Lessons Learned

I have loved this journey on which I have embarked. I've learned so much, and I am so grateful to this ministry and to the people who love it as much as I do. Let's review some of the things I've learned.

Lesson #1 - First impressions are not everything. Bad days and awkward moments happen to everyone. Always give a second chance. And a third chance. And a fourth chance. Never give up on someone. Be kind, even when they are not kind. People will always surprise you, if you give them the chance.
Lesson #2 - Everyone just wants and needs love. It's true. It may sound cheesy and like a Beatles song, but it is 100% true. The transformative power of unconditional love is amazing. Try it. Love people without expecting anything in return. It will change your life and theirs. "No greater love has no man than this, that he who lay down his life for his friends." [John 15:13]

Lesson #3 - Know your own boundaries. Constantly giving and giving is tiring. Know when to say no and have down time for yourself. It is important to allow yourself to be loved and be filled up, because only then will you be able to give love as you have been given. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Learn to love yourself, or how else will you know how to love your neighbor?

Lesson #4 - Always hope. Always, always, always hope. Have faith that positive change will happen, that God will move and work and Love as only He can. Never give up--on anything or anyone. "Greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city."

These are just the basics. I learn lessons everyday. That is what makes life an adventure...we are always learning and growing. No matter if we are rich or poor, young or old, we can always change and grow. We can always love. And that's the coolest part about it. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."

Grace and Peace

The Same Kind of Different As Me

Go buy this book right now and read it. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Seriously. I know that everyone says this and you think, "yeah, right," but I am not exaggerating. Same Kind of Different As Me follows the stories of two men--a black, homeless man and a wealthy, white man--and the unlikely, incredible friendship that blossomed when their paths crossed.

It sheds an incredible, unique light onto the issue of homelessness and poverty, and life in the deep south in the 1960s and 70s.

I'll tell you a little bit about the story without giving too much away. :)

Ron Hall was a successful businessman who had recently started a new career as an art dealer, making his salary triple. Ron had a wife and two children, and a nice house on the nicest street. He was living the "American dream."

Denver Moore grew up on a plantation in the deep south, working as a sharecropper from birth. The Civil Rights Movement had skipped that small community in Louisiana. It was modern-day slavery. He could earn no money, and he owned nothing but the shirt on his back.

Ron and his wife, Deborah were involved in a tennis club. A couple they knew invited them to a Bible study. After several meetings, Ron and Deborah came to know Jesus as their Savior. Deborah was diligent in her pursuit of God. She began volunteering at a homeless shelter, and begged Ron to go with her. He started going, begrudgingly at first. This is where they both meet Denver.

Denver was dubious of the happy white lady when she first began speaking to him at the shelter. He had never spoken to a white lady before in his life (well, he had once, but that incident had left him nearly dead. Needless to say, he never tried again). But she was persistent, almost pestering.

He didn't know how she found out his name, but she had. Every week Deborah would say, "Denver, God has a calling on your life." He told her to stop "messin'" with him because he was a mean man. "You are not a mean man, and I don't ever want to hear you say that," she'd said.

This was how the relationship started. Deborah talking to Denver when no one else would, and begging Ron to do the same thing.

I'm not telling any more of the story because you MUST buy it and read it. But, I will tell you, I cried like a baby from the time they met Denver until the last page. I went through boxes of tissues and had mountains of white balls all over my floor for a week.
It is a powerful and beautiful story of redemption, and the transformation that occurs when one is offered unconditional love.

This story encouraged my heart, as I have started volunteering with the same kind of people as Denver. They can be reached, and my life will never be the same--the adventure of a lifetime!


A Message of Hope

If you are a resident at MUST, you must attend at least three meetings during your first two weeks. Your choices are: AA, NA, Bible study, or church. When I do intake, I always recommend the Bible study. No matter where you are spiritually, they will get you where you need to be. It is awesome! I've started going because I'm a volunteer and heard about it. But some of my fellow workers volunteer just because of that Bible study. So cool. The messages are always hopeful and Christ-centered. Now, here is an example of the stuff you would find there. The only things missing are the frequent, "Hallelujah's!" and "Praise Jesus's!"

