Stand in the Gap

childpovertyI will not sit in complacency. Stand on the sidelines. Be the bystander. Have you heard of the bystander effect? It’s a psychology term about when a large group of people are together. They say that the more people, the less the reaction.

In other words, a person has a stroke in the park. The friend starts yelling for help. If there are multitudes of people around, everyone will assume someone else is assisting. Or they ignore the incidence altogether.

Isn’t that where we are today? People sitting in their pretty houses. Hoping for the latest gadgets and gizmos. Gazing at picture after picture. Stumbling across one that shows a starving child in Africa. Donating a few dollars to feel better about themselves.

God calls them to fully surrender their lives to Him. Not be the bystander. Maybe not being called to live in a hut in Africa and feed children. Called instead to a mission field where they are at. To their callings.

Finding the place where heart, passion, and work coexist. The combination that makes the world stop and looks. A place where Jesus says “you’re right where you’re supposed to be”. Maybe it’s in a grocery store – giving a smile, checking out groceries. Or a law firm – extending a kind word and serving Jesus while those around you drink away life. Maybe a political office where everyone around you lies while you speak the truth.

Stepping out of complacency and into the fullness of you calling is inspiring. To yourself and others. The United States needs that more than ever. Last weekend I stepped into a war zone – St. Louis. They say third world countries have war zones. Exploring the streets of the city I grew up in, new signs were noticed everywhere. Signs saying “We have to stop killing each other” and “Black Lives Matter”. Leaving for a safer side of town after gunshots started going off in the early night hours in the neighborhood I grew up in while I stood outside.

The story goes on and on… An abandoned city. Late night downtown revealed only a friend and me. Homeless people appeared to loiter the streets where no one else dared to be. The blinking police boxes on every, single corner indicating a high crime area. Apparently a couple of weeks before military tanks, the national guard, and cop cars lining the streets. Abandoned buildings of people fleeing. Terrified of riots, destruction, and death.

This is in the United States. While we feast our eyes on the latest movies. Hide our hearts behind hours of overtime. Another half of the States exist. Children ducking because they hear a loud bang but think they’re getting shot. Men sitting with homeless signs on a corner downtown because the military used them. Then, the country they served throw them aside because they can’t handle the moments they experienced. Women crying in bed – fearing rape again. They know their rapists will never be caught because no one will ever look for him.

Black lives. White lives. Hispanic lives. Immigrant lives. All important but so ignored. A country with voting rights. Who has time to vote when they’re fighting for survival? Living in abandoned cities. Areas where those with more money would not want to spend a moment. Places not even known to the other half.

I was one of those kids. Living in abandoned cities. Running off the bus at the end of the school day because neighborhood boys set the garage on fire. Hearing of a girl on my block being kidnapped. A body that still hasn’t been found. Sitting in the living room watching helicopter lights scour the backyards looking for someone. Expecting someone to break into your house in the middle of the night. Because it wouldn’t be the first time someone broke in. Waiting for the ceiling to hit your bed. Since the building is so old and that’s happened before.

There was another side though. A mom who spent every night reading. Taking me to far away lands where these things didn’t exist. A dad who spent hours working to make sure my sister and I could go to a tiny, Christian private school. People in that school who showed Jesus’ love and made their home our home. Teachers in an elementary school who told a little girl she was smart and put her in gifted classes. Women who took a young mom under their wing and helped her be a mother.

Each person knew they had a special role. Imagine if one person hadn’t fulfilled that role.  Maybe that girl would still be in the same place. Stuck in a constant cycle. Someone followed their calling. Lived where they were and pulled someone up to their level. Reached down and pulled up.

I refuse to be the girl who sits back and forgets about the other half. Instead, I want to reach down and pull others up. Do more than pull up a person. Reach down, pull up another, and teach them to do the same. Teach the “leaders to be leaders”. Be the dream – giver. Show them to give to the communities they came from. For the other half, exposing them to the world they never knew existed. I pray every person discovers their calling and how they can influence the community for the better.

 

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Weekend Wanderer: The Story of My Life

A loss of words. Something I rarely have. The last 24 hours or so has been a whirlwind. One of the people, places, and memories clashing. Moments of discovering, enlightenment, and exploration. I get asked a lot why I do what I do – walk into strangers houses in neighborhoods some won’t even enter. Today I can fully explain why.

