Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

Dear World,

Thank you for being so nice, sweet and good to me. But please, don’t do any more nice things this month. See, I have a list of 103 thank you cards I need to write, so I simply can’t keep up with anyone else being nice, volunteering, donating money, and just generally doing things to make me so thankful.

thankfulActually, you can still be nice and kind, just be so nice that if your thank you note comes very late…or even not at all…you’ll still be gracious to me. =)

In fact, I’m hoping to provide Christmas presents to up to 400 people who wouldn’t be getting them this year because they are incarcerated. If you’d like to join, please do! You can mail me a check made out to “Calvary Church” with “Prison Ministry” in the memo line to me at 201 Harvest Fields Dr, Boalsburg PA 16827 or give online here and put “Prison Ministry” in the line for who you are supporting. Every bit of your tax deductible gift will go towards buying presents for those incarcerated in the Centre County Correctional Facility. Just $40 would cover the cost of Christmas for one inmate.

So I guess I changed my mind. Don’t stop being nice. Just maybe share your niceness to someone else so they can write you a thank you card. =)

I’m so thankful.
Thankful to have so many reasons to give thanks.
Thankful for Jesus’ redeeming love.
Thankful to know that there are so many people on my team.
Thankful to watch people serve the homeless,
provide for the incarcerated,
and host community movie nights.
Thankful for you.

“So I have one friend?” she asked me nervously.
“Yes,” I answered confidently, “I am your friend.”

This conversation happened in the jail (like most of the ones that make the blog). We were talking about how scary the idea of getting out of jail was. How hard it would be to start over since her husband was divorcing her and she couldn’t go back home after this. Since her addiction had kept her from building any positive relationships in the past. Since she didn’t have custody of her children. Since she wasn’t sure what her relationship with her parents was anymore.

She asked how to make friends. She could do it in a bar, she said, but followed that thought up with the fact that she couldn’t go to a bar because she knew if she took one drink of alcohol all her hard work of staying sober would come crashing down. She knew she still doesn’t have the power to stop after one drink or to say no if offered a drink. She knows if she wants to stay healthy she cannot be around it at all.

“I’m your friend.” I said, and then continued with my list of friend making ideas, “You can go to the park, the library, the same coffee shop every week,” I told her. She said she loved the library but didn’t know how to start talking to people. “You can come with me to church and I can introduce you to people there.” It was here she stopped me to ask about my first statement. “So I have one friend?” It was so meekly asked that I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to say, of course you do and I know so many more who would love to be your friend. I know the people who don’t care what your past holds and how many more times you mess up. I know the people who will love you with Jesus’ love. But I knew that would be too overwhelming, so instead I gave her a simple yes. “Yes, I am your friend.” And I hope and pray that one day she has so many more.

humbled.jpgI get humbled a lot. In my job I am reminded almost daily how much I take for granted in life. How much I don’t say thank you for. How much i think I deserve…even though I don’t. See, I think I deserve a bed, a blanket, a room to keep my things in, shoes to walk in, clothes to wear, at least some food to eat each day. But that’s just not true. I don’t deserve those things… sure, as humans we should have those things, but why do I think I deserve them when I know other people don’t get them.

IMG_3075.JPGTonight I was humbled above and beyond the normal recognition of my greed. Today I was given a gift from a homeless man. It doesn’t sound that crazy, I mean, I have lots of homeless friends and I’ve gotten gifts from them before because many are the most generous people I know, but today was different. Today I got a gift from a man I’d been arguing with earlier in the week because he came in demanding things and I wasn’t going to have any of that attitude. We have as few rules as possible in our shelter, but we still have some and when you start making exceptions things tend to go bad quickly. So we argued. I stood my ground. He threatened to leave. I said ok. I was kind of hoping he would. But we kept talking and he calmed down and we ended up having a decent conversation.

IMG_3078We were cautious around each other the next time we were both there, but over the past couple days we’ve continued to talk. He asked if I could dry his shirt in our laundry, I asked questions about his past and his future. He’s still needy, demanding, and can be on your nerves in a heartbeat, but he is so much more than that. He is a human. He is in a tough place. He has a lot going on. He is created in the image of God. He has a reason to be alive. And he probably thinks he deserves all the same things I think I deserve…only he can’t take them for granted anymore. When someone gave this guy money today, he bought me candy. I can’t say it’s the best use of his cash, but I can say it makes me wonder what I’d do if I found a $5 on the ground. I think it’s time to restart a gratitude list, because I don’t want to take life for granted. I don’t want to be needy and demanding. I want to notice all the gifts I’m given each day. Things, breath, light, joy…wonderful, God given gifts! I also want to challenge you…take a minute. Stop. Breath. Think. And be thankful.

