Among the reasons I was excited to go back home for Christmas, the prospect of being able to take a trip to the dentist for a thorough cleaning was exciting. While in the chair, the hygienist asked all the usual questions a person having their teeth worked-on is unable to answer: So, how are you? How has your year been–you’re doing some sort of service thing, right? I answered as best I could with her tools in my mouth, gloved hands against my lips. She proceeded to tell me everything looked great, that I had no cavities, that my flossing looked improved. She asked me point-blank, what my routine had been and I confessed that although I had been flossing most nights of the week, I still had been missing a few here and there–Tiredness, you know? To this she offered: “Now wouldn’t it be great, if you came back in six months and hadn’t missed a single day!?” Yeah, I nodded, that’ll surely happen! “A fresh start,” she said. It’s been over a month now, and I’ve missed a few times, but I am grateful to have had my slate wiped clean and to have been given a new chance to positively influence my dental health.
This new season has ushered in a stream of fresh chances and new beginnings: I’ve committed to training nearly every day for a half-marathon, I’ve made an attempt to get back in touch with family and friends after many months of letter, email, and phone procrastination. (There’s still much room for improvement!) I’m finally getting over a first “long-term relationship” which ended at the beginning of December. And I am just now feeling like a new version of the old me: a huge veil has been lifted, my eyes cut straight through the fog and mist that hung for so long, and I see clearly now, across the cool lake of possibility. Although still in
Delaware and car-less, I feel happy, free, open to new possibilities! I find myself daydreaming about the future–new moves and career aspirations. I am ready for wherever the Spirit and my feet take me! As it was time for thorough change, I cut my hair too–for women (and perhaps men), a sure sign of liberation, a tossing out of the old, readiness for “new growth.”
Monday back at work, I see from my window, a woman in a teal parka and red hat loading up what seem like all of her belongings into the trunk of a yellow cab. I know she is coming from the single women’s emergency shelter next door, to where she is going I do not know–to a warm home hopefully, a new job, a new and bright beginning.
On Sundays, I go to this Baptist-seeming, African American Lutheran church across the street from our house, and no matter what has happened in our neighborhood–homicides, drug deals, house fires, fights, violence, hunger, even death–the preacher and all of the congregation are quick to remind me, to remind each other that in each day’s struggle there is hope:
That God woke us up today,
– Praise Jesus!
That God has not given up on us yet,
God has never forsaken us,
That God has blessed us with the gift of grace and a fresh start at a new day,
And that God has work for us yet to do!
You know dat’s right!
It never ceases to amaze me that in an area so shaken and disturbed by transgression, poverty, and tragedy–we either hear physical shots or hear of shootings once a week without even trying, see people fighting on the street, taunting one another over drugs and infidelity, families getting into it on the sidewalk, vans and cars and trucks drive around with their windows busted out from violence, trash litters the streets and curbs and lawns in every direction–even in this, there are signs of hope at every turn, life sprouting up from the cracks: a stooped man in his navy cap and worn track jacket sweeping the corner store sidewalk every morning and smiling as I pass on my way to work; on the opposite corner, a middle school girl reading every day it’s warm, taking it upon herself to study and grow. I see the tutors working still at night when I pass–my own housemates, Alyse and Krista, caring for and teaching kids into the evening hours, so they continue to learn and succeed. My roommate Katrina and our friend David, get up daily and suffer wind, snow, rain, freezing rain and worse, so that women like Eva and Naima can eventually have a safe, affordable place to call home and sturdy, clean walls where within they can feed their children, teach them to read, to create, to love.
Every day, my housemates Paul and Steven meet with clients who are hardened beyond hard-pressed. Everyday, they listen, record, translate, pass tissues, hand out towels and razors for people to shower; they unload, unpack, lift, shelve, and re-pack boxes of food, racks of clothing, pots and pans for a new house. Call and call and call and answer call after call after call, so that someone can receive utilities assistance, finally qualify for “Disability,” secure a bed at a shelter away from the elements, receive the loan they so desperately need to make ends meet. Our bike shop friends–Brian, Sarah, and David–operate a non-profit community bike collection, repair, redistribution, and advocacy organization–they donate hours and hours a week, without pay, to teach, fix, and make sure everyone who needs a bike, has one. Everyday, I too, pull myself from bed, tired and achy, fumble for clothes and shoes, pack my lunch and head out the door by 7:30 to arrive on foot by 8:00am, for a job I don’t necessarily love–a job to which I have been chosen for a year and only a year, a job I think I was crazy to accept! A job for which I am grateful, a job which is important for programs to run and for people to find the support and assistance they need to become self-sufficient and possibly help someone else down the line. And everyday, I am thankful for a fresh start–a new opportunity to work hard, to have a better, fresh attitude, and to do my best.
In all of this, in all of us, God is working. The Spirit of God is living and active. God doesn’t promise we’ll have perfect teeth, that we’ll become top-notch athletes, that we’ll be popular with the world or even family and friends, that we’ll have dream jobs we absolutely love getting up for in the morning–that we’ll have jobs at all! But God does promise that we will be taken care of, that we are loved, already forgiven and redeemed, that we are daily resurrected into “New Creations,” and that our sins are no more–washed away–forever forgotten.
* * *
New Year’s Day we inaugurated 2009 with a brisk evening walk down to Brandywine Park and the wooden suspension bridge back along the river trails. Before leaving the house we stuffed our pockets with copper pennies from our house penny jar. I started us off in the wish-making/prayer/acknowledgement of things hoped for in the new year–speak the words through silence and toss a penny through the yellow bridge-light to our backs, the cool, pale moonlight before us and hear it splash down into the dark water. See the water drift pass like incense, so many prayers ascending. Some wished for confidence, some for clarity, for continued adventure, to appreciate the here and now; we all prayed for peace, for family and friends, for persons unknown to us, and offered words of thanksgiving and gratitude. All of us on that bridge were thankful for the gift of the moment and for a lifetime of new opportunities and fresh-starts. There is never more than the present–what’s gone is gone, forget about it–there has never been more than what is to come, Rejoice!
Everyday we are blessed with life, we are given the immeasurable gift of possibility. God promises New Life–a New Year’s Day, each and every day we arise as the locals say: “by the grace of God!”
“I am about to do a new thing;” writes the prophet Isaiah, “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)