Tuesday, July 26

Talk About a Humbling Experience.

A week and a half ago, I was at one of my favorite ministry sites that we partner with. It's name is SOME. It is an acronym for So Others Might Eat. I love this site, I've blogged about it a couple of times before. Each time I go to SOME, I walk away having learned a new lesson. This past lesson was extremely humbling: let me explain.

I was sitting in the back of the dining room as we were beginning to serve breakfast, and I was talking to one of my leaders that week, Angela. We were just having a casual conversation, and I was thoroughly enjoying it. I really like Angela so the conversation was easy.

At one point, we began talking and commented on how well our students were doing at initiating and engaging the people at this kitchen in conversation. One of my goals for each week is to let my students walk away feeling comfortable engaging homeless men and women in conversation. As I saw one of the students walking up to a homeless man and having a discussion with him, I was really happy that this student got the ability to enjoy this conversation. As I realized I was happy, I also realized I knew nothing about this man that I wanted the student to be talking to.

Upon realizing that I knew nothing about this man, I had a flashback of some of the stories I have heard from the men and women I have encountered on the streets. I realized that I have talked to individuals who have become homeless by getting out of domestic abuse, bad luck or being laid off their job. I have also met individuals who have confessed to becoming homeless by admitting to murder, rape, theft, drunkenness and mental illness.

It struck me all of a sudden that I was just as likely to be encouraging this student to be initiating a conversation with a woman getting out of an abusive relationship as a murderer. My first reaction was, 'what am I thinking?' My second reaction was, 'what's the lesson I'm missing right now?'

All of a sudden, it hit me. We encourage these students to start conversations, because for some reason that I can't explain...when we serve the homeless, all of their other sins are erased. When someone is homeless, we don't know if they have committed rape in their past, stolen from a convenient store or just had bad luck and been kicked out of their job. All we know is that they are desperate and we are called to love them...so we do. In the oddest way, their homelessness brings a humanity to them where we don't judge them the way that we would if they 'ran in our social circles.' We instead see people who are desperate and meet their needs.

In the oddest way, I am convinced that this is what God does to us. When we as people approach his feet, He never sees us for the sins we have committed in the past. He doesn't inquire or look further into our past. He merely sees that in our brokenness we are desperate for love and he can provide that. So He does. He sees desperate people and meets their needs. Knowing that He gives us the opportunity to practice this unconditional love in a soup kitchen of all places is not only humbling, but also so encouraging. To say the least, rather than discouraging my students from talking to any stranger they may encounter in a kitchen, I will be advocating for them to initiate those conversations and hopefully learn the same way I am so fortunate to.

Tuesday, July 12


On the upper right hand corner of Ebenezer Coffehouses's sleeves for their coffee mugs are four letters: SFSG. One of the founders of Ebenezer's, Mark Batterson (MB) tells a story about how the coffeehouse came to be. The story is essentially a miraculous testament to the faithfulness of God, but very long and I won't get into the nitty gritty details. At one of the meetings when the property was being purchased, there was a certain individual present. This individual had criticized MB before about interweaving his faith with the coffeehouse. At the meeting, there was a compliment given about the new property, and because this individual was present, instead of MB giving the glory to God, he took the glory for himself and replied with 'thank you.' He was convicted afterwards and decided that from that point out, he would always give the glory to God, with the SFSG standing for 'So far, so God' on their coffee mugs as a visual reminder to that commitment.

In case the tone of this blog hasn't already successfully communicated where I'm at this summer, let me explain. This summer, I am being consistently reminded of how broken and unsuited I am for this job. I've been distracted easily. My health is reminding me I'm not physically prepared for this job. I'm tired. I feel like my groups have more to offer my spiritually than I have to offer them...the list of my flaws goes on.

