Some Things in Spring

A few months ago, folks were getting antsy. We were all swirling around in the doldrums and getting a little uncomfortable. Then Meridith pointed out, “It’s February.” A sort-of-stuck season, just on the edge of coming back to life and warmth in spring. And listen, she was right. Flowers are unfurling, seedlings are thrusting up from the dirt, and the house seems refreshed and lively. Two young boys have joined the community, and they are energizing the whole house.

Just a few days ago, the boys moved to Lydia’s House with their mother, who is expecting a baby girl at the end of May. She was grateful to receive a whole load of adorable baby clothes and other necessities from a former guest. I love watching community work this way. But this isn’t the only baby we’re expecting! There’s also a baby boy on the way. His mom-to-be is feathering her nest with all the things her baby will need, while completing her GED, taking parenting classes, and meeting with Every Child Succeeds. Marykate has generously volunteered to be her doula.

We continue walking with our Congolese guest on the long road of her asylum process, and are working hard to learn sign language and communicate better with her. We’ve really appreciated weekly ASL lessons from our high school volunteer, Caroline. Our house outings this season have included ‘Deaf Day’ at the Aquarium, trips to the Art Museum, and breakfast at Sugar & Spice. And we’re excited to see the butterflies at the Krohn Conservatory soon! A guest and her baby daughter have transitioned to the Lincoln Grant Scholar House. She’s the second of our guests to have moved into this new supportive housing development for single parents pursuing a college degree. We’re so thrilled to see both of these young moms thrive and grow towards their goals.

During our March worship service, some young friends of Lydia’s House helped Mary Ellen re-enact a key moment in the personal and political foundation of Jesus’ ministry: the arrest of John the Baptist. Mary Ellen’s sermon asked us to reflect on our own calls to action– to think of those close to us who face injustice and make the personal political in building God’s beloved community. We sang together “I Saw the Light” and other Lenten favorites performed by the fabulous new girl band of Marykate, Taylor, and Deb. At the service we also celebrated many achievements in our community and formally welcomed Deb Koch as a new associate. We thanked Marykate for her time with us as an associate and shepherded her transition to community farmer. For the rest of the season, she’ll be growing food for Lydia’s House and for Norwood.

We’ve had some special birthdays this season, as well as a few “celebrations of belovedness”. These celebrations mark a guest’s first 60 days at Lydia’s House. On these occasions, we gather ’round the table like at our regular dinner, but with streamers overhead and a tiny bell at each place setting. After dinner, and a home-made dessert, we take some time to share. Each person speaks to the celebrated one seated at the head of the table, sharing memories and observations, affirmations and praise. We see and name each other’s kindness, wisdom, strength, grace, humor. It is easy to get lost in the scuffle and pettiness of everyday life, but we are brought to the table together each day, and fed, and held, in love. For centuries the church has marked special occasions with the ringing of bells, and so after each person speaks we ring our little silver bells, turning our collective joy into a bright sound. Then, the celebrated one is given a special blessing, and a small gift: a silver napkin ring, engraved with her name. So she will always have a place at the table.

 

✨ Photos courtesy of Julianna Boehm http://www.juliannaboehm.com/ ✨

Let them Hear Your Voice

Almost every day there are reports of new ways our elected officials are making the lives of poor women harder as they struggle to find affordable housing, living wage work, childcare, education, and healthcare. Many of us at Lydia’s House have been frequent callers to the state and D.C. offices of our senators and representatives in the last weeks. With the daily calls we are getting increasingly familiar with the answering staffers: “Hey! It’s me again! Just calling back to urge you not to gut healthcare for millions of vulnerable women and children. Also, it’s really important to me that our senator doesn’t confirm a cabinet member who wants to privitize education, further decreasing the resources and opportunities of low-income children who rely on public schools. You know, like the 47% of children here in Hamilton County who live below the poverty line. Okay, talk again soon!”