My weekend wanderings led to St. Louis. Friends that are very close to me have told me I should write a book. One describing my life thus far. I frequently get told I’ve lived a lot of life for my age. Perhaps that’s true. My record for living the longest place is 8 years. That would be St. Louis. Stories friends have heard have surprised them.

Reality is what I discovered. As an almost 15-year-old girl, I was angry, upset, and miserable that my parents would make me leave my beloved home. This trip was my journey to the place I revered in my head. The reality was something different. Exploring my hometown as a grown woman and social worker, showed me the reality of St. Louis. The following is a photo journal into my past. Possibly what could be the start of a future book.

FullSizeRender 81The reason we moved to St. Louis. My parents finished Bible College when I was 6 years old and we were sent to this church. They were two of many ministers within the church. We went to church 3- 4 times a week outside of Sunday. On Sunday, we went twice. As a child, I would spend Saturday mornings at church with other children while my parents went door-to-door knocking in every neighborhood to get people to church. I have many clashing memories of joy and sorrow within this church.

I was able to see the woman who used to take us children to the park every Saturday morning and buy us pizza for lunch some days. Memories of running through the halls of the church playing hide-and-seek filled my mind. Also, the memories of watching minister’s families trying to one-up the other in “Christian holiness and perfection” filled my mind. The sermon demonstrated once again that you would never be good enough for God and He will leave you because of you. However, I also remembered the wonderful people in my life who did love me and got to see several of them at church:) My visit ended abruptly outside when gunshots started sounding through the air in the early night hours. Similar to the abrupt ending of many friendships after many of my very close friends at church disappeared without a trace when I was a preteen.

These two pictures show the first places we lived in St. Louis. I have many fond memories of the first building. My parents closest friends lived in that building. Where the windows are is where we snuck and watched “What A Girl Wants” (Still one of my all-time favorite movies). Our families weren’t allowed to watch television as a part of my church and sometimes we would watch movies at this house. When we first moved, my parents and I lived with this couple and three children. It was so much fun!!!

I have memories of all four of us kids sleeping in the living room while the adults had the two bedrooms. You can imagine how exciting it felt to have that many other kids near my age in the house. The right picture shows that my parents ended up moving right down the block and we were still able to be close. I remember setting off fireworks one fourth of July in the street there and continually being on that street through many of my St. Louis years. These people and this area was a very fond memory.

Visiting Ames brought up some of my favorite memories of all. As a second grader, I was accepted into this public school that had a focus on visual performing arts. Throughout my four years there, I was able to take vocal music and art, as well as some piano classes.  In my second grade class, we had a pet squirrel that we took care of. Third grade was with Mr. Leisure who was one of my all-time favorite teachers. He put me in the school spelling bee and also had me back to his class once every year through fifth-grade graduation as one of his favorite students (yes, I was a teacher’s pet lol).

Fourth grade was the time we had a roly poly farm in the classroom. Sometimes I would spend my recess playing with bugs. My best friend and teacher were both Jehovah Witness that year and I learned so much about their faith. Since we were nerds, my best friend and I would compare Bibles. Fifth grade was my favorite because I had the most AMAZING teacher of all.

Ms. Grossgloss was the class you wanted to be in. Once I was accepted into her class, she placed me in gifted classes, which had computers (a big deal during this time). I would get to do extra writing and every day we had a period of time where we simply sat and read books. She took me and some others to a state-wide Science competition at the St. Louis science center that year. The picture that says Butterfly garden shows the garden we used to tend to in her class every Friday. We learned all sorts of fun butterfly facts, as well as gardening. She was also the teacher in charge of recycling, so every week we got to take out all the school’s recycling.

Probably this time was the first sign I would be a social worker one day. A girl was on the school bus with me and she said she was new, so she had to go straight to the principal’s office. She said she was scared, so I volunteered my 10-year-old self to sit with her. Instead of class, I went to the office and sat with her. Needless, there was a call to my mom and my teacher freaking out when I didn’t show up for class. I received a lecture from my teacher on being a kid and showing up where I was supposed to.IMG_5892 2

This picture was perfectly timed. An apartment where I met little mice, saw neighbors throw beer bottles, watched a dumpster burn because kids had set it on fire, and had a friend from this street kidnapped elsewhere in town (she’s never been found). One of my favorite cousins died, accidentally hanging himself with a rope while playing horses back in Kentucky, while I lived here. My mom still has the letter he sent me promising to visit soon and buy me more candy. The dark is such a good depiction of the area because it appears only worse since I left.

