The first few chilly days of fall have arrived. This summer flew by faster than any summer I can remember. It was full of many blessings and wonderful opportunities for me. I got to see a lot of friends and family. In the middle of what has been maybe the most spiritually and emotionally trying time of my life, I was able to visit the families of my friends at their homes in the mountains, at the beach, and on farms. I was invited to many delicious dinners and relaxing places. God has not forsaken me, and looking back on the summer I see all the “pick-me-ups” that he showered on me through the hospitality and generosity of so many people.
The summer brought blessings in our ministry as well. Two mothers we know gave birth to healthy babies. We were given the privilege of picking them up from the hospital and taking the babies home for the first time.
Another wonderful thing is that we worked with several families to enroll their children in Catholic schools in the city. With the help of different scholarships and school vouchers, these kids have had a huge door opened to them. By going to Catholic schools these children will be removed from the poor education, violence, sexual harassment, and low graduation rates which are found in most DC public schools. We were also able to help many other kids by providing them with school supplies. Georgetown Visitation High School helped us pack and decorate 150 bags of supplies which we distributed the first week of school.
One of my favorite things from the summer was my visit to the Bruderhof community in Western Pennsylvania with two of the girls who were baptized last spring with Clark and myself as the godparents. We were welcomed with homemade cookies and cards. We spent the weekend with the Domer family who took us fishing, on pony cart rides, to a campfire, and to other community events. It was a chance for two girls who have barely been out of the city to see mountains, farms, and animals that are not rats. It was also a chance for us to witness Christianity lived out radically.
Reflecting on my summer made me realize how fortunate I am. I am fortunate to have the opportunities to do and see many things. I am fortunate that so many people welcome me to be a part of their lives. I am fortunate to have so many friends and family who support me when I need it. If I have good news or bad news, if I am ever in a bind or have a problem, some one is always there to help me. I have always had this, have always expected it, and have always taken it for granted.
This highlights a sharp contrast between the support that I've grown up with and the support many of the poor experience. It was striking this summer to know that there are so many places I can go and people to take care of me. I was at the same time struck by how my goddaughters had never traveled anywhere that they saw mountains on the horizon until they visit the Bruderhof. In fact, even many of the adults we work with haven't seen mountains on the horizon. Trips away from the city are so cherished and rare that we often hear people speak of trips long ago as if they just took place. And though I felt honored to be taking a baby home for the first time, it was strange that I was part of such an intimate moment. Had I been in the hospital, I would have had a line of friends and family willing and able to take me home.
Many of us have grown up with a network of support and safety nets which many of the families we serve do not have. There are many circumstances that make the poor in Southeast unreliable. Those we serve and their families often live from check to check each month. Managing food stamps, bills, and kids going to school can each become a little or a very large emergency every month. Add to this struggles with drug use, absent family members, and lack of transportation. When you or the people around you are regularly dealing with these kinds of problems, it is difficult if not impossible to find dependability. I've always taken for granted that if I were ever in a bind there would always be a back up plan, ultimately leading to my parents who would do what they could to bail me out. I cannot imagine a time when my parents would not be there to do so, and if there was, even then, there would be another back up plan. My parents have always made sure that I am okay. They have provided me with the best education possible. They've enabled me to see and do many things beyond our home. Along with so many people, they have been there when I am sad, or worried, or confused.
When I think of the difficult times in my life, it is hard for me to imagine what they would be like without all my friends and family who have been so consistent and generous. I can only imagine how easy it would be for my hope and joy to be replaced by great fear and despair. We need to bring hope where there is fear and love where there is loneliness. While material goods can be a great help, they do not provide as much for a person as knowing that there is some one there for them and that they're not alone. I think that this is how we need to bring Christ to the poor. We are all poor in the sense that we are all in need of love. So many times in my life I've experienced love as somebody to count on or be there. We need to be that for each other, and in a special way, for those who have no one else to fill this role.
