The Fit Hits the Shan, No. 1: Homeless Man

I’m very excited to share with you not only another great post from my sister, Shan, but the first installment of her monthly column. Woot! Her guest post from last month was hugely popular for good reason. With no further introduction, here’s the our parents’ favorite with another great post!


I wonder who is taking care of the homeless in my conservative southern town.  Tonight I tried to go for a walk downtown and ended up giving a homeless woman and her walmart bags of clothes a ride from the park where she thought she’d seen a man hiding in the trees with a video camera.   When I drove away from the corner where she asked me to drop her, I couldn’t figure out why, in a town with literally hundreds of churches, I couldn’t think of a single good place to take her at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night.

When Rich Mullins introduced the vernacular of Jesus being a homeless man over a decade ago, the idea of homelessness meant little to me. The more loftily worded usually just say, “this world was not his home, he was just passing through”, but the truth is just that there were a good 15 years when his body was homeless.  He lived on the streets.  Slept in the bottom of fishing boats. Ate what his friends could scrounge up.

It would be a gross exaggeration to say that I was ever homeless in the cardboard-box-city sense of the word.  There was a time, though, when I slept and washed and ate in some creative places.   I was asked to leave parking lots by police officers at 3 am so often that how to answer their questions to avoid more became a science.  If you ever find yourself in a borrowed minivan in search of a good night’s sleep, I recommend a 24 hour Walmart; that was in turn recommended to me by the cop who was very politely asking me to leave the church parking lot where I was snuggling down in the van at midnight.

After the emotional angst and drama and uncertainty of those days boiled down over time, I’ve been left with the simple physical memories of those days and nights.  My hair always felt gross when I fell asleep (I almost never go to sleep without washing my hair now, as a result).  The first breath of non-stagnant air when I opened the window in the morning was like drinking moonlight – but it always made me keenly aware of my need for a toothbrush.

Jesus had to smell pretty ripe.  I live in a day of gas station bathrooms and hand sanitizer and I tended to smell like a fine, aged gouda entirely too often.  The man had to smell – on a good day when he was at the lake he was taking naps in dirty fishing nets, for pete’s sake (I’m going to give you a minute to consider that this may be the best possible application of that phrase).  There had to be a “finely aged” odor to him.

Entire religions have been based around this man’s life and death, yet he was a homeless wanderer.  What might it have been like to be a person who offered him a hot shower, a spare toothbrush and toothpaste, clean towels, a bottle of pantene and a cool bed for the night?  What might it have been like to give him a ride to a place where he could find those things?

Every time I’ve given a ride to someone who seems to be carrying all their earthly possessions with them, I’ve been keenly aware that this might turn out to be the type of stranger that we’re warned to avoid as children.  While some “have entertained angels unaware”, some have also been knifed, robbed and left for dead before they knew what hit them.  Not every homeless man is the son of god. Apparently, though, sometimes they are and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to let some BO and matted hair keep me from getting to put a glass of water in his calloused hands.   Why then, did I leave a young woman on a dark street corner, instead of offering her a place to stay for the night?  The reasons are many and range from that knifed-and-left-for-dead scenario to simple fear that I might sound creepy and get maced.  I can do without the mace.  The question, though, is one I don’t want to let myself accept simple answers to.

I haven’t napped on fishing nets, but I remember washing my hair in the sink at the gas station. I need to ask myself why I don’t carry small kits with shampoo and toothpaste and chapstick and purrell in them to give to people that might be heading to a sink themselves.

“Sarah” told me tonight that she hoped Jesus would bless me.  Since she then shut the door to my Jeep to keep the air conditioning in, I think it’s safe to say the issue is whether being homeless even for a short time taught me a damned thing about how blessed I already am.  And it begs the question, “Now what, Shan?”

I need to wonder why I’m not taking care of the homeless in my small southern town.

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8 Responses to The Fit Hits the Shan, No. 1: Homeless Man

  1. Well written post, Shan. Personally, my paralysis often results from the feeling that I have to start the next Teen Challenge or Salvation Army. When I simply help the people that cross my path, an immense feeling of worth fills my life, and I find joy in doing what I can.

