Friday, December 17, 2010

Anger. Compassion. Tension. Emotionally-Charged Non-Specific Concept.

I love homeless people. I love them all.

I wish that I didn't have to; I wish that there were none to love. I get angry that people, thousands upon thousands of people, go to sleep each night without shelter. I get angrier that our world is a place that not only allows homelessness to occur but that it is also a place that convinces so many of these people that homelessness is not only better than 'home-more-ness' but that homelessness is what they deserve.

Sometimes it's difficult to live here in Los Angeles because, any time I leave my house, it's virtually guaranteed that I am going to see someone suffering and, sometimes, I don't even have to leave. On the job, it's easy to get frustrated with our clients. Lately, there seems to be an influx of people in our shelter who can't follow the rules. The rules aren't hard, at least not for someone like you or me. They're simple things like respecting employees and other clients or not bringing illegal drugs on the premises. It's heartbreaking to watch someone escorted out of shelter by the police because they were threatening other residents or sexually harassing employees. It's heartbreaking because you know that he'll be sleeping on the streets tonight.

It's hard to have compassion for a man like this who's screaming and spitting all of the worst names at you or your colleagues as he is forcibly removed. The only way that I can handle that is blind faith. The only way I can have the patience to deal with people like this is to lean on the never-ending patience of God. I have to believe that this man can be changed. After all, he once acted in movies next to Sinatra and Brando and I can order his Grammy-winning album on Amazon. I have to believe that he'll be back one day and that he'll be better and nicer.

Off the job, it's difficult for me not to stop and talk to every person I see or, at least, buy them a snack. I struggle with the fact that I don't have enough time or resources to do this. Whenever I see someone who is homeless, the first thing I feel is fear. It's not a fear for my safety but a fear that maybe this night is the person's last or that if I walk by without acknowledging his existence, it will just drive him one step deeper inside a mind warped by drugs, mental illness, social isolation, or a combination of it all. (And, then, I have to ask myself is that perception is just my own prejudice?)

This week, in my Bible study, we talked about how the mature Christian feels tension and uses that tension to grow in faith and wisdom. While I won't claim maturity, that is tension that I feel on the surface everyday. Am I supposed to talk to this person? Do I have the time? Is this important right now?

Often the people I see on the job and off are what my co-workers jokingly call 'bomb blast victims.' (Humor is a great method for coping.) These people are dirty. D-i-r-t-y. They've hair that's shoulder length and twisted into dreads by the outdoors and entwined with trash from bits of paper to food or anything else. They trudge along, usually wearing a combination of two or three mismatched coats, torn jeans, often over-sized, that are more gone than there. Their skin is usually soiled with black streaks like those on your mechanic's hands and arms and they inch along, head down and shuffling their feet, weight shifted on their toes and bending their knees less than a person in normal stride. When you get close, they smell like something between stale urine and and old beer. If you speak to them they often refuse to respond or seem unable. When I see these people, I am dumbfounded.

What do you think when you see someone like that? Honestly? I know that I think that I'm better than him, that he has likely done something to deserve this. The darkest part of me believes that he does. I think that I must save him.

Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:21-23) that everything is ours, everything, and that we are Christ's. This reminds me that we are all the same. Compassion, I think, is the acknowledgment of this fact. It's the realization that my bomb blast victim's suffering is my own my suffering and that he is my equal. It's remembering that my responsibility is not saving him, but to include him, to pull him closer with the love of God.

Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries (click to read about it!), reminds me in Tattoos on the Heart that we are to radically include those who are excluded and leave Jesus to do the saving, much like the men who tore the roof off to lower the paralyzed man to Jesus to be healed. The men did not heal their friend. They just included him. They had compassion. Boyle reminds us, too, that Jesus didn't just send money or chat with those on the outside, theses outcasts, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the lepers. He touched them, hugged them, kissed them, and dined with them. He included them.

