The Flip Side of Poverty

We see them – vagrants living on the streets, asking for handouts, and bumming rides. We judge them as runaways, addicts, alcoholics, or panhandlers. We rarely see little more than dirty clothes, mussed hair or the cardboard signs they carry. We might be bothered if we are stopped to hand them a crumpled up dollar bill from our wallets, or the considerate and those that think ahead, may have on hand a bag of toiletries and snacks or gift cards to local fast food joints. Then, their are the spiritually considerate that might hand them nothing more than a tract, with a word of encouragement. None of those things are wrong, exactly…but is it enough?

 More and more people are finding themselves homeless and in abject poverty. Did you know that 633, 782 people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night? That is a lot of people. And whereas, some of those people have chosen it by choosing drugs over shelter, the majority of them are simply homeless due to bad circumstances and tough breaks. I was talking to a friend of mine who has been living on the streets off and on since she was fifteen, and she admitted that even in government or state funded shelters there is no sense of security or safety. In fact, within 48 hours of street life, they are solicited for sexual acts…if it takes that long. And, some choose it. Because if one sexual favor means the difference between sleeping in the alley way or paying a few dollars to sleep in a shelter, to them, it might be worth it. This then makes them prime candidates for trafficking, and their problems just got a whole lot worse.

 I can’t imagine that choice, that feeling of fear and insecurity, the inability to really relax. But, being the thinker and imaginative soul that I am, I allowed myself a look at how easily that might happen to me and to my girls:

 Right now we are doing quite well. My husband has a good job and provides for us well, but in one split second my husband could die, and without his thinking ahead to provide life insurance, within a few months we could go from middle class to homeless. That fast. When you consider that one third of his paycheck goes to mortgage and then the other two thirds go to feed and clothe us, that money will dwindle quickly. Just a couple of late payments or missed payments and rejected calls from collections agents, we could found our house foreclosed on, our savings stripped and left with no other choice but to take to the streets. For us, it would take months. For some, it would take weeks.

 My friend I mentioned found herself on the streets when she was a teenager. Her mom was an alcoholic and her step dad was a pervert. One night she had a choice, she could roll over and give him what he wanted or she could hit the streets. With tears in her eyes and just enough clothes as would fit in an oversized bag, she chose the streets. She begged her mom to take her back, but her stepdad had already concocted a story that made her look like a whore and without the mental capacities to choose correctly, her mom refused her request. Her grandmother took her in for a while, but soon she passed away, and my sweet friend, again, was found to be helpless and homeless. She has not only been mugged multiple times, leaving her with a fear of having anything worth any value or money in any quantity, but she has been a witness to some of the most violent assaults that have forever left her fearful and haunted. Tragic. Perhaps even more tragic is she is one of thousands.

 On one of our meetings, I took her to the food stamp office. You know, the place that so many look down on unable to see beyond the masses that take advantage of it? The truth is, it does provide help. But, after sitting down with an elderly man, eager for food and desperate for help, I realized it’s increasingly difficult for the uneducated, unadvancing, and illiterate. As I walked away 45 minutes later, no further in the process than when he asked, my heart hurt for him…what hope did he have? I remember one day while mentoring at a local charitable organization, a woman was sitting in a corner, deep in thought, heavily burdened. I placed my arm around her and asked what was wrong. With big, sad eyes she said, “My baby is getting made fun of.” She had all of my attention. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between feeding my kids or washing their clothes… and lately all I can do is feed them.” She didn’t have to say any more. I know kids. I know their cruelties. But she was right, I didn’t understand her pain, not fully.

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There is a flip side to poverty. Humanity. There aren’t just poor. They are people with fears, insecurities, and dreams. We dismiss them because we don’t know their stories, we don’t feel their pain. We judge them based on heresay and speculation and prejudice. They are humans with souls and hearts, and each one of them from the addict begging for the next hit to the struggling single mom has a story. But, that requires getting out of our comfort zone. Knowing those stories is more work than handing out a baggie or a tract or few dollars. Because, if you get to know them, you might see that they need more. They might let you in to that well-guarded untrusting heart of theirs, and then you will be compelled to do something.