  2. shan k says:

    Yeah, the feeling that if I do anything at all, it would need to be Something with a capital ‘S’ is pretty daunting. And I’m afraid that committing to an outreach-in-progress would make me panic and feel trapped and I’d end up dropping the ball. I think at this point I need to start trying to learn what’s available around here and start tentatively dipping toes in the water and see what comes of it.

  3. HopefulLeigh says:

    Gah! This is precisely what I’ve been wrestling with. Thank you for this post, Shan. The homeless population has been on a heart for a few years but always in the back of my head is the warnings about what “they’ll” do to a young woman. I need to do more, I’m just not sure what or how but it does need to be now.

  4. Jenn says:

    Well timed, Shan. The homeless that wander the streets in the downtown of our little city frankly intimidate me. They are brazen and get right in your face to ask for money, and I know that many of them are looking for a score. Some are not, and are genuinely hungry. I try to keep a few granola bars in my purse for those….but I still have a sense of general uneasiness. And it nags at me sometimes. I know I should be doing more, and what paralyzes me is the question of if I help one, do I have to help all of them? And who is more deserving than the other? It breeds avoidance for me….too uncomfortable to just make a move. But I will. Thanks for making me think about it in a different way.

  5. Oh, I struggle with this, wanting to help, but not always knowing just how. Now, that I have children, that fear is greater, and it stops me from giving rides. Perhaps that is smart. I don’t know. But, I do know that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I also know that it’s sad that Walmart is one of the few havens left in many towns. I know that is not as it should be. Love to see you hear again!

  6. Carolyn says:

    Wow. Shan, I missed your first post last month. I’m a relative newcomer here. I wasn’t expecting to read that David’s sister (I’m also the sister of a David) had been sleeping in minivans at one point. You must have an interesting story. Anyway… we have a fairly decent homeless ministry in the Austin area. We suffered a loss though a year or so ago. A dynamic man – a man after God’s own heart I would dare say – who had been our preacher at Church Under The Bridge (church under an overpass where the homeless sleep) was killed in a car accident. Duane had been a celebrity chef at one point in his life. Seriously. Then he gave away or sold everything he owned except his Bible, his guitar, his trumpet, and his chef knives. He went and lived on the beach in Hawaii for many years and preached his heart out to the homeless there. If somebody brought him a fish, he could filet it better than anybody and cooked it for those around him. I have forgotten the story of how he made it to Austin. He got married and had some kids, so he gained some possessions for their sake, but not much. He would be out on the street corners preaching. He preached and played his guitar at Church Under the Bridge. He answered when called any time of day or night. He loved. Oh how he loved. He had his fists up in the air while saying, “Alleluia!” more often than not. HE LOVED GOD. And now he is gone. The ministries still go on, but some of us feel like the air got sucked out of everything. So what do we do? Hubby and I are not called to preach. We had “adopted” a homeless man that we both fell in love with and helped him quite a bit. He has taken off, though. We still hear that people see him sometimes, but we have pieced together enough of his story to realize that he is hiding from something. So do we adopt another person? Do we become permanent members of Church Under the Bridge? Do we bring one of these people to live in the room that has sat empty since my Mom passed? Can anyone tell me? Once again, my comment is getting longer than the post and I still owe your brother and his wife an email, so I had better skat, but if anyone has good answers for these questions, I’m all ears.

    • shan k says:

      People like your friend are inspiring, in the truest sense. Not only because they’re doing something, but because they seem to have so obviously found their right path to giving and kindness. There are so many questions about how and where and how often and to what extent to do things, that I feel a bit lost in the forest of questions. All I know right now is that I have to keep wrestling with the questions. Turning my back and hiding my mind can’t be all there is.

  7. i know more than one homeless heart that you’ve engulfed in unsure hands and held onto until there was rest. set aside the fact that i think you’re the most giving soul on the planet, there are two people who have often been lost and have literally and figuratively been sheltered, more times than i can count, in your home. “sarah” was one of the lucky ones; to have shared a ride with you.

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