Not all gifts can be wrapped

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There is something about the innocence and joy of children that tugs on the strings of our hearts and reminds us of days long past: Days of running around the neighborhood, making mud pies or my favorite, the surprise drink (basically combining everything in the fridge to make the grossest drink ever lol).

Many Friday nights I am at one of our outreaches hanging out with many of the kids and teens in the area. I have been serving at this same outreach for 3 and a half years now. I still remember the first day I went out to serve. I had grandiose plans of going to the outreach to love the kids and do a little “lesson” with them about God’s love. To be honest, I think it was more about what I planned to do versus what was best for them. I knew that I may need to deviate slightly from my plan, but nothing I thought would happen did. I ended the night with an adorable little girl and I did my “lesson.” However, the funny thing was this little girl knew every point in my lesson. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was really there. Wasn’t I supposed to be imparting some type of knowledge or truth about Jesus?

Keeping with the honest theme, I will just tell you that I felt way over my head from the beginning. I did not feel equipped to lead any form of kids ministry on the streets of Newark. I kept coming up with all the reasons why I wasn’t good. Reminds me now of Moses trying to convince God why he shouldn’t be the one to go to Egypt. “But Moses protested to God, ‘Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?'” Exodus 3:11 (for more of the story check out Exodus 3 and 4).

I kept moving forward, but the hardest part was and still is hearing God’s voice in the middle of everything and following His direction. Everyone has an idea for what a “successful” youth ministry looks like. It’s helpful to have an easy to remember goal for the day, songs with arm motions, games, activities and a hands on lesson to explore God’s truth. Those are all REALLY GOOD ideas in the right context.  I tried all the different ideas and MANY times failed.

I questioned my calling to that ministry more times than I can remember now. With each “failure” I thought, God why did you put me here? I am not an activities person. I am not good leading groups. I am better at connecting one-on-one and how the heck do you do that when you have 2 hours on the street sometimes in the cold in the middle of an outreach?

Do you ever feel like you have no idea what to do and the cards are just stacked against you? However, sometimes you just have to change your perspective. With each “failure,” these amazing kids reminded me on a regular basis that sometimes even the best of plans need to be thrown away so you can just be present in the moment.

Those amazing kids taught me so much more. They taught me about God’s love as they would embrace me on some of my worst days. On the day I put my cat to sleep (she was with me for over 12 years and the only constant in my life for that time) I went out to the outreach (very begrudgingly but with the encouragement and persistence of my colleagues) and they all just loved me as I got to love them. They comforted me, hugged me and made me laugh numerous times. It was never about having the best plan or the perfect lesson, it was always about love. They teach me about love every time I am with them.

Each laugh and moment of joy with every one of the kids and the teens is a blessing. Yet, there are some truly special moments that will forever remain in my heart. Moments when God gives me this little window into what He is doing and showing me that while I choose to stay, He will continue to use me.

This past Friday night, I had one of those moments. We began talking about Christmas and why we celebrate the holiday. It sparked conversations about Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit. At one point, one of the girls quietly asked me “how do you know what God is saying?” I wish I had the perfect answer for her. The reality is most of the time I have no idea. I tried to articulate it to the best of my ability. However, rather than focus on what I did say, could have said, my lack of a theology degree, etc., I instead focused on the moment. Witnessing the moment of a young girl probably around 7-8 years old seek to know God.

We ended the night as she let me pray for her. I asked her if she wanted me to pray that she would know God’s voice more. She said yes. When I asked if there was anything else I could pray for her, she responded, “for a lot of presents.” I said well how about I pray that God gives you what you need. She responds, “yes, I need a lot of presents.” LOL

While I can chuckle the reality is, this little girl was treating God like her Abba, her daddy. She wanted to go to him with all of her wishes and who I am to say that is not a good thing to ask. The reality is I think we all need a lot of “presents” this Christmas. Maybe my little friend’s idea of a gift is different from ours, but it doesn’t change the fact that we all have wants and needs. Someone getting a washer and dryer in their home may mean they get more time to spend with their kids. Someone getting a dishwasher may mean they can entertain and bless others more. Someone getting a bright red scarf may mean receiving the gift of someone’s love and thoughtfulness. Some of our needs can’t be wrapped in a bow. Some need a house or a job. Some need love and hope. Maybe we should all take a lesson from my little friend and just go to our Abba and spend some time with our Papa.

