For anyone who travels, or embarks on an adventure far from home, it’s inevitable to feel lost in foreign land. Every time I’ve left Eastern Pennsylvania with my father, to serve others through Gramazin, I can’t help but take a long look at all the unfamiliar settings which are presented to me. In my hometown, there’s a certain feeling I receive when I drive down the road, or observe customers at a local store. I may see a person for the first time while at a local shopping center, but shift my eyes away from them, as if I had already met them and there was nothing left to discover about them. Yet, when I am miles from home, whether on the other side of Pennsylvania or in a completely different state, I observe others in a new light. I wonder about them and how they think and how they feel. I don’t know why.
Take for example an elderly couple I saw eating at a Wendy’s in Washington, Pa. with what looked to be their granddaughter. Washington, Pa. is about four hours from my home. It is near the border between Pennsylvania and Ohio. And I thought it to be strange that they saw this Wendy’s from a point of view other than my own. Rather than opening its doors, like I did, and feeling a bit uncomfortable about randomly stopping for lunch at a Wendy’s 300 miles from my home, they were more than likely at ease, knowing their home was perhaps a street or two away. Additionally, they probably did not think twice when they saw one of the cashiers wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates’ hat, considering the city of Pittsburgh was only 90 miles from the Wendy’s.
You could say to me, “Chad, this is very understandable. You were away from home and so you noticed things from a different perspective. It’s quite simple.” But I can’t let that be my conclusion. Why is it that we, or at least some of us, feel bored with the settings we experience time and time again around home, but become excited to experience newness when we are traveling? Why is it that I may be in the Philadelphia area, and see someone with a Phillies cap on, and shift my eyes, when I may be filled with curiosity at the sight of someone standing next to the Ohio River with a Cincinnati Reds cap on?
I’ve thought about it and I think it again comes back to why my father wanted to create Gramazin. We have a poor sense of community. In a culture where we always want newness and to be entertained by something we have never seen before, we settle for images over relationships.
If I were to move to Cincinnati and make it my home, would there be a point in which I would become tired of it? I can tell you that’s exactly what would happen if I wouldn’t make the right steps to truly embrace the people there. That is, if I were to come to Cincinnati, go to all the events Cincinnatians go to, and see their land on a daily basis, but not get to know them, and love them. I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with Cincinnati had it not been for the experience I had with my newfound family at New Life Furniture – our trip’s designated charity.
I did a great many things in Cincinnati.
On Monday, I dined at The Firehouse Grill, where I had the “Mile High Meatloaf” – an entrée which included grilled Texas toast, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, onion straws, and tomato gravy. I stayed overnight at a fancy retirement home, due to the generosity of New Life Furniture Committee Member Nancy Grant.
Tuesday morning, I ate breakfast at The Kenwood, where I enjoyed arguably the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. I drove through Cincinnati in a large truck for three to four hours that afternoon, doing the main task of our mission: experience New Life Furniture’s furniture delivery. Then, for lunch, I had an unbelievable sandwich called “A Wreck” at the Potbelly – that sandwich contained salami, roast beef, turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese, and was better than anything I’ve had back home. And, for dessert, we stopped at Graeter’s, and were blown away by just how good ice cream can really be – in case you were wondering, I got a scoop of “Black Raspberry Chip” and “Buckeye Blitz.”
Finally, for the grand finale, with my dad, I was blessed to see Homer Bailey toss Major League Baseball’s first no-hitter this season, against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday evening at Great American Ballpark, next to the Ohio River. All of these were unique experiences, impossible back in Pennsylvania. But, none of them would have been memorable, if not for the people we met in Cincinnati.
The trip was not made wonderful by the food we ate, the hotel we stayed in, or the baseball game we went to. The trip was made wonderful by the people we encountered. At each blessing, and free meal, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the experience we had through New Life Furniture.
If you haven’t heard of New Life Furniture, they help those in Cincinnati who do not have furniture. They help and show love to people who are impoverished – those who have temporarily survived homelessness, have bought or rented a home, but do not have the resources to make their home a pleasant living space. They help those who live in empty homes and have to create beds made of blankets on the floor to sleep on, and who spread napkins across their rug to act as plates for food.
