It's easy to forget. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our lives, our own agenda, and lose sight of the blessings all around us. And then, when we least expect it, we are humbled and we are reminded of God’s grace and God’s mercy. I experienced this reminder when I was given the opportunity to meet some incredible women at Safe to Sleep. Upon entering what was just an ordinary gymnasium I wondered what kind of women would trickle in looking for a safe, warm place to rest their head that night. However, these women did not trickle in one by one. They came in a swarm, as if waiting close by for the doors to open so they could rest, shower, eat, and be safe from the elements. As I watched the women check-in, I was astounded by how ordinary they looked. Most had a small bag with them, were dressed in clean clothes, and were well-kept. They differed in age and ethnicity, but all had one thing in common. They were all homeless. As I walked around the gymnasium introducing myself, some of the women were shy and reserved, but they all greeted me with a warm smile.
Several of the ladies had arrived early to be photographed and share their story. I watched as they straightened their clothes and brushed their hair. One woman made mention that her husband of 7 years did not have a single picture of her…..but that’s not what stood out to me. She was married. I later learned that he was staying at the mission. Two people separated at night in order to have shelter. I also learned that she had a son that passed away at 13 years old and that was where her life had taken an unexpected turn. I suppose no one ever truly expects something like that to happen. She shared that she and her husband both have jobs and are working to save several paychecks so that they can get a place of their own.
Another woman I met is also employed. She’s going through a divorce and life is not easy right now. But, despite her circumstances, she has a heart filled with joy. She often takes the bus and walks across town just so she can volunteer within the community and give back. Then there is the young 19 year old. She’s wearing a nice shirt and skirt. She refers to herself as an orphan. Her twin was adopted when they were young and she is currently pregnant with her own twins. She makes mention of God’s plan for her life. One of the ladies speaks about being grandma and seeing her kids and grandkids while another tells us her children do not know she is homeless. Then there is the lady who dreams of getting her own place and making soap. All women from different walks of life and all homeless. Not drunk, not high, not dirty, not rude, not hopeless. Ordinary women just like me.
Although each woman had an unique story that led them to be homeless, each story had one similarity. They never expected to be homeless. They were mother’s, grandmother’s, daughters, wives, who are going through an unexpected season in their life. These women are being seasoned…..seasoned so they are suitable for use. As they shared their stories, I couldn’t help but wonder what path my life will take. If faced with the same circumstances would I be able to handle the situation with grace and dignity? Would I be able to smile and give back? Would I have humility? Would I be able to survive?
One specific woman spoke of how material things had fed her perception on life. Her monetary things validated her purpose….until the things were gone. She realized that those things were just that….things. Through her homelessness she has learned the value of relationships, the value of being kind to others, not judging others, and just smiling. Despite where she’s at in life, she wants to leave a legacy.
After meeting these women, I questioned my own purpose. My own legacy. What do I want to leave behind? How do I want to be remembered? These women reminded me to pause. To stop, look around, and be thankful. The woman volunteering at a community event, the woman cleaning your hotel room, the cashier at Target, the grandma reading a book at the park, the young pregnant teen are all looking for a safe place to sleep at night. The message that stood out to me most is that we are called to love others as God loves us. Despite the circumstances of these women, they all deserve to be loved. We all deserve to be loved. These women taught me what truly makes us who we are. It’s not the clothes I wear, the job I have, or the place where I rest my head at night. It’s the love and kindness I show others. It’s the words I speak. It’s the joy that is illustrated in whatever season I am in.
Be kind. Smile. Love. A small and simple gesture with a much greater impact
Safe to Sleep is a temporary women’s homeless shelter, hosted by two area churches. In addition to providing safe, overnight, emergency shelter for women, Safe to Sleep helps to provide the guests with other services such as material needs (hygiene items, rolling suitcases), case management and support (bus passes, help with prescription drugs, housing plans), and more.