New Girls Comin’ Home

Two new girls moved into House of Hope this week, and last night we had our first “house meeting” with them. Once a week, the staff, recent graduates and the HOH girls meet together for dinner and talk about life, how we’re doing, concerns, plans, etc. The new girls have spent the week moving in, attending two NA meetings a day, visiting doctors and counselors and getting adjusted to the daily times of meditation, chai making and garden weeding. It’s been a busy week, and I’m sure they are more than a bit overwhelmed by the newness—of place and people!

 

We fill our plates and take our seats in the crowded little HOH living room. Paulette and I choose the chairs, our recently graduated girl scrunches together with the two newbies on the couch, and Serenity takes the floor, saying, “I wanna be able to look at ‘em.” Silence hangs in the room, as we stuff our faces with drippy, chicken tacos and ice cold soda.

Nervousness. These new girls have no idea what to expect. They don’t know us yet. And we don’t know them. Who are these ladies? What will they do? What will they expect from us? Someone breaks the awkwardness with a light story and a joke, but we can all feel the uncertainty in the air. What’s coming?

When our plates are mostly empty, I start the serious talk. I welcome them and tell them how glad we are that they are here. Then I ask the two new girls to share with us anything they would like us to know about themselves, and I assure them that they don’t have to tell anything they don’t want to tell.

One of the newbies, shrugs. “I guess I’ll go first.” She bluntly confesses her IV drug addiction, her previous attempts to get clean and her run-ins with the law. She has only spent two months sober in the last ten years. “The longest damn months of my life!” This go around she’s only got eleven days clean, and those are because she was sanctioned to jail before she came to us.

She tells these parts of her story as a matter of fact, and even with hardened smiles, but when she speaks of her children, her tone softens. She pauses. Tears fill her eyes. Then she tells of their daddy, a violently abusive, fellow drug addict, her attempts to run from him, and the many times she went back, because “she needed him,” and the tears begin to fall. Around the room, heads nod and knowing looks are exchanged. “I only wanna be a good mama,” she cries, and immediately five voices declare, “You will be.”

She continues, now the words flow quickly, “This is my last chance. I don’t even know why the judge gave me another chance. I think God must have a purpose for my life. I’m so grateful for this place and for you ladies. You’re all so beautiful and so strong.” She turns to the other newbie and says to her, “You are included in those here who are beautiful and strong!”

Taking this as her cue, the second girl begins. It is a tale of the last two years of living on the streets, being taken advantage of by her own children who steal her money for drugs. Her own drug use, and mental health struggles. The night before she came to HOH she slept by the train tracks. She says, “This is a new beginning for me.”

Our recent graduate is shy (it took us months to get her to open up), but oh, she’s come a long way! She jumps in to tell her tale of “been there done that” and her own recovery through House of Hope. She says, “If it wasn’t for this group of ladies here, I’d maybe be dead. I don’t know where I’d be.” She tells the girls they are now her sisters, and that she will be available to them and that in fact—she needs them. Then she asks, “So when are you comin’ to my house for dinner?!”

When the girls have said all they want to say, I explain to them that this is a safe place—not that we will never hurt one another—this is met with “Oh, we wills!” from other girls in the room—but that we are committed to love each other “no matter what.” We will be here for one another and help each other through.

Paulette tells them that soon she will share with them her own story, but that it is a story of terrible abuse and many years of running away from God. “I only decided to come back to him about four years ago.” She urgently expresses our need for honesty—that the only way to recovery is honesty, and she thanks the girls for their openness with us.

Serenity, the House Mom, their new advocate and best friend, finishes our meeting by telling the new girls a parable. “You have just been dropped off in the middle of the desert. You have no idea where you are. You don’t know how to get home. You are totally lost. Suddenly, two men appear before you. One is dressed in a fancy suit and tie. He has slicked back hair and a briefcase in his hand. He says, ‘Come with me. I will show you the way.’ The other is a wild eyed, crazy looking tribal guy. He has a bone in his nose and a spear in his hand. He, too, says, ‘Come with me. I’ll show you the way.'” Serenity asks, “Which one do you follow?”

One of the ladies bursts out, ‘The guy in the suit will just pimp you out! Go with the crazy tribal guy!” Everyone laughs.

