Do What You Can

Without love – you are nothing. Among the messages in Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo’s guest sermon today at Trinity Presbyterian Church was that no matter what else you have going on in your life, it’s love that will get you through the day – and your life. He also questioned why there is so little commitment today; why don’t we KEEP the promises we make? He says it’s because we IMG_0695 - Copyare weak. My belief is that we give up too easily – call it weak – call it lazy. We feel like making a commitment in the moment – and then we lose interest. Campolo told a great story about visiting Haiti following the earthquake that ravaged the nation. He was solicited by young girls offering themselves to him for $10 each. He took all three to his room, ordered all the Disney movies the hotel had (8) and called room service and ordered four extra-large banana splits. After the last girl had fallen asleep following hours of watching Disney movies and enjoying their ice cream party, he felt as though he had done nothing to really help IMG_0645 - CopyIMG_0687 - Copythese young girls who would be back out on the streets again finding men who would take advantage of them. But Campolo said whether it was his own voice or the voice of God inside him, he heard the message that he gave back the childhood of those three girls if only for one night. He did what he could.

We’ve heard the message a lot recently, especially since the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy: pay it forward; do one nice thing for someone else; if not every day – as often as you can. Do what you can – and the world will be a better place.

Watching Camden Up Close

Driving into Camden from the South Jersey suburbs brings home the thought that Sacred Heart Church’s Father Michael Doyle has pressed for many years: there are a thousands miles between the suburbs and Camden. When I heard Center for Transformation staffer Andrea Feirich and board president Mark Doorley talk about how Camden became cut off from the region when the Ben Franklin Bridge, Admiral Wilson Boulevard and 676 were constructed, it didn’t mean as much to me until today. My husband, son and I drove to help at the weekly dinner at Joe’s Place. The nondescript building across from Sacred Heart Church at Broadway and Jasper is in the heart of Waterfront South.

Once we turned left onto Broadway leaving Rutgers-Camden, Cooper Hospital and Campbell’s Soup in our rearview mirror, it was if we’d stepped into a war zone. There’d be a few decent homes or businesses on Broadway or a side street, then vacant sites or more likely, boarded up homes, business and buildings that probably won’t see attention for years. We passed what looked like a group of volunteers serving a meal right outside in a vacant lot. Once we parked and got to the St. Vincent de Paul Society building, we knocked on the locked door. Once Burt let us in, we were welcomed by Sheryl and John along with the other volunteers who have given of their time, their hearts and souls to the community. This was our first time, so we were glad to do whatever was needed to serve dinner and dessert to about 60 people from the community.

Precisely at 4 p.m. when the doors opened, the people appeared. Their faces showed a road map of hard life. Women and men came. Their clothes worn and torn. There were a few little girls with their young mother. One man had a very pleasant conversation with himself the entire time he was having dinner. But he looked me in the eyes and asked for his pie for dessert; then he went back to his seat to enjoy his dessert and continue his conversation. Except for one angry man, each person was so grateful for every bite they were offered. Many had two plates of food and two (or three desserts). It didn’t matter. Our hosts supplied the lovely meal. We were glad to serve and share a little of ourselves with others who have so little.

When we were leaving today, dinner was still going on at Joe’s Place. I was getting in the car when a man walking through the vacant field next to the building yelled, “It’s not over is it?” I realized he was a regular at Joe’s Place and yelled back, “No, of course not; there’s plenty left.” The big smile on his face led me to think this might be his only good meal of the day and maybe for the week. He was carrying a plastic grocery bag. I know he was going to be taking some leftovers with him.

We drove just 50 yards from our parking spot. Looking down the side street to my right was a drug deal happening before my eyes. The person in the driver’s seat gave the man standing outside the car the money; the two shook hands. The deal was sealed. There is so much work to do in Camden. So many lives that need tending to. But in reality, it must start with the youngest of the people in Camden. There’s a way out. The many good people doing wonderful things on a daily basis in Camden can make it happen for these children. The thing is, my hope is that the children see the light with the right guidance, then they will show others like them the way out. For now, we can all do just a little more – a day at a time. Inside Joe’s Place, everyone is good and safe and has a full belly.

A Little of This…A Lot of That..