However, the bright spots of this time were definitely the birth of my sister! This is when she came along and I was no longer the only kid. We had one of my mom’s best friends living across the street who had a daughter that my sister and I both adored. My mom’s friend was always super supportive of her and giving tons of parenting advice for a young mom.

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You may not believe me but this is where I attended school for my middle school and freshman years of school. It was in the back of a church with a house above it. A quiet, little corner where we learned about Jesus and family. To be honest, I can’t say I learned as much about education here as I did about life. Here I had a little family. I used to be told to quit doing my homework because we worked at our own pace and I would fly through the books.

I would get to help tutor other kids and had many friends. We all hung out together at breaks and recesses. Had movies sometimes and went to Six Flags every year. My whole family was very involved with the school. My sister and I both attended it, as well as some friends from church. In order to get here when we only had one car, my mother would walk over a mile one way to get us to the school and then walk back home. The wintertime would find me on the city bus making the trek alone. It was worth it to go to this school, however. I got to see my old principal, old teacher, and their daughter as well as several others while visiting this past weekend:)

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Possibly my favorite place we lived in St. Louis. It holds so many memories. My family had a very open door policy. My best friend would literally live in our house for a week at a time sometimes. And we would not even get sick of each other:) Kids from our church and school would come over just to hang out with my family or be babysat. For a while, a woman from church lived in the back bedroom and gave me an American girl doll she found one day.

We also had uninvited guests, however. Someone broke in and stole my cd player while we were at the library one day. Another time, a homeless man kept coming back to try and get more money from my dad. There would be the occasional night where the police helicopter lights would scan the backyard. I also knew that at the end of the block was where you could go and buy drugs. If you were a child in St. Louis, I don’t know how you couldn’t help but know how to get drugs.

One of the staples of the neighborhood was “Grandpa” Pat though. He is retired military and would walk for miles down the streets until he was tired. Every single holiday had him coming to our door with candy. He treated us like his grandkids and always reminded my sister and me that “we had great parents”. After we moved, up until I graduated from graduate school, Pat sent me money at the beginning of the school year to make sure I could get everything I needed. He still sends cards for every single holiday to me and my family.

FullSizeRender 94One of the places that are always my favorite buildings in the world. This was my hideaway. We spent many days and hours waiting for my dad to come pick us up from here at the end of a school day. My family was notorious for checking out 40 books a week! This is the place where I discovered Dee Henderson and Karen Kingsbury.

We would go to see marionette shows, animal demonstrations, and craft days. One day my mom let us go for a henna tattoo day. She didn’t find out until afterward that they last for over a month. Watching her try to scrub it off made me laugh – she didn’t find it as funny!

What amazed me was what a hopeless place it felt like. I forgot that it’s the 2nd most dangerous city in the United States. There were signs everywhere saying “Black Lives Matter” and “We need to stop killing each other”. I heard gunshots and found myself constantly on high alert mode. My friend told me it was like a war zone two weeks ago with deserted streets, military tanks, and cop cars lining the roads. Every stoplight had blinking signs indicating high crime areas. I saw less than 50 people in downtown St. Louis on a Friday night. One of the things I love to do is find the hope in a place where there seems to be a little. These lovely people and places brought hope.

The first picture is a new friend. One I have gotten to know online for the last couple years as the founder/editor-in-chief of Tirzah Magazine. She has been an absolute joy and meeting her in person was AMAZING. Yelena was such a big influence in my faith walk. Also, a reminder that you can be exactly who you are called to be at a young age. There were no awkward hi’s when we met. Instead, it was an inspiring conversation with someone who felt so similar to me – including loving writing and caring for others while not being overly sentimental lol. She is a light for Jesus in the city.

In the middle picture is the St. Louis Dream Center. Matthew Barnett is a hero of mine and I was so excited to see a St. Louis version. Just in driving by, I saw men lined on the side of the building washing people’s cars. It was really cool to see a line of white men volunteering to wash cars in a predominantly African American part of town. In the midst of boarded houses and disarray, their steeple with the attached food pantry and volunteers beckoning, spoke hope to a community in need.

The last picture is my “sister from another mister”. We have called each other sisters for as long as we have known each other just almost. I moved a lot as a kid so I didn’t always get to have those outside of my family who was always present. She has always been around. Our parents met when we were babies living in Louisiana and Mississippi. We both ended up in St. Louis and spent as much time as we could together. She would spend day, after day, after day at my family’s home. There was a period of time where she even lived a block away from me.