And so, I struggle within myself to come from this place, where I am helping these people as my peers and equals, loving them and letting God direct their healing instead of a place where I am superior and I am saving them because, let's face it, if it's just me, I'm bound to fail and to fail spectacularly.

I want to end with a prayer I wrote for myself the other night. I've been feeling sort of like I'm just treading water lately, that I'm not making any progress. I think that it's likely stems from a natural lull in my emotions after all the excitement about the newness of everything here has worn off, but whether it is or it isn't, I just need help to see the light, I guess. I'm excited to come home for a week (I arrive on the 22nd and return on the 29th) to celebrate Christmas with my friends and family and to, hopefully, get some rejuvenation., the prayer:

Isn't it something the way Love works?
           The way Life works?
      The way that, just, all of a sudden,
           Something Happens.
           And Changes everything.

      But then, when I look,
           It's not sudden,
           It's not life changing.
      I look back and...
      The signs were there,
           All pointing to it.
           My life was there.
           It was laid before me.

      It was always You.

           We, we were all just too blind to see.

Lord, don't let me be blind again.
      Let me keep Your Wisdom.
      Sustain me with Your Power.

      Let me always see Your Joy.
           Let me always feel Your Love.
           Let that Love radiate through me.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Part-Time Parenting

My name is Robert, and I (with 5 other people) run a community house.

It's not easy but it's not always hard either. What we want to be is a safe place for kids who live in our neighborhood. We want to be a safe place for these children of Los Angeles, many struggling with issues of poverty, undocumented parents, gangs, and an abysmal school district in addition to all the regular pressures of growing up. Here, we want kids to be able to visit and have a place to play, a place to study and get help studying, a place to form hopes and express dreams, a place where they find encouragement and experience both tough and tender love, and, just maybe, a place to meet God.

Now, our neighborhood can be a bit deceiving. On the surface, it's quite pleasant. The houses and apartments are cute, if a little run-down. Paramount Studios is right next door, bringing with it a flurry of nicer cars that park on the streets but don't belong. As men ring bells on their carts selling cold drinks and corn dripping with mayonnaise while the tamale man wanders the alleyways beckoning you in singsong tones, you might forget about the pressing realities. I often catch myself thinking about how cute my neighborhood is, or how 'small-town' it feels, but reality always sneaks back in. It sneaks back in when you realize that the 'neighborhood' of Hollywood is 3.5 square miles with a population of nearly 24,000 people per square mile. (Use your multiplication skills). For those folks back home, compare the grand city of Concord, at 51.6 square miles with a total population of near 56,000. There are a lot of people here and that doesn't even include the tourists.

Reality sneaks back in when I fall asleep to the sound of LAPD helicopters (affectionately called, 'ghetto birds') circling overhead looking for criminals or when I notice the graffiti change every few weeks. It comes back when I bike up Gower in the morning past the RV's where people who have lost their homes live and sleep. The realities of the world and poverty make me angry when our neighbor calls and asks for a ride to the emergency room when her child who has little more than a cough. It's frustrating to listen to kids tell you about gangs and, whether they are exaggerating or not, about attempts to recruit them. Questions about drugs and violence seep into daily conversations. According to everyone, the LAPD are racist and can't be trusted while the Los Angeles County Sheriffs are worse.

The world that these kids grow up in is about as not 'cozy small-town' and as frightening as it can get. It's made worse when you learn that only ten out of every one hundred freshman who enter a Los Angeles Unified School district high school graduate having taken the necessary college preparatory classes. That means that only ten percent of students graduate with even the chance of applying to college and then have to compete with the graduates from San Diego, San Francisco and students from all over the country. That leaves ninety students, some dropouts and some not, mostly unequipped to excel and succeed (at least, by the school system). It makes it difficult to even believe that the cycle can or will be broken.

And so, these kids come to our La Casa de Communidad four evenings a week and bring this reality with them. Sometimes there are three and sometimes there are twenty. They range in age from three years to sixteen and, many times, we don't know what do with them. But, we try. We play with them and help them with homework if they ask. We talk to them about their lives and about ours while answering questions about God and faith. When they misbehave, we demand change or firmly request that they go home. We're always trying to figure out better ways to connect and better ways to teach, not just academics but habits and lessons that might lead to a better life than these children believe they can have. Really, we just try to love them.