There is a saying that “it is better to give than to receive.” However, if we never receive, we can take away someone else’s blessing to give. So in this season of giving, give what you can and give generously. However, don’t forget to receive. You may receive more than you anticipated.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Our Deepest Longing

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When I was little, one of my favorite moments at Christmas was waking up early before my family had awoken, tiptoeing downstairs, turning on the lights of the tree and watching the glimmer of flickering light play across the room and across all the presents. In that moment of quiet, before the hustle and bustle of the day there was a magic in the stillness; an expectation of longing fulfilled. Of course, as soon as it seemed a more reasonable hour I ran upstairs to wake up my family. 🙂 Too many times now though I focus more on the opening of the gifts and spend less time in the stillness and the waiting. When I try to hurry and open the gifts, I find them empty or missing and it furthers my drive to cling to them more tightly and not trust that stillness and waiting will bring a time of fulfillment.

My heart longs for dreams to be fulfilled that can’t be wrapped into a box and topped with a bow. My heart longs for visions to expand God’s kingdom, for a family to call my own and for the suffering of others to cease. My heart longs to feel loved and to feel significant. Many of you may be longing for healing, for hope, for a loved one’s presence and so many other things. A time at Christmas that once felt magical may seem clouded by a stream of unanswered prayers.

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In what I do at New York City Relief, I sometimes get to see prayers answered. Like my friend Marcellus who came up to me last week to say he got a job! Although it still pays less than he would like, there was the hope now for something more. Last night our team along with the New York City Rescue Mission helped 4 people who were going to sleep on the street have a bed to rest their head. That is amazing and we see God’s glory working through our friends to bring new life. Yet, I have other friends where the job doesn’t seem to come, where healing seems a distant fading possibility and life seems too hard. They are left lost, feeling like they lack a purpose and ultimately left feeling empty. They are craving a love beyond anything that can be provided and when they see an example of this love they cling so tightly holding on for dear life. The thing is, that person who is trying to cling to love, to feel fulfilled is also me.

We each have a chasm in our soul that we desperately need filled. However, when we try to fill it with  the love of another, a job, money, etc. it never seems to get full. So we seek out other ways to fill it, craving something to dull the pain of longing. We become addicts searching for our next fix to patch up the cracks in our soul. The thing is if we just try to “fix” the problems in our lives we find we can never fix them fast enough. Once you get that job, have a place to rest your head, enter a relationship there is still something needing attention. The things or the people in our lives do not fill that deep aching need. That is why at New York City Relief we say that “the homeless are not a people to be fixed, but a people to be loved.” It goes beyond that though, all of us are people who need to stop trying to fix ourselves or others and focus on receiving and giving love.

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This is a season to remember that there is a gift that surpasses our deepest longings. A gift that reorients our lives to set our hope and identity in something beyond ourselves. It is the gift of a baby boy. He is the ultimate answered prayer that allows the brokenness of the world to be healed and the caverns of our soul to be filled with His Holy Spirit. It is a gift from a God who asked for nothing other than for you to receive this gift because He loves you. Once you truly accept it, you have access to a love and power beyond your wildest dreams.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a magic pill that will fix everything and have us skipping through fields of flowers. It is a perpetual gift that we must always accept each moment of our lives to constantly fill our need for love and which helps us in turn to show that unconditional self-sacrificing love to others.

In this season and always, may you receive the gift of God’s grace, love and mercy. May you in turn be that gift to others and point them to the only source that can truly satisfy the deep longing of our soul.