 

 

“How are you?” always seems like it should be a simple question, but then, we answer in code, “fine” we say. But what does that mean? I use this code, and still can’t always decipher it. It could mean many different things, but some of the common ones include:

  • Fine.
  • Average day.
  • All is well.
  • Move on.
  • Don’t ask
  • Please notice.
  • I’m not going to make it.
  • Help.

I’ve felt myself wanting to use “fine” as an answer this week. For those trying to crack the code when I use fine it usually means there is a lot going on right now, but I’m not sure you want to hear about it, so unless you notice what I’m trying hard to hide from you I’m not going to tell you about it. …I know…it’s not a great way to be. So I’ve been challenging myself to give real answers.

“How am I? Well, my friend went to jail this week…I’m angry.” It shouldn’t be a big deal, because a lot of my friends are from the jail or go back to the jail, but this one was different. I was caught off guard. I had so much hope.

“How am I? Well, I argued with a homeless man tonight about how often he could shower…I’m wondering what that makes me.” If I didn’t have a shower in my house I’d probably fight for rights to one too, but there are rules for a reason, and everyone can’t shower all the time. I guess it makes me the bearer of bad news, and not a bad person.

“How am I? Well, people are responding to my program…I’m excited.” The mentoring program is going well! We have 3 matches and are hoping to train more mentors soon. I’ve gotten mail back from inmates we’ve never met, but whose kids we were able to buy gifts for though the Angel Tree program. There are other people coming into the jail to help add joy and peace.

“How am I? Well, I’m just me…I’m fine.” I think it’s ok to be fine sometimes, but it’s so important to be honest. It’s easy to feel alone in our issues, but people do care, and God is in control even when all we can see is chaos.

My life is good.
So intertwined.
I am at home.
The other day I bumped into a friend at a store where the people working knew me by name and asked about my ministry. The friend I bumped into was one of my hoarding friends who I help clean for and used to throw community dinners for (my co.worker is in charge of that now). It was fun running into her there. I then went to my pastor’s house where I sat for an hour or two and just got to talk and relax because Lynn, my mentor, was cooking her famous cinnamon rolls, from there I went home and had a conversation with some of my college student housemates about some of our local homeless friends new accomplishments in getting housing, friends who they’ve met through volunteering at Calvary during our time to host the temporary homeless shelter called Out of the Cold. I went out with a coworker to hear one of my musician friends play and he came over to talk about a concert he had played earlier that week…in the jail. I got him connected and he’s been in twice so far and is planning a third visit. Next another friend finished work (cooking in the back of the restaurant) and came to chat with me and Kendra. This friend used to be homeless and isn’t anymore. He is doing really well. I also texted on and off with a friend who is working hard to overcome his heroin addiction. And the next day I got lunch with a friend who I met in jail and has since been released. It was the first time after many months of friendship that I got to give her a hug. It was the first time I met her daughter. I was so honored! I have so many incredible people in my life. I am so lucky. So blessed. So grateful to be given each of these friends, coworkers, acquaintances…God is so good. After a short time with my family I was welcomed back with so many wonderful smiles, hugs, and such love. Life is good.

A few days ago I made the trek from Pennsylvania to Michigan again to celebrate the life of my Gramps after his short (just 2 week) fight with cancer. I was supposed to drive up today to visit him, but instead I went to his funeral this past weekend. Sometimes life does not go to plan, but I do believe God is still in control.

On my all day drive I had lots of time to think and process. It was a healthy car ride and one that I found rather inspiring. Let me enlighten you…

photo 1-11For starters it felt weird to purposely drive out of sunshine and into a storm. It seemed almost wrong, but I knew that the journey was worth it. It made me think about the rest of life and the challenges we sometimes would rather not face, but how much stronger, happier, more fulfilled we would be in the end if we were willing to keep taking the next step on the journey…no matter what storms we might face.

 

photo 2-11A little later I saw this and did a double take. That wasn’t just a hole in the clouds where the sun was shining through, it was one cloud shining while the rest clung to their dreariness. Kind of like humans, it was one choosing to respond differently than what is considered normal. That lone cloud couldn’t make it not be a cloudy day, but it did add a bright spot into a cloudy day. I thought about the hard things in life, my friends in jail who’s families will celebrate Christmas without them. The many refugees all around the world who are just trying to survive the day. The homeless. The sick. I can’t make all of their days good, happy, or safe. But I can be a bright spot on a cloudy day…and even that makes a difference.

 

photo 3-8And then I wondered why does God go to all the effort to add extra beauty to each beginning and ending of our days? Honestly, I don’t know that it’s extra effort. I’m sure there’s scientific reason…but I also know it doesn’t have to be so beautiful. I believe God created some things in such detail just simply to wow us. He wows me all the time.

