Saturday, April 26, 2008

From the comfort of my home

On our way to get coffee this morning, we saw a man pushing all his worldly belongings in a shopping cart. He looked exactly like you'd expect a homeless man to look, with mismatched clothes, and a lot of them (though the day is finally--finally!--warm enough to be called spring), and unkempt hair. But we started talking about the range of homeless people we've known. When my brother died, he'd been homeless for a long time, and had a lot fewer things than that man pushing the shopping cart. All his worldly possessions fit into a gym bag and two small lockers at his job. In that bag was a baggie with a toothbrush, some Q-Tips, a towel, a sack of brand new socks, an extra pair of underwear, one pair of pants, a t-shirt, and a ratty old blanket. But all these things were clean, and indicated personal hygiene. Of course--he was a man without a home, not a man without a job. His job--which he loved--simply didn't pay enough to live.

And the Beve reminded me of all the students he knows who are homeless. They float from friend's house to friend's house because they've made poor choices, or have parents who have. Plenty who are homeless because their parents repeatedly make poor choices, and the kids pay. These are kids who flee, too old for foster care, too young and uneducated to make any kind of wage that would provide housing. They're between the cracks, these kids. Some of them have been beaten one time too many just for asking a question when their parents were wanting it quiet. "I'm never going back," they say, with bruises covering their faces.

Beve buys them clothes sometimes. Buys them meals. And recently I had the privilege of taking an 18 year old girl shopping. She's a very bright young woman, who's been homeless for a long time--living with one friend or another for years. She'd won this amazing scholarship for which she had to go to Washington DC and dress nicely for the whole six days. She was so stressed about the clothing situation, she couldn't even think about the trip. So SK (my youngest) and I took her shopping--five hours of shopping with a purpose. It was just about the best time I've had all year, and I'm not a shopper. We looked for bargains, of course--starting at the consignment shops--but SK and I were determined to make sure she got everything she needed--pants, skirts, shoes, blouses, jackets. We spent more money that day than I've ever laid down in a similar shopping trip for any of my kids--and it was so fun. She couldn't believe we would do it for her, that SK could shop for an entire afternoon without buying a single thing for herself. But SK has a home, she has us all the time. This girl had this one afternoon.

Really, in the end, it doesn't really matter why someone doesn't have a home. Our charge from Christ to care for others isn't predicated on their choices. A valedictorian or the man with the shopping cart, both in need of grace. I admit--to my shame--it's easier to help someone who's in trouble through no fault of their own, than a person who made bad choices. I'm thinking about this as I write this from the comfort of my living room. I don't want to say it. I've been wrestling with how to conclude so I don't have to admit that, don't have to admit my weakness in compassion, my inability to separate sin from sinner, my negligence at extending mercy to those whom Jesus calls me--calls all of us--to extend it to: the poor and the hurting. It weighs heavily on me as I think of that man with the shopping cart, trudging down the street. Hmm, who's the one sinning here? Him or me?

And that's the point, isn't it? That we're all the same. All sinners, all in need of mercy (see Psalm 51). I'm actually trudging down the street with my own shopping cart of crap, right here in my own living room--all those things I mentioned above. Yep, I need to dwell a little with God. Talk to you tomorrow.

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