Wonder what you have in common with the homeless?
Our bus pulls curbside and stops. I see the red painted door on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Nestled between posh brownstone buildings in one of the world’s wealthiest neighborhoods is the Bowery Mission for Women. It’s a rescue mission—rescuing the homeless and helpless—for Christ’s sake.
Warm hands and smiles welcome us at the door and we climb spiraling oak stairs to the fourth floor parlor. More warm hands and smiles direct us to floral upholstered couches, all prim and proper, piled with pillows.
We sit and we look into women’s eyes longing—longing for love—longing for truth—longing for connection. Don’t we all long for such?
We begin by sharing names and I feel it right then. Names spoken exude identity and I feel the sameness, the oneness, though we have traveled seemingly different paths. Here sit three women who have lost all and are thankful for heated room and real bed and, mostly, for people who care enough to look them in the eye and call them by name. Finally, people who stop looking past and start looking in to see kindred souls.
What can I give that matters? What can I say that has meaning? I have never been homeless or impoverished—never gone without a meal or a bed or a coat or a heated room. Or have I?
Sometimes the physically impoverished mirror the state of our souls, our spiritual and emotional poverty. I once lived in a heated home and slept in a real bed and had enough food, yet I had no sense of love and no relationship with God. I was starving and helpless and oh so scared—on the inside.
I was hurting bad from years of words and actions that sliced straight through my heart and into my soul leaving unseen scars I alone still see. And yet, I had so much of what this world deems good and filling. I was accomplished, by the world’s standards. In reality, I was poor and wanting—often wanting to die.
Spiritual poverty and physical poverty can lead to the same blessing once we realize our impoverished, helpless state. We are in position to see God and to accept the saving we desperately need. Poverty of all sorts can be a blessing—to those who give and to those who receive.
Today, I want to connect with these women so badly because they are flesh-and-blood like me with hearts and souls like mine. They smile and they cry. They feel. They fear and they hope. Don’t we all? And these women and we—we are all one in Christ despite differences, aren’t we?
And are we really so different?
Affluence hides hearts that hurt, souls that search. Where money ends and bareness begins, who are we really?
We’re the same, deep down, when coverings are gone. Money does not buy joy or peace or love or truth.
Truth is found here for free—in the Bowery Mission for Women. And the truth is . . .
Once we realize we have nothing, we are in perfect position to receive everything.
When we come to the end of ourselves—our hopes and dreams, our resources and abilities, we find ourselves with nothing. When earth’s finery fails to blind us, we can see and receive the mission of Christ—to rescue souls who have lost our way home. He is our way back—back to Eden—back to wholeness—back to the way we were created to be in the beginning–fully loved, at peace, in restored relationship with our Creator.
Women once desperate are rescued now—are on their way to wholeness. It’s true that impoverished endings are often wealthy beginnings. Everything we could ever want in this life is found in relationship with God the Father, Jesus the Son, Holy Spirit—three in one—and in relationship with those who have relationship with this triune holy, grace-full God.
One by one, these women who now know God share their stories of loss and hope and utter thankfulness for the love of Christ pouring out to them through Christians. And they want to hear from us? The questions begin.
What career advice can you give these women?
These sweet souls look at us eager and I feel a false divide. To them, we are successful. Maybe so, externally. But internally? How can I bridge the gap and help them see their dignity, their beauty, our commonality in story?
I commend them. It takes guts to admit you’ve hit bottom—to seek help and do the hard work of healing and growing. It takes guts to acknowledge Jesus for who He is—Savior of those who know they need saving. It takes guts to admit who we are in relation to the holy, perfect God who sees straight through us into every crevice we try so desperately to hide and find that He loves us in spite of it all.
It takes guts? Maybe there’s no other choice when we reach our dead ends. Maybe that’s the point of dead ends?
And so, I speak words in this room, feeling naked though clothed. I speak truth of my past, cut on the inside, no external scars to show. I speak of anxiety so great I have been paralyzed to pick up phone and talk to secretaries and simply ask for an application, slamming the phone down after hearing “hello”. I tell of fear overwhelming but faith overcoming, trusting Jesus to hold in my weakness, to lead in my blindness. And I testify of greatness and power and sufficiency—His, not mine. And I encourage to step out and step through the fear because we never walk alone.
And then I stop talking. And I start twitching—on the inside.
I’m scared now. Am I crazy? Did I even answer the question? Did my heart desire to help just fall flat? What will these women think of what I just said? Will they think I’m just another woman privileged who thinks she knows what she doesn’t—who hasn’t lived what they’ve lived—who speaks platitudes, offering crumbs while she eats cake?
I want to crawl under the carpet.
But no. I will to trust God with my heart’s desire. God works miracles with faith the size of a mustard seed. He promises in Matthew 17:20. So I will to trust and not fear. This trusting is choice, not automatic reflex. Though shaking inside, I will—to trust.
After all is said and done, we leave. We leave these precious women who have shown me once again how God brings beauty from ashes. And I know full well the likelihood of our not meeting again till heaven, so I pray and commit them to God’s perfect care.
We reenter the bus and as I take my seat, I take one last look at the red door and the mission being accomplished within. And I wonder . . .
Did I serve you well enough today, God? Did I love you well enough today by loving those you love? I meant to. I hope so. Even this longing, I leave in Your hands.
Later I learn God is true to His word, once again.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Should I not rejoice in my weakness? For once we realize how weak we really are, we will realize how strong He really is. And this means rest—true rest for our souls. My inner twitching stops and I breathe easy. I rest.
Into Your hands, O God, I commit my spirit. Into your hands, O God, I commit their souls.
Later, I hear from the director how these women were moved by weakness revealed. I hear how barriers broke and hope bloomed full because of testimony of trust overpowering fear—of God causing the inner paralyzed to step out, the inner blind to see Him, the deeply hurting and wounded to hope in His healing and actually witness it full.
When lives are touched for good—when God works through the weak, the vulnerable, the open—we celebrate the essence of Christmas together. After all, this is how He came to us—in a manger for common animals. No fanfare. No applause. No bed. No home. No warmth. Weak and vulnerable human—holy and powerful God. He came to bring us home—to warmth and love and perfect provision of our deepest needs. Home—where all striving can cease, where all fear becomes peace. He came to bring us back in a most remarkable way—through weakness—through vulnerability—through willing and ultimate sacrifice—all for love of us. This is Jesus—this is the Holy One we welcome this season.