8th & Wyandot: Your Gift to the World

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I had no idea that she was a poet. Writing was something she only did behind closed doors and she felt too shy to share it with any of us. Over the course of two or three years she had written dozens of poems—some for school, but most of them because it was her way to process the experiences of her life.

One day, perhaps by accident, one of our staff members caught a glimpse of her talent with words. Pretty soon everyone was reading the piece she had decided she was willing to share. You could tell that she was excited to finally have someone else read her work, and maybe a little nervous because of what we might have to say about it.

After repeating this a few times, one of our staff members decided we needed to ask her, and one of our boys, to create and perform a poem at an upcoming event. They were informed that it would give them a chance to perform, but even more than that, it would be an act of service that would benefit Joshua Station. They both jumped on board and prepared rigorously for the event. Something had come alive in them. Her secret hobby had become her gift to the world around her, and she felt the deep significance of that reality.

We all have gifts, skills, passions. In some circles these things get treated like nothing more than a personal experience, something that can serve to inflate our egos, and if we are really lucky, make us lots of money. But this misses the deeper invitation of life.

Our work, our art, our music, our writing, it all has the potential to be a gift to the world. The girl who wrote poetry in secret had no idea how much her words would touch the spirit of our staff, or tug on the hearts of the donors in attendance at the event where she performed. The great irony is that when we recognize the invitation to become a gift to the world, our work becomes overwhelmingly more fulfilling than if we ignore it. So what is your gift? How can you share it with the world around you?

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.
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Loving Is Not Fixing

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My wife is a Birth Doula. In her work she often has to bite her tongue. It’s a part of her job to make sure parents have all the information they need in order to make a decision. Her job is not to make sure they make the “right” one. That’s hard. It’s something I think about every time we talk about her work, and it’s also uncovering some difficult aspects of my own.

It seems that Joshua Station is filled with stories that include myself and other staff people having to let go of control and simply love our folks well. Recently a young lady from our youth program was forced to make the decision to move out of her home to live with another family member.

I have been struck by the difficulty of loving her well through it all. Loving her well, I am finding, doesn’t mean fixing things. The raw truth is that this cannot be fixed.  That’s really hard for me. I am the guy that wants to make sure that she never has to deal with this pain ever again. But still the pain returns. I want to make sure that everyone in her life makes only the healthiest choices for her, but then they don’t. It’s as if God is using a crowbar to pry my fingers away from the whole situation—asking me to take a step back and realize that this one’s out of my control.

Loving is not fixing. But what does it look like to love a 13 year old who has never known stability? If I can’t protect her, what does loving her look like? Today, maybe it looks like a prayer. Maybe tomorrow it will look like a hot chocolate and sincerely asking how she’s doing. Honestly, I don’t really know what it looks like. Love is like that. It’s mysterious and impossible to boil down to a formula. For now I feel like I am simply being invited to hold her story with intentionality. To pray. To grieve. Maybe that’s what love looks like after all.

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

Poop, Contemplation, and Pulling My Hair Out

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“Poop! HaHa! Poop! HaHa!” Carly was most definitely amusing herself as she lay on the floor repeating that word—erupting into laughter. A few of the kids weren’t able to contain themselves and began laughing along. Others were angry and started yelling at her to shut up. My volunteers just looked at me like deer in the head lights. And I just shrugged my shoulders, which in this case meant “Somebody please fire me”, which might have been a distinct possibility since my boss was observing Kids Club that night.

Despite how stressful it was, this scene makes me smile today. Carly is autistic and her presence in Kids Club has been difficult at times. But her presence also firmly placed a magnifying glass over our program and revealed the obvious need to slow things down a bit. Kids Club has always been chaotic—complete with running, yelling, cartwheels, flying kickballs, and no shortage of crying. Carly’s reactions became the catalyst we needed to say, “Something has to change.” She taught me a great deal about how to structure Kids Club, and she even joined a chorus of others—mostly my wife and a couple of books—in teaching me the importance of slowing things down externally for the benefit of our centeredness internally. In short, Carly became a sort of Spiritual Director for me.