Merry Christmas to you, your family and your loved ones.

 

 

 

 

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From a Distance

Growing up I was a bit of a Bette Midler fan and an aspiring singer. I remember being around 7 years old and belting out her song From a Distance at the top of my lungs in the back seat of the car (the only way I knew to hit some of the notes was to sing louder… haha). My parents were in the front doing their best to tolerate what I felt was the most amazing rendition of the song until finally they just couldn’t anymore. They asked me to please stop singing so loud… haha. My little diva heart was crushed in that moment. However the words of the of this song always remained with me.

“From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,
it’s the voice of every man.

From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.”

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It strikes me as I look at the glittering NYC skyline, that beckons of promise and success, that much of it is an illusion to cover the gaping wounds of poverty, struggle and heart ache. My friends are right now sitting on the street trying to find shelter from the rain. Regardless of their physical limitations, they are forced to sometimes sleep (what little sleep they can get) on the streets and walk many blocks for the hope of some sustenance to carry them through just one more day. They beg, sometimes they may lie and steal, to literally survive one more day.

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This isn’t something unique to the NYC area. This year I had the immense privilege to travel to Bolivia (above image), New Zealand and Australia. I saw God’s creation unfold in front of me in the miraculous Andes mountains and in the waves crashing upon the shores of the Land Down Under. I saw pure beauty in the countryside of New Zealand that took my breathe away. Yet hidden under this beauty are the cries of people longing to feel love and to be valued. The orphans (sometimes no older than 10) in Bolivia begging in the streets for food. They are alongside the indigenous people who have been forced from their rural homeland donned in their traditional dress of bright colors reminiscent of a former time; a culture than no longer has a place on the urban streets of the city.

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Then in Sydney, I found the “homes” of many lining the edges of a park as tent communities literally built up alongside the urban elite rushing past to work, shopping or other city activity. In Melbourne I ventured to St. Kilda, an up and coming neighborhood, with striking differences between the haves and the have nots. Some seeking “refuge” in run down rooming houses and brothels, but getting pushed aside in a move of gentrification.

Once we get close we see the cracks in the facade. Once we get close we can see the faces of the desperate; a look that transcends all culture. There is a longing in this expression to be noticed, to be recognized, to be acknowledged as human; a longing to be known.

Yet, this story of struggle and heart ache is not the end. Amid these struggles a wave of hope rises. In Bolivia organizations like Amistad Mission (amistadmission.org) have risen up to support families and welcome many of the children, who called the street their home, to a place of safety and love. In Sydney, I spoke with Jacob and Nigel who live in a couple of the tents. They spoke of God in a way that only someone who knowingly relies on God for each morsel of food can do. Nigel spoke of his love for God and invited Jacob to his Bible study when Jacob spoke of a longing for community and to know God more. In Melbourne, YWAM (ywammelbourne.com) seeks to go to the lost to bring food and the reminder that those who are poor, who are prostitutes, who are addicts are beautiful children of God. This is also what we strive to do at New York City Relief (newyorkcityrelief.org) every week at 12 locations across NYC and NJ. Our friends struggle sometimes to hold on to the hope that manifests around them. They struggle to see that this hope is not just for others but for them. Do you struggle with that? I do in my own way. I believe in God’s power and His love, but sometimes I think it is more for others than myself. As I struggle with promises not yet fulfilled, personal challenges and desires for healing I question my worthiness for this love and power. The truth is, I am not worthy of the love, power and forgiveness I receive daily. Yet, it is still there regardless.

I get to go to the streets on outreach with New York City Relief at least once a week, but I don’t bring hope to the streets of NYC and NJ. The hope is already there. Sometimes my role is to remind others that hope is around them and sometimes my role is to sit and listen as they remind me. Last week in Chelsea Park I was a recipient of that truth as Brother Philip spoke of God and pierced my heart. That day I also met Brother Joe who knew His Bible better than a world acknowledged Biblical scholar. I also got to meet Mike who reminded me that God continues to speak to each of us. He also challenged me that day to trust that God will show up and to pray boldly in His name.