It’s a daily lighthearted exchange with heavy implications, but we recognize the systemic causes of poverty, racism, sexism have been a long time in the making. As we work with guests on their journey to stability, we’ve become ever more convinced of the need to address social injustices in our country and community that perpetuate the cycles of these struggles.  Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we as women from diverse backgrounds engage in both direct action and advocacy on a policy level in our local, state, and national government for the rights and well-being of women and children in poverty. This year, Lydia’s House staff will be hosting Community Action Nights as a time for our extended community, including current and former guests of the house, to learn more about issues, share resources on how our actions can be most effective, and to take action together as a community. Volunteers will also be taking concerns from these action nights into the larger community, attending rallies, meetings and joining in coalition with local and national representatives to advocate for homeless families and an end to family homelessness.

At the center of our work is the belief in the God given dignity of all people, the basic human right to housing and the belief that women are stronger when they are given the tools to determine their own destiny. We hope this community work will lead to long-term change and empower our guests as they seek to change their lives well beyond their time at Lydia’s House.

Two issues that directly impact the lives of women and children served by Lydia’s House are healthcare and funding for affordable housing.

Calling your representative to voice your concern on these issues can be a great first step. It also helps to call knowing the specific piece of legislation you’re concerned about and your position on how you want your representative to vote. A great resource for following upcoming legislation in congress is www.countable.us. You can see summaries of bills that congress will be imminently voting on and search upcoming bills by issue categories. This site will also show who your elected officials are based on your address.

You too can have engaging conversations with your congress-person’s staffers! If you live in Ohio, here are your U.S. Senators’ office contacts:

US Senator Robert Portman (R)

312 Walnut St.
Suite 3075
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Cincinnati Office Phone: 513-684-3265

D.C. Office phone: 202-224-3353

 

US Senator Sherrod Brown (D)

425 Walnut Street
Suite 2310
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Cincinnati Office Phone: 513-684-1021

D.C. Office Phone (202) 224-2315

 

Hope Advent Reflection

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By Mary Ellen Mitchell

Often when we speak of religious or churchy terms like hope, faith or joy (the kinds of words we use a lot during Advent) we need to remind ourselves that, in some mysterious way, there are two worlds that we live in at the same time.

You’re thinking “she’s crazy.” But let me use a metaphor I know my kids are familiar with. In Harry Potter Harry usually lives between the land of muggles and the land of wizards. There are muggle things like telephones that make no sense to wizards and wizard things like Quiddich that make no sense to muggles—though he can see and understand them both. Both worlds exist, sometimes right alongside each other, but only a few special people know about it. When we read about the possibility of this other wizard world and imagine that it could be just on the other side of the subway wall, our minds are captivated. Each book that Annie and I have read, and we’ve been at it on and off for about a year, have been page turners!

What if there’s another world that God created and wanted. In that world there is no death, no racism, no sexism, no hunger, no homelessness, no loneliness. This Advent season the older kids and I have put aside Harry Potter and traded it for Bible stories. It’s one way that we’ve been making room for Jesus in our lives. We’ve been reading a children’s Bible and the story we started with told us about another world. Kids, do you remember the world that Adam and Eve lived in? Can you tell us about it?

The story of Adam and Eve might be the most important story in the Bible, because it’s the story that tells us that God is really good. When we grapple with all of the bad in our world sometimes we ask  “Why did God make it this way?” But the Garden of Eden myth tells us that God didn’t—actually we, human beings make choices every day and many of those choices are bad ones. It was choice, not design, that ended paradise. This story, more than a definite happening of history, is a story that helps us understand the world at a deeper level. Versions of it exist in many cultures, and I’d go as far as to say it’s tells us something about the very heart of what it means to be a human.

So here’s where Hope comes in, and why it’s important to understand that Hope is a uniquely religious word. It’s a word that only makes sense if God is real. Our deepest hope, our one true hope, is that what’s broken about this world we live in won’t always be. After Adam and Eve made a bad choice, the word Hope came about. Prior to the bad choice, the separation from God, there was no need for hope because all things were right. Hope is a word that’s dependent on God because if there is no real possibility of a world without brokenness, than much of what we work and pray for here at Lydia’s House isn’t Hope at all, it’s just a wish dream.

