I went over the line

by Erika

You can ask my mama or any of my friends and they would tell you that I’ve got a rule-breaking streak sky-high and a mile wide. I might even stick my toe or whole body across this here line at least once or 200 times a week just to see what would happen, and lest I fall into the godforsaken abyss of status quo. (This may get me into trouble now and always, so definitely try it at home.) (Results may vary.)

Last week I went to my interior apothecary, tapped along the rows of shelves looking for labels on certain jars. I knew I would need my jar of “Follow Me” and “Girl, You’ve Got Gall” and without invitation the predictable jar of “Fears” fell into my hands. I gathered “Christ’s Sake” and “Kingdom Come”, a few more here and there and I took them out the door and straight across another line I wouldn’t stay behind. (See above paragraph.)

But what I couldn’t have known was how much of an imposter I would feel like on the other side of said line, even with my thread-worn knit cap pulled tight over my platinum mohawk and my body dressed down in carefully selected grunge clothes. I painted no make-up on my face, added no identifiable frills or flair to my exterior…I went across the line with my soul wide open, bare too and bent on blending in. I look the part, but maybe like dogs and bees they can sniff the fear on my breath, or maybe they can see the refrain of “I don’t fit-in here” playing around my head. My guts are reeling from several strong impressions at once: I don’t need to do this. It’s safer back home. Will they think this is just a lark for me? To name a few.

But none of those sick feelings or thoughts will hold my feet where they “belong”. The unction to press through, dig deeper, love bigger, understand more and change the game yet another time overwhelms my fears and [mind] wars. My fiercest, Holy Ghost-driven thoughts keep these fickle legs moving across the line: I don’t want a sanitary life. I don’t want to be removed from explicit or illicit or stay where society says I should. I don’t want predictable or safe. I don’t want to be just where my economic status and skin color were born. I don’t want to live under the low ceiling of an organized world, I want to blow the top off the damn thing instead – even if I get blasted by shrapnel from today to next year.

But I haven’t told you yet where I’ve been going, or what line I crossed to get there…

I’ve been joining the homeless people on the other side of the margins – those narrow strips on the side of polite society’s page. I’ve been joining the homeless there, not as a volunteer come to fill the ache in their bellies or save the misbegotten day. But as one of them.

(I’m gonna go ahead and say the same thing a few different ways because repetition and I are friends.)

Instead of reaching my forearms and fingers over the line to serve people a spoonful of this or hand them a bag full of that, I started living there. I put all the brakes on doing missional acts for the marginalized because I wanted to learn how to sit next to their feet and just be with them, like it’s Thanksgiving and we’re all pieces of a misfit family sitting around the same beat-up, raucous table.

More to the fact, my husband and I, with our 3 boys like ducklings in tow, have been shedding comfort and convenience in order to stand in their lines with plastic trays balanced between our hands, sandwiched with homeless men and women while waiting to be served scoops of food that taste like the south side of mediocre.

We started to forego the ease of our car in deference to riding the bus or walking where we need to go.

As partakers and learners, we began attending a church service that’s designed for homeless people.

Any way we can, the five of us will go to their turf on their terms; gather where they gather, eat where they eat, intersect our stories on the grounds of their comfortability.

A few short days from now I’ll be laying my head down to sleep at a women’s shelter, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

But none of this is even an ounce of a lark for us, or an adventure for adventure’s sake, or just research to tuck behind our belts. This is the premeditated mission of a family determined to engage with multi-level transformation. To shake the spiritual fabric of our city. To push the boundaries of ordinary. To stretch our aortas to the breaking point. We want to be with people living in poverty because Jesus is there in a way that we don’t know Him yet and how else are we to know what’s it’s really like to live inside their frames and stories unless we put our faces on their bodies?

How else will we be reminded that we are all the same unless we stop being in all the places where we are different?

How else do we “normalize” being with the people Jesus seemed to be so fervent about unless we cusp each other’s dirty necks and press our foreheads together and admit our wholeness is found side-to-side? (Do you believe it?)

How else will the man-made lines disappear if we don’t keep crossing them like they don’t exist?

Or:

How else will we discover that there are no real lines separating us except the ones we bought into because society sold us a whole package deal – buy one get all the rest for free?

Could it be that the only solution is to expose the dividing lines for the farce they are? By showing up and walking all over them, scuffing our feet to mix them together?


41 Responses to “I went over the line”

  1. Jamie S Harper February 3, 2014 at 6:35 am #

    Yes, girl, I love this! It is something God placed on my heart this week. I went to an area of town where there are homeless to pray on the snowy day. One of the men asked me if I was a tourist and I thought this is all wrong. Thank you for this post!

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

      Ahhh! It’s good to get the pause button every now and again, but maybe the season wasn’t right before…and it is now. =)

      Love you, Jamie.

