Artwork by Brian Kavanagh
All Is Grace
It was Fall 2017 when we asked her to live with us. Winter was coming, she was new on the streets, and we were worried she wouldn’t survive. We never expected her to say “yes”, but to our surprise, she did.
By Eric Garbison
She introduced herself as “Grace” but we never figured out her real name. Even after two years of asking, sometimes pleading, she kept her story secret. At one point, I confess, it even became a kind of game: me trying to coax her into divulging her identity and her sending me on numerous rabbit trails. While we were never quite certain how to parse out fact from fiction, I suspected her stories held kernels of truth—her truth. Like mixing the pieces of two puzzles together, these stories became her new one.
We are not social workers, but we did try to get her connected to resources, taking her to the Social Security office and to appointments. If anything, Grace’s story exposes the complications of real destitution. Like most, she didn’t just “choose” to be homeless. She was not mentally and socially able to navigate life on society’s terms, so she lived it on hers.
Grace was complicated for me. At times, we would enjoy small talk around a favorite song or movie she recalled. I’d smile about the way she wrapped a T-shirt around her head or turned a sweatshirt into a skirt. She had a quirky sense of humor, giggling at her own jokes and inviting us to join her in one of her dinner concoctions.
But to come clean, by year two I was mostly impatient. Accepting Grace for herself was a challenge. On many occasions I’d struggle with my attitude. How much of her quirkiness should we put up with? Didn’t stove burners left on and doors unlocked pose a threat to all of us? Wasn’t I supposed to be better at this by now? At some point I just settled for knowing she did deserve to be safe, to be housed—to be welcomed.
Then, on one muggy day in June, Grace left… after two years of living with us. She stomped out the door, frustrated that we asked her to clean her room. She didn’t go far. We saw her around the neighborhood, occupying the steps of a nearby church or sitting in front of the fountain at the park.
She is still homeless.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this isn’t a “success” story, at least by today’s measures, and it's not the story you usually tell in a support letter.
So why tell it?
Dorothy Day once wrote, “The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace.”
It can be a struggle to see Christ in our neighbor or to call our efforts loving when we simply feel obligated or stuck. But at some point you know it's not a matter of fixing some problems, knowing some fact or believing a truth; it’s accepting the gift of the other, where they are and where I am. “It is most surely an exercise of faith for us to see Christ in each other,” Day writes, “but it is through such exercises that we grow and the joy of our vocation assures us we are on the right path.”
I must accept that this is how God’s love for us, and our love for God and others, works itself out in real-time. Coming on 14 years, I am still learning.
Friends, we hope that you see that the work we do is no different from the spiritual journey we are all on. It's not a grocery list of measurable successes that outweigh the failures. It's encountering people like Grace in the day to day and recognizing in it a meeting with the mystery of God’s grace.
Thank You!For 14 years, your generosity has sustained us. Thank you! Donations go to the hospitality, activism, spiritual life, homestead and maintenance. While live-in members benefit from housing and food, nobody gets income and we don’t pay war taxes. We work elsewhere for personal expenses. Monthly costs include: ave. water bills $274 (20 showers a day, 6 loads of laundry, 200 cups of coffee, dishes for 70, cleaning), food & shower items, (see Needs List), homestead (seeds, straw bales, chicken feed, etc.), maintenance, vehicle expenses, and home insurance.
This year’s unforeseen costs included, purchasing 2 new furnaces and central air for our cafe, replacing or repairing 3 freezers, and renovating the house kitchen. We are grateful for the two churches that helped with some project expenses! And yet, we find ourselves low on funds at year’s end. This month, we will pay property insurance, taxes, and solar panel rental. We live very simply and spend carefully, knowing that you have entrusted us with these gifts. Please, consider Cherith Brook for your monthly giving in 2020. We are thankful and look forward to the next 14 years, trusting in God’s provision.
House NotesIn last year’s Christmas letter, you read Butch Dobbins’ story. He came to live with us after his house burned. Butch has worked hard to pay off debts and buy a car. He happily shares housing with family now.
Two years ago we began hosting a group called the Elder’s Circle. How do we recognize organic leaders in our community? How do we call, nurture, and respect the gifts and skills of those personally impacted by poverty and racism? We are moved by their growth. They are building unity across divisions and breaking down power dynamics.
Twice a year we partner with the Center for Conflict Resolution to offer a class which focuses on: resolving conflict peacefully, Restorative Justice, trauma awareness, and alternatives to violence. Congrats to Michael, Samantha, Emily, Jerry, Chris, Jamie, Angie, Butch, Elston, Diana and Lois for their certificate!
In 2011 we installed a 10 kW solar panel system on the storefront. Our commitment to the environment translates into saving 2-3 trees monthly!
We’ve spent the fall reflecting on the letter to James. The main theme is summarized in 2:6, “you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?” Like Jesus’ sermon on the mount, James centers Jesus message in the call to fight poverty, embody equality, and claim our freedom in Christ.