"He understands our humanity. Our struggle. Our dark hearts. Our failing. Jesus didn't make the journey from heaven to the manger for people who needed a tiny bit of assistance.

He came for the sick (the really sick), the crushed, the lost (like sheep with no shepherd) and the criminal among us. He came for the worst. And He came to raise the dead and touch those who were decaying from the inside out.

Let's lay down the need to impress each other, for that route leaves us looking good in their eyes but missing the healing power of His. Let's come to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ and seek mercy and grace in our time of need. Let's be real... and transparent.

Let's stop faking it, and fall into the arms of the One who sees night and noonday the same. Let's not try to hide from the One who can put us back together again. And let's ask Him to shine His light into our reality, however dark, and bring life again."

If you've never experienced a place where the people know the love of Christ and have experienced a deep connection with Him, or you have never experienced Christ for yourself, it may be hard to see why people would cling to someone they cannot see and something they cannot prove. It is not a phenomenon I can easily explain. All I know is this:

There are many, many hopeless women and men, who are desolate and desperate, searching for something or someone to bring them back to life. They are depressed and have watched the last glimmer of hope disappear, along with their pride and sense of self. They turn to anything that seems to bring happiness--money, jobs, sex, drugs, alcohol. The joy and happiness they so desire arrives, but it is only fleeting. They are back to the depths from which they never wanted to return. But then someone offers them something bigger than this world, bigger than themselves. They offer Jesus. They offer love, joy, and peace--not as the world gives, but as He does. It is unfathomable and eternal. It is the goal of every single person on the planet: to obtain love, joy, and peace. I see the saddened face brighten with the Truth that they are loved with an Everlasting Love, and something changes. The transformation begins, and they are a new person. The hope that has seemed hidden is now evident in Jesus.
This is the message of Hope. This is what can break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. But do not misunderstand me. Homelessness and poverty is not only a physical, monetary state a person may find himself in, but it can also be a state of mind. There are many who have money, a home, a family, a job, multiple degrees, higher education, but they do not know the joy that some of my homeless friends know. The former are the most impoverished.

"Even more, I consider everything to be nothing compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. To know him is the best thing of all. Because of him I have lost everything. But I consider all of it to be garbage so I can get to know Christ." [Phil. 3]


Call Me Friend

I love when I go to the shelter and the residents know my name. We hug or shake hands, happy to see each other.

I want to be their friend but not their buddy. I want to be a true friend--one that holds them accountable, helps them out when they have need, rejoices when they are joyful, and cries with them in their sorrow. This is not an easy task. Often I am too selfish and too wrapped up in my own life to even think about walking with them through theirs. I must think about who and what I'm thinking about--I must be mindful and purposeful to love. Humans are wired to be selfish. This is a harsh, but true reality. No one has to teach a one-year-old to be selfish. They just automatically take a toy and attempt the word, "Mine!" A transformation is necessary.

"Don't live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you... Bless those who hurt you. Bless them, and do not call down curses on them. Be joyful with those who are joyful. Be sad with those who are sad. Agree with each other. Don't be proud. Be willing to be a friend of people who aren't considered important. Don't think that you are better than others. Don't pay back evil with evil. Be careful to do what is right. If possible, live in peace with everyone. Do that as much as you can." [Romans 12]

Breaking out of that selfish box is so fulfilling, but it is a daily choice. I can so easily forget about anyone and everyone but myself and my to-do list. But practice makes perfect. I can only hope one day it will be the easier thing to place others above myself.

However, I must clarify an important issue: I do not wish to be selfless and loving for the mere sake of being a better person or furthering humanity, but it is for a much greater cause--a much greater purpose. I want every person I meet to know and feel the love that his Creator has for him, even through the smallest act of kindness.

"For God so loved the world..."

I can scarcely believe that the Lord would want ME to help spread that message. But He does. I get nervous that I will screw up the plan, but still He calls. This is my life's goal Simple? Yes. Easy? Not always, but He will help me. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in your weakness." :) Now, THAT is hopeful.


