I’ve got something to say and it may not be pretty.
But first, let me share with you, kind reader, the essay I penned eight years ago, when I began my relationship with Helping Up Mission.
I’m not trained, per say, by profession or schooling to weigh morality or administer counsel. My girlfriends would say I have a knack for capturing a cool snapshot, throwing together a tasty meal out of “catch as catch can,” and drawing the life story out of just about anyone who will share. I have a keen eye for color and the ability to get a task completed quickly and efficiently. I love clean lines and order. All this to say I’ve never earned a doctorate, run a marathon or written a book. I’m not an expert in any field, and to write about why my favorite place to be is HUM is, well, a bit daunting. I can’t even really talk about the economy, politics or the scientific case for the universe, and when my professor husband uses phrases like “integrating learning community pedagogy,” well, I have to admit I find myself hungry for a bowl of Cherry Garcia. My life is motherhood. I have a large family, and I’ve been one of those “hem them in a protect their souls” kinda moms. I’m a photographer, so my work is to draw people out and capture the real. I don’t confuse the two, for the second is only an extension of the first. My favorite place to be these days is at HUM, an addiction rehabilitation program for 400+ men in the heart of my Baltimore. I’m not exactly sure how I got there. For years I had heard about HUM but argued that it was too far, and that our small town an hour northwest of the city had its own addicts. And you don’t get to pick your addicts or your family. Why travel an hour to fill a need that exists right out my back door? And honestly, the thought of serving 400 men barely hanging on by a thread was actually not that appealing to me. After feeding my own family of ten three squares, I’m not looking for more kitchen time. I made the leap on behalf of a great books course I was tutoring. They were seniors, and we were all bored. So, I got permission to take the lot of them to HUM . . . just on a whim. It was for their own good, I told myself. We started with the facility tour, and I knew I was in trouble when I entered the library. It was the guy behind the library desk. He was the same guy that I had seen in the comfy chairs at Barnes and Noble, sipping a latte and reading Atlas Shrugged. Young. Bright. Stars in his eyes. What I thought I would see was not what I saw. These were not strung out, lazy indigents . . . and I am ashamed to write that phrase, but that was my expectation. I served dessert at lunch that first day . . . and quickly realized that these guys were just like me. One decision away from the path of death, but THEY were living transparent lives . . .living their beautiful mess out loud. From the get go, I realized that HUM gives me more than she takes. She give me hope. She give me escape from my own sludge. . . if just for two hours twice a week. And, yes, she give me heartbreak, for I’ve oft come to look forward to seeing a friend only to find he’s been beckoned back to his mistress. I haven’t completely figured out why I wake up happy to drive a hour to fill up the cups with ice water. Maybe it’s where I see God most clearly these days. Maybe it’s human connection. Maybe it’s completely self-serving. But a couple times every week we pile into the Suburban, roll down the windows, turn up the music and barrel on down to the city where I leave with a smile on my face and a song in in my heart.
Fast forward eight years. So much as changed. The girlfriend who thought I had a knack for photography is now engaged to my ex. And the mountains of Park City took my husband last spring. By God’s grace I have made peace with it all. I am still first and foremost a mama, but half my brood are off building their own lives. I am back to teaching and love going to work every single day. Yesterday, I piled ten fine young men into our mini bus, and took them on down to HUM to experience one of my favorite places. I got to see first hand that I am blessed to be teaching compassionate, empathic, strong men who intuitively know how to show love and respect. For me, I get hope from these broken men who are owning their garbage out loud. It’s truly a comfort to know that we are not all the same, but we are all in the same boat.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther provided the theme for the graduation service on Friday, and it was just what I needed to hear. It was the best reminder . . .that for a life full of JOY, I will decide each and every day . . . What would LOVE do? I will ask the question, and I will listen for the answer . . . then I will be brave and do it. And I will trust that the JOY will follow.