We went to church together all the time soon so we were inseparable. I suppose we were a little strange in the fact that we spent hours sitting together reading books. Some days we would write poems together. Both of us have always been writers and readers. I am so proud of her for graduating last week with her criminal justice degree and being such an amazing momma to these two adorable children. She is going to do amazing things!

Before you judge a book by its cover, get to know it’s content. I get many comments on how young I look or people assume I am privileged by my race. Or they judge me based on my level of education now and the care I drive. The reality is a lot different. I grew up in a dangerous place where we didn’t always have a lot but what we had was enough.

Recently I saw Kevin Powell speak and he said two of the most important things to overcoming poverty is faith and family. I absolutely agree. Throughout all of my life, I have always had my two parents. More than that we’ve always had a community. My grandparents would give us cars when we didn’t know how my dad was going to get to work. Church people would give us food some days when we needed it. Our little private school lowered tuition in exchange for my mom volunteering. My “grandpa” helped pay for my school and encouraged my family.

Never let anybody tell you what you are incapable of. Instead, show them what you are capable of. Show others what they are capable of. Love others. You never know who you could help or where they can go. It still amazes me where God has taken me. Before I couldn’t see beyond the small radius I inhabited in St. Louis. Now God has blessed me to minister to others in foreign countries. As well as given me an amazing church full of friends and “family” who love me. Gave me a job where I get to help other people overcome poverty and raise kids. Be a “light in the darkness” for those around you.

 

Appearance is Everything: Seeing Behind the Words

What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.

Mother Teresa

Pregnancy. Infant. Baby. Life. Woman. Mom. Man. Dad. Girl. Sister. Boy. Brother. Unit. Family. Isn’t interesting how the turn of a phrase of word can alternate your perception? Pregnancy makes you think of a woman’s growing stomach. Baby makes you think of an adorable, tiny human with 10 fingers, 10 toes, and belly laughs for miles. Family evokes fond or distasteful memories of childhood while unit sounds like a math problem. Every word/phrase is carefully constructed by the messenger to evoke a set of messages to the audience.

Recently I attended a training on birth control (I know – shocking). It was advertised as a way to “better the quality of life for my clients”. The idea was that pregnancy may alter the ability of a woman to have a successful complete life. What if I reworded that though. A baby may cause a woman to have a sad, incomplete life. Does that impact your feelings of the message? The first probably makes you agree while the second sounds like you think babies cause problems. I watched this rhetoric and terminology continue to progress for 2 and a half hours.

The purpose of us coming together was supposed to be a chance to prevent infant mortality. To simplify – baby deaths. Milwaukee has a crisis of baby deaths. What I learned was – we can prevent infant mortality by preventing conception/pregnancy. In other words, we can prevent baby deaths by making sure they are not created. This seems counterintuitive to me. We do not want babies to die so let’s make sure they are never born? I don’t quite follow that logic.

What made more sense was when I found out Planned Parenthood was sponsoring the event and one of the speakers, it made more sense. Generally, I stay out of “pro-life” articles or rants. Simply because I have seen too many “supposedly pro-life” people talk about how they want every baby to be born but show little to NO care for the women who are having the baby. I believe that love starts as an act to every individual you meet. To put it simply – I am pro – love. Love a mother. A baby. Father. Family. Demonstrating that through extending a listening ear, providing housing, providing resources, and coming alongside someone in need.

Coming from this background I was horrified at the general hatred of humankind hidden behind terminology. Throughout the session, I began to notice a unique pattern to the hatred. Phrases like low-income, high school drop-out, poor, African American, Hispanic, and minority. During this time, I plugged into the internet and researched statistics regarding “mistimed” pregnancies or “unwanted” babies. The Guttmacher Institute had some interesting stats.

First, nearly half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. This means that we were discussing how to eliminate half of the room based on this statistic. Or 3.05 million people in the United States. In other words, 1 out of every 2 of you reading this are unimportant. Your life is a problem here on earth. For example, I was with a friend and we were both unplanned pregnancies. Both of us are a problem and we want to make sure no one exists like us again. Sounds harsher put in those words doesn’t it?

