6 Lessons I Learned About Life When My Friend Became Homeless

by Allison Isaacson

I had seen Marshall* around Nashville a few times.

I once gave him a ride to eat dinner with some of our mutual friends, but that was the extent of our acquaintanceship.

However, later on, I received a call from him one afternoon. He had nowhere to live.

For the following week, Marshall stayed at my home and sought housing options.

He had to find a place to stay by Wednesday because I had to leave for a business trip. He prayed, and the answer came to him: homeless shelther.

I was hesitant. I offered other ideas.

Marshall explained why it would be the best place for him to call home at this time in his life. Eventually, I tried to stop fighting the idea in my head.

Could I really drop my newfound friend off at the doors of a homeless shelter, and then go about my life?

Would it be sanitary? Would it be dangerous? Would he be safe? Would he be targeted by or embraced by his new shelter mates?

I had to push these questions out of my mind.

It was Marshall’s will to go to the homeless shelter; he believed it was God’s will.

I had to accept I could not manage other people’s lives. I could not persuade them to go against what they perceived to be God’s will.

I stopped fighting the inevitable. In the hours leading up to our arrival at the homeless shelter, Marshall unknowingly taught me several life lessons:

1. “I have to totally humble myself.”

Reaching out for help is an act of humility. Many of us have egos and insecurities that are too big to allow us to ask others to help us.

Marshall asked for help from several people and institutions. When he ran out of options, he decided to face his living situation head on.

He accepted his circumstances. He humbled himself before God and asked for guidance.

He was led to a homeless shelter. Now, he would be humbling himself before others living with the simplest things.

When we catch ourselves spinning our wheels, how much time and heartache would we save by humbly reaching out to others for help?

2. “If you take away my material belongings, I’m exactly like a homeless person.”

If you strip all worldly items from people, how different are we from one another?

We’re all here on Earth experiencing the human condition. We simply trek along different paths on our journeys.

Marshall’s journey intersected with the homeless community, people who happened to have the same circumstances regarding shelter at this time in their lives.

Marshall did not see himself as different from or better than the people he would be living with. He did not put himself on a different plane.

If we all viewed ourselves as no better than other human beings, how much more compassionate, understanding and giving would the world be?

3. “It can only go up from here.”

If we feel like we’re at rock bottom, we can either remain where we are or climb upward. There’s always a bright side when we lean on hope.

Rather than dwelling on unfortunate circumstances, thinking about, planning for and having faith in a better future can keep us heading in a positive direction one day at a time.

Marshall didn’t view his homelessness as tragic. He viewed it as a new starting point from which to build his life.

When we find ourselves experiencing lows, do we dwell in sadness and anger, or do we hope for and work toward remedies and solutions?

4. “When I weather this storm, I’ll be prepared for something greater.”

Each experience provides tools for facing life in the future.

When we figure out how to deal with complicated situations or emotional turmoil, we have references to better handle life in the future.

Each struggle strengthens us for the next one. Marshall chose to view his homelessness as a training ground. One day, he’d leverage this experience for something incredible.

How much more positive and hopeful would the world be if we all viewed our hardships, obstacles and conundrums the way Marshall does?

5. “I can be of service where I’ll be living.”

Even at one of Marshall’s lowest points, he was thinking about serving others.

He wasn’t entirely preoccupied with himself and his own well-being. He was looking forward to service work.

Whether it’s with direct eye contact and a smile, lending a listening ear or sharing a meal, everyone has something to offer others.

How can we serve someone else each day? By calling someone going through a tough time? By dropping off leftover food where the homeless community often congregates?

No act is too small.

6. “I see it as a blessing. I'm grateful for the opportunity to live there.”

Not many people are faced with living in a homeless shelter or going without shelter, period. Many people consider living in a rescue mission unthinkable.

What could be seen as a curse, Marshall viewed as a blessing. Living at a rescue mission was the next step in his life’s journey. It was an opportunity to begin building his life from the ground up, literally.

How much more hopeful and grateful would we be if we searched for opportunity in our hardships?

As Marshall requested, I let go and let God. I constantly check in to see how his journey is going.

He has slept on hard floors and piles of pine needles. He kept the faith and maintained a happy and hopeful heart throughout his experience with homelessness.

He has seized opportunities to improve his circumstances and his life. He is doing better by the day:

I'm currently at a halfway house, and I've never been more blessed to have a roof over my head. I also found a job. I haven't had one since I was 15. I'm 22 now. I don't deserve these blessings that my higher power has given me, and is currently giving me. It still blows my mind I went from sleeping under a tree to having a job and a place to sleep by just doing the next right thing and, most importantly, not getting high. When homeless, I was offered drugs constantly and I turned them down, when sometimes my mouth watered for them in the state of mind I was in. I am celebrating four months of sobriety today, and I am blessed and grateful to be alive. A heroin junkie like me shouldn't be here. With the things I've done, if life was fair, I should be dead or in prison. But I'm here for a reason, and I can't wait to find out why today.

I’m a better person now that I know you, Marshall.

Thank you for everything you’ve taught me about life. Thank you for your friendship.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.