A Hug That Changed My Life

Written by on December 13, 2011 in God's Love, Jesus, Missions, Pain, Purpose, Redemption, Stories - 2 Comments

Candice asked for (and received!) a new heart from God to show Christ’s love to the “unlovable” in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Read on to see how faith and action truly are marks of the Christian life. 

Someone recently told me that human beings require 12 hugs a day for growth and emotional health.  That’s one hug every two hours. Or 1.5 hugs every waking hour.

I was taught to hug at a youth camp the summer in between my junior and senior year in high school.  Does that sound odd? Maybe.  Not that I didn’t know what a hug looked like or how to hug someone, but to hug someone after being apart or to hug someone as an expression of affection just never came naturally to me.  After five days of youth camp with new friends from Memphis, I learned to give hugs and to receive hugs, from the inside out.  These new friends did not sit down and walk me through step by step how to hug; they just lived it, a huggable life.  You see, hugs convey love, acceptance, forgiveness, and community.  I heard and witnessed my new friends laughing together, calling each other out, and challenging one another, all with a spirit of patience, encouragement, and respect.  In short, the life they lived was contagious.  I wanted to be near them; I wanted to be like them; I wanted a huggable life.

Since youth camp that summer, I have embraced the physical act of hugging to show affection.  I love to hug my baby sister.  I love to hug my cute Po Po (grandmother).  I love to hug my bestie.  I love to hug my WitnessSF Family.  I love to be hugged by my mom.  I love to be hugged by my Memphis friends.  I’m not talking about those awkward side hugs here… I mean, deep, from the inside out.

To love, to accept, and to forgive someone who also loves, accepts, and forgives me is easy.  To hug someone who already loves me is easy.  To receive a hug from a stranger can be uncomfortable, quite daunting even, but it can be so powerful at the same time.

WitnessSF successfully posted about 50 stories this year, and I have read 95% of them.  Some of these stories resonated greatly with my soul while others left no impression. One particular story forever changed my life, my heart, and my love for this city…  Before my story, there was Jason’s story, A Day in the Park.

Here is a story about how hugging a stranger changed my life.

Have you ever prayed for God to show up?  Or prayed for a miracle?  Maybe physical healing for a family member?  Back in January 2008, as part of a new years resolution, I asked God for “compassion”.  Yes, compassion.  Odd?  Again, maybe.  I have friends who cry during animal shelter commercials and other friends who volunteer with the disabled and elderly.  Still other friends mentored children in big sister/big brother programs.

None of that tugged at my heart. I felt like I had no compassion, so I asked for it.

That year I gave my heart to a boy, who I knew I would never marry.  I ended that summer with buckets of tears and a shattered heart.  Trudging through the heartache allowed God to enter into the deep crevices of my heart that were once nonexistent.  I wondered if this heartache was  a glimpse of how God’s heart broke each time I chose ministry over God Himself… each time I chose the glittery distractions of the world instead of being still.  Through the journey of healing, God did not treat my heart like I was Humpty Dumpty, gluing it back together again.  Instead, God gave me a brand new heart, one with compassion and ready to love again.

Looking back now, I see the bigger picture of God’s perfect timing and God’s perfect plan.  God had given me a brand new heart with compassion a few years ago, and ever since then, he has been priming me by giving me opportunities to love on my broken-hearted friends.  A week after Jason posted his story about Boeddeker Park, I found myself in that very park in the middle of the Tenderloin.  The only reason I was there was because his story tugged at my heart and I wanted to see for myself what he had seen, what had changed his heart.  Week after week, I returned to Boeddeker Park.  At the time, I didn’t know what I was waiting to see, or if I was hoping to give something of myself.  And now, I know God was showing me the compassion he had placed in my new heart fit perfectly with the brokenness, the addiction, the pain, the isolation, and the regret found in the Tenderloin Neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, a thirty year old, skinny, unbathed, African American homeless man approached me for food as I was walking back from Boeddeker Park to my workplace on Van Ness. I ordered him some wings, and as we waited, I asked him, “What is going on with you?”  He gently pulled me outside the restaurant, avoiding the ears of others, and with shame and hesitation told me he hailed from Marin County and had been battling depression.  He had written a short note to his family a few months ago, basically telling them to peace out.  By the end of our chat, he had asked me for a backpack, some clothes for an interview, and an FM radio, as music is his passion.  I told him I would do my best but I could not make any promises.  I asked him to meet me in front of the AMC 1000 Van Ness theatre the next day at 2:15pm.  He said he would be there waiting for me.

