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Eyes of the children

Story by Carol Hunt

I am challenged and enriched especially when I look into the eyes of the children I encounter daily.  Their spontaneous love leads me to discover compassion and hope.  Often, I read this prayer of hope.

“God of wonder, give us the eyes of children to respond with delight to the newness and freshness of each moment.”    

When I enter into their moments of joy and hope, I also enter with them into their poverty and pain.  Hope is waiting to be born in the unlikeliest places.

Down the road, I encounter clothes hung on wire fences creating a garden of color around the dirty, gray, windowless broken trailers.  At the door of one trailer, I found a note to me pasted on a glass jar filled with pennies.  Written in large letters, in pencil, the note read: ‘We saved pennies that we found on the streets to help you buy more food for Sarah’s family who lives in trailer lot 14.”  These children knew the pain of hunger.  A simple glass jar brimming with compassion.

Last month I enrolled a frightened sixth grader in yet another school, his third since November.  He came to our shelter with his addicted mother, having experienced in his short life, an environment filled with violence.  As we entered his grade to meet his new teacher and classmates, a boy walked across the room and reached to hug me.  I looked at his beautiful face and remembered that he too had one stood beside me four years earlier.  His words deeply affected me: “Don’t worry, Miss Carol, I remember how it feels, so I’ll be his best friend.”  In that classroom doorway, this child had fully experienced, expressed, and understood the word compassion.  In humble gratitude, this child reminded of all the moments our lives had intertwined, challenged me to remember these words: “Perfection does not consist of performing extraordinary actions, but rather performing extraordinarily well, the ordinary action of every day.”  Every ordinary action is an opportunity.  When we experience compassion, we are moved to love.

May we have the eyes of children as we embrace each new and fresh discovery.

Let us delight in the moment. 

Rainy Days & Mondays Get Me Down

It’s been raining four days now and this morning as I drove to my job at MUST, all I could think of were the people who have been displaced from their homes and are now living in the woods or on the streets in the cold and rain.  Do they have shelter?  How are they staying dry? What would I do if it were me?

Each time I take my dog for a walk, I bundle myself up in layers to make sure I not only stay dry, but also warm.  The weather has been unseasonably warm this year, but it has still been cold early in the morning and late at night.  I am still very grateful that I have someplace warm to come home to, and that I can get out of the inclement weather.  I thank God every morning and every night I have a comfortable bed with pillows and blankets and the ability to take a shower every day and use the toilet in the privacy of my own home.

Their stories may be similar, but they are also very unique.  Some may be due to substance abuse, but many are due to unemployment, illness, hospital bills, inability to adapt to society after being in a war, run-aways, abuse, the list goes on.   Many are college graduates, business owners, executives.  Many are families with small children who don’t understand what’s going on.  People who were once pillars of our community who have fallen on bad times and happen not to have family and friends to rely on for help.

You may say if they really wanted to make it, all they need to do is get a job.  I was just like you.  In order to get a job, you need a place to live.  In order to have a place to live you need money.   Do you remember how much money you needed when you first moved out and got a place of your own?  First and last months rent plus utilities.  Do you know how much bus fare is?

So, as you listen to the rain drumming on the roof, thankful you are inside reading this post instead of out getting wet, consider a gift to MUST as we collect items for the Point in Time census.  It’s because of your generosity we can provide the necessities and a little comfort to those in need.

A Kitchen to Cook In

Story by Carol Hunt

A Kitchen to Cook In

Carl Sojourner is a man that loves to cook. His passion for southern classic cuisine was born in the Biloxi, Mississippi kitchen of his mother. He would sit and watch her prepare rich macaroni and cheese, yam soufflé, deliciously spicy Cajun rice and other comfort foods in her spotless kitchen. “I loved her food and realized that if anything ever happened to her, I would lose her food too,” says Carl. He knew then that he would have to learn to cook just like her so that he would never lose those wonderful memories. On Easter Sunday 2011, he shared the food of his childhood with more than 200 guests at the MUST Ministries Loaves and Fishes kitchen in Marietta.MUST Ministries cajun rice

 As a former guest of the Elizabeth Inn, Carl knows first-hand what it feels like to be homeless. A bad choice landed him in prison for a time, during which he lost his beloved mother. After his release, he found success as a cook in a restaurant in Roswell. Unfortunately, as the recent economy took its toll, he lost his job and eventually his apartment. Fortunately, Carl found MUST Ministries to give him the hope and support he needed to get back on his feet. “I enjoy the swinging door at MUST,” says Carl. “They give anyone a chance. As long as you put forth the effort, MUST will support you the whole way.”