On the flip side, as I feel like I'm slowly falling apart, I am continually being complimented and praised by everyone around me. My groups keep encouraging me. My family has gone above and beyond to support me. Tonight, two of my staff members read me a passage from the Bible and told me that they believe that God has used me in their lives this summer to speak wisdom to them. You get the picture. From my perspective, each of these groups could not be less accurate. Yet somehow, I continue to say 'thank you' everytime I get a compliment...despite being acutely aware of how much I do NOT deserve to take the glory.

At first, I was soaking up any compliments I had. It was almost as if I thought that each time I absorbed a compliment, it would work to hide a flaw I was aware I had...because the good always outweighs the bad, right? However, I hit my tipping point. I reached the point this summer where God made it abundantly clear how 'human' I really am. He has continually reminded me that I am flawed and He is God. Recently, I have begun to try and take the compliments I have received to spin into mini ways to praise God for using someone as broken as me to be able to deliver and share His love.

I'm not saying I'm perfect, or that I haven't slipped and said thank you as I have been complimented. All I'm saying is that each time I have received a compliment and in turn responded by saying how it was God used me has only served to testify how great He is to me. I consider myself to be a huge mistake-maker who is not aware of anything going on around me. So, when my staff complimented me tonight on my wisdom, and I turned it to the Lord, it only proved how great He is. I could never deliver the words they were speaking of from my brain. However, God can not only deliver them, He can deliver them through me...as broken beat down and unwise as I truly am. The fact that He can do that speaks so highly of His character and vast greatness that I (yet again), can't help but be in awe of Him. So, thanks God...you are good :)

Wednesday, July 6

God is God

Job 40 reads:
'The LORD said to Job, 'will he who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!'
Then Job answered the LORD, 'I am unworthy. How can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer. Twice, but I will say no more.'
Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. 'Brace yourself like a man, I will question YOU and YOU shall answer ME.'

Last night, I spent the fourth of July inside the church building by myself waiting for my group to get back. I elected to do it, but regardless, I was by myself. I went upstairs, called my Dad and cried that I was all alone. After he talked me off my ledge, I started crying and talking to God. Why was my first group so difficult? Why are their so many more obstacles this summer? Why am I so homesick? Why was last we so tough...can't I catch a break? Why is my asthma still bothering me? Why can't we have showers? Why are there cockroaches? Why do I feel a responsibility to take care of the staff...who is here to take care of me? Why am I so tired? Why do I have these rashes on my legs? Why did this week already start out with an issue? None of it is fair, last summer wasn't difficult, why is this summer so hard?

As I cried and felt so lonely, I went to look for a Bible to calm myself down. I couldn't find one. Who can't find a Bible in a church housing a Christian non-profit with 7 staff members living in the buliding? I can only credit it to divine intervention. Instead, I found a hymnal on the floor (I LOVE hymns) and found the hymn 'God Will Take Care of You' Although it's not directly scripture, I could not help by resonate with the lyrics:

'Be not dismayed whate'er betide. God will take care of you.
Beneath his wings of love abide. God will take care of you.
Through the days of toil, when heart doth fail. God will take care of you.
When dangers fierce your path asail. God will take care of you.
All you may need He will provide. God will take care of you.
Nothing you ask will be denied. God will take care of you.
No matter what may be the test. God will take care of you.
Lean, weary one upon His breast. God will take care of you.'

In the midst of exhaustion, knowing that God will take care of me sounded so simple. However, I think that when my life gets chaotic and difficulties accumulate, my vision gets so blurred that I forget my roots. When I get down to the bottom of everything, my answer is simple. God will take care of me, because God is God. It is so easy to play 'Job.' It's almost my natural default to look at God and say 'how could you?' In reality, my response to God should be 'because you're sovereign, I trust you. period' He's God. He has no need to explain himself. At the end of everyday, when I am alone, I am still resting in the presence of God, because despite my stubbornness and ignorance, He still loves me and spends all of His time with me. I found that it's only when I remember lyrics like the one above, which remind me that God has no intentions of hurting me that I find my rest. All of a sudden, all of my questions don't matter because I am walking alongside the Almighty God. He is a God of wrath, and a God of mery, but most importantly, He is a creator who has promised to protect His creation.