That song, From a Distance, ends with this line, “God is watching us from a distance.” Bette, I have to respectfully disagree. I may struggle sometimes to see God’s work around me, but it is there. I get glimpses of the Kingdom of God at work right in front of me. The proof that God does not simply view from a distance, but he instead comes down to the trenches, to the pits we have dug for ourselves to gently turn our head to the path of hope, the path of redemption, the path of forgiveness. He did this through Jesus to show us the way and he continues to work in His Spirit to constantly pursue us and guide us. Last week the Spirit of God took the shape of Philip, Joe and Mike.

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To learn more about what is means to be an urban missionary and my calling to this role, please check out this page.

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Practice makes not quite perfect

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They say practice makes perfect. I don’t know who “they” are, but I have I to disagree.

Recently, the opportunity arose for me to be on the worship team at my church. As an untrained singer I was nervous about my abilities. I practiced singing the songs for hours; going over melodies and harmonies. I was most nervous about singing a wrong note, coming in too early and being the only one singing and doing something incredibly embarrassing on stage.

I knew God had me there for a reason, so I thought that if I just put in the effort and trusted Him all would be OK, as long as those few things didn’t happen. Basically, as long as I was perfect everything would be great.

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The first time in front of the congregation I missed a cue and completely sang a whole verse on my own. I apparently was very committed to my mistake and didn’t just stop after the first word. I was mortified yet I had to keep going. The next time in front of the congregation I had a literal “drop the mic” moment. I was not emphasizing anything other than my lack of ability with returning the microphone to the stand. Nothing like a break between songs filled with a big crash and thump reverberating through the room. Oh and that same day my “well rehearsed” notes no longer seemed accessible to my brain and I found myself floundering with my team and then in front of the whole congregation.

As a person struggling with perfectionism, I was mortified, dejected and frustrated. All three of the “worst” things that could happen did and I questioned my abilities and my right to be on that stage. My thoughts immediately rushed to phrases like “I clearly can’t do this”, “this whole door opening must have been a mistake” and “I should go back to sitting behind my computer and working on something I am better at.”

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My fear of failure in worship leading is similar to my fear of failure as a missionary to the poor. There is no guide book on the streets for what you are supposed to do or say. There is no manual that can tell you how to respond to a person sharing their deepest hurts and their desire to give up as they gaze at you with a desperation to believe again in hope. There is no way to know on my own how someone needs to experience love. I believe that God is there with me and I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. I also know that I am fallible; I speak out of turn or may say the wrong words, that I can have a “drop the mic” moment that inadvertently brings attention to me versus God who is the one with the power. I mess up and when there is the pressure of caring for someone else it can seem like too much. My perfectionism kicks in and I back away because I know I can’t do it well enough.

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It is true, I will fail. It is inevitable. We as humans are not God and always fall short of His glory (Rom 3:23). However, this doesn’t mean I should quit. I want to quit because my perfectionism stems from a fear of rejection, of not being good enough. Yet, this is because I am resting my identity in the approval of others. However, my true value comes from being a beloved child of God. God doesn’t love me because of what I do (or don’t do). He also doesn’t love me in spite of what I do. He simply loves me beyond measure. He also loves you and everyone else.

Acceptance is truly what many people crave. People want to be seen, valued and loved. We can argue about what acceptance means. Whether acceptance includes condoning actions, etc. However, I believe acceptance in its purest form is simply love. When we are bathed in love, when we can recognize our value outside of any specific conditions; we are free from the chains that bind us. Whether you call that sin or something else, many times our inability to seek out the best path stems from fear. Perfect love casts out this fear. Hence this is why there is no need for us to judge. The more we love and are loved, the more we are freed and the more we can recognize our true self (free of the chains that bind us) through the eyes of God.

