Saturday, May 10, 2014

Being the Bad Guy

"You didn't help me get a job."

"You didn't give me money."

"Now, I'm homeless."

These were the words said to me yesterday after I had to draw a hard line in the sand between a daughter trying to get her life on track and a mother who keeps pushing her backwards.

I refused to move her things into her daughters new house because the agreement was that the only people on the lease to live in the new house were the daughter and her four kids. She seemed supportive of this new opportunity for her daughter until it became a reality. She thought she would get her way, again. She had plenty of notice to find an alternative and chose not to and we could not allow her to have one foot in the door of the new place. So with me and Glenn standing in the street (I brought Glenn for physical support), I made it very clear the boundary lines that exist in this new chapter. I hate having to be the bad guy and honestly, two years ago, I could not have done it. This came after lots of conversation and pep talks and encouragement to the daughter.  I expressed to the mother that I had all of her belongings in my car and I would be happy to hold on to them for a week until she figured out where she and her boyfriend would be living. I told her we could help her find a place to stay in the meantime, that there were several different organizations that not only offered shelter but could help with finding a job. She let me know very quickly that under no circumstance would she go to The Salvation Army or any other shelter for that matter. She got on the phone, started calling everyone she knew to inform them on the injustice WE put on her. She disappeared with her daughter standing in the street, tears streaming down the daughters face and all of  her belongings in my car. She never came back. So we left and put her belongings in our shed.

After pouring encouragement into the daughter, we returned to her new home where her very happy children were unpacking their things, enjoying air conditioning (which they did not have in their old house) and relishing in their new space to be a family. We had a dance party in the living room to the song "Happy" to celebrate the promise of new beginnings and new mercies. The oldest son kept saying "Welcome to my Mansion" (A 2 bedroom apartment, mind you). Smiles were abundant. They immediately wanted to hang their signs they had painted at a block party a few weeks ago  in anticipation of having their own space.

A few people stopped by to hug her neck and offer a word of encouragement and blessing. We had lots  of "You can do this" conversations throughout the day. It was a testimony of the body of Christ and what we should do for one another. There were moments of intense joy and intense grief. I walked through Walmart picking up some immediate needs and I could not stop the tears. When Glenn and I finally sat down to eat dinner at 9pm at a local restaurant and one point during dinner I put my face in my hands and the tears came rushing again.  Sometimes I have to dig in deep to be strong for other people and it is only the strength of the Lord that gets me through those moments and at the end of the day I feel it all. Yesterday was that day.

I felt Satan try to whisper in both of my ears that I was a horrible person for making the older lady have to find somewhere else to stay. I questioned if I had done everything I could do. Should I have tried harder to help her find a job? Should I have put her in a hotel for a few days? What God really pleased with what happened that day or what I going against what the Bible said about helping someone in need? It can all be a bit draining and leave you a complete mess.

Here is what I know. So many people that we work with are caught in a cycle. If nothing ever changes,  the cycle continues and is typically passed on to the children. There are people that want to make changes, but so often their support system is not in place and they crack under pressure. People who start to make a change usually revert in a moment of desperation. Desperation causes people to be really mean.

The single mother and four children we helped this week are desperately trying to make that change. They are suffering some serious ridicule from family members who are pointing fingers, jealous and desperate. They are also being completely bombarded with love and blessing from complete strangers in the Body of Christ and IT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE. The children are growing and becoming more comfortable and stable.

But this family needs prayer. Prayer for mom's strength to continue to do the next right thing. Prayer for blessings to flow and follow obedience. Prayer for the desire to continue to seek out a new community of support.  Prayer for the grandmother to own her decisions and get the help she needs.

Pray for us too. This has been incredible but very draining physically but mainly emotionally. I have never felt the depth of grieving with someone like I have with this single mom. We have shared many moments of hugs and letting her know she is NOT alone. I had a slight fleeting thought last night of concern for safety because I thought, "I may have just ticked off the wrong person." Glenn assures me I have nothing to worry about, but still....I pray for a heightened awareness.

The balance of truth and grace has always been a really tricky one for me. Maybe I did mess up. Maybe it wasn't what Jesus would have done, but I really don't know what that would be in those moments. I think we are called to say the hard things for those who can not yet find their voice and sometimes that means drawing a line. I pray that God brings peace to mind and heart over things that I can't control and are not responsible for.

Above all, I pray that God is glorified, in our mountains and valleys and that all of this will result in His name being glorified. The tough times, the conflict, are big parts of the story and I pray that He is made famous in the results.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

These Are The Days...

These are the days when my head will hit the pillow with tear filled eyes and I will wonder if it matters.