For Better or For Worse...

As I said before, every relationship has its ups and downs, and last Wednesday night was a difficult night for me and the shelter.

First of all, I was unusually tired as I arrived for my shift. The past week had been chaotic, and I was definitely on the verge of not going to the shelter at all. But then something my Dad said to me a long time ago came to mind. "No matter how bad you think your life is, you can bet that someone else's life is worse. Help them out and both of you will feel better." I knew that there were people in that shelter whose week had been far worse than mine, in ways that I didn't
even want to imagine.

I arrived to the shelter and started to check in the women and children. I was chatting it up with the women, breathalyzing as I went. By the way, there is no non-awkward way to give someone a breathalyzer. So, acting as if it is a normal, everyday occurrence that happens in all conversations, I just continue listening and talking as if nothing is out of place.

I know the regulars well. Kenitra and her two kids (who are chasing each other around the room). Check. Jannette. Check. Barbara. Check. Janette. Check.
And the newbies, like Valerie and her two-month old baby (so precious).

Classes start at 8. I usually watch the younger kids while their moms are in class. That night was no different. I watched Kimone (pronounced "key-money") and Tay, ages 1 and 2, respectively.

About thirty minutes later, I was about to cry out of sheer frustration (and the bleeding scratch on my face). Both boys were crying (well, more like wailing and screaming), and I wanted to join them. Kelley, my manager, came downstairs asking if I was okay. I said I was frustrated but fine--attempting to teach a lesson in sharing. He understood immediately. He offered his assistance until their mom got back from class. I was infinitely grateful and exhausted.

I went back into the office to talk to Rhonda. She told me that the new woman, Valerie, had left with her two-month old baby. We were both concerned--it was a cool and rainy night. Where did they go? I could only pray they had family or friends around the area. I didn't want to think about that baby living on the streets. No way. I couldn't handle it. I was already tired and still bleeding a little.

Kelley looked at my face and said, "Please go home. I've got the rest of the night covered." Without a word of resistance, I breathed a heartfelt "Thank you." He walked me to my car, and I went home. Grateful, more than ever, to have a home to go to.


The People

After my first actual experience working at the shelter, I came home crying. They were both tears of joy and of sadness. I do not know how to articulate the emotions I felt after that night. The experience was so highly spiritual and emotional, I fear words may taint it. But I shall try to recount what happened:

My second night at the shelter I was an official "intake host." My job was to make sure every single person signed up for their bed, a chore, and whether or not they needed a brown bag breakfast and lunch for the following day. It's like a meet and greet with a breathalyzer. And I loved this position; it was perfect for me. I am a naturally gregarious, and sometimes, obnoxiously friendly person. I can't help it. I am
that girl who smiles at every person I pass on the sidewalk or in the mall. Kelley, my supervisor, told me this was an opportunity to "offer hospitality to those who may have long been without it. " This was more important to me than helping these people with their physical needs. I wanted to see them as people, with emotional and spiritual needs, just as everybody else.. Mother Teresa once said, "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat." I smiled at everyone who walked through the door. Asked each person how their day had been. Many were very happy to answer, some were not. That's how it goes. But I met some very interesting people that first "official" day. Allow me to introduce some of them:

George...the first smiling face I saw on my first day. George is on full-time staff, and he is wonderful at what he does. He is one of the most patient men I have ever met. He can cool a potentially hostile situation with carefully chosen words and maybe a joke thrown in at the end to lighten the mood. I love to talk to George about the ministry, how he got there, and why he loves it so. He obliges.

Mike... He was the first person George introduced me to. He has been a regular volunteer for almost a year. He knows what's going on...all the time. If there is a problem, question, or concern: Get Mike. He knows. I was intimidated by his 6'4" broad frame, bald head, and serious face, but I beamed up at him anyway and offered a friendly, "Hey!" He offered a half grin and a somber, "Hi." I think he finds me annoying.

