A year ago this past week I left my first post-college job.  For almost three years after I finished college, I had the privilege of assisting in the development and operation of a homeless services center.  The facility was literally the first place homeless individuals and families came when looking for help, whether they needed housing, a job, mental health services, or even just a place to take a shower.  They came directly from the streets into our facility – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

My experiences in that place are completely unique to every other professional or personal experience I have had.  I have plenty of stories that you just couldn’t make up if you tried.  But one of the primary lessons I learned within those walls is a glimpse of what it is like to be homeless.

It means you live day to day.  You live to survive.  It means you have a hard time thinking about anything beyond how you’ll get your next meal, where you’ll sleep tonight, whether it’s safe.  It means that sometimes victory is making it to see the sun rise again.  Finding a job and a permanent place to live can seem beyond comprehension because you have to survive today first.  It means it’s hard to trust other people because you don’t know their motives.  It means you have to depend on other people for almost everything, even a toothbrush.  And sometimes those same people make assumptions about why you are in your situation without ever even asking your name.  It means that someone who will look you in the eye and treat you like a fellow human being matters more than anything else.  It means eating leftover food and wearing leftover clothes.  It means that people don’t realize you may have a graduate degree.  It means being misunderstood.  It means beginning to believe the lies that others have assumed about you and then developing their same expectations about yourself.

Day in and day out, I encountered individuals dealing with humbling and often humiliating experiences.  And I came to understand what it meant to be homeless.

Or so I thought.

When I packed up my office and then our home to move to Boston last summer, I had no idea what lay before us. 

My husband and I had made plans to live off campus near the seminary, but for reasons for which I am now incredibly grateful, it did not work out.  However, we did not know that our housing situation would not work out for three and a half months. 

For three and half months, we hopped around, living place to place and waiting on our home to be made available to us.  We lived with unmet expectations, unbelievable frustration, and the awkwardness of trying to explain to others what was going on and why.  My husband spent the night before he started graduate school sleeping in someone else’s guest room.  We both celebrated our birthdays while living in an extended stay hotel.  I had to use my husband’s campus mailbox as my resume address when interviewing for a job.  Fall in New England came, and it didn’t matter that all we had with us were summer clothes in our suitcases.  Everything we owned was packed up in storage, waiting to be unpacked in our home. 

The problem was that we didn’t have one. 

Ironically, after three years, I found myself homeless, even though I wasn’t living on the streets.

I will tell you that it was not a comfortable feeling.  In fact, I would not wish it on anyone. 

But I think it’s important to share that those three and a half months brought a lot of ugly stuff to the surface in my life.  Stuff that I would like to say I never deal with, especially considering the kinds of people and places I have spent years serving.  I would like to say that I find no comfort in earthly belongings, no security in being able to clearly tell someone where I live when I meet them for the first time.  I wish I could say that I didn’t care what I wear or whether I have a dishwasher.  But when it counted, there was a real struggle in my soul over these things.  It’s a lot easier to say I am willing to give it all up and trust God to provide after a good night’s sleep on my own mattress and a shower with my own towels.

And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or sping.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  (Matthew 6:28-32)

For the first time in my life, I could relate to these verses.  I was literally living out of a suitcase, prepared only for summer days in the midst of a New England fall.  In fact, my tennis shoes were the only closed-toed shoes I had in my possession.  I had to interview for jobs, not to mention try to stay warm, with what I stuffed in my suitcase on a very hot August day. 

I will not pretend that we had no money and no possessions to our name.  But through the scarcity and instability of those months, I came to understand the provision of God in a whole new way.  And I also came to understand more of what it means to have a home – and to wait for it.

Because I’m not home yet.

All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on the earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:13-16)  

May the unpredictability of this life loosen our grip on it.

May our pursuit of familiarity and security drive us to the only One who is constant.

May we know Him to be our only home.

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