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