I climbed somewhat frantically over a large pile of white rocks, and almost slipped as they gave way under my adrenaline-propelled feet. The Monday morning rush hour sped by on the freeway directly above me. A deep breath. Sweat was beading on my forehead. Where was Kathy?
This wasn’t exactly what I had imaged a few months earlier when my roommate Jenny and I decided to ask Kathy to live with us. Kathy had been living on the street—for a long time. Probably longer than I had been alive. She had a lot of the issues and problems that most people who live on the street have. We met her one night when we were giving out LoveBags (kits containing bottled water, a tuna lunch pack, granola bar and some dry socks) where she was living, under an overpass. It was a matter of life or death that she get off the street. A few weeks later she moved in with Jenny and I.
As followers of Jesus, we had studied how He simply did life and invited others to join Him, so we invited Kathy to join us. Yard work, movies, cooking, reading the Bible, painting our house, prayer and talking about boys (homeless have crushes, too) filled up our time; we shared life and the endless things that occupy the moments of the day. We laughed together, cried together and ran out of money together.
I saw transformation in Kathy that I had never previously witnessed in a person. I distinctly remember the declaration she made the first week she moved in: skirts, perfume, “that black stuff you put on your eyelashes” and “girly” things would have nothing to do with her. However, within a month she was asking for makeup tips and building a perfume collection that would rival Elizabeth Taylor’s. The transformation taking place inside of her was being reflected on the outside. For the first time in her life, she was discovering her value and beauty.
Kathy blossomed in every possible way. When she turned 48, we threw her a party with 60 of her closest friends, a mountain of food, a DJ, limo and, of course, a new dress and shoes. She’d never had a birthday party before. Eventually, she even began to join us when we would go out and meet with the homeless in our city, many of them her friends. The redeemed was playing a role in the redeeming.
People have asked me what it’s like to live with a homeless person and why I would choose that, especially as a 23-year-old. Here’s what I found: Kathy and I were really similar and shared the same needs as every other human—to be loved, known, part of a community. I saw myself in her. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t horrendously hard at times. There were of course many good days; I couldn’t possibly imagine my life and our home without Kathy in it—she brought us so much joy. Other days, I was ready to move her and all of her stuff back under the bridge. The right thing often is not easy.
But why did I want to share a house with Kathy? There are a lot of reasons. The biggest one was because I had seen God’s heart expressed so clearly in Jesus; His heart for the homeless, the outcasts, the dirty, the whores, the drug addicts, the total screw-ups. You can’t read about Jesus for more than five minutes before you stumble across His tenacious love for these kinds of people. And with all of my being, I wanted His life to flow through my own; I wanted to love the people He so deeply loves. That’s why Kathy moved in.
That humid Monday morning under the overpass, we eventually found her. She was cradled in a fetal position weeping. After living with us for six months, the vice that had held her for so many years once again had grabbed her with all of its violent force and she had not resisted. We wrapped our arms around her and wept with her. She was no longer “one of them,” she was indeed our sister; permanently grafted into our hearts. There have been few moments in my life when I have felt love surge so deeply in my heart for someone as I experienced in those moments under the bridge.
Kathy came home with us that morning and in the days following she struggled to choose the right things; she ended up violating her parole and was sentenced to two years of prison. That is where she is at right now.
She is doing so well.
Sitting in a prison isn’t new to her, so what makes this time different? This time, for the first, time she’s had the experience of being loved by a community of people who fought for her and are continuing to fight for her; that community of people introduced her to the God who is fighting for her, and now she knows this God and what it means to have a life-transforming relationship with Him.
I live in Indiana now, but whenever I’m in Florida I visit her. The partially coherent, crack addict I had met two years ago on the street is a distant shadow to the beautiful woman that is now etched into my heart. She is an entirely different person. I wrote her today and when she writes me back her letter will be three or four pages long and full of references to the time we lived together, smiley faces and inside jokes that only she and I get. I’ll write her back, and will print “princess #1” on the envelope, the nickname she acquired during our time living together.
Her story is unfolding, and she is becoming more and more beautiful with each page.
“God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at it’s own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that state the lumps on the shoulders – no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings – may even give it an awkward appearance.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Awkward, yes, but her wings are there and are emerging and one day she will soar.