The LOT Project Blog

One Small Life

by Lindsay Culbert

 

Sometimes, if you have been in ministry for a while, or even if you work with people in general, it seems like every story repeats itself just with a different plot line. You become accustomed to listening for the con, the hidden ask, or the ploy for sympathy. They become routine in a way.

However, occasionally, the Lord drops a Tasha in your life to remind you that each person is different, and each person is irreplaceable to God.

I was walking on the sidewalk beside The LOT Project when a tiny person started running full throttle at me assuming I’m going to catch her. I dropped my phone on the pavement and yelled at my friend on the other end of the line that I’d have to call her back. I braced for impact. The little girl is Tasha’s four-year-old named Semone.

Before I knew what happened to me, Semone had me sitting cross-legged on the curb while she braided my hair. (She’s really good for only being four years old.) I looked at her mom who was watching me with her daughter.

I felt like I had spoken to her before, but I couldn’t remember her name. She’d been coming to The LOT Project off and on for three years. I had to find out her name was Tasha from a guest after the conversation I’m about to tell you took place.

Before I could ask her anything, Tasha point blank asked me, “Do you remember my other baby?”

I was completely caught off guard. The question was so honest and vulnerable.

“No, I don’t. I’m sorry,” I said. A bad feeling started rising in my stomach, like I had missed something really important.

“You have to remember my other baby,” She seemed to be getting a little upset. “You don’t remember her?”

I started to regret having to shake my head “no.” Tasha didn’t seem like the type to draw attention to herself. When I saw her at The LOT Project, she was shy and mostly stayed around the women she came with.

I’ll never forget her face. She wasn’t angry or disgusted standing there staring at me, waiting for me to recall.

“You don’t even remember me being pregnant? You have to remember my other baby.” I felt like she was almost pleading with me. She dropped her hands to her side in disbelief.

There was no way I was going to recover from this one, so I just said, “Do you want to tell me about her?”

Tasha told me about her baby: Averryonna Keasha Storri Davis. (I promised her Id’ write her whole name in this newsletter, so you could know the baby’s name too.) Averyonna was born a little over a year ago and died four months later from a birth defect in her heart.

When she finished telling me her story, it felt like the whole world went silent. I felt like God was silent too standing there with us. His heart was breaking right along with mine. Tasha never made me feel guilty for not remembering her baby. I did that all on my own. I could have melted onto the pavement. In the end, I was just glad that my heart could still be broken.

I had seen this woman for months and had no idea she was living in her own private prison. All she wanted was for someone to remember her baby because she still remembers her everyday.

So many things when through my head. How could this have happened in a world of modern medicine? And in the United States? It blew my mind how a person’s life could slip into and out of this world without a single echo on Facebook or on the prayer list at a local church. I hadn’t heard about the baby’s passing through the grapevine either.

Most of the time when I write these stories I have a punch line in mind, a moral to take away from my experience. I could wax poetic and tie all of this together into a bow. The truth is my heart is still broken over Tasha’s loss—but I think God’s is too. I don’t know what you will take away from this story, and I don’t feel like I want to define the end for you. I don’t think I have really defined it myself.

But this one thing I know for certain: There are more Tashas in this world and more Averyonnas. What will you do now that you know?

Breaking Out The Good Dishes

By Kerri Gailey

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When I was a kid we usually ate off of Tupperware plastic plates that came in the oh so attractive 70’s era hues of puke green, brown, mustard yellow, and burnt orange.  They were square with these cancerous looking white lesions on them.  (I guess we weren’t supposed to put them in the microwave.)  My glassware of choice was an assortment of Flintstone jelly jars.  

 

That all changed when we had company.  Mom broke out the good dishes, they were white with scalloped edges.  The glasses were stemmed and they were the prettiest pale blue.  We would have two forks, and there were usually candles.  She’d put out real linen napkins in, wait for it...napkin rings!

