Christmas 2020

Imagine waking up Christmas morning outside in the cold. There’s no tree. No lights. No decorations. There’s not even a pillow for your head. This was the reality of over 7,000 men and women in the state of Tennessee alone. We, The HoldToHope Family, have been blessed; we have never had to know what that was like. We have always had a roof over our heads, a nice warm bed to sleep in, and a comfy pillow under our heads.

Often times, we have been blessed more than we realize. Christmas morning, we wake up, go downstairs, read the Christmas story, eat some local beef and heavy cake (Caymanian Tradition), open our presents, and enjoy our day just lounging around. It’s so easy to forget that there are 1,000s of people in our state alone that are hungry and cold at Christmas time. So, we decided to change tradition just a bit in Christmas 2020.

We still enjoyed our local beef and heavy cake. We still enjoyed our presents, but this year instead of staying home all day, we went out looking for the homeless to feed. This Christmas, we cooked 12 dinners for the homeless and gave out 12 Christmas presents. We filled the presents with an emergency thermal blanket, hand warmers, deodorant, hand sanitizer, lotion, and other little necessities that we often take for granted. We also placed a warm jacket in the bags for those whom we saw every Sunday and knew their sizes, as well as an apple, an orange, and a few candies and basic groceries to hopefully brighten their day.

One of the men that we made plans to meet on Christmas Day never showed. We went back and checked three or four times, and then we decided to go look for him. After a little while of looking, we couldn’t find him and didn’t want the food to get cold, so we went to deliver the food to the other homeless men and women that we made plans with. On our way to feeding them, we passed a guy that I knew looked familiar, and as he saw us, he stopped and turned around and started walking towards us, so my Dad pulled over.

It was one of our regular homeless men that we feed every Sunday. He was on his way to the store, but when he saw my mom in the car, keep in mind we just traded in our old car, and he hadn’t seen the new car we were in, he turned around and started walking back towards his camp because he knew we were coming. He didn’t know what kind of car we were driving, he didn’t know what time we were coming, but he kept an eye out for us.

There are three kinds of people in the world: The one that never shows up, the one that keeps his eye out for when Jesus is coming back, and the one that gets distracted but still keeps his heart open for help. Even though he was on his way to the store (and keep in mind he was almost there), he stopped and quickly turned around because he knew that we were coming to see him. Jesus is coming back soon. We don’t know when, but He promised that there would be signs so that we wouldn’t be caught completely unaware.

We had made plans with another guy. He said he really wanted a Christmas Dinner. He even told us where to find him. Christmas Day came, we went to where he said he would be, and he wasn’t there. We called out to him. We went back several times throughout the day, and he never showed. He’ll never know that he missed out on a great Christmas dinner and a Christmas present with his name on it.

We later found the guy we had made plans with. He was on the other side of town, holding up a sign that he was homeless and hungry. When we saw him, he made excuses on why he wasn’t there, but he was grateful when he saw the food. All he could say was, ‘Thank you! I can’t believe you found me!’ When he saw the present, he was ecstatic. When we gave it to him, and he saw that his name was on it, he got a little emotional. He didn’t realize that we cared that much about him. Even though we’re not always where we need to be, God still comes looking for us. He comes looking for His children because He loves us. He knows we’re hungry and cold, so He comes to bring us food and clothing, but His food and His clothing last forever.

Before 2020 ends and 2021 begins, figure out which of the three types of persons you are and which type of person you want to be because Jesus is coming back soon. When He returns, will you be ready? Or will you be lost?

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It’s amazing the little things we take for granted as we live our everyday lives. For instance, we met a woman today who was reminiscing with a friend about Old Christmas movies. You could see in her eyes that she really missed being able to simply come home from a long day and relax in the safety of her home while watching a good old fashioned heart-warming Christmas movie. Though her eyes seemed sad, she never stopped smiling and laughing, even as she confessed, she hasn’t watched TV in 2 years. Now some could say, “Well, that’s good. I don’t watch TV myself either.” But the bottom line is, it wasn’t about not being able to watch TV in 2 years. It was the fact that she’s been on the streets for the past two years.

