You’re Going To Be Disappointed

Today’s guest post originally appeared on The Progressive Redneck, the mental archives of our friend and volunteer Joel Rieves. Click here to learn how you can submit your own guest post. – Sara

don't fall on anybody

For those of you who don’t already know, I volunteer at Love Wins Ministries, “a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population of Raleigh, NC.” It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I first met Hugh at The Morning Times coffee shop in downtown Raleigh (his “office” at the time) five years ago. After an early retirement from the fire department in 2012, I was finally able to jump in and help on a regular basis.

I’ve spent most of my life serving my community one way or another and that’s not an impulse you just turn off. Thanks to my friends at Love Wins, I didn’t have to.

One of the things I do around the hospitality house is provide rides to a local food pantry. It’s really a great way for me to be involved- as someone who’s more introverted, I do better in small groups and I’ve made some amazing friends on these runs. Getting to know some of the folks who come by our little oasis in the desert that is poverty/homelessness has changed many of my attitudes about people dealing with these situations.

While it’s been good for everyone involved, it hasn’t been easy.

In the years I’ve been hanging out at Love Wins, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people and I’ve celebrated their good days and shared the sorrow of their bad ones. Unfortunately, the latter seems to outnumber the former by a pretty significant margin. And, a lot of the time, those bad days are the result of my friends’ lack of judgment. I’ll be honest with you, it’s exasperating beyond measure to put time and effort into helping someone better their situation only to see them shoot themselves in the foot over and over again.

Hugh has said more than once that if you do this work expecting people to get better, you’re going to be disappointed because, by and large, people don’t change. It’s one thing to hear these words in the abstract and think to yourself, “Sure, but I’m tough. I can handle it.” It’s a different story when you’re actually invested in the situation. Things change after you’ve bent over backward to get someone into housing only to find they about to be evicted because they aren’t paying their rent. You can tell yourself all you want that you don’t expect them to change (i.e.”get better”), but the simple truth is that, on some level, we all expect it.

At the very least, we want it and it hurts when it doesn’t happen.

Regardless of what The Big Man says, being disappointed comes with the territory when you do this kind of work, and it’s happened to me a few times (and by “a few times” I mean “so many times, I’ve lost count”). When it does, I have to remind myself that what I see is only a snapshot of this person’s life. I don’t know what went on before and I really don’t know what comes after this moment where our paths have crossed.

Maybe they’ve tried so many times to “get better” without success they’ve given up. I can understand that. All too often, the deck is so stacked against my friends that I’m amazed they can get out of bed in the morning, much less get through the day. A ride to the food pantry or a local church for a shower isn’t going to magically change anyone’s attitude and make them what society calls “normal,” but it probably will make their day a little more bearable. In this business, we call that a win.

And, yes, that’s a little disappointing in itself. But it’s enough to keep me going.

One day, it might not be. One day, I may get so burned out that I throw up my hands and say, “Fine! If you don’t care, why should I?” and just walk away.

But, today? Today, is not that day.

Poem: Mother’s Day That Special Occasion

Community member Michael Holloway had the honor of reading his poem on Mother’s Day at Hillyer Memorial Christian Church, and he’d like to share it with you also.

Rose, Jubile du Prince de Monaco, バラ, ジュビレ デュ プリンス ドゥ モナコ,

Mother’s Day That Special Occasion

by Michael Holloway

 

Mother’s Day is a special occasion

On which all mothers can receive their due.

That day becomes a celebration

Happy because of what they knew.

 

Each generation is taught love,

Returning to home within the heart,

Offering to the young

Passion to be whole by being part.

 

To you then goes the day,

Hard earned through much sacrifice,

All learned by your wisdom,

Yet there is no amount or price.

 

Even in the grip of grace

Alive with love the odds you face

Reaching through your joys towards paradise.

 

Zinith’s Third Place

The following is a guest post from community member and volunteer Zinith Barbee. Read more about him at the bottom of his post. If you’re interested in sending us a guest post, click here. – Sara

coffee steam 1

“Love Wins, this is Zinith, how can I help you?”

The caller’s questions stretched me. It’s hard enough to remember my lines. This much I recall:

“Is it a food bank?”

“No.”

“A shelter?”

“Nooo, I wouldn’t call it that.”

“A church? Welll… yes and no.”

Indeed, it’s easier to explain what Love Wins is not.

