Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Learning to See the Big Picture

A single mom with three children and a two-week old grandbaby in the house came to see me recently. She was two months behind on rent and certain to face eviction. She had no job, no income, and nothing in the hopper on the jobs front. Understandably, all she was concerned about was getting her rent paid.

But our commitment at Grace and in Glenwood Family Ministries is to give greater help than mere band-aids. Paying her rent would ease the pressure for a moment, but then what? We had met a week prior, and I had given her a list of things to do, 3/4 of which were “big picture” items dealing with finding work, spiritual health, and giving back to the community. She returned having focused only on the 1/4 of finding someone to pay her rent and had come up empty even on that.

I found myself very frustrated with her. By ignoring the other parts of the list, she was no closer to long-term health than she was before, and now I felt pressured to help with this short-term need AND with the long-term aid as well. She had been a Certified Nursing Assistant and needed to renew her license by taking a class. The class and rent together would cost over $700, not a small chunk of change.

But we have been involved with her and her children for over 8 years, and I got the sense, through wise counsel, that we needed to help both with the short and long-term issues, and so I told her we were going to pay for both.

She began to weep and sob with thanks and relief, and part of me hated that I hadn’t just done this a week ago when we had first met, sparing her the worry that she had been through. I said to her, “There’s a bigger picture to your life.You are more than just your immediate physical needs.”

She looked at me through her tears and said, “Am I? AM I? Every day is such a struggle, and I can’t see beyond what needs to happen right now. I can’t see anything BUT needs.”

I think it was a “light bulb moment” for us both. She realized that she needed more help than simply rent payment. I realized that  the poor aren’t choosing to ignore the big picture – many times they have no idea that it exists. My role in helping them, truly helping, is handling the short-term need which can free them to see the long-term goal.

I had her spend some time thinking about different areas of her life, where she wanted to go and how she would get there. I learned she dreamed of opening her own restaurant someday. And I think that she felt truly cared for, truly helped. She started CNA  classes last week and attended a church near her home. She called to volunteer with our tutoring program. She was taking steps towards seeing the big picture. This is part of  how we break cycles in families,  changing generations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Power of Staying Put

The text came in the middle of a Wednesday night meeting.

“Marshall, can you call me? Steve* is here and needs a place to stay by Friday.”

Diane and I hadn’t seen Steve in at least 4 years; he had bounced in and out of our tutoring program in its early years, and like many of the kids that we have worked with, he drifted out of our lives. He was always a polite, friendly kid, and now he was back, 22 years old, homeless, jobless, and the father of an infant daughter in another state. I talked with him briefly on the phone, told him to stay put (Diane was fixing him some dinner), and was soon home hearing his story.

After telling me all that had happened, he said, “I knew that if I came to y’all’s house I could find some good people who could help me.” That’s a good reputation to have, I think, for my family to be known as good people who are willing to help. Steve knew that even after years gone by, he could come to our home and be received with love and care.

To me, that’s the power of staying put when working with the urban poor. This is a transient population, people moving from house to house, chased by bills and job loss and just being stuck in generational poverty. We can’t chase every kid, every family, but we can make it easy for us to be found. Even as Glenwood changes around us, there’s great value of staying anchored on the corner of Silver Avenue.

* name has been changed

Epilogue: Steve stayed with us for two nights, and then a friend was able to get him placed in a home for young men until January, giving him time to find a job and find a new place to stay.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Gentleness, Humility, and Rest

The other night Diane was  sharing about a painful time in one of her friendships and my heart was so sad for her. But instead of simply being sad, I became angry. Angry that someone was hurting my wife, albeit unintentionally, and from my anger  came justification and self-righteousness. I began to point out the things that were wrong with this person, things that were not based on truth but on my own suppositions and pain. And at the end of that conversation, I didn’t feel any better. I felt right – justified – in my anger, but I  didn’t feel free. I felt burdened, heavy, out of sync.

Yesterday at church God led me to pray and repent of that. He reminded me that He had not called me to judge or speak envious words but rather words that blessed and built up others. And then this morning He brought to mind Matthew 11:28-30, especially, “Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If there was anyone who had the right to be righteous, anyone who had the right to judge, it was Jesus. If there was anyone who could trumpet His own goodness and win the comparison game every time, it was Jesus. And yet the way of Christ is to be gentle and humble in heart. And I noted that this gentleness and humility was given as an antidote to weariness and being burdened.

It’s hard work justifying myself. It’s hard work being envious and self-righteous. And it’s counter to the Spirit of Christ that lives in me, and so when I insist in getting my own way and in handling my pain myself, the result is a weary burden.

Thankfully God deals gently with me when I walk in this sin of self-righteousness, and as I receive that gentle word, I am able to pass that on to others. I can be comfortable with sadness and do what Matthew 11:28 tells me – Come to Jesus. And He will be my rest.