It was just an ordinary hotel room the night before – two beds, a television, a couple of chairs, a forgettable print of some unknown artwork and a Gideon’s Bible in the bedside table – but something was different that night.
That night, as the sun set and people made their way to their homes and their families throughout our beloved city, a mother wrapped her arms around her children and made those few hundred square feet into a refuge from cold nights and colder hearts.
For a few nights, she was safe and had her children around her, and that was enough.
We first met Claire while out walking the streets downtown, taking part in what we call the “Roving Feast.”
That is to say, as we do several times each week, we were setting up impromptu picnics and dinner parties in so many different abandoned and neglected places – whether on a street corner or under the meager shelter of a building overhang or beneath a particularly full tree on some street where folks assure us that “good people don’t spend their time there.”
She joined us at a meal and we started getting to know her. Claire is homeless and has struggled on and off with addiction to various life-stealing substances.
Like so many of our beloved sisters downtown and elsewhere, she soon learned that shelter for a single woman with no family or loved ones can come at a steep, steep price.
The first time she sold her body to some cold-hearted man, she did so because that was the currency he demanded for shelter under his roof that cold, dark night.
The sad reality of many of our beloved sisters is that they do not sell themselves for some gain or some consensual reason, but because they have so little power to do otherwise when presented with hard decisions and hard hearts.
Claire is also a mother to three beautiful children who were taken from her when her husband left and she was without support or shelter any longer.
For a while, she was able to visit them in the foster home where they were placed, but soon her ex-husband gained custody and moved 84 miles away – a short distance for those with access to reliable transportation, but a crippling distance for those without access even to shelter and food, let alone a car and gasoline.
Separate from her children, she was despondent and desperate. But it wasn’t the end of the story, for our God is on the side of the desperate and joins with those who have lost all hope.
One night, we learned that Claire’s ex-husband was coming back to visit his family for the weekend and would be bringing the kids with him.
Claire wasn’t welcome in the home of those who used to be her in-laws, but her ex-husband was OK with her having the children if she could find a sheltered place to keep them.
So Claire called us and wanted to know if we could help her spend a weekend with her children.
We jumped at the chance, knowing that none of the places where she could find shelter would be suitable for children, especially since there were already unsuitable for Claire and every other one of God’s children.
So, we paid for a nice hotel room for a weekend and stocked it with food, games and children’s movies.
We bought some new clothes for our sister, Claire, so her children might continue to see her as she deserved to be seen – a beautiful woman with dignity and hope.
It was just an ordinary hotel room, but Claire built a little corner of heaven with us between the single-serve coffee machine and the hotel stationary.
It was just like every other hotel room in the building that weekend, but it also became something beautiful for one weekend.
It was a place where the Kingdom of God and its values reigned over all. It was a place where strangers and sinners were named brother, sister and friend.
It was a place where redemption began and continued in Claire’s sobriety that weekend and continued sobriety for months to come. It was a place where lives were mended and hopes rekindled.
It was a momentary victory of our King Jesus over a cold and hard world. It was just an ordinary hotel room, but for at least one weekend it was so much more.
Joshua Hearne and his wife, Jessica, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Danville, Va. You can learn more about the Hearnes by viewing their CBF profile. This column first appeared on the CBF blog and is used with permission.