This week, I want to introduce you to a new contributor to our “Mercy Matters” series, Stephanie Clouatre Davis. I first met Stephanie when I was a freshmen in college, and she was in graduate school. She opened my eyes to a lay woman being a leader in Catholic ministry. She not only is someone who modeled for me how to work in ministry, but she also modeled for me how to live out her both/and call of motherhood and ministry. Today, she is a dear heart friend, who travels the country ministering to teens and adults through talks, workshops and retreats. You can check out her ministry here! This week, she reflects on how she’s learned to shelter with the Homeless!
Merciful actions like “sheltering the homeless” are easy until you are “the homeless.” Acts of mercy given from a powerless, empty, non-judgmental space, though arguable impossible, are what we seek. In that seeking, though, we invite unbelievable waves of mercy upon ourselves measured and numbered only by our ability to be powerless and empty.
A personal encounter with homelessness:
In 2005, like many living in New Orleans, I watched the news for days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, then not a name associated with any bad news. We watched closely, but with a given humored and relaxed attitude carried by many in the south. With a 5 month and 2 year old, we gathered a few “onesies” and diapers for our girls, some books for lesson plan writing for me and a computer or two for my engineer husband. We left the city for my mother’s home in a smaller country town. Then, we sat up through the night listening to the radio as those whom weathered the storm reported. Nearing the early morning, we listened to a glimpse of a report that stated that our neighborhood had “water up to the middle of the stop sign.” My husband and I caught each other’s eyes knowing that surely the water had gotten into the first floor of our house. In the unfolding days, weeks and even years, we measured our life according to the mold that encased our house, the house we lost and all the things we lost. The moment in which I sat on a curb as my husband ran into a pop-up St. Vincent de Paul to retrieve a baby bed and the moments various national and state governments attempted to assist me in funding, separated me from who I was and who I would be as a giver of mercy.
Mercy for me today:
Mercy I realize now, as I ponder back to that moment of homelessness where I refused help from many out a place of pride, can be a power see-saw. Each person is merited dignity that is granted through their humanity; dignity affords each human some power. Some people that are secure and comfortable in a home may be confused why those that have nothing are not more thankful and open to receive. Once you lose that security of four walls and warmth provided by a feeling of home, shame encases you. As a mother and a wife, I felt as though I had failed to provide for my family. My humiliated eyes, ears and heart were unable to receive all that was being given to me from those offering mercy because my dignity had been taken from me. I could not allow myself to be a victim.
Actions of mercy that I did FOR other people before I lost my own home became actions that I now do WITH those that are on a journey to a place of security and home. Many of us lack physical homes; while others feel vast and all-encompassing feelings of emotional and spiritual homelessness.
When I think of homeless, my mind thinks no longer just of providing a person a home for a night or a friendship for a moment then walking away, but instead of providing moments in which I can walk with the person as she or he creates a home physically, emotionally or spiritually. Too, I am very aware of the vulnerability of homelessness, and that awareness alone cultivates a heart of mercy within me.
How can we shelter WITH the homeless?
- With great intention, take moments to see those around you. Look for those who are encased in loneliness. Many people feel emotional and spiritual homelessness; cultivate eyes that see these people.
- Cultivate a life of simplicity in a world of complexities and busyness by daily allotting time of quiet.
- Take up only the space you need. Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ provides a great template for creating a simple common home for all people.
- Edge out unnecessary things in your life in an effort to cultivate moments to help those dealing with homelessness in your community.
- Use your gifts. Some of us are called to work on policy and run major centers for homelessness, while some of us have unique gifts of sitting and walking with. Cultivate time in your life to understand your gifts so that your gifts might be used succinctly.
- Visit your homeless shelter and soup kitchens. When you visit, visit the centers with the intention of journey with your neighbors. Make time to listen and sit with, do not overly busy yourself with doing.
Want to go deeper?
- Documents on Homelessness
- A Great Center for Homeless
- Don’t miss out on Miracle Moment
- Resources for assisting those who feel emotional and spiritual isolation