Next, unintended pregnancies tend to be among a certain group of people. Those people are minorities. Specifically, teenagers, African-Americans, Hispanics, and poor people. In other words, we do not want more illegal immigrants to be here. We only want wealthy people – especially if they’re white. Maybe the BlackLivesMatter movement should start here to fix some problems. Representative Gwen Moore (who is African-American) stated that Planned Parenthood was a needed resource for African-American and poor women. In other words, she is saying there should be less African-American and poor babies. Seems harsh doesn’t it?

All of these statistics combined with the information reminded me of a modern day, clever version of eugenics. Negative traits to eliminate: African-American, Hispanic, and poor. Desirable traits: Caucasian, wealthy. Planned Parenthood’s desire is to apparently create a wealthy, white America. African – American, Hispanic, or poor? Go to a training by Planned Parenthood so you can hear about how much better you will be if you don’t have babies so there will be no more of you. How does that make you feel?

I am the daughter of two teenagers. My birth was not planned. There was not a lot of money in my childhood. One of the people with me was a minority. Her life unplanned. I certainly am glad my parents did not try to prevent me. So glad that other person is alive and I can’t imagine a life without her in it. My desire isn’t to get into some debate but to portray what I saw right before my eyes.

I am grateful to know I was made in the image of God “imago Dei”. My desire is that every person I encounter knows that they are here because they are LOVED. I have never seen so little love and hope that not many are exposed to the complete devaluing of humanity I saw. Every woman and man deserves to know they are worthy. That they are EMPOWERED to do amazing things. Every life that comes on earth happened for a reason. Those 3.05 million people bring something unique to the world. With the right tools, every woman should know that when she is pregnant – she has value. Her baby has value. Both of them are sacred and add to this world. Family adds a closeness that cannot be replicated and should teach love. Show love. Instead of elimination, teach love.

 

The Eye of the Storm: A Response to Las Vegas

maxime-amoudruz-99191Evil. The thought makes the average person shudder. In the United States, the past months have been riddled with shape-shifting forms of evil. States tore apart by hurricanes, an island left in utter destruction, and thousands of people glued to their televisions as they watched a man shower hundreds of bullets on thousands of people. In those moments, people tend to go one of two directions. The first being, “If God were real He would not allow these things to happen.” Or the people who come to see God in these moments. We all tend to lean one or the other way. Sometimes people do tend to meet in the middle.

What feels way back in the day I took several philosophy classes focused around the existence of God where we discussed these questions. One of those classes was specifically focused on The Problem of Suffering. It was taught by a man who believed in God. If anyone has the right to question God’s existence and why he allows evil, Dr. Schulz absolutely had the right. This man lost his children. Not in an instance but in slow, excruciating pain. Watching life fade before his eyes. Some days that class was excruciatingly difficult to hear – the pain in his voice was evident but so was his devotion to God.

Through this process, I learned about the love of God. We could spend hours debating whether or not God is evil. As a matter of fact, that’s what we did in philosophy. To sum it up, I would use Dr. Schulz’s example of Job. He suffered debilitating pain and suffering but knew God was greater. The reality is there will be evil and suffering.

God created a perfect world. Mankind was not perfect. They brought sin into the world with the bite of an apple. In that moment, the world was imperfect. The fallen angel came along – one who brought true evil into the world. God wanted to give us free will. We could have no evil but then we would have no free will. God gives us the ability for making our DECISIONS about life. He does not force us to do anything. He never wishes evil upon us.

He sent His Son to earth. Perfection in the form of humanity. With one of the worst forms of evil, nailed to a cross bleeding and breathing His last. Living in literal hell for several days so we would not have to. God does not stop all the evil until the end but He did provide us with humanity’s perfection. An example to follow and to help us make wise. One who reminds us of the goodness in the world.

That is what we need to be reminded of in these moments. It’s the man from Las Vegas who says He found God while in the midst of gunshots. The owners of cruise ships who turned them into disaster relief for an island. Companies sending volunteers, food, and supplies to ravaged states. Kind words, hugs, and giving to fellow humans all around. For every act of evil, you can find an act of good.

When you turn on the television and see all the evil in the world, look for the good. We live in a society focused on everything wrong. Imagine if, for every negative incident in the world, we focused on a good one. Evil exists. It’s horrible, horrifying. Something any one of us could be capable of given the right circumstances. My heart goes out to all the families and friends that lost loved ones, homes, and hope. Hope is in front of us though. It’s the moments of bonding after the evil – the way we reach out to each other. A simple touch. An article of clothing. A piece of food. Clean drinking water. If you can’t find the good, look for it. Still can’t find it? Be it. Don’t let evil win.