She buttoned her second coat, and third, and finally zipped into her fourth outer layer, an oversized hooded sweatshirt. He handed her the diaper bag, which she hung over the stroller handle. As I looked at the stroller, loaded down with baby, bags, toys and everything they owned it hit me. My daughter is really, truly homeless. I struggled to wrap my mind around it.
This isn’t new. She had been at the shelter for over three weeks by this time. Losing her room because of a missed gate curfew was the clincher. She was now required to move out by 6:00 each morning, baby, bundles and all. The 11 hours between then and 5:00pm gate time is long indeed when you have no place to go and it’s 25 degrees outside.
It feels as if the past year has been the Lord’s way of preparing us for this exact situation. How better to have compassion on my own child, homeless by her own poor choices, than to spend a year serving this same population. How can a person have compassion for one group and not on her own child?
It’s hard. Harder than I ever thought it would be. It is easier working with the larger homeless population, not knowing what brought them to where they are but just seeing them as Christ does: As human beings, with a story and a future and possibilities. Knowing the inside story and still choosing to be compassionate—and without contributing the “help” that we now know does not help—is so very difficult.
With her, I decide to bite my tongue more often than not. I choose my words carefully, weighing their impact before I say them, knowing that they need encouragement to keep pushing forward while owning that the situation is self-inflicted. If it weren’t for the baby, I do not know how we would feel. We are so tired.
We can bring them home, feed them lunch, spend the day as a “normal” family, but nothing about this is normal. They can pretend for a few hours that they have their lives under control, but a few hours of forgetting is not the same as doing something about it. Living at the shelter is a stop-gap measure at best.
As a parent, I see my worst fears in front of me, bundled in layers pushing a stroller, and peering out from that stroller, from between plastic sacks of personal belongings, my grandbaby in her innocence. She doesn’t know right from wrong yet. Doesn’t know that the way they are living isn’t normal, isn’t stable. All she knows is her mommy and daddy are there. She feels safe because she is with them. It scares me that she will not be truly safe until they are stable.
It worries me that they may never be stable, until they begin to take responsibility for their choices and their lives, without making excuses. In the end, how it all happened and how it will all be resolved falls directly on their shoulders.
I can feel responsible because I am a mother—her mother—but ultimately, her choices are no longer my responsibility. I have given her to the Lord, and He is reminding her that she is His. There is nothing else for me to do but pray.
Oh Lord let me be your voice and not your judge. Speak through me, but even more so, speak to them.
He puts his arm around her and they turn to go, pushing the stroller across the parking lot as I drive away, fighting the lump that threatens to explode in my throat.