My journey from fear to love began over 75 years ago. Orphaned and homeless at 18 months of age produced its own DNA: fear of annihilation. Simultaneously with my childhood experience of losing home and parent came the blessing of two homes and families. One was my aunt and uncle’s home and family. One was a church home and family. The two were a powerful pair.
Throughout my long life, these two bedrock forces (loss and blessing) created a tension between fear and love. The primal fear of non-existence would be triggered by major life events for eight decades.
Whenever I would encounter homeless men and women on the street—or orphans in the media or in real life—it was like seeing my own reflection in a mirror. It was a stark reminder of my beginnings. It was an instant re-play of my fear of annihilation. It was always unsettling. It always made me turn away.
Tugging within me from another direction has been the Gospel message repeated again and again: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “I was hungry and you fed me.” “I was naked and you clothed me.” “Feed my sheep.” “Tend my lambs.” “Sell all you have and give to the poor.” Coupled with the Gospel message has been the on-going nurturing of my physical family and friends and long-time spiritual practices. God works in a mysterious way—through people, events, prayer, and time.
Fast-forward to 2016: Enter Ed Watson, Missioner in Residence at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Denver where I am a member. One bright winter day I wandered into his office. Almost as if on cue, he invited me to join him at the St. Francis Center for the homeless. “Would you like to come with me on Friday?”
Something inside me melted. The life-long tension between fear and love dissolved. I now volunteer every Friday. No trace of fear is present. Instead, I feel the same connection with the guests at St. Francis that I felt in the three inner-city schools where I taught in the past. It’s hard work. But the love there released me from the bondage of fear.