A steady job allowed him to move into a housing program* and he is well on his way to having a kitchen of his own. He dreams of owning his own restaurant in the near future. He even has the name – Biloxi Street Café – where he will serve dishes inspired by his mother’s flair for flavor, along with his own special recipes.

MUST was there when Carl needed someplace to go. And for that he will be forever grateful. “Being involved in MUST is just being a part of what you believe,” attests Carl. “These are the walks and missions that Jesus Christ was called to do – so when you are called to serve in His name, how can you turn that down?”

*To find out more about the Elizabeth Inn emergency shelter, the housing program and the other wonderful programs offered by MUST Ministries, visit www.MUSTMinistries.org, or call (770) 427-9862. Your time, talents or resources are always welcome.

A gift of new shoes

Story by Carol Hunt

Early in September, a worried mother was in our clothes rack.  She was a mother of two sons, Jeremy (8) and Thomas (2 ½).  She asked for used shoes for her eight year old son.  Any kind would do because school would begin in two days, and the money she had saved for new shoes had to be spent on medicine for her youngest child who had an ear infection.  I glanced down at Jeremy’s feet.  The sole of one shoe had a gaping hole—the result of summer days of running and jumping.  She had but three choices in his size.  A sadness came over me, but clearly to this mother the used, soiled shoes were a gift.  As they tried on the shoes that were available, I searched for new socks.  Their newness contrasted with the used shoes.  Suddenly, the spontaneous delight of the child brought joy.  There was a preciousness in both the old and new.

 Two days later, a truck arrived loaded with a huge box.  The driver of the truck told me the box had fifty pair of new shoes and he asked if he could please have a tax receipt.  Fifty new pair of shoes for fifty children.  I was overwhelmed!  When we removed the brown, corrugated paper from the sides of the box, I felt extreme disappointment, and I am sure my face showed it.  There were indeed new shoes, but none of them matched and some of them had cuts on the soles.  As the staff stood looking into the box, we began to laugh.  The absurdity of fifty pair of non-matching shoes.  It was a challenge to turn this into a positive experience, but we did.  We spent hours matching near-alike shoes, a process which resulted in nine pair.

One week later, there was a knock at the children’s center.  When I opened the door, there stood Jeremy holding a box.  “I brought you a present,” he said excitedly, “and I want to show you my new shoes.”  “Oh Jeremy,” I exclaimed.  “They are wonderful.”  “This is for you,” he said as he shoved the box into my hands.  “We saved enough money to buy two pairs of shoes, one for me and one for another boy.  Thank you for helping us.  Mom says these will help you!”  I thought of the fifty miss-matched shoes.  Jeremy’s mother had made a sacrifice.  Her tax receipt would be the example that her son learned by buying a second pair of shoes to share with others.

I reached down to embrace Jeremy.  His mother waved from the car.  No words were necessary.  On the mother’s face was a beautiful expression of joy.  She knew the joy of her gift.  She had known the struggle of providing shoes for her own children.  She had fully experienced, expressed, and understood compassion.  Christ comes to dwell in our everydayness.

The Divine Appointment

He really wasn’t supposed to be here. We were open after our regular service hours for Thanksgiving registration and there was a new volunteer being trained to answer the telephone from 2p-4p on Tuesdays. The volunteer came to me and said, “We have a Hispanic gentleman in the waiting room that has no ID. We have tried to explain that he must have an ID to register for Thanksgiving, but I don’t think he understands. Can you help?”

After explaining to him in Spanish that he must have an ID to register for Thanksgiving, he replied, “I don’t want to register for Thanksgiving.” I asked what he needed. “A blanket”, he replied, “It’s going to be cold tonight.”

“Are you sleeping outside?” I asked him. “Yes,” came the reply, with a plaintive look on his face. I could have explained to him that MUST requires him to come during service hours, so he needed to come back the next day, show ID and go through the interview process in order to receive a blanket- but it was going to be 32 degrees that night. James 2:15-16 came to mind: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” I told him to wait a moment and I would check the linen closet for a blanket or a sleeping bag.

In the linen closet were only 2 small, thin throw blankets. I thought about the extra sleeping bag I had at home and started back upstairs to tell him he could come back tomorrow to get it, although that would not do him any good on this cold night. As I walked up the ramp, I spotted a pile of bags full of donations in the clothing sorting area. I found the Operations Manager and asked, “I know it sounds crazy, but do you know if there are any sleeping bags in these donations?” She replied, “I don’t know, but what’s that there?” There was something rolled up in a plastic bag, either a sleeping bag or a comforter. I couldn’t tell which it was but I thought either would be of help to him, so I carried the big bag up to the waiting room.

