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Messy Joy

I’ve always heard people say that it feels good to serve, and I agree with them. I think our souls have a hunger that is only satisfied by feeding others. It’s also easy and clean to keep yourself at arm’s distance, reaping joy from the triumphs while avoiding the messy realities of hardship. But if you don’t know someone’s struggle, do you really know them? Can we truly stand in celebration with someone if we aren’t willing to also sit in mourning with them? What isn’t as popular to talk about is how building relationships with the people we serve makes things more complicated. Real relationships mean sticking around for the ups and the downs. The destination is still joy and wholeness, but the road there is messy and cannot be survived without the very support that those and other relationships provide.

I built a friendship this summer with a married couple. As we worked on their housing paperwork and documents together, we also gained each other’s trust and support. They gave me encouragement while I attempted to do the same for them. They were hilarious and usually cheerful and always made me think, “I love my job.” The day I turned in all of their housing paperwork and connected them with temporary housing was one of my favorite days of the summer. Five days later, the husband was admitted to St. Thomas hospital. His liver had gotten worse, and after being discharged, he would begin receiving hospice care at home (thank God for temporary housing). I had already felt exhausted when the wife called me that morning with their medical news. I told her I would come by the next day and asked her what she needed. She said she just needed a familiar face with ears to listen, and I replied that I would be on my way soon. As I sat in my car in the parking garage, preparing to visit this couple whom I loved, I reminded myself that they called me because I was a friend on their good days –– now they needed a friend on their bad day. My job wasn’t to eliminate bad days, it was to be present during them. To share burdens. To sit and to listen. After he was discharged and began receiving proper services in their own apartment, life returned to its routine. They went to the store, went to church, took naps, and always called me to make sure I was doing well that day.

We have become friends- through the triumphs, the trials, and the mundane. When I check on them, they check on me. I brought them food in the hospital, and they took me to lunch after getting their check. There is no housed and unhoused, rich and poor, educated and uneducated; there is only community. P.S. I am so fortunate to have learned these lessons and lived these truths with incredible friends these past two summers. I owe much gratitude, and probably a few meals, to Ingrid, Lauren, Lindsey, Anne, Samuel, Pete, Sarah, Kelly, Matthew, and Taylor.

For all of the things, I thank my OTN family.

Natalie Pickett

Summer Staff

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With Liberty and Justice for Some

As I sat on a grassy hill overlooking the Cumberland River, observing the annual Independence Day fireworks and their reflection on the still water, I thought about what we as Americans celebrate on this day. What do the fireworks and the festive parties and parades mean? I thought about asking a few of the many people sitting next to me on this hill, each one decked out in stars and stripes, “What does this day represent for you?” Some might mention our First Amendment rights, freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition, all of which are valuable. But what other freedoms do we have? What about the freedom to work and earn money to use to feed and shelter our loved ones and ourselves? Or the freedom to walk the streets without the fear of being unjustly harassed or arrested because we do or do not look a certain way? Although the seizure of these rights is thought of as something foreign and unthinkable, thousands of individuals in the United States experience the injustice of having their basic human rights disregarded because of their social-economis status as poor or homeless.

After the fireworks show is over, most of us drove to our homes and snoozed in our comfortable beds. But for some, there is no permanent home to return to, maybe not even a friendly couch to relieve tired, blistering feet. The homes of our friends on the streets look different. They may be more temporary or less sustainable. They may not provide necessary protection from the elements. They might not even be there when they return. The only solace available might look like a bench in a public park, which provides little security and a large risk of arrest. There may be no kitchen with a pantry of food to return to when hunger strikes. Each meal is a question mark; each day is uncertain. So, rather than perpetuate this exclusive freedom and only honor the rights of those who are labeled as worthy, let us as a community accompany one another with support and grace as we redefine what it really means to be American. If we call this the land of the free and the home of the brave, let us be brave enough to fight for the freedom and equality of all people. Join Open Table Nashville in making this happen here in this city we all share (volunteer@opentablenashville.org).

Peace,

Taylor

OTN Summer Intern

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Help Stand in the Gap

“To tolerate injustice and descend into apathy is to dissolve the bonds that are the formation of our community.” I read this quote from students at the University of Virginia in a news article recently, and it really struck a chord with me. Students used this quote to entice people to take action to form a more inclusive and prosperous community within their university, and Open Table Nashville is doing the same thing, right here in our community.

OTN can always use more volunteers, so I’m here to encourage you to recruit your friends and neighbors to become more involved with Open Table. There are an estimated 6,000 homeless people in Nashville., including 2,800 children. That’s 6,000 people who, without relationships with Open Table Nashville and a handful of other outreach service providers, have nowhere to go. NOwhere to go.

Can you imagine yourself in that situation?

Additionally, through partnership with How’s Nashville and with other resource providers, Open Table has contributed to getting 550 people into affordable housing since June 4, 2013. The Open Table team is effectively working towards their mission to end chronic homelessness in Nashville, and, let’s face it-who doesn’t want to be a part of a winning team? We all  have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters to ensure that all have a place to call home. Personally, I believe that, as a society, we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it. Open Table works hard to see that people in need of assistance get the help they need and deserve.

The other day, Natalie, Ingrid, and I went to hang out with our friends Smurf, Angel, and Cowboy. Before he sang us a song, Cowboy prayed a prayer with an ending that really moved me. Cowboy asked God that he and his friends be able to “help others while we try to help ourselves.” People experiencing homelessness are often dismissed as lazy or freeloaders looking for a handout, but these friends are truly loving, holy people who want to help stand in the gap with people because they have been helped in times of need, too. Will you lend a hand? I hope you will consider becoming involved with Open Table Nashville’s work in our community and to share your passion for helping our brothers and sisters who need it the most. (volunteer@opentablenashville.org) Thank you to so many who have already reached out to serve –– we couldn’t do it without you!

Peace,

Matthew

OTN Summer Intern