  2. Erica Camacho February 3, 2014 at 6:41 am #

    Erika you never cease to amaze & inspire! I just love this & love who you are. Such a powerful force of love & light in the dark places and example of what thoughts breaking boundaries into some passionate, meaningful action looks like. This is going to sound super corny but I am just thinking of Katy Perry’s song “Firework”… “Cuz baby you’re a firework…and you leave em all in awe, awe, awe!” Lol so true though girl!

    • Erika February 8, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      Erica! I left you a comment, but forgot to reply directly to you.. It’s right below… =)

  3. Erika February 3, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    Erica Camancho! I love your Katy Perry quoting self. You made me smile and brought feelings of humility to my heart. =)

    Love,
    Me

  4. Kreine February 3, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    Honestly, I’m really not sure how I feel about this. I’m absolutely in favor of seeing people as people, not us vs. them or haves vs. have nots.

    But our family is barely over the poverty line. I am relieved we own transportation & a home. That we generally have enough money left to buy food (although sometimes it’s just beans & rice for a fee days until the next payday).

    The thought of releasing what little we do have? It terrifies me in ways I can’t begin to articulate.

    And then I think, “But we have wi-fi. We have (pre-paid) cell phones & a land line phone. Surely these are luxuries we could do without?”

    Obviously, this is an issue where I need to still my thoughts & just listen to God for awhile. Thanks for bringing it up!

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      Kreine! I wish I could hear how your name is pronounced. =)

      I know your feelings and I’m thankful you could share vulnerably with me. Our family, too, went through a long season of being barely over the poverty line. We lost our home. Our kids were on state healthcare. We had government assistance for bills. Our community bought us groceries.

      As the questions come. may you hear the Voice you are listening for…

      All my love,
      Erika

      • Kreine February 4, 2014 at 9:31 am #

        Erika,

        Kreine is pronounced CRY-neh. It’s a Yiddish name meaning “crown.”

        I think I struggle with the idea of giving up material things, because I feel I already have given up a lot. My parents were well-off financially (one is an mechanical design engineer, the other a teacher), but my husband’s family was always barely scraping by.

        My husband sees our current situation as luxurious, since we now have much more than he did as a child. He is willing to give up our luxuries, no question.

        I think I’m afraid to voluntarily release “things” because my parents subconciously passed down the idea that being poor is the result of character flaws or being a bad Christian.

        I think those are truly the issues I need to confront: my ingrained and ugly predjudices and assumptions.

        Again, I’m so glad you wrote about this! You helped shine a big, ol’ spotlight on an area I need God to help me clean out.

        • Erika February 5, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

          Ahhh… Let me encourage you, Kreine. Jesus was the very best Christian and he was homeless. YOU are in a good place, my friend. A very good place.

          Love,
          ERika

  5. Amber C Haines February 3, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    I can’t even take it, Erika. Glory to God, you are living Jesus. THIS is being church. THIS is what it means to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood.

    Now I wonder what will happen next. When they ask you of story, what will you say?

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

      You might not have to wonder long, because I’ll keep telling the story – ours and theirs; Christ’s.

      Thank you for the drumbeat, Amber. I feel it in my chest.

      I LOVE you.

      Love,
      E

  6. Leigh Kramer February 3, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    I am bowled over by this, Erika. I learn so much from you and your family. The things I think about and contemplate- you put them into action. This is God at work in and through you and it is beautiful to witness.

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

      Leigh, you should come see me and we’ll take Roger to lunch together. =)

      I love you so.

      Love,
      E

  7. Treva February 3, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Admirable and courageous and gutsy. One question – those who are marginalized (am getting tired of that word) – the homeless, jobless, etc.-most of them didn’t choose the side of the line they are on. Can any of us really know what it is like to be them, without actually being on that side of the line involuntarily? And never knowing if you will ever get out of the situation?

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

      My feeling is that we will never know what it’s truly like to be them, but I don’t want that to stop me from getting as close as possible. What do you think?

      Thank you for reading, Treva.

      Love,
      Erika

  8. Andrea February 3, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I see a lot of churches struggling to motivate their congregations to action, to social justice, to empathy. While Erika’s approach is that this is not an adventure for her family, I’m still uncomfortable with it; it feels like the hipster invocation of what we have called in the church “short-term missions”, where those who go are valorized for their efforts and the ways they have “descended” to the “level” of “the poor”. I don’t want to undermine this as an exercise in building empathy for this family, because it is likely exposing them to other perspectives like crazy, however the impact this family’s social experiment has on the folks that they are tagging along with remains to be seen. Nobody likes feeling like a research project. As well intentioned as it may be, this project, or at least the way she has written about it, feels condescending. It may very well be that Erika and her family are learning many things about the kingdom, but I’m not comfortable saying that they’re “doing God’s work”.