Volunteering at the information desk at the hospitality house, I’m always challenged by my symptomatic memory loss. I can explain the complex geology of the rock someone used to break into the Jones St. hospitality house (I’m a retired hydrogeologist). Yet I might not remember what I ate or where I spent an afternoon— examples of how my life changed after brain surgery for a tumor.

My past aside, it’s still difficult for me to explain Love Wins, especially to callers with notions of church and community. For them, answering “yes” to “church” means describing worship, which Love Wins has, but not in the sanctuary of the church whose address it shares. Saying “yes” to “community” means services, which Love Wins gives, but not as a referred resource.

You see, the hospitality house is my “third place” — sort of.

The article defines the third place as a “social gathering spot.” No longer defined by workplace and resisting the confinement of home, a group of elderly folks in New York sought an inexpensive third place – anywhere livelier than senior centers. In their case, a local McDonald’s. They justified stays with periodic purchases of french fries and commandeered tables for hours. Deprived of seating, “real” customers complained.

(These group of elderly friends became to McDonald’s what people experiencing homelessness in Raleigh reportedly are to frequenters of Moore Square— “squatters.” Police removed them.)

Retired, living alone, and needing sprightlier settings, I demographically fit in this population of third placers, only I singly occupied Starbucks. Retirement, however, didn’t really define me, disability did, which is why I retired early. I learned from a woman with autism I met in Starbucks that my disability gave me more in common with her than with seniors lingering in restaurants.

I never recovered from my tumor and surgery six years ago. Relationships recovered me.

I disengaged from life after losing my lifeline— work. Suffering dizziness, headaches, nausea, and seizures, I disengaged even more. Instead of needing people to give me a place to sleep after becoming homeless, I needed people to get me out of bed and out my house. And they did. People were there for me.

Love Wins is that, it’s there, I tried to tell my caller.

At the hospitality house, I do all I can to handle the telephone and more, like some of the volunteers who have known disabilities all their lives. But we are homeful. We do not necessarily need a place to be but a safe place to be more.

Love Wins is that, too, a safe place.

At the information desk, I feel purposed. Maybe a more accurate word is abled. Or is it valued? I’m a retiree commanding a desk for hours and nobody complains. Maybe I helped my caller.  Maybe I did explain the narrow and broad boundary between homelessness and homefulness and how Love Wins addresses homelessness differently from every place the caller knew.

About Zinith: Volunteering in a ministry is new to Zinith Barbee. Not new is volunteering in his community, where he helped save a stream, talked to school children about geology, and where Love Wins Ministries is now located. He attends Raleigh Mennonite Church.

Maternity Leave And Other Things

Baby's hand.

My maternity leave starts in a couple of weeks, and I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as ready as anyone for this baby to be here, but I almost can’t remember a time when Love Wins wasn’t a part of my daily life.

For so long (going on five years), my norm has been conversations about rooming houses and minimum wage jobs and going to the emergency room for a toothache because it was the only option. Requests for socks and deodorant and tents play over and over in my head. Every memory, some heartbreaking and some joyful, is a part of my Love Wins experience, and it’s all happened one minute at a time over the last few years.

Soon my new norm will be so… normal. Diapers and sleepless nights and taking dozens of photos of every outfit our baby wears. Tummy time and laundry and doctor’s appointments. Things all new moms do.

Well, all new moms with my resources and privileges. For a lot of the women I know, being a new mom means long bus rides to WIC appointments. And formula instead of breast milk because they have to back to work after six weeks and can’t pump for reasons outside their control. And hitting up the diaper stash at the food pantry.

So I guess my life will be normal according to me, but really nothing is normal anymore once you realize your friends can’t give their babies the life they dream of – and that your baby will have everything every mother dreams of.

Related: Babies And Good DaysPrayer, Hope and BabiesBaby Talk

Meet Emily

Emily White, Social Media Manager
Emily White, Social Media Manager

Meet Emily! She just came on board as our new Social Media Manager. Emily makes us look good on the Internet, especially on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. She’ll also help us catch up on our chapel blog. One of our core principles is bearing witness to the watching world, and now Emily is a key part of helping us do that.

Emily has a lot to offer to the world, so I’ve asked her just a few questions to help you get to know her.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would you change? Beyond anything I would replace all of the apathy in the world with empathy and compassion. We can do so much good when we work with each other and for each other, rather than against each other.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Ellerbe, North Carolina, a very small rural town near the South Carolina border.

