SOS (South Oakland Shelter)
Earlier in the week, I was graced with the opportunity to participate in our church’s week of hosting the local homeless, giving them a place to eat and sleep.
As my fellow elders slaved away in the kitchen, I found myself more drawn to sitting beside our guests, hearing their stories and gauging their levels of hope.
One of the women had an MS in Business but had had so many health problems that she had to sit out for awhile, taking a low paying job that didn’t have as much responsibility as a corporate position. In the wake of her decision, she lost her house and her car and was still recovering from surgery. She seemed a bit skeptical about the surgery for her condition that had been performed at a famous local university hospital, but I sensed a tiny bit of hope that she would recover and could then pursue what she was really skilled at doing. When I told her that I, too, had been laid off, she was very open with me and even showed interest in my future.
Another woman had worked at the downtown university. The grant had run out for her job, and she had been forced to leave. As she looked for other work, her unemployment had run out. Being single, she had no other household income to hold things together. She lost her apartment since she could no longer afford the rent, and she had no means of transportation. This made going to interviews a real hassle. We had a wonderful discussion, sharing our hopes and dreams about the city of Detroit. When I got up to leave, she asked me if I would be returning. I told her that we worked one night out of the seven, and I would probably not be able to come back. Hugging her, I whispered a prayer.
A man in his 60’s shared with me that his job simply did not pay enough. He was still working but had had numerous medical expenses that put him under. He was too proud to ask his family for help. Many of them had written him off as a loser since he had been in this position before. He had moved up here from the South when his company required it of him, but had no family in the area until recently. His daughter was accepted at a local university. They had already had lunch together, and he regretted the fact that he could not pay for her lunch. Yet, there was a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
Several days before these encounters, I had had a meltdown. Being unemployed is a very humbling experience. If left unbolstered by our worth in God’s eyes, we can slide into a very dark place. This had happened to me. As I shared my hurt and confusion with a close friend, I released buckets of toxins. She replaced them for me with Scripture. I wasn’t certain at the time how this would help. (Sometimes when we are in that dark place, nothing raises our heads.) And yet God promises that His word will have effect. It will not return void of having accomplished something.
As I read scripture to my congregation as the Sunday liturgist, I saw myself surrounded on all sides by a thick, impenetrable wall. I could see over the wall, but I felt God’s protection on every side. Of course, no one in the congregation knew of this, but I was able to read with courage and stability, something I had lacked just a few days before. I knew that the Spirit of God was supporting me and giving me a superhuman dose of fearlessness.
This was the reading on that Sunday:
“12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
“6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
I Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
So, I had dumped my toxins into the lap of a friend (Thank God she knew what to do with them!) and allowed God to do what only God could do. That evening, Sunday evening, was the blessed encounter with those who needed encouragement. Funny thing, I left feeling pretty encouraged myself. I had not yet had to face homelessness. And those who did seemed to have a deep trust in God in spite of their circumstances.
Don’t you just love it when God works on both sides of the equation! Listening for Life...what did Jesus say again…”I am the Way, the Truth and the Life!” When we are open, we are able to hear Life all around us, no matter what our circumstances!