 What you can’t see this side of poverty, the side that we sit comfortably on with our cell phones and laptops with cold iced water in a glass, is that some of those “hopeless” souls know more about God and His love and provision then you and I will ever have to face. Some of them don’t have a clue about love, any love, or provision or hope or God. We can’t afford to ignore either of them – every soul deserves to be seen, even the unlovely.  I once heard, “People aren’t unlovely because they are unlovable, but because they are unloved.” I wonder, the imaginative hopeful side of me, if there were more loving, would there be less poverty. It’s just a thought, but grounded in Christ and living out His example, love is abundance.

 One of the most touching statements I have heard lately was from my mom whose heart for the hurting I inherited and who has lived out love to the less fortunate all my life. “I hurt for them. I would invite them into my house to stay in a heartbeat. In fact, maybe your dad and I will buy a trailer and set it up for just that reason.” I love her heart, and I would gladly contribute to that endeavor, and maybe we will, but we cannot house them all, feed them all, clothe them all, or help them all. None of us can save everyone, but all of us can do something – and it starts with loving them.

 

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Enormous Stakes

Enormous stakes.

That’s what we are facing. Anyone who is in youth ministry realizes this, and too often it seems the pendulum is swinging the wrong way. Those that will are trying to help, to direct, to mentor, to lead, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel as if your efforts have staying power.

I have two educated guesses as to why this is happening:

One – There are very few committed Christians setting an example as disciples.
What do I mean? Well, when is the last time you picked up your Bible to learn not because you had to or were doing a Bible study but because you long to learn more about God, His will, His nature, and His way? If that answer is recently, like, yesterday… You are in the minority. When was the last time you woke up and spent dedicated time in prayer, seeking the Father’s heart, weeping for the lost, and asking to be used? Again, it is not the rule for modern day Christians. And if you are the parent or leader in a household and you only do these things when trouble comes, those around you see that, and they will follow suit. Disciples of Christ desire to learn, it isn’t the dreaded “law” at work, or the confines of “religion.” It is learning to know to become. Nothing works oriented, or legalistic about that… But it does require effort.

Two – There are very few authentic faith walkers.
Jesus asked “when I come back will I find faith?” It was important to Him that we keep hope alive! Instead, too often, we turn to logic and science to manifest truth. Thats not faith, thats probability. Jesus was desperate to see faith in action. So when we say with our mouths those things we have read or heard about God but haven’t established it in our hearts with how we live our lives, we send a conflicting message to this younger generation. They are watching us.

Recently I got a message from a young girl who is trying desperately to follow God’s will for her life. But, her home life is a stumbling block. Why? Because her good, God loving, church working parents on Sunday are cruel and demanding and verbally abusive Monday thru Saturday. This confuses her… And it should.

Another girl mentioned to me that she didn’t see any problem with watching movies that were not age appropriate. Why? Because her parents watched R rated movies all the time and they said it didn’t affect them so why should it affect her? Ugh. This infuriates me. Maybe you think I’m wrong or prudish or judgmental, but I can guarantee those movies are affecting that family, it just may be too soon to tell.

Now, I’m not an overbearing parent, restricting anything and everything that doesn’t blatantly stand for Jesus. We have to let our kids make decisions, and we need to show them how to choose. But, our role as parents isn’t to enable them to be codependent, our job is to prepare them for life outside of the nest, and this requires allowing them some mistakes in order to learn. That being said, we can’t lead them into bad decisions by choosing to gratify our pleasures at the cost of their innocence.

Parenting, leading, mentoring is not easy! I do all three! But it is imperative that we not be selfish about it! And it is necessary that we set an example of commitment and true faith.

This generation is under fire like never before. The odds are not in their favor, and they feel this intrinsically. They are the least prepared, most coddled, selfish, rebellious, and pleasure seeking generation, and we have done that to them. They are also the most passionate, educated and globally connected generation we have ever seen and stand to be a lasting legacy of faith to awaken the Body of Christ, but we must invest in them!

I heard someone say that they saw in our future a generation of believers that would have the fire of the Holy Spirit so strong and so deep that it wouldn’t waver or burn out. How does this happen? With us. It begins with us instilling in them unquenchable love and faith that rebelliously stands up to the powers that threaten to snuff it out and say, “You can kill the body but you cannot take my soul!”

