Monday, December 12, 2011

Love in my Ugly Shoes

Lord, let Your love shine through me, today and everyday.

Nestled at the very foothills of the Applacian Mountain chain lies a city called Wheelwright, KY. In the past, it was a sprawling coal mining city but as the coal mines closed their doors, the doors of opportunity were closing on this city as well. Being born in this city now most likely means being born into poverty normally reserved for what we believe is only found in 3rd world countries. My eyes have been openend. Poverty is real and it’s right here in our country. It’s in our country, our state, our neighbors.

Last weekend, I joined about 100 others from CrossPoint church, Nashville on a mission trip to serve families in the Wheelwright, KY area. I knew about the trip from church and felt like I was supposed to go. It was the first weekend in December and that is usually such a busy time for us. I made that “deal with God” (uh-oh!) and said, if nothing else comes up between now and then, I’d go. Well, wouldn’t you know, my schedule stayed wide open. After being booked every weekend into the new year, this weekend was left untouched on my calendar. How did I know that would happen? (Thanks, God!) I was a little hesitant because I didn’t know ANYONE else going. I had been told but still didn’t fully comprehend our living arrangements for our stay there. I went to the meeting the week before and was handed a “packing list.” It included a sleeping bag and comfortable shoes. Translation: Bring your UGLY shoes. We all know comfortable shoes = Ugly shoes. And that’s just not my style! Ok, I can do this. And as we left the meeting that day with all our information in hand, we were reminded: “It’s not about me!” That would be the manatra of the weekend and would need to be repeated. Often.

We left on Friday at noon. We were driving a Uhaul truck filled to the brim with 250 sponsored children’s gifts, 300ish boxes filled with food and household items and a whole caravan of LOVE! I did have the luxury of riding in a minivan with 2 other ladies from my church. It was a LONG 8 hour drive into the middle of Kentucky nowhere so I was happy to be sitting captain chair in her minivan rather than in the 15 passenger youth van. We made a stop in Hazard, KY. Yes, as in Dukes of Hazard. That might have been my first clue as to what I was getting myself into. Another good clue was the conversation I overheard between 2 young pregnant girls. It ended something like this “Yeah, this one is a girl. We’re going to name her Jesse. Jesse James.”

We arrived at the gymnasium where we would call home late Friday night. Our only objective was to get settled for the night, we’d start early the next day. Debbie, the lady that runs the local mission there met us and explained some of what we’d be witnessing the following day. She explained that in this area, the average median YEARLY salary was around 6,000. A year! She went on to say that drugs were rampant in the community both young and old and the suscide rate was high. She explained that these people had lots of needs but their number one need was LOVE. Good thing, we brought that!

Our nightly accomadations were pretty primitive. It was a gym floor. Some of the windows to the gym were not there. It was COLD. The showers were….well, please see the photo below to fully comprehend. There were 2 toilets. For about 100 people. Still, I can do this. Reminder: It’s not about me.

I had borrowed a brand new sleeping bag and air mattress from a couple of moms I know. That was the best decision I had made so far. While my 2 cohort ladies slept hard and COLD, I never once got cold over the weekend. Well, not while in my sleeping bag at least. Now, the walk to the bathroom (where the open air hit you) was cold.

Saturday morning came early and we had a ton of work to do. We had to transform our living quarters gym into a winter wonderland for the Christmas party later. We all worked like a well oiled machine decorating, unloading and getting this place party ready. Our church had brought 50 large containers of chili with us, nearly 100 dozen cookies and everything else to go with it. By the time the families started arriving, we were taking our places to love the people of Wheelwright, KY. I quickly took the title of “official baby holder” and used my title every chance I got. I also made a point to make over all the little girls that came wearing their version of “Sunday best” because I knew it really was their best and they were proud to wear it for us. The children were easy to love, the teenagers were a little tougher to crack. Sadly, they are the ones that need to be loved the most. They are susceptible to so many different decisions and the right ones are often the harder ones to choose. I fell in love with one family of sisters and the baby they had. Her name was Shelby and if I had shown up at home with her, no one would have been surprised. Her mom was April and April had 8 sisters. The oldest sister, Misty, was the main caretaker for all the sisters and the baby. Misty is in college. One of few. She wants to be a nurse and isn’t sure if she wants to stay in Wheelwright or not. She is trying to decide between her family and her career. Another family I became close to is Eddie’s family. Eddie is sponsored by one of my friends at church and she asked me to check in on him. Eddie found me at the door. There is where he stole my heart. He met me at the check in table and dropped down to do push ups to impress me. He’s only 3. He has a 16 year old sister, Jasmine and 2 older brothers. I was told by Debbie that his family has been known to do heavy drugs in the past. Eddie was friendly and his mom was talkative. He has a lazy eye and had surgery to correct it. It was still healing.

