As I write this I’m currently serving as an ‘innkeeper’ at our church’s Room In The Inn. It’s a city-wide program that gives shelter to homeless people at a network of churches through the winter months. They transport groups to that day’s locations, feed them, provide showers, supplies, laundry, cots, and, of course, a roof. Please do not think I’m giving myself a halo here, I pretty much signed up out of moral obligation, while wondering about how uncomfortable it would be.

And of course, reality hit me in a couple ways. First, I happened to notice my various thoughts and tasks on my way over here today:

It’s unseasonably warm, I’m almost sweating on my commute home
Need to remember to charge my phone ahead of time
Better grab my laptop to stay busy while everyone’s sleeping
I think I’m lightheaded from sitting at my desk too long today
Should get a snack to take with me
Should eat something before, who knows when we serve food
I’ll dress down so I don’t stick out
Do I take this pillow or that one?
This blanket or that one?
Maybe I’ll hit the local coffee shop in the morning

And then I realized, none of these guys would’ve had any of those thoughts.

Now, I know better than to look down on people. People are just people (for the most part). Same with these men. Some down on their luck, some struggling with their past, some just don’t have a support system. So I view my role as treating others as you would have them treat you. I don’t look at them with pity; I don’t see myself as high and mighty. They need a shower and a meal. I can be one of 15 volunteers to help with that.

The vans pull up and the men walk in like they’ve done this all winter. They know the drill better than I understand the written instructions. As it unfolds I’m just people-watching and trying to be available. They already know what they want to accomplish first. Some need a shower, some need clothes, some want to pick the prime sleeping spots. When dinner’s served they’re patient in line, and pause just a second to see if one of the plates has a slightly larger portion (I would too).

I must have done well with dressing down because I was mistaken as a guest instead of a volunteer. Three times by church members who didn’t recognize me, and at least once when a guest said, “you one of them or one of us,” before asking his question.

I took the opportunity to sit and eat with a few of the 24 men. They were in the middle of a political conversation and I knew my preconceived expectations were about to be flipped when the first comment I heard was “The responsibility is on the viewer to know whether the program they’re watching is news or opinion.” I nodded my head in agreement and perked up my ears.

They discussed the political race, “Rubio will drop out if he doesn’t win FL.”

They debated economics, “There were 270,000 jobs added last month; if you can’t find a job, that’s on you!”

They argued over war and gas prices, “OPEC controls the price of oil, it has nothing to do with the President.”

Race even came up: “Now I’m from California, I don’t see color.” “Of course you see color. And if you see me purple, you better be calling 911!”

I only wish I were able to transcribe the whole conversation between these four. One guy loved getting things riled up, the other almost couldn’t handle it and his friend quietly calmed him down, “you’re letting him get to you, you know better.”

Just delightful. I mostly nodded and chuckled. I failed at attempting to change the heated topic to sports with a “How ’bout them Titans!” They laughed but no one took the bait.

The rest of the night has been quiet. There are no less than five unique snores right now. I’m feeling a little uneasy. I know their lives have to be worse than they’re letting on, but maybe not. One said while defending the President, “Unemployment’s at 4.6%. You don’t see people starving on the streets. I mean, we’re in here, but somebody got money for this.” I know that I don’t have the ability to magically fix everything for them, whether or not I should even if I could. Because the point we’ve been tasked with isn’t ultimately to make sure everyone’s situation is pain-free. Pain is going to happen regardless of your financial state. My reaction to someone’s pain is the nucleus.

I heard a story (from radio’s “The Wally Show” I think), where they returned to a regular mission trip and told one of the locals “we’ve been praying for you.” To which the 3rd-world-country man replied “no, we pray for God to be with you. You have nothing but distractions and problems in America. Here… all we have is God.” It’s all about perspective. I thought about this recently when I heard a statistic about how few were afflicted with a certain illness. But if you’re the one with the illness, it’s a big stinkin’ deal to you! Doesn’t matter if it touches .01% of people. Your problem, no matter what it is, is still a problem.

Homelessness stinks. It’s as frustrating as hunger, which is as agonizing as depression, which is as sad as loneliness, which is as isolated as the death of a loved one, which is as debilitating as finding cancer, which is as empty as losing as a job, which to some threatens homelessness.

Paper cuts are the worst. Especially the bad ones. How can something so small hurt so bad? It controls your thoughts, can nearly immobilize you till the pain subsides, will annoy you till the skin fuses back together. I get shivers thinking about it. But no one would say that a papercut is worse than living in a shelter. “Would you rather have a paper cut or be alone and not know where you’re going to sleep and how you’re going to eat tonight?” Hand me the paper. But I know that tonight if I suddenly got a bad cut, these guys would stop and be concerned for me. They’re still just people. Good and bad like the rest of us. Willing and capable of giving and receiving friendship.

In one way or another, we’re all struggling with something. We’re tasked to love and show kindness. A roof or a bandaid means the world to the person who needs it.

The fruit of the Spirit (the outcome, the result, the action) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 

2 thoughts on “The Paper Cut of Homelessness

  1. Profound thoughts in this post…and I appreciated the comments on “perspective.” I like how you demonstrated that the perspective started long before your arrival at the shelter. Our thoughts are the beginning. If I am not showing the fruit, I am not thinking correctly as that is where it begins.

    Like

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