Most of my life, I have kept my past experiences, choices, and failures locked up from the world. I have kept the skeleton key close to my heart and held it tightly. Occasionally, I would open the door slightly to let a friend see a glimpse of me...the real me. Then, I would quickly close the door out of fear that I'd lose a friend. Be mocked. Or be betrayed.
No one wants to know my story. No one needs to know my past.
Something has changed in me recently.
And tonight, I stepped out of my hidden place.
I allowed "J" to know a little bit about me. You see, we have quite the connection.
We have similar stories. Mine from long ago....and his story as of now.
It's cold outside. I admired the beauty of the icicles on our trees this afternoon while sipping on my hot coffee.
I think "J" feels a little differently about the weather. Although he has the opportunity to sleep in a house that is currently being renovated; there are no utilities turned on.
He sleeps in this freezing weather.
As he humbly shared of his time in the house, my spirit jolted me to a place that I've kept hidden for so long.
I understand his story.
I can't give you an exact year, maybe I was 6 or 7. My grandmother purchased a nice house in a small town outside of Tulsa. She allowed my family to live there and pay her rent. It was a great house for us. It had 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, & den. For a family of 6, it clearly met our needs.
I remember sliding down the stairs with my sister and brothers. I remember playing in the old shed in the backyard and eating fruit straight off of the trees.
There were some great memories in that house.
Times became tough. My dad made some decisions that made it difficult to provide for all of us.
And one by one, the utilities were shut off.
We didn't have much money for food. I distinctly remember bologna and an occasional "sandwich". We use to call our sandwiches " wish sandwiches" because we wished that there was something more in between the bread than just the ketchup that we stole from McDonald's.
One winter seemed to be extra cold. Our 4 bedroom home quickly turned into vacant space as we all curled up in one bedroom downstairs.
Blankets were hung over every window and over the doorways. At one time, we had a heater borrowed from a friend. It kept us semi-warm.
I remember falling asleep while watching my breath as it made little clouds outside of my body.
It seemed colder in our house than it did outside.
One day while at the grocery store, my mom handed the cashier her money to pay for our items. The cashier made a comment about how cold her money was and asked if she kept her purse in the freezer.
My mom has always been so graceful. I don't remember her showing any signs that the cashier's comment bothered her...at least not in front of us kids.
My mom did all she could to raise us well. She is a strong woman.
I remember my mom taking us to a strange building and telling us to wait in the waiting room. She walked into an office and spoke with a man that I'd never seen before.
This was the first time that I ever remember seeing my mom pray. She bowed her head and sobbed. After that, we were escorted into a gym-like area and given coats that fit and I'm not sure what else.
My mom has always been creative with any circumstance thrown at her.
Before conserving water was the environmental-friendly thing to do, my mom was already ahead of her time.
She would stick an ice chest outside to catch the rainwater for our drinks, quick baths, & to flush the toilet.
I remember trying out for the cheerleading squad and getting ready in a gas station bathroom. I was 9 years old. And through it all, I made the squad that year. This was the beginning of keeping my life a secret. It became my way of life.
It's hard to spend the evening with "J" knowing that we will drop him off at his current "home".
It's horribly cold tonight.
Our church community has offered to pay for a hotel room, but he is a humble man. He carries the burden if his hardships of life and is grateful to at least have a "roof" over his head.
But though he is grateful, I'm sure he'll see his breath tonight as he lays his head down to rest.
And knowing that, it gets harder to sleep comfortably in our warm bed.
Jesus says that there will always be the poor. He doesn't tell us to use this as an excuse to not help.
He came to serve and calls us to do the same.
Until He returns to us again, we ought to fight homelessness with extreme love.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
*I write this as I sit in my 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom home. From the same seat where I researched ways to conserve water for our garden. And from the same living room that stored sleeping bags for the homeless raised by my 8 year old to provide them a warm bed. It's humbling how He interweaves our past with the present. I find freedom in losing the skeleton key. I will no longer be ashamed.*