These are the days when you pray that the support you are offering to a single mom will not enable her but will bring to life the power of the body of Christ and the verses about helping a brother in need. That through the actions of others she will be more compelled to engage in Christian community. Trusting that she will next right thing to develop a pattern of walking with the Lord versus the world. That her kids will see her rise up with the strength of God and choose him and them.

These are the days where your body is tired from running from one thing to the next. Trying to juggling emails, texts, messages and not fully engaging in where you are because of trying to mobilize and organize....feeling the exact opposite at the end of the day.

These are the days when discussing the whereabouts of former students, you realize that many of the girls have become teen moms, ran away or become involved in gangs. The what if questions threaten to overtake any amount of positive moments you can recall.

These are the days when you watch a group of boys graduate a program that so diligently tried to help young men develop job interviewing and life skills. As they left the interview room some of them immediately showed exactly where their hearts and head were. As you sat in that room and looked at the sharp wire surrounding the entrance to the Youth Detention Center, you feared how many would end up there again.

These are the days when you return home from dinner with your mom to find the basketball goal lowered all the way down, knowing that the same kids you went over the rules with when you left, lowered it as soon as you drove off. This may seem trivial but it goes so much deeper. The disappointment you feel as you make a sign that says, "Court Closed. You broke the rules," and attach it to the now raised goal. All the feelings that come knowing that they will look at it and walk around the corner, not caring about the consequences you have instilled. Consequences that are for their benefit. Boundaries that must be in place.

These are the days when one of the kids you have poured more time and resources into than anyone else figuratively and literally shuts a door in your face. You feel guilty for the anger you feel towards them. You try to find the words to draw them out but fall silent and find yourself sinking into a pit of self pity and apathy. You are frustrated that what seemed like the start of a promising conversation about salvation just days ago has ended with silent frustration.

These are the days when you think about everything going on tomorrow and all you want to do is get in a car and drive....very far away.... just to breathe a little lighter. Just for a day. To get a pedicure, sleep in without knocks on the door, feel a tiny bit selfish, read and be lazy for just a day. You look at other people's lives and wish you could trade places for a few hours...just a few. Just feeling that makes you aware of the heart check you need.

These are the days when you are honest that you have been doing things in your own strength this week instead of the strength of God and feel frustrated that you let yourself get to this point....yet again. You worry about typing a blog that is raw and not celebrating all the good and afraid people will judge you in the weakness you display. Afraid they won't want to send support of volunteer with such a Debbie Downer. The other part of you feels like you will explode if you can't be real about the tough days.

These are the days when you battle between, "Was it enough or too much?"

These are the days when you want to put a band aid on your heart because it hurts. A lot.

But, these are the days when you know that as much as you feel like giving up, you won't.

Because..These. Are. The. Days.

Each one comes with its beauty and despair. Hope and Joy. Pain and Laughter.

You remember that God never said it would be easy, just that He would be with you in the midst of it.

You realize the same message you are trying to share with others is the one you need yourself.

He is enough.

For them.

He is enough.

For me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

God Can Use A Hotdog

There have definitely been moments when Glenn and I look at each other and say, "Is any of this making a difference? I feel like I'm beating my head against a wall."

Change does not come swiftly or easily. We often watch people take 2 steps forward and 2 steps back.  (I apologize to all of you now singing Paula Abdul's memorable hit). We are in a season where God is allowing us to see the fruit of some of the labor. I don't want it to pass by without taking note and encouraging others who have been a part of planting seeds through prayer, volunteering or donating.

Sometime I feel like a broken record asking for money or donations. I was never that person. I have always prided myself on being independent. I had a job and was able to pay my bills. Now we live completely in dependence on God and He often provides through others. So I thought I'd share where it all goes and why it all matters.

If you read my Facebook posts, you know that recently a young girl in the neighborhood knocked on our door one Tuesday night to ask for prayer. This is a girl who we know, usually has a defensive demeanor, sometimes walks right past you without responding to your, "hello." To see her at our front door was a shock. The request for prayer was even more shocking.  She didn't want to put in a prayer request for later, but stuck out her hands and asked me to pray with her in that moment on our front porch. Thank you for providing a porch for prayer and a door that can receive those knocks.

The next day, I went to the book store and bought her a teen girls devotional and some christian fiction novels. You should have seen the look on her face. Pure joy. That same girl knocked on our door Sunday night to tell me she had a good time at the block party and we sat on the back porch and talked for 45 minutes about life, God, the devotionals and she asked me to be her mentor. Thank you for providing the books.

Every Sunday we gather in our yard and have youth group from 3-5. Children from ages 1-16 come and play, hear the Word of God, eat, listen to positive music and lately even some of the mom's and grandmothers have started attending. The activities in the yard and a simple meal provide a safe place for kids/families to land and spend time together. Mom's are interacting and playing with their kids which is an answer to prayer in so many ways. Thank you for providing the picnic tables, the hotdogs and other food, the jump ropes, crafts and more.

