Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Hope for the Homeless"

Lately the stories I have been hearing from the guest that I have served are stories of hope in times that many would feel are hopeless. There is a joke in the soup kitchen about the Rihanna song "We Found Love" because of the line "we fell in love in a hopeless place" we sing "we fell in love in a homeless place". I guess it isn't too funny outside of the soup kitchen but it is interesting to look at a word such as hopeless and to turn it inside out and to look at the antonym of that word. There is another song that mentions the word hopeless, "Hope for the Hopeless" by A Fine Frenzy. We could say instead of hopeless, hope for the homeless just as the volunteers in the soup kitchen refer to the word hopeless as homeless in the Rihanna song. This song is much more similar to the stories of the guest that I have heard lately. The lyrics go:

"Cold in a summer breeze, yeah, you're shivering, on your bended knee, still, though your heart is sore and the heavens pour like a willow bending with the storm, you'll make it. Running against the wind, playing the cards you get, something is bound to give."

The line that emphasizes the experience of our guests most perfectly is "playing the cards you get, something is bound to give." Many of our guests try and try again to succeed or push themselves out of the mess they are in but so many circumstances, that are out of their control continue to weigh them down. Divorce, addiction, homelessness, poverty, illness, and lay-offs to name a few of unfortunate circumstances.

For instance yesterday I found out that one of the guest who is a past felon and a recovering alcoholic found a job which is difficult to do with his criminal background. He was excited to start and to not be around the soup kitchen anymore because it means he would be at his job. He however failed his drug test due to an accidental intake of drugs in his roomates food that he was unaware of. He lost that job and is back at the soup kitchen again trying to make his way. He also mentioned an anniversary that was coming up tomorrow, which I did not assume was a wedding anniversary because he was not wearing a ring and sometimes the guests are celebrating addiction-free anniversaries. However, this anniversary that he was referring to was a wedding, a marriage to his wife who was in a very serious car accident when he was in prison. She now lives in a nursing home and he visits her. The part that is most astounding is that there are all of these crushing factors and he still smiles and laughs. He said he was ok because he is still alive. Here is a man with many negative circumstances and he is happy because he has life. How many humans can say the same? Not many, me included some days.

Another man told me of how he became homeless while I was at work yesterday. He got a divorce two years ago and his wife was given full custody of their children who are around my age. He has been in our shelter for 6 months and prior to that he was living with extended family. He said to me that living with that person did not work out because sometimes family does not feel much like a family but resembles more of a stranger. Right before the divorce he was laid off as well. He is dealing with his situation as much as possible and hopes to have a job soon.

A guest who I often speak with about politics and music, always responds to my question of "how are you?" with "as good as God will allow". What if we faced every day with these perspectives... How different would our world really be?

I am motivated to find hope too because I do not have any of these things weighing me down. These guests have the weight of the world on their shoulders and they still have the ability to see hope in hopeless situations. I pray that we all can find hope just as the homeless have...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Use Your Words

I have really been captured by many ideas during my stay here in Chicago but storytelling has really encompassed almost all of the experiences I have had while being here. When one first gets to know any new place, one will typically run into new people and in order to learn about those people one typically shares words in those exchanges. My interactions have not strayed from that experience either because from the moment I walked into my house I met my new roomates who immediately told me about themselves and vis-a-versa. In most people's stories, especially my housemates, we shared where we are from, reasons for being a full time volunteer, and our interests. Since I was a little girl I was very inquisitive and always asked why. My ability to ask people random questions about people's lives was born from my experience as a child. My housemates actually know me for my random questions and expect them now. Over the summer, I worked with a mission trip's team traveling across the country and I was given the role of the cool aunt who asks many strange questions. One of my current housemates from Germany randomly told me I talk a lot and that he never met anyone who can talk as much as I can (which we still laugh about). I think that I do talk often and have the ability to listen as well.

In many of psychology classes the students were instructed how to actively listen as potential counselors or as a person interested in working in the field. We were taught to look at people's expressions, including micro expressions which could include the smallest change on someone's face, affect, body language, etc. I have used these skills in many settings in my life but most recently I have really acknowledged the usefulness of this activity. I have learned to listen to many of the stories of the guests here in the soup kitchen.  Many of the people I serve do not get many opportunities to be heard. Most of them are seen on the side of the street asking for help and most of them are ignored. However, I know these people better then anyone else I have met here in Chicago because I know their stories and they know some of mine. Most of them have many important things to say but no one to hear them out.

