transition.

What happens if you wake up crazy one day?

What happens if you’re living comfortably, thinking that you’ve found the place that you love and the little ministry niche that you fit into perfectly, and all of a sudden it hits you that you can’t do it anymore?

What if you’re surrounded by people who tell you that you’re exactly where you need to be, that you’re making a difference despite what you may think, but you can’t find it in yourself to believe the words they’re speaking to you?

Or what if you spend months losing sleep over scenarios that you can’t control and you spend every waking moment going over and over the mistakes that you made in conversations and you can’t figure out why these things are happening, why life is harder for some people and why there’s not a thing you can do about it no matter how hard you try?

I guess if someone were in that place and desperately wanted to remain alone there, they’d probably write safe things that resolved themselves in around 500 words, they’d put off questions with answers that satisfied but weren’t entirely truthful, they would push truth away in order to maintain a semblance of sanity.

And then they’d quit their job–the place they thought they just might stay for the rest of their life–and end relationships and move 227 miles north in the hopes that there might be more clarity somewhere else.

That’s exactly what I did.

I recently read something that a guy named Paul E. Miller wrote, and it said this:  “The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.”

Meaning that we don’t have to have it together to spend time with Jesus.  He wants us to come to him as we are–be that exhausted, overwhelmed, distracted, or a combination of the three.  It’s in those places of feeling less-than that we let him work best; often it isn’t until we’re at the end of our proverbial rope that we even begin to ask for help.  After all, we’ve been taught (subconsciously or not) that we must be self-sufficient–if we’re struggling, it’s because we’re not doing enough.

Here’s the thing, though…that’s just not true.

So what have I been learning these last few months?  Too much to say in this post, but I’ll begin to break it down over these next few weeks and months as I continue to process what my life is now.

Know this, though:  our God is a faithful one.  Within two weeks of moving, I had a new place to live with pretty fantastic roommates, a job working with crazy teenagers, and an overwhelming sense of relative security.

And really, while I’m not “on a mission at the Mission” anymore, I’m still very much on a mission.  My kids here need to know about Jesus just as much as my kids in Yakima did.  And I’m going to keep sharing him with them, and sharing the stories of what that’s like with all of you.

 


less than.

I’ve realized that I need to think less and write more.

I haven’t written anything for a time because, for a good while there, I had seemingly run out of things to say.  There’s a lot of noise in this world, and I wasn’t sure that my contributions to it were altogether necessary.

I think, too, my last post got me thinking way too much about injustice and the fact that things just aren’t ever going to be fair but no one ever said they would be so how did I ever come to the conclusion that someday I would wake up and feel good about the state of things?

Phew.  Let me just catch my breath after that.

To put it more succinctly:  there are a lot of things I don’t understand, and I’ve always accepted that.  There are people who wander through life not knowing where their next meal is coming from, or where they’re going to try to sleep for the night.  I have just assumed that that’s always going to be the case, that it is an awful but accepted truth.

But now that I’ve been on the front lines, so to speak, it’s become so much more of a reality.  These people that I’ve always known about now have names and faces and personalities.

And who am I to decide that some things should be kept for only me to know about?  By staying silent about the injustices that I see, I give them power. By not sharing them and being open and honest about the fact that they’ve been slowly taking over and consuming who I am, I allow them to do that very thing.

This is what our culture teaches us, though.  I have believed that if I am open about my feelings, if I share that being surrounded by poverty and loneliness and real hurt has changed me and shaken me to the core of who I am, then you will see me as broken and weak and less than.

But I am those things.  We are all those things.

I tell you this so you know that it’s perfectly acceptable to not be perfectly acceptable. It’s okay to fall short, to let the stories of others affect you in such a way that you become a little less of who you were.  Because when we realize we aren’t as strong as we thought, we open ourselves up to the possibility that we can’t fix everything ourselves.

I’m reading through 2 Corinthians right now, and in chapter 12, verse 9, it shows Jesus telling Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  And Paul says that makes him want to boast even more about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power will rest on him.

That sounds crazy to me, but hey, if it means Jesus is glorified, then I’ll keep talking about those things that mess me up.


displaced, literally.

As you may or may not recall, I wrote briefly about the concept of sweeps awhile ago.  You can refresh your memory here, if necessary (for future reference, any time a word is underlined, chances are it’s a clickable link).

Yesterday I inadvertently came across this news story.   If you have a free minute and a half (which I’m going to assume you do, because reading these posts generally takes longer than that…), please watch it.

Let me break it down for you, though.  There’s an overpass here in town that, to quote the article, has “housed the homeless for years”.  But starting today, that will no longer be the case.  The City Code Enforcement said there has been a rise in complaints against the people living there, so they put up trespassing signs and kicked everyone out.  They also plan on moving more of the homeless on Monday, probably from their camps along the river.

