You have no idea...

...what it's like to be homeless...

As I mentioned in my last entry, last week was "Give a Shirt" week around here. By Friday I was pretty ready to have a new outfit on. I was growing more and more grateful for the simple things. And I was amazingly looking forward to Friday night/Saturday morning - "Homeless Night" - we weren't sure how it would turn out, but middle and high school students plus several leaders chose to (after wearing the same outfit all week) sleep in cardboard boxes for the night. Nearly 90 people CHOSE to lock ourselves in a gated parking lot, CHOSE our sleeping bags, CHOSE our boxes and our neighbors, CHOSE our jacket, gloves, etc., and CHOSE to try to put ourselves in a place that was like a homeless person. What's it like to have the same outfit on? What's it like to sleep in a cardboard box? What's it like to smell like burn barrel smoke? What's it like not to have access to a bathroom? or water? or food? or a pillow?

As we were setting up early in the night I talked to a homeless woman who came by - her name was Karen. She was a "lucky one" (in her words) - she had a bed for the night at the Salvation Army shelter not too far away. She praised us for helping raise awareness that there are many "normal" people on the streets. She talked about how there were a lot of nice people in the city to help care for others. And everything we offered to her she denied - again, she had a place to sleep that night. I was in tears as I talked to her, listened to her heartbreak and challenges...and her heart as she said - "be sure these kids keep their heads covered and their feet warm. They'll be ok if they can do that." About an hour later, the neighbors across the street from the youth center had to call the paramedics because a homeless man had collapsed and passed out in their yard. So sad.

Fast forward. Time ticks away. It's 2:00 a.m. I see some students talking with someone through our locked gate. Short sleeve black shirt, black jeans. No jacket. (It got to 40 degrees that night.) As I approach I realize he's not that old. He's 16 and he's on the streets. He's been out of a "regular" home since he was 9. In and out of foster care or couch surfing. He recently had a bad foster care experience and left. 10 days later, he had a warrant issued on him - no more school or they would turn him in to jail. He talked about how he goes from place to place all day helping others who are in trouble. He shared how earlier that day he pulled a friend's girlfriend out of a rough place. After a few more stories and insights he spoke words that still are ringing in my ears. "Why are you doing this?" One of the 7th grade girls in our group explained that we were trying to understand what it was like to be homeless and that we wanted to raise awareness so others would take seriously the call to care for those in need. Then... he told us we didn't know what it was like to be homeless. And I asked what we should know... His response??

"You have no idea what it's like to be homeless until you've spent the night under a bridge by yourself with a sorry excuse of a blanket and know you are the loneliest person in the world."

And while to this moment I don't regret what we did last week or that night...I knew he was right. I have no clue. You see, I CHOSE to wear one outfit last week, I CHOSE to sleep in a cardboard box, I CHOSE not to buy a hairdryer, I CHOSE to wear flip-flops... See, I can ask "what will I eat" and others ask "how will I eat today"; I ask "when will I sleep" and others ask "where will I sleep"; I look across the room and see my family - others look around for months or years and never see their family; I can run through a drive thru, and drive-by people who haven't eaten... and the list goes on. Ultimately I could CHOOSE whether or not to participate. For many, their life circumstances at this point don't allow them to CHOOSE like I can. In a way I was embarrassed at our attempt to put myself in the shoes of this young guy. I hadn't thought of these questions: What is it like to be alone? And not just alone...but the loneliest person in the world? What is it like to be hopeless? What is it like to be cold, hungry and achy from sleeping in a sorry excuse of a "home"? What is it like to hold a sign on a street corner and have people yell at you, or just look away and ignore you? What is it like to not know where I'm going to sleep or IF I'm going to sleep? What is it like not to know how long I'm going to live like this? And my heart broke...again. This really is a matter of life and death.

And standing in that parking lot I was reminded of John 10:10 - "the thief comes ONLY to seek, kill and destroy. I have come that you may have life and have it to the full." God does not desire that this be the life of any of His creation. He longs for them to know how much He truly loves them. He longs for them to be cared for...and He's called each of us to do it.

God continues to show me that there is so much more "me" to break, and so much more of "Him" to gain. Lord, I long for Your heart, Your compassion, Your grace and mercy, Your wisdom, Your love...that it may overflow from me to those around me --- those I know by name and those I don't. It's not ok with you that people are literally living on the streets, washing clothes in gas station bathrooms, begging on the side of the street for someone to even just acknowledge them and smile, sleeping under bridges or in cardboard boxes... You know them by name. You know their heart and their deepest need. If You choose to use me, I'm available. Continue to break me...and mold me...



©2009 Until... | by TNB