Women of the Shelter

There are a group of women I have been getting to know who are some of the most beautiful, most kind, most compassionate women I have ever met. Society wouldn't say so but society probably wouldn't take the time it takes to learn about these women, either. These women live day in and day out with one another, thrown together by difficult, often self-induced circumstances - the loss of a stable home. Most of them fight demons (often more than one) such as drug addiction, alcoholism and sexual abuse. They are fleeing domestic violence, drug dealing and prostitution. They have often left their children in the care of their mothers or worse to them - the State.

One thing I know, they have changed my perception of the homeless population. Many of us have seen the men and women standing on the street corners, holding their signs and our first thought is "if they would just go get a job..." then any number of things would happen. They'd dress better, shower more often, have a home, get their families back... Oh for it to be so simple.

They welcome me into their home - the Mission - every Sunday morning. And trust me - these women see this as their home, not as "a" shelter or just a temporary place to sleep. They clean it, they cook in it, they visit their children in it, they have friends who become their family, the fight in it and they fight to stay in it by following the rules. For people who haven't lived their lives by rules, it is an extreme challenge for many of them.

It is not a free place where anyone can sleep - these women pay $5 a night rent, they have chores, they must attend a certain number of devotion meetings each week and they must go to church on Sunday. They are starting to learn to see the world outside of their own nightmares and to learn about themselves and each other in ways they would have never imagined. This is their home and they welcome me as an esteemed guest every week. It is a privilege I do not take lightly.

I am there from 9AM until 9:30AM (ok - 8:45 until...sometimes 9:45) to offer a half hour devotion. Right now we are talking through the women of the Bible. This last Sunday was the background for Rebekkah. We're going through Genesis 24 and made it through verse 26. We only managed to get that far because, despite my best efforts, I did most of the talking. I had told them at the beginning we'd run things a little differently - I have a cold (again. Imagine that.) and so my throat and voice aren't the best. Instead of my just telling them about Rebekkah, I had one of the ladies read the first 14 verses for me and then we picked them apart - setting the stage for who Rebekkah was. There was some participation but not too much. Once we got into verses 15 through 26, if I asked for an opinion, you could have heard a pin drop. On the carpet. It was as if I was alone in the room.

So, I started pointing things out - almost word by word. For about 10 minutes I walked through those last 11 verses and then the conversation started. We talked about the hand under Abraham's thigh, about "crazy" customs, about entrusting a servant to find your child a spouse as opposed to your child finding their own spouse, God separating the Israelites from the rest of the people of the word and on and on it went. I actually didn't get to close us in prayer until 9:40.

That was huge because of two things. (1) When devotions are happening, the residents of the Mission must either be at devotions, in their room and quiet for 1/2 hour or off the property and (2) it's Sunday morning - most of them have to get ready for church. My leaving at 9:30 is almost an imperative so my staying until 9:40 to answer questions was an incredible blessing to me because it was such an inconvenience for them.

One of our topics of conversation was my reiterating to them that this half hour belonged to God and to them - not me. For as quiet as it was while they were listening to me, I did not get the feeling they were enjoying what they were hearing. I felt for sure I was boring them to death. Not one of those women agreed with me - in fact they were incredibly emphatic as to how much they appreciated my being there, how much they learned by pulling the Bible apart verse by verse and how safe they felt knowing they could ask me anything (within their relationship with God, of course) and I wouldn't get upset at them for taking the devotion off course. I have only been doing this with them since June so getting encouragement to keep doing what I am doing is incredible to me and it keeps me coming back.

Ultimately, they are another reminder to me that we are to bring Christ to everyone. Everyone. There are no limitations, no restrictions - this is not an exclusive club. They also remind me to not pre-judge someone, don't stereotype them. Perhaps they will let me down, perhaps they will do what the stereotype says they will do but that is on them - not me and shouldn't keep me from sharing and showing the love of Christ. Rejection will happen, confrontation will happen and I will be embarrassed from time to time but God wants ALL of us to know and accept Christ as our Savior. We are not to judge, we are not to determine who gets left out. It is not All with a caveat. It is just All.

Thanksgiving is coming and it is often through the holidays that food banks and shelters see an increase in donations - of food and money. Time, however, is something we have precious little of so sharing it with those less fortunate can sometimes take a back seat to those things we term a higher priority. I urge you, though - take a few hours. Find out how you can visit your local shelter and possibly spend time with the homeless this holiday season. I promise you - they will enrich your life in ways you can't possibly imagine.

And while I haven't mentioned it yet this post - don't forget the mens' shelters, too. I am still hoping to eradicate all pink blankets from every mens' shelter in the world...
Blessings to you!

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