Sometimes this means jumping up and down and screaming with a little kid for ten minutes (an exhilarating workout) and sometimes it means discovering how frustrating algebra can be. It's trying to figure out what kids are saying behind codewords and Spanish (and Spanish codewords) and encouraging honesty and understanding in a world that no one understands. It's hard. It's frustrating. It's exhausting. It's fun. We do the best we can, and, while we can probably do better, I think we're doing a pretty good job.


Pray for the community house, the kids, me and my housemates. Pray that we can find God's guidance, God's love, and God's energy.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? --Romans 8:31-35

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Role Models

My Uncle Ed was a big man.

He wasn't just big in size or in the volume and resonance of his voice. It wasn't just his chainsaws or his truck that were big. He was huge. And I'm pretty sure it's because he was bursting, exploding with love, brimmed with joy, and wrapped in courage. When he died almost a year ago after a long battle with cancer, I had no idea what to do. You see, Uncle Ed had always been there and you always knew he was there. Dressed in old overalls, he was in Mawmaw's kitchen, slicing the mold off of the old cheese and eating it (the cheese, not the mold) and inhaling whatever cookies were in the jar (leaving very few behind). He was stomping through the doorway on Christmas in pajama pants and a Santa hat. He was at the beach on his birthday and driving his big white truck around Odell and Kannapolis most other days. He was the kind of guy that, when he spoke, you wanted to listen. He was always reading, always praying in his booming voice, and always giving all that he had and all of the joy that he had. His love was wide and long and he spent it, not just on his wife and his daughter, but on everyone he met.

Uncle Ed was huge.

Now, Uncle Ed was never afraid to tell you what he thought or to do something that other people might think was a little crazy. I loved him for that. I love him still. It was hard for me, and for a lot of people, to watch his body wither away last year, but I can say proudly that he never lost his spirit and that he never stopped trusting God. Like Ed, the void he left behind is huge, but the way he lived his life and the way he let it end inspire us, not to fill this void because that is impossible, but to grow ourselves, to love everyone just like he did, and not to let a little fear keep us from trusting God.

It was providence, I think, that allowed Ed's funeral to be the place I was invited to the Montreat College Conference last year. Not only is the conference where I learned about the Young Adult Volunteer program, but it is where I heard Dr. Cynthia Rigby speak about the boxes she had built in her life and how she had escaped them. It made me think of Uncle Ed. I'm not sure that he ever lived in box, at least not when I knew him. I cited this message from Dr. Rigby in my application to volunteer this year because it reminded me so much of my uncle. It reminded me that I knew what a life lived unencumbered by fear looked like because I had seen it. It reminded me that the only thing holding me back was me. I could do something that seemed maybe a little bit crazy. I could put my life in God's hands and ask Him to take care of me.

Because of this, because of my Uncle Ed, I have named my blog Keepin' On. Many will be aware that after my accident, my Uncle Steve (also, a pretty great guy) kept a blog on Caring Bridge that let my friends and neighbors keep up with progress of my healing. Many, many people would come to this blog and sign the guest book with words of encouragement, memories, and prayers. I am immensely thankful for each signature and I want everyone to know that it is still a place I go for comfort when I'm feeling down. After all, there are few pick-me-ups that near equal 1,340 messages telling you how great you are and how much you are loved. One of the most faithful signers was my Uncle Ed who would end most every post with “and keep on keeping on,” which, I think, is very solid advice.

So this week, keep on. Maybe, do something a little crazy...and tell God about it.