My husband noticed I haven’t blogged in several days. This reminder almost (but not quite) felt like a boss nudging me to get a job done. There’s been a lot of this and that going on. Doug was away on business in China for 11 days. These long absences give me outrageous respect for single parents. While there is just one son to shuttle around and oversee, there are always days when extra hands would help. Those days got in the way of blogging.

Spring semester at Rutgers got underway last week. I now have 42 kids..I mean students. Unlike last semester, I don’t have single parents or students who have children in this class. I do continue to have students who are working their way through school; some have two jobs; a few are helping support their families; about 15% are from other countries. I did a great thing. I decided there was no way I would ever remember 42 names. I made terrific name plate for each student in a large font. They keep the name plate with them and put it on display for each class. It’s amazing how I am getting to know their names. It’s really fun sharing experiences with the class. They are starting to come out of their shell and realize that I really am there to help them..not lecture to them. The students who stand-out (in a good way) always show themselves first. Their hands go up answering questions or making comments and they seem to stay alert for the hour and twenty-minute class. Now, I have to work on reaching the ones who seem to hunker down in their seat and hide.

Their first writing assignment was to introduce themselves to me and explain how the course will help them. I really enjoy reading their pieces. There are students who have rarely written before. One student talked about his job on a road work construction crew. He mentioned the swearing goes on as part of the “business communication.” Such a hoot. Several students wrote about working toward their degree so they can begin their career in their family business. Other students wrote about their journey toward their education in the U.S. from another country. Fascinating to get just a glimpse of the stories

Joanne & Ryan - We'll miss you!

among 42 students.

The other journey beginning is of my friend Joanne and her son. She is a lieutenant colonel in the army and shipped out to a base in Germany this week. We went to their farewell party last weekend. Joanne is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. She is a Presbyterian minister, the head chaplain at Ancora State Hospital where the most deranged, criminal mental patients are housed. She is a single mom with two teenaged sons. She’s served two tours in Iraq; in her earlier life she was a champion swimmer; she counsels grieving families and listens to the family problems of soldiers and their families. Joannedoes all this with a personality and demeanor that is always bright and happy. She is so loved and respected, it fills me with joy that she is part of my life in some small way. I will truly miss seeing her face over the next 18 months.

My son is preparing for his first semi-formal event. The sophomore cotillion takes place soon. The three of us went to get him a suit, shirt, tie, shoes – the whole package. As I watched the salesman measure Adam for the suit and then the shirt size, I did get a little weepy remembering buying his first pair of sneakers when he could barely walk. WHY we spent $36 for those shoes still boggles my mind today. Now, we hope the nearly $200 we spent on his entire ensemble will fit him for more than a week. The gal he is going with to the cotillion is a friend from church. She asked him. Sweet. He’s also found out that another girl wanted him to ask her to the dance. He’s learned, it’s nice to be wanted.He also took the written NJ driver’s test at school today. He says it was easy. Just wait until he gets behind the wheel. Brace yourself!

As we face another winter chill, I’ll work on trying to keep my posts more current. So much to do; so little time – and that time is so very precious.

So I missed the first day…

They say if you do something every day for 21 days, it becomes a habit. On this January 2, the first year of the second decade in this century, I’ll attempt a new habit: writing every day. Now, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve kept diaries in my life, even when my son was born, but of course, never for public consumption. Perhaps there will be days when my life was even more boring than one can imagine. You know what they say: one man’s trash is another’s treasure. So we’ll find out together.

Tonight, a howling wind and a nearly full moon lure me to the window. What do I see? The neighbor’s blow-up snowman, lit up and dancing in the wind on their lawn. The holiday lights and decorations will be coming down. It’s absolute craziness that the stores already have Valentine candy and in some cases, Easter candy on display. Yikes!

Today, brownies were baked and the last two holiday trays prepared. One for my son’s youth group party that was snowed-out December 20; my tray goes with me to a brunch to pay tribute to volunteers at my church. You know, teaching the kids cooking at Sunday school is a blessing. I put so much into trying to come up with a recipe that coincides with the lesson the children are learning. No matter what, the kids always “get” the connection. Their eyes fill with anticipation as they learn what they’ll be making in the church kitchen. They eagerly stir and mix and measure. But the best is watching them enjoy the fruits of their labor. Best of all, it’s so fulfilling when the kids want to take some samples home to share with their families. The last class I taught, one precious 7-year-old boy said,” Thank you for what you do.” I could have cried. It was a joy to tell the boy’s parents how sweet their son is.