It’s the Little Things that Make a Big Difference

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After a discussion in the Broken Hearts office today, I thought the underlying topic would be helpful to share. Because we (BH, ministries, community development organizations) highlight the importance of relationship incessantly. Yet I’m sure many people see homelessness or drug addiction and think, “Really? Relationship is gonna fix that? How?”

It’s really hard to convince people that relationship (particularly when based from relationship with Jesus) has more impact than handing out food or giving someone money or housing alone.

Probably because transformational relationships take time and persistence for which most people don’t have the patience. Or because the breakdown of relationship at all levels as the foundation for these lifestyle problems hasn’t been understood.

So there’s a man we’ll call “Sean” who comes to the drop-in center a few times a week for classes and to meet with his case manager (who has been working with “Sean” for quite some time to convince  him to get into transitional housing).

Sean has taken to visiting me weekly to chit chat and watch music videos of old R&B and soul artists. Sean has mental illness and therefore isn’t the easiest to hold conversations with, as he operates at a much younger age than his actual.

Today his case manager shared with me his refusal to get assistance with something he needs to do and said, “Who knows, maybe you can convince him.” Then we talked about his difficult with performing normal things necessary for taking care of ourselves. Doing laundry, taking public transportation.

Someone walking or driving past Sean, without knowing anything about him, might just see homelessness and think “lazy”, “strange”, or “get a job”. But Sean can’t get a job. Sean isn’t lazy, he’s like a 7 year old trying to navigate a grown-up world alone, with mental illness that keeps him from remembering exactly how to do laundry.

So what does this have to do with relationship? His case manager went on to tell me about the times he gave him a food gift certificate, but Sean wouldn’t brave ordering food unless someone was with him. He’s never done laundry unless his case manager was helping him. He can’t get on a bus without someone by his side. 019

I’m passionate about getting the Church connected with people in these situations to simply be their friends. Why?  A friend can make the difference between Sean staying healthy, accomplishing errands, and having a home. All he needs is someone to be there and help him. Without that, he would have remained on the street. Without ongoing relationship, he could go back. And from a Christian perspective, friends who can help fill in gaps of broken relationships and lead him to the ultimate relationship (with God) can transform his life.

Sean has found friends at the drop-in center, people who dance, watch music videos, order Subway, and decorate t-shirts together. Add a few resources and that’s all it takes.

Not that hard, right??

Can That Kind of Faith Save Anyone?

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For typical small groups, 1.5 hours is an entire night of worship, bible study and prayer. Last night at Broken Hearts we spent that amount of time just sharing updates, and praying for each other as people on the street kept joining us. Normally this process is only about the first 30 minutes of our night, so that we have time to wander the street meeting people and inviting them to the Refuge bible study.

So just before  it was time to start the study, Antquan split people into groups of two to share and discuss their favorite verse before we got pizza.

“Can a few of us still go walk down the street to invite people?” I asked, concerned we’d miss out on others joining us.

“Um, no, probably not tonight…{pause, seeing the unchanging look on my face}….is that okay?”

“No.”

So he and I walked down the street while we waited for the pizza to be ready. We never made it to the end of the block to the donut shop where everyone hangs out. The first person that crossed our path was a young hispanic guy walking quickly and keeping his eyes fixed on the ground.

“Hey man, how are you doin’ tonight?…Wanted to invite you to this service we have down the street called the Refuge….” Antquan got his attention, beginning to explain what the heck we were doing there.

The look on his face said, Not gonna happen, and why are you talking to me? while his mouth said, “I’m not really religious.” I expected the common, “thanks, but no thanks” kind of response and for him to continue down the street.

But he kept talking with us, and it was only minutes before we knew that he was homeless, recently out of jail, no family around, has been totally neglected and therefore often wants to end his life, seeing no point to it and bombarded with watching evil take place all around him. Hopeless would be a nice way of describing him.

Fast forward to Bible study where the groups designated earlier shared their discussions and reaosns for favorite Bible verses. Stories about what God has stopped them from doing (everything up to and including murder), how he gave joy and beauty instead of mourning and ashes, how a Psalm can create an uplifted spirit. Antquan concluded by tying them all together and giving a clear gospel presentation. IMG_6091

Earlier in talking to our new friend “Arnold”, I had thought of our friend Raul who has a very similar past yet found God in a transitional program after years in jail, and it drastically changed him. I was hoping the two of them could talk at some point that night, because Raul has a passion to help young guys in similar situations.

 

In the midst of the study, I watched Raul notice “Arnold” and go sit by him and start talking. At the end of the study and prayer, Gemma joined them. A few minutes later I joined them as well to see how things were going, as Gemma asked, “So how are you feeling after what Antquan shared?”

