“Broken Hallelujah”

Since the holidays passed just as quickly as they always do and we are well into a new year, I have had a lot on my mind. And guess what, since this is my blog, I realized I can write about that if I want to!

When I set out to come here to New Mexico about a year and a half ago I had a ministry of presence laid on my heart. Through all of the tasks that I undertake on a daily basis, my days don’t feel complete unless I’ve gotten time to sit down with our residents or other clients and just talk. This can mean heating up some tea or hot cider and just chatting about little things to the ladies or listening while they ask for advice or vent about their day. Sometimes it’s about mediating heated disagreements. One of my favorites has become laughing and goofing around as we sort out donations together. One resident that sticks out in my mind we accepted into our program not long after I first arrived here in New Mexico. She would become angry very easily, set off by little things that triggered her past traumas. One incident with very “fortunate timing” because in women’s group we had just spoken about learning how to ask for help when we needed after which, I made it clear that I was willing to be there should anyone decide that they wanted to confide in me. This woman came to me in one of her angry moments and she talked. I listened. Her thoughts went high and low, from here to there, and everywhere in between. Many times not making sense. As she relived a horrifying sexual abuse situation she ended her recount with, “It was disgusting, Elaine, it’s disgusting what people do to each other”. Those words echoed in the silent space that lingered between us. I had no words of advice for her. The typical, “It will all be ok” sounded hollow and meaningless in my head. So we just sat. Her stories soon got less angry and more everyday. Soon, we were laughing again.

It’s easy for you all to imagine that I love tea time and telling jokes. But, I also treasure those time of vulnerability that show a whole new beauty of a person. I appreciate the times when some feels that they can show emotions that are not typically seen as socially acceptable. There’s beauty in a broken heart finding rest, hope, and resilience by one’s own decision, breaking free from a long oppressed hole that another person stuffed them into.

Why I wanted to tell this story is to expand on something I mentioned in my last post. I added in that I dislike that a lot of times we have to compare our situation to someone less fortunate to feel better about ourselves. I firmly believe that feeling content in our lives and current situations is something we need to work out between you and God. We don’t need to feel sorry for other people in whatever situation they are in. I’m trying to work out in my mind, how can we figure out how to help them instead of using their situation to lift ourselves up.

What comes to mind is the many discussions that I have had with my missionary class about serving in ministry with and not for. Those we serve with aren’t intended to be an example or a charity case. They are brothers and sisters that we serve along side.

It took me a long time to realize that I can’t do anything for our clients. I can’t change their past, I can’t alter their current situation, and I can’t shape a future for them. But, I can be there to listen when they need time to vent or just talk. Sometimes the words I offer in response will have no depth or great impact whatsoever, but I can still be there and be present. And through all the heartbreak sometimes all I can do is offer up a “Broken Hallelujah” for those I serve with as well as for myself.

I’ve included the some of the lyrics to this song, “Broken Hallelujah” by The Afters that have been helping me get through the last couple weeks as I wrestle with some of these thoughts:

I try to find the words to pray.
I don’t always know what to say,
But You’re the one that can hear my heart.

Even though I don’t know what your plan is,
I know You’re making beauty from these ashes.

I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain.
On my knees, I call Your name.
Here’s my broken hallelujah.

With nothing left to hold onto,
I raise these empty hands to You.
Here’s my broken hallelujah.

Blessings to you in your daily mission field as we serve in ministry with.

Until next time.

 

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Not Another Holiday Blog

As I watched the one station that comes in over my antenna the other night I was baffled by the ads dancing across the screen almost slapping viewers in the face with the idea that the high end, latest and greatest, technology gifts were the only gifts acceptable to be given this season. Now, please don’t stop reading now because this is not another blog complaining about our turning Christmas into another consumer based holiday, that is another discussion for another day. This is actually about living a simple life as a whole. This idea has been very stuck in my mind since our YAMS training over a year ago, but it has been very prevalent in my mind recently in the last month or so. I want to make a confession to you all to put some of this in context.

