You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall Isaiah
Four very tired people piled into Ron’s car after breakfast that morning. It had
been a long night. Ron had agreed to chaperone at a youth event for his daughter Emily.
He also agreed to drive her friends, Parker and Rachel, to the event. Each of them
attended the same well-planned, multi-church youth event, but each of them came away
with completely different experiences.
First of all, it was surprising that Rachel was there at all. She was Emily’s best
friend from school, but she didn’t attend church. Emily would invite her to various
events because she thought Rachel might enjoy it, but Rachel was afraid of being the
only outsider in a tight knit group that sat around sharing their feelings and singing about
Jesus. This event was different. A couple of church youth groups had planned an
experience where they would see what life was like to be a homeless young person in
their County. They would sleep in big cardboard boxes. The advantage of having
another church there made Rachel feel safe that maybe that group might accept her
because they wouldn’t know she was an outsider.
Rachel was right. The kids from Redeemer Lutheran were great. They invited
her to sit with them when they were eating. The food was intentionally poor to help set
the mood, and they all made fun of it. They laughed at Rachel’s sarcastic jokes. They
talked about school. Rachel even found a couple of girls who liked the same bands as
she did. They all could sing her favorite Eminem songs. As the evening wore on, they
started to do some Hip Hop with more feeling and action. It was so much fun. Rachel
had thought that church stuff was going to be boring. She was laughing so hard that her
The other girls asked Rachel if she wanted to share a cardboard box with them.
Rachel had so few friends. She was delighted. She asked Emily if she’d like to join
them, but Emily seemed content to stay in her box alone. Rachel shrugged her shoulders
and ran off. Those girls whispered, giggled, and laughed all through the night despite
how hard the chaperones tried to settle them down. Rachel finally fell asleep at 5:00 a.m.
after having one of the most ridiculous and insane nights of her life. This happened at a
youth group event of all things. They had exchanged cell phone numbers and agreed to
become friends on Facebook. It was a rich, social evening for Rachel.
Parker was exhausted even when he arrived at the event. He and his buddy Nick
had been up early before school lifting weights for lacrosse. After school, he had
lacrosse practice, and many on the team stayed an hour after that to run sprints. His team
was determined to improve this year, but it was wearing Parker out. He groggily listened
to the explanations of the plight of the homeless, but all he could think of was sleep. He
tried as hard as he could stay awake. He pinched himself. But finally, he was out cold at
10:30 p.m. and off in a deep slumber. Sleeping in a cardboard box was nothing new to
Parker. He and his brother and neighbors Dave and Katie would sleep in a big cardboard
box in their back yard all the time. A box is so much cooler than a tent when you are 5
years old. In fact, there may be no toy that can surpass a proper cardboard box when you
are 5. Parker didn’t feel homeless in the box. He felt comfortably, nostalgically, at
Ron had signed up to chaperone as many youth events as he could this year.
After divorcing Emily’s mom three year’s ago, Ron had to be very intentional about
having opportunities to spend time with Emily. The forty odd boxes filled with youth
and adults were spread out in a field. Ron volunteered to walk the perimeter that evening
to keep unwanted visitors from coming in or students from sneaking out. He had a very
big flashlight and he could look scary, even though he was a big teddy bear to Emily.
As he slowly paced around the outside path that evening, he had a lot of time to
think. He thought about his life. He thought about the mistakes he had made in the past
few years. Now that he was living alone, he realized his number one mistake was taking
his ex-wife Julie for granted. He really couldn’t explain to anyone why he had the affair
with Terri from accounting. He wasn’t really attracted to her. He had been pretty happily
married. Maybe it was the excitement, or having something different. He continued to
pace around in the dark.
The more Ron thought about it, the more he realized that he was just scratching
the surface of his issues. If he were honest, there alone in the black of the night, he had
to admit there was a hole in his character. He lived a life that wasn’t totally honest with
himself. He knew what he should do, but he so often did the opposite. He lacked some
basic self-discipline, and that had taken away the two things that were most precious to
him, Julie and Emily. He slapped the flashlight into his palm rhythmically as he
continued to pace around the premises. A couple of times he asked students to get back
to their boxes. A couple of times he whispered that it was time to be quiet and go to
sleep. But then, he had long stretches of empty hours to ponder the flaws in his own way
of living. He didn’t think too much about the homeless. He wondered how he could be a
better person in the future. He wondered if he would ever get the self-discipline to be
able to become that which he knew he could become.
