On a recent Sunday I lamented to our pastor Father Dan that this renovation was exhausting. He’d asked me how Ben and I were doing, so I thought I’d be honest. He commiserated with me for a moment, having taken on projects like Lydia’s House himself and then said, “The renovation is a lot of work, and that’s the easy part.”
In the spring of 2014, (God willing) we’ll accept homeless guests at 2024 Mills Avenue and our lives and those of Annie and Sam will be very different. Meridith, Ben and I will have entrenched ourselves in the maze of the very poor and we’ll grapple daily with words like empowerment, solidarity and self care. As we look ahead to the hard work of making space for homeless families, I’d like to say a bit about why we’ve decided to upend our normal routine by saying yes to Lydia’s House. I’d also like to say thank you to those that have come before us and around us, inspired us and made us think “we can do this, we should do this, and we’ll be better for it.”
While we weren’t ready to offer our own home to those without, we’d like to first express our deepest respect for people like Lou and Ang Puopolo, Steve and Becky Novotni, Ariel Miller and Peggy Becker Jackson—people we’ve long known or just met—who have done this work in different ways, for many years, no tax status or fundraising dinner required. They’ve known a friend of a friend whose son or daughter just needed a place to be for a while so they opened up their extra space and said “come on in.” They’ve reached out to pregnant teens, people from church, or recently released prisoners and made room. This is nuts, we’ve thought… what risk… but it’s true, they’ve brought needy strangers into their homes and many continue to do so.
We’d like to acknowledge, too, some ordinary radicals in our midst who’ve challenged us to try this. Ben’s parents, for two, who quietly give to those in need, invite the lonely into their home, host elaborate holiday meals and have a special heart for disabled adults. It’s Thanksgiving. Does anyone in the family know someone who needs a place to be? Bring them to the Eilermans, and they’ll be welcomed as honored guests! (Note: This is just an example. Wait to hear from them.) This principle extends to my own mother as well. During my childhood, I remember several times that we woke up to find her co-worker or someone from church sleeping in our basement. I know now those women had been evicted or were being abused. I remember storing furniture for them, babysitting their children, or helping them look for apartments. They came back to our house over the years that followed, dropped in, or joined us for holidays. While she was alive, my mom had a heart for those in need and she made room for them.
Lydia’s House has its ideological roots in the Catholic Worker Movement, a loose conglomeration of houses of hospitality that give housing and food to the very poor and follow closely the scriptural mandates of Matthew 25. In this movement we find lovely souls who work for very little, live simply and give out of their own pockets to share with those in need. Our mentors there include the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Grace Place Catholic Worker on the west side of Cincinnati, and Casa Guadalupana in St. Paul, MN. They’ve made room for those that are on the margins of society, and made it again and again. May we and Lydia’s house one day be counted in their number. But for today, we confess we’re scared of the unknown, fearful we may not do this right, and juggling a lot. We ask for your prayers, grace on the mistakes we will inevitably make, and especially for help holding this house and the sacred lives within.
Picture caption: The Mitchell-Eilerman family camping in their truste