I was fired by a homeless woman.
Here’s the thing…
Every month a group of ladies from my church goes to a homeless shelter to give manicures and pedicures to Houston’s homeless women.
The shelter is a large concrete building, hot and sticky with women and children filling the waiting area to find out if there’s an open bed. They bring the heat in with them. It radiates off of the kids who’ve spent the day on the street, sweat plastering their hair onto their foreheads.
When I walk in the front door, I just wave to the receptionist and she buzzes me in, allowing me to walk through the crowded entrance, right past the tired moms holding babies and kids holding babies and grandmothers sitting in plastic chairs clutching bags of clothes.
I’ve only been a handful of times. This is for many reasons (crying in traffic, general selfishness and laziness, fear of not being able to find a parking spot at the shelter, etc.), but one of the biggest reasons is something I discovered on my first visit.
TRUTH: A desire to show needy women the love of Christ does not equal any form of skill at giving pedicures to said needy women.
That should be scripture or something. At a minimum it should be embroidered on pillows.
The first time I visited was a couple of years ago. I sat down on the concrete floor at the feet of a large black woman. I had all my supplies within reach – the polish remover, nail files, cotton balls, a warm foot bath ready for soaking. We don’t cut nails or anything since we’re just regular church ladies and we fear cutting someone and being kicked out of the shelter. And where’s the love of Christ in that, huh?
Instead, we file and soak and massage and paint. And love.
Except for this time.
My woman dug through a bag and reached down to hand me a contraption that resembled a cheese grater. “Use that on my heels,” she told me. I looked around at my fellow ladies, all daintily painting toes and nodding as the tired women told them about their days and about their lives.
Nobody else was using a cheese grater.
I took the device from her – a PedEgg, she called it – and tentatively began pushing it back and forth along her heels.
“Harder! Really push,” she coached.
She leaned back and relaxed, while I pushed harder and watched the skin fall off. “Have you been on your feet all day?” I asked. I figured that was a good question. Everybody likes to complain about being on their feet all day.
“Yes,” she nodded.
I wrapped up the grating, had her soak her feet in the foot bath for a while, and began kneading her soles with my thumbs. I asked her where she was from and how long she’d been at the shelter. We talked about family and the weather, and I prepared to paint her toenails.
She chose a solid black polish. When I brushed the first stroke on I realized that I’d never painted another adult’s nails before. However, I’d just learned a clever trick in Glamour Magazine I wanted to try. It’s where you paint most of the middle of the nail but leave just the slightest millimeter of nail unpainted on either side. It’s suppose to make your nails look slender, like runway models, and make the paint job last longer without chipping. This homeless lady was so lucky she’d sat in my chair.
“I want the whole nail painted. You didn’t paint the sides,” she scolded when I paused to admire my work.
I didn’t think it was the best time to ask her if she read Glamour Magazine, so I opened the polish back up and shakily painted the edges, leaving a sloppy black smudge across her toes.
After that, I faced a perplexing dilemma. Basically, her toenails were the same size and shape of dominoes, meaning they had a front side to them that I didn’t know could exist. I knew she had a hard life, and I assumed “foot care” was somewhat lower on her priority list than “find a shelter with an open bed tonight so that I don’t have to sleep under the bridge again” and so didn’t want to draw attention to the nail situation by asking her where exactly I should stop painting. She had enough on her mind.
Finally, I made a judgment call and painted the front of one big toenail. It looked awful. “Do you want me to…?” I stammered.
“Just STOP,” she said loudly, waiving her hands in a sweeping motion. “You’ve done ENOUGH. STOP.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said.
Sinful Nature Which is Going to Get Me Shot One Day:
I just drove to a homeless shelter and rubbed Vaseline lotion onto your feet and shaved your heels with a PedEgg. How’s about a THANK YOU? HUH? This is why you are homeless; because you don’t use your manners.
Logical Nature Which Could Still Get Me Shot:
This is one janky-ass pedicure. I’d be mad at me, too.
Seeing how bad I felt, she took pity on me and thanked me. I apologized again, and watched her take her bag and walk off into the halls of the shelter I’d never walked. I picked up the foot tub full of dirty water and carried it into the washroom, crying as I dumped it into the sink.
This past week I went back to the homeless shelter. I emailed our coordinator beforehand and let her know that I’d be coming, and that I’d be loving, but I would NOT be inflicting manicures and pedicures upon women. That if I did, it would be a sure detriment to our ministry.
Instead, I gave myself the job of foot bath washer, and sat on the floor beside some women while their feet soaked. I chatted with a sweet woman named Mia, who’d become homeless only eight days before, having slept in the streets for the first time in her fifty-something years before coming to the shelter.
Before Mia left I asked if I could pray for her. “Yes!” she said, and we stood in the middle of the room and I prayed that God would get her back to Tampa, where she’d be trying to go the next day, and that God would give her peace and protect her.
I used her name a lot too, because that’s what super spiritual people do when they pray.
I can do this. I can do ministry and not paint nails.
After she left, I found out from another girl that I’d misheard Mia and that her name was actually Mira.
And that is why I am very thankful that God can do ministry despite me. Because if all of this is riding on me and my efforts, people, we’re doomed.