April Mass a Success

This past Sunday, April 27th, Lydia’s House hosted its first monthly mass.  This month, we celebrated Easter and the resurrection.  Father Dan Hartnett presided, and a wonderful potluck meal followed the service.

It was so heartwarming to be able to spend this time together as a community, and to give praise for the blessings that God has bestowed upon us and our work.  It was even more special to be able to share this time with the newest member of the Lydia’s House family, our guests who moved in on Friday.

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The kids playing outside

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Sharing a delicious meal after the service

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Nothing completes a beverage table like a baby doll

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Sitting down to eat

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Showing off our delicious meal

We are so thankful for all the hands that helped plan and prepare such a beautiful service, and for all we have been blessed with.

Our next mass will be May 18th.  We hope to see you there!





On Lydia, Meager Beginnings, and Following Christ


By Hilary the Intern

MurexSnailThe murex shell

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lydia lately, her background, and the hospitality she offered to Paul on his journey.

It all started with a tangent about murex shells.

You see, I didn’t start my life in the non-profit sector.  My passion consisted of Roman archaeology.  Most of my year took place in dingy classrooms, my nose pressed to worn, antiquated books, desperately trying to syphon some sort of knowledge into my brain; summers, on the other hand, were spent in dirt trenches, slowly excavating villas and temples ten centimeters at a time in the hot Mediterranean sun.  I loved what I did, loved uncovering the lives of people who existed two thousand years ago and yet were so similar to us in so many ways.

So, naturally, whilst reading Acts 16 for the umpteenth time, the archaeologist in me wondered about the process of dying purple fabric, a procedure with which I was rather familiar in grad school, as a fellow student wrote her whole masters’ thesis on the subject.  It’s really the worst job you could have in the Roman world (aside from fullers, who used vats of urine to clean the woolen cloth).  One little murex shell only made about a drop of purple dye, and the process was so smelly that workshops had to be located a good distance from the town so that the people didn’t have to smell the awful process every day.  Even modern archaeologists who are geeky enough to try the process themselves have said that it produces such a foul smell that they can barely make it through without wanting to vomit.  Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a glamorous job.  But because of the process, and how many shells it took to dye one piece of fabric (we’re talking thousands), purple fabric was an expensive commodity.  It was so valuable that you could tell what social rank someone was based on the amount of purple they wore: for example, for a while, the only people who were allowed to wear fabric that was completely dyed purple were emperors or deities.  Only senators and priests or priestesses were allowed to wear purple borders or stripes on their otherwise white clothing.  This is how valuable the fabric was.

Thinking about purple dyers made me wonder what else we can find out about Lydia.  We know she somehow worked with purple-dyed cloth, and that she had some sort of home she could welcome travelers to.  What else can we tell about her life?  Is there anything else in her story we might be missing?

Now, the word used in Acts to describe Lydia does not indicate that she is actually a dyer (lucky for her!).  The adjective in Latin, purpuraria, or its corresponding work in Greek, πορφυροπώλης (porphyropolis), means “dealer in purple.”  People who dyed cloth rarely sold the cloth at markets–dying was a full-time job (plus, I doubt anyone would buy cloth from someone who smelled so horrible!).  There are carvings in tombs of textile merchants that actually shows the weavers of cloth bringing their product to merchants to inspect.

It’s more likely that Lydia got the cloth from somewhere, and sold it herself.  It wasn’t unheard of for women to be merchants, especially in the town’s market place or in shops that lined the streets.  It was frequently a family business, so everyone would be involved in selling (women included), and often the store-front was attached to the home of the seller.  That’s probably the sort of building Paul would have been invited to.

Okay.  So Lydia sold valuable cloth.  She probably had some sort of weavers she got the fabric from.  None of this is really new information.

But what about her name? We have no recorded last name for Lydia.  While this might not be a big deal for us, it was in the Roman world.  Romans had three names, kind of like us, and it was important to have a family name.  Family names indicated your clan, yes, but they also indicated how long your family has been around.  The Julian clan, the family Julius Caesar belonged in, was one of Rome’s oldest, wealthiest families.  Belonging to that family gave you instant status.  The only people who didn’t have family names were slaves, or people who were formerly slaves.

