We have several homeless, pregnant clients right now. It's painful to hear their stories and watch them leave, knowing that they will wander the cold streets until dark when the shelter opens back up. But while we have them there, we do our best to offer some items they need for their babies, practical advice and words of encouragement. We talk about what got them there and what they can do differently so that the cycle does not continue to be repeated and result in more and more pregnancies. Sometimes they listen; and sometimes they just tell me what I want to hear. We teach them parenting skills and how to respect their bodies.
I am haunted by one of our moms who delivered her baby the other day, only to have it taken from her because she is homeless. She will leave the hospital alone, with breasts that are lactating, and incisions that need rest in order to heal- neither of which she has the ability to do anything about.
Our local paper recently featured another homeless, pregnant woman who has found temporary shelter at the YWCA. The woman was honest about the addictions that caused her to make the bad choices that resulted in her homelessness. She was grateful for a place to sleep and the people who were generously helping her to get back on her feet. Her story echoes the stories of other young women I know. But what gripped me the most was not the article as much as it was the comments from the public that followed. I was shocked at the cruelty hurled at this young woman. Hatred even. We need to take a good look at what we value in our society. And if we are not placing people at the top of the list, then I think it's time we reevaluate.
There are ways to help that don't just Bandaid their needs, because the goal is to guide them back into becoming a healthy, valuable self-sufficient member of our society. But getting her there might just take some sacrifice of time and love, and even resources. And it might inconvenience us a little in the process.
I learn new things every single day about how other people live. I’ve heard some of the most heart-wrenching stories. Stories of abuse, neglect, desperation, poverty, indifference, addiction, rejection, pain, fear and homelessness. Stories of pain that started early in their childhoods. Sometimes the women sharing them feel hopeless and defeated. Sometimes they are dirty. And sometimes they don’t smell very good. Sometimes they carry diseases. Sometimes they are addicts - addicts of sex and substances and self. Sometimes they’re addicted to believing lies about themselves. Sometimes they have no idea that they are not okay. And sometimes they hate who they’ve become...but pretend they don’t care.
There are always reasons behind their behaviors and their circumstances. Reasons behind the years of self abuse and lack of desire to change. And while I have my own thoughts about how we should help someone who has made significantly poor life choices, I would never dare to think that she is not valuable enough to receive hope and encouragement and love. Most times the scared girl in front of me just wants to be rescued. Wants someone to tell her "you can do this". And wants someone to tell her she’s still got good in her- that she still has value to offer the world..to offer her child. She wants to know she is important. That there is still hope for her life. Sometimes she just wants someone to help her make healthier choices and to cheer her on towards better things. Like all of us, she just wants someone to care.
“My bones seem to cry out knowing
that you have not been properly loved today.”
And, really, all of us have that same moral obligation; to love other people- even the hard people- because we can. And we should. And because it is the right thing to do. But not just that it is something we DO, but really, that it becomes who we are. Love should define us.
We come in contact with people daily who just need to be loved. To be seen. People who find themselves at a place of desperation they never dreamed of; who have no one to turn to - no one to walk alongside them. No one to speak life into them. The lonely, widowed neighbor. And the elderly woman at Walmart. Or the overwhelmed mother of a special needs child. A teenager who is struggling to fit in, to feel loved. The single mom. And the mentally ill adult. Someone with chronic pain or illness. The drug addict. The alcoholic. And the guy who stands on the same street corner every day, begging; hoping. Someone who just never, ever has a good day.
Do we see them?
We don’t have to agree with why they are the way they are, or how they got there, but can we see them for who they were intended to be? Can we look past the dirt or the stench or the bad attitude long enough to see someone who matters? Can we stop long enough to offer kindness and love them for who they are today?
Sometimes loving them looks like making a hot meal or giving a new coat. Sometimes it means offering a ride to an appointment. Or raking leaves. Or listening to their stories. Again. Sometimes loving means finding the right resource for them- someone equipped to help them long-term. And often it means just offering up a word of encouragement because they are love-starved.
We might we get our hands dirty, and we might cry, or get frustrated, or feel overwhelmed or unappreciated. It might hurt. But isn’t it better to be broken and dirtied by the ugliness of someone else’s world than to turn the other way and hope someone else deals with it? It is in the emptying of ourselves for the benefit of someone else that we learn what we are really made of.
What if it were your child…
Or your mother….
What if it were you…
Wouldn’t you want someone to look into your eyes and really SEE you? Wouldn’t you want them to care enough to reach a hand to you and offer help? Wouldn't you hope they would stop seeing you as different, but rather, see you as the same...
What if we all decided that instead of spending our one life loving ourselves more, we spent it loving the hard-to-love more? What if we taught our children to be a generation that loves, instead of ignores. One that gives, not hoards. What if we taught them less about entertainment and entitlement and more about self sacrifice and compassion?
When we love, we love out of obedience, but we also love because it draws us closer to the heart of God. And when we are loving the “least of these”- whomever they are-we are really loving God. And loving God compels us to love ourselves and others more. It’s a cycle- a good one. And it creates a culture that respects and values each other more and more. And even though I know that it's not that simple- that there is more to it if we really want to have a culture that runs as it should, I still like how it sounds. And I still think it's a good idea.
And I know that it all starts with me...because love without action isn't really love.
If you're looking for a good book to challenge the way you see other people, here's a suggestion.