“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is the tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
At my son’s home in Rhode Island, the bitter wind whipped against the house, howling as it blew. The weather apps warned readers to stay inside, that even for a few minutes, any exposed skin would be in danger of frost bite. This Wisconsin-bred woman had forgotten what below freezing feels like. Wearing a thick sweater, heavy wool socks, and wrapped in a blanket, I still couldn’t get rid of the chill that permeated deep into my bones. Even the sturdy house had a hard time staying warm, with the temperature turned up in hopes of keeping everyone comfortable. I couldn’t conjure up feelings of Hygge until I got the idea of baking ginger molasses cookies. The spicy smell of ginger warmed up the house as I held my granddaughter, swaddled in her cozy blankets. Coffee, cookies, and grandchildren helped me embrace Percy Bysshe Shelley’s hopeful line of poetry, “O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
Hygge, which I have explored in a previous post, helps me get through the long, cold days of winter. It’s easy to embrace Hygge when one has plush throws, wool socks, steaming cups of coffee, and candlelight glow. But for thousands of people in our country, being warm is a distant dream as they huddle in entryways, sleep on park benches, or create makeshift tents below overpasses. For myriad reasons, these people have no place to call their own. They don’t have the option to buy a house, rent an apartment, or even stay in a hotel for a night when bitter winds and low temperatures are causing those of us with homes to struggle to stay warm.
When I was college, I did a week-long volunteer trip to the largest homeless shelter in Washington, DC. I worked in the shelter, met some residents, and passed out blankets on the cold March evenings throughout the city. Some of the homeless were veterans who never got the proper mental health care to deal with the stress of war. Some were addicts who never broke through the addiction cycle to get to the other side. Others were people who had degrees, but suffered with mental illnesses, unable to find adequate services to stabilize their health. I spent time talking with individuals, listening to their stories, and hearing of their hope constantly deferred. I don’t believe any of them ever envisioned themselves living on the streets, isolated from their families and friends. A lot of them were conscious of the hard cold fact that they could die without anyone knowing who they were.
I came home from that week inspired but not changed. Like most experiences, I moved on, and started building my own life. I was busy furnishing my own home, creating a space that was warm and cozy. I lived in relatively small communities where it was easy to avoid paying attention to homeless people. Yes, occasionally I would see them in the libraries I visited. Yes, I would see individuals and families outside of my local Target with signs asking for help. Since I didn’t have cash, I justified ignoring them. And over the course of time, I put aside, and soon forgot, the heart wrenching stories of the people I met in Washington, DC. I hardened my heart, made unfounded assumptions, and developed judgmental narratives about the people I was seeing in my own community.
In making this post, I don’t want to make myself out to be some sort of hero. I am ashamed of my lack of community involvement. I have always been an active contributor in my church community, but I have limited my involvement to activities that felt safe and comfortable. I can no longer sit on the sidelines of my community and allow others to suffer, no matter what their story is, without finding some way to help. If I am really a Christian, changed by the life and example of Jesus, I must choose to involve myself with those suffering around me. And even though I have sat on the sidelines for years, Jesus, in his infinite kindness, has gently nudged me outside of my comfort zone to actively serve my community.
This year, I am partnering with Community Cares, a local agency that helps our homeless population in Cumberland County. They are sponsoring a national event called “Coldest Night of the Year” and it takes place on February 25. It will be a two-mile walk in the evening with others in the community in the hopes of raising funds and awareness for the homeless. I am hoping to raise $100+ for my walk. If you are interested in helping, this link will lead you to a secure site to donate. Every donation counts and even just the price of a cup of coffee will help me reach my goal.
Recently, I read the account of Job in The Message Bible. Job had lost his children, his crops, and all his animals. In essence, he had lost everything and was, in many ways, similar to a homeless person. In his moments of greatest despair, his friends tried to fathom what he had done to deserve the supposed wrath of God. They also give him advice on how to get out of this situation. In Chapter 7, Job responds to his friends by saying, “Do you think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps? Why, I don’t even have any boots.” I no longer want to be one of Job’s friends. Instead, I want to help give boots to those who need them.
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