This Is a Tough One…

This is a tough one to write.  And will probably be lengthy, but I hope you’ll take the time to walk with me for a moment. 

Our medical mission trip to Honduras this week was canceled.  After fundraising thousands of dollars to pay for the trip and supplies, and after spending two solid days (countless hours) packing and organizing those supplies in a prayerful (if not, “Hail Mary”) effort to get through an often haphazard customs process, American Airlines delayed the first leg of our flight causing us to miss the second segment.  Apparently it was a bigger issue than just a delay because for the foreseeable future, there aren’t flights that line up without “overnight” travel times in what used to be a direct four hour flight. 

It is human nature to ask God, “Why?!”, but I am learning to seek more of, “What do you want to teach me in this, Father?”.  That makes me sound very spiritually mature, but believe you me when I tell you I do my fair share of toddler-fit, lying-in-the-floor-whining-and-crying when I do not like the Ominpotent’s sudden change of plans.  (OK, it’s not HIS plans that change, but when He changes MY very thoughtfully laid out plans.  But, I digress.)

We decided just to make lemonade out of lemons, though, and left 12 of the 13 suitcases at home, loaded up with the rest of our group, and headed on a Southern states road trip.  First stop, Ben and Erin Napier’s hometown of Laurel, Mississippi!  HGTV’s “Hometown” is filmed here. A quick round of shopping and snowballs and it was on to a town rich in culture, history, music, and architecture: New Orleans.  It was also heavy on homelessness, drug addiction, debauchery, and unexpected, but important, conversations with our tween children. 

Luke and I were verbally accosted by a literally naked woman right next door to the Ritz Carlton.  I have no idea what she was saying, it was mostly gibberish, but it was quite aggressive for a few moments.  As we walked down Bourbon Street (before noon, for the record), Luke asked why it said “No Cover” on the sign but the lady standing by the door had on “a little cover” at one of the local hangouts.  After eating beignets at Cafe du Monde, I could not go another step without returning a half block to see if the man we witnessed over-dosing was still breathing.  He was, thank God, as I believe David would have insisted I figure out how to do CPR with a three foot umbrella instead of my hands.  These are just a few of the many experiences and encounters in NOLA in a 36 hour stay.  

And I just can’t shake the heavy hearted feeling over it…..

Many of you know I lost my father to suicide after a years long battle with alcoholism.  In recent months, an old friend/college roommate died on the street after struggling for years with alcoholism.  A few weeks back, a young man was found dead beside a dumpster at one of our offices by one of my precious employees.  What was a bright and sunny morning was soon overshadowed by a police investigation, crime tape, and thank God, security cameras with evidence of no foul play.  

That particular young man, who was someone’s son, brother, nephew, and cousin, had been sitting on the picnic tables outside this office the evening before when David and I delivered a piece of furniture after hours.  He was clearly intoxicated with something and never made eye-contact. I just made sure the doors were locked and minded my own business.  And I have regretted it every day since.

I believe with all my heart that we all die when the day God has determined to be our Homecoming rolls around; but I also believe that His gift of free will gives us options on how we arrive on that day.  I could make legitimate excuses; for instance, I was punched in the face by a homeless man on our last trip to New York.  Twice.  It was more of a back hand, and I’m proud to say that I was only left with a slight black eye and I didn’t even lose my balance while I “Mama-Beared” my kid out of there!  (Long story!) You never know who might shank you if you approach them in that state.

And let me be clear here, I am NOT encouraging reckless and risky behavior!

But….my faith and my God say it very simply.  Love God and love others.  So, how can we love people who are lost in the throws of addiction and mental health crises?  It is no longer enough for me to serve on the board of every non-profit who will have me in West Georgia.  How can I be the hands and feet of Jesus if I am not actually interacting with those in the literal ditches and trenches at some point? 

How do you best love someone who seems to have lost all hope?

And that relates back to our trip to Honduras.  My family craves that time in service with those people.  It is a level of poverty that reminds you of a National Geographic magazine if you are blessed enough to have remained comfortable here in the USA.  Our government is far from perfect, as are our people, but by golly, there are services available here if you need anything.  

Need.  That word takes on a new meaning when you see what we see there.  It often takes me a couple of weeks to unpack all the emotional baggage I bring back from Honduras.  In a country where the government is corrupt and the cartel manages to keep the people suppressed and without basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, medical care…how can one physician serving hundreds of people in one day make any difference whatsoever?! I often ask myself “what is the point?”, but then I am reminded of another basic need that all humans around the world have.  


One drop of hope can last for years.  One drop of hope can change a life.  Just as one small light can change the perspective of a previously dark room, one small act of love and kindness can keep a person hanging on and moving toward….better. I know an elderly man who enlists his wife’s help to make simple white bread sandwiches by the dozen.  He bags them up and hands them out one by one, regularly, to an area in Atlanta ripe with homeless people. They call him “Pastor” as they thank him despite his quick laugh that he is no preacher or priest.   He hands them one meal, but he hands them hope that lingers far longer. 

Hope that there is a way out.  Hope that tomorrow might be easier.  Hope that someday they will beat this disease and find a way back to their loved ones.  Hope that the God who created the universe has not forgotten them.  Hope that they are seen.  They are known. They are loved. 

Luke and I happened to walk back by the previously completely naked woman on a different nearby street later in the morning.  Someone had purchased her a brand new t-shirt and she had fashioned something like a raincoat for pants.  She was no longer aggressive.  In fact, she had a slight smile on her face. I don’t know her name or her story or what will happen to her down the road.  She might even be dead already.  But for one morning, she was reminded that there is a God who created us all and told us to take care of each other.  She was given a small gift of love and of hope.  And I hope that was enough to keep her hanging on and fighting for freedom a little longer. 

I don’t have the answers for solving these bigger-than-us problems.  I guess we could debate politics and public policy and homeless shelters and mental health treatment and all the other brokenness in the world for days and weeks and months on end.  But I do have the sneaking suspicion that if we all just loved the people in our communities (not our comfy neighborhoods) a little better, if each one of us tried a little harder to judge less and just offer a sandwich or a pair of shoes without holes or a clean shirt when we see someone without one, if we met people right where they are, we would start to see a shift.  Those tiny drops of home and love might just create a life changing ripple effect. 

Jesus loves you, and so do I.

Dr. Allison Key