 

I found out two people died today, and death hurts. To me it seems extra sad that one was homeless and one was the grandfather of my friend in jail.

One was a friend to me.
We weren’t close, but we have spent many hours together.
She was sick, but she wasn’t that old.
She was homeless when I spent a lot of time with her, but she had gotten into a place.
She collapsed on the floor and didn’t make it to the hospital.
She lived a tough life, and she will be missed.

One was a stranger.
I hadn’t met him, but I heard a lot about him.
He’s the pap of one of the girls I meet with in the jail.
He raised her.
She knew he was dying, but she couldn’t go and be with him.
He was fine when she went into jail, she had no idea he’d be gone when she got out.
She couldn’t hug or comfort him, but she did get to talk to him on the phone.

I don’t know what happens now. I don’t know if my homeless friend will get a funeral. I don’t know if my friend in jail will get to attend her Pap’s funeral. There are so many unknowns in life, and even more when you are faced with homelessness or jail. It makes my heart sad. But I know that God has me here and in these people’s lives for a reason. I count it a blessing to get a chance to walk right into people’s mess and live along side them. Hug the people you can today…only God knows how many days we have on earth.

Lately my job ok, life, has been nearly consumed with CityServe. CityServe is a huge weekend of service we plan with the help of 3 other local churches and is completed with volunteers from several more! It is an incredible opportunity to see God at work in our community. And a wonderful chance to share God’s love with people who maybe have never heard about it before.

I’d say it’s a bit overwhelming, but then so incredibly worth it. I’ve been pushing back against it a little bit and being shown lots of grace from the team as I keep running off to jail, and other meetings that are not directly related to this crazy event. I try to make up for my absence by working in bits and pieces here and there. Sometimes early, sometimes late. I think after this I could learn to juggle. =)

Tonight I came home earlier than I was expecting and needed to just not do anything for a while. I needed to process. So I decided to write, because you may have noticed the silence on here lately…it’s been one of the things that just doesn’t get the time. But it seems that the rest of life just refuses to be put on hold during CityServe. So let me tell you a few of the things that made me “take a break” from CityServe work, but just don’t always count as a break…

  • Meeting a new woman in the jail who told me heartbreaking stories and didn’t believe that she deserves to be forgiven. It’s so humbling to be reminded that she is right. We don’t deserve to be forgiven. And it was such a sweet time explaining to her that she can’t earn forgiveness, but she can have forgiveness because of Jesus.
  • Getting a phone call from one of my older friends who comes to our months dinners, and doesn’t have any family in the community to learn that she received some medical tests telling her she is terminal. I tried to hold back my tears as we chatted about her options…will they try chemo? surgery? radiation? …no. I told her I couldn’t imagine how scary that must be, but she is a believer and she seemed to be at peace…at least that day. It was again humbling to remember that we are all terminal…the only difference is she knows her expiration date. She is very excited to be getting a group from CityServe coming to her home to help her this year.
  • Hanging out at the shelter: holding a puppy, chatting with friends, ignoring whatever crazy movie was playing, getting interviewed for a student’s photo journalism project, entering a ton of names into our database, and giving one of our girls a ride to her new apartment with a box full of food and a pillow and some of her few belongings. It was encouraging to see how many of my homeless friends are signed up to serve as volunteers during CityServe.
  • Going to another friend from the monthly dinner’s house unexpectedly. I got a call from her saying, can you please get a group to come help me because I was really sick and there’s …(insert all types of bodily fluids here)… in my bed, and I can’t carry all of that down the stairs to the washing machine while I’m still not fully recovered. Well, I couldn’t very well call the hospitality team to see if someone wanted to go over, so me and one of my amazing co-workers who is the one in charge of CityServe peaced out of the office after staff meeting to go strip her bed and wash it and remake it. She’s excited for her upcoming CityServe project…and I’m sure the volunteers will be glad we were there for the pre-CityServe work to make it a little cleaner for their arrival.
  • As I was getting ready to head over to my Life Group tonight and lead our study, I got a call saying one of my friends was in the ER. This friend is an addict and unfortunately the thought of him in the ER brought more frustration than fear. But I know that it’s really hard to stop being an addict, and that most things are harder when you think your alone in the world. So I made a few calls, and got my awesome co-leaders to fill in for me, and headed over to sit at the hospital and talk about making good choices and to give him a hug when we parted and tell him I love him. He can make me mad, sad, and disappointed, but he can’t make me stop sharing Jesus’ love with him.