Pray for Uncle Ed, my Aunt Jan, my cousin Marimarie and my entire family. We all miss Ed and it's not easy to live life without him. Pray for a homeless man's feet, (we'll call him Jack) that they will be healed. Pray that we can all be good Christian role models. Pray for my housemates and I as we put on a Fall Festival for the community, that we meet new people and form lasting relationships.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. --Romans 13:8-10

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Living and Loving

So, a few folks have contacted me in various ways since my last post and expressed concerns for my safety. I appreciate all of the concerns, but let me try and alleviate them, if only a bit. You see, the first concern of all members of the Outreach team is safety. The number one rule is that, when going to encounter a client, you always have a partner. You don't leave your partner and your partner doesn't leave you. We have been trained to always be aware of our surroundings and to position ourselves for quick escape if necessary. Sometimes this is complex because body postures and positioning that are aimed for safety do not always invite comfort and trust. Our supervisors have told us that if we ever feel unsafe, all we have to do is express that feeling and we will leave the situation, whether it be in conversation with one client or approaching an encampment of twenty people. I also want to mention that the people I work with have years of experience with the homeless in outreach and shelter environments and that they share knowledge about expectations and safety openly. My boss has been working in outreach for more than 10 years. All other employees have at least 3 years experience with the homeless. So, if you have been worried about my safety on the streets in my job, I thank you, but be comforted by the fact it is our priority. While no situation is completely safe, we do our best to minimize risk.

But now, a little about some of my week and of course, some thoughts. On Monday, two of my roommates and I went to a filming of the show Community (Watch Thursdays on NBC!). This not a show that typically is recorded with a live studio audience. We were lucky (and grateful)to have been invited by one of the show's stars and member of Hollywood Presbyterian, Joel McHale. The show is recorded on Stage 31 in Paramount Studios, which is literally a three minute walk from our apartment. I want to say that it's weird when you cross into the studio. You go from this low income neighborhood full of older apartments, vegetable trucks, and people struggling to make it day to day into Paramount Studios with its Little New York, actors dressed in period outfits (apparently) filming French silent films, and star trailers filled with food and comfort. It's another world in there and, even though you only see walls from the outside, that world is always there.

But anyway, it was fun to watch the show be filmed. We were on set for about six hours (except for lunch...which we got for free from the snack trailer) and saw like a grand total of two minutes of television being filmed. It's definitely an interesting process. In the one scene that was filmed the entire time we were there (again, about six hours), they would aim the cameras at one or two actors, do multiple takes to ensure they got the right dialogue in the right way or in different ways (happy, sad, loud, quiet, etc.) just in case they changed their minds later and then they would set-up the cameras for a different angle or on a different actor and do it all over again. I'll just say that there are 23 minutes of action in an episode and that it typically takes 5 to 7 days to wrap the filming. So, we saw that, got to talk to the writer, met a few of the stars, and got a tour of the stage from the gaffer (the guy who handles lighting) who happened to have grown up around the studio (his father was gaffer before he was). We learned that the studio was built by Howard Hughes, but because he was cheap, he invented a system to open the stage doors with the city's water pressure rather than invest in an electric opener. Clever. Also, for anyone who cares, the episode we saw was being directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (Thorny from Super Troopers) and he's taller than I expected.

But, like I said, it was cool to meet the stars and find that they were all pretty laid back and nice. It was definitely fun to watch the dynamic of the group work just like any other team in any other job. But it was weird to think that the next day, I'd be back on the streets talking to the poor and homeless while these folks went on arguing about their lines. And this is a lesson that I think I've been learning for a long time. I learned it in Sunday School when I was kid. I learned it when I went through all the pain from the accident and the people in the hospital rooms on either side of me were experiencing the same horrible pain. Now I have learned it in Beverly Hills at a gala hosted at a billionaire's mansion. I've learned it sharing space and resources with my housemates. And I've learned it talking to TV stars at crafts services behind the scenes. God loves all people, He loves them from the diabetic homeless man who had his insulin stolen, to the pregnant heroin-abusing woman peeing behind a trash can, to billionaire textile importers, to the Scientologists dressed in uniforms pruning their bushes down the street, to the man plotting to bomb a subway or skyscraper, to the mother cooking dinner for her family, to the immigrant crossing the desert in the cold of night, and Chevy Chase. Yes, God loves Chevy Chase...even after Vegas Vacation. God loves them and God wants them. The funny thing is, most of these people just want to be treated with a little respect and a little bit of love. And most of them are capable of giving it in return.

