5.23.2007

at home with the homeless


This life is not long enough for all of the things I want to do. I care...I just care so much!


This past week I was caught up in a conversation about the evolution of ethics and morality and how our society reflects the changes we make. It was a riveting discussion. As we were talking I was also thinking about some of the things I want to do with my life. I have a great many dreams and these dreams are very closely tied to my identity.

Then, as if I was just slugged in the gut, I was hit with a very heavy truth; I keep talking about all the things things I want to do in my life to help people and serve people, but what am I doing right here, right now, today? The answer to that question is, well, nothing!

Do I have an excuse?

That very night I was lying in bed with my laptop (like I am right now) stealing a wifi signal (like I am right now) and I googled some local volunteer opportunities. I settled on my truest heart-tugging interest which is homelessness.


Tonight I spent some time at The Guest House here in Milwaukee. I helped with some administrative projects and I was able to take a tour and learn about their programs and services. It was incredible and I want to share my experience with you.


I left work at 4:30 with plans to head straight over to The Guest House. I was dressed all nice in my professional business clothes. It was a long day of work stuff, training the new girl, working on more projects, and taking care of a bazillion needs. I work with some of the wealthiest people around. I pay $85.00/month just to have the privilege of parking my car in the garage every day. The rugs in the lobby by my desk are worth more than a years tuition at my Bible College (which is about $22,000). I left the glamorous world that seems so normal to me and I drove 4 minutes down the road to an area where I had to lock my doors and watch my back. I parked on the street in front of the shelter and I walked up to the door which was bolted shut. There was already a line of worn down rough looking men waiting for a hot shower, a good meal, and a soft place to sleep. I stopped for a second in front of one man who was sitting down smoking his cigarette. I smiled. I said hello. He smiled back.

Inside the building everyone seemed so eager to meet me. It was really cool. They showed me around and explained how everything works. I learned about the beginnings of the shelter nearly 25 years ago. Most importantly I learned of the many different ways I can help!

After a little while I went upstairs and helped in the office doing some administrative projects.


While I was there a Volunteer Group came to deliver dinner. They brought pizzas for the 80 men who were staying the night. They didn't bring enough, so many of the guys had to skip another meal. That made my heart really sad. I was really hungry too, and knowing that a bunch of starving guys downstairs were watching other people dine on warm cheesy pizza slices made me feel a little more able to survive.


I worked for about 4 hours on some huge projects. It was really cool to be there. But I learned something about service. When I think of doing service projects I guess I sort of think of it as being a big deal. I mean, seriously...I'm sacrificing MY time to go and help other people. Why wouldn't that be a big deal? Tonight I realized that I was just one in hundreds of volunteers who continuously flow through this shelter. Anything I did was appreciated, but at the same time it was no more special than a day of work. Shelters survive because of volunteer work. It's not a big deal, I guess it's sort of expected. Of course they are thankful, they were wonderfully thankful...but it was work that needed to be done and I did it. End of story, nothing fancy.


It's really interesting once you think about it. Service is humbling, not just because you end up doing things that are hard or boring or gross. Service is humbling because you realize that it's mundane and normal and somewhat unrecognized. If I stand in a line and hand out toiletries and bed sheets to a bunch of tired guys, I'm just a body doing service. No one will remember me. No one will notice me. I'm just a body. That's all.


Being there tonight was so beautiful. I couldn't help but to smile at those men because they had come to a place where people truly cared. It was an entirely different world than my daily money driven successful law firm environment. It was a wonderful contrast.


Next week I'm going over to a place called The Hope House. I'm anticipating an entirely different experience since it is a Women/Children shelter. Between both places I feel that I can really keep my hands working.


In this moment I keep thinking that my service to the people in the shelters will never come close to the measure of understanding and teaching I will receive from them. We are all people, people who make choices, and people who need love.


Thanks for listening. I encourage you to get involved in your community.

2 comments:

Momma Amy said...

That was so heartfelt! We have a Homeless Shelter here in our small town and our church rotates with other churches in town to provide meals and staff the shelter for overnights. We have helped provide meals several times, which is always a good reminder of how blessed we are! Thanks for the encouragement and great example of serving!

Stace said...

That is AWESOME! I am so glad you have this opportunity. I admire you so much! Not only for the service you are doing but most of all for your heart and passion for people. That's something that really stands out to people and makes a difference in lives.
I think it's cool too how you can have the privilege to be involved in two different places with very different personalities.