I hadn’t paid much attention to where we were going when I signed up to volunteer.
Every year, the company selects a charity for our team to support with man hours. I’ve painted and sorted and hauled and cleaned and stocked and organized. It’s been similar activity in assorted geographic areas across the Houston metropolitan area.
Because I love this “Day of Caring,” I sign up when I get the email and then block my calendar accordingly. After that, I don’t give it much thought.
So Friday morning, I didn’t even look at the notes in the email, I just plugged the address into my phone. Kuykendhal Road. A road familiar to me.
After my parents divorce, my mom moved my brother and I to Houston to move in with my grandparents. We had nothing, our belongings had been thrown away, and we arrived without even a car. Mom qualified for food stamps which we used to help support my grandparents feed us while my mom job hunted. After a few months of odds and ends work, a church member donated a car to us and she got a teaching job far away. We moved into a neighborhood in northwest Houston not far from this address now typed into my map app.
I drove north, then east, and began driving down FM 1960, right past my old neighborhood and school and shopping mall. The area had aged poorly. When I pulled into the address on my phone, the location had definitely seen shinier days.
Then I blinked and looked at the sign again.
I knew that name.
You see, we had been here before.
Rewind to the late 1980s and that difficult period after the divorce happened. When we had a car that got five miles to the gallon and we got notices our electricity would be shut off and I wore my mom’s friends (generous) hand-me-downs to class.
My mom would come here and this very agency provided us assistance. Bags of food when things got too tight.
I walked upstairs to the group orientation. The group being the world’s largest oil company’s law department. Where I worked.
The CEO came in to thank us for our support.
As he left, I slipped out and followed him.
Excuse me, I reached out to tap his arm, I just wanted to share my story. You see, back in the late 1980s, this very place helped our family. It helped my mom get back on her feet after a particularly painful and poverty-inducing divorce.
I had no intention of crying, but the tears leaked out anyways.
So it’s particularly meaningful for me to be here today, to help, however I can. He was gracious and thanked me for sharing my experience.
I went to work in the clothing donation center. I sorted and hung hundreds and hundreds of items of clothing with a colleague. After seeing the donations, I won’t ever donate my own items the same way. Never donate something so worn you wouldn’t wear it. But also don’t donate items with school or company names, they can’t use it for safety reason. Nothing with stains. Or smoke odor. A few items I put aside to take home and wash and re-donate because they were nice items which just needed to be cleaned.
I was reminded of what it was like to wear the hand-me-downs. And the amazing team at the charity reminded us their job is to make sure everyone leaves with dignity and respect. From shopping for clothes and food, to receiving financial and job assistance, this team wanted people to believe in their worth and value.
Sounds a lot like Jesus.
That 8th grader who was oh so embarrassed her mom needed help wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told her that she’d be a lawyer for a global energy company, married with three kids, and ready to head off to China for work. She couldn’t have imagined coming back as a volunteer thirty years later. I can tell you now, I would not have been able to see any of it.
But that was my story. And everyone’s story looks different. No one’s is a happily ever after tied with a pretty bow. But there are verses of redemption and restoration and reinvestment.
I’m glad I didn’t know where I was going. Friday morning or in 1987. I’m glad God’s taking me, and has taken me, where He did and how He did. Friday morning and in 2019.