For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in.
MATTHEW 25:35 (NIV)
By this time, we had sat down for months to eat dinner every evening with the homeless.
Unlike some of our friends at the table, we knew the day would come when we would no longer need help. But, joining our friends for a meal had become a heart-warming part of our lives. We looked forward to fellowshipping.
People are people…it does not matter where they lay their heads down at night. The homeless are human beings. They have feelings and possess a deep human need for a listening and non-biased ear.
Among the homeless, as it is in our typical society today, there are “bad” and “good” people, of course. People take advantage of others. People frequently bend the truth to get their point across, or when they seek help. We all must use our best judgment in life, protect ourselves, in every circumstance, no matter where we are. We must rule our actions with our brains, not by our feelings or emotions from our hearts.
Before I go on with this story, I also want to describe the various levels of homelessness that I witnessed (including our own factors).
We lived in a trailer with a family member in Florida because we had nowhere to go. The family member was abusive. We had no income. We “survived” in his home for a season. When the medical team arrived at one of the soup kitchens and offered free wellness-care, I replied, “We aren’t homeless. We cannot apply for this service.” They questioned our circumstances and quickly set me straight. We were homeless. (My husband eventually got a new position with a company that allowed him a service truck to drive home each evening. We were then free from the monster that we had lived with. Yet, we moved on with a surprising hole in our hearts and a renewed understanding of those in need that we couldn’t have dreamt of had we not experienced it ourselves.)
A handful of the homeless that we got to know lived in their vehicles and held down jobs. These people took advantage of frequent bathing wherever it was available (local gym, YMCA, etc.). They often walked into the soup kitchen straight from work, still in business attire, and left with full bellies to ride out their situation in a vehicle throughout the night. One particular lady had Anchorage, Alaska license plates on her pick up truck. I cannot remember how she came to live in Florida, but, she was well on her way to getting her feet back on the ground despite the ugly circumstances that she had left behind in the far-northern state.
Many of the homeless in the area slept in tent camps in the woods, or under bridges. Many of these people no longer saw life in a goal-filled way (as we typically see it). In other words, they adjusted to living homeless…their tents were home. Tent cities frequently operate with their own people in charge (a leader or two, protection, and rules—a government of sorts, including a “mayor”). Typically, people that live in tent encampments either follow the rules or they are out!
Then there are the homeless that live comparably poorer than the rest…perhaps an alcoholic or drug abuser who sleeps on a park bench or on the church steps. Alone. No encampment. Living life at the highest risk. Even these people seem to be outcasts to the more popular tent city residents. Sad? Yes.
Returning to the story at hand…as I said, I enjoyed the relationships that I had with my friends. I looked forward to seeing that they were safe and that they were healthy and eating. I enjoyed our reciprocal discussions about the Gospel. These folks were much like family—from the deepest place in my heart.
One evening, my husband and I were sitting alone in a church dining room. Our friends had already finished their dinner and had moved on. A lady came in the door that I had never seen before. She stood in line for her meal and then she turned and walked towards our table.
She leaned into me before she sat down, and softly said, “You look normal. Can I sit with you?”
To this day, my heart hurts from those words. When I heard them, my heart ached for my friends. I didn’t want to simply “look normal.” I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I wanted to know that everyone that had grown dear to my heart was okay. I didn’t want to be set apart from them, even though I had total faith and knew at that time that we would soon move on. God had us.
I understand the concept of fear…how she might have felt. When we enter a space we have never been in before, we instantly look for something that looks or feels safe or familiar. In this situation, I would like to think that what she saw was my heart and soul, and not the look of normalcy.
She slept in her car that night. I advised her of less dangerous places to park. She had a nice car. She was stranded, she is a woman, however, for 24-48 hours with no funds, and had only the safety of her car with some gas in the tank to call her own. I do still follow this person on Facebook, and I’ve never told her how my heart wrenched for my friends that day after hearing the words, “You look normal.” On one hand, this may have been God’s way of reminding me (despite that I felt I didn’t need it) that my life would soon return to a state of what looks normal to many of us in a typical middle-income culture. This may have been his nudge to still and ready my heart.
How I enjoyed talks until the sun went down day-after-day with people that others didn’t see as normal, I do not know. It makes no sense to my “introvert-self.”
Father, I just hope I helped some hearts. I hope I changed some lives. I hope I gave them the gift of hope. Please help me to never shut my eyes to what you taught me in the middle of the desert. Thank you for your spring of living water.