Remember when I started this talk and said it’s important to know that 2 worlds co-exist. Those worlds are not muggles and wizards. Actually one of those worlds is God’s hoped for reality and the other is just normal or not so great. In God’s reality we have to talk about hope all the time. We hope that all people are housed, we hope that wars end, we hope that everyone can get good health care and healthy food. These hopes are important because they are like a map for what to do next if we want to follow God. In the other world – the just normal or not so great one- we don’t use the word hope or we shouldn’t. We have wishdreams in that world: wishdreams that we might win the lottery and just have so much money we can forget about the world’s problems, wish dreams that a better president would have fixed all the broken ness while we look at Facebook, wish dreams that people alone without God can figure this out. Hope gives us life; wishdreams can take us down paths that end in not much happening, or even in disillusionment.

So hope is a uniquely God centered word. And hope is a word that we talk about in Advent especially because in addition to hope being something that helps us wake up each day and keep on working with God to bring God’s world to the forefront, hope was embodied in Jesus. Each day that we light the candles of advent and count the days, it’s not just toward opening presents, it’s a way that we stand with all people in history who looked for a coming Messiah, a ruler who would bring us back to paradise. Jesus is the embodiment of Hope not because we’re now living in the Garden of Eden but because we saw in his life what our lives should look like if we are really co-workers and friends with God. And even without him physically present in the world, we are guided by his spirit in prayer. Prayer is like our blue print for next steps in building the world that God wants, sometimes against the normal or not so great world that often is at the forefront.

And finally we talk about Hope in advent, because like our ancestors who waited and longed for the birth of Christ, we know that the world we have now isn’t the end of the story. Loving and being in relationship with Jesus fuels our hope that, one day, we will forget completely about the not so great—the world of wars, of hunger, of sadness and death and actually the better world, God’s world, will be all that there is. Some people call this the second coming, some people call this the Kingdom or Kin’dom of God, some people call this heaven. What we know for sure is that as long as people have been around, we’ve all sensed—even if we never read the story of Adam and Eve—that there’s more out there than just a broken world. It’s not just a good thing about being a Christian, but it’s our job, to hold onto hope and to look for signs of God’s world breaking into this world, and to listen and pray for God’s blue print, so we can do our part as we wait expectantly for what God will do next.

Freedom Advent Reflection

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By Marykate Glenn

Freedom was the topic for our second week of advent reflection. On Sunday afternoon, before our advent dinner, I went downtown to a prayer circle gathering to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on unceded Native land and through locations that risk the contamination of drinking water, Lake Oahe, and the Missouri River. It was organized by the American Indian Movement chapter of Indiana/Kentucky and supported by Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati and many other groups supporting the activists at Standing Rock. I witnessed leaders and activists with different backgrounds, different issues, from different states, articulating the inter-connectedness of their struggles to the crowd gathered to pray together. I was moved to witness people sharing their stories of both soaring collective power together and the crushing brutality at the hands of law enforcement in North Dakota. I was moved to witness the solemn affirmations of solidarity made between different groups with a common commitment to stand for the rights and well-being of people over profit and over systemic racism.

The circle of over 50 people were shocked, jubilant, and tearful around 4 pm that day when the word spread that DAPL construction had been halted for the time being by the Obama administration and Army Corps of Engineers. In the same moment that tears of joy were flowing, the affirmations of commitment to one another and all affected continued in the recognition that this was indeed a victory, but not the end of the struggle by any means. This gathering struck me as different from many other rallies I’ve witnessed- in the weight of people committing themselves to support one anothers’ struggles, the recognition that none of us are free until all of us are free.

Advent Reflection on Hospitality

The word Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus”, which means “coming.” The season of Advent is the church’s way of getting ready for the birth of Jesus into this world, which we celebrate on Christmas Day. Advent just so happens to occur in this part of the world during the darkest time of the year, when the days are shortest and nights are longest. There’s a very real sense of the world getting quieter and settled before the amazing entry of Christ.