Serenity says, “Yes. That’s the one you should follow. He has been there; he knows the terrain. He looks like he belongs. He knows the way home. These women here have been through similar things. Some the abuse, some the addiction, some the crimes. They have received healing and new life, and they will lead you to new life as well. They will show you the way home.”

Here’s the story.

Here’s the story. Many of you don’t have time to read it all, but for those who love to know the details I promise you will be amazed.

John went to India on Friday, I will spare you all the details, but as is typical, all hell broke loose here. The well at our house broke and we had no water pressure, just a trickle. “Mom, how do I take a shower in this?!” Conflicts arose between folks at the coffee shop. I had jury duty (there’s a whole story of its own)!

I said I’d spare you all the details, so suffice to say I was running non-stop and my stress level was off the charts. Yesterday I awoke to a meme that passed on my newsfeed: “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” This and a brief meditation on some of Mother Teresa’s writings about prayer helped to set my heart for the day.

In the afternoon, a woman who is a regular at Joe’s became seriously unstable (Of course. Today of all days). She was making threats, said she had a gun and was going to shoot people, said she was going to burn the building down. She cried. She paced. I talked and talked with her, but things were not getting better, so I finally called 911. The dispatcher listened and then said, “Are you in Valley Brook?” I told her yes, and she said she would send the Valley Brook police. Um…

We waited, and we talked, and she threatened, and she paced. Where were the police?! Now we were in the street, as my VERY pregnant Jessi and I continued to try to talk her down and keep her from hurting anyone at Joe’s. (Oh Jesus, protect my daughter and my grand baby! Scott (Jessi’s husband) is going to kill me.) We made another 911 call, and Jessi insisted that the dispatcher stay with her on the phone until she could assure us that a policeman was on his way. Jess heard the dispatcher stating that this call was being recorded and that she had dispatched an officer who had now reported that he was responding to the call. Accountability at least. Arrrrh!

After maybe 20 minutes, a Valley Brook policeman finally arrived. He put the woman in handcuffs and took her to the police station. In 15 minutes or so, he brought her back to Joe’s and asked for her shoes, her phone and some other items she had thrown around during her fit. He told us he was taking her home and that she would be restricted from coming to Joe’s for two weeks. She was sitting in the back seat of the patrol car, cussing me out because we called the police on her.

Through the rest of the afternoon, she called the Joe’s phone, texted angry cuss words and threats to my phone and other Joe’s regulars’ phones, informing us that she would be speaking at the meeting to tell the council every bad thing she knows about what happens at Joe’s.

There was nothing we could do. Out of our hands. Sigh. Pray. Trust.

Before the meeting, some of the Joe’s Community gathered in the coffee shop for prayer. We held hands in a circle. Old Man Tom, who lives in his car and has been following Jesus now for just a short time, prayed the prayer. So simple. So sweet. “Heavenly Father, we come before you tonight asking that you would help us. Please tell them people down there at City Hall that this is your place and that you are doing important things here and that they should renew our license.” When he finished, he turned to me and asked if his prayer was okay. He said, “I’m sure you coulda done better.” I cried.

Another of our homeless men, grabbed my shoulder and said, “Jamie, Valley Brook does not belong to them. It belongs to God.” I cried again.

We headed down the street for the meeting. Oh, there just are too many details to tell you. Special little things, like our oldest regular (he was a regular even before we opened the shop, as he came every day to ask us when we were going to open this place. He needed coffee!) who was sitting on his motorcycle smiling as I drove into the parking lot. I asked him what he was doing, and he simply laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “Your fate is not in their hands.” He turned to walk away, and I saw the patch on the back of his leather jacket: “F*@# you! I don’t need any friends.” I cried again.

We walked into the courtroom. Seated on the front row were four men in suits. I mentioned to one of them that he was dressed too fancy for this occasion. He chuckled. Our group filed into an old, church pew about halfway back in the room. Folks around me asked, “Who are those guys?” We didn’t know.

I looked at our row. Drug addicts. “Crazy” people. Homeless people. I said to one of our guys, “Bob, you combed your hair!” His clothes were stained. His face and hands were dirty—but his hair was combed. He pointed up and said, “God provided the comb. God provided the motor skills so I could raise my arm and comb my hair. All the glory goes to Him.” I laughed, and I cried.

