Ashlee Eiland knows how life can be loud. Headlines, political divisiveness, racial injustice and 400 years of oppression – all loud. And the protestors aren’t the only ones crying out. The soil of our humanity, the foundations upon which we’ve deemed sufficient to support our stories and collective existence – it’s cracking. And that crack is earth-shatteringly loud. As a mom of three, as a pastor, as a neighbor, wife and friend – she wants her life to be about something that matters and will help heal us. But nowadays, she’s also pondering the role of silence. When is silence wisdom – and when is it complicity? When does silence serve her – and when does it show up to shoulder the burdens of her brother or sister? She’s still learning much about her voice, its power and its weight, but she’s also leaning into the gift of silence. Her hope for us is that we’re led in the best of both. That our loudness transforms and unifies; that our silence teaches and elevates another. May silence continue to teach and lead us into deeper soil: the soil of our own hearts and the places those hearts love loudly. It’s a grace to welcome Ashlee to the farm’s front porch today…
“How are you today, sir?” He looked up.
“Sir, I know it’s cold – and we just handed out the last of the meals we had. Can I walk you over to McDonald’s and get you something to eat? Your pick.”
He nodded once, then pushed himself off the wall, his wrinkled hands revealing traces of dirt underneath his fingernails and scabs that told stories of wounds that may have been more than physical in nature.
We walked silently, side by side, until we reached the shiny metal door of the McDonald’s off Alameda Street. As we shuffled inside, I saw two of my friends across the street, concern spread large and wide across their expressions, like Downton graffiti.
I offered a quick wave as if to say, It’s McDonald’s. I’m not going to die. And we disappeared underneath the golden arches, out of the cold and into the aroma of oiled and crispy French fries.
Second in line, I motioned to the board. “Pick anything you want.”
Still, he said nothing. He gazed longingly at the backlit board, his squinted eyes bright with possibility. They darted from one menu item to the next, ping-ponging from the nuggets to the Filet-O-Fish, back to the nuggets, and then to the flurries.
Finally, we inched forward, meeting our cashier face to face. Without looking at her, he said, “A Big Mac, please.”
She paused, waiting for another item. But nothing.
“Will that be all?” She asked, looking at him, eyebrows raised in anticipation.
“Make that two,” I interjected. “Two Big Macs, please. And a large fry.” I didn’t want fries. But perhaps he did. I’d let him decide.
We waited at the side for our food and then found a two-top table in the middle of the restaurant, the perfect spot for curious eyes to inspect and dissect the situation.
I had to admit we were an unusual pair.
There I was, a black girl in her early twenties, bundled up from head to toe, and a homeless man.
I watched him eat his burger as I tried to position my nose where I wouldn’t smell the stench that started wafting from his outerwear. His mouth was rimmed with foamy spit that spread open with each bite. I thought he would eat quickly – four bites, tops. But he didn’t. He ate slowly, deliberately, with utmost care and savoring.
I watched him, eating hardly any of my meal at all, but fully aware that I’d need to either eat it or wrap it up and take it home. Throwing any food away seemed like a really insensitive thing to do.
As he took his second-to-last bite, the man slowed his chewing even further and shifted his gaze from the ceiling to me.
Without words, he cracked a smile and then looked down at his burger.
I was growing uncomfortable – not with him, I realized, but with the silence.
I wanted to know his name, his story.
I wanted to know how long he’d been homeless – how long it’d been since his last meal.
I wanted to know if he wanted any more to eat, if there was any other way I could help him.
Then, amid the buzz of kids laughing and playing in the PlayPlace, amid beeps from the deep fryer back in the kitchen and the soft rock tunes coming from the circular overhead speakers, I stopped.
Even with noise surrounding us, I heard a voice speak loudly to my heart: Stay silent. You don’t need to know those things. Just look at him. Just hold the space. Receive the gift of being able to hold the space.
My throat tightened as I tried to hold back tears. They came all at once, without warning. I was mourning his circumstances. I was struck by my own pride – my need to know everything that wasn’t mine to know at all.
I was suddenly grateful for the gift of being able to provide without pomp and circumstance, with just two plastic bags and a van full of college kids.
But most of all, those tears made me realize that I was being served.
I was the one on the receiving end of the nourishment of silence.
I wasn’t living in the cold, but I was desperate to receive the warmth of human connection.
I wasn’t hungry, but I was starving for space, for the comfort in knowing that no words are needed to experience the fullness of being wholly alive.
I’d assumed I was the one doing the serving that day.
But in that moment, at that table, in the silence, I was overjoyed to know that a man with nothing was giving me everything he had. He was giving me the gift of his presence.
That meal was worth more than the four dollars I paid for it. Sitting across from this unnamed, unknown man, “unusual” became ordinary.
“Stranger” became safe. “Homeless” became hospitable.
And I left that table with empty plastic bags but a full heart, bursting with so much hope.
Ashlee Eiland serves as the formation and preaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church. She shares God’s message of redemption and reconciliation at conferences, colleges, and events around the country. Ashlee earned a BA in international relations from the University of Southern California and completed her master’s in organizational leadership at Judson University.
Long before polls, protests, and political issues divided us, we were joined by a humanness that God considered very good. Created in His image, we reflected the height and depth of God’s loving-kindness, but our discord has blinded us to the imago Dei in us all.
In this compelling collection of essays, Ashlee Eiland shares her story of being a black woman living on two sides of the fence: as the token black girl in majority-white spaces and as the “whitewashed” black girl in majority-black spaces. As she discovers her own unique worth through these recollections, Ashlee learns that extending radical kindness toward every person—regardless of social status, political views, or religious beliefs—gives us hope and rekindles our common humanity.
With grace and humility, Human(Kind) invites us to chart our own formative journeys and recognize our inherent value, cultivating empathy so we may once again see the image of God shining brightly within one another.