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'Let's go home, Mommy,' my son insisted one night, 'where ever that is!'



Cover story, Feb. 1990, Moody magazine. ©1990 Moody Bible Institute of Chicago

As I peered out the window into the winter's cold, my prospects for the future appeared bleak. Where are friends when you really need them? I thought. And where would we sleep tonight?

I sat in the local library trying to get warm after leaving my son at school - his fifth so far this year. My desperation seemed overwhelming. Without an address, no employer would hire me; yet without a job, I couldn't find a place to live. It was a no-win situation, and I knew it.

The library had become my daily refuge, and I checked the newspaper for job listings. Day after day, my efforts proved futile. No one seemed willing to train a shelter resident whose only address was a post office box.

"You'll be here today and gone tomorrow," they'd say. I'd admit my situation was unstable, but I needed the job and would hold onto it for dear life.

Would no one give me a chance? Was there any way out of this mess? Discouraged, I recalled the events of the past months.

Divorced, the mother of one, I had really wanted to get off of government assistance. Christian friends had told me it simply wasn't God's means of provision. (That was easy for them to say; they had two incomes and roof over their heads.) Yet I couldn't rely on my ex-husband's erratic support payments. He was always months, sometimes years behind.

So I had accepted a position out of state, working with some attorneys I knew. I'd sold my possessions, signed a year's lease, said my goodbyes, rented a truck, and with my son, Jon, moved 425 miles to Kentucky.

The whilrlwind that followed was a nightmare from which, months later, I had still not awakened.

After only 10 weeks on the job, I was suddenly let go. No notice, no severance pay, no apology. Not even a ticket home. "Donations are down," they said.

So was I.

Unable to find other work, I soon coudn't afford to heat the place we had. We couldn't leave, and we couldn't stay.

My applications for loans were rejected because I was new in town and now unemployed. "I wouldn't be in here looking for a loan," I explained, "if I still had my job!" The bank employees must have thought I was joking, because everybody laughed.

I didn't think it was funny.

I was an honor student, had studied four languages, typed 90 words per minute, and no one wanted me.

Some weeks passed, and when every place in town had my resume, and plenty of time to consider my qualifications, I left my things in storage and turned north to bitter Wisconsin to stay with family - or so I thought.

But two days before Christmas, my dad kicked us out. "You must have done something wrong or you wouldn't have been laid off," he said.

The agony of rejection was devastating, and the stress was beginning to take its toll. Satan tempted me with thoughts of suicide. Wouldn't Jon be better off with someone else? It really isn't fair to him that you can't get your life together.

I recognized his tactics from many years before, prior to receiving Christ as my Savior. But I refused to give in. Call it spiritual stubbornness, but it helped me to survive.

Nevertheless, I felt like a failure in every sense. As an employee, I was disposable. As a parent, I longed to provide some semblance of stability for my son. As a citizen, I had become a burden to every taxpayer. I couldn't do anything right.

With only a few dollars in my pocket, I called the Shelter Hotline. Reared in the suburbs and educated in private schools, I certainly didn't expect what I saw: roaches, rodents, lice-infested sleeping quarters, drug-trafficking, and violence.

Another factor that complicated our situation was the residence requirements of the local school districts. School officials welcomed my son to attend the nearest school, but only as long as we remained in that area. Every time our residence changed, he had to change schools. One place was teaching multiplication tables, the next was already into division.

On particularly cold nights, when the shelters were full, we checked into a motel that, understanding our situation, offered us a 50 percent discount on a pay-later basis. (They had the empty rooms, and considering it was below-zero outside, had to heat the place anyway.)

I soon discovered, however, that because a motel was considered only temporary housing, we were no longer residents of any school district, and Jon was unable to attend a public school.

At first, I home-schooled Jon. (Can you home-school without a home?) But to be eligible even for welfare or Aid for Families With Dependent Children, a parent must provide proof of each child's school attendance. Jon earned A's in all of his classes, but even a Christian school he'd attended a couple of years before, when I was employed, now refused to accept him without a lump-sum tuition payment in advance.

Several weeks and many phone calls later, I found a Lutheran school willing to let me pay his tuition when I found work.

It was a long winter. Constantly moving was not pleasant for Jon. What kind of friendships could he develop when we never knew from one day to the next where we'd be, or for how long? Always the new kid, he was taunted by classmates. "You live in a car," they'd say. "You have roaches."

"Let's go home, Mommy," he insisted one night, "where ever that is!" How could I tell him we didn't have a home?

"My home is God," Corrie ten Boom used to say. I, too, found a shelter in God. I clung to the Scriptures for sheer sanity and hoped my circumstances would change.

I was certainly changing. My relationship with God soared as I found in Him a strength I'd never known. "For what is seen," I was reminded daily - houses, cars, and clothes - "is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Cor 4:18).

There, in the midst of my stormy life, I found the peace of God. The Scriptures began to take on an even more personal meaning. I saw the practicality of the gospel in a new light and re-evaluated my priorities.

Realizing everything I needed could be carried in a bag convinced me of one thing: When you get to the place where God is all you have, you know He's all you'll ever need.