What are you looking forward to at Love Wins? I’m looking forward to seeing the direct impact our work has and will have on the community. I also look forward to seeing the community grow in size as well as in heart.

What’s your favorite food? I’m a foodie, so favorite food is a tough one. I’d have to say it’s a tie between pizza and sushi… both have so many different varieties that I never really get tired of them!

Who are your favorite authors? I enjoy Ellen Hopkins very much, and although it’s been a while since I had time for pleasure reading. I really like Philippa Gregory. Nicholas Sparks is my guilty pleasure, though.

What’s your educational background? I’m studying zoology, entomology, and creative writing at NC State University, and I have a strong background in animal medicine.

Stay tuned for blog posts from Emily, where she’ll share her Love Wins experiences with you and discuss our work in the world.

Meeting My Twin

The following is a guest post from Margaret Meps Shulte, and an excerpt from her new book. Click here to learn more about guest writing on our blog.

Firetruck red

I stepped out of the library in Jacksonville, Florida, and stopped in my tracks. There was a woman standing a few feet away, with her back to me. It was like looking at the back of myself: Her remarkable waist-length, strawberry blonde hair was the exact same color and length as mine. When she turned around, she stared back at me in surprise.

Without speaking, she walked over to me, and she held out a handful of her hair. When I held a handful of mine next to it, we both studied it with amazement. It was absolutely identical in length, color, and texture. We burst out, simultaneously, “Twins!”

We started talking, starting with our hair, but soon we found that we had many other things in common. Michelle and I were the same age; our birthdays were only a few days apart. She had once lived aboard a sailboat, and I was at that time living aboard Flutterby, a 33-foot sailboat in Jacksonville. We both had family roots in Jacksonville. We were spending our days in the same library, where I was writing my first book, Strangers Have the Best Candy.

Eventually, after a half an hour of conversation, we began to explore our differences. That’s when Michelle admitted why she was hanging out in the library every day.

She and her boyfriend were homeless. They were sleeping in the adjacent city park.

Michelle did own a car, but it had been stolen the previous month. The police in Alexandria, Virginia, contacted her and told her they had found it, 1,000 miles away. Without the money to go to Virginia and retrieve it, her car might as well have been found on the moon.

Her boyfriend had a low-paying job, but he was saving all his money to get his own car running again. Health problems made it hard for Michelle to walk, and since the nearest fast-food restaurants were a half-mile away, she was hungry.

She had spent all but her last dollar to fill a prescription that morning, and had given the remaining dollar-bill to a woman who said she would go get Michelle some food. That had been many hours earlier, and the woman never returned. There would be no food today.

I rode my bike to Burger King and bought her some dinner. When I brought it back, I sat with her on the grass in the sunny park while she ate.

I felt helpless in the face of so much misfortune, but I recognized that my company was as important to Michelle as the food. It reinforced her dignity; we looked like two sisters having a picnic.

Today, when people comment on my beautiful hair, I think of Michelle, and often I share her story. Her long red hair was simply beautiful, even though she had to wash it in the public bathroom sink at the Jacksonville, Florida library.

Excerpted from Strangers Have the Best Candy (2014, Choose Art). ©2015 Margaret Meps Schulte. All rights reserved.

About the author:

Margaret Meps Schulte is a sailor, writer, and artist who hails from everywhere, by way of Seattle. She is the author of Strangers Have the Best Candy and blogs at www.1meps.com/blog.

A Lighter In The Whirlwind

This post originally appeared on Medium. Republished with permission from Ben McNeely, author and new friend to Love Wins.

Candle

“Does anyone have a lighter?”

We all looked around at each other, and shook our heads.

“Some of our friends who are smokers aren’t here this week, and I usually borrow a lighter from them to light the candle.”

So Hugh Hollowell, with a self-deprecating laugh, asked us to imagine the candle is lit, as he proclaims the chapel service open.

We sat on metal chairs that we set up ourselves, in a cement-block room in the back annex of Trinity United Methodist Church off Bloodworth Street, at the northern edge of Oakwood — one of the richest neighborhoods in Raleigh.

Every Sunday afternoon, Hugh — a Mennonite minister and founder of Love Wins Ministries — opens the doors to the hospitality house and holds a chapel service. It’s a simple, bare-bones version of most Protestant services.

We sing hymns — there are a lot of standards in Love Wins worship book. My favorite is “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

Hugh has a Gospel reading, and a message based on the Gospel reading. After his message, Hugh opens it up to comment about the message. He says that he doesn’t have all the answers, and if the group wants to share something about the message, they are welcome to.

