Without question, time is spinning out of control.
Saturday, December 14 arrived much too quick. Our CARITAS guests will arrive this afternoon for their one week stay at our church.
CARITAS(Congregations Around Richmond To Assure Shelter) started their work with the homeless in the 1980s. The premise was to find temporary shelter for the homeless by asking churches to be host sites.
The church facility and their congregation would provide a place to sleep, shower, provide a home cooked meal, a bag lunch, and fellowship. Churches agreed to host this daily routine for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, the CARITAS clients would move to another church.
While this template has been successful, there are lots of moving pieces. Each evening guests are transported to a church, they spend the night, and the next morning they are picked back up. Some are employed so they find their way to work, and some work with CARITAS staff to find employment. But, each guest has the same goal—finding stable housing.
Our planning for our CARITAS guests started in the late spring. The last few weeks, we have been working with our congregational volunteers and the CARITAS staff to make sure we were ready to host our 32 single women.
On Saturday morning, a move in crew had assembled in Trinity Hall. We would be unloading bedding and the personal items of our guests. While we waited for the CARITAS truck, we put some finishing touches on the readiness of Trinity Hall and its kitchen.
Right on time the big CARITAS truck arrived. CARITAS also supports a local furniture bank for its clients, so this truck doubles during the week picking up donated furniture.
The driver properly positioned the truck. He and his assistant gave us some instructions, and then we started.
Mattresses, bedding, towels, and the personal suitcases for each guest were unloaded off the truck. That’s right, I said personal suitcases. Each guest has one suitcase to cram all of their life’s belonging into.
After the truck was emptied, we staged the mattresses on the cold, hard, tile floor of Trinity Hall. Next, we made the beds. A bottom sheet, a top sheet, one pillow, and one blanket at each space.
I thanked this group of volunteers and sent them off into their Saturday.
The next team of volunteers would arrive around 5 p.m. The Outreach Sunday school class had the responsibility for preparing the evening meal. They also would prepare the bagged lunch for the next day, and stage breakfast items for Sunday morning.
Just before 7 p.m. the big commercial style bus rumbled into the parking lot.
We introduced ourselves to the CARITAS staff member for the evening and walked him through the set up. He gave approval for how the room was set, and he gave us permission to place a gift on each guest’s bed. These gift bags had been organized by our United Methodist Women and children from Central United Methodist.
Providing dinner had no hitches. Our guests started acclimating to their new environment. Some showered, some asked questions, and some were tired and turned in early.
I was the designated person from our congregation to stay over night. So, I had some organizing to do too. I coordinated the lights out time with the CARITAS leader and secured the doors for the night.
I slept, but I also had forgotten just how hard a concrete floor can be.
Perhaps, you recall the movie The Blind Side. It is about a future professional football player, Michael Oher. Oher is taken in by a family during his unstable high school years. The movie is based on the book by Michael Lewis—The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.
In the movie, there is a scene that has always made me think. Mr. Oher is shown his bedroom. The mother of the family who has taken him in makes a comment about the newly purchased bed for this massive young man.
He asks his host, “Its mine?” She affirms the bed is now his, and he shares that he had never had one of his own before—that being a bed.
I wonder how many of our guests in Trinity Hall have never had their own bed?
Daybreak always comes before daybreak for me. My internal clock wakes me at 3 this morning. I’m warm and safe on this hard floor.
I reflect. I have always had a bed, a roof, a job. My story is a story of being blessed.
The stories of our CARITAS guests are unlike mine. For them, something went wrong. Maybe it is was their own fault, maybe someone else is to blame for their misfortune. I leave that reckoning up to God.
But, you know and I know, we all need a place called home.
American singer/songwriter, Michael Martin Murphey, has enjoyed an interesting career. You might recall his first hit song—“Wildfire” about a horse.
A few years ago, Mr. Murphey helped to rejuvenate his career by recording an album of cowboy songs. And in this trek into the American west, he has even recorded a couple of Christmas albums with a slant toward the cowboy’s life in winter.
HIs second Christmas album Acoustic Christmas Carols is a simple, but beautiful collection of traditional carols. The album opens with an unusual selection—a short rendering of “Home, Sweet Home.”
Murphey’s long time friend, John McEuen, originally from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band plays exquisite acoustic guitar to back the bare solo vocal. In the intro, McEuen teases with the beautifully aged hymn “Blessed Assurance” and somehow transitions into “Home, Sweet Home.”
If you are as old as me, you might recall some of the words to “Home, Sweet Home.” It dates back to 1823. Murphey only sings these words:
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
There’s no place like home
There’s no place like home! (Payne and Bishop)
Those words ring true. There is no place like home.
And yet, our guests in Trinity Hall do not have one.
Do you ever ask yourself a question like this—we have sent space missions to the moon and back, and yet we can’t solve homelessness—why is that?
On Sunday morning, our guests departed for the day. Coffee was a big request at breakfast.
I mistakenly thought I would be able to go home take a shower, change clothes, and come back to church. That never happened, I too much to do around the building.
As I was checking on things in Trinity Hall where our guests would be spending their week, I noticed one bed. It was neatly made. Propped up on the bed’s pillow was a familiar character—Mickey Mouse. He was sitting there relaxed, like he didn’t have a care in the world. Beside him was a sign with these hand printed words:
Happy Holidays Wish You A Merry Christmas
That bed, Mickey, and the note tugged at my heart.
I wondered about this guest’s life, her story, and her heart.
Her heart had clearly touched mine.
Isn’t that what Christmas should really be about? In a quiet, unassuming manner— touch someone’s heart.
At some point after lunch, I did make it home.
My wife and I had been invited to a neighbor’s home for a birthday celebration and a viewing of a completed addition to their home. So, I took that shower and changed clothes.
At our neighbors, I noticed a properly placed piece of wisdom on a freshly painted wall. Here are the words:
you take for
is praying for
Well, God you’ve done it again.
For the second time today, you have smacked my heart.
You have taught me that our CARITAS guests have hearts with a better understanding of the hard lessons learned from not taking things for granted.
Thanks for pointing out to me that my old heart has more learning to do about taking things for granted.
This is an appropriate Christmas gift for me.
May I never take for granted— that there is no place like home.