 

I can remember coming home for the first time after I had grown up and moved away.  Mom had the table set with the good dishes.  I wondered who had been invited to dinner, but I soon realized the good dishes were for me. Just the thought of it still makes me feel special.

 

My Mom had a real gift for making people feel welcome in our home.  The house always smelled fabulous from some kind of candles she was burning, everything was decorated just so, and the house was spotless.  Since she passed away, my sister comments that coming to my house is the closest thing to going to Mom’s.  What an honor to have inherited that gift.

 

If you’ve ever visited The LOT Project you know there is a ministry within a ministry going on there.  We like to call it Little LOT.  

 

Little LOT happens at a paint and marker stained folding table in a small corner of the LOT.  Magic happens every week at that table because of the love and creativity of a very special volunteer. We all affectionately know her as “Mrs. Barb”.

 

The Little LOT has what I like to think of as it’s own fairy godmother, Barbara Ligon. Mrs. Barb comes in every week with a plan for fun.  She’s always loaded down with boxes of glue, paint, stickers, glitter, and all manner of craft supplies (her husband says they’ll have to move out of their house because of her crafty stockpile!)

 

No matter what may be going on in their lives, children know that when they take a seat at that magic table they will be transported to a place of fun. love and creativity.  They may be painting a masterpiece mural to adorn the LOT walls, creating a fun snack, making a fuzzy pipe cleaner spider, or having a tea party.

 

One week Mrs. Barb came in with a very large box, and asked if I would help her unpack a few things.  As I began to unwrap paper from the objects in the box, I realized there was an entire (very nice) tea set inside.  I saw disaster looming.  

 

Little kids, expensive china, and concrete floors don’t mix.  But Mrs. Barb didn’t care, she has the same gift as my Mom.  She knows how to welcome the kids of Little LOT.  She puts out the good dishes because they are her honored guests.

 

I asked her once why she started working with the children every week.  She said she noticed how the parents had a hard time shopping for clothes and getting their dinner with their kids running wild all over the place.  So she decided to give them a few minutes of sanity while their children were occupied.

 

During a recent volunteer meeting we had a discussion about trees and what life lessons they can teach.  One of these lessons reminded me of Little LOT and Mrs. Barb.  A tree will bear the fruit of whatever kind of tree it is.  You will get apples from an apple tree, and peaches from a peach tree.  Others will either enjoy or suffer from the fruit of our tree, so what kind of trees are we going to plant with our lives?

 

In Mrs. Barb’s quest to offer some tranquility to our adult guests of the LOT, she inadvertently planted a tree.  A hospitality tree. The children of Little LOT get to be honored guests at her magic table every week enjoying the fruit of what she planted with a little glitter and glue.

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.  Always be eager to practice hospitality.  Romans 12:13

Meeting Jesus in Lisa “The Hammer”

by: Kerri Gailey

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After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  

John 13:5

 

Confession time: I almost didn’t go to the LOT Project tonight.  I had a pretty busy day, my youngest daughter had homework, and I really needed to work on writing...for this blog.  But as He often does, God laughed at my plans.

 

One of my coworkers had cleaned out his closet and had clothes for me to donate, so I decided to just drop the clothes off, make my apologies, go home and write.  Then a former neighbor, whom I dearly miss, sent me a text wanting to know if I was going to be at the LOT.  She and her adorable children were going to volunteer for the very first time, and she wanted to know if I’d be there.  Well, of course I was going to be there!  Again, He changed my plans.  I’m certain it was God’s subtle way of reminding me that His ways are better than mine, and that what I’d planned on writing wasn’t what needed to be written.  

 

When I got to the LOT, it appeared that Jean was having a little difficulty in assigning the jobs.  Every time she decided where to put a volunteer to work, God told her differently.  I wasn’t the only one God was laughing at.

 

It seemed that God was thinking I should serve food with Lisa “The Hammer” Peer from New Jersey.  

