A special cross

Growing up, our oldest daughter, Lauren was a homebody. Invitations to spend a night at a friend’s home were often turned down.

I thought she was going to croak when the sixth grade confirmation class at church had an overnight retreat. I still don’t know how she endured that one night.

But, gradually, I think time gave her confidence, and she was able to adapt. 

Week long high school mission trips with the church youth group, beach week after high school graduation, and four years of study at Virginia Tech all fell into place.

But in the summer before her senior year at Virginia Tech, she threw us a curve ball.

Lauren spent the summer of 2004 working in Los Angeles at the Center for Student Missions (CSM). This nonprofit hosted youth groups from across the country who came to large cities in America to learn about and work with the homeless.

Upon reflection, Lauren states:  “That was probably the best and most transformative summer of my life thus far. Loved every minute of it. Even the tough stuff.”

I think Lauren probably inherited my homebody genes. No way, I could have spent a summer in Los Angeles leading youth groups around the city. But, she did.

We flew out for a family visit at some point that summer. Our journey started in San Diego, and we worked our way to Los Angeles. 

 Los Angeles is sometimes called the City of Angels. At the time, my wife had two sisters living in southern California. If needed, Lauren had access to help if a crisis arose. But, thankfully that never happened.

When we finally caught up with Lauren in Los Angeles, here is the first thing that impressed me—she knew how to direct us around the city. In a very short period of time, she had been required to map out the routes and locations where the youth mission teams would be traveling during the week.

And, the other piece that caught my attention was her capacity to work with people, a very diverse population of people. This included her CSM teammates, the visiting mission teams, and the citizens of Los Angeles.

I think that summer in Los Angeles planted the seeds for her next step after graduating from Virginia Tech. She enrolled in graduate school at DePaul University in Chicago.

I remember the Sunday afternoon in August when we drove to BWI in Baltimore to pick her up from her homecoming flight. The ride back to Richmond was full of stories about her work.

Along with her stories, she also brought back some gifts. I still have the blue Los Angeles Mission hat she gave me. Minus cold winter mornings, I always wear that hat when I go for a run.

That hat could tell stories too. But, there is something special about the back of the hat. It has a cross embroidered on it. The cross is formed with a fork and a knife.

Established in 1936, the Los Angeles Mission continues work with the estimated 59,000 men, women, and children who make up Los Angeles County’s homeless population. Part of their branding includes these words:  The Crossroads of Hope.

Since the COVID-19 shutdown, our church has been attempting to provide hope and support to people in our community who are in need of food. In a blink, many individuals in our city, county, and the neighborhoods surrounding our church unexpectedly became food insecure.

Since mid-March we have been collecting food and personal hygiene donations on Fridays at our church. We simply place three large collection bins along the front driveway. Prior to Friday, we post the needed food and hygiene items via social media. Then, from 9-2 p.m. people drop off their donations.

At this point, we have made donations to the Sherbourne UMC Food Pantry, Doorways, the Saturday morning Literacy Academy at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School, Henrico County Public Schools, and the Welborne UMC Food Pantry. We also have accepted financial donations for those unable to make a trip to a local grocery store. These donations are in turn distributed to the food pantries.

In a conversation, I had with Trinity member Anne Pollard about our Friday collections, she put our efforts into one simple question—“Ask yourself when was the last time you went hungry?”

For me, the cross formed with the knife and the fork is a reminder that I should never take my blessings for granted. 

Why? 

Because in a blink, they could be gone.

At the end of each Friday’s collection, we count up our donations. This information is a part of an annual report for the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The other day, I thought to myself these numbers aren’t important.

No, what is important is the hearts of the people who made the effort to make a donation.

And, then I thought further, nope that’s not it either.

Here is the important part—it is touching the hearts of the people who receive the food donation. 

Los Angeles isn’t the only city with angels.

All cities, towns, counties, communities, and neighborhoods have them.

Angels have hearts of hope.

You are one of those angels with a heart of hope.

Someone in your community needs your angel heart today.

That cross made with the fork and knife is counting on you, me, and us.

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