The next day, as I walked over to the theatre, I earnestly asked the Lord to show me beauty in the Tenderloin.  I wanted to see what Jesus sees in the broken, in the dirty, in the addicts, in the homeless.  I wanted to see what Jesus sees in me.

At this point, I already had asked God some honest questions:

How can someone have so much passion and conviction in a moment and yet, have no change or transformation?

How could the addict shout out the name of Jesus with such conviction and yet return to addiction?  

How could the alcoholic raise his arms for deliverance with such assurance week after week and still be enslaved to the bottle night after night?  

How could the disheveled and toothless person with dilated pupils claim to be a follower of Jesus and yet remain unchanged?  

Isn’t there power in the name of Jesus?

I already had told God: I don’t get it. I don’t understand.

Two months ago, through a 40 day fast, God answered my questions by showing me that I am also an addict.  He reminded me that I am no better than the homeless or the addict. He revealed to me how my addictions are nicely hidden.  Perhaps my addictions are accepted by society.  Perhaps my addictions remain within, hidden from the passerby.  Perhaps I have become so good at covering up my addictions that I now am numb to them.  God dug deep into my heart, uprooting ugliness and sin dirtier than the unshowered homeless man.

I waited for 30 minutes in front of the theatre, but there was no sign of the man who had asked me for an FM radio.  “Where could he be?  He told me he was a man of his word and would be waiting for me.  I hope nothing happened to him.”  I walked down the block to the corner we had met the day before.  Not knowing what else I could do, I prayed for his safety and his struggle with depression, for God to begin healing in the broken relationship with his family.  As I crossed the street to go back to my clinic, I turned back one last time toward the theatre, and there he was, the man who asked me for an FM radio.  Shouting his name, I quickly rushed in his direction and showed him the goodies within the backpack.  I will never forget the grin on his face when we met for the second and last time.  Before he could rush off, hoping to find a few more dollars to go watch the 3pm showing of the latest Twilight movie, I reached forward to give him a hug.

He took a step back, away from me.  That’s right, he backed away from me, not the other way around.  I stood there for a split second confused… why would he not receive my hug?   If anything, I should be the one backing away.  I am the one with something to give… or so I thought.   He kept his distance and with a timid voice spat out the words, “It’s just that… I haven’t showered.”  Wow!  Reality check.  Even in his quiet voice, I caught a glimpse of hope and dignity, which propelled me forward again to embrace him all the more.  This time the hug conveyed mutual love, forgiveness, and acceptance… a glimpse of beauty in the Tenderloin.

Most people do not choose to live in the Tenderloin.  And those who end up there are still people, like you and me.  They require 12 hugs a day for growth and emotional health.  They have a story to tell too.  Society may consider the addict, the homeless, and the poor an outsider, but they may just be waiting for a simple gesture of love, of acceptance, and of forgiveness.

Don’t forget, before my story, there was the story that changed my life, my heart, and my love for this city… Jason’s story, A Day in the Park.  Before Jason’s story, there was Liz’s story.  Alone, I am one single square, limited to my narrow view of God, people, and the world. My story is knit delicately with Jason’s square and with Liz’s square.  Together, our squares create a quilt, weaved together by the story of Christ, united to bring warmth to the Tenderloin.  There is most definitely power in the name of Jesus.  Perhaps to become like Christ and imitators of God would be to live a huggable life, to love in action and in truth and not by mere words and tongue.  To act and to love in Jesus’ name for people that matter, because each person matters to God.  If we respond to His great love with action, God is revealed in our love.

“Love came down and rescued me. Love came down and set me free.”

Come hear more about Candice’s story and others who are loving the Tenderloin district through Christ’s love at the 2nd Annual “Light Up the City” holiday benefit concert, featuring holiday music by Future of Forestry. This Wednesday evening, 12/14/11 at the Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason (San Francisco). All proceeds will go to families and residents of the Tenderloin. More info at:www.facebook.com/LightUpTheCity 

About the Author

Jeannie is a lover of Jesus, writing, and San Francisco. She is passionate about helping people be curious about their lives, surroundings and purpose, and then helping them write about it! You can follow her blog "Ephemera for Eternity" at http://etudie.tumblr.com.