Tag Archives: job description

concurrent.

This seems like as good a time as any to officially let you know what I’m up to next:  I’m headed back into the crazy world of telling college students about how much Jesus wants to radically transform their lives.  Yes, yes, I’ve done this before.  And I loved it and missed it so much that I’m doing it again.  This next year I’ll be based at a community college, so I hope you’re prepared for some really really fun stories.

To give you a better idea of the kind of things I’ll be doing, I’m going to give you a bit of a visual…stay with me, it might be rough at first. When solving systems of linear equations using a graph, there are three potential outcomes:  one solution, no solution, or infinite solutions.

When the system has no solution, it looks like this on a graph:

parallel

 

Note that the lines don’t overlap; those in the know (that group does not include me, I asked my math teacher dad) call that parallelism.  I often meet people whose lives are marked by this phenomenon.  This happens when they’re living dual lives:  trying to keep their relationship with or thoughts about Jesus separate from every other thing that they do.  A few years ago, I mentored a college student who was a perfect example of this.  She would come to Bible study every week, praying fervently for her fellow classmates, and then she would leave and conveniently forget about everything we had just talked about.  Her life in the ‘real world’ showed no evidence that Jesus played any part in her actions or decision making.  I’ve also met students who don’t think that faith has anything to do with their lives at all, so they just choose not to think about the effect it may have on them.

When the system has one solution, it looks like this:

intersecting

You’ll notice here that the lines overlap once, but only once.  This solution does a pretty good job of representing the way of living that you or I probably see most often.  When we live believing that Jesus is important, but only when we want or need him to be, we create an independent system (coincidentally, also the name for the graph pictured above).    We tell Jesus we want him to be in control of our lives, but only so long as he’s letting us do what we want.  The intersection occurs when we’re faced with a difficult situation, when we realize that actually we can’t do this life on our own.  The unfortunate thing about this is that there’s very little lasting impact; you’ll notice in the graph that the lines diverge again.  I’ve met with many students whose lives are characterized by independent systems–they seek guidance from the Lord only when it is convenient for them.  And then they wonder why things fall apart.

There has to be a better way.

Don’t worry, there is.  Here’s what a system with an infinite number of solutions looks like:

infinite

Check this out.  Matthew 4:18-21 is one of the accounts of Jesus calling his first disciples.  It says,

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there…”  

I’m only quoting the verse up to that point because I want you to take note of the fact that Jesus doesn’t wait around for the disciples to follow him; he says, “Let’s go!” and then keeps moving.  The disciples could have kept living in their small independent system, intersecting once with Jesus, but not letting him fully impact their lives.  But instead they followed him into a system of dependence, of relying on him to take care of them no matter what was ahead.  And yeah, they definitely lost sight of this at times, but most of the time they found their way back.  

So that right there is the simplest thing I want my students to internalize:  that we are a part of a system that functions when we are fully dependent on Jesus, when we are following him without looking back, when we let him change our trajectory so that our lives begin to line up with what he has for us.


the club.

I realized that I’ve never written here about my current job. And I figure, hey, 14 months in isn’t too late.

When I decided to move north two winters ago, I had no idea what I was going to be getting myself into.  I practiced talking myself up for interviews, bought a new cardigan (I seize any and all opportunities to do that…my last roommate and I once figured out that we had upwards of 25 between us…but I digress), and started looking for jobs that involved working with a lot of people.

After realizing that the “social service” field wasn’t as ripe with opportunities as I had once hoped, I broadened my scope and ended up as the coordinator of a Teen Center at a Boys & Girls Club. Essentially, I traded spending time with homeless women and children for hanging out with low-income at-risk teenagers (this is how they have been defined to me. I generally define them as “outrageous”, ambiguous as that may be).

I still have a hard time explaining what exactly it is that I do, and all that this position entails.  Sometimes it’s as crazy as simultaneously running two mentoring programs while teaching a class on financial literacy or planning a 12-hour overnight event.  Other times it’s teaching teens how to play board games so I can beat them…I mean…teach them good sportsmanship…

It’s interesting how my time at the Mission prepared me for my time at the Club.  I have attempted to cultivate just the right amount of genuine care and seemingly lackadaisical demeanor that inadvertently tricks people into trusting me.  The techniques I used with former addicts who preferred arguing to listening are the same ones I use for 14-year-old’s who would rather play Minecraft than learn about leadership and community service.

Though I would hope it goes without saying, Jesus is just as present here as he was there.  I can still tell when I am spending too much time relying on my own strength to get through each day, because programs tend to fall apart and I find myself becoming annoyed by the most ridiculous things.  It’s also those times that I tend to focus on the transitional nature of this job–I know that I’m not going to be there for very much longer, and it’s easy for me to get caught up in that, to think only of the future instead of being present in the here and now.

This all goes back to the idea of waiting that I’ve been mulling over–this truth that regardless of the season we are in, we are in some way being prepared for things to come.  And we have to hold onto that, lest we go crazy always wanting to be somewhere else.  For example, I know that this season has already taught me much about what Jesus is actually calling me into.  While I was sure for so long that it was specifically ministering to those who find themselves homeless, I am realizing more and more that what I get most excited about is the equipping and sending out of all people.  When I was at the Mission, I found the most joy in the situations that resulted in learning; whether the person in question all of a sudden realized a bit more about their true worth or they realized what  small steps they needed to start taking, it is those things that I still think about.