Rosalyn ("Ros")... She made a quiet first impression. We chatted about her son and her day job. I was thinking that her son was probably 8 or 9 years old, assuming she was in her early to late thirties. But alas... her son is 22! And I had not a clue! Flabbergasted, I blurted, "How old are you then?" There goes the filter between my brain and my mouth again. Jeez. Embarrassed, I apologize, but she answers gracefully, "52" and smiles. "You have got to be kidding me!" I exclaim, laughing. "I thought you were 32!" She just laughed, but looked pleased. I was thankful (because that foot in my mouth was beginning to hurt), and told her I would only be so lucky to half as good as she does when I'm her age.

Richard... He is one of the most kind, gentle men you'll ever meet. With a soft voice that kind of resembles Winnie the Pooh, Richard was very friendly and helped me get my footing at the shelter. We had some time to talk when the residents were in their Wednesday night classes, so I asked Richard about his life. The answer I got was the coolest answer I've heard in a long while. Richard lived outside of the US for over half of his life (he is probably in his late 50s), working as a missionary. When he was in Italy, he met his wife there and married her. Together, they traveled to over 6 different countries, living in each for various lengths of time. In the course of their missionary journeys, he and his wife had 8 children. Yes, 8! He said his youngest is 10 years old and his oldest is 32 years old (who just recently got married). From that point on, I knew Richard and I would be great friends. He is chock full of wisdom but is so unassuming and humble.

Rhonda... the main coordinator of the women and children's section downstairs. She is also full-time staff. A very petite woman, no taller than 5 feet, Rhonda may seem fragile, but this woman is an ox. Feisty when she needs to be, but very friendly, I knew we would also get along well. She immediately took me under her wing, and I followed her around like a little puppy, taking mental notes like crazy. I learned quickly, if George doesn't know something, Rhonda does. She is also one with answers.


As I followed Rhonda around, I introduced myself to all of the women residents and asked their names. I tried to remember each one, but I ended up only remembering a few. The ones I remembered, I wrote down later that night to pray for specifically.

Tiffany was one young woman that stuck out in my mind. I actually didn't know she was a girl when I first encountered her at dinner! She had come in late (dinner starts promptly at 7 p.m., and sometimes a little before--and the food goes fast!), but George always wants to give everyone who is willing to come a chance to have a warm dinner, at least. At some point, he asks her if she needs a place to stay for the night, and if she would like to join our "stepping stones" program. Tiffany agrees to both propositions. As she is finishing her meal, Rhonda and I spring into action. We grab her new sheets, a bathroom kit (complete with all basic toiletries), and a blanket for her bed--all of which were donated by the community.

Tiffany is around my age... probably in her early 20s. And, now in a shelter. I wondered how she got there, but I didn't ask, for some reason. Maybe that would have turned her away; I'm not sure. Tiffany has a very rough exterior... like I said before I thought she was a man before I met her. But as I talk to her, she is very sweet. Who knows what circumstances brought her here, but I'm very glad to have met her. She writes in her journal every night. I love that because I do too. We bonded over our shared love of writing. I realized then that if our situations were reversed, or I had gone through the things she has gone through, I could just as easily be the one sleeping in a homeless shelter. After about half of an hour of talking, I felt like we had bonded. Hers was a name I would remember.

I absolutely adored everything about that ministry and everything about my first official night as an "intake host." I would definitely be back the next week and the weeks after that. And one thing I knew for sure: I have found where I am happy. I could quit all of my carefully laid out plans of college, grad school, and travel, do this for the rest of my life and be perfectly content. I have fallen in love. But just like any relationship, I know there will be times of frustration, of apathy, and of discouragement. I can only hope I will remember the way I felt after that first night at the shelter. The deep love and joy that it brought me, not because of all the "help" and "acts of kindness" I was so gracious to give, but because of the way the people touched my heart, the way they gave me advice and have a wisdom that I do not possess.

Who knew I would fall so fast? I certainly did not.


The Shelter

Instead of my usual grimace and impatience in the midst of honking horns and stand still 5 o'clock traffic, I sang joyfully like a boy in glee club and smiled at other fellow travelers parked on 575. I was going to the shelter for the first time.

