Preparing for Worship – Heather Mustain, associate pastor.
As I walked down the chancel steps last Sunday, my jaw dropped as I wrapped my arms around my friend Patti. The last time I saw Patti, I was 5. She was my caretaker before I was old enough to go to school. My mom, 31 at the time and having suffered years of religious and emotional abuse, found herself divorced and living with her older sister in rural upstate New York. With only a high school degree, my mom set out to raise my brother, sister and me the best any young mother could, fiercely determined and with a massive amount of resiliency I still can’t quite fathom. To say we were poor is an understatement. My mother literally had nothing except her support network, which I’m confident is what kept us from becoming homeless. Patti was a lifeline for my mother, and, honestly, probably for me too.
As our embrace lingered and my fingers stroked Patti’s hair, I was flooded with images and memories: playing Atari, making mud pies, climbing trees with my best friends and eating way too much Kraft macaroni and cheese. When I shared the photo of Patti with my mother, she commented, “She was the best and a great help to us during a time when we had so very little, at least materially.” You see, when you grow up in rural poverty, you don’t necessarily know it, because everyone around you is also poor. It’s still hard for me to describe my childhood in that way, because at least in my case love filled the gaps where material goods and riches were lacking.
Seeing Patti reminded me of my roots, my story, my heritage. My early years were filled with instability, and there’s so much about my childhood I don’t remember due to my own determination to disconnect and being forced to become older than I really was. However, being reminded of my roots made me also realize that yes, while life was hard, there were still good moments. And Patti, well, she was a major source of God’s goodness to me and my family.
Today we are raising money for Delta Hands for Hope, one of my favorite missions partners. DHH is working in rural Mississippi to provide hope — like Patti provided to me — by cultivating and nurturing a safe space for children to find hope, help and healing. I’ll be giving an extra donation today in honor of Patti and the many like her who unknowingly sow faith, hope and love in children and who, as a result, will never see themselves as poor.