 

“The Hammer” might sound like a strange nickname for this woman with a smile and heart as big as her accent, until you find out what she does for a living.  She’s a parole officer.  At work, she’s known to be tough but fair.  That, along with the Jersey in her voice, earned her the title.  

 

Her husband is a corrections officer in a maximum security prison.  He tells her that she better do a good job or her charges will end up with him.  It may be a joke at home, but at work, it’s a life’s calling for Lisa.  She’s got a high success rate with her guys, and she’s quick to give God the glory for them not returning to jail.

I was intrigued by her choice of profession.  I just can’t imagine many kids saying, “you know what?  I want to be a parole officer when I grow up.”  So I had to ask her if it was her line of work that brought her to volunteer at the LOT Project.  Her answer was quite the opposite of what I expected.  It was years of volunteering in homeless ministries that led to her to make a difference in the lives of parolees.

 When Lisa was younger, being a parole officer wasn’t what she envisioned for herself at all.  She actually started out as a teacher, and then became a Children’s Advocate for DSS.  It was during this time that she got involved volunteering with a homeless ministry in New York that gave out clothing.  

 One night while volunteering there, she was helping a lady find a pair of shoes.  She searched the back, and apologetically came back with a pair of shoes that were a half size too big.  The lady was thrilled to have them anyway.  It was this moment that Lisa looked down and realized the woman had come in wearing only socks. She had no shoes at all.

 Lisa described her next move as a “God thing”.  Instead of just handing her the pair of shoes, as she would’ve ordinarily done, she felt led to kneel down and put the shoes on the woman’s feet.  Sound reminiscent of anyone?

 After that the woman hugged and kissed her. It was so overwhelming to Lisa that she had to walk out.  God had used her in that moment to emulate His Son kneeling to wash His disciple’s feet.  He led her to “be Jesus” to the shoeless woman.  From that moment on, she knew that for her life to mean something, it had to be about service to others.  

That is the reason she serves parolees, and shows them the hope of Jesus and how he can change their lives.  Over the years, no matter where she’s lived, Lisa has found a homeless ministry in which to serve. That is the reason she sought out the LOT Project when her own church’s homeless ministry closed.  There was a hole left in her heart that only service to those forgotten and avoided could fill.

 After talking with Lisa while we served, I was reminded of something Andy likes to tell the volunteers before guests arrive.  The LOT Project is a place to meet Jesus.  I realized that by changing my plans, God had introduced me to my next blog post.  I saw Jesus tonight in Lisa “The Hammer”.  

Jesus may not always look how we thought He would.  He may not have any teeth, he may not be very clean, or he may be a short lady with an infectious smile and a Jersey accent.  No matter how He looks, I promise you, you’ll find Him at the LOT.

What’s In a Name?

by Kerri Gailey

Kerri Gailey March 2014

My name is Kerri, and I volunteer at the LOT Project. It sounds really nice that I volunteer with the poor doesn’t it?   Before you begin to think I’m some sort of saint, let me be very honest about how I came to be here.   I was invited to volunteer during the Christmas holidays.  Many of the volunteers are college students who go home for winter break, leaving HOPE nights a little understaffed.  I agreed, because, hey, it’s Christmas.  I could pat myself on the back for having my holiday good deed done. (Check that one off for the year!)  I wasn’t ready for the heart change God had in store for me.

I had no clue what to expect, and I was a tad bit nervous.  All I knew was that my GPS was taking me to a not so great part of town, and I was supposed to enter through the big green door.  When I arrived, I was greeted by this tall, surfer-looking dude named Andy.  He checked in my 7 year-old daughter and me as volunteers, giving us both nametags.  Only my daughter’s nametag didn’t include her last name, for safety reasons, Andy explained.  Okaaay…I’m already out of my comfort zone, and now the mama bear is coming out in me.  What did I get my child into?   