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This is a story from the Port Authority outreach with the Relief Bus (www.reliefbus.org). This man was invited to join in our celebration of love on a NYC street that night. Typically we offer soup, drinks, socks, fellowship and prayer. This night one of our volunteers gave this man her hoodie because he was shivering. We invited him into our vehicle to rest and get warm. His words, “I’ve been thrown out many times. I’ve never felt this accepted.”

Maybe we didn’t do everything perfectly that night, but when it comes out of love that is what shines through. Last night in our Newark outreach, I had the blessing to speak to 3 women who initially approached me about needing a job. In that conversation they shared some of their biggest moments of failure, their frustrations, concerns and hopes. All I saw when I saw these women were beautiful and beloved daughters of God. In my attempts to share that with them I fumbled over my words and wished I knew the perfect thing to say. It doesn’t say perfect words cast out fears, it says perfect love. While I don’t claim my love to be perfect, I pray that I was simply a vessel last night to remind them of this perfect love. I also realized that they in turn helped me to see myself through a filter of love.

I may not have confirmation last night that love was the lasting message, but after all of my mistakes singing the worship songs, my pastor came up to me and said that he loves to see the joy on my face when I worship. I may have messed up some of the technical things, but the most important thing shone through, God’s love.

God continues to affirm that he has me as a worship leader and an urban missionary for the poor for a reason. Even with my fear, I will continue walking this path knowing I will “fail” again. I hope the man we met at Port Authority was also encouraged to keep walking his walk as are the ladies I met last night. Each of them are here for a reason, have a purpose and are immensely loved as are you and everyone else. Sometimes we all just need a little reminder. Who can you remind today?

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Open Doors

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by Angelo González

Today was one of those days where I knew the coffee maker would be my friend. It had been a long week and I still had an exceptionally long list of things I thought I needed to do (by the way, the list is still pretty long). I had planned to catch up on e-mails and phone calls as well as other paperwork. After lunch I was preparing my third or so cup of coffee for the day in preparation to keep plugging away at that list when Bill, a co-worker and Relief Bus veteran, approached me. He asked if I and my friend Ruth (also staff at the Relief Bus) had time to sit with a woman who is homeless while she ate her meal. I generally have a hard time saying no, but in this case there was no way I could turn down the opportunity for someone to eat a meal in some peace. However, what I thought would be a 10 or so minute experience turned out to be a God orchestrated appointment that lasted for 4+ hours.

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Miss T (not her full name) entered our building carrying her few belongings in one hand as her other arm supported her weight with a cane. She was dressed in black with a hat that concealed part of her face and a blanket draped around her shoulders serving as a coat. I offered to carry her bag and began to reach for it as she pulled slightly away and gruffly told me not to touch her. We got her settled in a chair and she began to pull out her lunch. She barely looked at us and the pain in her voice was apparent. She spoke of how people shunned her because she had an odor, how she had no where to stay and the building she was able to sneak into to have a roof over her head was no longer available and had become dangerous. She told us how most everything she owned was locked away in this building and she was no longer able to access it.

As she spoke, we would get her some items to compliment her lunch and we even got her to smile a few times. With each act of kindness, with each smile and with each laugh the hardness about her demeanor began to soften. As we spoke words of life and encouragement to her and reminded her of her beauty, her intelligence, her purpose and her identity as God’s child the tears began to form as the light of God’s love penetrated her heart. The woman who had survived by trying to be unnoticed wrestled with the knowledge that she was being seen. God allowed us to glimpse beyond the dirty clothes and the rough exterior to see the vulnerability, the beauty and the intelligence of the woman before us.

