I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s because my flea-ridden cat insists on sleeping on top of me every night. Maybe it’s because my youngest son had a possible seizure over Thanksgiving and now the doctor is sending us to a neurologist. Maybe it’s because my day felt like absolute trash and the Advent #Pray25 Reflections in the Hallow App didn’t help my conscience.
(I mean, like, how can you sleep when you know Jesus is looking at you like this.)
Jonathan Roumie and Vanessa Benavente from the Chosen read from the Gospel of Luke tonight and focused on the lesser-known character: The Innkeeper. We were to imagine being in the crowd in Bethlehem with the anxiety of the census. We were to imagine the stress and pressure of Mary and Joseph as her body decided that this would be the night to give birth. One after another, the Innkeepers “closed the door on their need – closed the door on welcoming Christ into their home.”
When our family finished the reflection and closed in prayer, I asked them to stay put and listen to my day and offer any insight. I work in a parish office, and today was the day that the beautiful hearts of the church opened the doors of the hall to the homeless and poor for a Christmas breakfast. The volunteers had spent the past few weeks ordering clothes and food, collecting toiletries and gift cards, and putting together the gift bags for the individuals and families who would arrive for the party.
I have a small part to play in the homeless outreach as the office manager of the church – making copies of receipts, scanning documents and sending them to the coordinators of the food bank, etc. There was even a time when a man came asking for clothes and food – he was wet. The smell told me that he was not wet from having slept in the rain. I made him food and got him clothes, and the sacristan opened the cry room for him to sit and eat. I asked him how he was doing, and his response was, “I have people inside me. They’re using me as a threshold.”
(Photo by Iki Ikram)
As the days have been getting colder, more and more people have been coming “to the inn” looking for help. An older woman and “her autistic, adult son” (who is not actually her son) have been my most recent visitors. They needed me to pay for another hotel room for them, and even though I would love to get a hotel room for every homeless person in the city, I personally don’t write the checks. I offered to get them an uber to the next city over where they have shelters and hot meals every night of the week during the winter months, but they stood me up.
In order to help mitigate some of the other needs of the city, the church bought gift cards to Wawa and Walmart for me to hand out to those who needed emergency gas and food. It was an absolute mistake to hand one of the gas cards out today during the breakfast, because as soon as the news got out that “the office was handing out gift cards for gas,” the line went from two people to twenty in a matter of seconds. Embittered, “I closed the door on their need” – closed the door on welcoming them into the inner sanctum of my office, because the ridiculous and animalistic desperation for freebies made me furious.
The idea of serving the homeless is always novel when they aren’t crawling on top of you. Handing them a cup of coffee and a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin makes the soul feel great. It’s different when the reality smacks you in the face over and over again that there’s never enough food, never enough gas cards, and never enough hotel rooms. I wonder if this was how the Innkeeper felt, surrounded by the pressing mobs who were all desperate for shelter and food. He wouldn’t have even been looking for the Messiah, he would’ve just been trying to keep his head above water. And here comes a dirty dude with his dirty and pregnant wife . . . if it is his wife.
This was the question I posed to my family. How am I supposed to be the Innkeeper when most of the time these people would happily take the shirt off my back and then get mad because I didn’t give them my shoes. How do you see Christ in the poor when the poor lie to you about how everyone in their family died this year and they have no one to help them.
Sometimes I want to throw in the towel and say, “This is NOT in my job description. I did NOT sign up to be the Outreach Office.” Then again, I’m sitting here typing this at two in the morning, because I did sign up for this and this is in my job description as a follower of Christ. I look at my mom who works as a college professor by day and then works the homeless clinic at night as a bi-lingual doctor. My friend’s daughter texted me a few days ago asking how she could pray for me. She works in Denver, Colorado with Christ in the City – a ministry focused solely on the homeless.
I think I know what I’m going to text back. I need her to pray that my heart can truly “see” Christ in the poor. I need discernment and wisdom. I need a gentle heart. I need human formation. I need hope. All the things the Innkeeper lacked, I need. This season, pray for me that I can truly love like Christ. This is not easy for me, but I do want to try. If you have experience working with the homeless, please comment below. If you know anyone who has this kind of experience, please share this article. We are all working together for the glory of God that He may be known to the ends of the earth.
Kelly, what a beautiful reflection! Thanks! May you all have a very blessed Christmas!
This reflection really touched my heart as someone who also worked in a parish office in a busy inner city. I struggled so much with these same exact feelings. Thank you for your honesty.