Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thankful Thursday

My alarm sounded at 3:50 this morning. I kissed my husband's forehead and climbed out of bed.
Feet into slippers. Arms into robe. Body into bathroom.
I dressed quickly, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and shuffled downstairs to the kitchen.
Turned up the heat, turned on the kettle, and reached for my Sevilla mug and matcha green tea powder and coconut milk. I poured the steaming elixir into my travel mug.

I backed out of my garage at 4:16 am. A few minutes into my trek, I was forced to make a u-turn and head back towards home, but not because I had forgotten something or changed my mind about my destination. Police cars and fire trucks blocked Providence Road, so I had to turn around and find another way to church. But not before I breathed several prayers on behalf of those that were being aided by those men and women trained to respond to what had to be a crisis situation.

Back on the right path, I pondered where I was going and why. I was on my way to church. I needed to be there before 5 am to work as the church's host to nearly 100 volunteers who were mustering in our fellowship hall before the "Point in Time Count."

Cities all over the country are charged with counting the number of their citizens who are living with homelessness - to choose a "point in time" and do the count. An organization called Housing First has laid claim to the hope and expectation that they will be able to end chronic homelessness in our fair city by the end of 2016. But in order to meet the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors, we need to know who they are and where they are.

This morning, tomorrow morning, Friday, January 30, and Saturday, January 31st, groups of volunteers will meet at the church and then fan out all over the city and county to look for, greet, and talk to those who are currently sleeping outside - in camps, in their cars, under overpasses, on benches, wherever they may be.

My job was simple - be there, be a welcoming representative of the church I love, the people I love, and the God I love. I admit to being a wimp when it comes to cold weather and having to be outside in it. I admit to being a wimp when it comes to talking to people who live outside. But I also admit to enjoying the opportunity to talk to, encourage, and serve those who aren't as wimpy as I am.

Those brave survey takers arrived in boots and hats and coats and scarves, and left with hygiene packs and towels and blankets and plates of muffins for those who might want or need them. Those brave men and women walked around the center of our city and drove to the edges of our city. They introduced themselves to those they encountered and offered services as well as the tangible goods they carried.

When they returned an hour or two later, they were chilled to the bone, but glad to have been out there on the search. I offered them hot coffee and fresh muffins. I listened to them talk about the folks they met, calling them by name as though they were friends. As it turns out, some of the volunteers have had previous conversations with those they interviewed this morning at various locations that serve and support those who are without housing.

I spoke to one volunteer whose wife died a few years ago of a chronic lung disease. When he saw me writing in my journal - cuz I write in my journal everywhere all the time, even at 5:20 in the morning in my church's fellowship hall - he told me about the journal his wife kept when she was sick. She wrote lovingly about his tender care for her during her illness, driving her to work, walking with her, loving her through her decline. As he shared that with me, his emotions flowed down his cheeks with his tears. He encouraged me to love my husband and children, to spend time with them, and to write about them in my journal. He reminded me of something kanswer taught me: life is short, so live and love well.

I spoke to a woman who attends our church regularly but isn't sure she wants to join. She's never been a member of any church and doesn't know why membership matters. We talked about homeschooling. We talked about stomach bugs. We talked about parenting. We talked about the woman who had coordinated Charlotte's Point in Time count. I listened. She listened. I talked. She talked. I hope we see each other again.

I talked to three of the men who work at the church in security and as custodians. We talked about the cold weather and football and food and the work they do at the church and the people they work with and teenagers who think they know more than their parents and people they know who have lost their homes. We talked and laughed and made predictions about the Super Bowl.

As the sun rose and those great-hearted men and women exited the church to return to their regularly scheduled Thursday morning programming, I thanked them for their work and wished them well. Most of them responded, "Thank you for being here. See you tomorrow."

What? You're gonna get up at 3:45 tomorrow morning as well? And Saturday too?

I assumed there would be a fresh batch of volunteers each morning, and there probably will be some newbies on hand. But apparently, there will be many returnees. I will not be among them.

Tonight as I fall asleep and tomorrow as I wake up, I will pray for them and for their safety in their work. I will pray that many more volunteers sign up next year. I will pray that word of this project will reach the hearts and minds and wallets of those with the means to help end homelessness all over this country - and beyond.

More than that, though, I will pray for those who did not wake up this morning in warm pajamas in a warm bed. I will pray for those sleeping at the top of concrete embankments inches below highway traffic because that narrow sliver of concrete is the only place where they are not directly in the wind. I will pray for those living in invisible tent cities in the woods and on the fringes of this city and all cities. I will pray for those who have lost hope that they will ever have a steady job and a home that is their own. And I will pray for reminders to pray for them daily.

I am thankful that Erika sent out an email asking for someone to host this morning.
I am thankful that I said "yes."
I am thankful for the men and women I met today.
I am thankful for their willingness to talk to me and share their stories.
I am thankful for the chance to serve and support those who serve and support others.
I am thankful for the men and women who made the coffee and baked the muffins and breads.
I am grateful for a church that opens its doors, not only to volunteers on these three cold Charlotte mornings, but also two nights each week to those who would otherwise have to sleep outside.
I am thankful for The National Alliance to End Homelessness and The Urban Ministry Center and the work they do.
I am thankful that I am finally acknowledging and confessing my fears about interacting with those living with homelessness.
I am thankful for the call to move through and beyond temporary discomfort for the sake of love, peace, and justice.
I am thankful for the conversation on race that I listened to last night and all that I learned from those amazing activists at TransFORM Network. (One of their mottos is "Love God. Love your neighbor. Take collective action." They talked about race. They talked about homelessness - and the ways in which we can strip the dignity of people when we do "the sandwich toss" or stand behind counters and serve food from our place of abundance into "their" empty bowls. They talked about how not only black lives matter, but also women's lives matter and gay lives matter and homeless lives matter as well. My mind was blown. My heart was expanded. My toes were trampled. Ouch. But it was a good and necessary pain.)
I am thankful for the many ways in which God is tearing back the veil over my eyes and showing me the pain and suffering of others in ways that are moving me to do something and not just pray - not that prayer doesn't matter. But prayer alone doesn't feed the hungry or provide housing for the unhoused.
I am thankful that in a couple of hours I will climb back into my warm bed in my warm pajamas and snuggle up next to my warm husband.

Thanks be to God.


Erika said...

Gail! Preacher woman. You write with humility and vulnerability and conviction. What a joy, a gift, to read your words. Thank you for saying yes.

GailNHB said...

Erika, thanks for reading my ramblings and taking the time to comment. You are teaching me more than you know. Thanks you so much.