When I started volunteering at the Everett Gospel Mission, my motivation for being there was simply I have spent a good part of my adult life one step away from being in a shelter. I made countless foolish decisions and spent so much time wrapped up in my own selfishness to look at the big picture and simply be smarter.
Add to that a general feeling of never measuring up - I was never pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, plain old good enough... I allowed those thoughts to rule my life for a very, very, very long time.
Perhaps it was in the idea that I can identify with so many of these women. Not the drug or alcohol abuse but I sure came close. It is only because of a combination of a heart issue and the thought that if I died, my son would be raised by my ex-husband that I stopped drinking. I never "had" to have a drink but I sure did like drinking. I didn't like being drunk, though, so I would never drink too much. That probably means I wouldn't fall under an "alcoholic" label but I can see how it could have happened.
All of that to say my last year up at EGM (I started up there June, 2008) has been the most amazing time of each month I've had. I cry when I have to cancel on those ladies and I do everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen. They are such incredible, beautiful souls - even if their outsides are all dinged up. Some of them, when you look at them, you can't help but cringe because you can see the pain they've suffered written all over their face and body. Missing teeth, black eyes, broken or "shifted" bones...the list is extensive. Yet each of them, when they smile, light up the room and if you time it right, you can get them all to smile at the same time and it's purely blinding.
Lately I've been wondering if God wants me up there. It's been tough, as it always is when new women arrive. They don't know me and they don't trust anyone - it's a difficult situation. Sometimes, the pile can be so big most people would see it and step right around it. Not me - I walk into that room and start talking as if nothing is different and two seconds in, some woman is getting up and leaving the room because I've hit a spot so raw I've practically left her bleeding. The pain I feel when I do that is unexplainable. It takes great restraint on my part not to go running after her. I know, however, I haven't said or done anything wrong - she just needs to get through the hurt she's feeling. When she comes back, I feel immense joy because it means she understands she's where she needs to be at that particular moment and is willing to put up with the pain "getting better" is going to cause.
Last month, before diving into devotions, I started playing music for the ladies. I try to choose songs that while not necessarily known to them are easy to follow and are meaningful in some way. The first time I did that, one of the women started sobbing uncontrollably. I almost had to stop the song but it had reached into her so deeply she just felt like putty. There was nothing to do there but let her cry. And cry. And cry.
When stuff like that happens, I leave the Mission wondering if I really am any good for these women. Do I truly help at all? Do they see God more clearly because of who I am and what I say? Or am I just more snow/static in their lives? Do they believe that I care deeply about them? That my feelings for them run as close to "best friend love" I've ever felt even though we're complete strangers?
Then there is someone like T. God put T in my path about 9 months ago. She is just this adorable, 5 ft. brunette with a quiet calm about her that is still so incredibly joyful. Turns out the calm is actually due to pain. She can't move fast or super-energetically - her back was broken several years ago and she lives with residual pain from that. Add a few other problems in there and it just boggles my mind every time I see her smiling. Happy. Cheerful even. I wouldn't be. I'd be miserable. That's one of the other reasons I love going to EGM. The moment I feel like feeling sorry for myself, I just have to remember how blessed I have been and how far they still have to fight... Enough pity.
Anyhow... T was working the front desk last night. There is this sense of pride whenever I see one of the ladies I've known for so long starting to work at the front desk. It means they have proven themselves in their programs and in the house to be trustworthy and on the road to healing. They're doing the work. They're done making excuses. They know they caused most of the problems in their life and they also know they have the power to avoid going back into them. T told me last night she got keys to her new apartment last Wednesday. It brought immediate tears to my eyes - such a celebration for her. I am SO happy for her. But it's a bittersweet feeling. It means I probably won't ever see T again. Sure - she'll come back up to the Mission to volunteer but it won't be when I'm up there, probably.
That brought me to inviting her to the next baby shower. In addition to doing the devotions up at the shelter, I've started hosting baby showers up there. If you have any inclination to do the same in your area shelter? Follow through. Go for it. My showers fit into three totes - 2 18 gallon and one smaller one (I think it's a quart size) and then a cooler for punch and a cake. That's it. They're an hour long, we play at least one game - maybe two, the guest of honor opens presents and I take pictures which I later print for the Mom-to-Be. The showers are more than that, though, I found out last night - so much more than that.
It turns out that the showers have brought happiness to the shelter. "You just don't know, you can't know...." T said. The women walk around with a smile on their face knowing a baby shower is coming. I almost cried. Even this morning (I couldn't write last night - it was too emotional) I'm still just dumbfounded at all that T told me. The girls who are pregnant get so excited at the idea that someone is giving them a shower - so many of them have absolutely no one and if they do have someone, that someone can't or simply won't do anything like that for them. It's as if the baby becomes... real, or special or a gift - no longer a problem to be dealt with, T said. All because of a one hour party....
So. If I was doubting my place at EGM before, I'm not now and I can't help but thank God for all of it. He knows what I've been thinking these last few weeks. He knows what I've been doubting. It's no coincidence that T was working for another woman last night. He knew she & I needed to chat. He knew, when He told me to start doing showers, what it was for and here I thought it was to give those moms some much-needed stuff for their baby. There is a little bit of that but there is oh so much more.
Like T said last night - these women are bored. A lot of them have nowhere to go and nothing to do through some very long, lonely weekends. They have no transportation, no friends, no family and they've dug themselves into a very deep hole. That doesn't help time go by from Friday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday. I remember weekends like that - the phone doesn't ring, you have no plans, no money to go anywhere and you are, bascially, alone. I remember those tortuous hours. Hearing that, I'm thinking about starting a book club up there.
What was the old saying.... something about the devil and idle hands? The devil can't have these women anymore. They've battled him too fiercely for their lives. They have run into the arms of Jesus Christ and the last time I checked, I am supposed to be His hands and feet. If that is what He wants me to do, then God-willing, God-lead and God-praised, that's what I'm going to do.
When NBC happened this year, our Bible teacher had to bow out at the last moment for personal reasons. Nancy, the pre-school director in my church called me shortly after I got the news from Dawn. She asked me if I was ok teaching Bible and I said "No. Not really. But...does God really want me comfortable, Nancy?" I'm nothing special, that's for sure. I'm not even very good at being just human. I'm whiny and bossy and cranky and flat out mean sometimes but for whatever reason, God has decided I'm useful on occasion. That humbles me and floors me but if I wake up breathing again, then I'm going to do whatever I can to obey Him and Him alone. I'm getting better at pushing my fear out of the way and keeping my eyes focused on Him. I'm still slow at it sometimes but I'm getting better. Isn't that all we can do? Keep trying....