And he was one of the first of Nashville’s 4,000+ homeless I was privileged to meet, as his campsite was the first that my bride and I delivered firewood to when we were first called to serve our neighbors in the cold.
Lloyd died last night.
He was alone in his tent on that same hill above that same neighborhood.
In the cold.
I hit the streets this afternoon with a group of friends from church. We loaded up two truckloads of wood and set out to honor Lloyd by making sure that some of his comrades of the concrete world have firewood tonight. We visited six sites in and around the city – the smallest campsite is home to two delicate souls, while the largest is a well-developed village of tents inhabited by 32.
I thought of Lloyd all afternoon as we snaked our way through the back streets, alleys, and narrow trails of the woods our clients call “home.” Perhaps I wasn’t quite as engaged with my team today, as I was deeply pre-occupied by the thought of our friend who has passed.
It occurred to me today that perhaps it is so easy for people to disregard the homeless or misjudge them because “homeless” is an inaccurate label for their circumstance. To me, their lack of a traditional residence of four walls and a shingled roof is the least of the issues. In fact, they are not simply homeless – rather, they are overlooked as they live in the woods and under bridges surrounded by elegant prosperity. They are underfed – sometimes going days without nourishment you or I would deem to qualify as a real meal. They are underhugged and underloved – often challenged to recall a recent act of personal kindness and interaction in their life. Perhaps they are not simply “homeless” but would be more accurately described as “neglected and disregarded.” But then that might give us pause and distract us from our societal self-focus and absorption. It’s much easier to just think of them as “homeless.”
Our most neglected and disregarded all have stories. I’ve met some who I’m certain are running from something – yet it’s not my place or my role to judge them; my purpose is to help them. I’ve met others who will readily share that they are convicts – and, while they have paid their debt to society and are trying to re-establish themselves, they continue to be judged according to biases and risk management protocols that make it nearly impossible for them to gain productive employment or sign a real estate lease. And I’ve met Veterans of military service on behalf of you and I – they’ve stood on a line for us…fought for us…in some cases, they’ve taken shrapnel for us…and, upon returning to these United States, they’ve been ridiculed, spit upon, and left to struggle through their physical and emotional remnants of war as residents of the street.
And so, tonight I remember Lloyd.
If you’ve read much of my blog in the past, you know that I typically change the names of the people I encounter as a matter of protecting their privacy. Not today. Our friend’s name was Lloyd.
I was curious to learn the meaning of the name “Lloyd” so I did a bit of research on-line. Turns out, “Lloyd” has Welsh roots – it was derived from “llwyd” which translates to “grey.”
Grey? I think not.
We often think of grey as being almost a non-color of sorts – a representation of something of little interest or character…an absence of pigmentation in an otherwise technicolor world. That wasn’t Lloyd.
Lloyd mattered. He was a friend of those he shared his campsite with. He was a living manifestation of the purpose many at the food pantry work to serve with fervor. He was a gentle soul in an ungentle world. I am better for having crossed paths with him, if only briefly.
And so, Lloyd did not live in the grey. Even he – one of the overlooked, underfed, underhugged, underloved, neglected and discarded – cast his own light and own mark upon this human world that he has departed. He touched our hearts and marked our memories. And he has helped to keep our purpose and passion for service so ignited.
I am reassured that Lloyd no longer knows pain, cold, or hunger, as I’m confident that he is in heaven with Jesus. I am certain that he knew that he was loved by those who reached out to him – and that, through that love, he knew the love of Christ. And so, I know that he has been welcomed by all who were expecting him and he is delighting in all that is beautiful of his new surroundings as he finally fulfills his intended and divine purpose.
Tonight, I am reminded that the Apostle Paul taught us to grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Indeed, there is hope for all of us.
As you head into the busy-ness of the week ahead, find true meaning. Look for the overlooked. Love the underloved. Hug the underhugged. Feed the hungry. Warm the cold. And in doing so, add your own color to those who struggle to survive in the overlooked grey.
To Lloyd. God bless you, Friend. May you be forever at peace. You shall not be forgotten.
Keep it Lit, Y’all. Peace.