by Meghan Cotter. Meghan is executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that offers holistic care to the community’s street homeless
"Some time back, I watched a friend in need attempt to repair five years worth of disintegrating relationships. The library, a local gymnasium, a number of area businesses and even her family had cut off ties in response to her boisterously disruptive behavior.
" She’d picked up criminal charges—a few nuisance violations, a trespassing or two and an assault on an officer. At times, even the agencies trying to help her had been left with little choice than dismissing her from their facilities. But the more the community isolated her, the more volatile became her symptoms. She grew angrier and louder. Her self-appointment as the spokesperson for her homeless peers turned radical, even threatening. Feeling ignored and stripped of personhood, she waltzed into a church one Sunday, intent on being heard. Just in time for the sermon she rose from the congregation, rolled out a sleeping bag and unleashed a number of choice words to convey the plight of Fredericksburg’s homeless.
" The following morning, the church pastor faced a critical decision. In the interest of safety for his congregation, he too considered banning her from his church building. Instead, he made up his mind to find a way to help this woman. By the end of the week, she was hospitalized and taking medications. Within the month she had stepped down to Micah’s respite home, which cares for homeless individuals when they are discharged from the hospital. She realized how sick she really was, and a new person emerged before our eyes. She reunited with family, paid off fines, regained her driver’s license, became remarkably motivated to comply with doctor’s appointments. She set goals—seeking disability, but only temporarily, going back to school, earning a nursing degree and finding a way to productively address the needs of the community’s homeless.
" By Christmas of 2013, our friend had settled into permanent housing with ample support to achieve any number of the goals she had set for herself. She’s been stably housed, ever since. She’s maintained her mental health treatment schedule, sustained a roommate and worked to regain her place in the community—all because someone made up his mind that she was valuable, worth whatever it took to help her.
" In the season of Christ’s birth, the story of Mary and Joseph’s search for a room reminds us of the choices we have when facing our neighbors in need. Yes, its easier to declare “no room in the inn,” especially for the unruly, the burdened and destitute. But when we make up our mind to find space in the manger, the true face of Christ has the opportunity to emerge.
" Let us not forget that the innkeeper who encountered the holy family had a choice: Stick to the rules that say no room means no room or think outside the box to address the real need before him. Mary was in labor and, no matter who that baby was, it was going to arrive somewhere. But by the time they arrived at the place that finally took them in, many had already chosen the rules over the real need. How many more stops would have been made had their innkeeper sided with the rest?
" As we move about in our world, we too have choices. God puts people of varying needs in front of us each day and we make decisions. We decide if we have time. We choose whether to commit resources. We discern the extent to which we will lend our influence. We determine if the problem is significant enough to offer up something we have that others do not (a room in the inn, for example).
" These choices are important; and they just might be the determining factor for what happens next. No matter what we decide in examining the worldly struggles of others, I hope we can always choose to offer the manger. The manger opens doors to the impossible. It gives power to those without options. And when all hope is seemingly lost, the space created by our sacrifice paves the way for others to do the same."