Sure, some people are on the streets simply because they made bad decision after bad decision, but why did they make those bad decisions? A lot of the time, they weren’t raised in a home with a good family that could pick them back up each time they messed up. Sometimes we judge people harsher than we judge ourselves simply because it’s easier to hold them to a higher standard than it is to hold ourselves. This lady wasn’t complaining about not being able to watch TV; she was thinking about how long it had been since she slept in a bed that she could call her own, relax on the couch, not have to worry about when her next meal would be. She was remembering all of the things she has missed out on while being on the streets for the past two years. She was sad about where she was in her life right now.

The friend she was with was a guy that we see every Sunday on our rounds. He’s the same friendly guy from last week that told us he kept the brown paper bag simply because it said ‘God Loves You!’ on it. When we asked if he remembered us, he not only remembered us but with a smile on his face as he got up to meet us, he said, “You guys have the best Sack Lunch. I’ve had a lot of Sack Lunches from a lot of different places, Nashville, all over. But you guys have the best. Everything is the best. The meats. Everything. You know just how to make it.” We feed a lot of people, but this man, in particular, is always thankful. It’s as if he wants us to know that he doesn’t just take it lightly that we’re feeding him; it means something to him.

After them, we immediately met a new woman right across the street. When we first asked her if she wanted a sack lunch, she hesitated; it was almost like she was thinking to herself, “Do I really need it?” Then she answered, “Yes, thank you.” As I handed it to her, she said, “Thank you all for caring.” She then wanted to know what church we went to, so we told her that this is our ministry, and we handed her a business card. She looked at it and smiled and repeated, “Thank you all for caring.” As we were about to drive away, she stood up and asked a question that left us all speechless, “Can I make a donation?” Reaching into her pocket, she continued, “Can I make a dollar donation?” This woman has nothing. She’s living on the streets. She’s cold. She’s hungry, and yet she wanted to donate what little she had so that we could help others. This woman was a modern-day version of the woman and the mite. She was ready to give all she had so that down the road, someone else in need could get a free sack lunch just like she did.

They’re not many strangers that I want to grow up to be like, especially those who are on the streets, but this woman, in particular, I want to grow up to be like her. I want to love people and give what I can to help others in the good and in the bad. When I have plenty and when I have little. Jesus said that the love of many would grow cold, and we can see the beginning of that prophecy right here in our day and age. In 2020 we saw people fighting over toilet paper they didn’t need. We’ve seen people fighting in the streets simply because they don’t like what the other person believes. People are starving while we spend thousands of dollars on ice cream alone. When did the love in our hearts grow cold? When did we stop caring about our fellow man?

This Christmas Season, I propose a challenge to you all in honor of the woman we met today. Do something for someone else. Whether it’s offering your skills in your local community, volunteering your time at a local soup kitchen or boys and girls club, donating food to a local food pantry, or simply baking Christmas cookies for your neighbors. Don’t let this Christmas pass you by before you can pay forward all of the blessings God has rained down upon you throughout the years.

Please let us know in the comments section below how you chose to partake in the Beverly Challenge.

Merry Christmas! May God Bless you and keep you all!

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Thanksgiving 2020

This Thanksgiving, 2020, was the beginning of hopefully a very, very long tradition for The HoldToHope Family. 2020 has been filled with heartache, fear, disappointment, panic, and every other negative emotion you can think of. Many lost their jobs; many became homeless because of the pandemic. This Thanksgiving, we were blessed enough to be able to serve 12 plates of Thanksgiving Day dinners to 12 homeless men and women.

During the holidays it’s easy to become caught up with our own families and our own problems, that we forget that there are others who need help. To be honest, we, the Yates Family, have been guilty of that ourselves, but this Thanksgiving, we were determined to help others. Thanksgiving is about family and being thankful; we believe God placed it on our hearts to share all the blessings God has poured out on us this year.