As I drove into the shelter's parking lot, men and women were all standing outside of a small, faded brick building with a paper sign stuck above the door that had "shelter" printed on it. Not sure where to go, I pulled into a spot directly in front of the building. The people standing outside noticed. They stared suspiciously at me. My confidence and excitement wavered--no, not wavered--completely packed up and vamoosed. My now damp palms gripped the steering wheel harder and my throat tightened. The men looked away, not caring who I was, but a few of the women continued to stare. Oh, no. Why am I here? After the three second panic, I put on a brave face and got out of the comfort of my car. Nervously walking up to the building, I looked around to see a friendly, welcoming face. There wasn't one.

I stood awkwardly in the parking lot, not knowing what to do. Then I saw a man and a woman get out of their car with lots of stuff. They walked confidently up to the building and talked to the man with a clipboard (I had not seen him before when I was Awkward McAwkwardness). I followed. The man, Bob, and the woman, Marianne, his wife were all smiles and super nice. George was the man with the clipboard. Introductions were made. Hands were shook. I was in. My confidence began to creep its way back and I smiled more confidently, and the boy in glee club began to hum loudly in my head.

I followed my new acquaintances into the building. The door squeaked open and my nostrils were assailed by a musty odor. I ignored it and smiled at the staff standing behind the counter. Bob clasped me on the back and announced, "Rosie, we've got another one." Then Roselyn, a woman with spiky hair and large, dangling earrings, handed me a clip board and said, "Oh wow! Another volunteer? It's our lucky night! Sign in and put 'Host' in the position column." Obediently, I did as I was told, having no clue what I had just enlisted myself for. Roselyn immediately started explaining the role of the host and the process of how each person must sign into their assigned bed, sign up for specific chores, and say if they will be eating breakfast in the morning. I listened attentively, thinking this wasn't the "tour" I had been anticipating. This was training! But I was attentive, as I wanted to be prepared for my job. I looked to Bob, crinkling my nose, with a bewildered look, saying, "I've never been to this campus before. Am I supposed to be doing this?" After a short conversation, I was following Bob and Marianne to the Jackie's, the volunteer coordinator's, office and knocked. Jackie opened the door with a big smile. I was finally where I was supposed to be.

I was again shaking hands with Jackie and the two other women who were there. We were ushered into a bigger room where a whole family (mom, dad, and three kids), a younger man, and another woman joined us. Jackie took us around campus showing us the kitchen, the clothes room, the classrooms, the clinic, and then the actual shelter. She talked us through the whole program. This was not a normal shelter. It was actual help.--a program to break the cycle of poverty and homeless--not a crutch and not an enabler. There were rules to be followed, but all were voluntary. If you wanted help and you wanted to get out, this could definitely be your chance.

After an hour and half of walking and talking, we were finished. I gave Jackie my information, what days I could work and what I wanted to do, and that was that. My first day at the shelter was over, and I was already in love.


The Beginning

Here's the deal.

I was tired of my selfish life.
I wanted to get involved with some sort of community outreach.

And that's when I remembered MUST. About four months ago, I had toured this non profit organization on a class field trip. We were there to see the in's and out's of how a non profit organization is conducted. Specifically, I remembered a story that Mary, the woman who gave us the guided tour, told our group. A student had asked what had spurred her to become a regular volunteer and eventually as full-time staff. She then told us the story of Maddie.

MUST has a Summer Lunch Program, where volunteers and staff make hundreds of sack lunches to deliver to children who would normally get a free lunch from school. Since school is out during the summer months, many of those kids don't get a lunch at all. One day when Mary was out delivering sandwiches, she saw a little girl (about 7 or 8 years old) eat half of her sandwich and stow the other half of the sandwich away in her bag. Mary asked the little girl her name.

"Maddie," she said.
"Why didn't you eat your whole sandwich, Maddie?"
"I'm saving the other half for dinner."

As Mary finished retelling the story, she had tears in her eyes. I did, too. That's when I knew I wanted to be involved in this ministry.

Five months later, I applied to Must Ministires.
Now I'm a regular volunteer.

That's how this crazy journey started. I'll share with you some of my experiences and some of the lessons I've learned along the way.