Saturday, January 28, 2012

Writing at The Door of Hope

The Door of Hope is a house in Memphis, close to St Mary's Cathedral, where people can find support, friendship, resources and food. (And which one of us does not need those things?) Some of the people who come through the Door of Hope live without a permanent mailing address. Some live with mental illness. Some live with active addictions. Some have jobs and others live without jobs. The Door of Hope is a community of faith where God is present and proud of all the people she has created. On Wednesdays at 1:00 the Door of Hope Writers Group gathers around a table in the dining room with pen and paper. A topic is offered and heads are bowed as pens begin to move across the lines. There were fifteen people at the table this last week. I joined the group because it is a seed bed for the imagination of any creative writer. William, who has been writing with the group since it began six years ago, suggested the topic: "Business: How to start a business and make it work." Here is what I wrote ...

A good idea that is married to energy can turn that good idea into a successful business. Every business is about a product that people need, something that can be proudly displayed in the market place and sold for a price. I have been busy for two years developing a nonprofit business. I am in the business of connecting people to people by way of their stories. I have focused my good idea on women who are in the county jail. Their stories have been shared inside and outside the jail, connecting people to each other on both sides of the razor wire. Now I am looking forward to expanding my business. I want to hear, respect and share the stories of teenage mothers, men serving time at 201 Poplar, grandparents in the hallways of nursing homes, people who live without the conveniences of a permanent address, people who live with chronic mental illness, and children who have been exposed to crime and violence from the day they were born. Their stories shape us all. We belong to each others' stories. To the extent that we are able to receive the stories of our neighbors with compassion and respect-- we will imagine a safer and more lovely Memphis.

I am in the business that God has called me to offer to our city. I am called to respectfully ask for the stories of our neighbors who have been ignored and silenced by prejudice and upside down priorities. I want to make visible the people who have been made invisible by those who are in power and politics. I know that Memphis, a city of warmth and hospitality, a city of music and good food, can affirm the people whose stories include neglect, rape, violence, abuse and crime. We are called to listen. It is the reason for our ears existence.

I trust in the steadfast love of God to make my business work. We owe it to ourselves and to all our neighbors to be still and know that God lives in and through every one of our stories. Every person has the capacity to make a contribution to our community's success. It's funny to me-- imagining how an entire city can profit from this nonprofit business. We need each other and we long to belong to the story of Memphis. We long to be proud of our city's collective stories. It is God's business that we come to know each other, to respect every human life and to connect by way of our stories.

Monday, January 9, 2012

In Memory of Mom

My mother died one year ago today. She took her strength, courage and faith to the next chapter of her everlasting life. I was allowed the privilege of being with my mother the last seven years of her life and I was able to assist her with her dignified death in my home surrounded by respect and compassion. As a tribute to my mother and as a comfort to myself on this anniversary, I am posting this memory...

My father died suddenly from a heart attack in 1963. We lived in Florida where he had been the pastor for a Nazarene church. My mother was well educated and skilled for her own professional life but, prior to her husband's death, she had spent twenty years supporting his ministry and raising four children. She was forty-four, widowed with two sons in college and two children in elementary school. We moved out of the church parsonage and into a rental property while Mom learned how to drive and made major decisions about our future.

She was offered and accepted a position on the faculty of Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville. She would teach world literature, the novel, creative writing and advanced grammar her first year. Mom flew to Nashville for her job interview and she met with a real estate agent who showed her some houses for sale. Mom bought a house and came back to get us and our belongings. We moved from Florida to Tennessee in August of 1964.

With her newly acquired drivers license in her purse, my mom packed everything and we loaded it all into a U-Haul truck. Two of my brothers got in the truck to drive to Nashville. This was a big adventure for them and they started driving as soon as the truck was loaded. Mom took a few hours to say her goodbyes to friends and neighbors. Then we got in Dad's Buick Le Sabre and she started driving north. I was holding a Chatty Brother doll in my lap as we traveled. We made it to Valdosta, Georgia the first night. Mom was not breaking any speed limits.

The second day of our trip was long and tedious. We sang and told stories and stopped frequently to look at things or to get a meal. A storm blew up around us when the sun began to set. I was just a kid sitting in the passenger seat, staring out the window. I saw tall pine trees bending over in the wind. The windshield wipers were doing their best to maintain visibility for Mom as she hunched her shoulders and stared into the highway ahead of us. Then she pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.

She reached for my hand and said, "Elaine, I'm scared. We're lost. There was a detour sign back there and somehow I got off track. Will you pray with me?" I could see in her face that she was afraid and that startled me. I didn't remember ever seeing fear in my mother's face. She prayed for God's presence and guidance. Then I prayed too, asking God to keep us safe. Then my mother recited the 91st Psalm..."You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust." She let go of my hand and started the car again. We found a restaurant and while I ate ice cream my mother asked for directions. The storm blew over and we stopped for the night. Mom and I made it safely to our new home the next day.

That moment in the car with my mother during the storm is a stand-out moment in my life. My mother admitted to me that she felt afraid. And she showed me how to deal with being lost and afraid. Like the trees that were bending in the wind, we bowed our heads and prayed. We were lost and we were scared but we were not alone or forgotten. We were in the shelter of the Most High even then. I know that my mother is even now abiding in that same shelter and trusting in the God who comforts me today.