It turns out time moves quickly when you spend the summer on rooftops.
Part of my heart feels like we’re just getting started on the houses in Binghampton. My aching knees and stiff muscles say otherwise, however. Part of me wants to hang on to the community I’ve found here. The other part is so excited to use what I’ve learned on the next adventure.
How can you summarize an experience as vast and deep as this one? As I’m staring at this computer screen, I’m finding that you really can’t. What I can do is just give simple portraits of those in Binghampton who have impacted me the most this summer. These are silent and mostly invisible warriors who stood in my life during this summer for love and hope.
I have this nervous tick where anytime I’m stressed or nervous or puzzled, I play with my ponytail. Those who know me really well know when I start playing with my hair, that’s the time to offer up a helping hand or comforting words. Let’s just say I played with my hair a lot this summer. By week two Mr. Ross and Ms. Sharon, the wonderful homeowners on Eva Street that brought me into their home this summer, had my nervous tick down. And just about every other tick about me. Whenever rotten wood seemed unending or campers nailed shingles in upside-down and I started up with my ponytail, Mr. Ross and Ms. Sharon were always there to ask me how I was doing and if they could do anything for me. Ms. Sharon’s little grandbaby who lives with them, Nevaeh (heaven spelled backward), could put a smile on everyone’s face like none other. Seeing the way Mr. Ross and Ms. Sharon love this precious little girl was a visible picture of the love they gave to me and anyone who stepped into their home.
Whether a cold drink at the end of a hot day, home-cooked meals or a simple smile and “thank you,” Mr. Ross and Ms. Sharon subtlety served me all summer long. At the homeowner banquet SOS hosted after our last week of camp, Mr. Ross told me, “We had a house, but now we have a home.” I didn’t give them a home. SOS didn’t give them a home. But by partnering with this loving family for a summer, I sure found a home in Mr. Ross and Ms. Sharon.
SOS extended family
About once a week this summer I would see a white pickup truck drive up to Mr. Ross’s house. The bed was usually filled with old cans, picked from the street, eventually headed to the recycling center. A Binghampton neighbor, always wearing a T-shirt, suspenders and a soft smile, would drive to nearly all SOS sites on any given week. Mr. Isaiah has been a part of the SOS extended family since a team worked on his home several years ago. My home church played a part in repairing his home that summer and he hasn’t forgotten a single name or face. It seemed like every time it was getting really hard to stay positive or motivated, Mr. Isaiah would drive up, wander over to the side of the roof and say, “Well hello there, Ms. Caroline.” Once he climbed the ladder and was helping my campers tarp a plane of the roof at the end of the day, and I didn’t even notice till they were done.
No matter what, Mr. Isaiah was always willing to provide help or simply a wonderful hug. He is a beautiful picture of the circle of blessings between SOS and the Binghampton community. SOS spent a summer partnering with him on his house and he has not ceased to care about SOS staff members ever since. He told me every week that He was looking out for me. What an amazing picture of overflowing love.
I saw things this summer that tempted me to despair. I saw broken men hide behind bottles, harmful relationships spill over into fights on porches and lost kids follow what they see before them. This summer has taught me while there is sadness in Binghampton, there is a hope that far overshadows any darkness. Day two of camp, two 13-year-old neighborhood boys came up to the worksite, asking if they could help. Cameron and DeWayne, cousins who live a street apart, are “classic” cases of the neighborhood. Both are growing up without a father. Both have relatives in jail. Both have experienced home violence. And yet, instead of following the examples they’ve had, both chose to spend their entire summer hanging out with me on a hot roof, learning about construction and Jesus. Halfway through the summer, Cameron’s sister, Telera, joined our ranks as well.
It was nothing short of astounding to see these three kids grow and mature over the two months we spent together. They went from being shy and petrified of the roof to being bold and regular roofing champs. Working alongside them taught me a whole lot of patience, but far above all, it taught me that hope, faith and prayer can truly transform hearts, lives, and with persistence, neighborhoods. Though I felt like my role this summer was to teach, the lessons these kids and the neighborhood taught me far outweighed anything I could have offered them.
Tomorrow I will be packing up and leaving the SOS community and Binghampton family for a time. It’s so tempting to wallow in how much I am going to miss these wonderful people who were so beautifully put into my life this summer. But I know I am called instead to great excitement and joy in being able to take all the lessons I’ve learned from Memphis into the great unknown. From Mr. Ross and Ms. Sharon, I’ve learned how to look for ways to serve everyday in the small things, and how to do so with a humble heart. From Mr. Isaiah, I’ve learned love for others does not and should not fade. From those three crazy, amazing neighborhood kids, I’ve learned there is no worldly cycle too strong to be broken. I’ve learned to hope and rejoice in the small victories.
This summer I’ve seen a few people, empowered in light, transform neighborhoods. Our summer staff – more than 40 strong – will disperse into the world, leaving but not forgetting this place that is now a part of us. How exciting is it that we now get to take these lessons to other people and to other places? How incredible it will be to see how the world is transformed.