I will never forget the moment I pulled away from the hotel entrance. I had just met new friends of my husband, and now they were mine. Kat* looked so frail, bone-thin, with dark circles under her eyes. Ron* had a champion smile on his face as he secured their belongings in the back of my gold van. They had been able to afford a hotel for a few days, but now it was back to the streets. So we were keeping their duffle bags of things.
My heart sank, hot and heavy, with the weight of their situation. My husband had met them outside of our local library, a couple committed fiercely to each other. Kat’s seizure disorder, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and other health concerns, made it impossible for Ron to leave her alone. Thus, he had given up working. Their veteran’s and disability benefits only took them so far.
It felt heartbreaking and wrong as I left the hotel, amid a torrential downpour. It felt heartbreaking and wrong as I left them to find shelter. I asked myself, ‘how can I go back to my large house with its guest bedroom and leave them on the streets?’
So, I decided that I wouldn’t.
I told my husband how I felt. He knew my heart, but still, it was such a big undertaking to bring in virtual strangers to our house with three young children. (Kat and Ron had raised five children, and loved kids. We never believed they would hurt one of our children.)
We didn’t know what to do.
But when Kat was on the verge of another seizure, which could be lethal as a homeless person, we did what, in that moment, we could not not do. We invited them into our home.
What followed was a major lack of boundaries and nearly a year of sheltering Kat and Ron. It was one of the hardest seasons of our lives, yet it was keeping them off the streets. That had to mean something, right?
It wasn’t only hard because of the inconvenience. It was hard because of others’ responses. They didn’t understand us and questioned what we were doing. In their protectiveness of us, they often thought the worst of Kat and Ron. It was hard, so hard to hear these concerns and still try to do the right thing.
I don’t fault our friends and family for loving us, how could I? But, the desire to care for ‘the poor’ is a good, God-given desire, isn’t it?
So how could obedience to God’s heart bring so much strain and struggle. I thought it would bring joy. And, at first, it did. It did, also, in moments along the way. But, the joy was often overshadowed by worry, doubt and a strong sense of being out of control.
As we sheltered Kat and Ron, I often felt the words of Isaiah 58:7 course through my mind. ‘Bring the homeless, poor into your house…’ as part of acceptable guidelines for a holy ‘fast’ and the kind of worship God wants. And again, I absolutely believe that to be true.
However, after almost a year, we finally had to give a very clear date when they needed to leave our home. It was hard, so hard, because they hadn’t found anywhere else to live. But, we knew we had done what we could.
So again, the questions. ‘How could a year of having them in our home, make seemingly so little difference in their situation?’ And yes, in guilt, I would ask too. ‘How could we let them back onto the streets?’
Yet, there was a measure of peace, because it was okay, and important, to let them go, surrendering them fully to God. My husband and I would often remind ourselves that what we did in caring for them, we ultimately did for the Lord. And we had to trust Him for the results of that caring.
At times I wondered if I operated out of guilt of not doing more when we lived in Hungary. Homeless people lined the parks and downtown streets and it all became so overwhelming. And I felt it. That callousness, of needing to not do anything because each of their stories, their needs, could easily pull me in, in tangled-up, caring-too-much ways.
In the end, I was so humbled in the journey with Kat and Ron. And I have so little to say, but that it is so very messy. Not only caring for the poor or homeless, but knowing how to truly be obedient and follow Jesus in hard places. The only true sin in the journey is to let ourselves become callous and closed to the needs of others. (And, I want to be clear that much spiritual wisdom and discernment is needed in any steps we take.)
My sweet husband helps me so much in this. He is often reaching out, not to every person in need, but to the ones put especially on his heart. Since Kat and Ron, we learned it is too much for our family to house those in need long-term. But, he is often approaching someone in need to ask if he can get them a meal. Just recently, he took a homeless friend to get warmer clothes for the cooler nights coming.
In the end, though the journey with Kat and Ron was really hard, God brought so much life from it. He grew our family, making Kat and Ron a part of it. I will never forget their all-day cooking, on the Thanksgiving Day they were with us. They made a feast for us.
Eventually, they found an apartment, and we were all thrilled. We helped them with the move, gave them some furniture and did what family would do.
But more, we have come to feel for them what family should feel–a deep, abiding, indestructible love.
I don’t know what needs are around you, but I want to encourage you beyond the callousness which can so subtly creep in. If you desire to do something close to God’s heart, no matter the journey, you will find just that, His heart.
*Names changed to protect identity.