I never would have thought that a lonely fourth of July would be a blessing in disguise. It may have just been the only way that God could get my attention. No matter the reason, I am slowly being reminded this summer that my God is the God and that He loves me. I don't know why my summer has unfolded the way that it is. All I know is that my God is sovereign, and if He sees this summer as an acceptable way for me to be further refined into His image, I am ok with that, because my God will take care of me.

Monday, July 4

Back to the Basics

This past week, I joined my group for their devotion time almost every morning. On Friday, they read 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul talks to the characteristics of love. At the end, Josh (our group leader) challenged us. He said that each day, we are provided with 24 hours that we can use however we want. A lot of the time, we pour our efforts into things that will fade. He challenged us to think about what how we use our hours. Here is what I know:

My clothes will fade.
The outfits I put together will fade.
My blow-dryed hair will fade.
My make-up will fade.
My jewelry will fade.
My facebook will fade.
My computer will fade.
My music will fade.
My texts will fade.
My friends will fade.
My family will fade.
My cups of coffee will fade.
The people I serve will fade.
My 'me time' will fade.
My job will fade.
My books will fade.
My tv shows will fade.
The kis I love will fade.
My schoolwork will fade.
My travels will fade.
My knowledge will fade.

BUT...my God will stand.

There's something oddly refreshing in writing this list. Being a people-pleaser, it can be easy to go through my days stressed out as I try to make everyone and everything happy. However, knowing that at the end of the day, it's just me and just God is so relaxing. So thanks God :)

Friday, July 1


Today, my group (who is AWESOME) and I went to Central Union Mission. I always introduce Central Union Mission to my groups as the ministry site I would work at full-time if I was allotted the opportunity. It's the oldest homeless shelter in DC, and is a faith based organization, meaning that they raise all of their own funding. Today, while we were there, my group and I were given the luxury of being able to hear the testimony of one of the men working through Central Union Missions Spiritual Transformation Program. His story hit me enough that I wanted to write it all out before I get it. For the sake of confidentiality, I'll call him George. I'll try as hard as I can to get it as accurate as possible. If i see him again, I'll clarify the details and correct any mistakes I may make.

George was born a heroine addict because of his mother. Throughout his childhood, he was abused physically, sexually, mentally and spiritually. He didn't grow up knowing his mom, so he went through the social system and experienced a number of foster homes, all of which were negative experiences. Eventually, at 5 he was reconnected with his biological mother and she maintained her contact with him. The correct paperwork was processed and George was going to live with his mom. The night before he was supposed to be in her custody, she was murdered.

Because his father was a deadbeat, he (again), didn't have a place to go. His mom had left somewhat of an estate, so his aunts and uncles agreed to split the custody of George and his siblings if it meant they received the estate as well. George went to live with his aunt, his twin sister and another sister lived with another aunt, and his brother lived with his uncle. After the estate ran out, George was placed in a car with his aunt and a suitcase, where she drove him to Chicago, took him out of the car and placed him on a stoop, then drove away without telling him where he was. A woman eventually walked up the stoop, looked at him and told him that he looked like someone she knew. She ran inside, got a picture of his father, put it next to his face, and realized she was meeting her grandson for the first time.

George's grandmother took him in and took care of him. Unfortunately, she didn't know about the abuse he had experience in foster care and was not able to help him with his anger issues because she wasn't aware they existed. He started getting in trouble and eventually was no longer in her care. When he told this part of his story, the sadness in the tone of his voice could not be ignored.

George reconnected with his father and lived with him. There, his father beat him as well. George's father (at various times), broke his ribs, front arm, jaw and leg. George quit living with anyone at this point and began running drugs. He credits the anger that he had accumulated throughout his lifetime to being effective at this job. He described this position as 'the guy who collected the money.' He told us he weighed about 275 at this point and from what I could measure, he was about 5' 10". I can't imagine how jacked he was. During this time, he was still filled with his anger, and found fulfillment through claiming himself to be a Muslim.