“Overwhelmed,” he replied.He said he feels like something is stopping him from really accepting Jesus. We talked more about that, about his past making him feel unworthy, about God’s acceptance. “I’m open to learning, I want to know more…I don’t want to get kicked out of a church….And you guys are giving me all this attention and I’m just probably gonna go slack off…it makes me at least want to try and do better though…”

We were all able to agree that God had brought us into contact that night for a reason. It was no mistake, He was speaking to Arnold.

I just “happened” to have all kinds of resources in my car that I don’t usually – a package of treats with a message about not being alone when you have community that a lady from church had made for me to give to people, info about our laundry service the next week, and a non-cheesy tract my dad had randomly sent me a while back to use on the street. I never hand out tracts, but in this moment it seemed to fit, summarizing all Antquan had just shared and giving Arnold somewhere to start on his exploration of God. I also gave him info about church, so by the time we left there was just about no way he couldn’t find us or get help.

There are a lot of fronts on the street, people broken but acting all pulled together and never quite surrendering to Christ. It had been a while since I’d seen someone in this fresh state, out of jail, depressed, and responding to attention and hope in such a significant way.

That’s what the Church exists for. That’s why it makes complete sense to hang out in a parking lot at 1am.

Wrapped up in his feelings of being overwhelmed was one of his most profound responses:

“I’m just not used to so much positivity.”

After he explained a bit more about negativity and hard things in life, I asked, “So you’re not used to  hearing positive things like were shared earlier?”

“No, I hear a lot of that….I just never see people doing anything good.”

While I don’t know everything about Arnold or exactly what was happening in his head and heart last night, I think I could safely hypothesize this from our interaction:

Arnold has heard about Jesus, he’s attended church, he’s heard positive messages. What’s  been missing is seeing anyone actually do anything, acting in a away that demonstrates the reality of that good news. It’s quite possible that the message could have been about anything that night, but what rocked Arnold’s world was being actively pursued and loved in conjunction with the gospel message.

Broken Hearts has no superhumans or perfect Christians. I didn’t want to go out that night. I would have preferred to go to sleep at a decent hour, not at 3:45 in the morning. Antquan didn’t do much more in our initial conversation than ask thought-provoking questions and invite a guy to sit and eat some pizza, and he didn’t speak the most epic sermon ever.

We can all make that choice to go in obedience to do what God wants from us, remembering that there is a dying world that not only needs to hear about the hope and joy of Jesus, but to see Him.

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?” – James 2: 14

How Harry Potter and MC Escher are Helping me Cope with Change

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I’m a bit bi-polar when it comes to coping with change. Changing my hair style, trying new restaurants, taking on new projects, learning something new to break up monotony, wearing different nail polish colors, I love that kind of change. It keeps life interesting for me.

But when it comes to shifts in the foundations of my life which I’ve  worked towards and embraced, I do not adapt well. Most often because those changes are forced on me, not something I’ve painstakingly concluded are the best fit for me.

Currently that looks like changes at church, friends moving away, multiple people getting married and having babies, a roommate leaving, social life, and possbily returning to school and changing roles in ministry. Everything is in the air and the feeling is crippling.

This weekend the pastor at One Church Int’l prophesied about it being a season of shaking so that the unshakeable will remain; a time that foundations are shifting and God is setting us on new foundations that feel fluid and awkward, but it’s because God is growing us and we just have to trust him. He said that it’s not a time to feel depression due to lack of clarity. That one hit me hard because it spoke to exactly what I was feeling days before.

I mentally referred back to a few weeks ago when I was praying about some of the upcoming changes (before it even felt so intense) and a picture came to mind from the movie Harry Potter. In their massive school, the staircases will occasionally shift around – even while people are walking on them – so that their direction changes and they have to find a different route. They still do their job as staircases and get people from one point to the next, but in the shift people can end up in different places than they planned on.

I realized that’s what was happening in my church (and the more I thought about it, my whole life). The original path (the staircases) that  worked so well and made sense are now repositioning. The in-between is scary and we have no idea where we’ll land. But my sense in praying was that wherever the “staircases” land would be the best possible place for them to be in that time. It would look different, yes, but not in a bad way. Just different..maybe even better for that season.

Trust was built in that moment of prayer, choosing to believe that God knows where the “staircases” will land, and that the end result will be good.

Saturday I was at a Red Robin in San Diego and looked up on a wall covered with photos and art, and noticed an M.C. Escher drawing. Escher’s work was one of my favorite things to learn about in high school math, the way the art defies rationale and shows so many perspectives that don’t seem to make sense, yet do.

It, too, was a picture of staircases. In looking at it, it doesn’t make sense that the people can all be walking is such different directions in the same room/house and  not be falling over. But they’re all right side up and it somehow works…even though it doesn’t really make sense.

When I noticed the art in the midst of a group of people in that moment of eating fries, I felt God speak to me again. Change doesn’t always make sense, and it can be a bit scary. Yet somehow, it all ends up working just the way it’s supposed to. Even when you feel upside down, you can be right-side up.

All it requires is believing that God knows how it’s going to work, so I don’t have to.