This week, Wendy and I traveled to New York with our friends Ron and Beth Hall for some press conferences to raise awareness about homelessness. I was eager for the trip with some of my favorite people dedicated to one of my favorite causes, but I had no idea how God would open my own eyes.
When we arrived, Wendy and I had to laugh at our hotel accommodations. In short, they were pretty abysmal in comparison to what we've gotten used to on our travels together, but we were game and just excited to be there. After checking in and unpacking, we all headed to a nearby drugstore for some necessities.
As we were leaving the store, we noticed a young woman nearby wrapped in blankets. Ron approached her and began asking her some questions. We learned that her name was Ashley, she was 28 and had been homeless for 6 months. Like everyone living in poverty and homelessness, she had a story and was now living a reality she had never expected.
As it happened, my husband was originally planning to join us on the trip, so we had 2 rooms. We invited Ashley to come with us and use our second room. As she expressed her gratitude, she shared with us just how badly she wanted a bath and the opportunity to get cleaned up. She wanted the dignity of cleanliness that we too often take for granted.
The next morning, we were planning to attend a full day at the New York City Rescue Mission. We invited Ashley to join us, and she sat beside us, alongside leaders of top corporations, a perfect picture of brokenness inside of beauty. At the end of the day, we arranged for Ashley to use a room at the Rescue Mission. We showed her the rooms, heard the rules and sent her back to the hotel to collect her things.
I wish this story had a happy ending in which I could declare that Ashley has been radically transformed and is safely situated at the Mission, but unfortunately, that isn't true. Ashley left to get her things and didn't return. But thankfully we can cling to Jeremiah 29:11, which assures us that God has plans for Ashley. He has a hope and a future appointed just for her. We had the opportunity to declare that truth over her, and Ron and I agreed that the seeds that were planted during our time with Ashley may blossom into hope and restoration for her. Homelessness and its factors and symptoms are complex, but they aren't hopeless. Homelessness has a face. It's Ashley's face... it's the face of thousands of people who find themselves in a wholly unexpected situation, fighting for survival. But I'm encouraged by the simple truth that Jesus knows and recognizes each of His precious children. They are not forgotten or unseen, and I urge you to keep your eyes open for the Ashleys around you. Give them hope, encouragement, dignity and love. Make sure they know that we have not forgotten them. We are not blind to them.
As we arrived back in Charlotte, I was more aware than ever of the luxuries we live in that we all-too-often take for granted. Ashley was so thankful for a bath... something that is routine for me. This week, in the heart of Thanksgiving, I ask that you make yourself aware of the luxuries you have immediate access to and extend your arms to those in your path that don't. Be grateful and be generous. Be Jesus.