I sensed a closeness to my Savior as never before. Born in a barn, He too had been rejected of men and ousted from place to place. He too had no place to lay His head; and even in death, someone else had to provide a tomb for His burial. Surely He understood what I was feeling.

I also read in the Scriptures of the responsibility of God's people to provide for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan (Deut 14:29). I learned, however, that often those with the least to offer had the most to give.

For a few nights, we slept on the floor of a woman's one-room efficiency apartment. It was so small that when someone wanted to go to the bathroom, everybody had to get up off the floor to make a path to the door. Other individuals, even Christians with lavish lifestyles and luxurious homes, failed to show such compassion.

To my surprise, even those at home fellowships and prayer meetings I attended overlooked the practicality of the gospel. Once I requested prayer for a place to live - and my request was immediately followed by that of a church member who asked for prayer that God would send a tenant to occupy his vacant apartment.

Afterward I approached him and expressed an interest in renting the place, but was turned down. My financial situation was too unstable, he said. I offered to provide references from previous landlords, a 16-year record of on-time rent payments - but to no avail. Ironically, he blamed my situation on my failure to trust God adequately for my provision.

Over a period of months I also sought the counsel of several pastors. I came with no intention of seeking funds (my situation was embarrassing enough); I just needed someone to talk to.

"Why is this happening?" I asked.

Some offered me scriptures; all offered advice. But as I look back, I wonder: When I came to them and expressed my need, why didn't they offer me any practical assistance, either from their church or personally? I couldn't help thinking of 1 John 3:17, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"

Along the way I encountered many "Job's comforters" who preached to me a message of prosperity and success - which translated into one of failure, rejection and condemnation. "You must not be living right, or you wouldn't be going through this," they'd say. "God's people are supposed to be the head, not the tail."

It was humbling to have to ask for a box of food from the church pantry, but even more humiliating when my request was denied with the explanation that "we really provide this ministry only as a service to those who are members; and we haven't seen you here lately." Yet when I'd asked for a ride to attend a service the week before, they could find no one willing to pick me up.

At times, strangers seemed more compassionate than some of my own family, friends, or fellow Christians. I often thought of the Good Samaritan, and how even the priest crossed to the other side of the road rather than get involved (Luke 10:30-37).

Then one day I met a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal at a downtown coffee shop and told her of our situation. When the paper ran a front-page feature story on our predicament, readers responded with offers of money, temporary housing, and even employment. 

I was overwhelmed. Strangers opened their homes and their hearts to me. One call to the paper came from an elderly couple with a large home and empty rooms. They also had big hearts. After a week or two, they offered to keep us indefinitely.

With an address, I soon found employment, saved for a security deposit, and was able in four months to find and afford a place of my own again.

I learned a lot during those homeless momths. Living without a home is more than just a practical inconvenience. It leaves a sense of disorientation within the spirit. Like a shrub that is constantly transplanted, one can never develop any roots.

I cannot count how many places we slept in during that time. I used to wake up at night and wonder, Where am I? Many months later, it still happens on occasion. But most of the other problems, such as spending the entire day trying to find a place for the night, are over.

Whether a tent or a mansion, a home provides more than protection from the elements. It is a place of retreat, somewhere to return to, a point of reference.

Increased government funding for housing, no matter how extensive, will not in itself solve our society's problem of homelessness. Altering a man's external circumstances may for a time simplify his life. But getting to the root of the problem involves providing the individual with an inner hope and chance for change. People can find that hope only in Jesus Christ.

Those who end up in shelters are seldom too proud to admit they've reached the end of the road. They've hit rock bottom, and from there anything is up. Thus, I found other residents in the shelters particularly responsive to the gospel. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor," Jesus said, "but the sick" (Matt 9:12).

It was my faith in God that carried me through those darkest hours - not my education, my friends, or my determination to "do something for myself."

The economy may collapse, my circumstances may be dramatically changed; but I know I can depend upon God, who never changes (Mal 3:6).




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  Loneliness: A Study in the Scriptures    A Study in the Scriptures.  Over 23.6 million people in the US live alone, according to Census Bureau figures. (38% are elderly.) So if you feel lonely, you are not alone!  From the prophet's "I sat alone," and the psalmist's "I am lonely," to Paul's "every man forsook me" -- the Bible says much on the subject of solitude. God himself (not a complaining Adam) declared, "It is not good for the man to be alone..." This 12-page study examines, from a Biblical perspective, the causes, effects, and solution for loneliness. Some of the insights may surprise you!

  'The Backslider in Heart'  A Study in the Scriptures. Every verse on the topic, in one outline.

  Choice Has a Name  Unemployed, uninsured, evicted, totally broke, and clinging to a violent, failing marriage, in a problem pregnancy with the (mis)diagnosis of  possibly carrying a deformed baby ... abortion was still no option. A message of faith and hope, on trusting in the faithfulness of God when everything seems to be going wrong. Published in the Milwaukee Journal, Feb. 21, 1992.

  A Love I Could Not Deny    How one suicidal teen met God in her darkest hour.  Published in Moody magazine, Feb. 1987.  En Espanol: Un Amor Innegable


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