This message comes from us both (Mary Ellen in plain text; Meridith in bold) and is an excerpt from a talk we recently gave at the Feast of St. Lydia event.

For Meridith and I, I think Lydia’s House began when we met some of Dorothy Day’s followers about 2001. They were retired hippy types, and we were both 20. We volunteered to serve breakfast with them at 5am on Ponce de Leon Ave in Atlanta at their mission, appropriately named the Open Door Community. We groggily sat through a scripture reflection and as jobs were being assigned I found myself most suited for dish duty, as I am not that friendly at 5am.  Meridith served grits to homeless men—some smelled like urine, many had mental illnesses, but we felt oddly at home and kept coming back. The cumulative experience was transformative, and we experienced shifts in our understanding of what a life of following Jesus might resemble.

 I think it is fair to say we’ve been planning to open the doors of some humble venture since then. I have bound volumes of email correspondence to prove it—the strategic planning session that replaced our final semesters of college, interspersed with a self-imposed “curriculum” of writings by Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier, and other Christian philosophers and prophets.  Those notes, and the change we both had in our own hearts, outshone our respective degrees in mechanical engineering and anthropology.

At the same time that January 27 marks the public launch of the Lydia’s House project, it is also the culmination of the twelve year journey since our fateful breakfast commitment. The years since have included our own residence as volunteers at a number of similar endeavors, professional training, internships, visits across the country to many such houses, and one intense year, starting last January, when we decided in a kitchen table self commissioning that “we should finally act on this vision.”

The vision can be described as this: to merge our lives in substantial ways with women and children who are desperately poor. To create not an agency but a home in which we will share meals and living space and resources; where our families and yours celebrate together with families in great need. To create space in which all members can bring their whole, broken selves, and through love, prayer and shared work be transformed. We want to create  a place where all can come to have their lives enhanced and challenged through being very close to deep need. We want to learn how God provides through each other.

Collected in this room here, either physically or in spirit, are a few brave pioneers whose hearts were stirred by the sharing of that vision early on. We’ve been humbled by the way our already busy friends have added hours of Lydia’s House work to their to-do lists. Rick Boydston, our earliest board member, has contributed thousands of dollars in in-kind legal assistance and lent us his presence and legitimacy at a number of meetings (sometimes it helps to show up with your attorney in tow). My husband Ben, his boss Gene and his firm, Hub and Weber Architects, have consulted on zoning questions and served as diplomats to the Norwood building department. Elizabeth Hatchett has given us excellent design work and a number of services, as has Scott Arany, and Elizabeth’s husband Sam has patiently guided us through the minefield that is web design. Mara McClellan served as a fundraising consultant, feeding us during late night strategy sessions and helping us make our first big ask—for a donated house. It wasn’t granted, but we are better for having tried. With the estimates the donors provided,  our in-kind donations have exceeded $12,000, and we’ve already collected $22,120 in funds from friends and family members who have given without a formal appeal. I’d like to particularly thank our first donor, my brother in law Nick Eilerman, starving artist/theater director who can’t always afford his subway pass but who sent us our first $100. Other early donors have included retiree neighbors and graduate students, demonstrating what we already knew: like a mustard seed, the kingdom of God grows beautifully in unexpected places and surprising ways.

The rationale behind moving forward at this moment comes not from confidence in the economy, nor from an overabundance of free time on our parts, but from the experiences we’ve had in our separate but overlapping communities. The speed with which busy people have offered their time and broke people have offered their money led us to think that we were right to move forward.  Many of you are people that have welcomed us into your lives and we’ve seen how the abundance of goodness you possess overflows to those around you. We’ve seen you support one another and your own neighbors in simple but hard ways. And we know that you, and others like you, have the very skills that Lydia’s House would need to thrive: you are cooks and babysitters, singers and seamstresses, event planners, photographers, assertive people who get stuff done, ESL teachers, gardeners, mentors, and accountants. You can paint walls, fix things, organize pantries, and you will stick out not just the joyful times of this new life together, but the hard times that will be an inevitable byproduct too: guests who relapse, who leave angry and without a sustainable plan, and all of the messiness that comes with traveling the path of the poor and marginalized.

It’s because we know this community, its giftedness and generosity, that we feel confident in boldly asking you to take the next step with us in making Lydia’s House a reality . Tonight we want to ask of you, specifically,  if and how you’re being called to help. At the conclusion of this sharing we’ll pass out pledge cards with space for you to list the unique skills or passions you’d like to give to the house. Meridith and I have seen people donate to other such houses in wonderfully varied ways: they’ve given knitting lessons and haircuts, opera performances (not tickets, they actually sang opera) and seasonal cabbage and cornbread dinners. There was even one volunteer who could be called upon whenever there was a need for shoe shopping. If you have a particular gift you’d like to share chances are we can use you.

Also on the pledge cards you’ll see options for monetary donations. The financial goal before us is to gather the remaining $30,000 of our $50,000 start up goal toward purchasing a property for Lydia’s House.  With $50,000 we can feasibly acquire a large fixer-upper in Norwood, a community that holds many helpful resources and is both of our respective homes. An initial $50,000 will also allow us to leverage other funding sources, sources that will want to know our friends and family are behind us. We are hoping that we can collect one-time donations or pledges tonight that will put us within reach of a permanent address. We will need more to renovate, but we feel like $50,000 is an appropriate goal for this moment. And just to reiterate, we already have almost half of that raised.

We’ll also be so bold as to ask you to consider a smaller ongoing monthly donation. This money is vital. After many hours of comparing budgets with friends operating similar ministries, we’ve determined that we’ll need a minimum of $2000 a month in donated funds to open the doors. At present we have about $1000 pledged, and we hope to get the rest pledged before we purchase a property.  $2,000 a month will help us move forward in confidence, knowing we will supplement that amount with donations of food, clothing, and contributions from the guests themselves.  Should you choose to be a monthly donor you will find instructions on the pledge cards, and we would like to start those donations March 1 of this year. Though we won’t yet have guests, we already have obligations and will have many more as soon as a property is acquired.

If you’d like to give, please do so now by visiting the give page on this site