To be honest, the day started out a little disappointing. We had made plans with several homeless people to meet us at a specific spot to receive a Thanksgiving Meal. We got there, none showed. To say the least, we were a little disappointed, but we didn’t let that get us too down. We decided that if they wouldn’t come to us, we would go to them. So, we went on a search to find them. Within a few minutes, we found one of the homeless men who were supposed to meet us but didn’t. He had forgotten and honestly, didn’t even really remember us, but nevertheless, when we gave him the plate of food, he was grateful. But we still had 11 more meals to hand out. So, we got back in our car and went searching for more people.

Not more than 5 minutes later, we saw another homeless man we were supposed to meet, who said he had 20 to 30 people he was bringing. When we spoke to him, he blamed others and said that he can’t babysit them. In the moment, I have to admit, I was vexed. I mean, we just spent all day cooking for them, and they couldn’t even bother to show up. Then they’re gonna have an attitude and blame other people. I couldn’t sympathize or empathize until I started writing this. Even though this man was homeless, didn’t know when his next meal was, he still didn’t have the desire to meet us to get his free plate of Thanksgiving Dinner, nor was he grateful that we took the time to do so. I didn’t realize that I was him. This is how we are with God, except we’re a lot more ungrateful. God got off of His throne to take our place, and all we have to do is say we’re sorry and accept His free gift of Salvation.

See, we’re the homeless man in the story. We’re hungry, dirty, we have no place to live, no idea when our next meal will be, and God is promising more than just a hot Thanksgiving Day dinner. God is promising to take us home with Him, wash us clean, give us a new life, and make sure we are never hungry or thirsty again, yet we can’t even pray 5 minutes a day. We can’t even go to Church. We can’t even meet Him to accept the free gift of Salvation paid in full, even though He’s out there chasing us down, and we’re blaming others and refusing to take responsibility for our own actions. Even though we refuse to accept Him, He still leaves the 99 to find the 1. We’re the 1.

Some of us are like that homeless man who didn’t have the desire to have more, but others are like the next man we saw—a man who recently lost his job due to COVID-19 and was now living on the streets. We told him we would meet him at a certain area, at a certain time with a dinner, and you know what, he was there. When my Dad saw him, he called out to him by name with excitement. The man was stunned and just looked at him, saying nothing. At first, my Dad thought he had offended him, then the man spoke, ‘you remember my name?’

‘Ya, of course, buddy. We got some food for you here.’ My Dad responded.

He didn’t speak because he was so shocked that someone had remembered, not just to bring him food, but his name. When we gave him the food, he stopped talking and got very serious. He quickly said goodbye and walked away. He didn’t turn back around until we started to drive off. When I watched him, I realized why he reacted like that. This man had lost his mom 2 years ago and had stopped celebrating the holidays because of the pain. He had become homeless in April, and people started treating him like he was nothing. My Dad, a man who only met him once, had not only remembered to bring him by a homemade Thanksgiving Day meal, but he had remembered his name. He turned away, not because he wasn’t thankful, but because he was so overwhelmed with thankfulness that he started to cry. He was a grown man and didn’t want anyone to see him cry.

When I turned around, as we were driving away, I could see the emotion overwhelm him as he sat and started to unwrap his plate of food. Very few of us are like this man. When God comes to us, He doesn’t just come to feed us, unknowing who we are. God comes knowing our names, problems, fears, burdens, sins, and even the number of hairs on our head. We’re not insignificant to God. To God, we’re not just another homeless person on the street; we are the very workmanship of His hands. He formed us in our mother’s womb, knows the number of every hair on our heads, and when we run away, He chases us down to give us eternal life with Him.

Some of us react like this homeless man. We’re so overwhelmed by how much God loves us that we melt as He gives us food. We make sure we’re on time, ready for Him when He stops by. He wasn’t the only homeless person that was thankful. One woman told us, ‘thank you so much! I love you guys! You’re like family!’ When we left, she was sitting down, with tears in her eyes, opening her plate of food.

