By MONICA JOSEPH
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The story of Lindsay Chupp’s past mistakes and sorrows is written in the healed cuts visible on the underside of her arms.
“I don’t show off my scars,” Chupp said, glancing down at the marks — some faint and white, others raised and angry looking. “But I try to wear short sleeves in here no matter how cold it is. I want the girls to know I really care and know where they are coming from.”
“In here” is the inside of a former office building on Goshen’s south side. It is a nondescript brick structure with a piquant surprise inside.
The interior looks like an upscale boutique, with hand-painted walls in bold colors, art deco rugs, a quirky chandelier and faux Victorian furniture. The 10th Street building is home to Lily’s Closet, a faith-based, non-profit store where at-risk girls ages 14 to 21 can shop for new or like-new clothing for free with the help of a “shopping buddy.” Lily’s Closet was started in late 2011 by Madison Matthes, Goshen, when she was a senior at Elkhart Christian Academy. Before Matthes moved to Costa Rica at the end of last year to study and do mission work, she chose Chupp to take over the Goshen ministry.
Chupp’s story already has many distinct chapters in her 18 years. One is the trauma of a high school date rape and a descent into drugs and drinking. She was caught with drugs at Elkhart Christian Academy, which led to an arrest, expulsion and a transfer to The Crossing, a Christian alternative school.
At the start of another chapter, Chupp wakes up in a crack house where she is staying with a boyfriend. Her first sight that day is a 30-year-old woman preparing to light a crack pipe as she dandles her baby girl on her knee.
“I said ‘I’m not going to do that,’” Chupp recalls. “I was not going to live like that.”
In an uplifting After-School Special, that epiphany would have been enough to turn Chupp’s life around. But real life wasn’t quite that tidy.
“I knew I wanted to change,” Chupp said. “But it didn’t happen right away.”
While struggling to stop using alcohol and drugs to dull her feelings, Chupp turned to “cutting,” which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a form of self-injury used to cope with emotional pain, anger and frustration.
“I was in seven different hospitals,” she said. “There were 11 suicide attempts.”
In 2010, a more positive chapter began.
“I got out of the hospital and reached out to my teachers at The Crossing,” Chupp said. “It was 6 a.m. and I asked a teacher to (show up at school) and pray for me. When I got there, two dozen staff members had shown up. That’s when I really started to straighten my life up.”
In the latest installment of the life that is Lindsay’s, she is a 2012 high school graduate, a college student aimed at a nursing degree and is helping other young girls find the thing that eluded her for years — hope.
Chupp said it was an encouraging and uplifting moment when her former classmate Madison Matthes handed her the keys to Lily’s Closet. The project is financially managed and supported by Sugar Grove Church, Goshen, where the two girls reconnected after high school.
Matthes said (via Facebook from Costa Rica) that she asked Chupp to take over the store because Chupp has the passion and the heart to give love and hope to girls in difficult circumstances.
“God brought us together this December to build our relationship and share life,” Matthes said. “Lily’s Closet came up and how I could really use someone to take it over. As we talked, it was cool to see her desire to do something for the Lord and for girls in need, and I knew she would be a great fit.”
Lily’s Closet, 1405 S. 10th St., is open by appointment during the week (742-1210) and by appointment and walk-in Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Female volunteers, mostly teens and young women, serve as “shopping buddies” for the customers. They carry clothing and offer encouragement. Each shopper is allowed to choose five clothing items and an accessory.
Something less tangible than the latest fashions is also offered to the young women.
“We have a prayer room,” Chupp said. “We ask the girls what they want us to pray about for them. We pray together if they want, but they also write their prayer needs on a notecard and we keep it and pray for those each week.”
One regular Saturday volunteer is Dawn Lehman, who leads a “small group” of teen girls at Nappanee First Brethren Church. Lehman and the group members help at the store each week.
“The first week (Christmas break) we cleaned a room and took things to Goodwill,” Lehman said. “The girls loved it and we have been back just about every Saturday.”
Lehman said her group of teens bonded immediately with Chupp, who was honest with them about her past.
“She still has struggles, but she truly loves the Lord,” Lehman said. “She’s authentic. She’s real and I think that is what the girls appreciate. That’s the thing about teenagers. They sense that realness.”
Chupp said she thinks her checkered past is a blessing when it comes to her work at Lily’s Closet.
“I share my story with the girls,” Chupp said. “I tell them ‘I can relate.’”
She can also relate to the reservations a teenage girl might have about coming into the Lily’s Closet. She had an appointment to shop there herself at one point.
“I passed the building 17 times trying to get the courage to come in,” Chupp said. That courage never came, but Chupp hopes other troubled girls will find their way inside.
“I’m proud of them — it is a humbling thing to do,” she said. “I wish someone would have told me ‘you are not going to be judged.’”
Instead of judgement, Chupp greets each girl at the door with a hug.
“Even though I don’t know them, when they walk in, I immediately love them,” she said.