Andy explained how we would be given a job for the night, and that Meredith, my daughter, could just stick with me if she wanted.  While waiting for the volunteer meeting to begin, he explained that everyone would be given a bag to fill with clothes.  And if they needed, there were toiletries, blankets, and sleeping bags available as well.  However, the sleeping bags were reserved for those sleeping outside. 

Wow, just wow.  Talk about an eye opener.  It was going to be really cold that night.  I’d never taken the time to think about people sleeping out in that weather, in major cities, sure, but in Anderson?  It was getting close to Christmas, and here I was wishing for colder weather so it would seem to me like “holiday weather.” 

During the volunteer meeting, Jean explained how “guests” would arrive, be given a bag for their clothing items, a nametag, then a meal.  The nametag thing made since to me.  I’ve been in leadership classes, business meetings, and volunteer functions where nametags served to make everyone feel welcome, and to create a since of community.  So I got why they would give guests nametags.  I didn’t stop to think that most of the guests we would be serving had probably never been in any of those situations, and probably didn’t know why we wanted to know their names. 

“Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.”  Have you ever prayed that prayer?  I have, several times in fact.  God decided to answer me that first night serving meals at the L.O.T. Project.

Here’s the moment that changed my heart, and kept me coming back.  It was the reaction of one man in particular who came through the line with his head down.  (As I’m writing this I really wish I could remember his name.)  But on that night, I smiled, called him by name (thanks to the aforementioned nametags), and handed him a meal.  He looked up at me in total surprise.  Did you hear that?  It was the sound of a heart breaking and a prayer being answered.  My heart, my prayer.  I realized in that moment how often that man must have felt overlooked, ignored, forgotten, and alone in a world that works hard at avoiding him. I saw in his eyes what it meant to him to be recognized by name.

Who would’ve guessed the power of simply calling someone by name?  I should have.  Paul wrote about the power of a name in Philippians 2:9. “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names.”  Not “a” name, “the” name.  He was talking about Jesus, the only name by which we can be saved.  Andy told me that night there was no better place than the L.O.T. Project to see the love of Jesus at work. He was so right.

That heartbreak moment was what I couldn’t wait to get home and share with my husband, Steve.  I sat in our bedroom in tears, recounting the look on that one man’s face, and how I’d never before given much thought to people, not just adults, but children sleeping out in the cold.  I felt ashamed for wishing for colder weather just because to me it made it “feel” more like Christmas.  God had taken me from feeling uncomfortable, out of place, and unsure to a place of compassion. 

After that night I knew specific names and faces.  And it wasn’t a comfortable thing for me to think about them.  Why?  Because once I had my eyes and my heart opened to these guests, I felt a responsibility to try to make a difference somehow.  Those names and faces flashed in my mind while watching the doomsday weather reports about the dreaded polar vortex.   I began praying for warmer temperatures, and all those I’d met to have a warm place to stay. I was hooked.  I told Steve I had to keep going back.

My first night stepping inside the big green door, I learned the power of a name.  It made a difference to one man that I recognized him by name.  It made a difference that I prayed for people by name.  It made all the difference in me; that’s why I keep coming back.

 

Walking a Mile (or Four) in Someone Else’s Shoes

by Kerri Gailey

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“What an IDIOT!” I’m ashamed to say, one morning in my office at the manufacturing plant, those were my not-so-kind words.  I was referring to an employee who repeatedly made the same mistake on his paperwork.  I’d spent a lot of time training this guy.  By day three or four of correcting the same mistake, I had had it!

It just so happened that a supervisor, whom I really respect, was in my office when I had my little outburst.  I was halfway out of my chair ready to charge into the plant to confront the repeat offender, when this quiet, kind man sheepishly said, “I did his paperwork for him the past few days.”  Lord, kill me now.

That was a couple of years ago, and that supervisor still signs his emails to me “Sincerely V.I.” (Village Idiot).  It’s become a big joke around the office, but it showed me I viewed people at work in two categories; office people and plant people, us and them.