As I stared into my closet and slammed drawer after drawer one morning I was entirely convinced that I had NOTHING to wear and I was going to be late for work and it was not my fault because pickings in my closet were so slim. First world problem, right? I still looked down at my puppy, who wondered what I was doing, and envied her furry coat which looks adorable everyday, even when her mommy messes up when giving her a home haircut. Anyway, this isn’t a new occurrence in my morning routine. I tend to take what I will cloth myself with each day way too seriously.  For example, if I find a shirt I like a lot, odds are I have it in more than one color, and on and on, you all don’t need to know the gory details. Now, not long after this one day, however, I stumbled across my training notebook. And when I say stumbled I mean it was only what I can imagine was God giving me a pat on the head and a shove in the right direction. This notebook has all the notes from all of our training sessions and quotes that were particularly meaningful to me personally. I happened to turn to a page titled: Spiritual Practices. And guess what was on this page? That’s right, Simplicity was neatly printed about halfway down the page. The bullets to follow read like this:

  • buy things for usefulness, not status
  • eliminate addictive substances
  • develop a habit of giving things away
  • develop an appreciation for creation
  • reject things that continue the oppression of others

As I sighed to myself and shook my head, I knew that this was a battle within myself that I was finally ready to tackle.  This will continue to be an ongoing battle, mind you, but this is where I started. I began to think, not only do I have enough clothes to wear to work every week, but I have enough come home and change into to go for a run and then I have clothes to put on to go to church, to see friends, and still enough left over for pajamas. And after all that I still have enough to sit in my drawers and hang unused in my closet. So, that night, my puppy and I spent that night cleaning out my drawers and closet and digging way back into the storage areas of my closet. I easily cut my selection in half and have done two more clean outs since this night two months ago. And guess what, I don’t miss a single piece of clothing that I have given away.

Examining this issue gave me the guts to reevaluate how I buy and consume food as well as the multiple other areas my stipend is spread out across. The other thing I examined wasn’t money related, but how I was spending my free time, who and what I was investing it in. There are a lot of areas of my life that can use improvement. The saying, “there’s starving kids somewhere” came to my  mind. Isn’t it sad that we have to compare our mistakes to others needs in order to put our life in perspective?

OK, so now that I’ve told you all this we can move on to, “so, what’s your point?”. Well, while I was doing some mindless internet cruising the other night I saw a quote that I loved. It was, “Jesus came here to serve and not to be served.” This is a beautiful concept to me. As Christians it should be our goal to be like Christ, and He came here to serve. So, what is it that we can eliminate in our lives to create simplicity and to create less of a gap between what we want and what we are called to do. It’s funny that I don’t hear as much discussion about the difference between want and need anymore, because it seems like now wanting something is enough validation for getting  or doing something. I have a good friend who will call me out when were shopping, “do you need that?” You know only good friends can say that without feeling like they have to get out of swinging range. We need to be accountable and be able to be held accountable. Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard and not feel sorry for others, but to start serving others.

Guess what? After only a few months I already feel more free or…liberated? Something a long those lines. I’m less bound by worrying about what others think of me and knowing that I’m getting better at possessing what I need and not what I want. I feel the freedom to spend my free time in a way that is more relaxing and replenishing to my spirit. And most importantly I feel like I have stared to declutter my mind and my life from the the meaningless things that stand in my way from hearing what my Father thinks of me and what He expects from me. He has plans for me and it’s more important to me to hear them and follow them than to collect clothing that others could be wearing, wasting food that others need so badly, or spending the time on silly things that could be better used. 

Now, back to Christmas. What a wonderful time to start this practice! This Christmas, perhaps we can simplify. No need to go into debt to show each other that we care about each other. Allow yourself to spend time investing in others, to celebrate the holiday for what it is, the greatest gift to man. A child who came here to serve, not be served. I pray for a season where we can invest in others and allow them to invest in us. Merry Christmas friends, let us worship and rejoice together, near and far.

 

Matthew 6:25-“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ?”

 

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The Domestic Violence Atmosphere

So much time has elapsed since my last post and I am trying to think of excuses of why I haven’t written.  However, all of my excuses escape me right now. I wanted to make sure that I post at least once in October as it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Even though I am immersed in a “domestic violence atmosphere”, as I will call it since I lack any better way to say it, I struggle with what exactly to discuss. Should I write something fluffy or should I write the truth? Truth it is.

So, let me tell you this, I have had a many conversations in the last year that shake me to the very core. They tear at my heart and evoke levels of empathy I never thought I could feel. I have heard stories of rape that are committed by both strangers and family members. I have learned of horrendous violence that once taken out on the mother, will continue onto the children who know no different nor are they able to protect themselves. I am painfully aware that forced use of drugs and alcohol will allow for greater control by the abuser. These individuals have an intense fear and shame that comes out of feeling that they cannot ask for help. All of these things and more have happened to victims that I have been in contact with.