In my previous blog I shared that most of my conversations are around ideas about music or psychology. Yesterday I learned that one of the guest has a masters in music composition. We talked about the Pythagorean Coma, which he was very enthralled to do. Another guest is currently in college and is trying to get back on his feet. He just recently received housing and is really excited to cook at this new home. He talks about his struggles with his math class but also shares his excitement to learn. Another guest constantly has a new book in his hand and is always ready to discuss the plot and themes in the book and to talk about current events. He was also given housing, so I haven't seen him for about a month now.

There are times when I have been unable to respond to someone's comments which is something I have had to learn to just listen and not respond. For instance, some of the guests struggle with mental illness and are just talking to themselves and have not awareness of others around them. I have gotten many comments about racism in the South after I share with people I am from North Carolina. As well as comments about my gender and feminine beauty. At these times I know I have nothing to say that is going to change this person's mind so I decide not to say anything at all or to say that is not true or that is inappropriate.

Due to these interactions, I have had a difficult time conveying myself  or responding to people outside of the soup kitchen because my world view has changed. Conversation's are not as materialistic as they once were, rather an important quality that provides meaning to me and to the guests I serve on a daily basis. Most stories outside of the soup kitchen involve talking about people's careers or their things but inside the soup kitchen they are mostly about the reality of that person's life such as sickness or emotion. The people I serve are more real then any other human being I have ever met. They are willing to tell me about their brokenness within minutes of talking to me.

These stories are the truth of homelessness and poverty, which exemplifies the intelligence and reality of a human being despite their circumstances. Some in society would like to pin homelessness as an individual problem based on that person's short comings rather then truely getting to know the story of that person. These people are human beings who have words to say just as much as someone with a home. No one chooses homelessness or poverty, rather life circumstances cause problems for some more then others. These people all have individual stories, stories that show glimpses into humanity.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I have officially been in Chicago for two months now. I feel as if I can finally call Chicago my home. Over the summer I worked as a staff member at Catholic Heart WorkCamp. At the camp we had praise and worship music each night and one of the musicians, PJ Anderson sang a song, Home by Phillip Phillips that really stuck with me. I feel that the songs really explain my relationship with my new home of Chicago which you can hear in this video.home I have made Chicago my home through many of my experiences as a fully time volunteer in a soup kitchen in Wicker Park, through my adventures, my happy moments, and my sad ones as well.

I have really experienced quite a bit in these past two months. I was really nervous at first to meet my new housemates, see my  new room, meet the guests at the shelter, and to start a new life without education tied to my life. My housemates have been spectacular, my room looks like a reflection of me on a wall, the guests are really great, and I am reading educational books and novels to maintain educational rigor and interests.

I have had many great days with the guests, specifically the days when we sit and talk with one another about our interests. My favorite days to work are Mondays and Fridays because we serve lunch and showers instead of just serving dinner and taking laundry. We open the doors from noon to three which allows for guest to eat, hang out, sleep on the benches, and take showers. During these times I am able to talk with guests and share about my life. Many of the guests want to know about where I am from and what I like to do. Most of the time I find myself reminiscing about the beauty of the mountainous back drop of the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge parkway and other times I get caught up in talking about psychology and music.

My favorite thing about my job/volunteering is my ability to wash the guests laundry. We provide laundry services Monday-Friday except for Wednesday. We take the first 10 bags of laundry and sort them out into loads for the two washers and dryers. We place them into the wash, then the dryer, and then fold them and put them back into bags. As I go through each cycle of washing, drying, and folding I pray for the guests. I truely see the most intimate part of another human being by washing their clothes and realize that this person is living most likely on the streets and needs as many prayers as possible. The intimacy reminds me of the humbling experience when Jesus washed his disciples feet. Feet were very dirty back in Jesus' day and to wash someone else's feet was a gross experience. Washing someone's laundry that has left over fecal matter, pee, sweat, and bed bugs resembles the washing of the feet for that reason, it is typically gross. However, it is my favorite job here at Franciscan Outreach Association because I feel closest to Jesus and to His people.  I find this task very meaningful and enlightening when I really reflect on it.

I will continue to share my experiences and times here as I work in the next ten months. I apologize for the delay in writing this but I have been busy living life.