Advent at its best also provides us time to reflect on our life as Christians, and how our faith transforms the way we go through our lives. In each Advent sharing we’ll focus on a particular topic that is informed by our faith, and tonight I want to talk about the practice of hospitality.

 

Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

At its simplest, hospitality is the act of sharing with another. You can practice hospitality at a dinner table. You can practice hospitality by sharing space with a friend or stranger. Hospitality is not limited in who can do it…as long as you have something to share, you can be hospitable. I’ve even seen hospitality practiced in the post office line, when strangers start sharing smiles and end up sharing recipes and phone numbers. Hospitality is about making people feel welcomed and at home, even if they’re not at home.

I want to use the story of what happened with Jesus’ birth as our frame of reference for this sharing. Let’s read from the gospel of Luke, chapter 2:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

My views on hospitality, and my imagining of this story, have changed over the years I have been with Lydia’s House. For the first thirty-odd years of my life I maintained a feeling of indignation toward all of those with guest rooms who didn’t welcome Mary and her family in the making. How in the world could you turn away a pregnant woman, even if you didn’t have any room available? Couldn’t you have made space for one so vulnerable, even if it meant sacrificing your own bed?

Now, having provided hospitality to many over the last few years, I have taken to imagining the barn was the best offering the property owner had. Perhaps there was sickness in the house, or every bed was filled with a pregnant woman, or he was caring for his elderly mother who was in the guest room. I don’t know why the barn was offered, but I like to imagine it was out of a place of compassion. And God accepted the offering and essentially said, “I can work with this.”

Wherever we start with our offerings, God can work with it. No matter how humble or less-than-polished, God can take it and fill it with holiness.

Just because it looks rough and it’s all we have, we don’t need to hold it back. God can work with it.

And when we offer what we have, we get the gifts that come from hospitality. Most often these gifts come to me in the form of the exclamation, “I didn’t know!” Imagine the spectacle that followed Jesus’ birth, with all sorts of stars and far off folks gathering near to celebrate this baby. The property owner had no idea any of this was doing to happen, obviously, but he got to be surprised. He got to meet God in human form, got to have his expectations completely upended. For the rest of his life he got to tell the story of baby Jesus and hear of the wonders that followed.

Hospitality gives us the gift of having our own expectations upended. Before life at Lydia’s House there were many things I thought I understood: how babies come into the world, how children grow, the experience of young women living in Cincinnati, and so forth. How many times through the years have I had the joy of exclaiming, “I had no idea!” I have had good, patient teachers, community members willing to have me along for the ride in my unknowing. I didn’t know by positioning myself to do the work of hospitality I would have my expectations defied so frequently, but for the rest of my life I get to tell the stories about how the things I believed did not match the ways of God at work in the world.

I feel it only right, however, to warn that the work of hospitality is frequently met with hostility. The gospel story goes on to say in the time following Jesus’ birth the ruler of that area is alarmed to hear about Christ. He does not want his place in the world threatened by this little baby, so he arranges to see to it that no boy babies of this age are left in his territory. The thought of losing control is so great to this ruler that many families suffered great loss to prevent it from happening.

If you are doing hospitality work, and doing it in a big way, people in charge will feel threatened by it. If you are one of the people in power, there’s a good chance that you like things just the way they are. The work of hospitality, of making strangers friends, has real power to it. If too many strangers become friends they may decide to work together to make big changes, to make sure, for example, that there are guest rooms enough for every pregnant woman, or that government decisions that dramatically worsen the lives of families are not good ones. This feels very threatening to people who do not want our world to change, who fear that which they do not know.

So know, when you are doing the work of hospitality, that powerful people opposing you does not mean your work is not of God. There may be repercussions that you did not foresee, and you and those you love may face hardship as a result of welcoming the stranger. But let us take heart knowing that a much greater risk of persecution awaited those who welcomed Christ, and yet the hope and joy He introduced to the world far outweighed the cost. So let us boldly continue our work of making strangers into friends, of having our worlds upended, of meeting Christ in human form. Thanks be to God.