Now, let me tell you, I have no children, so I have never so intensely experienced the feelings that come when you are so deeply invested in another a person or that you care for them so genuinely that their pain becomes your pain. At least not until I began working with the women and children here. There is a handful of women and their children here at any given time that I interact with on a daily basis. Their joys become my joys and their sorrow becomes my sorrow. And it’s difficult. I would be foolish to think that anyone would believe me when I say that it’s not always easy to hop out of bed every morning. There are days that hiding in bed sounds a lot better. But, the beauty of serving a gracious, loving God with a good sense of humor is that those are the days that I am caught off guard by someone’s joke that make me smile when I think I’m too busy. There are days when a child hands me the littlest, most delicate flower I think I have ever seen with immense pride.  There are days when we all gather for Women’s Group and I see teamwork forming around the laughter and conversation that comes from being in each other’s company.  I love it when a small child’s hug around my legs only gets tighter when lifted up and they can finally reach my neck. I continually promise myself that difficulty and discouragement will not cloud my mind when I feel His nudge to take a break and play with the kids that tug on my hand or to answer their curious questions, or to sit and talk about nothing in particular with a resident, or even to share a meal with some who needs it and to allow time to linger over the table for more discussion. Every day I have remind myself that these are the things that matter. These are the things that matter to the God I know. His precious children, every one of them, mean everything to Him and that’s exactly where I want to store up my treasures.

I have spent most of this post using words like “their” and “they” and I hate that. This is not a nameless group of people I am talking about. These are real life stories of individuals that happened to have crossed paths with me at the same place in time. Each story carries its own unique sound of beauty, resilience, and triumph. No one story is the same. And the privilege to work with “them” and know “their” stories is something that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I can’t begin to tell you what a big need there is for this shelter not only in this town but in the whole county. Now, like many other nonprofits as well as a majority of the United States we have fallen on hard times. To continue to serve our clients as we do currently we will need additional funds. These funds would allow us to provide transportation to our clients and their children, to keep the homes running with heat and electricity, repair additional homes so they are in working order and can house additional families, as well as continue to have a functioning staff. We also offer a unique 1 year transitional program that is very different from the 3 month long crisis shelters. The additional time allows our clients to find jobs, save money, go back to school, gain custody of their children, go through court cases, and as the list goes on their ability to gain independence grows larger and larger. If you feel in any way as if you want to join with us and our ministry please, please contact me. I know in my heart that we have vital resources to offer to our community and that our presence is needed here.

Until next time, friends. Blessings to you in your daily mission fields.

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“What you are before God, that you are and nothing more.”

This past week, like many of you I’m sure, I was glued to the TV to see the unfoldings of the tragic news from Boston. Since most of my week involved working with our tea project, I was able to have the news on in the background. Now, this is not a post about those occurrences, because let’s be honest, I know relatively little about the event. Only the news stories that spun on every news station, which cannot lead me to claim any knowledge whatsoever. My personal ties to Boston are also very few, although I do feel a connection to my fellow runners. What the events in Boston have to do with this post is that they have been a push for me to travel a path that I have long been destined to explore. 

While watching the events, again, as I’m sure many of you were, I found myself praying for those affected by the bombings. I suddenly felt convicted to pray for those responsible for the bombings. After I did as much of a double take as you can while you’re praying, I stopped to ask, “why?” I received the response of, “Because, they are still Mine.”

Now, in addition to this, as a single gal I have also recently felt convicted to examine what it means to have the kind of relationships that God intends for us to have, with not only a significant other, but with people in general. This includes family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, strangers, etc. But most importantly, how to seek God out to have the kind of  fulfilling relationship we all crave with our creator. Through a series of fortunate events I have come to be reading a book on the life and love philosophies of St. Francis. After only a few hours I have made it about half way through the book and I am already completely floored by what I have been learning.

In Daniel P. Horan’s book he states, “although the times have significantly changed…the human condition remains strikingly unchanged. Our human brokenness and sin continues to affect our outlook and daily encounters, but that intrinsic capacity to desire and know God remains.” How true is it that we seek companionship and fulfillment not only from other people and hollow things, but now also from hoping for connectedness through social media and impersonal interactions. More and more things are being added to our lives daily that only make me feel more and more alone. In all transparency what I have been seeking is an explanation of worth and purpose. It’s somehow easier to get lost in a world that claims to all be connected. Although logically, I know where to find what I need, I have not known with such deep conviction as I have lately while beginning this recent journey. It has been difficult to express my jumbled feelings lately into words but one of my favorite things that Horan says in his book is, “…we usually don’t know what we want—at least not at first.” And I love that. It’s such a simple statement, but so profound at the same time.