With Love in Christ,
It’s been a long, hot summer here in DC, or as my mom affectionately calls it, “the swamp.” While this may not be a foreign mission in the jungles of the Amazon, life at T St. does present some unique challenges. Just the thought of living in this city without air-conditioning is enough to make most people break into a sweat. Thankfully, the constant whir of our fans distracts us from the near-constant buzz of mosquitoes.
Since the summer began, we have waged ongoing battles to rid our house of all sorts of pesky intruders and fortify our defenses. I am pleased to report that Jess and I recently walked away the victors of a head-to-head giant rat vs. human showdown in the kitchen. Unfortunately, while we rested on our laurels, the ants marched in and annexed my carpet and some of my drawers. On top of it all, the past few weeks have been lean ones for our ministry, giving us the opportunity to invent many new dishes in our garbanzo-bean cuisine.
Although stories like these provide hours of amusement for my friends, sometimes I just want to add, “but seriously, this stinks.” At times I get the feeling that I didn’t really know about everything I was signing up for when I came to A Simple House.
In fact, the question of why I live here and observe voluntary poverty—with all its challenges and surprises—is one that I ask myself often. Are we simply trying to emulate the lifestyle of the poor, or is there more to the idea of living in solidarity with the poor than mere imitation? What good is “going without?”
Solid answers to these questions often elude me. But the answer to why I do these things is simply less important than the fact that I have been invited by Christ to do them. Our aim in abandoning unnecessary luxuries and simplifying our lives is to be more aware of our blessings, to love God with undivided hearts, to cling to Christ and learn from Him. Still, this is often an uphill battle. And this summer I found, like the poor, that it is difficult to listen to the voice of God when the noise and disruptions of daily life threaten to drown Him out.
Despite this similarity, the poor we serve live in poverty for a different reason and in different ways. Last Christmas, we were introduced to a new family through the Missionaries of Charity. Ruth, a single white mother who has adopted and raised two black children with special needs, lives in a sizeable three-bedroom house in Anacostia. Though they have plenty of living space, it is cluttered with trash and infested with roaches. Depression, disease and the demands of raising her boys have taken their toll on Ruth and have manifested themselves in these living conditions. So when we pitched the idea of cleaning up the house and renting a steam-cleaner for the carpet, she beamed. On a Saturday morning in August, a few part-time volunteers and I teamed up with Ruth’s sons to tackle the project.
The Holy Spirit blessed us with a beautiful experience. The volunteers, none of whom had yet done much ministry with A Simple House, responded lovingly and whole-heartedly to Ruth and her sons, despite the dirty tasks we had to do. Cleaning the house turned out to be a great way to hang out with the family for the day. We got to know more about the boys and their interests and spent valuable time with Ruth as well, who is often busy taking care of the younger neighborhood boys (most of whom call her Mom).
This type of Christian love—a unique help meeting a unique need—is important to our concept of what it means to serve the poor. Being able to sit down with a family, ask what they need, and think of original ways to meet that need is a privilege that few social service organizations have. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of the poor. Love, in its many different expressions, requires authentic relationship if it is to bear the fruit of growth and change in our lives and the lives of those we serve.
Ideally, the relationship we build with God through prayer and the sacrifice of voluntary poverty inspires us to serve and know the poor in new and creative ways. Over the summer, we experimented with a small expansion of the ministry to the homeless living around our T Street neighborhood and farther downtown. As the weather cools, we hope to spend a little more time meeting with homeless friends on the street and providing a sandwich, a coke, some laughter and some prayer.
In other news, we are glad to welcome Kelly Pertee, our new full-time volunteer from Columbus, Ohio. Kelly graduated from Ohio Dominican University in 2006 and has volunteered for St. Paul’s Outreach in Columbus as a college youth minister.
In order to spread the word to others like Kelly, I recently took a trip to the Midwest to attend volunteer fairs at Loyola University of Chicago, Marquette University and Notre Dame. In addition to meeting enthusiastic students, it was a great way to network with other organizations and spread the word about some of the work we are undertaking here in DC.
Thank you for all of your support, and know that you are in our prayers.