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      Andrea, I really do appreciate your feedback and concern. I GET it! I had the same fears regarding the choice we made as a family to integrate with our homeless community on a different level. =) I have a close homeless friend, Milton, whom I posed this question to: “Do you think they will feel like we’re exploiting them or being condescending?” He responded very helpfully by saying: “Some will and some won’t, but you can’t manage how they receive you. Just do it anyway because nobody else is.” So we DID and this is NOTHING like an experiment, it’s our how our souls beat. And it ISN’T a project because there’s no agenda other than to just BE together.

      (I would like to gently suggest that you made some hurtful assumptions without knowing me or my family at all. We’ve been sharing ourselves with people living in poverty for over five years, this twist is not a lark or “short term” ANYthing and we are absolutely doing God’s work – on our knees and with all our hearts.)

      Love,
      Erika

  9. Diana Trautwein February 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    Oh, my. Erika, I love you so! And I do not question your heart or your family’s depth of love one little bit. And yet. . . I wonder. I’m glad you consulted a friend who actually lives this life first – that helps me with this. Because what is harder for me is the truth that you all do step back over ‘the line’ at the end of each expedition. You do have resources, a home, transport, a paycheck. Do you tell your homeless friends this? As Amber said above, how do you tell your story? Or are you even asked? I salute your willingness to step into this world more deeply. And I look forward to what you will learn as you do this – please re-visit and keep us posted as to what continues to happen, both in you and in your relationships with these brothers and sisters who have hit a hard bottom in life.

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

      Ahhh! Thank you, Diana. I’m excited for you to follow along with us, there are already more stories than I have time to write about. =)

      We do step back over our line at the end of the day, and they step back over theirs….but for the time that we’re together (even though it’s on their “turf”), we’re just people made of the same stuff. And it is good. It feels like heaven.

      It’s been interesting to learn over the years how many assumptions people living in poverty (at least a lot of the ones I’ve met here) have about people living in privilege – they have just as many as anybody else. Our attempts to “dress down” is not so that they will be deceived, but in the hopes that SOME of the assumptions might be suspended JUST so we can get to know each other. Does that make sense? (These measures aren’t necessary across the board because we’re already known as a family by a large group of homeless men and women.)

      When they ask us questions, we tell our own story.

      One of my personal anthems when it comes to this conversation is: “If you have come to help me than you’re wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberty is bound up with mine, then walk with me. – Lilla Watson” Trust me, Diana. The more our hearts become invested, the harder it becomes to have a place to lay my head at night. I am becoming bound, our freedom is together. But I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know where all this leads yet… In the meantime I’ll do my best to be committed to learning even though this path makes me so uncomfortable.

      Love,
      Erika

      • Diana Trautwein February 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

        Thank you, Erika. This is a beautiful and difficult thing you’re doing. A couple who write to encourage me regularly are visiting the wife’s dying mom in Missouri right now and they’re posting some of her life stories on FB – amazing. She’s in her late 80s now, but was born into hard scrabble poverty about which most of us know nothing. And they posted this amazing quote from John Wesley today and I thought of you immediately. It’s from Sermon #98:

        “One great reason why the rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is, that, according to the common observation, one part of the world does not know that the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it; and then plead their voluntary ignorances an excuse of their hardness of heart.”

        You and Wesley stir in me a desire to be more proactive about this in my own life. Most of my active ministry is among the comfortable, many of whom are searching for deeper richness of a different kind than monetary. And I recognize that this ministry is God-sent and important and also good for me as I counsel, direct, listen, write. And, of course, I also spend time with my aging mom and MIL, who are ‘poor’ in a very different way. But somewhere in my week, there needs to be something more, something different. Will you pray with me that I’ll find my way to where God would have me ‘visit the poor’ in ways that are real, true, and not condescending? It likely won’t look like what you’re doing, but somewhere there is work for me to do. I just don’t know where it is right now

        • Erika February 3, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

          Thank you for passing on the Wesley quote….I’ll be tucking it away for a rainy day. =)

          You got my prayers, no question about it.

          Love,
          Me

  10. Bloss February 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Erika, wow! What an amazing read!!! Thankyou! And what I love is that you aren’t sitting back in your comfort zone, intellectualising the concepts, or discussing motivations and perceptions. You have made the leap. You are doing! I’m not suggesting that you made any of these decisions lightly, but that you stopped simply discussing and justifying and got out there and allowed this to impact your life, and that of your children. I firmly believe as Christians we talk too much! You’re an inspiration! You are making a difference!
    Xx

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

      Bloss, thank you for your enthusiasm! I’m honored that you came here today and left me your thinkings. =)

      Love,
      Erika

  11. Beth George February 3, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    This is beautiful. The Lord has laid the homeless in my heart in a big way. Thank you.