And even now, I get to be a part of equipping and sending out:  I have daily conversations with teens that result in the reshaping of their concepts of respect or tolerance or gratitude, and then I get to watch them go and live that out with each other and with their families.  Instead of working directly with every demographic of people that I want to, I am learning to center myself in one and then send them out to the rest.  Funny that it took me so long to figure this out, because it’s the model Jesus himself used, when he first spent time with his disciples and then sent them out to do the work that he couldn’t be directly present for (Matthew 28:16-20).  Please note that I am in no way trying to equate myself with Jesus; rather, I’m just reiterating the fact that this idea of Jesus-replicating discipleship is straight from the Bible.

Anyway, let’s set that aside for another time.  If you made it to the end of this somewhat rambly post, I applaud you.  And I leave you with these snippets of what my days at the Club are sometimes like:

The other day I was at a park that’s essentially in the backyard of the Club and a 6-year-old wandered away from her group because she wanted to be with the teens.  I asked her to please go back with the other kids, and she let me know, very matter-of-factly, that she was going to bite herself to death if I made her go back.

There’s another kid who, upon learning that we had temporarily banned glitter from the Club, brought her own from home and proceeded to “share the love” by spreading it across every single surface she could before someone finally stopped her.

And then there are my teens.  At least once every other week, they tell the story of how, on one of our drives from their school back to the Club, I ran over a curb with the van.  In their retelling, they maintain that I nearly killed all of them, neglecting to mention the fact that I was actually avoiding being hit by a car.  They also remind me often of my singleness and that they’re sure I’m going to live alone with multiple cats if ever I reach adulthood (their words, not mine).

At least they’re keeping me grounded.


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?


note to self.

There are weeks that never seem to end, that make it glaringly evident that we live in a broken world.

As you may have guessed, I am currently in one of those weeks.

Today I sat across from a woman who had her son taken away from her just two days ago.  She couldn’t stop crying long enough to get out even one complete sentence.

Hours earlier, I had floundered in my attempts to comfort a woman fleeing an intense domestic violence situation.  Her young son sat in their car, not fully understanding what was happening and too afraid to come into my office.

Yesterday, a woman with a serious mental illness called over and over, just wanting to be listened to and understood.

Last night, a college student showed up around 11.  Last month her 5-month-old daughter went to be with Jesus, and her husband decided he couldn’t stand to be around her anymore because it reminded him too much of what they had lost.

And in the midst of all of this, agencies from around town kept calling to ask if we had any room for the women in their offices who were stranded, desperate, and without hope.

I had no idea what to do in any of these situations.

They were, for the most part, all scenarios that I’ve seen before and so one would think that it would have been at least a little bit easier this time.  Like, maybe this time I would have words to say to alleviate some of the anguish they were feeling.

But no.  I fumbled around awkwardly, trying to think of something to say, coming up only with silence and the idea to hand over a box of Kleenex.

There is no hidden message here, just the reminder for myself that there are times in life where it seems as though there is no limit to the heartache that people can feel.  And in those times it feels like all I can do is trust that things will get better for them, somehow.  If I internalize all of this pain, I will be unable to help anyone.  Just as these women need to give their hurt and feelings of betrayal over to the Lord, I too need to surrender these feelings of inadequacy and helplessness.


generosity.

Homelessness isn’t something that can be scheduled.  Because of that, we get people checking in at all hours of the day.  Sometimes it’s because their bus didn’t get in until late, and other times it’s because they got into a fight with the people they were staying with or the cops found them wandering on the road and couldn’t just leave them there.

Whatever the case, they come to us.

It is not an easy task to be welcoming within minutes of being woken up by a phone call.  I found myself sick a lot this winter and I always felt like the people I was checking in were a little bit terrified of my raspy voice.

But I digress.

A few weeks ago, a woman checked in around 1 in the morning.  She had gone to another city to try to find her son, but was unable to for some reason or another.  In the process, she spent most of her money, gave up the lease on her apartment, and lost most of her possessions.

Despite all of this, she still found things to be joyful about.  There were definitely times when she got frustrated with the people around her, and she told us a few slightly unsavory stories…but for the most part, she plowed through her days with an “I can do anything” attitude.  I spent most of my interactions with her trying to get her to smile, because man.  Her toothless grin (she’s 70.  also her false teeth hurt her mouth.) took over her entire face, and it was, without a doubt, the highlight of my days.

And this woman was one of the most generous people I have ever met.  On Valentine’s Day, she came into the Family Shelter office with bags of things for us.  Among these things were two boxes of valentines, at least four blocks of cheese, and some cans of soup.  She had found a good sale and thought that we could use them to start an “office pantry”.

This was not an isolated incident, and she is not the only one who has done that.  I am often offered cups of coffee, candy bars, weird toys (I usually say no to those…), and various other items.  It seems like nobody goes to a store without first asking if I want them to bring something back for me.