Enormous stakes. Life and death lies in the balance, and we’ve barely glimpsed the iceberg.

* Tim Elmore has done a great job of making inroads to change the tide. Read more for yourself @ http://www.SaveTheirFutureNow.com

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I wear a Scarlet letter “A”

It was affixed to me a few years ago. I didn’t willfully walk into the title, it had searched for me for a long time. Exposing itself to me in childhood, beckoning to me in adolescence, and dangling just above my heart in my young adult years before solidly sewing its flimsy fabric over my heart.

Ironically, I didn’t set out to be an adulteress, in fact, this side of it all, I never was. I was a loving, passionate soul desperate to see a life find hope and help in what I was led to believe was a bleak world. I saw a hurting brother, and well, I don’t care to imagine what he saw. Mostly he saw a vulnerable woman that out of fear of failure refused to say no.

I did some stupid things. I’m not gonna lie. I cringe when I remember some of those things, but I could never paint as devastating a picture as he painted of me, broad red stitches on an already weathered and tattered soul. I felt like a pawn. Used and manipulated and set aside to try and figure out what had happened and where it had begun. And here is the thing about sin being turned from, it always comes back for one last play.

Luckily, Daddy God had gotten ahold of me. He had led me to confess and seek counsel and to expose the darkness… And just in time, because I didn’t realize how dangerous the game had gotten, and how vulnerable I had become. God only knows what I was spared that fateful night, but I know it is far worse than I ever suspected.

But, this blog isn’t about that night, or that sin exactly… This blog is about the freedom that broke through as I began to be honest about my journey. Even now some people will read this and say “There she goes again, whining about her story.” But those people don’t know me… And they don’t understand my purpose in this life much less this blog. Probably because they too wear the Scarlet Letter “A”.

“Afraid.”

They are scared to share their pitfalls and their failures because to do so will somehow compromise their righteousness. But this is what I found in my pit of self abasement, I was not alone. In fact, so many of us were held up in that tiny, airless, dark space we barely saw the others standing beside us. Our guilt and our shame was so thick, our letters sewed on so tightly we couldn’t make out anything. Some still linger there. Holding onto that last thread, allowing the enemy to label them and devour them with his lies, refusing God the ability to overcome them with love.

“Perfect love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
(1 John 4:18 NLT)

So I’ve risen from the pit, not perfect, but loved. And because I have been there and witnessed the lies – the pastors caught in adultery, the Bible teachers in homosexual relationships, the deacons dealing with addictions, and the heartache of a Christian mom of four still mourning her teen abortion, I can say with certainty, there is hope! We have wrestled the letter off of us and thrown it into the arms of our Daddy God and said “You saved me from even this!” You see, we know what others won’t dare to acknowledge, we are not perfect. We no longer look down from a pedestal of righteousness and offer grace, we jump in the pit, not afraid of the muck and the mire, no longer covered in shame, and we reach past their offenses into the hearts that just need mercy and grace and above all transcendent love. And they find it, not in our disdain but in genuine understanding, in words that say, “My sin may not look like yours but it is no less staining.”

So, I wear a Scarlet Letter “A” only because it is my ticket to help those who need it most… A ticket I paid dearly for, but one that Jesus paid in full. And, the crimson that covers its frame, removes my shame.

Humans for sale

Humans for Sale

Today as I lay down trying to ignore this aching kidney pain, I’m not ignoring the plight of millions worldwide. We may not know them by name, or even recognize their faces but we could be one of them… In the wrong place at the wrong time at the hands of the wrong people. I can’t imagine. Even recently one of our local youth went missing, and many of us realized just how close to home it is… And how unsuspecting our kids are.