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

      Thank you, Beth. I’m glad this story meant something to you…

      All my love,
      Erika

  12. Robin February 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    I’m sure your heart is in the right place but boy did this not feel right to me. You don’t have to pretend to be homeless to get to know people that are homeless and be friends. And if you are going home at the end of the day you aren’t in their situation. I see no reason to pretend to be homeless to get to know people and if stuff seems to be a barrier to relationships, maybe consider getting rid of it and really sharing your life with people on the edge.

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

      Oh, Robin! I’m so sorry if it came across that we were pretending to be homeless! We absolutely weren’t! Maybe I didn’t make enough of a distinction when I said “dress down” (see above comment to Diana).

  13. Robin February 3, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    I’ve been trying to put my finger on what makes me uncomfortable about this and I finally got it. Some of the smartest, most talented ,creative and caring people I know are homeless or have been. They don’t need me to leaven their lives, those of our that have stuff need to be engaged so our excess doesn’t get in the way of love. I think it’s more helpful to look to others to see the face of Christ than to try to be that ourselves.

    • Erika February 3, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      Robin! I’ve written so many posts about our relationship with people who live in poverty, turns out this is the most controversial one and it makes me wonder if that’s because not everybody who reads Deeper Story knows the back story of who we are. Here are just two of numerous narratives that might help you understand where we’re coming from, if you’re interested. The first link directly responds to your assumption(maybe I read that wrong?) that I might think the homeless need me to “leaven” their lives, or that they aren’t some of the smartest, most creative and talented people – I know! We go to church with them. A good homeless friend of mine is an unparalleled artist. Etc. etc. =)

      Thanks for reading. <3

      http://www.the-lifeartist.com/2012/05/07/i-need-you-too-will-you-believe-it/

      http://www.the-lifeartist.com/2013/02/17/when-a-cross-dresser-meets-an-off-key-kumbayah/

  14. Steph P. February 4, 2014 at 3:34 am #

    Maybe it was the reference to Katy. . .
    I can both feel your love, your humility. . .
    And yet, wow, how I hear your roar. . .
    And the beat, it drums on.
    Love to you, dear heart.
    Can. Not. Wait. To hear the rest of these stories.
    Can we ever truly fathom the greatness of our God??? And yet, here He is. Writing out His story. Among us. Through us.
    Awe. I stand in it.

    • Erika February 4, 2014 at 5:56 am #

      SO many good words you gave me this morning, Steph. I’m putting them in my heart. Thank you, friend….it’s just lovely to see you here. <3

      All my love,
      Erika

  15. Kristin Potlet February 4, 2014 at 4:57 am #

    Your posture reminds me of Jesus. He lived among us and had a choice every day to go back to His Kingdom, his banquet table and yet He chose to live among us. Not as a project but out if love and complete adoration. Your story and life, reflects the Lover of your soul, because you have chosen to love the same way…to love with a love that is fearless, thoughtful and just big. The point is, you’re risking, loving in hard places, loving and living among those we typically drive with eyes averted so as not to have to drop another coin in their bucket. You choose to know your neighbor, to try and understand them, to live among them and do life with them. That’s being Jesus with skin on, in my book .

    • Erika February 4, 2014 at 6:00 am #

      I like your book, Kristin. And I love your heart. Thank you for blessing me so much – yesterday and this morning. =)

      Love you,
      Erika

  16. Marcy February 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    My day started with writing about my own battles with the line. This is the first time I’ve visited your blog and know that God directed me to your words. Your love for people is beautiful and I admire the depth of your commitment to live out Christ in us the Hope of Glory!

    • Erika February 8, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      Marcy –

      I’m grateful you found a space where your heart felt a sense of resonance. =) Thank you so much for telling me!

      Bless you, sister.

      Love,
      Erika

  17. nacoleat6inthesticks February 11, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    I know you probably don’t want a standing O for this, as it’s a contradiction, but I’m giving you one anyway, because I can’t help myself. This is amazing, and? Along the lines I’ve been thinking. How to cross that line? Because I’ve long been tired of where I am, and restless.

    • Erika February 16, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

      Ahhhh. New friend, let those restless feet wander! =) And thank you for coming by and sharing your ovation. =)

      All my love,
      Erika

  18. Janet February 28, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I could use a friend in my life like you to pull me out of my suburban comfort level. You really are the hands and feet of Jesus. Thank you for all of your posts, please do not stop writing!! You are very encouraging :)

    • Erika March 18, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

      Janet! I just saw your comment, I’m so sorry!

      Thank you for the kind, encouraging words… I hear you good when it comes to comfort zones because I need people to thrust me out of mine too – reminds me of the quote “we are all just asking each other home”. =)

      I’m so glad you came by. =)

      Love,
      Erika

    • Erika March 21, 2014 at 5:05 am #

      *walking each other home…

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