For 30 years, I have designed places for people to live when they are at the edge of coping. When creating anything, knowing those who will use the creation makes the creation better. This year, I have been part of an effort to make a safe harbor for the young who are lost. Listening to the world of the lost is critical when trying to make a place that is both open to their brokenness, and safe. What is understood by those of us who are in the embrace of families, communities, even just friends, is often completely alien, even threatening, to those who have nothing. Such humans are often abused to breaking, and thus abuse themselves and others.

I have been loved by my wife for 40 years, 30 years by our children, in a home we built together. I have no recent experience in what is everyday for the lost. But I know that I was broken, too, 60 years ago. Those breaks, the fundamental destruction of love in youth, are never unbroken, but I know that God was with me before any human was, and gave me the ability to try all this creating.

Recently, a group of those who are on the edge of coping were brought together with me and others, as we design a safe place for them. About a dozen who were living in a shelter or group home volunteered to share their thoughts on what we were creating. We came together to think about what we are making for those who have nothing, and need a place.

The facilitator set up the rota of “Getting To Know You” exercises, and pairs were tasked with one-on-one sharing. I was paired with a 23-year-old woman, who had a wide smile and open eyes. We all had to respond to our facilitator’s question:

“Tell your partner about the one role model in your life, the person who was there for you.”

My partner and I turn to each other. “So…” I say. She jumps in:

“I had no one. I have no one. Ever.”

She looks hard into my eyes. “Forget about my parents. My sister taught me how to shoot up when I was 12. She is 9 years older than me.”

I offer, “Brutal…but she…”

“Even now that I am clean for 3 months, she lords over me. She is sober for years, and she treats me like shit. I have never had anyone. Ever.”

Something cracked. I looked back at her. I said, “I had no one for the first 15 years off my life, either. No one.”

She nodded.

“My dad drank,” I offered. She nodded again. “The hate you feel, I felt. But I did football, and it worked.”

“I get that.” She looked into me.

I continued, “Then I met someone whose Dad became a role model. We named our first son after him.”

“Never had that,” she said.

“I get where you are,” I said.

“I know,” she said, still looking into me.

The facilitator chirped, “Time to switch partners!”

We separated. But for a few seconds the 40 years between us was gone. The private-schooled, Ivy-educated, white male Boomer husband-and-father was, for a few moments, connecting with the newly clean 23-year-old homeless black woman.

That is who God sees, every day: every human. Just humans. But more, God loves who he sees, including my father, and my partner’s sister, because he made us, through his Son. There was no time to tell my fellow participant about this reality in my life, and I do not know if she knows that God is there, right there, for her. But he is there, whether she knows it or not.

But she was there, in those minutes, with me. She is, now, clean. She talked to a stranger and heard me. I am her, and you are, too.