We took Miss T outside to smoke a cigarette and as I rested on the step gazing at her while she spoke, I could see my reflection in her sunglasses. In that moment I couldn’t help but question how is it that I can be blessed with so much while Miss T has so little? I could see her smile as she spoke and how I couldn’t help but smile in return. I could see that there was actually little that separated us and so many more things that connected us. In that moment I could see myself not just reflected in Miss T’s glasses, but also reflected in her heart. We both have the exterior walls around our hearts to protect us from the fears of the past. We both feel the pain of rejection. We both feel ashamed when we can’t measure up to who we think we should be. We both hurt when things are taken from us. We both get frustrated when we get the run around with courts and other agencies. We also both love jelly and sugary things. We both love to laugh and gently tease our friends (we also don’t mind getting teased in the process). We are both God’s beloved children. We are both precious, but also broken in our own ways.

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In just a few hours, Miss T transformed from a woman downcast and weary who pushed others away to a woman filled with joy, with smiles and who welcomed us into her embrace. We thanked her for sharing her story with us. She said it was simply because we opened our door and invited her inside. We opened more than just the door of our building. We also opened our hearts. Miss T was not the only person transformed today. God stopped me in my tracks, threw my To Do list out the window and invited me to have a conversation with Him today. It just so happens that today He went by the name of Miss T.

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Broken vessels

As I sit in my comfortable overstuffed chair gazing upon my fireplace (OK, it is a plug in one but it still counts!) and reflect upon the day, I can’t help but be filled with the widest array of emotions. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry and frankly I don’t think I will choose. It may just be another day in the life of an urban missionary, but it is one that will remain in my heart for a very long time.

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As the Volunteer Coordinator at New York City Relief (NYCR) a good portion of my time involves scheduling groups to serve with us and connecting with various people. Today began at my desk as many days do. As I returned Daniel’s phone call, I opened with my normal bubbly tone stating my name, that I am from NYCR and asking how he was doing. I expected the typical polite response and then a request to volunteer. His response however, immediately indicated that this phone call was very different from my initial expectations. He first stated that he was doing terrible. My previous jovial tone changed to a more serious nature as I questioned why he had called. Daniel called NYCR from the streets of NYC desperate for help. He began to pour out his frustrations, his pain and his fear to me. He told me how he had battled all odds against an aneurysm and survived a risky surgery to come out of a coma. While that would seem to leave many rejoicing, Daniel found himself without a home, without money and without his family. He spends his days pan handling to raise enough money to wire to his wife and daughter in FL so they are not evicted. He forgoes a roof over his head and many of his meals out of fear of missing out on money for his family. His continued medical condition makes it difficult for him to find work and he sought out numerous places for help to find door after door slammed, spending what little money and time he had on a glimmer of hope that turned to a moment of defeat. He had practically given up not believing that anyone would help and that Jesus had abandoned him or never really existed in the first place.

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I would love to tell you that my response to Daniel was eloquent, calm and informative. I realized in that moment that there was nothing I could really do to fix any of Daniel’s issues. That my confidence had left and a part of me wished that any of our outreach leaders or one of our more experienced staff could have been there to expertly guide Daniel to what would be the next best step for him (they would most likely tell you that they don’t feel anywhere near to being an expert even though in my mind they always seem to have the perfect thing to say). Those of you who know me know I can talk. In this moment I felt like I had nothing. I felt so inadequate. Yet, even as Daniel kept telling me he had to go and collect money for his family, he continued to talk with me. His desperation and loss of hope left me heart broken. I am very sensitive, but normally in moments like these I do pretty well maintaining my composure. Not this time. As my voice cracked with the onset of tears and I did all I could to resist the urge give in to that heart break I offered what little encouragement I could, but it still felt so empty. In between his moments of anger and frustration he thanked me for listening. At the moment I didn’t value my listening abilities very highly. I wanted something to tell Daniel that would fix his issues. I wanted to start trying to take care of everything and come up with the thing that he needed that would solve it all. However, the world doesn’t work like that and I very quickly realized that I could not fix what Daniel needed most. I could not heal his heart from the loss of his parents, I could not bring back his business that he lost due to his medical issues, I could not provide enough to support his family, I could not fully heal his body, I could not heal his loss of hope, I could not make him feel the love that is all around him and I could not convince him that Jesus had never left him. Eventually I had to say goodbye and encouraged Daniel to visit the Relief Bus in Chelsea Park today. I hung up the phone not knowing whether Daniel would survive. Would he make enough today to support his family? Did he truly lose all hope? The greater question though is whether I would trust God to be there for Daniel in the ways that I couldn’t. Would I really believe and embrace the things that I preach to others?

