A Micah guest stood before a church congregation several weeks ago and shared her story. What they saw was a confident middle-aged woman who had been through a great deal in recent years. Although it was clear she had overcome challenges, those in the room could never fully understand what it took for her to get there.
At her lowest point, almost four years prior, she was hunched over a chair while a case manager snipped her long blonde locks to the floor. In her months of staying outside and holding up in cheap motels she had collected such a horrendous case of the creepy crawlies that no amount of lice treatment could restore her former tresses. This hopeless place was not where the Mary Washington College alum and private high school graduate had pictured herself at the peak of her life. Her sites had once been set on law school, a husband and a family. But the journey, riddled with one tragedy after another, sent her spiraling time and again.
Two months after graduating college, her mother died. She passed up law school, began a career in the IT industry and got married instead.
One of her three children, born at 23 weeks, died fourteen days after birth. Her marriage began to grow apart.
After nine years of marriage, she split with her husband. He was killed in a car accident three weeks later.
Drinking numbed her pain, but it cost her a job, home and custody of her children. And for more than half a decade it left her in a tent, begging for money and at the doorstep of Micah Ministries. So chronically homeless was she then, that she became one of the first candidates for Micah’s supportive housing program when it became fully operational in 2010. Unlike rapid re-housing where clients receive rental subsidies and case management for the shortest amount of time necessary to reach stabilization, supportive housing is designed for those who need indefinite support.
While her roommates began to stabilize, acquiring benefits and developing other supports, she spent her first year of supportive housing laying on the couch in the same green sweatshirt and grey pants with a beer handily tucked behind the couch corner.
At about the year mark, there was little support that her supportive housing household continued to require. Her liver wasn’t functioning properly and she was showing signs of nerve damage, but there was nothing about her pattern that led us to believe there was any more we could do to encourage alcohol treatment and work pursuits. As Micah sometimes does in its effort to end homelessness, our staff accepted that she was as stably housed as she was going to get and it was time to close her from our program.
Months went by.
Until the phone rang one day with a strange request. She hadn’t had a drink in several weeks and was searching for something good to occupy her time. She wanted to volunteer.
It started with a few hours and slowly grew to two and three times a week. Before too long, we weren’t the only place she was lending her time. Our guest had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous quite regularly. She had taken well to the community it offers, found a sponsor and put her computer skills to work by taking on the responsibility of updating their monthly meeting list.
On her own, she sought professional assistance with panic attacks and clinical depression, which she learned had triggered her alcoholism so many years ago. She took initiative to ask Micah for help finding a job. And this November she cashed her first paycheck in years.
To hear her tell the story today, her decision to change her lifestyle had a lot to do with the old idea of getting “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” But her persistence to maintain that decision, she attributes to the consistent hospitality extended to her throughout her journey.
“Were it not for Micah’s love, support and consistency, which was about the only consistent thing in my life, it’s unlikely I’d be here today,” she told that church congregation this month. “They showed me love and offered me a way out countless times–even times when I was not very lovable. It took me a while to take that hand, but I eventually did.”
Micah believes the gift of permanent housing is the greatest display of hospitality that our neighbors in need can receive. The people we help never fail to disappoint us, trouble us and make us think twice about whether they deserve what we can offer. But it isn’t up to us earthly beings to decide any of that. Our challenge is simply this: love unconditionally, care hospitably and remember that change in the lives of our brothers and sisters is not on our schedule, but that of holy spirit.
It’s all the more reason why Micah is choosing to house its guests first, and let God do the rest.