During the time he was a drug runner, he made a pact with his two best friends. Their deal was that they would always watch out for each other, and that if anything were to happen, they would take care of each other's children. One of the other two in this pact with George was delivering food one night when a man approached him behind the back and shot him in the head killing him. George took in his son as his own. The other one of George's friends eventually went to jail, and when he was released he was murdered as well. George named his first born after this friend.

At that point, he decided that he needed to get out of the business he was in and took all the money he had so that he could enroll himself in Howard University. There, he majored in science and became a surgeon at George Washington Hospital. At George Washington, he eventually ended up performing surgery on Hilary Rodham Clinton's mom. One day, after he had taken care of the Clinton family, Bill Clinton approached George and asked him if he would consider joining homeland security. George only credits this to divine planning, because pretty soon he was working in homeland security.

After two months (which is impossible...unless God is on your side), George became a sargent. Effectively, he assumed the roll of being the last person prisoners encountered before they entered federal prisons. At this point, he will openly admit that he was violent...and he believes that it was this force that got him promoted so quickly, through being so effective.

One night, his best friend came over and sang him a song on a CD. George can't explain why to this day, but he broke down sobbing asking her about Jesus. He committed his life to Christ at that moment. As he began to explore the Bible, he began to learn compassion and let it leak into his job. He began to bring prisoners out for one last meal before he carted them to prison and he would let them sit down and watch their favorite movie in the car. His co-workers became angry with his change in heart, and George ended up being framed for attempting to steal weapons from homeland security.

His boss apologized, telling George he didn't believe he did it, but that all evidence pointed to him. George knew that contesting it would deplete his bank account and it would not get him his job back. He tried anyways, and in the process, as he lost his money, he ended up losing his wife and four children as well. George found himself homeless in DC with nowhere to go. As he hopped shelter to shelter he continued to pray. One day, he heard someone way Central Union Mission and he replied to nobody that if that was what God wanted, God had to show him the way. When he woke up the next morning, he asked the first person he saw if they knew the location of Central Union Mission and they gave him the cross streets. He entered, broke down at the front desk and started crying. They brought him to the prayer room where he knelt down and started sobbing.

When George finished praying, he stood up, turned around and asked if he could enter their Spiritual Transformation Program. They let him join, and since then, he has been doing their bible studies twice a day for the past five months. He's on track to graduate. I don't know if he will, and I won't be around to see him finish. I don't know what I have to learn from his story. All I know is that something about George's story stuck with me enough that I haven't been able to shake it off as I continued my day. At the very least, I feel like I'm supposed to write it down and hopefully keep this post as a reminder to myself to keep praying for George as I look back on this blog throughout the months I'm back at school :)

Sunday, June 26

"Your Follow Through Is Never Late"

When I'm in DC, I attend NCC (National Community Church). NCC is a multi-site church, scattered throughout the city. Their lead pastor is Mark Batterson, and most importantly...it owns a spectacular coffee shop. This summer, they are doing a 9 week series titled 'The God Anthology.' Their premise is that they are going to take 9 weeks exploring 9 different characteristics of God. So far, we have covered 'mystery,' 'holiness,' 'faithfulness,' and 'wrath.' Each week has been spectacular. For every sermon, they have had one of their worship leaders write a song describing that particular trait of God. I've loved each week.

To coordinate their messages and the worship songs, NCC put up a website (www.godanthology.com) where you can go and listen to the sermons as well as the songs they are writing. The songs have been posted before the sermons are preached on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

Because I'm impatient, the first week I found out that NCC was publishing the songs on this new website, I got home, looked them all up and listened to them. I loved the 'mystery' song, because I had just heard it at church, but when I tried listening to the rest of them, I didn't really 'get' them. I heard them, but they just sounded like songs and I didn't necessarily like any of them.