“When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.

For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43: 2-3

My day continued and on the complete opposite spectrum, I later found myself at the fancy Liberty House restaurant discussing details for our upcoming fundraiser Gala event. The manager invited us to stay for lunch. As I tasted the delicacies of the expertly crafted dishes gazing upon the NYC skyline as the sun glimmered along the windows of the buildings I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I looked over at NYC knowing that somewhere under that beautiful facade was a man with a cardboard sign who needed love and support. A man whose face I may never see. Why should I, just another sinner, no more special than Daniel have all these luxuries and comforts as he literally fights just to survive. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should all be on the streets, but as his words echoed through my mind my heart just broke all over again.

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I arrived back at our base and the outreach team had returned. I had told Johanna and Sean, two of our amazing outreach leaders, that Daniel might stop by. I was afraid to ask or hope for fear that he may truly be lost. However, as I mustered the courage to ask Johanna she immediately responded that she had sat down with Daniel and spoken with him. He made it to the bus! Somehow in all my weakness and inadequacy God was still able to ignite the hope that I knew was still glimmering in the depths of Daniel’s heart. It is still a very long road for Daniel, but today I know he felt love. My wonderful friend Johanna also listened to Daniel and was able to guide him through options and formulate a next step. She was able to provide for him to help him on his next leg of the journey. I still don’t know what will become of Daniel, but today I realized that God used broken, insecure and imperfect vessels to show His greatest gift to us: love.

In the midst of this miracle that included others outside of Johanna and I, we also experienced a great loss at NYCR today. One of our friends from the street in Newark, NJ was taken from us in a brutal way. As we struggle to lose one in our family, we can’t help but rejoice for our new friend. This world has the scars from brokenness and destruction yet it also has the blossoms for new life. Our reality exists in the joy and in the loss. If you only ever stay on one side you can’t fully experience life. The beauty of the streets is that it is the place where you see authentic humanity captured in the laughter, the joy as well as in the pain. In the midst of this you can’t help but realize how limited you are to change many of these things on your own. Yet, when you resonate with the rhythms of God’s grace sometimes you get this unique opportunity to see the bigger pattern and how your small contribution to this rhythm along with others amplifies it to be an overpowering wave of love.

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If I can tune into this frequency of love with God’s help so can you. Who is God asking you to stop and listen to right now? Who is he asking you to reach out to or do something for? Who is he asking you to forgive and make amends? You don’t have to be an urban missionary to tap into the rhythms of grace. These rhythms are flowing all around you and waiting for your small ripple along with others to amplify each other and engulf those around you, those you may never see and even you into the waves of hope, love and compassion.

*My stories are never really just mine because there are a team of people who support me financially and through prayer and encouragement. To those who are a part of this team, my gratitude is beyond words, but I offer a simple thank you and remind you how special you are to me. To those who want to learn more about joining the team, please check out the About section of this site.

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It’s all about perspective

Duck-Rabbit_illusion

You may be familiar with the above picture or something similar. So what do you see? A duck? A bunny? I’ll wait until you can see both (hint: on the left is either the duck bill or the bunny ears) Your perception of the image changes when you change your perspective.

