Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We can do MORE

photo credit: I first saw this posted by Spirit FM Morning Show

I'm seeing this image start to fill up my Facebook page today. It's really a beautiful movement. Some folks up North put scarves on trees with a note telling people to take them if they need them. And I've also now seen the idea take flight: there's an event here in my city to do the same.

I do think it is wonderful.

But it also makes me a little sad. You see, poverty isn't a resource-issue. We have enough food and enough wealth already here on the Earth (and right here in our very country) to accommodate all the people. The problem isn't that there isn't enough to go around. The problem is relational. Folks in poverty are often set-apart, set-aside.  We serve them through (sometimes dubious, sometimes great) programs when what is really life-changing is relationships.  These trees remind me that most people, even good-hearted, wonderful people, don't know anyone who is homeless. So the only way we know how to share a scarf is to tie it to a tree.

Please don't think I'm slamming this idea. I think it is absolutely wonderful and beautiful! And absolutely a step in the right direction.  But I think we can do MORE. What if we befriended people experiencing homelessness? Then not only would we be able to tie a scarf on the neck of someone who is cold, we'd know what they needed and be able to support them to take the next step OUT of homelessness.

I've seen this happen with my own eyeballs. I can think of several friends right this very moment who, right now, are just my regular friends. We comment on each other's FB statuses, meet for lunch, call each other on the phone. But when we met? They were people experiencing homelessness. And they needed friends. Programs are good. Friends who love you, who help you navigate those programs are crucial.  And, together with a fabulous group of folks that do homeless outreach in our city, I had the absolute honor to become a friend.  And then, by listening, I could see what barriers stood between them and being inside, being employed, being healthy. And you know what happened? Not only have I seen people get clean & sober, move out of homelessness, get jobs... but I gained FRIENDS. Fabulous people who I love and love me back. They have inspired me and taught me so much.

Did it cost me more? Yes. Did it take more time? Yes. But when I look at how Jesus worked with people, that is how he did it. He didn't say "give money to other people so that they can feed the hungry." He didn't say, "vote for programs that help prisoners." (not that those are bad things... please keep doing those things too!) He said "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me." Matt 25:35-40.

So are you moved by the scarf idea? Donate a scarf, tie one to a tree. You can be part of the tie a scarf event in Greensboro here.  Are you moved MORE? Donate a scarf and then do MORE. Volunteer with an organization in your city that works with people experiencing homelessness.  Are you in Greensboro? This week in our city, we have the crisis shelter open every night through Saturday. And then again for 10 more days in February and we DESPERATELY need volunteers. Come and be part of making sure that NO ONE sleeps outside on a bitter cold night and make a friend.

Sign up to take a shift at our Crisis Shelter here:

And if you are in my area, here are a few places I suggest you check out if you want to get to know some of our homeless friends:

Church Under the Bridge: Dinner and a worship service every Saturday night
The Interactive Resource Center: Our day resource center for our homeless folks
Sunday morning breakfast: my church, missio dei, partners with a bunch of other churches to join Awaken City's Sunday morning breakfast to provide a hot breakfast every Sunday morning at Center City Park in Greensboro.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dead Babies and Laser Hair Removal

It happens every time.

I come home from a trip to Swaziland and am greeted enthusiastically with, "Welcome home! How was your trip?" It's called out across the parking lot as I walk my 4 year-old into preschool, said to me across the room full of parents in the parent room at my older kids' elementary school. Well-wishers being friendly, asking about my trip.

But I can't answer. Not honestly anyway.

Because what I want to say is that the child I visited in the overflowing pediatric malnutrition ward died two days later. He was one year old and weighed about 13 pounds. I want to answer that I saw women in labor standing by themselves in the hot sun outside the labor room because you aren't allowed to go in until you are crowning. I want to say that I just spent a week in a country where mothers often drop their newborn babies in pit latrines to die because that is a better option than watching them slowly starve to death. I want to say that I got to spend time with toddlers whose stories include being burned, left to die wrapped in plastic bags, some are HIV positive, others have been severely malnourished. I want to say that I saw overwhelming need and despair alongside hope.

But really, people are expecting me to say, "it was great, thanks!" and keep walking. Because they aren't really asking me to bear my soul in that moment.

I always have a hard time when I come home from Swaziland. I have a hard time reconciling my culture with the culture in developing countries anyway; it's just that much harder when I have just returned home.  And my first morning back I heard a commercial for laser hair removal on my way home from dropping the kids off at school.

I live in a country where we are encouraged to spend money using lasers to remove unwanted hair while babies on the other side of the ocean slowly starve to death.