When we were talking to the amputee that I met on the streets of Westchester last week, whose insulin had been stolen two weeks prior, a number of other homeless people approached us and told us how worried they were about him and how he needed help. That pregnant herion-addict I mentioned, she and her boyfriend had loaned their blankets to the man, to Roy, and watched over him as he deteriorated. We ended up calling the paramedics to take him to the hospital and I know he can use our prayers, but the point is that all people need our love. It's an easy thing to say and it's easy to put aside. It's a lesson that I've had to learn again and again (and again), but I'm happy that I'm learning it in Hollywood now. It's a great place to practice because I can't think of many other places where I can talk to a man who has been homeless for 4 and a half years and then cross a wall where, literally on the other side, I can share that same love and respect with an actor dressed in the newest shoes and snacking on tuna salad and lettuce (so he stays in shape for his contract).

Loving each other is hard and its easy to forget, but it's something that we're called to do. And I want to say that I don't think it ends with just talking to each other or sharing a sandwich, even though that's a good start. I think that it means wanting the best for everyone and thinking about the systems that we subscribe to, that we allow to shape the world into a place that lets Roy exist in the same city, subsisting on less than ten dollars and the care of people with little more, with the gated communities of Beverly Hills and actors laughing on the other side of the wall. However, we are not meant to just ponder these systems; we are meant to change them. You see, we built that wall and it is far past time that we tear it down.


Pray for Roy. Pray for my brother, Turner, who just sent his first college application. Pray for my housemates and I as we plan our community house structure and events. Pray for people on both sides of the wall, pray that they will meet and both will be changed for God's glory.

Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. --Matthew 20:14


Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Work is interesting. I'm on PATH's Street Outreach Team based out of Hollywood. Here's what I tell people when they ask me what exactly it is we do on Outreach:

Basically, we spend our time in the various neighborhoods of Los Angeles looking for the homeless. When we find them, we approach them and talk to them (if they'll let us), meeting them where they are and offering a lunch and, sometimes, a hygiene kit. What we're trying to do is build trust with these people, our clients, with the eventual goal of motivating them to come in off the street to shelter where they can get help.

Now that sounds pretty cool, but it really doesn't encapsulate everything I've experienced in these last two weeks. What it amounts to is that we spend a lot of time riding around in a van looking for people and then looking for parking. But it also means that we spend our time getting ignored and rejected. It means shaking hands with people who don't look clean (because they aren't). It means getting yelled at and hated. It means meeting people who genuinely want help but are fed up with the system. It means joy when dropping off a client at shelter. It means listening to a man in a worn-out wheelchair quote Maya Angelou while talking about the social division that exists between residents of West Hollywood (with an average rent greater than $2200) and the homeless. It means asking a delusional client if he needs any clothes as he eats the baloney sandwich you just gave him across the street from the Beverly Hills Gucci.

It also means sitting in meetings listening to law enforcement speak about homeless as trespassers and criminals, which they may be, though it's difficult to reconcile this image when I spend my days looking into their faces and listening to their stories. After all, where else are they to go besides street corners, park benches and alleyways full of dumpsters?

Did you know that there's an area of central Los Angeles called Skid Row that is widely accepted as the homeless capital of the nation, meaning that there are more homeless per square mile than anywhere else in the country? Even if you have heard of Skid Row, you may not be aware that there is a law in place only in that area of Los Angeles that prevents any person from sleeping in the streets between the hours of 5am and 9pm. Initially, the law was in effect 24 hours a day, but the State's Supreme Court ruled that, without enough beds in the city to shelter the homeless, criminalizing sleeping in public was unconstitutional. Estimates of the Los Angeles county homeless population vary between 48,000 and 90,000. There are 13,000 shelter beds.