The same is true about life. Have you ever had one of those days, weeks or months even where everything seems to go wrong? It doesn’t even have to be major issues just little things that build up. This past week was one of those for me. Do you ever notice that these times also seem to happen when you are already the most stressed?  Such as during the final weeks of your doctoral thesis in neuroscience (this one may just be me, but you can insert you own applicable example of stress :).

stress

I will quickly recap last week. Bright and [somewhat] early on Monday morning I walked out to my car to find it adorned with a parking ticket from the City of Newark. This week they decided that no parking during school days is still applicable in the summer. OK, so minor annoyance that still requires some time to settle with the court. However, the week continued to include the runaround to get my phone fixed and several issues with my graduate thesis including one hardware issue that required a replacement part. Normally, it would not be a big deal to get a new part except when you have less than 1 month to hand in your dissertation and without this part cannot finish collecting your data. The week culminated in me stepping down wrong to fall and sprain my ankle.

I get that each occurrence is a minor issue and not the end of the world. However, when you put them all together in one week when you are already stressed, it makes it seem so much bigger than it is. I would love to tell you that I rose to the occasion with grace and patience. Unfortunately, that was not my perspective. My frustrations spilled out upon others and there were some tears in there as well (especially when the part broke). I know to be thankful for all my blessings, but in those moments of anxiety where everything seems to be falling apart or I just can’t be doing everything I think I should be doing, I can’t help but feel angry, frustrated and defeated. Then my thoughts spiral into presumed negative consequences. When that part broke this week, it wasn’t just about the part. My mind couldn’t help but question whether I could still graduate now. How was I going to meet all my deadlines? It was the struggle to maintain some sense of control when the reality is I have no control at all.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 25-27, 34

reliefbusFlyerCovAs some of you know I work with a mobile outreach organization, the Relief Bus, who serves the  poor in NJ and NYC. I have some friends on the street where my bad week pales in comparison to  their daily life with no clear end in sight. They end up finding work to lose their job. They take the  next step to get off the streets to end up having their possessions stolen. Then the multitude of questions start. How do I apply for that program without these documents? Where do I get the  money to replace these things? It’s not too far of a jump for it to become the question of what is the  point: a perspective that leads to hopelessness. This is a problem that leaves no one immune. We  may cope with hopelessness differently, but no matter who you are when you count all the challenges and the struggles they can add up. We can start to ask ourselves, why keep trying to be  the bigger person when it all seems to go wrong?

This past Saturday, however, my perspective changed. I went to get an ace bandage from a  pharmacy for my ankle. To add insult to injury it took 3 tries to find a place that was open and then somehow the ace bandage, the one item I really needed, fell out of my bag and I didn’t realize until I got home. I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed that my patience was being tested again and the cashier was not that supportive when I called to ask about it. So, I grudgingly went back out to go get the bandage.

Homeless-Hungry

On my way home, there was a young man, maybe in his twenties with a sign that he was homeless and hungry walking among the cars at a light. A simple cardboard sign with a desperate plea for help. I gave him a granola bar and some information about the Relief Bus. His face lit up with a wave of relief combined with words of thankfulness as he took the granola bar and the information. I maybe had 30 seconds to talk with him until the light changed and in that moment he changed my whole outlook. My whole week filled with annoyances culminated in me being there in that moment to meet Michael. To remind him that there is hope and he reminded me of that as well.

Although my problems are small compared to some, we all need that reminder of hope. The annoyances and challenges may just be ways for God to get you to the exact moment where you have this amazing opportunity to bless others and to be blessed in return. I encourage and challenge you to change your perspective. Rather than count the struggles, count the ways God has used (and is using) your struggles to bring blessings. I have found that the blessings far outweigh the challenges. In all of this, fix your eyes on Jesus who loves you and sacrificed to gift you with salvation. When we change our perspective from the world to Jesus and his love, it changes our hearts, our lives and the world around us. To learn more about how God transformed our friend Delia check out her video here.

 “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” 1 Cor 4:14-18

To learn more about the Relief Bus check out reliefbus.org or follow my journey as an urban missionary to the poor by subscribing to my blog or checking out my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/relief.jcrew

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