I know what I want, an even deeper relationship with my Creator. I don’t want to get one kind of fulfillment from Him, seek another with a friend, seek another at work, seek another from Facebook, and so on. “We must communicate our whole selves to our Creator.” Through this kind of relationship we have, “the potential to turn our whole life into a living prayer.” What a beautiful concept. This kind of relationship also has the potential to give us a whole new confidence in ourselves that no other can give. Compliments and pats on the back soon fade and lack meaning, but God’s very cause for our creation gives us a whole new understanding of purpose and value. God doesn’t love us because we are human, “God’s plan for my existence centered on me, just as God’s plan for bringing you into the world centered on you.” We have worth in us simply because God desired us to be in the world. We are, “unique, irreplaceable, unrepeatable, and individually loved by God.” Now, if we can take faith in the fact that God loves us so incredibly much to put so much individual effort into our creation, then we must take comfort and truth in knowing that He wants to continue to know us deeply and intimately. Another line that I love from Horan is that we are, “individually loved into existence.” Horan goes on to explain that without knowing this raw truth of our creator, “what can we bring of ourselves to the relationships?” If we don’t know who we are, who’s we are, and why we are, then how can we share ourselves with another?

Now, however long it takes someone to come to terms with the depths of ourCreator’s love for us, we can then move on to explore, how selfish and misguided we could be to think that God would not love another just as much? The recent events I discussed at the start of my post were like a smack in the face. How could I disregard my own personal mission statement? I wanted to be a part of the work that I do exactly because I want others to know the profound love that can be found through a relationship with Christ. How could this be that I could be so stunned to think this really did mean everyone. When spiritual gifts were being handed out, “judge” was not amongst mine. But mercy and empathy were. And I need to continue to practice them.

“No one is, at the most basic and human level, better or worse than another. Every life is sacred. It is only in embracing that image of ourselves and others that we are able to in turn embrace God.”

Life occurs everyday, from the earth shattering and devastating events that call for all media coverage to the little things that some don’t even see as worth gossiping about. But, in embracing who we are in Christ and what others are to God we can learn to connect with others and God on a whole new substantial level.

Seek comfort in knowing your value lies in your very creation, friends. “What you are before God, that you are and nothing more.” -St. Francis

Blessings to all of you in your daily mission fields. Until next time.

*All quotes came from Dating God: Live and Love in the way of St. Francis by Daniel P. Horan.

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New beginnings at New Beginnings

So, in my last entry I said that it would be my last post for 2012. Who knew it would take me so long into 2013 to write again!

Things have been moving right along here at New Beginnings. This year we have already had a few new residents come into the program as well as some families receiving housing of their own. It’s a very exciting thing to see families achieve their goals after knowing they have worked so hard to do so.

I have officially taken over the Thursday night’s Women’s group and although we are few right now, we are fierce. I have chosen to use NOOMA videos by Rob Bell. They are fabulous  10 minute videos that spark a lot of unique and, often times, much need conversation amongst the women and I. I have also connected with through email with a generous soul who teaches art journaling with her Bible studies. She has been passing on some of her curriculum and techniques that pair so well with the videos. So far our discussions have been on both, why God allows us to feel pain and what kind of romantic relationships God hopes for us to have. Both are very difficult topics to discuss within a domestic violence shelter, but during the last couple weeks it’s seemed like a weight has been lifted amongst the women’s group and everyone has been very open to sharing stories and how they feel about that weeks topic as well as discussing the information presented in the video. Everyone brings such different ideas and perspectives to the table that I think we could just talk for hours. Thursday nights are by far my favorite time of the week.

I have been assigned multiple other projects as well. I will be sending photos of the grounds and some of the women and children into the UMW’s national office, which I am excited to get back into photography again, as well as being able to get some of the families pictures of their children.

We are also starting a Greenthread tea project that will be a micro enterprise for our shelter as well as a source of job training and experience for the women of the shelter. It is also known as Navajo tea or Native tea. It’s mad using the stem, leaves, and flowers of a plant found naturally in the area.  I have been asked to start designing the labels and I am very excited to show the staff my ideas and be involved in this project in multiple aspects and can’t wait to see it take off.

On Valentine’s Day we celebrated and stood up to violence against women with other organizations in our area by attending a dance event that ended with the official “V-day” dance that women all over the world were learning and participating in that day to show unity against violence against women. I have met so many women this year who have been abused and mistreated. Their stories break my heart, but seeing their continued beauty and resilience made this Valentine’s day so important and special to me to be able to attend an event where we joined our voices with others all over the world to end the violence.Image

Photo by Ron Lashley

Image Photo by Ron Lashley

Things are happening here at New Beginnings and it’s so so exciting. I feel so blessed to be involved with this ministry. While I miss home and family and friends, I have begun to build a home and a family and gain friends here. And I love it.