Now, I want you to take a second and step off a ledge with me. How many empty bedrooms would you estimate are in Los Angeles? How many are in your own home? What if they all were opened?

So, I don't know. What I'm feeling right now is a lot of frustration with the problem and the systems and locales we're working in. This weekend, Brady and I went to see a movie in Universal City, which is like hyper-Los Angeles. Basically, it's an outdoor mall dedicated to the bright and flashy lights of consumerism (literally, every store advertises with huge neon signs). It's a place teeming with excess and higher prices charged just because, at this place, you're meant to feel like you're somewhere special. I wanted to vomit.  I thought about Eddie, fresh from having two stints placed around his heart, still wearing hospital bracelets, heart-beat sensor stuck to his chest, pulling two grocery carts behind his wheelchair that looks to lose its front wheels at any moment.


Please pray for the people that my roommates and encounter in our work. And pray (this is a big one) that God can use us and the many other Christians here to change the culture a city that is often blind to its shortcomings. Lastly, let us not forget to pray for ourselves (because I often do), that we may see and hear God everyday.

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 

"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 

"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' 

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 

"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 

"'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 

"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' " --Luke 16:19-31

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sooo, like, I'm Here and I've Been Here, and It Looks Like I'll Keep Being Here....

I like long titles, so, deal with it.

The first two weeks in Hollywood have been interesting, neat, thoughtful, surreal, and a whole lot of other things. I've told some people that it's odd being in a town where I've heard of all of the street names but never have put faces on them. I mean, I live between Santa Monica and Melrose Boulevards, and last week, my housemates and I drove down Ventura into the Valley, like, totally, the Valley, though I didn't see any vampires. Vine, like the Vine in Hollywood & Vine is a block to my west  and Paramount Studios a block to the east. So, it's weird, but I think I'm over it. For instance, there was  a red-carpet premiere last night outside the gym I've joined, and they were blocking the annoying.

So, I don't really know what to say about the first two weeks here. We've seen some cool stuff--Chinatown, a bakery and restaurant run by former gang members, the Walk of Fame, and we've met a number of powerful Christians with tales of faith and giving that are amazing. I've had conversations with a few homeless people, some excited to talk about their pasts (imagined or not) and others about sports (mostly the Lakers) or old-beat up hearses. It's been an interesting ride so far, with a lot of prayer and a lot of getting-to-know my housemates (or I should say, my community), our neighborhood, relearning how-to-ride-a-bike, and so much more. Yesterday was our first day of work, and I think that it, along with the next few days, may deserve their own post, so watch out for that, but I'll say that the first day was very cool and that it made me only more excited about what I'm doing this year.

And, with that, I think I'll end it...or, at least, it'll be over soon.


Please pray for my housemates, Alayna from South Dakota, Alex from Pittsburgh, Brady and Josh from Indiana, and Kyle from Tennessee as we continue to learn to love and live with each other and figure out our new jobs. Pray for the people we meet and the immediate neighborhood  around Gregory Avenue as we begin to open La Casa de Communidad to our neighbors and discern their needs.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

Monday, August 30, 2010

So, Orientation, That was Interesting....

Leaving. Going, Gone, BYE! So, I arrived in New York's La Guardia airport a few minutes earlier than expected but on a different flight than planned. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes, I realized that my baggage was on the original flight. I quickly met a couple-a-YAV's without committing their names to memory before dashing to the correct terminal to claim my bags from United.

Then, I waited. I waited for some facilators to find me. I waited with other YAV's for more flights to arrive. I waited for the shuttle and then I waited for the hour and a half drive to the conference center. It seems like I have been waiting all week, waiting to really leave and to do something. Heck, now I'm waiting in Chicago's Midway airport before a 4 hour flight to LA. It's kind of weird, because the whole week at Stony Point was about being...being present, being aware, being focused on our personal gifts and those of our community.

