When it all falls apart

What do you do when you’ve let yourself slide back into who you were?

What do you do when the supports you were used to vanish and you feel like you’re failing on your own?

When you’re drowning, when life is uncertain, when everything feels like it is falling apart, what is it exactly you should do?

You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and remember that it is a new day and another chance to make a different choice; a better choice.

In the end, I’ve learned that I am my best advocate and when I stop advocating for myself and allow myself to fall into a hole, the hole just gets deeper and deeper. Even the people who reach out, who notice I’m digging the hole, who throw down a rope and say, “hey, grab on!” can’t do anything more than wait for me to take hold and pull myself up to the level where they can assist.

Moving back home is hard, working two jobs that include taking care of other people the entire time are tedious, having uncertain hours and a weird schedule that sometimes includes working overnight is exhausting. Add in the fact that old supports were left in Southern California and the new supports I fashioned out of scraps I’ve managed to unearth are actually not that sturdy in the long run and I find myself living in a world of instability. My environment acts against me and foils me at every turn but the worst thing I did was give into it.

I began consuming the negative, I became a victim of circumstance, I began to blame the universe for something that was ultimately my choice.

Then I had a moment of clarity, a breath of fresh air, and it hasn’t changed anything; it has empowered.

I can change. I can self-advocate. I can engage in self-care and I can do this.

Because I am stubborn and strong and willful and by golly I have a purpose and I haven’t been doing a great job at living it out lately.

Time to pick up, dust off, and get back to work.

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A Man Named Chris

As I was walking out of church and toward my car I saw a ragged looking fellow sitting on a bus bench surrounded by all of his belongings. I had seen him there before, in the parking lot behind the bus stop, but hadn’t ever paid attention. I noticed him, would think to myself ‘maybe one day I’ll offer to help him out,’ but nothing more than that.

Tonight though, as I walked to my car I realized I wanted to go talk to him. I put my purse in my car, took out my wallet, and stood by my car for a few minutes wrestling with myself. He seems to have food, maybe he is taken care of. After all, there was a food bag near him. I know I have been praying that I would reach out to people, but maybe there will be another chance. Then I looked up, took a deep breath, asked God for strength and the next thing I knew my car was locked and I was walking over to this strange man.

It took a moment to get his attention and I asked him a simple question: Do you need anything?

Little did I know those four words would lead to an hour of me listening and learning about this amazing individual.

He told me that he did not need anything. He had his little stove, he had a new coat he had picked up for $1.44 somewhere, and he had coffee. His name was Chris, and for an hour he shared a lot about his life and what it is like to live on the street day in and day out. He told me that he was forced out onto the street because housing was too expensive, but said that he did not blame anyone.

He gave me advice, too. He told me that sometimes people have to make the hard decision even if it means giving up achievement and success. People get stuck going in one direction and they never stop to look around or see if it is really worth pursuing. They pursue success, but sometimes success is not all it is cut out to be. He said even animals know to not head in the same direction all their lives and that even though he had chosen a difficult direction he would figure out a way to get back to a good place.

Chris mentioned that he did not like Starbucks coffee; he was a Folgers guy, but that the lemon loaf was delicious. He then offered to give me money to go buy one for myself to try. I said if he wanted to buy one for me, then he should come with me and we’ll go enjoy some together. He then told me about life on the street, about how he could not just leave all of his stuff because people would come and steal it. He said rarely gets a good night’s rest because he always has to be half awake in order to protect his few possessions.

The most amazing thing, though (really everything that came out of this man’s mouth was amazing) was his willingness to forgive those who stole things from him. He told me that he tried not to dwell on it, that he often hoped whoever stole something of his really needed it, and that one day he will save up money to replace the things that were stolen so he would have no reason to ever hold a grudge. It was just stuff.

Did I mention that this man told me he was over 80 years old? He was born and raised in Texas, moved to Santa Ana where he lived and worked for 42 years. He did not explicitly mention that he was a veteran, but he kept mentioning his various visits to the VA hospital so I suspect he was. He told me his brother was the most decorated black man in the Army during the Korean War and that he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Chris also told me about the restaurants that turn him away when he asks for a cup of ice or even when he has money to spend and tries to buy food.

I spent an hour at that bus stop talking with him and by the time I was ready to walk away, I could not believe the encounter. He told me that there is a church in downtown Orange where he gets dinner a lot of nights and he would be happy to have a sandwich and another conversation with me. I told him where my church was and invited him to try it out one Sunday night. I figure if nothing else, he could sit in the warm lobby and maybe have a nap before he had to face the evening.

In the end I do not really have anything to share except this encounter as it stands. I did not approach this man by my own means, but through God’s strength I overcame my fear, I overcame the pressures of conformity, I overcame everything I was ever taught about not talking to strangers and learned more than I had ever anticipated.

We ended the night with a fist bump and a promise to say hi to each other if we see one another again. 

The Ruby Project Revelation

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Sometimes it is too hard to try and write a polished, pretty blog entry.

So I’ll just wing it. Tonight I went to a showcase put on by a non-profit organization called The Ruby Project. In short, they help young women who have been through abuse, trauma, or other painful things in life get back on their feet. They help these young women realize that they have worth and that they can rise above their circumstances. This showcase ended their weekend retreat and let me just say this: The things The Ruby Project ladies are doing for these girls are amazing.

Tonight I sat in the audience with tears in my eyes as these young girls shared their stories through poetry, dance, and storytelling. Girls who have been through so much for people so young got up and shared stories of being sold into sex trafficking (yup, that happens in the United States boys and girls), of getting into drugs, of being abused by family members or people related to the family. These girls were brave, beautiful, and in love with Jesus. I admire them for their courage and for their willingness to fight against all odds to live a better life.

The thing that really stuck out to me, however, was this: This is what the church is.

My friends, the Church isn’t supposed to be a building you go to on Sunday morning and don’t think about the rest of the week. Church isn’t just a weekly thing. Church isn’t just a place where you learn about the Bible. The Church isn’t supposed to be static and unmoving. The Church is a living thing. It is dynamic. It should penetrate every part of our lives. Why? Because it is the only thing worth living for.

To be the Church is to be a part of the body of Christ. It isn’t to be a member of a ton of people who make an agreement to meet every Sunday. It is to be a living, breathing, dynamic, loving force in the world. The Church is supposed to love each other and love others. We’re supposed to be out doing things and living out the Word.

Yet I find myself sitting, fretting about the future, fretting about grad school or what I’m going to do once I graduate. I get so caught up in what I have to do to get to a place where I can be someone significant, where I can be good enough to really do some good work for the Lord…that I miss out on a beautiful truth:

I have already been called and equipped to do what I need to do. I just need to do it.

Instead of thinking, “once I get a graduate degree I can really start helping people,” or “once I get to a place where I know enough of the Bible and can earn my place in God’s church I can do great things,” I need to accept the fact that I have been called even in my brokenness. Did those girls at the Ruby Project Showcase have it all together? Were they perfect? No. Yet they put their hearts out there, they put their pride on the line, and they let the love of God shine through them.

Where I am deficient, God is sufficient. The more I’m willing to own up to the fact that I have got nothing, the more God gives me. The more I give up and surrender to Him, the more I’m able to love because it isn’t my love coming out…it is God’s.

 

If you would like you support The Ruby Project, please check out their donation page. Your donation will help them with future projects, including next year’s showcase.