Something is wrong.

But it doesn't have to be. That's where I see hope. I also know that just in my small circle of friends there are people fighting for justice, pushing against oppression, working to restore dignity and helping people meet their basic needs.  I know that there are big organizations working to make sure that children have access to food, clothing, and medical care. I know that people care.

We have a choice. God is working all around us. I will never understand how God works or why things are they way they are but I do believe this: God wants to use us to redeem the world. He wants to use us to end poverty, to end hunger, to fight addiction and oppression. And what an honor it is to be to be a part of change.

Do you want to be a part of hope in Swaziland? I'm going back in July. Come with me! You will never regret it.

My view from where I stayed on the farm at Project Canaan

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why I don't want the Easy Life

I'm headed to Swaziland in three days! Last Sunday, a week before my travel date, I knew I was headed into a crazy week. In addition to the normal preparations that go along with leaving the country (packing, figuring out stuff for the kids, etc), the weather forecast was calling for dangerously low temps. Since I help out with our local crisis shelter when the temps drop, I just knew this week would be over-the-top busy.

So Sunday night, I posted this on Facebook, mostly to remind myself:

Life is easier when you don't do things. It's easier not to volunteer, it's easier not to step out of your comfort zone, it's easier just to swim along. It's easier not to try to love the hard people. But you know what? I think there's less joy that way. So for me, I'll choose the harder path, the inconvenient one. Life is amazing and truly think the secret is to serve others. When life isn't all about me, I find joy so much more easily.

Because my life sure would be easier if I didn't do half the stuff I do. Or if I didn't care about half the stuff I care about.  I'm not saying that life would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy if I didn't spend time volunteering. Let's be honest here: I have three kids. Life is hectic on our best days

But if I didn't volunteer with our homeless folks, if I didn't travel to Swaziland to work with Heart for Africa, if I didn't care about poverty and oppression and social justice issues and giving a voice to the overlooked and if I said NO when opportunities arose to be a part of those things... what would my life look like?

Maybe we'd have more money and could have nicer things. My house would be cleaner, I'm sure of that. 

But I can tell you some things that wouldn't happen:

My oldest child wouldn't have (entirely unprompted) used his own money to buy warm coats for some of the homeless folks we know. My heart about exploded as I watched him at the cash register.

My middle kiddo wouldn't have written an essay for school about patience: about how hard it was for gay couples to be patient while waiting to be treated equally under the law. (and, because she's 6, about how hard it was for HER to be patient when we were standing outside the Register of Deeds waiting for a decision. ha).

I wouldn't have had the opportunity to search through a pile of donated gloves, looking for the warmest, biggest, toughest-looking ones for a homeless man who requested to be woken up this morning before 5 am so that he could get to work on time. He works outside and didn't have a pair of gloves. Talk about a lesson in work ethic.

I wouldn't have had a night filled with hugs, with "thank you ma'am"s, with jokes about air mattresses last night. Let me tell you, I would not have slept as well last night if I wasn't part of the Crisis Shelter team.

I wouldn't have a suitcase packed with clothes and things to bring to kids in Swaziland and a hard-earned plane ticket (many many hours of sewing and crafting bought me that ticket!) and an opportunity to be part of what God is doing in Swaziland.

I wouldn't know some of the most amazing people on this planet. Did you know I have a homeless friend who routinely gives away coats that I give him when he finds someone who has less than he does? And the more I serve, the more I am surrounded by people who blow me away.  Here I am, this mostly-stay-at-home, normal-person mama, surrounded by amazing people. I have a friend moving to Swaziland in two days, walking away from everything comfortable and known because she sees a need and said YES. I have a friend who is an amazingly successful, educated career woman who is changing her trajectory and going back to school again so that she can have the medical expertise she needs to work with the underserved populations in her city because she sees a need and says YES. I get to know people who look at what God is doing around them and jump in with both feet. They inspire me daily.

Friends, life is messy. It's hectic. We have more on our plates sometimes than we think we can handle. But I'll tell you something: adding something to your plate that benefits someone other than you is always a worthwhile addition. I am absolutely convinced that the secret to having an amazing life is find as many ways to serve others as you can. Let's say YES. God is doing big things all around us. Look around out and find out what it is. And jump in.

Love wins. And it flows in both directions. My life is not all sunshine and rainbows. Yesterday was beyond hectic and stressful. But my joy isn't shaken by stress or grief or frustration. The more I love others, the more I am filled up with love. Sappy? Maybe. But it's proving to be true time and time again.