The party consisted of chili for lunch, arts and crafts for the kids, a visit with santa, 3 professional family photography areas complete with printing capabilities and a full makeshift salon. A local salon in Nashville had recruited 4 stylist to give free haircuts to the families in attendance. When I sat down to eat, I met my favorite child yet. I sat next to a girl and asked her name. She told me it was Victoria Ann Moon. She proceeded to tell me “some of these people came and built a room onto my grandma’s house.” We had learned about this addition the night before and I was honored to meet the people that it benefited. She said that since the room addition, she finally had a bedroom of her own. She lives with her grandma and several of her cousins. I also met her grandma, Dorothy, and she was one of the most grateful people I met all weekend. You could tell she kept those kids in line, in school and was respectable. She was grateful for the room that crosspoint helped build and she was glad to pitch in and help or work for anything given to her. Victoria and I had a meaningful conversation about staying in school and learning the importance of math. A common theme among the families is a high incidence of smokers, pregnancy at an early age and soda. Children as young as 2 or 3 carried a soda into the party. Many adults brought their own Mt. Dew with them and the kids drank it freely. Now soda won’t kill you but the unhealthy theme just isn’t appropriate for children so young. Most kids would ask if we had soda to serve when we only offered water and lemonade. The lack of education compounded these unhealthy choices.

After the party, the clean up began. There were several gifts that were not picked up from a family that had been hospitalized. I went with the team that was going to deliver those gifts. That may have been when things got real. We pulled up to a home surrounded by clutter, broken things and mud. It was easily in “condemned” conditions by most standards. There were rotten boards covering the dirty floor. The mother met us at the door and we delivered gifts to her 4 boys. The boys came outside and retrieved their gifts and each of them seemed to have learning disabilities. They were also not clean. Their clothes were filthy and we later learned that there was no running water in the home. They wouldn’t get it until spring time because even if they had it, the pipes would freeze and burst. It was a VERY quiet ride back as all of the team members pondered what we had just witnessed. I didn’t relize people in the US lived like that. I didn’t comprehend until now the hopelessness that could be found so very close to me. The saddest part for these boys is with significant learning delays, the future for them was bleak at best. It was a hard lump to swallow.

The emotions of that day were exhausting. It was sad to see the children that were not clean, warm and loved. It was hard to accept that the adults in their lives would choose drugs or other things in life over their children. It was hard to see people falling in the the same cycles of bad decisions breeding more bad decisions. I just hope that at least a few of the people we touched this weekend see that there is a God that loves them, there are people in Nashville that love them and a few right decisions can mean a way out, a better life.

We headed home EARLY on Sunday morning. We had a lot of discussions about the weekend and the emotions we felt. The people we met. We were about 30 miles outside of Wheelwright, KY when we finally had cell phone service again. And we promptly googled the nearest starbucks. There was a new appreciation for a good cup of coffee. I think I faired pretty well for roughing it and not having a shower for 2 days.(No judgements, did you SEE the photos of the showers?) And to get my hands on baby Shelby, I’d go back again!

Crosspoint brings Christmas BIG.

I might have mentioned that I was taking up babies at the door. We did regretfully have to give them all back at the end of the day but if they had left them, I'd have came home with one of these!
See, I packed my "comfortable" (ugly) shoes and all the other basic essentials. Yes, that is a strand of pearls.
I had 2 sweet friends that had been to wheelwright set me UP as far as comfort is concerned. I didn't get cold even once on this set up!
And THIS is why I went the entire weekend without showering. Can you blame me?

Anything can be made beautiful!
But I did manage to brush my teeth!
It was like a tent city, except we had power and blow up mattresses so really it wasn't that bad.
Oh, and books on mp3 from the library. I was warned that there was no cell phone reception and it was a fact!
The drink of choice. Babies, teens and adults alike. Apparently it is cheaper than milk.
Oh, THIS is Eddie. He did push ups to impress me, aren't you impressed?

Sweet Eddie!
The salon girls giving makeovers to the grandma's!
This is Victoria Moon. She's going to be a mathematician one day!
She wasn't happy. I took her Dr. pepper to try to make her smile for me. It wasnt' working. I gave it back.
One of my favorite sisters!
This is Eddie's family. How cute is he at the bottom!
Yes, she has rainbows on her sweet little face!
Both of my favorite sisters in matching sweaters!
This is just a few of the reasons we were there!
Nothing warms your heart more than a weekend filled with God's love for children and a starbucks on the way home.

Thankful for the perspective, the opportunity and God's redemption for us all.

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