As the client received it, he thanked me profusely, putting his hands together as if offering a prayer of thanks. I told him he could return the next day if he needed food and clothing and then he left. As I turned to tell the volunteers that all he wanted was a blanket, the new volunteer’s face lit up as she exclaimed, “I just brought that in today! My mother found out I was volunteering at MUST and cleaned out her closets so I could bring the items to donate.”

She did not answer many calls that afternoon so as she left she said, “I don’t really feel like I did that much today.” I replied, “I think you performed exactly the service that God intended for you today.”

A Gift of Cereal

Story contributed by Carol Hunt

On a hot, July morning, a child came running to the MUST van for his sack lunch.  He shared that he had a surprise for me to see on his kitchen shelf.  I walked with him through the dusty, clay yard to his door and entered a bare, dark trailer where his mother greeted us.  There on the kitchen shelf he pointed to a small plastic bag filled with cereal.  Smiling, he began to share his story.

“We almost never have cereal, but yesterday, a neighbor who had been to the MUST food place was given a box of cereal.  Last night she came over with her cereal box and gave me half.  As I got in bed I could not wait for morning to come because I knew I would have a bowl of cereal for breakfast.  Before I went to sleep I said my prayers and thanked God for the cereal and the sack lunch that you bring every day.”

And then, he took my hand and whispered, “When I grow up, I want to give out lunches just like you.”  As I walked out the door and down the broken wooden steps, I knew that I had just experienced a holy space.

This child’s expression of gratitude happened because of the compassion and presence of a neighbor and her simple gift.  If was love that brought her to share as she forgot her own needs.  Her gift of cereal and the sack lunch were made possible because a community called MUST also cared.

We discover love in the midst of ordinary moments.  In the quietness of the night, a little child’s prayer of hope and grateful joy affirms that he was loved.

A Warm Coat for a Cold Boy

Story contributed by Donna Vickory

The temperatures dropped sharply last week as the number of MUST clients rose, many looked for warmer clothing, blankets and comforters.  I am a new MUST volunteer in Smyrna and was working in the clothing closet for the first time.  A young father came in and asked if I could help him find a warm jacket for his five-year-old son.  The boy’s teacher had called the day before to ask that his son bring a coat to school or he would not be allowed to go outside for recess.

When I came in through the back door an hour earlier, the volunteer sorting our clothing donations showed me a child’s coat that was brand new with the tags still attached.   We both agreed that this Calvin Klein coat was a very special donation from a kind and generous person.  As the young father and I looked through the children’s section of clothing we couldn’t find a coat to fit him, suddenly, I remembered the new one that had been brought in that morning and ran to get it.  The little boy was so proud and the young father was overwhelmed.  He hadn’t expected to get something brand new.  I told him that he could shop for other items for his son, but he said the boy’s mother would come in to do that later.  He had come to MUST that morning just for a warm coat and left with not only that, but a very warm heart.  I did, too.

 

 

Homeless Children


Story contributed by Carol Hunt

My days are sometimes filled with anger and sadness at their victimization.  But often there comes a silent whisper of hope.  I see them individually as small miracles that deal with that silent place where a child’s fears crouch.  For me, action is an affirmation of God.  One sometimes seeks the truth through one’s own daily ‘busyness’.  Part of the joy lies in the daily renewal of respect for our own humanness, which is contained in each of us.  It is to share in the suffering of the world.  Compassion is a word meaning to suffer with the other.  We are children of God together.  It is a quality of love that invites us to hold the pain of another, an acceptance of our (yours and mine) own brokenness.  We liberate others by not making them feel the guilt of that brokenness. To respond in a small way is to help create a world where it is easier and more natural to accept forgiveness.  I come not with answers and solutions.  I bring my own poverty, brokenness, and questioning.  I am reminded of the words of Rosalie Bentille: “As long as we are unquestioning, we are part of the problem.”  I come with respect for the fragility and importance of an individual life, knowing that love is measured by its fullness, not by its reception. St. Johnof the Cross wrote: “where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”  In seeking love, I am being pushed to my own freedom.  I learn to look for light where there is darkness, for goodness where there is anger.  I believe deeply in the dignity and worth of all life and allow myself to be touched in gentle ways—the ways of a child.

