It’s cold today in South Florida.
We’re going to bundle our kids up in long pants and extra sweaters and fake Uggs.
It’s going to be in the high 40’s, but when we drop our littles off at school, it’s going to feel like the low 40’s with a biting wet wind that whips in from the ocean even though, where we’re at, it’s miles away.
Today is the day I rush around packing lunches, throwing quick breakfasts to everyone, muesli here, banana and cheese there, dry cereal over there.
It’s also the day I brew an extra pot and a half of strong coffee and pour it into my fancy-pants Wal-Mart carafe.
I re-fill the store-brand sugar tin and grab a jug of juice and a carton of half and half.
My white laundry basket has turned into my supply box, and it brims with markers and crayons, glue sticks and pens, scissors and watercolors. Art journals and craft paper are crammed in around the edges, and a stack of paper cups and a box of stir sticks are wedged in wherever they fit.
Pieces of past projects still travel with me, because sometimes we go back to the favorites. Old magazines are stuffed behind the journals because we like to pore over them for clippings and textures and up-to-date colors; and last-minute, I seal my sketchbook into a zip-lock bag and toss it in with everything else.
Today, I bundle myself in three layers on top, long pants on bottom, and close-toed shoes. I’ll be outside on a patio with somewhere between 3 and 12 women. A chain link fence will stand between us and the street outside.
There will be an old man in a brown jacket standing on the corner, his Bible open in one hand as he gestures with the other and sings a haphazard hymn that only he can recognize.
When I walk in today, the security guard greets me with a smile and some small talk – this is hard-won territory for me – this conversational comfort. She used to eyeball me indifferently with not a word, just a steely glance as I signed my name on the dotted line. We’ve made our way past that now, and I think someday soon, we might call each other friends.
There was a time, not too many weeks ago, that my stomach churned with nerves before I crossed the threshold of this building.
I spent a handful nights wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. Was I even prepared for this? What if they don’t like me? What if they think this whole idea is stupid or they resent me for it?
But I went anyway and I tried to put on a confident shell.
That first day, I sat on the patio alone. No one knew why I was there, even though someone was supposed to have paved the way.
I approached a woman who wasn’t on the pre-selected list, and we chatted about where she was from, what I was doing, what she thought of living there within those walls.
Slowly women arrived. Some on the list, some not. The coordinator stopped over and said, “I say if these ladies are here and want to participate, let’s go with who we’ve got!”
So we did.
And that’s how our group started. Some of us were supposed to be there, some of us weren’t, but as it turns out, that was quite the perfect way.
The goal was this: provide an emotionally warm and welcoming social hour for ladies at the shelter. Somewhere for them to decompress, be creative, and bond; somewhere to get a good cup of coffee and a little snack with friends and leave feeling refreshed, loved, and valuable. You know – like having coffee with your girlfriends, with a side of creativity.
So that is exactly what we do.
Thank goodness we ditched the idea of pre-qualified participants: only English-speaking mothers who’ve demonstrated good nature and responsibility. Because some of them are and do and have, but some of them aren’t and don’t and may or may not. But I can say the same of me, and I don’t want to cast stones. I want to cast coffee and cookies and paintbrushes and love – with a hearty helping of eye contact that says, “someone sees who you really are and cares a great deal”.