Working with Safe Families, there is one shelter we’ve become especially familiar with. We recognize who works there and who lives there. Some of the people there have begun to recognize us. Kevin did the math last night and we’ve traveled well over 1,000 miles to and from that shelter to pick up or drop off kids or to spend time with M and her girls.
We have learned the details of that place: like the fact that the Walmart is right behind the shelter and there is an opening between the back wall and gate where people walk there and back. They pick up a 12 pack of Coke and meet with a couple of their buddies to hang out on the stairs. We’ve learned that there are a plethora of car seats throughout the shelter but that it is rare that a Mom knows when a baby should be in a 5 point harness and when a booster is fine. We’ve learned that there is an unspoken pressure to keep your kids quiet at night…and so a great majority of the kids get a nightly dose of Melatonin in hopes of knocking them out for the evening. Not for convenience. For survival. We have learned that siblings are taught to take care of their younger brothers and sisters and that they do so fiercely…that even a 3-year-old is held responsible for baby brother….and she does a surprisingly good job with her babysitting. Shelter life. It’s a culture.
But if we’re not careful, we could look at the culture and make caricatures of the people living there. And I think a lot of us do that with the homeless. We have a picture in our heads of what it means to be homeless, we presume to know what mistakes got them in the situation that they are in and we sit in a state of arrogance caused by the false confidence that something like that could never happen to us. We have to stop doing this.
There is a Mom in that shelter who has never touched drugs. She was poor, but she was getting by. She was getting her education. She is SO smart. She was working her way up. But when her boyfriend crossed the line and hit her she called the police. And they not only took him away, but took her baby away, too. She spent all that she had and then some on an attorney to get that baby back. She traded in work hours for court dates and eventually she regained custody. The judge said “This almost never happens.” But she had no more resources after the court fees, the lawyer fees, and the lost wages. And so came the shelter.
There is a woman in that shelter who has an iPhone. How about that? Her parents took good care of her even into adulthood. She learned she could depend on them, perhaps too much. And the first time she disagreed with them, they took all of that provision away. She lost all security. And so came the shelter. She holds on to that iPhone, her last bit of something of value, for dear life.
There was once a Mom in that shelter who was married and lived an upper middle class life. She left her home country to be with the man of her dreams, leaving behind all family and friends. They started their Happily Ever After and she thought it was a dream come true. She was a devoted stay at home Mom. Until her Knight in Shining Armor turned into a Monster of untreated mental illness. And she lived with it as long as she could. But then he put his hands on her children and enough was enough. And so came the shelter.
And sure, there are the kinds of people in that shelter that you might imagine. People who fell into a dark world of addiction or prostitution and seem to self-sabotage over and over again. There are women there who seem to thrive in that shelter, making it their own with no desire to move beyond that type of life. But even they have their stories. They are real people with real feelings and we need to know that.
And I guess that’s the point of sharing all of this. To give the reminder that everyone has a story. The homeless Mom, the drug addicted panhandling man, the father that left his child in a hot car, the family fighting CPS to get their child back, the illegal immigrant, the convicted felon. Imperfect, yes. And there will be consequences for their actions. But we are imperfect, too and suffer our own consequences.
They are loved by the same God who loves you. And we are asked, no….we are commanded to love them, too. Not just on an intellectual level. We don’t get to just “say” that we love them but then decide what their lives are worth and begin to cast stones. We love through action and then let God sort out the rest. Let’s listen. Let’s get to know the stories and stop drawing conclusions. Let’s humbly remember that it rains on the just and the unjust. And let’s love well because we are perfectly loved by our Father in Heaven.
Until the next blog…be blessed.