Perhaps Carly’s influence on Kids Club has a significance for those of us pursuing a contemplative spirituality in the West.  Our culture is one of over indulgence, over entertainment, and over stimulation. All of these things form a loud static through which hearing the deepest rhythms of God in the Universe becomes nearly impossible. Carly began to do better in Kids Club when we reduced the level of intensity of our games, simplified our schedule, and offered the kids more predictability. My family began to feel the fog lift at home when we reduced the amount of stuff we had, created an intentional family rhythm, and sought a deeper connection to the natural world by getting our beloved hens.

My initial reaction to this wisdom was similar to that of the kids at Joshua Station. I panicked. I couldn’t imagine my life without the noise that had become so normal. I am grateful that panic eventually gave way to a sense of simply trusting the process that was unfolding. It’s a process that helped Carly stay engaged at Kids Club and it’s a process that allows me to hear more of that deep rhythm in the universe as well as within myself. It is a rhythm seldom heard in our culture, but it is nothing short of transformational.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

8th & Wyandot: Be Fruitful & Multiply

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“What gives you life?” I am pretty new to this whole ‘be a chaplain to the youth’ thing, but that seemed like an important question to ask. “I write.” The answer was simple and yet took me completely by surprise. Becky has been a part of the Joshua Station community off and on for the past 7 years. During that time she had developed a reputation for literally falling asleep when I would start up a conversation in Teen Group that required any level of depth. I imagined her watching netflix. I imagined her taking multiple naps after school. But writing? Nope, didn’t see that one coming.

Since this conversation I have encouraged Becky to keep writing and she has graciously allowed me into that sacred space of reading the fiction tales she likes to put together. I have occupied that sacred space with many youth over the years. Karen and her painting, Juan and his color pencil drawings that looked so crisp we suspected it was ink, Robert and Kimberly with their spoken word, Emery with her music. There seems to be an innate desire to do more than just absorb. There seems to be an innate desire to create. To create something—anything that feels like it could cause a ripple in the world around us.

Our community recognizes that God invites us into the ongoing act of Creation. For some of us that invitation leads us to have children. For others it leads us to plant trees or gardens. For others it beckons us to allow the beauty of our inner voice to come forth through song, poetry, dance, visual art, writing, and the list goes on and on.  All of these things are expressions of what it means to participate in that ongoing act of Creation.

Understanding that we have the power to create also comes with an awareness that what we create has the power to be thoughtless, harmful, needlessly offensive, unjust, and counter productive to God’s dream of Creation. We have the power to create societies where there are none among us lacking essentials and dignity, and we have the power to create societies where some have and others have not. We have the power to speak words that serve to inspire those around us, and we have the power to speak words that cut others off at the knees. We have the power to create goodness, joy, peace, and love, and we have the power to create horror, sadness, war, and hatred.

What I love about asking the youth the question I asked Becky is that the answer is rarely something that serves to create the negative world I’ve alluded to. When they listen to what’s stirring within themselves, what wells up is almost always full of goodness, joy, peace, and love. May they listen to that stirring—and may we follow suit.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

8th & Wyandot: Care for the Widows, the Orphans, and the Grasshoppers Among You

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The three boys—some of our biggest troublemakers—walked into the front office beaming with ear to ear smiles. They were more than eager to show us what was inside the jar with holes poked into the lid. Some of the girls ran screaming as they proudly displayed the grasshopper they had caught. They had named it and were already making plans for how they would care for it. This plan included avoiding their mothers, who they knew would make them set the little guy free.

Most children have a special fondness for animals. Kids will often ask their parents for puppies and kitties, while parents exhaust every excuse to avoid giving in. But there is something about the special bond many kids on the margins of society have with the animals they encounter. The love they have for them, and the tenderness with which they care for them, is noticeable.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes a statement that is rather disorienting and deeply mystical. He says that whatever you do to “one of the least of these” you do to Him. What a profoundly humbling thing to really think about! How have you treated Jesus today? I’m not sure I would like my own answer to that question.