Homeless children are children of a living crisis.  In all their confusion, unkeptness in tiny bodies, consumed in the everydayness of noise, the crowded emptiness of material clutter, homeless children respond in trust and innocence.  They are not indifferent.  There is an eagerness to touch, to share words, and they have not yet lost that beautiful small miracle of laughter.  For homeless children, time is spent waiting, always waiting outside locked doors or inside in long lines.  When they are not waiting, they are hurried, pushed on by impatient adults.  Their mothers have so little space and privacy for the nurturing of their own children.

 The Hopi Indians say that a child becomes human when it smiles for the first time.  MUST is a place built on faith in the preciousness of a child’s smile, in a child’s openness to life, indeed in a child’s own humanness.  We share in both their hopes and in their suffering.  It is in the taking of small steps that we come to understand with more clarity.

I wasted so much money…

I can remember like it was yesterday…

I was working full-time (granted it was a high stress job where I was on call 24/7) but I was gainfully employed.  When the money was coming in, I didn’t think twice about spending money on clothes because they were on sale, not because I LOVED them and knew I would wear them.  I also remember donating clothes with tags still on them to various charities because I never wore them.  O.K. – so that wasn’t necessarily a waste, but could have been better spent if the money went directly to the charity instead of on clothes that would sit in my closet until they went out of style.

I also remember taking up hobbies, spending money on so many “things” I didn’t need, being completely oblivious of the need just around the corner at MUST Ministries.  I knew there were homeless people – that’s what I called them… thinking nothing of how it made them feel to be called homeless.  I’ve learned homelessness is a temporary state of being, not a label.   Or families that struggled on a daily basis wondering where their next meal would come from, when I would buy too much produce and end up having to throw half of it out because it went bad.  I wasn’t very sympathetic.  I thought if they wanted to work badly enough, they’d get a job, even if they had to flip burgers.  I know now, it’s not that easy.

This was many years ago.  I have since then lost that great paying job due to falling ill because of all the stress and am currently only working part-time.  (Yes, we had savings and yes we went through all of it.  That’s another story.)  Not because that’s all I want to work, but because it’s difficult to find full-time employment despite my skills.  I have learned working with MUST Ministries these past few months just how blessed my family and I are.  Despite the hard times we’ve gone through, barely able to pay bills each month, barely having enough food to put on the table, we’ve been fortunate in that we DID have enough.  Did I ever have to go to bed hungry? O.K. – I admit it, I did a time or two because I couldn’t stomach the same thing day in and day out.  Eating on a tight budget doesn’t give you a lot of variety.    We’ve never had to not pay a bill in order to eat.  I’ve learned there are so many people who have gone through so many hardships and when I hear of their stories, I feel guilty.  Guilty for the money I wasted all those years ago.  Guilty for the time I spent unemployed sitting at home when I could have been serving those less fortunate than myself.

This has definitely been an eye-opening experience for me, and even though we’re still living paycheck to paycheck, I give to MUST Ministries every month, even if it’s just a little bit because I see first hand just how many lives they have changed and continue to change.  Have you thought of giving a little each month?

 

Want to Volunteer Thanksgiving Day?

Helping others at Thanksgiving

We see others on television, hear about them on the radio, read about them on various news sources.  The volunteers, the ones who give of themselves during the holidays before sitting with their own families, and for some, volunteering is thier holiday tradition.

If you’ve been considering volunteering during the holidays to help those in need, at the Elizabeth Inn, you can contact [email protected].  Help is needed for all shifts, preparation, serving, and clean up.  All volunteers must attend a meeting November 3rd beginning at 9:30 am at the shelter kitchen to learn the proper procedures so everyone can be organized in the small kitchen and dining room. The minimum age to volunteer at the Elizabeth Inn is 16.  More details:

When?  Thanksgiving Day / sign up by October 31 / attend November 3 meeting 9:30 am
Where? Elizabeth Inn Shelter 55 Elizabeth Church Road, Marietta
More Info? Lavon Minns at [email protected]

If you prefer a volunteer opportunity more suitable for all ages, you can volunteer for the upcoming Gobble Jog.   The 10th Annual Gobble Jog is coming soon and It’s Kind of a Big Deal!  Join us as we push toward 10,000 runners at MUST Ministries’ largest fund raiser and friend raiser! While you’re running (or walking), you will be helping more than 33,000 people struggling in poverty by assisting with groceries, hot meals, housing, emergency shelter, employment services, clothing and access to healthcare.  In addition, you’ll be reaching 15,000 children who benefit from these services, plus the MUST Summer Lunch and Christmas shop programs.  Come be a part of something important by helping with something that changes lives.

Your Thanksgiving Day will have new meaning.