My newest little friend and family member is my dog, Rory. She has become a constant companion, going anywhere with me that I am able to take her. She has won the hearts of our staff and some of the residents as well. I often have requests to bring her to the office and she acts as a very vocal guard dog, although I ruin her “tough dog” image when I have to pick her up when someone comes into the office. She’s my fuzzy little shadow at home and at the office, and while she’s slightly crazy(the good kind) and loves to play, she’s quite the cuddle bug. I don’t think I have to say that we get along very well.

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I think I have you all caught up on the major happenings here in New Mexico! Many blessings to you in your daily mission field! Until next time, friends. To God be the glory.

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Merry Christmas!

Every Thursday night, the women in the shelter join myself and a very generous woman from the local UMC who is donating her time to lead a Bible study during Women’s Group. The study we have been working on is from a book that is quite similar to the 12 step program, adapting the concept to help it’s readers learn to accept responsibility for their actions, forgive others for theirs, and to depend on God throughout all challenges big and small. I got to thinking, what a great study to be doing so close to Christmas. Our study leader began to tie in how our God’s unconditional love and grace would not be possible had He not been willing to send His son not only in human form, but as a baby.

The things we have been discussing in women’s group has stuck with me and I have learned as much as the women during group, but it unexpectedly popped into my mind when I was walking my new puppy, Rory. Now, Rory, has quite white fur only speckled by little brown spots. I believe my dog to have very white fur. Well, this weekend, we received quite a bit of snow, enough to stick anyway. When I took Rory outside, it was her first time seeing snow. She was hesitant, but soon was bounding and hopping in and out of it faster than I could keep up. I watched her as she went, very amused and pleased to see her enjoying herself so much. Then it hit me, this little puppy who I thought had quite white fur all of a sudden looked dingy compared to the freshly fallen snow. Could this be how we act sometimes? Thinking we are free of sin and burden when in reality we need our Savior to be as white as snow? Isaiah 1:18.

I love celebrating this gift of Christmas. Every Christmas I continue to feel the anticipation on Christmas Eve just as I did when I was younger, but now, it’s for a very different reason. I love to allow myself to feel the excitement and anticipation just as you do when you wake up from a really good dream and just want to remember it, not talk about it, or when you see freshly fallen snow on tree branches being lit by a midnight sky. They are things you simply you allow to bring you joy and not try to put words to about how they make you feel. So, friends, what I am trying to say is, enjoy your Christmas season. Rest in the comfort of the God of Grace who loves us so much that He would keep nothing from us, not even His own son.

Blessings, and until next time.

 
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Home

When I was younger,  most often, Thanksgivings were spent in Illinois with family. When I think back, that’s when Thanksgiving really felt like a holiday. The best feeling was my brother, my parents, and myself returning to our hotel room after a day full of fun, family, and full bellies of good food. We would get back so late that all we wanted to do was shake off the cold from our jackets and clothes and crawl into bed. The late night shows would illuminate the room while my mom would read and we would all inevitably fall asleep within a short amount of time. This is such a common event, a family sharing a hotel room while away on a visit, but for my there was such a good feeling. For just those few days, we were there together. We didn’t have any other agendas or places to be, just with each other.

For 24 years now, my idea of home has been the house I grew up in, even when I was living at college, or in an apartment, or even in another state. But thinking back the idea of that hotel room with my family at the holidays was just as much a feeling of home to me as the house I grew up in, because something so important to me was there with me.

The idea of home has been on my mind lately. Not only is it an important concept to me, but I’ve started to think about what home means to the women and children that I work with. In talking with them, I have realized that some of them see home as something they had to leave behind and for others it’s something they are searching for and for still others yet, home is where they happen to be sleeping for the night. And if that sleeping spot is consistent and guaranteed every night it makes it even more precious. For some of them home can fit into a duffle bag, for some home is scattered all over the US because their hearts are with children who have moved away, and for some, home is still as steady and dependable as it ever was and will be there for them when they decide they are ready.

Home is an idea we often times don’t want to see the meaning of change, but it does. What home is is forever changing. And while change terrifies me, it still comforts me to know that home for me can now be my little trailer at the shelter, the times I spend with my crazy new mob of friends, the coworkers who wasted no time taking me in as their own, the new town I live in that is surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen, and of course the family and friends that are my rock no matter how far away. I have so many things to rest in physically and emotionally, not just that little white house I grew up in. But the thing that is most comforting is that one day my concept of home will change for one final time. As the idea of home weighs on me, I have to remind myself that I am not even home yet. Any place on this earth is only temporary. Until then I will rest in the comfort of the promises and love of my Father as well as the ideas of home he has given me to wait in until I get to go Home. 

 

Blessings friends and much love. Until next time.

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