I definitely learned some things but I don't think it's necessary to go through them here. The most important, I think, is to be ready for anything, to not get too attached to my own expectations, whether they concern people or events or anything else. The tough part is being fully present in the current moment because I think that's when we feel closest to each other and to God and it's difficult not to get caught up in tomorrow or yesterday, next month or last year.

The times that I felt most present this week were during song. Many of the songs we sung were short, simple, and repetitive. I leave you with my favorite of the week, sung during the last night's worship and communion.

We were once no people,
but now we belong to each other,
and to God
(Also, I'm here (like in Hollywood), but more on that later, and later and later and later!)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why I'm Doing What I'm Doing, or Part of It.

I thought, or I suppose that I think, that a good way to start this little blogging adventure would be to tell everyone a bit about why I decided to do this in the first place. What 'this' is is much more than a blogging adventure--it's a life adventure. It's a year long commitment to trusting God and community while sharing those two vital things with people in need. Now, I'm not arrogant enough to think that I can tell you why God called me to this journey or even all of the reasons that I think I'm supposed to go, but I thought I'd start with the first time  I'm pretty sure that I felt God whisper it in my ear. But first a quick background....

Most people reading this probably know the story and know it well. During the summer of 2006, I was in a car accident. It is no exaggeration to say that I should have died; in fact, a number of medical professionals have told me so. I spent months under sedation, and a total of ten and one half in the hospital. You can look at me and get a pretty good sense of my injuries. I was burned badly on large swathes of my body and my right foot was amputated. The part that I don't really talk about is the part after the hospital, the part where I was dealing with this visibility of my injury and the reaction of others to it and the questions of why something like this should happen to me.

You see, at this point, I was sort of operating on the premise that if I pretended to be happy for long enough that, eventually, I'd just be happy, sort of like magic. I was caught up in questioning why I had to be hurt, anger that I was hurt, and I lugged around this deep cynicism that any stranger who was looking at me or asking me about how I was injured was doing it selfishly and rudely, and everyone was looking. I was the victim. It's no fun being a victim.

Of course, there are places that were safe, places full of people I already knew and that treated me like I was the old Robert. In fact, if I'm honest, this is probably the only reason I even cared to go back to church at first--I certainly didn't care too much for God. I got a sour taste in my mouth every time someone told me I was miracle, that God had saved me for something special. After all, wasn't He the one who made me need the saving in the first place?

But, church was safe, family and old friends were safe. Places that weren't safe were full of rude, uncaring, self-interested people. There was no deeply Southern gas station lady, howling out, "Boy, you look like you caught on fire!" as I hobbled into the store. There were no eager, would-be hero-worshippers, stomping off and muttering "I only wanted to thank you for your service." Nobody would walk up to me and say, "Man, you look like you got thrashed!" (Incidentally, that's my favorite comment so far). My cynicism was getting the best of me. Everyone was looking at me and everyone had some ulterior motive, some secret agenda.

Then, there was this little girl. I won't say that this was an epiphany where all the knowledge of the world just slammed sideways into my brain, but it was the first moment I felt good, that I genuinely laughed about all that I had been through. I was wheeling into the movie theater at Concord Mills when this little girl, probably three or four years old, looked up at me and all she did was say, in the cutest most genuine voice, "What happened to you?" Immediately, her mom pulled her away and told her how impolite of a question that was, but I just laughed.

And it felt really good.

The reason that I've set out on this adventure is that. I want to care about people in need of an ear, a hand, a leg-up (haha) or whatever else and I want to show them what I've learned, how my family, my community have stood by me, loved me, held me up while never failing to praise the Lord, and how we're ready and willing to do the same for them. I want to make people feel like that little girl made me feel when she picked the first of the scales from my eyes. And, the Lord has spent the past year making it difficult to refuse.


Please pray this week for my fellow YAV's as we spend this week in meditation and worship to help us focus on the journeys that lie before us. Pray for the friends and families we left behind and the new friends we'll make at our sites, and pray for the little things we can all do to make someone's day better.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. -Psalm 139 v7-10.