The 35-Year Layover

By: Vickie Headrick

My name is Vickie Headrick.  I came to Atlanta 35 years ago by way of a Greyhound bus in 1978.  I was coming from Montgomery, headed towards Knoxville—I had a two and a half hour layover here in Atlanta and have been here ever since.Vicki's Hands

Mercy was, and is, a safe haven for me.  It has been a good place for me to visit, especially when there is bad weather (our worst nightmare on the streets).  Before I started attending Mercy I had been homeless for about 15 years off and on.  I am glad to have a place where I am welcome during the day.  I spend a lot of time walking—sometimes all day and half the night— looking for a place where I am welcome to rest or lay my head.  Sometimes I can manage to find a friend to put me up for a few days, it’s nice to get a shower, a fresh change of clothes, and be able to rest peacefully.  Sometimes one of God’s angels comes along and puts me up in a hotel for a couple days.  Much of my day is spent trying to find refuge from the weather or find a spot where I would go unnoticed.

I like how Mercy built itself as community and how we help and nurture our friends, homeless or not.  Mercy has helped me to utilize my spare time.  Like the phrase goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”  I know that I will always have a place to come, not only to utilize the facilities, but to have a chance to mingle with my friends, and participate in Bible studies and recovery meetings.  I have learned a lot.

Recently, we at Mercy joined up with the good people of St. John’s Lutheran Church.  They put aside a part of their church property to have a garden with us.  I had a good time gathering with them at the church one Saturday to start the project.  We nailed boards together to create raised beds, which we then painted and filled with dirt.  There is one bed of tomatoes, another of squash, a third with melons, and the last is filled with strawberries!  It was well worth getting dirty for the project; we will be eating well this summer!

The Slow Walk of Love

By: Katie Aikins

I’m grateful to Eduard Loring, the man who introduced me to Michael Leunig’s poetry. “Nothing loves at speed,” says Eduard, quoting Leunig, in Cry of the Poor. I don’t know if I was ever before made aware of the speed at which Jesus went about doing his work. Jesus katiestrum1didn’t drive a car. To our knowledge, he only occasionally rode a donkey! How important is it to notice that Jesus was a relatively slow-moving guy? Could this observation teach us something about the nature of love—that love cannot be practiced at speed?

Nothing loves at speed. So it seems that in order to love, step number one is to slow down. If you’re busy and don’t have time to slow down, then you have a problem. Stop being busy. I’m serious! You have to make this choice. Because I guarantee it, our culture, your friends, parents, neighbors, church, Republicans and Democrats are all going to reinforce in you this notion that being busy is a virtue. But does being busy help us love better?

There is a story told of Jesus when he was busy (Mark 5). He was busy getting to the house of Jairus, to heal a little 12 year-old girl. I can just hear the parents of the little girl yelling, “Hurry, Jesus, otherwise she might not live!” The crowds press in on Jesus as he moves briskly through the streets. All of a sudden Jesus stops. He stops because he feels power going out from his body (v. 30). Jesus, who was not moving nearly as fast as an ambulance or a camel, felt something in his body that caused him to stop. The disciples cannot understand it. There are crowds all around Jesus, after all. As it turns out, a woman had touched his clothes, desperately seeking healing for her incurable and devastating illness. She was among the people in society who were largely invisible. Because of her poverty and illness, she is unclean, labeled as a lazy, non-contributer to society. Perhaps she and others like her were hated in part because they were the opposite of busy, because they could not work and therefore didn’t pay into the tax system. They were the leaches of society, the nobodies. The woman comes up from behind Jesus and grasps at his clothes, causing him to stop. Was she not intruding on Jesus’ urgent mission? His mission was up to this point completely legitimate. And yet, as it turns out, his mission has now changed to order to include her.

And in fact, not only does his mission change to include her, she becomes at that particular point in time, his central focus. Her healing, her dignity, her humanness were that important. I wonder if later on Jesus returned to the woman and thanked her for slowing him down and for helping him to notice her.  I would imagine that even Jesus got caught up in the urgency of so many demands placed on his time and his gifts. The woman helped Jesus to slow down. It was her gift to him. In slowing Jesus down, this woman enabled him again to practice love. Nothing loves at speed.

Jesus asks us to stop being busy because it is precisely our busy-ness that is keeping us from opening our doors to the poor who are knocking. Being busy is sinful when it blocks our vision to what is most important. Being busy is sinful when it hinders our ability to empathize with another human being. We must slow down because loving work is slow work. Empathy is a corollary of love, and empathy cannot be practiced at speed either. Being busy, just like possessions, can become an identity-forming mechanism that we cling to for dear life. We are afraid of what might fill the void if we were to give up what seems so precious to our sense of who we are and what we are worth. 

God became embodied, incarnate, to show us the way to life. And God becomes embodied in our midst today through the lives of the suffering. As followers of Jesus, we are urgently asked to slow down, enough, so that we might “feel the power go out of our bodies,” so that we might feel the life, blood, dignity of the woman in need. Do we have time? Time for human beings? For empathy? For the real work of love? If you are too busy, something is wrong. Chris Hedges says that it is only through the “impractical, through that which can empower our imagination, that we will be rescued as a species.” I think all of us need to walk a while with the slow-moving Jesus, who stopped many times, only to be diverted onto an impractical path, in order to love another human being.

The Hard Way Up

By: Terry Russell

I’m just going to say it: recovery is hard. Like we often talk around here, recovery’s a process—and in more ways than one. There’s a process that leads us into addiction. And there’s a process that leads us out.Terry

When I think about myself and my own struggles, I think a lot about my mom. My father was an alcoholic and absent, and my mother was married lots of times. You can fill in the blanks. What I know for sure is my mom was an addict, like me. She ‘self-medicated.’ That’s what they call it now. Basically, she popped pills, prescription drugs mostly, trying to find a way to make herself feel better, to get from one day to the next. I guess it rubbed off. If she could get high, I figured, why not me?

One of the things I’ve learned about myself in the recovery process is that it’s hard for me to say no—and always has been. Back in high school, I saw other kids smoking dope and drinking, and they offered me to give it a try. I did, and I got hooked. That was it. I guess I wanted to be like them, to fit in. My mom was pretty much doing the same thing, after all. And me, I couldn’t say no. Still to this day, I struggle with it. I’m easily influenced, I guess you’d say. If friends make an offer, it’s hard for me to turn it down—even though I know it’s not good for me, and I’ll only end up disappointed in myself.

I’ve been in recovery programs a few times. Right now, I’ve been clean from crack for several months. But weed and alcohol are still a problem. When I’m using, I’m paranoid; I imagine cops are around every corner. I get argumentative, wanting to fight everyone. Honestly, all I know for sure is I have to take it day by day. I guess that’s what ‘process’ really means, if you think about it. God is showing me I can say no—with his help. You have to keep your spirit up. Stay focused on doing God’s will. And stay away from those who are trying to trip you up.

It’s hard, for sure. But that’s the process of recovery for me.