So I get lots of distractions, some are emotionally draining, others are life giving, some are both. But I also have lots of emotionally filling things in my life! The moments when I come home and my sweet littles see me before I get in the door and yell, “Shelby! Shelby! Shelby!” or scamper off to hide behind the curtains waiting to be found. A friend I hadn’t seen in over 3 years dropping by on her drive from NY to OH and spending the night. Phone calls that work (even if they are short) to my family in Tanzania and the U.A.E. Encouraging words from so many friends. Lots of prayers. Watching our need for volunteers for CityServe go from 900 down to almost none! It is an incredible time. It is a crazy time. But mostly, it’s a time to remember that God is in control…just like He always is. And that He is going to do big things…just like He always does. Feel free to be praying for the nearly 900 volunteers who will be serving in and around our town this weekend at almost 170 different locations, and for all the people mentioned in this post. I love serving with a team…thanks for being a part of it!

Last week Hearts for Homeless put on a spaghetti dinner fundraiser, and I was helping out with it. I went shopping for some of the food on “adventure night” (aka babysitting night) when I had my sweet littles with me. The girls were champs as we went to store after store gathering different items that had been donated, and trying to do the math of how many boxes of pasta it would take to feed the unknown amount of people who would be coming… (we didn’t get enough – hooray for an awesome turn out!)

Anna was especially excited when I told her we would be shopping for pasta, it’s a photo-47favorite of hers. But then I followed it up with the fact that it wasn’t for us. I explained that it was for a fundraiser for my friends without houses. One thing I love about living with this family is that I get to see the world through little eyes. Though they are young, my sweet littles know there are people just like them who don’t have homes. They already know it’s a problem, and they know that it’s so much more than just a problem…these are people. They’ve met many of them, and anytime they hear about homelessness they come running over to tell me, because they assume it’s one of my friends.

But this day stood out to me because we weren’t talking about homelessness. We were shopping and having a grand adventure and out of the blue Anna said quietly, “Shelby, will you tell me the next time you need money for your friends without houses, because I have some in my bank.” This is generosity at its finest.

photo-46I think as grownups we so often look at the whole problem and try to come up with an answer that solves every little piece which is a good thing…we want to solve every little piece…but it also takes the faith of a child to step up and say, I don’t have much, but there are coins in my piggy bank, and I believe that we can change the world with that. I believe I can help those around me with my little bit…her coins will never reach the homeless across the world, but they can have a big impact on a life here in State College, even if it’s just a cup of coffee. Her sweet heart reminds me of the little boy mentioned in the Bible in John 6:9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” …if you don’t know the story look it up, but here’s a spoiler…that lunch fed thousands! And it continues to have an impact on many lives to this day.

If you can’t offer much, give what you have. That could be time, money, a meal, a hug, a smile, a word of encouragement. There are people all around who can use the great things you have to share. Lets love like littles do and overcome our big world problems day by day,  one step at a time.

toddler-car-seatAny moms out there know how stressful it is to have a little one. Now picture this…three little ones.

A one year old,
a two year old,
and a four year old.

Hmm…that’s stressful. Now picture this, you’re in a new town, because where you used to live was an unsafe area and you didn’t want to raise your three precious little ones there. You don’t have anywhere to stay, and you have to be out of your hotel room by 11am. Also, you and the kids Daddy don’t have jobs yet…still stressful.

I think to a lot of us this sounds like a bad dream, but to the family of five that I met today, it’s reality. I love having a job where I can be the one to get a phone call saying, we have these kids here, and we know you have a carseat, wanna come help out? And to have the freedom to drop what I’m doing and lug some kids and their sweet parents to a hotel that Hearts for Homeless was able to get for them for the week while they try to figure out life. I’m blessed to have a friend who thought to make dinner for them and bring it to the hotel, so they could have a hot meal tonight. And to live with a family who have extra kid things and toys that we could share with this family.

When I picked up one of the sweet littles this morning and looked into her eyes, my heart broke. It kills me to think, that they, at such young ages, have known homelessness. I hate that this is the reality for so many. But it also breaks my heart to know that it isn’t just them. It breaks my heart that for some reason we can all agree that no matter what it isn’t ok for these sweet littles to be living on the streets, but we can’t always agree about that for bigs. It breaks my heart that I look into the eyes of adults who know the fear of wondering if and where they will sleep at night. Homelessness hurts. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. It’s scary, and lonely, and hard. But I know that while I cannot stop homelessness, I can still do my part. I can hug these sweet littles. I can encourage their Mama. I can chat with my friends at the shelter who, though they aren’t as small, are just as valuable. And I can share what it means to have hope. Not just hope to find a place to call their own…though that is wonderful. The hope of Jesus Christ. The God who knows what it is to be a child without a home…remember, he was born out with the animals? God cares and He loves us. He also has a plan even when things don’t seem to make sense. On days like today, I need that reminder too. Feel free to pray for this family, and the many others who are stuck in really tricky situations.