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“When I was a young girl, my mother beat me and would burn me with cigarette butts when she was angry. It got so bad I had to run, and I spent four months living on the street under the bridge. I was so hungry I picked from the garbage for food.”
I love the story of the first Christmas. Shepherds in awe, angels proclaiming, wise men seeking. We don’t talk much about the Innkeeper. “No Room at the Inn” is about all we remember. Couldn’t he do more? He gave Mary and Joseph all the shelter he could.
As a kind of Innkeeper myself, I wonder if he forever asked himself if he had done enough by sending the Holy Family to the back stable. We don’t always have enough beds here at Covenant House, but we do everything we can for our kids, helping them escape the hopelessness of homelessness. We are left to wonder: Did we do enough? Was our kindness enough? What difference did we make? But Christmas never disappoints. We always get our gift (boy I really needed this one), and I want to share it with you.
I was driving down the Garden State Parkway to the shore on a Friday to give a 10-minute talk at our Asbury Sleep Out. I hit traffic (surprise!), and I allowed it to aggravate me. When I walked in the church hall, my mind and heart were not open. Sue and Marcia from our team met me at the door. I was focused on doing my talk ASAP so I could get back on the road. They were focused on Rachel who worked at the church and was our host for the night.
“You have to meet Rachel,” Marcia said and brought me back to the kitchen. Rachel immediately grabbed my hands and asked me how long I’ve been at Covenant House. She got tears in her eyes and said: “You were there when I was there.” Thirty years ago she had been homeless, living under the George Washington Bridge. “When I was a young girl, my mother beat me and would burn me with cigarette butts when she was angry. It got so bad I had to run, and I spent four months living on the street under the bridge. I was so hungry I picked from the garbage for food.”
Covenant House outreach met Rachel there one night – up on the hill, past the GWB, just off the bike path. “I remember sitting there at night, and a Covenant House outreach worker came up and sat next to me and told me how extraordinary I was because I was surviving (over four months) on the street as a young girl. I can’t remember her name. I wish I could ‘cause she saved my life.” They gave her a sandwich and a blanket to keep her warm. Rachel stayed under the bridge wrapped in the blanket.
Like many of our kids, Rachel did not come in right away. She did not trust. Would you? “The outreach worker kept coming back.” Our staff is wonderfully fearless, relentless and loving in their willingness to reach out in faith to these lonely souls. Finally, Rachel decided to give Covenant House – and life – a try.
“I am not sure if it was the kindness in her face or if it was getting colder and more dangerous on the streets, but I decided to go to Covenant House. I was scared, but the outreach worker brought me in. She stayed with me and helped me settle in. I remember her sitting on my bed and handing me soap, a towel, and a warm green blanket as she told me everything would be alright. I still have that green blanket. I love that blanket. It reminds me that people care and that love is stronger than anything. When I have tough days, I hold it, and I am reminded that I can trust life and that God has me.”
Rachel wiped her eyes as she told me, “I have one beautiful daughter and two beautiful boys, both in college, and I brought each one home from the hospital, wrapped in my Covenant House blanket. The same one that you gave me. And this past year I brought my beautiful grandson home in it too.
I would like to whisper to the Innkeeper, “Stay faithful, my friend. You did enough. You gave what you could.” You can’t possibly imagine the miracles that come from a gift given with love: a stable, a blanket….
Thank you for allowing our community to continue giving our blankets of faith, hope, and love to young people on the streets. We will serve over 2,000 kids in our New Jersey programs this year, THANKS TO YOU!
Jim White, Executive Director
PS: Please pray for us and I will pray for you.
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