WORD ON THE STREET: Fitting It All Together

12 Oct

homeless woman

I open the door to the Starbucks and wheel my red nursing bag inside. I quickly scan the room. College students lounge at tables or stand in line for coffee. The barista at the counter recognizes me, waves, and points to one of the nearby tables. She knows who I am looking for.

One patron stands out, and I make my way through the tables to sit with her.

Suzanne* is in her 50s. She is sunburned and has dirty white hair. She sits with a large iced coffee muttering to herself, wearing far too many layers of clothing for the warm air outside. She gives me a big toothless grin when I greet her.

This is a good sign — as often as not, she yells at me.

We chat about how she is feeling. I take a look at a knee that is bothering her.

Because of Suzanne’s schizophrenia, I frequently feel like I am competing with the other voices she hears to hold her attention. She agrees to come back to her home, a supportive residence, with me for her monthly antipsychotic shot. At the residence, I give her the shot. She bursts into tears, so I give her a hug, and she regains her lopsided grin.

Suzanne’s case manager tells me that she has been vomiting after coming back from Starbucks the last few days. On my way back to the clinic, I stop at the Starbucks and ask the staff to cut down on the amount of free coffee they give her. I tell them I think it is upsetting her stomach.

Fitting it all together

When my husband and I left Cambodia four years ago, I had come to a place where I knew I wanted to go back to school to study nursing, but I didn't have all the pieces of how it would fit with my vocation to serve the poor. I simply had a persistent sense that I was burying my talents — that a part of me wasn't being expressed fully in my years in incarnational ministry to that point, and that God was calling me to step aside for a season to re-tool.

So, I moved my family internationally and started a nursing program without a clear sense of how it would all fit together. It wasn't clear in my mind how I could be relational, incarnational, and professional at the same time.

I quickly learned through clinical placements, and our own experience with our son's disabilities, that holistic, integrated, excellent, and compassionate care is more available for the wealthy than the poor in America. I started working as a nurse and quickly discovered that the values of my work with InnerCHANGE was exactly what was needed in healthcare settings that work with the marginalized.

People with disabilities or living with chronic diseases need connection and relationship.

They also need advocacy and healthcare providers who will speak on their behalf.

They need healthcare that is incarnational and meets them where they are: their physical location as well as their emotional and spiritual location.

My work as a nurse, my vocation as a missionary to the poor and marginalized, and my experience as the parent of a child who is differently abled have given me a passion for making safe places for people who are different and the skills to do something about it.

I love working with people like Suzanne. What is beautiful about Suzanne is not just that she was healed of her schizophrenia, but that a community learned to embrace her. They shifted to make a safe place for her, and maybe they experienced some healing through her as well.

It is a vision of God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

*To protect her privacy, Suzanne's name has been changed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Samantha Baker-Evens works as a nurse among people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. She has been a member of InnerCHANGE since 1998 and has had many adventures living in San Francisco, Australia, and Cambodia before moving to Philadelphia. She and her husband, Chris, have two sons.