Five Years Since Entering the Shelter Program, Kat Lilley Reflects

 Kat Lilley and her six kids.

Kat Lilley and her six kids.

Each anniversary of entering Family Promise’s shelter program, Kat Lilley takes time to reflect, to cry, and grieve with the woman and mother she was that night.

Five years ago, I cried myself to sleep in a large Sunday School room, in the basement of a local church. I cried uncontrollably, while my six children slept within the same four walls, fast asleep on roll-a-way beds and a pack and play crib. I shed tears of a deep rooted shame, stemming from what life had become; shame that earlier that day, as my beautiful family ate a free lunch at the local soup kitchen, I had made the choice to ask for help, the choice to let “them” know that my family had nowhere to go, regardless of consequence. I had decided that if my children, my reason for breathing, were taken from me, they were better off without me; I couldn’t provide for their basic needs. I cried, ashamed to be sleeping in a church, dependent on others for food, safety, and shelter; I cried knowing I had failed my Littles, who deserved so much better this, so much better than the nights past, sleeping in a van.

I cried tears of anger; I was angry I couldn’t provide for my children, angry that I was such a failure, angry that my angels had abandoned me when I needed them most, angry that God didn’t answer my prayers in the months leading up to this moment. I was angry that the battles, so many battles, to survive, working to not become a statistic, pigeon-holed as the product of the foster care system, had amounted to this. I was angry that the years of hard work to be “successful,” the sheer stubbornness of disproving the many who, over and over, told me I’d never amount to anything, had devolved to this: being nothing, a burden to others, and a failure as a mother.

God, I was angry. Anger has always been my surface emotion when I’m afraid; it’s a hell of a survival mechanism. I was so afraid. I was terrified. What if the morning light would bring social workers to take my children? Was this just a place where we could be watched while “they” were looking for a placement for my kids? This couldn’t be real, churches providing shelter, strangers providing meals and kindness to worthless mothers like me. It sounds crazy, but this was a real thought, accompanied by a real plan of how I was going to end my life if my children were ushered into county vehicles as we left the church in the morning.

I was terrified. What if this was it? Most terrifying of all, so many tears shed over this thought. What if this was all there was ever going to be: a Sunday school room as Home, living with strangers and people who showed kindness, but surely saw what a failure I was? What if there was nothing more for my children, ever again?

Today (August 3rd) is my fifth anniversary of entering the Family Promise IHN shelter. This is the fourth year, I have sat on my couch, safe in my home, and allowed myself to reflect, to cry and grieve with the woman and mother I was that night. I allow myself to remember and feel the pain and the fear, that’s not so distant a memory that it’s hard to recall.

This time of reflection reminds me how absolutely short “thankful” falls when I recall the many “strangers” who walked with me and my kids in the months after this night, and how amazingly blessed I feel to have had the strangers on that journey, who became friends and family as a result of this night. It is these “strangers” who helped me to learn to see value in myself again; these strangers who showed me compassion when I had absolutely nothing to offer, who taught me to trust, and it is this time in my life that I learned not only who I am, but who I want to be.

This is the night which, five years ago, cracked open the door to today; this is the night which reminds me vividly of the heartache, fear, grief, and hopelessness which accompanies homelessness and those who find the strength, in a moment of absolute despair, to come out of the shadows and ask for help.

This is the night when I remember most why I love what I do and love those who work alongside me each and every day, in our community and communities nationwide. Most importantly, this night reminds me of the importance of compassion, kindness, and truly seeing each person who reaches out with “Can you help? We don’t have anywhere to go.”

Todd McClincey