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Archive for April 9th, 2013

Homeless

Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday


Have you ever met anyone who was homeless? Have you ever stopped to look at them? Give them money? or food? I have seen the homeless on trips to big cities and found myself trying to avoid their gaze, feeling a little twinge in my stomach, and guiltily walking on by. In my small town, homelessness is not a common occurrence.

On Thursday last week, I decided to stop in at Subway to pick up a sandwich between schools. A young woman in blue jeans and a jacket looked at me with pleading eyes. I paused. Something about her spoke to me. In a gentle voice, she asked if I could get her some food. Silly me, I started spouting off about our food pantry, Solomon House, and how she could get groceries on Tuesday. Then she said, “That’s a long way and I don’t have a car. I’m staying in a tent.”

I immediately invited her in to get whatever sandwich she wanted. She got a foot long meatball sandwich. I asked her to meet me back at my car. There I made a call to the Executive Director of Solomon House for some advice. She gave me the number of a nonprofit that may be able to help. We have a shelter for men, but the only place for women is for abuse victims. I looked at the woman whose arm was in a sling and asked, “Were you abused?”

“Well,” she replied, “He broke my nose a few years ago.”

I pointed to her arm. “No, I have bursitis.”

No luck there. Finding out more about her story, she told me the man left her here with nothing. She was living in a tent near some woods because no one would bother her there. I wanted to do more. I wanted to take her with me, but I had to get to school. I left her with the phone numbers and took her cell number. I told her I would call later to see how she was doing.

After school that day and again on Friday, I called her number. “We’re sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has not set up a voice mailbox.” Obviously, her phone had died and she couldn’t recharge it. What more could I do?

Somehow, I didn’t think the story would end there, but after 3 days, I didn’t expect to hear from her.

Sunday morning I was in the church choir loft practicing for the service when my phone went off. No name popped up, and I didn’t recognize the number, so I shut the sound off and went back to practicing. Then it occurred to me it was her number. I was compelled to call her back. When I did, she answered and explained that she had just been able to charge her phone at Burger King.

“I called the number you gave me and a lady is going to bring me to Faith House tomorrow, but I haven’t eaten in 2 days. I was wondering if you could bring me some canned foods or something.”

I told her I would come after church. I planned to stop at Solomon House to get her some food. It wasn’t until I was back in the choir loft, after a few opening prayers, and a text that said all the doors to the food were locked that I realized what a hypocrite I was being. Here I was praising God when He had just called me on the phone to say He was hungry. So I left. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going.

When I got to Burger King, I didn’t see her anywhere. I went inside and asked one of the workers if they had seen her. “Oh, you mean Lorraine? She came in. She didn’t buy anything. She picked up a cup. She’s a regular.”

I stepped outside and called Lorraine. (not her real name) She was happy to see me. Her eyes shone. Her face was bright and pink. She had on a short-sleeved top and no sling. I told her she looked great! She was embarrassed to get in my car. She said her shoes stunk. Never mind that!

I took her to Super One and bought bananas, oranges, fruit juice, ham, and bread. I asked if there was anything else she wanted. She said, “A box of cakes. They’re only a dollar.”

“Sweet tooth, huh?” Sure, I bought them for her. And some warm chicken wings from the warmer near the check out lines. The total was $17. When was the last time I only spent $17 at the grocery store?

I brought her back to the convenience store/ Burger King area to a picnic table in the back. Before I left her, I gave her a $20 bill and asked her to call me when she got settled at Faith House, a women’s shelter in the nearby city.

More of her story came out on our drive to and from the grocery store. She is 34. Her mother died of a brain aneurysm a few years ago. Her father abandoned her. Her stepfather died shortly after being released from jail. She had been with the no-good alcoholic for 6 years. She said she was feeling relief not being with him anymore, even if she had to live in a tent for a week and a half.

Lorraine had been dealt a bad hand. She was alone. She was not drunk or on drugs. She seemed to be reasonably intelligent with a high school diploma and thoughts of going to college. She was a gentle, kind person. Not my warped, prejudicial idea of a homeless person.

It made me think about my homes, my family, the richness in my life. And here was Lorraine shining next to me humbly depending on the kindness of total strangers. I could feel hope rising in her. She seemed to feel she was going to turn a new page in her life, a better one. When I left Lorraine, the sky was clear and warm and sunny. Hopeful, indeed.

I called my husband to tell him why I had left church. He expressed concern and asked, “What would it cost to put her up in a hotel for the night? What is your gut telling you.”
My gut was telling me to do whatever I could.

Later that day, I once again picked up Lorraine. I took her to a local cheap hotel and paid for the room and the key deposit. This time with her was easy. Gone were the butterflies and sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Now I knew I was doing the right thing. When I left her this time, we embraced. She giggled and said, “I don’t think I’ll ever go camping again.” I pray she never has to.

I don’t know why Lorraine was put in my path. But I know I am richer for it. I have been blessed. Funny, isn’t it: When we reach out to bless others, it is ourselves whom we truly bless.

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