I first watched this with someone who used to live under that overpass.  She was horrified, telling me stories of the people who still live there.  In the video, there’s a shot of a mattress being tossed carelessly aside.  That mattress belongs to a man who has lived in that spot for 2 1/2 years.

The article also says, “this solves the homeless problem here, but likely only moves it somewhere else.”

It seems, though, that moving the problem somewhere else is not, in fact, solving it anywhere.

The easy answer, if someone doesn’t have all of the facts, would be to send them here, to the Mission.  But that just isn’t plausible.

For example, there was a group of homeless teenagers who had banded together there as well.  None of them are 18, so they will have a particularly difficult time finding a new shelter.  The Mission can’t take them in because they are underage.

And even if they were older, we simply don’t have the capacity to even temporarily house all of these people.  I’ve already had to turn one family away because we just don’t have any more room.

There are extreme weather shelters that open temporarily between mid-November and March, but even they can only hold so many people.

I’m trying to figure out what Jesus would do in this situation, and I’m just not sure.  There aren’t really tables that can be flipped over in anger (Matthew 21, if you don’t know what I’m referring to) and even if there were, I’m not sure that would be especially helpful…

So, for now I guess I’ll just keep praying for this community that I love.  I’ll pray that our city would recognize that the open-ended action that they took was unjust.  And I’ll pray that some kind of solution would arise, and that something good could somehow come from what seems like an awful situation.


dropped off.

On Sunday a woman checked in, and I walked back to the parking lot with her so she could get the rest of her possessions out of someone’s car.  Her mom had kicked her out somewhat unexpectedly, and then had a friend drive her to the Mission.

She stood there, staring at the open trunk for awhile as though at any time her mom would call her and say, “just kidding, I changed my mind, you can come back now.”  After a few long minutes, she slowly began to unload her things.  She moved in slow motion, still hoping to wake up, and when her bags were on the ground around her and her backpack was on, she began to cry. Softly at first, and then harder as reality finally set in.  The person dropping her off pulled her in for a hug as though that would make her feel better about her circumstances.  It didn’t.  She was still crying as the trunk closed and the car drove away.

Her sorrow ran deep, stemming from a lack of hope–she didn’t have a definitive time frame to work with, so she had no idea how long this new stretch of her life would be.  It ended up being less than 24 hours before her mom changed her mind again and came to pick her up so they could work out their issues, but those hours were rough.  She wandered around aimlessly, fighting the inevitable process of checking in, and calling everyone she could think of to try to get them to pick her up.

I’ve been feeling a lot like her lately.

There are days when it is especially hard, when I feel as though Jesus dropped me off here in this life and then left me to fend for myself.  When it seems like I ask question after question about what I should be doing, and I am only offered silence in return.

And I know–oh, how I know–that He meets us in our weak points, in our loneliness, but I get so tired sometimes.  Not fed up, but exhausted, trying to fill those empty spaces with busyness so that I don’t have to feel them.  I waver between desperately wanting to be answered by the Lord and being afraid that He’ll tell me something I don’t want to hear.

I know that I’m not alone in these feelings, that there are a ton of people who can’t figure out their purpose in life and they feel like they’re just waiting around to hear something.  But how long do we wait?  And what do we do in the meantime?

I don’t know the answers to those questions.

I do know that, while the woman in the parking lot had nothing to put her hope in and nothing that told her things were going to get better, my reality is a different one.

I know that I have a hope built on Jesus’ blood and righteousness (how many of you are singing that hymn in your head right now? So good.)

I also know that God is for us, that nothing can separate us from His love, that He has a greater purpose for us and can make something good out of places where there seems to be only brokenness.

And I guess for now, knowing those things has to be enough.


rethink.

For awhile now, I’ve been trying to figure out where I want this blog to go and what I want its purpose to be.

I still don’t know.

I have some ideas that are swirling around in my mind, one of which includes a complete overhaul in which the end result doesn’t look like a generic template (as it does now).

But during that process of figuring things out, and during this crazy season of my life (I recently started grad school, I’m trying to revamp the kids program at work plus start one for older kids, etc.), I’m going to occasionally post words written by other people.  I’ll let you know when that’s happening so you don’t think all of a sudden I’m able to write in a dozen different voices, though that would be pretty cool.

For now, read this:

For those of you who don’t want to click over because you think that will take too much of a commitment, here’s an excerpt:

“Through my words, I created a mentality of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ ‘we’ versus ‘they.’ I was furthering the idea that we need to help them. This patronizing attitude flowing from my speech was undermining the values of equality and diversity I strongly believe in.”

The article talks about how our language speaks volumes about what we actually believe in our hearts, and though it’s primarily about racism, it can easily be applied to other areas of difference.  It’s challenging, but well worth the read!


keep looking.