The naming of slaves is also interesting, and a little sad, because they frequently were just named by Roman slave auctioneers after the place they came from.  We know that Lydia comes from Thyatira, part of the territory of the area known as Lydia, located in modern Turkey.  The fact that Lydia comes from the area of Lydia, and has no last name, means she probably was a slave at some point, and that the slave auctioneer couldn’t think of any other name for her aside from the country she came from.

But since Lydia seems to have her own business, or at least be a merchant, we can safely assume she is now a freed person.  In the Roman world, slaves could be freed.  They could save up enough money to buy their freedom, or often their owners would free them themselves.  Some Romans even married their former slaves.  Frequently, slaves would learn the trade of their owners, and then, once freed, continue to work in that trade, usually as a sort of employee of their former-owner.

It just so happens that Thyatira was known in the Roman world for being one of the best places for purple fabric.  Kind of like how Cincinnati is known for being great for chili.

With all of this in mind, Lydia was probably a former slave whose owner was a merchant, who was familiar with the process of dying and selling purple fabric (both from her life in Philippi and in Thyatira), and now that she is freed, is selling purple fabric by herself.

Phew. Okay.  That was a lot.  You can see how my inner-Roman-archaeologist is showing.

But what does this mean for us?  Why does it matter who Lydia was?

For me, the more I contemplate Lydia, the more inspired I am by her story.

Lydia came out of servitude, was brought to a land hundreds of miles away from her home town, lived in this city for an unknowable amount of time, gained her freedom, and made a life for herself.  Though she would definitely not be considered upper class, or even upper-middle class, she is doing pretty well for herself considering where she came from.

Based on this, most prominent Romans would have expected her to fully embrace the Roman attitude of accumulating as much wealth and status as possible.  You see, status was everything to the Romans, and many would call you crazy if you did anything but strive to climb the social ladder.

Lydia, however, doesn’t seem to care about status.  She is described as “colens Deum,” or caring for God.  We know that at this time, being a Christian was really unpopular with the Roman government: Nero had persecuted Christians, and there was a constant question of what exactly to do with people who refused to acknowledge the emperor as a god.  Lydia already has one strike against her for this reason. But instead of striving to make up for this, and to tenaciously hold on to whatever status she has, she asked Paul and his companions to stay at her house.  Paul who, although he is a Roman citizen, is not highly regarded by those in power.  Paul and his companions, who were known in that region for actively speaking about this new religion which defied the imperial Roman government in many ways.

Lydia was housing someone in active rebellion against the Roman government and imperial cult, and she not only didn’t care, she asked him to judge her as being faithful to God, the God which the emperor was trying to squash.

For this reason, Lydia doesn’t only represent someone who provides hospitality for those who need it; she represents a woman whose faith and love for God calls her to something much bigger than this world.  Lydia doesn’t seem to be concerned with social expectations and customs of her time if they hinder her from serving God and His people.  She sees an opportunity, one which could get her into a lot of serious trouble with very influential members of the Roman world, and takes it.  She doesn’t take time to rationalize the pros and cons, considering her potential arrest or the sacrifice of status for associating with such delinquents.  Rather, she hears Paul’s words, is convicted to not only get baptized but also baptize those living with her, and does whatever she can to help Paul in his journey.

I hope and pray that as a community, we continue to strive not only to provide hospitality for those in need, but also to complete God’s work in the face of whatever obstacles our culture and society throw against us.  Hospitality for the homeless is not always seen as a worthwhile endeavor, especially when it involves sacrificing our own wealth and status in order to help others get back on their feet.  May Lydia continue to be an example for those who desire to serve God’s people and follow Jesus even when our world tries to hinder us.


J.D. Wild “The Textile Industries of Roman Britain” (2002)

B. Johnson “Lydia and Pricilla: Role Models for Today” (2012)

W.M. Ramsay “Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia”  (1905)

My amazing Latin skills (hurray for using my degree!)

Answering a Call

One of our co-founders, Mary Ellen, wrote this piece in 2005 about her time at the Open Door in Atlanta.  We hope it provides some insight not only about her experience there, but also answers some questions about why she and Meridith decided to found Lydia’s House.