It’s a church of last resort, Hugh says, and he means it, too. It’s a place where people can come when they don’t have anywhere else to go; when they don’t feel welcome in the hundred other churches holding services every Sunday morning.

Hugh’s theology is at the heart of Love Wins. He believes in community, and that persistent homelessness is perpetuated by a loss of community. His fight is against “hobophobia” — literally the fear of poor people.

Words matter to Hugh — because words carry weight beyond their literal meaning.

At Love Wins, Hugh and his staff call you by your name, and they tell you their names. It’s a simple, yet powerful act to someone who is experiencing homelessness or violence or fear — sharing your name restores dignity.

And there’s no better way to show love, respect, and dignity than to share a meal with someone. That’s why, at every chapel service, every Sunday, communion is celebrated.

Hugh pulls out the bread and the cup — the traditional elements of the Last Supper. For Christians, there’s nothing more sacred, and yet, many Christians actively work to make communion an exclusive ritual.

Some churches celebrate communion once a month. Some churches make you walk to the front of the sanctuary, in front of everyone, and kneel in front of the minister to receive the sacraments. Some churches send ushers out with the bread and the cup and serve the congregation in the pews.

In some churches, you have to be baptized to receive communion; in others, being baptized isn’t good enough — you have to be baptized in that particular church in order to receive communion.

But Hugh explains that isn’t the case at Love Wins — everyone who wants to participate is welcome.

“You are all welcome here, and all of you is welcome here,” he says, borrowing a line from one of his fellow minister friends.

He begins the communion service by telling the story of the Last Supper.

“This is my favorite story — and it’s a very old story,” he says.

And he tells the story like this:

“On the night he was to be arrested, Jesus was scared. The Bible says he was so scared that he was sweating blood — he was that scared.

He knew what was going to happen — so, if you’re scared, you want to be around friends, so you’re not so scared. During the meal, Jesus takes the bread, breaks it, and says, ‘My body is going to be broken like this bread.’ And he takes the cup of wine and says, ‘My blood will be spilled, just like this wine can be spilled.’

Jesus says to his friends, ‘Think of me when you eat the bread and drink the wine.'”

And so, we line up quietly. Hugh breaks the bread — usually a roll that was donated during the week before. One week, it was a biscuit from Bojangles.

He tears off a piece, and hands it to us.

“The body of Christ for you, Ben.”

He says our names.

We dip the bread into a cup full of grape juice (wine isn’t used out of respect for friends who are recovering), and we eat the bread and go back to our seats.

For Hugh, taking communion is an act of bearing witness — by sharing the Last Supper with strangers, from all different backgrounds, faiths, classes, and socioeconomic situations, we’re showing a world that could be — but, sadly, isn’t.

Churches hide their faith behind ritual and rules. Those rituals and rules are made to create a mystical feeling that creates wonder, but also disorients us and keeps us separated from God and each other. Especially around Easter and Christmas — the high Christian holidays — the rituals become a whirlwind, where the pageantry becomes more important than community.

Children walk down the aisle, waving palm branches, on Palm Sunday, while their parents take pictures from the pews. A week later, the children are flowering the rough old cross, while the minister proclaims, “He is risen,” and the congregation responding in unison, “He is risen, indeed!”

We sing the hymns, we recount the story of the empty tomb, and head back out into the world, dressed up in our bright, colorful Easter outfits to head home for a traditional Southern Easter supper of ham and all the fixin’s.

But somewhere in the whirlwind, the community is lost. Being together — whether it’s with family or friends or complete strangers — is lost in the overt symbolism of the faith.

In Hugh’s church, there is none of that. No palm branches, no choirs or pipe organs, no overt ritual — because ritual can sometimes be a barrier that keeps us from each other and from God.

The next week, one of the attendees — someone who spent the last week in a shelter — brought a pack of lighters, so the candle could be lit.

Click here to listen to Ben’s conversation with Hugh on “This is Raleigh” from Little Raleigh Radio.

Then Life Showed Up

The following is a guest post from Neal Adams. If you’re interested in sending us a guest post, click here. – Sara

Hope

As a youngster I set out to blaze a trail of glory, excelling in school and athletics. I enrolled in academically gifted classes, sang in the teen choir at church, and played Pop Warner football. I was on the road to success and happiness.