Another man had fallen asleep in the grass next to a parking lot. When we went to check on him, our heart stopped; we weren’t sure if he was alive or not. He wasn’t responding at first. When he finally responded, we were relieved. When we gave him a plate of food, all he could say was, ‘Thank you for thinking of me.’ This man had fallen asleep right around the corner from Journey Home, who were also giving out free Thanksgiving Dinners, but for some reason, he didn’t walk over to get a dinner. We’re like that sometimes. God’s right there waiting for us with our free gift of Salvation, and we don’t show up. When we don’t show, He comes searching for us. He goes out looking for His lost sheep; no matter how far we’ve strayed and no matter what mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, God still comes to find us so that we won’t go hungry.

Thanksgiving has come and gone in the blink of an eye, but that isn’t the only time we can think of others. 2020 isn’t over yet, but you don’t have to cook 12 meals and go searching for homeless people to pay it forward. All you have to do is something kind for another person. Remember all the ways you have been blessed this year, and focus on that. It was found in several studies that those who practice gratitude and thankfulness actually saw physical health benefits:

    • They are happier
    • They exercise more
    • They sleep better
    • They have stronger immune systems

When God blesses you, bless others, and God will bless you even more.

Cast your bread upon the waters,
For you will find it after many days.

Ecclesiastes 11:1

In other words, you will receive what you put into life. When God blesses you, and you bless others, He will bless you even more. You don’t have to give away everything, but don’t forget others who are in need. God Bless you and your family. And Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Background Story

This was the ministry that actually brought HoldToHope alive. It all started on January 11th, 2018. We went for a walk on the trail one day, and we saw a young man across the river living a tent. So like any normal person, we called out to him, and he came across to us. Listening to his story brought us back to reality. We didn’t really know what we were doing, nor did we know what we about to start. When we think about helping the homeless, we think about handing out blankets, giving them a dollar, but what we don’t really think about is talking to them.

That young man we met that day opened our eyes to how cold we have become as a people. “People don’t even look at you.” He said, “They’ll see a dog and run up and greet it. Talk to it, but they’ll turn their head when they see us. We’re not even dogs.” How heartbreaking is that? That we as a community could have turned our back on our own. We tend to look at the homeless with disgust because ‘they’re dirty’ or ‘they brought it upon themselves’ or ‘they’ll just spend that money on drugs and alcohol.’ But those are just excuses to ease our own conscience so we can continue to live our lives as if they don’t exist.

As we continued our journey with the homeless, we met a small tent community of people that grew to be friends. They also continued to open our eyes. When we think of giving money to the homeless, as we said earlier, we often think that they’ll just spend it on drugs or alcohol. One of the men who spent hours out in the sun flying his sign took the money they had all made and bought food for the whole tent community. Another time he spent that money on a motel room, so they could all take a shower.

We often judge someone before we even know them. We go based on what we’ve heard or what they look like, instead of trusting God and giving them hope. Sure some will take your money and buy drugs and/or alcohol, but not all will, and it’s not our job to police them on what they do. Our job isn’t to tell them what they can and can’t do with the money we give them, it’s our job to give and then pray that they do the right thing.

We all have made mistakes, some were very big ones, but we had someone there for us. Either physically (picking us up, so we didn’t lose everything) or spiritually (praying for us so that we didn’t lose everything), but not everyone has that. Not everyone was blessed with that opportunity. Some seemed to be born into a hopeless situation and left to fail. But how can we help them if we turn our heads and pretend that they don’t exist?

Jesus tells a story of a Master who sent out guest invitations, but all declined for foolish reasons. This was His response, Luke 14:21-23, 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” God doesn’t discriminate against those who are poor, crippled, dirty, drug-addicts, alcoholics, or any other person who we have deemed as less than. Jesus came for all of mankind, not just a few. Not just those whom the world deems worth. He came for all people.

So we take time out of our week to go into the highways and hedges that we may feed them and give them hope so that they may know the goodness of our Heavenly Father who loves them and wants more for them. It’s amazing what a simple sandwich, some chips, a drink, and a little note will do for someone.

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