Emily had an evening of Hell. It was pure Hell. Earlier in the day, she had
stopped for lunch at a Chinese Buffet that sold sushi with some of her friends.
Something in that food did not agree with her. Her stomach was rumbling even as they
first got to the field. The rumblings soon resulted in a sensation that she had to run for
the Port-A Potties. She was miserable. Even as she expelled whatever vile stuff that was
in her, it viciously burned her. It hurt to sit down. As the night wore on, she moved her
box closer to the Port-A-Potties. The wind shifted causing the smell from the portable
toilets to come into her box. It was cold. She had a single, thin blanket which wasn’t
adequate. She shivered.
Even worse, about midnight, a group of bratty ninth grade boys ganged together
from both churches. They swore among themselves with the conviction of Indian
Warriors that they would all stay up ALL NIGHT LONG. When Emily ran for the toilet,
one of the boys would be nearby and play the fart app on his Iphone. The group of boys
thought it was hilarious. It was Hell for Emily. She shivered. She barely slept. Finally,
around 4:00 a.m. she ran to the toilet, but this time she vomited instead. She continued to
convulse even when nothing more would come up in a dry heave. Somehow, that made
her feel better, and she dragged herself once more to the box and finally fell thankfully
So, the four sleepy people riding in the car to their homes had four completely
separate experiences. Ron asked them about their time.
Rachel was animated when she replied, “I met some really great girls from Winter
Park High. I didn’t know there were any nice people at Winter Park. I thought they
were all snooty. I think we are going to be good friends.”
“Well, I do not feel sorry for homeless children, because I love sleeping in
cardboard boxes,” said Parker half-jokingly. “I haven’t slept so well in weeks. I really
needed the sleep.”
Emily looked at her dad and asked, “How about you Dad. How was your
“Em,” Ron said as he drove, “I had some really great time to think. Really great
time to think about things like my life.” As the car came to a stop sign, he touched
Emily’s hand and gave Emily a very meaningful look. Emily correctly guessed about the
kind of stuff that Ron had thought about that night. She was glad.
“My night was Hell”, Emily said, “I had some bad sushi or something and I was
sick as dog all night long. I was running to the toilet what seemed like ever 15 minutes
and my bottom is burning with pain. It sucks. There were these real jerks who kept
playing the fart app every time I walked by. Why would they pick on a sick person? I
was humiliated,” Emily continued.
“Finally, I was able to fall asleep after I threw up in the toilet.” Emily added,
“By the way, those are the grossest toilets ever on the planet ever. And it was freezing,
absolutely freezing in my box. I’m still shivering.”
It suddenly became quiet in the car. Ron felt terrible that he couldn’t have helped
Emily through this. He was totally unaware of what she was going through. Rachel had
been too busy having fun with her new friends. Parker felt guilty that he had slept so
well through all of that.
Finally, Rachel asked, “I wonder if there were other sick kids in those boxes last
“I wonder how many homeless kids in Seminole County were stuck in that cold
and feeling sick.” Ron wondered aloud. “God, I feel terrible that Emily was out there
like that, but can you imagine if it was some little girl who was 7 years old?”
“I would imagine if you were homeless, you wouldn’t have Pepto Bismol,
antibiotics, pain killers, cold medicine, or any other easy way to get to medical care.”
Parker thought aloud.
Emily said in a wistful tone, “And they wouldn’t have a big warm, comfy bed,
which is what I really wanted last night, especially since I was sick.”
Suddenly the focus of what last night’s event was all about dawned on each of
them in the car. They pictured a seven year old Emily, who was coughing and sick, lying
in a cold box, not just last night, but every cold night of the year.
The many Bible verses they’d often heard of Jesus telling them to take care of the
naked, the sick, and the poor came to vivid life.
“Damn it,” Parker said with resolve as he looked out the window, “That is so
wrong. I’m going to do something.”
Rachel still wasn’t much into church stuff, but she felt empathy for this picture in
her mind of the little sick girl. “I’ll help out. Just let me know what I have to do.”
Emily reached her hand back over the front seat and grabbed Parker’s hand. She
looked into his eyes and gave him a weak smile. “Thank you Parker.” she said.
Ron hadn’t slept all night. It made him kind of emotional. He tried to hold back
the lump in his throat as he thought of Emily being only 7 years old, lying sick, and
sleeping outside in an protected box in the cold. He was going to help those homeless