Then life showed up. We moved across town the summer I turned 15 and suddenly I was in a new neighborhood where I knew no one. My comfort zone had been stripped away and I was scared to death. Feeling of inadequacy engulfed me. What was I to do? Where would I turn? I latched on to the first group of peers that felt just like me. I longed for acceptance and comfort I was used to, so I joined them in smoking pot and drinking.

Thus began a long journey of fear and anxiety, accompanied by feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. I coped with drugs and alcohol. They masked my emotions and eased my pain for a long time. But I eventually I didn’t know how to live without them. I rode the roller coaster of life, occasionally experiencing glimpses of happiness and peace.

One of those glimpses of happiness was when I married the woman of my dreams. But our marriage and family weren’t enough to shake the grips of my disease. I wreaked destruction in the lives of everyone around me. Eventually I surrendered my home, my family, and my livelihood. After a series of harmful events I ended up on the streets of Raleigh. I had become a shell of a man- broken, defeated, and now living without a home. I wanted to die because I believed that everyone who cared for me would be better off. The disease of alcoholism and addiction had almost fulfilled its mission.

A dear friend (who I hadn’t talked to in years) stopped everything he was doing to drop me off at a detox unit. They let me stay, and man, those first few days were ones of uneasiness, fogginess, and fear. I had no idea what to expect, so I followed instructions and watched. I wanted to leave the shelter many times, but I stayed “one more day.”

Little by little, slowly and surely the fog lifted. I trudged hard and I began to feel better physically. I paid attention and learned about the disease of alcoholism. I found hope in observing the program’s graduates, choosing to follow a 12-step program.

Today I’m blessed beyond measure. I have over 18 months of sobriety and I am grateful to be where I am, spiritually and emotionally. I have a hope and a future that’s hard to describe, and I owe my joy and peace to God. I no longer have a desire to drink or use, and I know what it means to be at peace.

I will be forever grateful for the days I spent on the streets of Raleigh because the memories offer me a point in time where I can see my surrender to the care of God. There truly is victory in submission.

Meet Elizabeth

Lizzie Drake, Administrative Assistant
Elizabeth Drake, Administrative Assistant

Meet Elizabeth! She just came on board as our new Administrative Assistant. Elizabeth builds our capacity by doing the important background work that keeps us going, from ordering inventory to looking up phone numbers for hospitality house guests. Her first day was last Tuesday and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have her on our team.

Elizabeth has a lot to offer to the world, so I’ve asked her just a few questions to help you get to know her.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would you change? It’s hard to choose just one. I’d start by making society open and welcoming of all people and beliefs. It would be wonderful to know that gender, sexuality, class, race, or nationality, doesn’t play a part in how a person’s worth is judged.

Where did you grow up? I was born on an Air Force base in Oklahoma. I grew up in the Wendell/ Knightdale area.

What are you looking forward to at Love Wins? I’m looking forward to meeting the community members and forming relationships that create a more interesting, diverse, and empowering world.

What’s your favorite food? Cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers! And, of course, chocolate.

Who are your favorite authors? Jane Austen and Christopher Moore.

What’s your educational background? I went to public school until 10th grade and then was home-schooled for the remainder of the time. Now I attend Wake Tech Community College where I’m getting my associate degree in arts. I hope to transfer to North Carolina State University in a year to obtain my bachelor’s degree in education and/or business entrepreneurship.

Stay tuned for blog posts from Elizabeth, where she’ll share her Love Wins experiences with you and discuss our work in the world.

A Poem From Jeremy

Chained and Locked

It’s safe to say that Jeremy is Love Wins’ poet laureate, one of many creative individuals in our community. Sometimes Jeremy writes a poem and hands me the copy, face beaming with pride. And sometimes he sends poems from prison while we await his release date.

This time the poem, accompanied by a letter, came from prison. We look forward to creating a space for Jeremy to be when he comes back around. In the mean time, here’s his poem, which he asked me to share with you.

To Break These Heavy Chains by Jeremy R. Martin

I have made many mistakes

For which I’ve done hard time

Many of which are classified

Simply as a crime

But perhaps all these mistakes were made

Sublime though it may seem

To bring about a chance for me

To finally be redeemed

These chains of crime have held me back

For far too long in life

Causing nothing but pain and loss

And bringing endless strife

So now it’s time to bring about

The beginning of this change

Since now my faith is strong enough

To break these heavy chains

Copyright 2015 Jeremy Randolph Martin

 Related: Grady’s Still HereRocks For Pillows, Concrete For A Bed