On any given day after school or on the weekends, we open up our back door to find kids playing basketball behind our house. Before our court was built, kids would walk up and down the street bouncing a ball, playing IN the street with cars speeding by and there was no safe place for them to do something they love. Thank you for the basketball court and the balls. This has been one of our biggest outreach tools.

Whenever students are with us, we have a standard rule that we all sit down together around a table for a meal. We turn off or put away any electronic devices. We hold hands and prayer together and we engage with each other over the meal. Thank you for the table. Thank you for the meals and the opportunity to instill this value in them that they might do the same in their own families someday.

Men love a fire. Every monday night men from our neighborhood as well as all over Savannah gather around a fire pit to study the scriptures together, challenge, encourage and pray for one another. I'm not allowed to attend but the men all say it is such a great fellowship time to be open and honest about their struggles and receive prayer, support and guidance from God's Word. This has also been an excitement for the neighborhood kids! Many of them have roasted their first marshmallow or had their first smore here! Thank you for the fire pit and the benches.

It has taken awhile, but we have finally instilled in some of our students the importance of doing your homework and trying your best on projects. Good grades are possible. Parents have come over and asked for help finding a job online or a place to live. Thank you for providing computers that can be used in these endeavors.

Transportation is an issue for many of our families. Most people rely on the bus system or friends/family to get them from point A to point B. If we put the issue of transportation on families, our options would be limited in what we could do. We do everything from picking up from school, delivering donations, taking kids to mentoring, taking kids to church, helping families move. Thank you for the donation of a vehicle and the gas that goes in it. We fill up at LEAST 2 times a week sometimes every other day depending on the season. We have outgrown our current vehicle so we are praying for and additional van or mini bus. Add that to your prayer list please :)

The Dream Campaign started in Atlanta. We have several students there with whom we keep in contact. One of those kids wanted to come and see us before he goes to TN to do job corp, get his diploma and start college. He bought him a bus ticket to spend a week with us. The first 24 hours here has provided us with answered prayers for two years. His desire this week is to understand salvation and what living for God means in his life. Thank you for the bus ticket, the meals while he is here and for investing in a dream two years ago to introduce these students to Christ and help them pursue God's dreams for their lives.

As you can imagine, we go through lots of plates, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc. Thank you for making me feel like it was Christmas when all of the boxes and bags arrived filled with these items to stock up our supply for a few months so that money could be freed up in other ways.

Our ministry is not just to kids but to their families. We have been fortunate to work with a single mom who is fighting for the best interest of her children. She has been baptized recently, is moving this week and starting over with her kids after a pretty trying year and she is SEEKING God, the fellowship of believers and learning that God will never forsake her. She is yielding, learning, bending and struggling well. We are trying to affirm her and show that when she does the right thing, people want to help and encourage her. That there is a big body of family that is now hers who will stand in the gap. We are hopefully moving her into an apartment by Friday that is a little more than she is used to paying, but it is a step in the right direction for her family. A nurse is tutoring her to get her CNA license and she is being discipled by Christian women. She is actively involved in her kids lives and is partnering with us in every way to show that support to them. Thank you for helping with the overage of her new rent, furniture, food, prayers and support. When words and actions match up to the Word of God there is No greater testament to the church. Lives are changing.

Every week there are adults that pick up students and give them one hour of undivided attention. We call this mentoring. They do homework, play games, get ice cream, shoot hoops, color, etc. We get the see the smiles of these kids when they know its mentoring day. We get to hear them tell the other kids, "Hey! You need to get a mentor." We get to watch some of their hardness melt away over time because know they are special! Thank you to those who sacrifice that one hour which pays off in such big ways. You truly are making a difference in the lives of our students.

There are a lot of "Firsts" for our kids. A big one here in savannah is their first baseball game! The excitement of seeing their first home run or getting a fly ball is definitely an unforgettable moment!
Thank you for the tickets!

I could go on and on about summer opportunities, free lunches, tutoring, camps, etc, but I hope you see that all of you are a part of what God is doing. Everything from finances to prayers are important. The encouragement that you give me and Glenn is so appreciated. The reminder that we are not alone and that there are others who see the vision.

We have committed our lives to serving the Lord full time, with or without a pay check. When you provide the physical needs for us to do ministry the biggest gift you give us is availability to say, "Yes" in a moments notice. Glenn has been able to homeschool a little boy 4 days a week who may not otherwise have an option. I am sometimes speechless when I reflect on the past few years. Tears of gratitude fill my eyes when I fully realize that God can use even a hotdog to show His love and provide an opportunity to engage with those he puts in our path.

If you are interested in volunteering with us, please fill out the volunteer application HERE