January was a month of meeting our brothers and sisters from Division Avenue exactly where they are most comfortable- drinking coffee and making art in the studio. First thing every Monday morning it’s coffee & conversation. My approach is simple: join in with coffee and a smile while offering a ‘hello & good morning’, a ‘nice to see you’, all while looking into their eyes. It is my intention to have them feel seen, validated, and hopefully a little better from our human interaction. If I am fortunate to make a connection, I actively listen and learn people’s names & stories.
Over coffee, I sat with a man named Keith who welcomed me into his story. He described his on-going pursuit to secure a permanent housing solution while continually “getting the runaround.” When I asked him to join us for our yoga & meditation session he replied, “Once I get my housing figured out. I have to sit here and wait to meet with the people who can help me every day until I have somewhere safe to sleep.” He finished our chat saying he’d like to try yoga because his “body hurts” and he needs “productive activities to fill up my day.”
Heartside Ministry is an oasis from the streets for the neighbors on Division Avenue and the art studio their haven. It provides calm from the storm of their lives, a place to self-express emotions on paper or canvas, through sculpture, fiber arts or tooling leather. The neighbors can sell their art in the studio which brings some income along with a sense of pride and a boost of spirit! In this beautifully, creative space I make new friends each week. They proudly show me their crafts while often sharing a bit of their hearts. A pillar of the art studio, “Fuzzy Jane,” works busily at her cat paintings. In detail she relates her actual cats’ personalities with light shining through her eyes! I ask her if she’d be interested in trying something new. She looks at me sideways with hands on her hips asking, “like what?” Yoga is my response. Head thrown back she laughs and says, “I can’t stand up. I use a wheelchair.” My enthusiastic reply was, “We do yoga from a chair. We breathe, stretch our arms, sing and share stories- all seated.” A warm smile with a “well, okay then” was the golden answer!
Timothy, a regular, came into yoga more to talk than to stretch or sing. He trusted me with his personal as well as family story filled with addiction, loss, poor choices and blame. Timothy’s nephew just arrived in Grand Rapids hauling his family’s history with him as well his string of unfortunate choices leading to severe alcohol and gambling habits. Timothy, who is in recovery himself, said he is working to get his nephew clean while helping him to find the Lord and some yoga. I felt honored to have yoga included on that healing list! He even offered to get music together for the following weeks to draw other people into our space. We are hopeful the music will offer an additional element of calm, safety, and focus.
Coffee, art, conversation, yoga, & music… tools to change lives! I’ll take it!
“The EmbodyGR community embraces and supports, says ‘yes you can’ when the noisy inner voice says, ‘no you can’t’ – Kari Wilson, Community Member