On Visiting San Francisco with Kids
You have found Post #6 in my series #40before40: What I’m Loving and What I’m Learning. Thanks for joining me.
God placed this story on my heart so many times that I just had to write it out and share it with you.
(Photo Credit: Ilze Janberga Photography)
Andy and I chose to bring our kids to San Francisco for a leadership training, and we chose to walk down the street in the Tenderloin District to go to breakfast at a local restaurant.
We knew it would open the kids’ eyes to the world of the homeless and the reality of people in poverty who live on the sidewalk.
Our leader from YWAM San Fransisco prepared us with a short talk about what it’s like to go out on the streets.
She told us that we would be entering their living room. The people live there, and if we choose to walk the streets, we are walking through their living space, where they sleep, eat, and everything.
“So don’t complain about what you see, hear, or step in,” she said, “And don’t talk about what you see while you walk through because their neighbors will hear you.”
Still, I am ashamed to say, I had a bad attitude about what I saw. This is what happened.
Andy was ahead with the team and the other kids, and I was behind with Rose, who was 5 years old.
We wove through the people starting their day on the sidewalk, when suddenly I saw a man’s bare butt in front of me, bending over. That was bad enough.
But then he started laughing. Then he started peeing. I saw the stream hit the sidewalk and splash on his pants, which were around his ankles.
I jumped sideways and pulled Rosie with me.
My first thought: “He did that on purpose.”
My second thought: “He was demon-possessed.”
My next thought, which I said out loud: “I should have spanked his butt.” I was sort of joking, sort of serious.
Then my heart turned to little Rosie. What would she think? How would she process what she saw? It was shocking but not the worst thing she could have seen. Just moments before, a man shot heroine into his arm right in front of us. I forgave the heroine guy for using a needle in front of my daughter because it was something I expected to see out there, and I assumed she didn’t even see him do it.
This peeing episode was a total shock. Rosie saw it from her height, which was probably even worse than my perspective. His butt was two feet away from her face.
If my child weren’t there, I probably would have laughed it off. But I was so offended on her behalf, and because of the offense, my own heart was exposed. I was angry at this man.
A few strides later, I asked Rose what she thought about what we just saw.
“Mom!” she said, mad that I asked. She had no words.
Later that day we had a team meeting with huge sheets of poster paper for planning out the summer. We placed the poster paper on the floor for the kids to color while we had our meeting.
Rosie grabbed a marker and immediately drew this:
She and I both laughed. Then she turned the paper 180 degrees and put eyes and a smile on it. Maybe it was to trick me into thinking it was something else?
My heart broke a little. She smiled and put her hand over her eyes when I asked her what it was. She said, “Mom!” And that’s all she said.
For weeks I replayed the scene in my head. The more I thought about it, the more upset I got. Until God opened my heart to the very important perspective that I had forgotten, the one I was taught at the beginning of the trip: I was in his living room.
What if I had the situation all wrong?
What if he had no bathroom to use?
What if he had been holding his pee for a long time—all night—and couldn’t hold it any longer?
What if he was laughing because he was embarrassed that his pants fell down?
What if he had no belt? No money for a belt?
What if his pants didn’t fit because he didn’t have enough food to eat?
What if he had soiled his pants during this episode and now had no clean clothes to wear and no way to wash?
What if this ruined his day?
What if he heard me say I should have spanked him?
What if I humiliated him for something he could not control?
My heart toward this man changed drastically, and I was so thankful to Christine for the previous explanation of the neighborhood that, once I reflected on it, totally changed my mindset.
I do not have a way to know what his intentions were, or if he was mentally disabled or on drugs or what.
But I know what judgement was going on in my own heart and how my un-forgiveness of his actions plagued me for weeks, until I had the revelation of what might have been his situation, which transformed my mind, attitude, and spirit.
It became a story of giving a stranger the benefit of the doubt. It was a story that reminded me that compassion for the poor is a choice. I want my heart to be soft. I want to be an example to my children of forgiveness. I want to hold my tongue and think deeply about another person’s reality before I judge them.
I must say, my change of heart has saved me from hours of griping.
And now my daughter won’t hear me making a big deal, repeating the story as I retell it to my friends, reminding her of it over and over again.
I believe this will serve her little heart better than if I did.