Somehow this notion of caring for those who are weaker, for those who are either oppressed or their plight simply ignored, is not a difficult one for children—especially children who find themselves in places like Joshua Station. In fact their treatment of vulnerable creatures—like their grasshopper friend—often puts to shame their treatment of each other! Still, there is something welling up inside of these kids that we would do well to pay attention to.

May we feel that love and consciousness welling up inside of us that leads to the care for the “least of these” among us. May we love and care for them as we would Jesus Himself, because after all, we are.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

8th & Wyandot: Loving the Vandal

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The chaotic scene left behind by her was shocking. Nearly every car in the parking lot, much of the building, and lots of sidewalk space was covered in profanity creatively written with a few items from the condiment shelf at the grocery store. She hoped that nobody saw her, and expressed a deep amount of shame over the incident when she realized they had.

She is one of the most interesting kids I’ve gotten to know over the years at Joshua Station. She is—all at once—everyone’s favorite kid to hang out with, and everyone’s biggest pain. Being one of the first kids that I got to know, her story has brought Nicole and I lots of joy, sadness, anxiety, and excitement over the years. It is true for us that she is one of our biggest pains. It is also true for us that she is one of our favorites. In short, we truly love her.

There was a sense of certainty that she would be cast out. After all she had put us through, this surely had to be the last straw. Surely we would say, “We have given you so many chances to behave differently, and you just don’t seem to get it!” But what she was truly struggling to “get” was just how loved she really was. Of course, there would have to be consequences, but she would never be cast out. She seems to expect that someday our love for her will end and our wrath will take over. But that’s just not how it works. That’s just not who we are, and that’s just not who she is to us!

Her reluctance to believe how much we love her has placed a mirror in front of my face when it comes to my trust in God’s love. I find myself saying, “Surely God has reached the end of the rope. Surely I will be cast out this time.” And it’s as if God gently whispers back, “That’s just not who I am, and that’s just not who you are to me.

May we—along with our resident troublemaker—allow our defenses to drop and truly trust that God’s love is not conditional. We are not going to be cast out. That’s just not who God is, and that’s just not who we are to God.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

8th & Wyandot: Holy Interruptions

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I have an office at Joshua Station that is isolated from everyone else. Some people have expressed their sympathy saying things like, “You must be so lonely.” These people obviously don’t know that I am pretty introverted and love the fact that when I go to work I am away from all of those interruptions that can keep work from getting done. I love the fact that I can “hide” for a few minutes before Kids Club to prepare myself for an hour of chuck e cheese level craziness. I also love the opportunities I get in my office to read, pray, and practice contemplation. It really has become a sacred space for me in recent years.

But sometimes even our sacred spaces get invaded. This time it was a particularly irritating interruption. I was reading my weekly devotion out of Meal From Below when my co-worker came in to inform me that a man was downstairs and that he needed to take a drug test…and I was the only male staff person around.

I was so irritated! I had to leave my time of spiritual formation to do something that felt very “non-spiritual”. In fact, it felt awkward as hell! I hate giving drug tests. There are few things a guy hates to hear more than, “I need to watch you pee.”

The irony of that situation is that I was reading a book put out by friends of mine who feel called to be people of the Incarnation. I realized as I was giving this man I had never met a drug test that I was experiencing what my friends would identify as the genesis of spirituality. Spiritual experience does not start with me reading a spiritual work, or even finding a quiet place to pray. As important as those things are, spirituality begins with the real stuff of life. And the real stuff of life for this man was that he and his family were homeless. They were really hoping to get into Joshua Station to find transformation, and my irritated self reluctantly played an important part in helping make that happen.

I realized that day that moments of Incarnation often feel like they take me out of spirituality, but really they help me come face to face with it. It is my prayer that I will become more and more aware of the gift of interruptions—especially the particularly uncomfortable ones.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.