By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Life comes at you fast, and that’s been literally true for Amy Bennett. Four years ago she, her husband Richard and their two children were driving near Yazoo City when a log truck smashed into them.
The crash sent the family into a whirlwind of debt and disorder from which they still haven’t recovered. As Thanksgiving approaches, Bennett is finding a reason to give thanks. She isn’t angry, and she believes God will take care of her.
“What can I say? It’s just life. Life’s what got me here,” said Bennett, sitting outside the Salvation Army’s lodge on Carnation Street where she and Richard have been living for the past month. “I don’t have to go to bed hungry,” she said. “I have the chance to watch my kids grow up and be successful and maybe, someday, my grandkids.”
The Bennetts are like a lot of families in Northeast Mississippi, folks who, whether because of the recession, bad choices or plain old bad luck are struggling to get by.
Gratitude isn’t easy to come by when you’re homeless, like the Bennetts, or sick or unemployed. The couple’s appreciation of life is an example of how some people are remaining grateful even in the midst of hard times.
Gratitude is both a social and a theological virtue. For the Rev. Larry Goodine it’s the cornerstone of spiritual life.
“When I was a boy, in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, we sang a doxology that said, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below,’” said Goodine, who now leads New Hope Baptist Church in Booneville.
The proper way to pray, he said, is to begin with thanksgiving and praise.
“The psalms are the perfect examples,” said Goodine. “The energy and vitality of prayer emerges out of thanksgiving, before you start asking for things. It shapes your attitude and affects your whole reality.”
Bennett’s reality might look pretty bleak to most people. Surgeons fitted her skull back together with plates and screws. She forgets a lot. She’s battled addiction to the pain medications that have helped her survive 16 surgeries. She and her husband are both college educated, but because of injuries and having no permanent residence, neither can maintain a steady income. Their children live with relatives.
Despite it all, Bennett manages to keep a bright, pretty smile on her face. At the Salvation Army she answers the phone, cleans up and does whatever she can. She believes God has brought people into her life who love her and want her to succeed.
Nobody in Tupelo is more grateful for the kindness of strangers than Carmen Molina. For weeks the Mexico City native and mother of two was unable to eat. Her throat was closing up. She spoke no English, had very little money and feared she had cancer.
After a visit to the Tree of Life Free Clinic it was clear Molina needed the attention of a specialist, but she couldn’t afford it. That’s when a stranger, a volunteer at the clinic, stepped forward and offered to pay for the tests.
Recently a very thin Molina, who’s lost 30 pounds, sat at the Speedy Gonzalez store on North Gloster Street in Tupelo. Having just learned that she was cancer-free, she wore a bright smile of relief and gratitude. She couldn’t eat yet, but she was on the road to recovery.
“We just never know, when we’re young, how blessed we are. We take our health for granted,” said Molina. “I was embarrassed that I couldn’t pay, but now I’m just so relieved, and so grateful – for this person and for God’s grace. I feel that God is everything at this moment.”
Bennett has also felt the sting of poverty and the shame that comes with it.
“I’ve been there myself,” she said. A month ago she and Richard walked to the Tupelo Salvation Army office from Oxford.
“I’ve thought the same thing, just like a lot of people,” she said. “Why doesn’t this person just get a job, clean up, have some pride? I know a lot of people see me as trash. But unless you’ve been here, you just can’t judge people. I’m grateful there’s a place like the Salvation Army that gives people a second chance.”
When people give thanks, the first thing on their list is usually a roof over their head.
Veronica Coleman has never been homeless, and her children have always been well cared for, but this week will mark the first time the family has celebrated Thanksgiving under its own roof.
In September the Colemans moved into a new home on the corner of Barnes and Church Street, compliments of Habitat for Humanity.
Coleman has held a steady job at Aircap Industries in Verona for more than a decade, but a single mother’s income isn’t enough to make ends meet in this economy.
After years of living in low-end rental properties, and feeling like they didn’t have roots, Coleman and her kids can finally put their hands against the dining room walls and say, “This is ours.”
Last Friday night Coleman fixed a big supper. Gathered around the table were her son, Isaiah, 15, her daughter, Janiah, 7, her mother, Jessie, and her “spiritual mother,” the Rev. Dorothy Townsend.
Grass hadn’t yet begun to grow on the new lawn, and red dirt clung to everyone’s shoes as they walked in. The fresh paint smell of the pretty, four-bedroom house mingled with the savory scent of chicken and dressing, macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob.
Everyone stood and held hands. They gave thanks for God’s blessings and for the good work of Habitat for Humanity.
Veronica fought back tears as she watched her children enjoy their food.
“It’s like Psalm 34,” she said. “Taste and see all the wonderful things God has to offer.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 firstname.lastname@example.org