Shelter in a Storm

I knew it as I sat in a church service 1,000 miles away from home, listening to a sermon so dry it sucked the humidity out of the room.

Wilmington was getting a hurricane and we would take in people who had no place to go. This “radial hospitality” stuff Walking Tall Wilmington talks about has taken root in my head, y’all.

I got the call 2 days before the storm hit from my contact. “I have a couple who needs shelter, can you take them?” A friend vouched for their character. The window for us to evacuate had closed and we were at the mercy of Florence as well. Least we could do is offer what we had to these strangers.

Marianne and her husband Joe arrived in time for dinner with all their earthly possessions in their arms. They were my age. I treated them as I would any other house guest, except for the whole “Please take a shower and then we’ll get your laundry started” part.

And so, my husband and I have been co-habitating with a couple who otherwise lives on the streets. They don’t drink, try to stay away from the “typical homeless people,” and chain smoked. Even in my house, they moved silently from room to room. It’s a skill they need to remain undetected sleeping illegally in parks, in the lee of a building, or wherever they can find. Wilmington has laws about these things.

Joe and Marianne have kids who are living with relatives. CPS got involved through lies from another relative, according to them. They’re trying to reunite the family, but that has proven to be an uphill battle, as they lost their car several months ago. Marianne is also pregnant. She shrugged when I inquired about how the baby would be when its no longer getting nicotine after birth. This isn’t her first baby to be born with a cigarette habit. My infertile heart gulped and nodded. Nothing I said or did would change this addiction, yet my heart was so sad.

We lost power the next day during the worst of the storm. My husband managed to keep our household running with hot coffee and eggs for breakfast, courtesy of his Sterno stoves. We ate cold left over spaghetti one night and dined like kings the next with pork chops on the grill, bread, and green beans. We all got on well until the cigarettes ran out and withdrawal set in. My husband ended up running them out to several stores when the storm calmed – all which were closed because we were experiencing a hurricane – until they found one that was open. My husband smokes a few once in a blue moon and understood the need from his 12 pack years. He even lit up a couple of times with them on my deck. The smoke didn’t start to waft into the house until a few days later and it started to bother me. As long as I live, I will never understand smoking.

While my husband focused on food, I cleaned and made sure everyone had tea. We drank loads of tea. Two sugar bowls were emptied and filled: I thought I had a sweet tooth until I met them! I love my sweet tea, but they made it a supersaturated solution. We played games, walked through the neighborhood, watched YouTube videos – laughing with tears streaming down our faces – and had great dinner conversations. Most of the time we did our thing and they did theirs. We took turns praying at every meal and there were often tears in their eyes. I think they carry more burdens than I can comprehend in the short time we spent with them.

Joe and Marianne left when the storm did. We dropped them off at their requested location – so many power lines and trees down, massive flooding – driving around was like a video game. I half expected to see zombies it was so bad.

We hugged them good-bye. They have my phone number. I told them to call if they needed help. They’re sleeping rough tonight, while I am here at the house. My empath heart wants to fix it all.

And I can’t.

Please pray they can pull their lives together and for the baby to be born healthy.

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