I am listening to this Merle Haggard CD, and I have decided that I really like Merle Haggard. It is good for me to be able to add a respectable artist to my musical repertoire, because overall it is embarrassingly limited. When I meet new people and they ask what kind of music I like, just to make polite small talk, I tell them my mother never let us listen to secular music, or much music at all, during our formative years—so I don’t really have a favorite. Aside from my mother’s issues, I think music might be an unfortunate reminder of the extent to which I am tone deaf. All that said, I am pleased with my discovery of Merle.

The first song on this CD, the one I really like, is called “Wishing All These Old Things Were New.” The chorus goes “wishing all these old things were new, thinking about the good old days before it all fell through.” I am not sure why I like it so much. It isn’t like there are a lot of “old things” to wish for when one is twenty-four. At the moment, maybe it speaks to me because I sense myself in a brief moment of restoration. I feel kind of new. It has been a long season and I have many essays to outline the ups and downs of January through May 2005. I am not going to go as far as to say that the boundary lines are falling again in pleasant places, as the last two years have taught me to be cautiously optimistic. My outlook is like driving in Atlanta… look behind you, look in front of you, peer around the car that is blocking your view of what’s really out there, and then pull out, vision still obstructed, and hope that the other driver values his/ her life enough to stop and let you in. So a couple of weeks ago I pulled out, and I haven’t gotten hit yet (both literally and figuratively).

There are obvious things that are kind of “new,” or at least different, lately. The black cloud that hung over the last twelve months, that being my mom’s leukemia, seems to be graying to a non-threatening state. For her, this means no more weeks in the hospital, no more morphine addictions, and no more months that she can’t remember and hopes not to.  For me, it means that I haven’t made a trip to Olive Branch, MS for well over a month, maybe almost two. My soul protests when I tell it we have to go there. It doesn’t like hospital sofa beds, it doesn’t like the mausoleum effect created by the floral print décor of my mother’s house, and it doesn’t like that at least 6 SUV’s on the block have a “W The President” sticker still proudly displayed, seven months after the election. It knows who the President is. I tried to convince it that we should get an “F The President” sticker in response, but it said that would be unkind.  Instead, while in Olive Branch, my soul and I sleep a lot, watch General Hospital, and eat corn chips.

Besides that, I am no longer substitute teaching. I am no longer elder sitting. I am no longer tutoring for the SAT. These were not exactly jobs that were “life giving.”

I am no longer doing any of that because I have moved back to Atlanta. Move number sixteen, or something like that, since I graduated from college. I realize that some day I will, hopefully, deal with down turns in my life by staying where I am and “blooming where I am planted.” I had some greeting cards once that announced that adage in italicized pink letters, along with a quaint picture of a little girl watering a potted plant. The whole thing struck me as a nice idea. However, for the moment, moving seems to be a good coping strategy.

My latest move brought me to my present locale, 910 Ponce de Leon, better known as the Open Door. The Open Door is an intentional Christian community, mostly made up of well-educated white folks like myself, and formerly homeless people. I imagine that we are all here because we want something different than what life used to offer us, and we realize that, to get what we want, we need each other. To paraphrase this move in the words of my mother “Mary Ellen has moved to Atlanta to live in a homeless shelter.” And oddly enough I have found refuge here.

I think it would be safe to say that the Open Door specializes in taking old things, broken down things, discarded things (and people) and hoping to make them new. It is appropriate in light of Jesus’ proclamation along those lines “ I have come to make all things new.” I imagine Jesus might have inspired Merle, and I know he inspires the Open Door.

To explain why staying in a house with thirty other people in Atlanta in June with no air-conditioning would be the life that gives me life would take a while, and a lot of history from the last three years. However, I guess I will start with just lately. Today the high may have only been about 79, and the humidity was low. There is a breeze. I feel thankful for it in a way that those with air conditioning can’t really understand. I also feel thankful for the dinner of butter beans and cabbage and corn bread that a volunteer named “Miss Millie” made for us. Apparently she comes every Friday, and makes the same thing, and people always love it. That’s probably why she keeps coming back: because when people love something here they let you know. Yesterday Ana, the resident four year old, who is one of the few children that makes me think “ I would really like to have children sometime this decade,” came up to me in the yard and hugged me and said “ I love you Mary Ellen.” We met last week. I play hide and seek with her and hold her upside down sometimes while she laughs hysterically, and in return she loves me.

