We still have a lot of work to do in order for me to say that this is the land I love. I say we because I too recognize that systemic oppression, poverty, racism, homelessness will not end if I sit back with no action.
This past weekend, I attended this show choir, and one of the musical pieces was “The Grand Ol’ Flag.” As I listened to the words and watched these adorable children run on stage with their red, white and blue flag-printed vests and their huge patriotic smiles dancing and screaming lyrics about “the land, I love; the home of the free and the brave.” I found my reaction to be opposite that of the entertained crowd full of laughter. For some reason, I was completely and utterly frozen in my emotions. As I listened to the lyrics, I couldn’t help but think of our homeless neighbors who are struggling with the ability to be free, to be brave, to love, to have hope in this grand ol’ flag as Americans. I just pictured Leilah*, a mother who is currently homeless with Kesha, her adult daughter with Down Syndrome. They live out of a moving truck and between local motels.
One of the hardest realities of working in homeless services is listening to a person’s story and simply not knowing if you will be able to help them. There's no worse a feeling in the world than to listen to the pain of a mother and only muster up the courage to say without crying, “I am so sorry Leilah. Hang in there, okay? We are here for you.” Those are the only few words I could tell Leilah as she cried on the phone and explained to me how stressed, scared and torn up she was about not having a place to live. Leilah continued to explain that she had saved up two days worth of finances and that she struggled with how to use it most effectively. Her 28-day stay in motels granted by the Social Service Office had ended, and she barely had enough money to feed herself and Kesha. She asked me on the phone if I thought she should use the last bit of her money on a night at the motel or food and gas. My eyes filled with tears as this mother was on the street scraping by to survive with her daughter.
A question that I constantly wrestle with Jesus in prayer is why does poverty have to be people’s stories? Why do these families have to hurt so bad and live within these circumstances in the world? Why does this mother who has worked her ass off her entire life for her children still have to choose between shelter and food?
Why do we still have food deserts and homeless families scraping by in this overly developed country? You make it impossible for individuals, let alone families of low-socioeconomic status, to live. The supposed "American Dream" is a false reality for many, yet you still expect people to love you and be brave.
I often feel discouraged while serving my homeless neighbors, but this specific case has barriers and insufficient housing resources available; it just feels like an unfair race that we never had the fair opportunity to win. So, for that, I can’t say I love the land because you won’t even give my homeless neighbors a piece of it. Until things change, I will be brave for Leilah and Kesha because I see it in their eyes that they are running on fumes to have hope. I also have to believe we serve a God that hears these families’ desperate cries. He’s present in the desperate nights and never abandons us in times of crisis. Now, the Gospel is what I will never fail to revert to in times of such difficulty in the world.
A Disappointed US Citizen
*name changed to protect the privacy of our neighbors