During cold months, we open the spare room in our home to the drug-free homeless and destitute. We weren’t always this way. I’d pass a granola bar through a car window to the homeless, but that was about the depth of my concern. Until I got a call on Thanksgiving. Actually several calls, the first couple I tried to ignore. But He has a plan.
I gave my entire Thanksgiving feast that day to a homeless family and a couple of days later, brought them into our home, and the Prentice family has been changed forever. Fast forward three years later, and we’ve taken in a couple dozen people in need.
But this time was special. When it was snowing, six different people responded to my post sharing we would have a vacant room in a week, we were faced with a dilemma. What were we supposed to do, homeless triage? How were we supposed to figure out who came in and who slept in the cold? Easy to say children first, but some of who contacted us were the elderly. Some people were disabled, some sleeping in the back of their cars or in between buildings while it snowed outside.
So I asked my husband what no wife wants to ask. “Could we give up our bedroom to complete strangers?”
“That’s true, they might steal us blind.”
“ Yes, they may refuse to leave.”
“ I never thought of that, they could raise our electric bill.” Last month’s bill was $472, and we were very conservative with heat. We could only afford to pay half of it.
“Can they come?”
God knew it would be hard for people to be open to the idea of miracles. It required a flexible mind, a mind willing to accept the “impossible.” A mind willing to take a leap of faith so we could trust in Him. Are our minds really flexible? Are we willing to change our opinions and beliefs when presented with new information? Are we too prideful to consider we could be wrong?
Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Jon Bon Jovi (Hey! He deserves some credit- at one point I had a fringe concert shirt), these are dudes who seemed to be ahead of their time in their thinking. I would wager most people consider them fairly intelligent. But if we were to time-travel back and try to explain to some of the smartest people from a time before technology that we were going to launch vehicles into space, they probably would have been unable to accept it as a possibility. With the information and thought-process they had available to them at that time, I’d bet they would have not been able to see the connection. Is that to say space travel wasn’t possible back then? The same rules of physics applied, but their limited understanding and resources probably would have kept them from fully understanding and believing, and I bet they would have argued they were “right” or we were crazy.
Could we be in the same position today? When we read and interpret things, could we be limited by our own thoughts, by the technology of our day, by the miracles we haven’t seen? When we listen to arguments, are we listening as though we have something to lose if our ideas are challenged or changed? Could our perceptions about someone be holding us back from seeing their true needs, from seeing how we could put aside our own to-do list and leave the dishes in the sink so we can help them?
We have perceptions shaped by our experiences, (usually) biased research searches, and influential people in our lives. We’re describing the sky based on how it looks from our homes at our particular latitude and longitude. When we recognize that we only see a piece of the sky, and apply that concept to thoughts and interpretation of the Bible, we can pray for wisdom and allow God to shine through our window.
And that snowy day, He shined through our bedroom window. We couldn’t see it from the family room sofabed, but that sweet homeless lady had a great view.
Our story got in the papers when we were looking desperately for a young couple sleeping outside with a nine-month old baby. I had exhausted two entire days driving, calling, searching. I couldn’t have an empty room while a little baby in my town sleeps unprotected from the elements. I called up the local media and asked if they could give a shout out looking for the couple so they would find out we had a room waiting for them. Some interviewed me for forty-five minutes, but if there’s a murder around, the uplifting stories get the backseat.
We never found that little family. But the week the newspaper article was published, I had a strange knock at the door. It was the mud room door, the one used by family.
It was the little girl who initially moved me, three years earlier, to skip our Thanksgiving dinner and drive an extra nine hours that weekend to fix up our spare room. Her family lived with us for a month and a half, long enough to save up a security deposit for a permanent place.
I remembered her being fairly shy, a gentle spirit. When she came in this time, practically skipping toward me, she was exploding with a gigantic smile. “I have to do current events every week. I got to share our story.”
Now, she was anonymous in the article written about her family, but she chose not to be anonymous amongst her classmates. She chose to share how a group of strangers took them in and made them family for a month. She didn’t seem nervous, didn’t seem scared. She wasn’t afraid anyone would judge her. She had been shown enough love and given enough support to feel not only confident in her homeless past, but proud of it.
I wouldn’t have been able to open my heart towards her if I had an inflexible mind. If I had listened to my own mind’s perceptions and stereotypes about the homeless, if I had worried too much about my things being stolen, my world being disorganized, who knows where that family and the ones who took their place in the following winters would be?
If our own comfort was at the forefront of my family’s agenda, that little girl would have probably stayed homeless at least for a while. I bet that would have made an impact on her for the rest of her life.
It feels pretty good to have stepped in. I think being homeless will affect her for the rest of her life. And I think she will be stronger.
–Lori Prentice, author of “The Best Dinner I Never Ate”