And if you don’t know Holly Young, the co-founder and executive director of New Life Furniture, you should probably change that and give her a call. Seriously, this woman amazed us. I’m sure she’s shaking her head as she’s reading this right now, but she deserves every accolade for what she’s doing in Cincinnati. She was incredibly kind to each person that came across her path, and so aggressive to make sure they feel loved. I mean, you should see her warehouse! Sometimes I have gone into furniture banks and walked out feeling a little dirty – like dust had rubbed against my skin. But at New Life Furniture, the used materials appeared in pristine condition; although used, the furniture shined. Everything was organized, and nothing left untended. I remember laughing inside my head thinking someone had mistaken the place for a garden, before I realized it pretty much was one.
Have you ever bought anything from Goodwill? It’s a wonderful place, where you can find some really cool stuff. But not everyone looks at it that way. There’s a certain bias people have towards Goodwill; that it’s for the low-income, etc. And I think, as a result, some feel hesitant while in there. But it shouldn’t be that way. At one point, everything in there was once purchased new. And Holly seemed to hold the same opinion about everything that was donated to her warehouse.
A garden is a garden no matter where you place it. A garden can be put in a 100-acre backyard, or it can be placed in a 10 by 10 foot patch of grass right next to a city street. And no matter where you place it, it serves a purpose in making things look beautiful for other people. For Holly, her garden is New Life Furniture and though her donations may be used, she makes them appear as beautiful as possible to their beholders. And you could clearly see that in the impact New Life Furniture has on Cincinnati.
Holly told me of a time when she was helping out a teenage girl who lived alone with her newborn baby and had no furniture. Holly saw a picture of a man and a young girl on the wall and asked the mother who they were. The young mother replied that it was her husband and daughter. She explained that her husband had committed suicide a week ago, and that she was trying to become financially stable enough to get her daughter back from foster care. For the young girl, the furniture became a source of light in what must have felt like absolute darkness; a blooming flower in a dying garden.
Another story was of an old war veteran who was experiencing having furniture for the first time in his life. Piece by piece that Holly and her crew brought in, the man became giddy and overjoyed with delight. To the man with the 100-acre backyard, a couple of flowers may not be a big deal, but to the man who had nothing, a couple of flowers may be everything.
Then, in my own experience, I helped Holly make two deliveries while in Cincinnati. The first was to a man named Henry, his wife and young son. A former manager, Henry once had a job moving refrigerators up steep staircases around the city, but was unable to continue his deliveries due to an injury that had doctors telling him he could no longer lift more than 100 pounds. Henry said he has two tumors in his back, but that he can’t have surgery since they’re near his spine, and doesn’t want to risk being paralyzed. This man was jacked. He must have had the muscles to lift five times that amount, so that news couldn’t have been easy on him. Here we were moving heavy furniture into his house, when not too long ago, he probably could have done all of it without breaking a sweat. But he couldn’t have more grateful; for all that he was given.
The next delivery was to a man named Len. This guy was awesome. Bit of a comedian. We showed up at his apartment complex and he couldn’t wait to see all his new furniture, especially his mattress since he didn’t have one. After getting everything into his place, we found out quite a bit about him. That he once dealt with alcoholism and drug addiction, but was now living free from it because of Jesus’ working in his heart. What hit me the most was what he said was his biggest prayer – to pray peace on the man that’s living in his former home, with ex-wife and kids. I don’t think that kind of prayer is possible without Jesus. Before we left, he asked us all to pray for him.
There is so much to be said about the trip that it is hard to move towards a conclusion, but the point of this article is, again, that all those fun things I mentioned earlier on wouldn’t have been fun without the experience I had through New Life Furniture. I couldn’t have sat down for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and felt so overjoyed without experiencing community with other people. I couldn’t have sat down in Great American Ballpark with my dad and experienced such a euphoric feeling, without understanding the lives that were being lived in and around that stadium.
As human beings, we were created for adventure. God made us that way. But our adventure was meant to include people. It’s such a shame that we come and go places for the sake of seeing things and not other human beings; an emptiness overcomes us when a place no longer becomes about community. I think about my hometown. It’s full of shopping centers, cars, and carts, but no one talks to one another. That shouldn’t be.
There’s nothing wrong with traveling, but become excited about the people in your hometown – the stories that are being lived. Become excited about that person grabbing strawberries next to you in the grocery store, and perhaps you won’t want to get away, and vacate the area for “some place more exciting.”
See what I’m saying? We shouldn’t forget all the people already living around us, that aren’t supposedly more interesting than the people living in Hawaii or the Bahamas. I do too often.
I can’t give enough thanks to Holly, Daria, Mike, Xavier, and Anthony for how you welcoming you were to me and my father! You guys were so much fun!