The unstable woman was there. She flitted about the room from person to person, cussing, laughing, talking fast. Sigh. Pray.

The meeting started. Other business items were handled, budgets approved, hiring of new police officers, increasing of fees. Every time the air conditioner kicked on, we could not hear what was being said. It’s a large room, and the City Manager, who was directing each agenda item, sat with her back to the audience. We couldn’t hear. Several times, people in the gallery asked them to speak up. Then the air conditioner would go off.

The men in suits stood to make a presentation. They were from the corporation that owns the largest strip club on our street. They want to open another club that will be a Nude Gentleman’s Club—non-alcoholic, which means that state law will legally allow full nudity. They can advertise all over the state.

They assured everyone that there will also be a pizza parlor between their existing club and the new one (in the same strip mall—pun intended) that will be more “family oriented,” and also a convenience store/gas station. They handed out a spiral notebook to each Council Member and walked through it page by page, explaining how much income will be brought into the city if they approve this new club. (Yes. . . I know. Are you kidding me?!)

Because there were townsfolk gathered there to hear the verdict on Joe’s, there was a sizable group there to witness this presentation—and they spoke up! Parents expressed concern. Valley Brook residents said they are tired of strip clubs being the identity of their town. Emotion began to rise, and the Mayor shut it down. She said, “We are not making a decision on this tonight. We will table it to next month’s meeting while we take it into consideration.” To which the City Attorney reminded her how much income will be brought into the city if they agree to opening this club.

The unstable woman who had threatened to disrupt the meeting came over and sat with us, reached out and held the hand of one of our people. Our group sat quietly, wide-eyed. The air conditioner kicked on.

Next item on the agenda, “Consideration of the renewal of the business license for Joe’s Addiction.” We couldn’t hear! We all leaned forward. One of the councilmen (whose son was a member of our Joe’s Community and whose funeral took place at Joe’s) mumbled, “I make a motion . . .” What?! The mayor loudly declared, “I second.” The City Manager took a vote. Ward 1: Yes. Ward 2: Yes. Ward 3: Yes. Ward 4: Yes. Ward 5: Yes. “Motion has passed.”

We all looked at each other. What just happened? I raised my hand and said, “I’m sorry. Could you please clarify? We couldn’t hear.” The City Attorney said, “You’re license has just been renewed.”

Stunned silence.

No more agenda items. We smiled. We looked at each other. We quietly cried. What? We didn’t understand.

As the crowd began to leave, I approached a councilman with whom I have met and who I understood was opposed to us. I thanked him. He said, “Well, we are going to have to readdress this. There should have been a time frame set with this amendment. We don’t know if it will be 30 days, or three months, or what. We’ll probably have to call another session to make this decision. That wasn’t handled right.”

The City Attorney was standing behind me, and he jumped in. He said, “No, it was not an ‘extension.’ It was a renewal of your license. That means that it goes until next June, the annual time for license renewal, as for all the businesses.” He reached out and shook my hand, as I thanked him. He said, “I hope that next year your license will be renewed without all this trouble. But in the meantime, you could birth a baby in nine months’ time.”

I cried. A baby?! What?! Multiplication?

Okay wait for it . . .

I rushed out the door to the crowd milling around in the parking lot. A group stood talking with the men in suits. Another group crowded around me to rejoice.

I looked back, as the door opened behind me, and saw some of the council members gathered with the City Attorney (the one who had made the motion for us had rushed away as soon as the meeting was over). Some of our people were still standing inside. The conversation looked emotional.

In a minute, people came out with loud a report: “They didn’t mean to do it! They didn’t know what they were voting! They thought they were voting to end your license, but they didn’t hear what the motion said! The Attorney told them, “Well, you can’t undo what you did. I guess you’ll just have to provide more police presence there, if you are concerned.”

Are you kidding me?! They meant to vote against us, but the deafening air conditioner!

I feel as though we’re living a story of biblical proportions. We’re a just a tiny little thing. Really. We love a small community of very precious, broken people, and we are so grateful that God is allowing us to continue serving them. We will do our best.

And what about birthing another baby?! That is a story yet to be written . . .