I am writing this after our first Family Promise family left the church to move to their “new home for the week”, another church here in Florence. Goodbye was hard, not just for the family, who asked our Affiliate’s Director if they could please stay, but for us, as well. Tears and waves goodbye were followed, once we returned to the church, with more tears, hugs, and admissions that we will miss them. Will they be okay? Will the next host congregation love them as much? Will they get their homework done? Will they like the food? Will they still be being picked on in school?
Questions that I never thought I would be asking myself after just one week with a homeless mother and her six children. But here I am wondering, and even as I type this, the tears are falling down my face. From the very start I made it clear that this Mission Ministry spoke to my heart. Well, this week proved how much it also spoke to others and how important it is to this church, its members, and the community.
From the very first moment the guest family opened the door to our fellowship hall, it was clear to me that this would all be worthwhile. The three girls were trying to be good and contain their excitement at finding hula hoops on the floor and a ping pong table right there where they would eat. The boys immediately started playing ping pong and shooting hoops.
“Can we see our room?” the mother asked, holding a baby and bags filled with their clothes and possessions. “Sure,” I said, and led them to the room where they would rest their heads for the week. The girls were super-excited by the pink and purple sheets and blankets. “MOM! A bathroom in the room!” one said, and mom smiled. “Look a playground through the door,” yelled another excited child. They were thrilled. Seeing them so excited and happy about calling yet another new church “home” was amazing.
The rest of the week went by in a flash! So many memories:
Dinners, and leftovers for lunch, and quick, easy breakfasts so the kids could grab-and-go, all began to run together. Sleepy eyes in the morning that wanted ravioli to “Hey, lady,” when they couldn’t remember the new host’s name, “can we have a juice?” Helping with homework, reading books, watching movies, playing, running, yelling, fighting with brothers and sisters, saying grace before meals—all part of the day. The children, who ranged in age from 16-years-old to 8 months, were a handful and a pleasure, all at the same time.
Seeing Annie play with the 4-year-old on the stage in the fellowship hall was awesome. “Let’s pick up these game pieces,” Annie said. “NO! I don’t wanna,” said the four-year-old. “Well, I do things all day that I don’t want to do—everyone has to do things they don’t want to,” was Annie’s reply, and the pieces got picked up.
Jane and Betty Ann helping with math and history and reading assignments. Pastor Scott and I struggling through division and then photosynthesis and cell generation was fun, but seeing the 13-year-old complete his homework three days in a row for the first time in a very long time was the real reward.
Tom playing chess…Thelma helping them play the piano…Tim playing with the kids…Myra and Kelly holding the baby…Sherrelle and Liz helping with a movie…Susan, Arthur, Lisa, and David helping with breakfast rush…Lona, Margaret, Ron, Susan, Philip, Artie, Karen, Henry, and Phyllis providing all the delicious food…Chuck, Emily and the Youth Group responsible for fun and games and pizza party and great snacks…Betsy, Alex and other laundry-doers.
New clothes, just because, and new sneakers so as not to be embarrassed by the teacher at school again.
Compassionate volunteers coming together for a common cause: to make this family’s life better, in some way, for this short time.
I had a great conversation with one of the boys where I shared that I knew what it was like to be made fun of in school and that I, too, had a single mom growing up. That she worked all the time to support us and I was responsible for my younger brother, so I cooked and cleaned the house, did the laundry, and helped him with his homework. And that, even though it meant I didn’t always have time for myself, I knew that I would have plenty of time someday.
“Really?” he responded.
“Absolutely,” I said, “lots of people grow up that way.”
I went on to assure him that getting good grades and doing his best would ultimately be the best way to show the bullies that they didn’t have the power to bring him down to their level. That the best way to counter the pessimists and the naysayers and scrooges in the world is with love and positivity.
Simple kindness and consideration can make a HUGE impact in the lives of those who need a roof over their heads, a warm meal in the stomachs, or a good gut-busting laugh at whip cream in the face. Just a hug to warm and rejuvenate the spirit and relight the pilot light of a tired mom who, much like mine many years ago, is trying her best to survive and raise her kids. Or a smile and a word of encouragement for her older kids who, much like me as a child, are way more responsible than they should have to be for the raising of younger siblings, and don’t always have the time to just be kids themselves.
I often struggle to know or understand why God has put me here or what my purpose is in the grand scheme of life. I think that many members of our family have struggled the same way. Well, rest assured my fellow wanderers, this past week was for me and many others the beginning of that answer. We are here to serve. It may not be easy, and we may get dirty, and we may shed some tears, but we will take this journey together and we will all be the better for it.
As I walked through the fellowship hall, all neat and tidy, and turned out the lights, it was in such stark contrast to the past week—the noise and the games, the razor rip sticks, the TV, and the smell of great food. It was all over.
But is it? Getting to know this family and getting to know many of the members of this congregation better and talking with them and sharing stories and time with them, would that ever be complete?
The beautiful church building was once again quiet and empty. Is that right? Some I am sure are much more at ease with this picture, but is that what God wants? Is that what we want? Should this church sit empty and quiet six days a week? Or should the halls be bustling and the rooms full and the kitchen smelling great and there be laughter and tears, yelling and peace?
Is the life of our congregation limited to Sunday mornings? Is there more we can do? Are there needs to be filled in our community? I don’t have all the answers but I know that if we remain committed to each other we can find out and make a difference TOGETHER!
Forever grateful for this past week and for the many people who made it happen!