Notes from Jan

To Be Seen

December 21, 2023

“Tis the season to remember when God came as Jesus to a Bethlehem barn. But also that God still comes. Emmanuel. God with us. Recently, I told my son-in-love, Matt, about an encounter with a homeless man, who spoke four words that still speak to me. “Thanks for seeing me.” It wasn’t a big risk to stop and look into the eyes of the blanketed beggar. Eyes hidden until he heard one simple word from me, “Hello.”

And at that word, he lifted his head and we saw each other. Sacred seconds. Later I thought, how much do I miss by risking too little? It’s so easy to drop leftover change into a bucket or cup as I scoot by. Or, as I’ve done, skirt around to avoid catching a whiff or worse. Too often, the ping of a phone captures our attention, more than a person. Or pharisaical prayers cross my mind as I pass, “Thank God, that’s not me.”

To see another or be truly seen takes courage. And so we avoid eye contact. Why? Perhaps like Shakespeare said, “The eyes are the window to your soul.” Focused attention reminds us we’re seeing the face of one God loves dearly. And they’re looking at one to whom God entrusted a mandate “To love.” Even our enemies.

Well, it’s the season to ponder the Christmas story, to wonder how so many missed Christ’s first coming? What were they looking for? Even more important, what are we looking for and missing because our heads are down? Or because our ears are tuned to pings more than the pain of others or our own?

Sometimes I picture Jesus slumped on a sidewalk, wrapped in rags, not regal garb. Hands outstretched but not for leftover change. He’s reaching for us, giving us leftover chances to be truly seen, forgiven and deeply loved. And perhaps this Christmas, we’ll do likewise. Risk reaching, forgiving, loving as one beloved beggar to another. For Christ’s sake, theirs and ours.

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  • Reply Gordon Candy December 21, 2023 at 11:52 am

    Amen and amen – as Jamie Winship says – Kingdom Living versus Empire Living!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 21, 2023 at 2:55 pm

      Never heard that one, dear Candy. So thanks for reading and responding, especially when time has to many tugs and demands during this season when we sing “all is calm” but isn’t even close. Sending hugs to you from California. And may you continue to dispense JOY and welcome as you brighten the corner where you serve each Sunday at Grace Chapel.

  • Reply Dale December 21, 2023 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks Jan. The homeless are tough for me as I wonder why there are some many and who has syndicated them at
    Thanks Jan. These people make me feel guilty if I don’t give and foolish if I do. No eye contact used to work but there simply are too many occasions for this to be a helpful or satisfying solution. I thought about giving up driving or telling them I gave at church, but these don’t seem acceptable either. Perhaps a few honest and genuine smiles and a few dollars would help us both. Love, brother Dale

    Thanks Jan.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 22, 2023 at 12:29 pm

      Homelessness is a massive problem, my dear brother. And guilty giving is better than avoidance, I tell myself.As the gap widens between the rich and poor in our country, the problem grows. Several years ago, I read about Mother Teresa’s visit to our country. She saw problems like homelessness, poverty, acute lonliness, our wealth and concluded that we have plenty of resources but not enough love. And so we who love and follow Jesus, do what we can, when or however we can. And when given opportunity through our churches, organizations or the voting booth, we make choices to love through giving time, money, goods or our the ballot to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” And knowing you and Marty, you’ve done all of the above for a lot of years. Tusen Takk. ( a thousand thanks!)

  • Reply Rita Smith Dove December 21, 2023 at 9:23 pm


    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 22, 2023 at 12:33 pm

      God Jul, dear Rita! Love when your name shows up. It keeps us connected heart to heart and thought to thought. Thank you for all your years of faithful service at Gordon. You are a blessing where you’re planted now, I’m sure. But, life without James is tough, like life without Jud. But I know they’re praying for us and cheering us on from heaven’s porch. JOY to and through you to those you encounter.during this season of Advent and in the New Year.

  • Reply Ruth Gibson December 22, 2023 at 12:44 pm

    Jan, Good to be back in touch with you. I just finished reading for the second time, A Nail in a Sure place. by your Mom. I love that book. Last time we were in touch was at that Covenant Conference in Colorado. Merry Christmas, from Ruth Flesvig Gibson (Wheaton, Class of 1959)

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 23, 2023 at 8:29 pm

      Thank you, dear Ruth, for connecting again. I remember you well and am grateful,as I was in 1958, that you were such a welcoming “Mom” to my freshman class at Wheaton. Blessings on you for helping one scared freshman from North Carolina feel seen.
      God Jul.

  • Reply Jeri December 23, 2023 at 9:51 am

    Living in the metro DC area for 10 years, many road intersections held homeless souls with a cardboard sign asking for help. There were the regulars who I would encounter at the red lights, where they would stand inches from my window. My brother who lived there for decades before we moved there would pronounce them as “professionals” on the make. But I could not look past their situation and dismiss them. Many days, I would have a granola bar in my console and a couple of dollars wrapped around it. I would roll my window down on those times when the light cycle changed red, say hello, offer my name and ask theirs, which for me was important. That would start a very brief (depending on the timing of the red light), but friendly exchange. There was a young woman, Angie, who I would see multiple times who would ask after my cat (she saw the carrier in the car one day on our way to the vet). I later saw her pregnant and a few months later, not pregnant. Another intersection regularly saw a homeless vet named Frank who was hurting deeply. I would pray for them silently as I started off on my journey. They are all souls in need and I would say it caused me to reflect on how privileged I am and we are in this society to have homes, safety, transportation, food. I am certain mental illness plays a role as would substance abuse. But it is not an easy conclusion and who am I to judge, not knowing these folks in any sense at all that brought them to this place? Thank you for spotlighting this issue Jan. It does bring back memories of my Economics of Poverty class lectures with John Mason They are some of the most vulnerable of citizens of our country. The holidays and economic climate make it even more difficult for those in need and makes me mindful of those who lack.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 23, 2023 at 8:37 pm

      Thank you, very dear and wise Jeri, for doing what you could then and what you do still through your caring heart. It is complicated and I’ve heard some say,”Well, they’ll just use the $ on alcohol or drugs.” Perhaps, even lilkely for some. But they are responsible for what they do with the money and I’m responsible for sharing what’s been entrusted to me. Mostly I prefer to donate through local missions or the Salvation Army but the needs are so great and sometimes, as you wrote, so in my face, like yours. Lord, have mercy on them and on us.
      God Jul to you, Ron, your family and the John Masons who try to educated us to the poor and our part.

  • Reply Jeri December 24, 2023 at 7:49 am

    Yes, contributing to these important organizations is key in getting help directly to those who need it. I still contribute to central union mission, based in Washington DC. The just retired former CEO, David Treadwell, is a Wheaton alum! They are a very well run organization. But for those who are directly in front of us, my point was to see them, and to acknowledge their presence in our daily lives, and to even ask their name as you look into their eyes. They are not invisible.

    Merry Christmas, Jan! Thank you again for your beautiful and wise and heartfelt words. You are such a blessing to so many!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 24, 2023 at 3:00 pm

      I agree with you, dear Jeri. Avoidance is not the answer. And how they must love your granola bar with some money wrapped around them. So thoughtful, kind and nourishing to more than body. Love one another is tough stuff. LIke old age, it’s not for sissies.

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