Despite the fact that most of the people here have very few resources, they are still willing to share.  And their generosity goes far beyond material possessions.

They are generous with their time–I rarely have to look very hard to find someone when I need help with something.

They are generous with their advice–though, to be honest, I don’t follow it very often…a lot of it doesn’t actually relate to my daily life…

They are generous with their concern–I am asked multiple times a day why I’m not wearing socks or a coat (I tell them I’m trying to get spring to come faster).

Working here means that I am constantly challenged to be more giving in all of these areas.  I am reminded regularly that the things I’ve been given (tangible or not) aren’t really mine, God has just made me a steward of them for the time being.  For more on that, check out Matthew 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents. or, oddly enough, bags of gold. depends on your translation.).

As of today, I have worked at the Mission for 8 months and I am just now beginning to fully understand how much of God’s character is reflected in the people here, regardless of whether or not they always recognize it or even believe it to be true.

Because, really, God is the epitome of generosity.  He invites us into a relationship with Him, He consistently gives us things we don’t deserve, He forgives us, He runs after us, He forgives us again, He loves us without hesitancy, and so much more.

Friends, we’re blessed.


hmm.

I don’t think I will ever get tired of hanging out with the people at the Mission.  I’m putting that in writing so that one day, when I’ve grown out of my everything-is-great phase, I can look back and remember what it was like to be young and naïve.

Seriously though, they are just so funny.  I am continually caught off guard by the refreshing honesty that they bring to my life, calling me out when I’m clearly not paying attention or challenging me to think harder about things.  They are definitely not all honest all the time, but that just brings a sense of excitement (again with the whole naïve thing, I know) and puts my gift of discernment to the test (who knew spiritual gifts are actually useful for day-to-day life?  I’m kidding, I totally knew that…).

I have also become somewhat of a “person to vent to”, a role that, oddly enough, I find myself playing most places I end up.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a good listener or because I have the ability to give quick and concise feedback, but whatever the case…it appears to be a task that I’m stuck with.  I say “stuck with”, but I actually really enjoy listening to the things other people think about.  And they think about a lot.  Which seems like a redundant statement, but I always feel the need to explain that the people that I work with and for and among are just as “normal” as you or I.

Though it’s possible that the next few paragraphs will now seemingly discredit the statement I’ve just made…

We have a routine here that includes a nightly breathalyzer for everyone staying here.  I like to think of it as a complimentary breath check. Like, “Based on our findings, we’re going to recommend that you try this peppermint mouthwash before ever going out in public.” I recognize that I’m probably alone in my thinking.

Anyway, during this special time, I often have to walk through a room full of men to get to my destination.  These men are not afraid to tell me what they are thinking. Sometimes it is hilarious, as in the case of the gentleman who wanted to sing Purple Rain (yeah Prince!) to me.  Sometimes it is bizarre, like the man who started singing She’s a Lady (complete with the “whoa whoa whoa” part) as I was walking by him.

Side note: I’m realizing as I type this how often people sing to me.  The two instances I’ve just mentioned are in no way isolated events.

And, sometimes my encounters are awkward, such as the man who calls me by name (or, more often, a shortened version of my name with a tone of voice that tells me he thinks he made up the nickname) and asks me how I’ve been spending my time because he hasn’t seen me in awhile.  As though it is my fault that my current job description doesn’t include trying to be wherever he is.  To be clear, I’d be creeped out if that was, in fact, in my job description.

Please don’t fear for my life. I almost always feel safe. And when I don’t, I just remember that God’s in control and He, at times, clearly has a different sense of humor than I do.


indigent.

Let’s talk, for a brief second, about things that are heartbreaking.

On December 21st, the longest night of the year, there was a memorial service of sorts held for the 34 homeless men and women who died this past year in our county.

In the days following, two more women passed away…and while I can’t be sure about the situation they were in when they died, I know that they had both stayed here at the Mission in the past six months.

Last year’s annual count of the homeless found almost 900 people without regular housing across the county.

What that means is that approximately 1 out of every 100 people here don’t have a place to call home.

There are people here who have become homeless because of a choice (or a series of choices) of their own–poor financial planning, drug and/or alcohol abuse, a lack of motivation to go out and look for a job, etc.  And then there are those who didn’t get to choose.  People get sick and are unable to pay their medical bills.  The economy crashes and massive layoffs occur.  Some are trapped by a generational curse and they think that since homelessness is all they know, it must be safer.  And on and on and on.

Regardless of the reason for the circumstance they’re in, they are still people.  They have human emotions and thoughts and worries just like the rest of us.  They, too, deserve a chance to pick themselves back up and move forward.

In Mark 12:8, Jesus says, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

[Side note:  I don’t know that “poor” necessarily has to do with finances.  Jesus talks about those who are poor in spirit, those who are poor in the eyes of the world, the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, those in need, and so on.]

I think some people read this verse and think, well, hey, if the poor are always going to be among us, then anything that I do to help is pointless.  If I help someone out of a rut, two more people are just going to fall right in.

Not what he’s saying.  It’s more like, dang, I won’t always be physically present here on earth, able to help the poor in person, so that’s a job that falls on your shoulders.

Think about what that means for your life.