Shelter-in-Place at Hawthorne House

Sara  Zimmerman is a houseparent (along with her husband Doug) at Hawthorne House, a transitional housing program in Wheaton for homeless young women. Sara reflects on the significance of Shelter and Place for her family and the women at Hawthorne House.


Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)

Living in community has never been more demanding, confusing, or rewarding than it has been over the past several weeks. Daily vocabulary is filled with words like isolation, social distancing, masks, quarantine – words, it would seem, that are designed to breed anxiety and fear.

We are living in an age when self-protection has been forced to the front of our consciousness. Left unchecked, self-protection is defensive, isolating and often leads to hurt. As a culture, we’re flailing and grasping, putting up walls, sometimes finding creative ways to love one another, and coping as best we can, in all sorts of ways.

And here we are on Hawthorne Boulevard. A community of 11 (just past the 10-person limit, but who’s counting?), several of whom are now known as “essential workers”, sharing life together – working, cooking, cleaning, laughing, playing, resting. And sighing, arguing, getting crabby. There’s no conflict avoidance when there’s no place to hide.

We spray off our shoes, disinfect our phones, Lysol surfaces, sit farther apart at meals, and wash our hands. A lot. We talk about things we miss (like friends, family, school, and getting our nails done) and things we’re learning about ourselves. Tonight, we heard things like, “I’m more comfortable with myself”, “I found out I can be alone without being lonely”, and “I appreciate nature and little things more than I used to’’. We share stories of loss and we witness growth.

As houseparents it’s our job to create a warm and nurturing environment, set healthy boundaries, mediate conflict, and cultivate a spirit of kindness and mutual responsibility. All the while helping our residents deal with past issues that are easily triggered by uncertainty and fear; not to mention dealing with our own defensive natures, and self-protective walls. Add to that the increasingly challenging task of trying to keep our own jobs afloat, preparing for Sam to go away (?) to college in the fall, keeping a pulse on the emotional needs and e-learning journey for the family, and maintaining a semblance of sanity.

I imagine our story is not that different from yours. We’re doing the best we can. We’re all wondering how to be safe, take care of ourselves, while being mindful of the needs of our community – in very real ways.

Never have we been so aware of our limitations, faced our vulnerabilities, and worked so hard to maintain connection. Sometimes isolation and connection must occupy the same space. Not easy, but possible. We’re learning to maintain safety without closing ourselves off from each other. We try to mitigate risk without hurting one another. As a community, we’re learning to be more vulnerable, support one another and stay connected even when we’re fragmented, scared, and confused. We often miss the mark. Day by day we seek to Shelter-In-Place in love. Learning to rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Shelter and Place. Two words worth consideration. Day by day, we acknowledge our need and gratitude for shelter in the place we fill. May the shelter we create provide boundaries to keep us safe. And within those walls may we work together to cultivate boundless love, warmth, creativity, and hospitality. May we learn to abide–to occupy the space we’ve been given, to be fully present to ourselves and to each other. May we create spaces of safety and love. May we find, in the place we have, the freedom to love and be received in love.

It’s comforting to think of each of you, abiding *with* us day by day, learning in your own way to shelter one another in the space you have. As cliché as it is, we are indeed all in this together.

Our cup runs over with gratitude for each of you, friends in the community who live this out with us and continue to reach out in hospitality.

Three of the Souls graciously did a mercy run and provided groceries for our residents last week. What a gift that was, not only because it met a basic need during a difficult time, but because your gift provided hope and an opportunity for our girls to experience the loving kindness, and compassion of Christian community in action. Thank you, Souls, for generously sharing yourselves, and for the many ways you come alongside to love and support our community. We are profoundly grateful.

I’ll close with the words one of our residents wrote on her grocery wish list, “This was written to those who show a large amount of selflessness. Or something along those lines. Either way, I would like to say Thank You! From the bottom of my heart. I hope you all stay safe, and healthy.”