The Director of Hope, Jean Foltz, made me realize that work is not the only place I stereotyped people based on their location.

One Monday night at the Donation Center, Jean and a volunteer, who doesn’t have a car, had a conversation about what it was like to have to walk everywhere you went, and what limitations it placed on your life. It made such an impression on Jean that she began to plan on spending the night in a shelter, and walk everywhere she needed to go for a day.  She thought it would be a great way to gain perspective on a day in the life of our LOT Project guests.  God must have thought this was a stellar idea, because she woke up the next morning, and her car wouldn’t start.

Sure, Jean have called someone to drive her to Hope that night, but she recognized the opportunity to literally walk a few miles in someone elses shoes.  What did she learn? That walking isn’t the coolest mode of transportation, and she had crappy shoes.

She walked about an hour to reach The LOT Project that day.  By the time she got there, she was sweaty, and she smelled bad (her words, not mine).  It wasn’t because she didn’t shower that day. She washed her hair, shaved her legs, used deodorant, the whole nine yards. But all of that effort was for nothing by the time she reached her destination. She realized how quickly people are judged for they way they smell. It’s often assumed they can’t afford deodorant or soap, maybe they simply had to walk in the heat to get where they needed to go.

Back to the crappy shoes, when Jean reached the LOT Project her feet and legs were killing her.  Not because she was working muscles she hadn’t before, but because her shoes were worn out.  So she bought new shoes.  Simple solution, but not everyone can afford to do this.  Runners will tell you your shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles to avoid injury.  If you walked everywhere you went (let’s modestly imagine 5 miles a day), you would need new shoes about every two and a half months.  What happens when you can’t afford to replace them?

Walking or taking the bus limits where you shop, and how much you buy.  If you walk to get groceries, at most you may only be able to carry enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the next day.  Which means you’re going to make that walk every day.  Assuming  you have the money, there are only so many places you could eat out within walking distance.  From my house, I would be limited to Sonic, Chic-Fil-A, or Burger King.  But only if I wanted to walk a couple of miles to get it.  If I had to walk to shop for clothes, I’d have Family Dollar.  Add children and bad weather to the equation.  Think of the planning that would have to go into each day.  There sure wouldn’t be much time for anything else, like helping your children with homework, and that’s if either of you still have the energy.  It would affect every aspect of your life.

Would I put that much effort into survival?  Heck, I use bad weather as an excuse not to DRIVE to the gym! I have no right to judge how anyone looks or smells, or how their kids behave.  I don’t know what effort it took just for them to be where they are.

I live about a 10 minute drive from The LOT Project.  On my side of town, you see people walking and running for exercise, but take that 10 minute drive across town, people are walking for transportation.

You see a man sitting on the steps of an abandoned storefront. He’s sweaty,  and doesn’t smell so great.  Do you make eye contact?  Most likely you aren’t going to speak to him.  You may even go so far as to cross the street to avoid him.  I may be calling you out here, but only because I had to call myself out first.  I’ve often thought before, “My goodness, surely even poor people could find a place to use some soap and water.”

How must it feel to face that sort of judgement each day?  Matthew 7:2 says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Ouch.

How was Jean, after her cross-town hike, any different than that man sitting on the steps?

Jean showed me there is only one difference between “us” and “them”-- our perspective.  She succeeded in changing my perspective, but a student volunteer from AU summed it up best that very same night.  Jean asked her “What did you see tonight?”  Her response was, “A lot of people just like me.”

Thursday Night Book Club

by Kerri Gailey

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Most every Thursday night, you’ll find me at my book club.  We read and discuss all kinds of books, we’re not picky about genre.  If you join us, you might find us discussing the plot of the latest James Patterson mystery.  Heck, you may overhear us arguing whether we’re Team Edward or Team Jacob.  It’s a pretty small club, but entertaining none the less.  My book club usually only consists of me and one other member...Pops. 

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