I have a qualification that I like to use for people to set them aside from simply nice or even kind and that is “quality.” The people here are quality. They go to Grady Hospital, the only hospital that serves the poor for free in Atlanta, at 11pm and wait until 2am to get someone else medicine. They applaud at dinner each night for whoever the cook was and whatever he or she cooked, whether that be rice and beans or spaghetti or reheated leftovers. They never miss anyone’s birthday or anniversary and even if they have already celebrated two this week, they celebrate the third like it is the best thing that ever happened. On Monday and Tuesday they get up at 5:30am and serve breakfast to the homeless. The children here, who are four, five, six and ten, raise up prayers like “I love my mom” or “We hope Murphy will get better.” Murphy is the co-founder of this place, and she has had cancer on and off for about ten years. The kids don’t know her very well because she is so often quarantined, but even still they pray for her, or someone else does, almost every night. The motto here is “We gonna do the best we can, till we can’t,” and so often it seems an extravagant understatement.

All this isn’t to say that I haven’t been around other quality people this year, but only to point out that, here and now, I am surrounded by them. I can’t help but feel some kind of personal potential being drawn out in their presence… like maybe by osmosis the person that God created me to be, who is residing latent somewhere deep within, will emerge.

Restoration has manifested itself in many forms around this place, this week. Last night we did the foot clinic. I love the foot clinic, despite the fact that “humble servant” would not be the first two (or amongst the first 200) words that most would use to describe me. I like sitting on the floor and giving homeless men pedicures. I like the small talk that accompanies it. I like the sense of accomplishment that comes with cutting off a three inch long piece of toenail, or digging under it to get out the fungus. I like the jokes that inevitably emerge from the foot clinic waiting room, like “ I hope you are ready to go on a dig if you are gonna touch Willis’ toes” or “God speed,” as I invite Ralph in. I probably like most when they get up out of the chair and walk the awkward “ I am not sure I should walk on something as beautiful as my new feet” walk away.

I know I am also feeling better because, at the moment, I have a project to work on. I can’t detail the intricacies of this personality trait, but I really like to make things look better (thus, probably, the love of the foot clinic) and I really like projects. I am not a decorator; I am a restorer. I have done it for years—to a mirror I found in the basement when I was five, to my grandma’s disordered house when I was twelve, and now I am working on the Open Door side yard. I am working on it because it needs to be done. I am also working on it because I need to do it. Following a season when it seemed that everything I touched broke, I need to fix something. I need to use my nebulous spiritual gifts of finagling donations and conning people into working on a Saturday morning, just for the sake of using them, so they don’t get rusty. And, as a bi-product, I think this yard will look better. So tomorrow we will dispose of the broken swing set and excavate the abandoned sand box and rake up leaves that have been piling up for, likely, fifteen years. We will make something old new.

There is an idea that I am fond of, which is that we are called to be resurrection Christians in a Good Friday world.  As one preacher put, “It’s Friday, but look out, cuz Sunday’s coming.” Well, Lord knows, Good Friday has lasted a long, long time. It was like Good Friday meets Ground Hog Day (the movie) for me this year. But then small things started to come back to life: the ground finally thawed in Cincinnati, and about May, the sun started shining.  My water-drenched laptop started working again. A cucumber actually grew in the little, pathetic, not to mention untended, garden that my nephew Peter and I attempted in my sister’s back yard. The cucumber alone serves as a testament to the power of life to overcome death. So finally, after hitting snooze about twelve times, my whole person has agreed to get out of bed, pick up some nail clippers and a rake, put Merle Haggard on re-peat, and do the best it can, until it can’t.

In Gratitude for the Hands that Built Lydia’s House

We at Lydia’s House are never shy about our appreciation for all of our supporters and volunteers (our latest installment can be seen in our March e-newsletter).  The beautiful transformation of 2024 Mills would not have been possible without our crew of dedicated renovation workers.  As we settle into our new home, we can’t help but look at the fruits of the year’s labor.  In every room, we see not only the home crafted by the hands of hard workers, but the faces and hearts of those who believe so strongly in our mission that they came every Saturday to build, paint, and tile.  Your tapestry of devotion is woven into the walls of Lydia’s House, and we are so thankful you all are a part of our family.

We’ve put together a small slideshow of some of the people who have helped us build a new home for women and children.  We hope you enjoy the images as much as we have.

Volunteer Appreciation

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