The next week, Pastor Mark preached on holiness and I LOVED the song. When I got home, I (again) went onto the website, and listened to the song they had posted...just to make sure it was the same song I had tried listening to 7 days ago and decided I didn't like. Sure enough...it was the exact same song. Surprisingly, the same thing happened the next week at church during the 'faithfulness' sermon and song.

I couldn't figure out why I all of a sudden enjoyed these songs...when a mere week before I was less than impressed with them. One morning, I was doing my devotions, and decided to include the song from the faithfulness sermon into my devotion time. I wanted to listen to and absorb those words before my day started. In the chorus to this song, they sing the line 'your follow through is never late.'

I couldn't help but realize that this line implies that God's follow through is never early either...his timing is perfect. When He wants us to learn and see...we will. But, we will never be able to see or learn on our own. Ironically, He was teaching me this lesson through these sermons and their matching songs. I wanted to learn this songs and the lessons they brought with them so badly that I wasn't willing to space them out when I found the God Anthology website. I tried listening to each song in a row, and got frustrated when I didn't learn about God's holiness, faithfulness and wrath through these songs in a mere 3 minutes each.

The reason I couldn't learn each lesson through these songs when I wanted to was because I was doing it on my time...not God's. Because it was on my time and rushed...I couldn't hear the words fully and learn them. However, as I'm now patiently waiting and going to each sermon once a week, then singing the songs as a reflection of the sermon I just heard...the songs are filled with meaning. And, as I sing each of them as an act of worship, I'm falling in love with every song. It wasn't that I'm not supposed to love these songs...it's that I'm supposed to love them on God's timing, and as He reveals himself to me on His schedule, I will love each song...because God's follow through is never late :)

Thursday, June 23

Lessons From an 8th Grader

This morning, my group served at Food and Friends. For the afternoon, we were scheduled to be downtown as they do the Urban Plunge. There was an awkward amount of time between Food and Friends and the Urban Plunge, so I decided to quickly bring my group over to the National Cathedral. I knew we would only have about 20 minutes at the Cathedral...but I think it is absolutely breathtaking and really wanted my group to be able to experience it.

When we got there, I pulled my group aside and explained to them that they were going to have to be focused and quiet. This may sound like a small request, but for this group in particular, I may as well have asked them to climb Mount Everest...because it would have been easier for them. They are mostly middle school kids and they are exceptionally chatty.

To my surprise, when we walked into the cathedral to tour it, they were absolutely silent. When we entered the main cathedral (there's multiple cathedrals within the one building), they all started booking it to the front, silently...while a service was in session. I wanted to kill them. Fortunately, because there was a service in session, I had to be silent and my only choice was to follow them. As I followed them, they all abruptly stopped in front of a small prayer room. They got into a single file line and they entered into the prayer room, knelt down and started praying. I was so blown away, I was speechless...which is quite a large fete. They slowly and quietly rose from the altar they had been praying at and regrouped. Except Jacob. The rest of them waited, but after a couple minutes had passed, they eventually left and I stayed outside the prayer room waiting for Jacob. I also sniped the picture of him that is in this post :) When Jacob was done, he rose, walked past me and out of the prayer room where we went to go meet up with the rest of the group.

The part that blew me away was that this week, Jacob has shown himself to be the leader of the pack. He is frequently making decisions for the rest of the group, and when Jacob talks, the rest of the group always listens. To watch a leader ignore the presence of his peers as he entered into prayer absolutely blew me away. Jacob's concern, as a 13 year old boy was to kneel before God in the middle of his day and to pray before him. I don't know what he prayed for, I didn't pry. I just know that he acknowledged the presence of God when a situation was presented to him...and that is a lesson I can definitely afford to learn from the example Jacob set for me.

Needless to say, even though the Cathedral was a bit out of the way on our quest to the Urban Plunge...it was well worth my time :)