Last night I had an experience that totally changed my life: I participated in Room in the Inn at church.
The program, part of the Urban Ministry Center, coordinates churches that share their space to host homeless people overnight.
A crew from my church took in nine homeless gentlemen and gave them food and a place to sleep. I was part of the overnight crew, so I had the privilege of getting to take part in the full experience.
Often when I'm driving and pass the people holding signs, I do my best to avoid eye contact. I don't want to establish that connection, even for a brief instant, because then I might take it in. I might have to admit that that so easily could be me.
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Last night I threw myself into the deep end, because I did make those connections. Now those strangers had names and faces and stories much like my own.
Many were well-traveled, some had college degrees and some had served in the military. Each had a heart. I got to know two guys in particular: William and Kenneth (also known as "Rune"). They taught our choir director, John Herrick, and me how to play spades.
The only card games I knew were go fish and solitaire. Such terms as "tricks," "trumps," "bidding," "books," and "big and little jokers" were used. At first I thought I was in way over my head.
I apologized to William before our first game even began, because he was the unfortunate soul paired up with me. But we won!
Both William and Rune were very patient and kind teachers. In that setting, they were no longer labeled as homeless or treated as people to be avoided. Now they were friends.
As I lay down to sleep last night, my heart began to break, because I realized that my friends would be out in the cold again the next morning. Tonight they may not have a warm place to sleep or a hot meal to eat.
As I was pumping gas this morning, and the wind seemed to be blowing right through me, I was thinking about them. It brought tears to my eyes, wondering whether they were out there in the cold.
Though I know all the guys we took in for the night were thankful to have a warm place to sleep, I thought of how awful it must be not to have a home to call your own, not knowing where you'll be sleeping from night to night or whether you'll get to eat the next day.
How humiliating it must be to be told what time to go to bed, what time to wake up, what to eat and when.
Most of the guys are honestly trying to find work but can't.
The experience made me realize just how much I take for granted every day.
I see all my laundry that I need to put away, and I think of Ron, with his worn T-shirt and thin jacket, his baseball cap and blue jeans, and that's all he has. What an abundance I have!
I am very grateful to have had this experience. I pray that I don't ever forget the lessons I have learned.
And now, when I see that person on the side of the road holding a sign, I won't turn away, because you never know: It could be my friend.