This post is born from shame and sin, but seeing that Jesus came at Christmas to free us from shame and forgive us from sin, I will share this story in hopes of giving Him glory that He redeems the sinner.
I’m not a fan of cities. It isn’t the traffic or the crowds, it isn’t the higher crime rate or the smog. It’s the homeless. I have spent half of my life in fear of the homeless. It’s lunacy, I know, but I lose sleep and feel nauseous when I know I’ll encounter them.
My mother-in-law has spent most of her career working with the homeless. Lovingly seeking them out under bridges and underpasses to give them medical treatment and care. Literally, giving them the clothes off her back and the money from her wallet. I have spent my time running the other way.
I think it stems from the guilt. I can remember, as a young teen, going to a huge youth conference in St. Louis, and walking from our hotel to the arena with a homeless man following us. He didn’t just ask for a few dollars and leave, he followed us continuing to ask over and over. Our chaperone tried to kindly get him to stop following us. We all walked a little faster, pretending we didn’t see him. All the while I felt the inner battle of fear combined with the irony that we were running from this man so we could go “worship Jesus.”
After Andy and I married, we went on an epic camping trip down the west coast. We started in Portland, a city known for its substantial rate of mentally ill and homeless. We decided to make a trip to the open market downtown, and I was gripped in fear of the amount of homeless surrounding us. I remember the death grip with which I held Andy’s hand….. conveying, “Don’t you let them get me.” As we finally got in the car to leave, I pulled the door shut and locked it as a mentally ill homeless woman looked at me and barked. I shuddered. It simply added to the stigma and the fear in my mind.
In my mind homelessness equates to shameless begging, alcohol and drug addiction, awkwardness, laziness, and guilt. Guilt that I am too scared, too ill-equipped, and too overwhelmed to do anything. So I began to ignore them. If I just don’t ‘see’ them, they won’t be there. If I can ignore them, they will disappear. These are the dark places of my heart.
I have lived in fear of homeless people. But a few months ago, my God began to subtly reminded me that 1) He is not a God of fear. 2) He was once homeless. I wrestled with the convictions that I have treated these down-and-out, these poor, these needy, these lonely and ill people as though they didn’t exist. Defense mechanism: See a homeless person–look the other way and walk quickly. I have treated animals with more compassion.
I live in the middle of 4 fields. I know no homeless people. I live in a small town where no homeless people sit on the corners begging for a little grace.
A few months ago, Andy and I began to plan our annual Christmas gift to each other–a trip to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to see Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb concert. I was SO excited, but the fear slowly seeped in. Even months before the trip, I began to lay awake thinking about how we would have to park near the strip and “encounter” those awkward and fearful moments I try so hard to avoid. And in those moments, God slowly began to work on my heart. He reminded me that these men and women without homes are His creation, that He loves them dearly. He reminded me of the long, cold nights on the street, the loneliness,the hopelessness, the despair, the hunger. He began chiseling away the guilt and fear, and began slowly replacing it with compassion.
So two days ago, Andy and I were planning our day in Nashville, and Andy suggested we go downtown early and walk the strip. I suggested we didn’t. He prodded me to know why I was so against the idea. I shrugged it off, instantly reminded of my sin. We pulled into a parking lot an hour before the concert, and Andy and I walked to the parking kiosk to get a ticket. I saw a man coming down the sidewalk from the corner of my eye. He’s a human being, made by the Creator. I locked eyes and smiled, then looked back down. He stopped. Stood next to me and began loudly shouting things at us. I went into defense mode. Look down, look up, look ANYWHERE but in his direction. Just pretend he isn’t’ there and he’ll go away. But my spirit fought back this time. I listened to the shouting, and realized he was giving Andy specific (though unneeded) instructions on using the parking kiosk. I turned and smiled again. The ticket finally printed, and we began to walk away, glad to stop drawing so much attention. He hollered at us, “Stop! You don’t put that in yo’ car, poh-lice put a boot on yo’ tire, and you be stuck here all night. Go. Put it in yo’ car.” Andy head-nodded for me to follow him, and the self-proclaimed “Most famous homeless man in Nashville” told Andy he wouldn’t bite me. I completely believe in submitting to your husband, but I didn’t follow him. God had just placed in front of me an opportunity AND a peace. So, I stood with this ‘helper’ while Andy ran back to put the ticket in the van. I stood with this man, and in just a short amount of time, we talked about life. He asked about my family. He bragged about his 9 grandkids and 22 great-grandkids. I allowed myself to stand in this space with him and share life for 2 minutes. I looked him in the eye, and I smiled and laughed, and I remembered that he was a real person. I wished him a Merry Christmas, and yes, he asked Andy for a few dollars, but the gift he gave me was worth much more.
Andy did gently remind me that in future situations, he would feel better if I would please come with him, but you can’t refuse the Holy Spirit even for your husband. Later in the night, I finally had the courage to explain everything to him from beginning to end. You see in 10 and a half years of marriage I can’t say that it ever came up in conversation: “I hate homeless people.” Thoughts like that tend to stay hunkered down in the dark places of the soul.
So why am I bearing this darkness to you? Do I want you to judge what a hateful person I am? Do I want to laugh at such a ridiculous fear? Do I hope you’ll roll your eyes at how judgmental I am? Do I want you to ‘praise’ me for talking to a homeless man for 2 minutes? No. Although, I risk all those things.
I am sharing my story because once a baby was born without a home. He entered the world in a barn. He grew up in a world that wasn’t His home, and he spent most of His adult life with no place to call home. And, then, this homeless King died for me. He did it knowing the disgust I would feel in my heart for other homeless people–He did it because of that. You see, He knows I, too, am homeless–a sojourner not yet to my true home either, and He loves me.