Earlier this year, I planted a garden in the transition time between spring and summer.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, and the fact that it was in my parents backyard meant that there would be little to no daily work for me (clever of me, I know).  In one of the sections of the garden, I planted what I thought were going to be normal fat tomatoes.  But no.  Some prankster had put a grape tomato starter in the wrong section at the store and I, being the trusting human being that I am, of course inadvertently chose that one.

Fast forward to now, where those tiny tomatoes have taken over the entire garden.  Tendrils are everywhere, tomatoes are everywhere, I spent what felt like an hour harvesting a few handfuls and walked away from millions more.  Have you ever tried to pick grape tomatoes?  They grow in these clusters that you have to untangle just so you can get anything usable.  And then, there will inevitably only be two in the bunch that are ripe so you have to drop the other 85 back into the mess, knowing that you’ll have to come back to them sooner or later.

Harvesting grape tomatoes is a never-ending, mostly thankless task.  As, I think it’s safe to say, are a lot of ministry jobs (oh, you liked that segue?  there’s more where that came from).

There are times when I wonder what it would be like to have a job that ends at a certain time and that I don’t think about constantly when I’m not there.  And I often feel like a crazy mess as I try to remember which people I need to talk to about what.  Or people come in with co-occurring issues and it’s tough to know what to address first.

And then, I think I have a handle on something, or I finally start to understand where someone is coming from…and then bam!  Something blindsides me.  Similar to those masses of teeny tomatoes hiding under the grass (or the box that the garden’s planted in, or other plants, or…you get the idea).

In those times of being caught off guard, I have to remind myself that there’s a learning curve for everything, whether it’s counseling or listening or gardening.  And sometimes results from those are slow to reveal themselves, and I spend a lot of time reminding myself that God’s timing and my timing are drastically different.  But even when I’m frustrated, I am rarely disappointed.  And the only reason that’s possible is that I can look back at the ways that the Lord has been faithful, and know that He cuts a swath through our  untended overgrown ways of thinking and shows us where the truth is hiding.


fifty-five.

While I enjoy the spontaneity and the day-to-day surprises that this job brings, there are certain things that happen here regularly enough to make me wonder if there’s not some calendar somewhere that I don’t know about that would help clue me into what’s going on.

It would just be extraordinarily helpful, for example, if I knew when certain kids were going to all of a sudden start screaming in the parking lot.  Or dining room.  Or the middle of chapel.  I’m sure there’s some sort of secret schedule that all of them are on, but I can’t quite figure it out.

Also, if I could figure out which days people were going to run out of their medications (or just decide to stop taking them), I could, in theory, be better prepared for those encounters.  I am sometimes accidentally overconfident when it comes to certain conversations; I assume that the responses to my questions will be rational, and then am caught off guard when someone tells me my dad’s just given them a job (he hadn’t) or they’re being seized by the government (they weren’t).

And then there are the people who come back to the Mission near the end of most months because they’ve spent all of their money.  One would think that I would remember this because it happens so often, but I get caught up in other things and then am genuinely surprised to see them back here.  This creates a pretty chaotic environment at the end of the month, and this month is no exception.

Currently, we have also been inundated with people who have come up from camping at the river because the police are doing what are called “sweeps”.  They go through the camps every so often, looking for people who have outstanding warrants and things like that.  Some of the people who come here are hiding from them, but most of them just don’t want to be relentlessly questioned while having their worldly possessions picked through and examined.  Can’t say I blame them.

Rarely do those last two events occur simultaneously; when they do, though, things get hectic.  Currently we’re in a season like that.  I’m being dramatic by using the word ‘season’; at the end, there will really only have been about 10 days of being filled to the brim.  Yesterday a couple, a single woman, and a family of 3 all checked in, bringing our side of the Mission nearly to capacity.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about the fact that there are several nights a week when I’m the only person overseeing all of these women and families.  Last night I sat at dinner and counted 55 different people in our section–that means 55 different life stories that I’m familiar with, 55 different plans that have to be thought out and worked through, and 55 different personalities that I have to figure out how to relate to in a helpful way.

It’s absolutely worth the exhaustion that I feel, however, when they begin to trust me enough to ask me to pray for them or they tell me the truth about something even though they’re not sure what my response will be.

I’m learning to listen both to what is being spoken out loud and to what is actually being said; it’s necessary for all relationships, not just the ones with the people I’m working with.  People can tell when they’re being genuinely cared for, as opposed to simply being dealt with or managed.

So even though there are times when it feels like I can’t even keep track of my own life, let alone the lives of friends/family members/coworkers, I’m reminded of how important it is to even just remember small things–to ask about things that they care about, even when I have no interest in the topic.  If we all listened to others as much as we want to be listened to, I think the world would work a little more efficiently.  And I think Jesus would be pleased by our efforts; after all, he created us to love…so we might as well do it, right?