I have a very loving and social child. She loves to go and do and play and laugh. She has a vibrant spirit, one I’d rather die than see broken. She doesn’t understand why I won’t let her go to her friends house- “Her older brother is there! He’s like 20!” She wasn’t hearing my no. She wasnt paying attention to my authority, but I wasn’t backing down. So I sat her down and I looked her in the eye and told her “It’s not safe.” She rolled her eyes and I continued, “It’s not safe because you are a beautiful little girl, and there are people who would hurt you and try to take you away from me because of that.” She clinched her jaw and crossed her arms. “Now, you do not understand, but I know that even in the safest of circumstances things cans happen to hurt you. I know because I had them happen to me, and God put me in your life to protect you. So whether you like me or not, go to your room and shut your door, or simply make the rest of this night miserable, I WILL protect you.”

And I will. As far as I am able, as long as I am able, as much as I am able, I will protect my children. I am their parent. Yeah, that scares the mess out of me at times! And I fail everyday in some way, but it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. We can’t take our children lightly. We can’t assume they are safe. We can’t. Because millions of eyes stare back at us and ask, “Why didn’t you protect us?” And I can’t bear the thought that one of those sets of eyes would ever be hers. But Daddy God hears those cries every night, and every sleepless night they cry out to Him.

Humans for sale. That is shocking enough. Children for sale. That is horrific. But not our children. Tell that to a mom who hasn’t seen her teen son or daughter since Christmas. Well, its rare. Not as rare as we might like to think. We dismiss the runaways and the homeless. Why? Because their lives are less meaningful or valuable? No. A life is a life – age, social status, color, or culture hold no bearing on its value. And those of us that turn a blind eye are no better than abortionists.

That’s a stretch. Is it? You’ve neglected valued life and by doing nothing you have allowed it to be taken, painfully, terrifyingly, and endlessly time and time and time again.

We answer to God their cries of “Why?” and when we answer “Am I my brother or sister’s keeper?” Do you think we are dismissed? No. God hates slavery. So much so that He laid siege and havoc on Egypt because of their cruel and inhumane treatment of Israel’s defendants! So much so that He declared through Christ He was setting the captives free! And through Paul He declared that there is no distinction between the slaves and the free. He desires to see us all set free… And He has made us a part of that plan. Not just for the lost, but we are called to bring justice to the unprotected and captured.

There are worst things than death. Slavery is one of them. If we can’t protect them, we must rescue them. Start by being educated.

Www. Enditmovement.com

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Body image issues

Body image issues

I recently heard that a small group won’t let a divorced woman lead them in a study about marriage. Why? She has repented and been redeemed, not to mention, faced the foe she is encouraging them to fight and resist! Why? She has learned the hard way about what it is to try and fail, to struggle and to find her only solace not in human arms but in the supernatural hands of her Daddy. I know from experience it is those of us that have fallen that are able to more effectively and readily administer grace to the falling.

This upsets me.

I want to stand before the women that have made this judgement and ask, “Who among you is without sin?” But the problem is, I know these women, they would look down their noses at me and point with long fingers at the crimson letter they insist is attached to me. There is no getting through to them. They’ve cast their lot, made their choice, selected their chosen with a smile and a condescending “bless your hearts.” I’ve seen them in the spirit. Empty, emaciated, lifeless women, colored green with their envy. Not willing to reach out past their own comfort, not even if it mirrors their own pain.

And these that they have marked, those of us that must face their looks of judgement and disapproval, we suffer from Body image issues. Does the Body look like this? Is this our only hope? Do we assimilate and pretend we do not wear blaringly obvious masks, bear our scars publicly at their disgrace, or what these have done… Starve ourselves?

Many will choose the masquerade, plastering a mask upon their cracks and holes – Hoping time will wipe away our grievances, looking down at others instead of pointing to theirselves, standing proudly above those they deem unworthy. And they exist. Only exist. Wondering but never quite willing to find out about an abundant life. Their glass steeples of self-assurance and self-righteousness might get dirty but they don’t crack.

Then, there are those that are starving. They neglect solace and retreat even though they long for it. They’d rather nibble at crumbs and call it a meal than dare to venture over to the wedding feast. That finger that they point at others in blame, they shove down their own throats and vomit its pain onto those around them. They are not happy. They are not unlike the masked in their delusion. They’ve been blinded by the words “enough” and “content” and the idea of seeking and finding a treasure in their faith is ridiculous. They look down on the transparent that have found joy. They doubt their validity and look for a sin to pin or repin. When they don’t find one, they make it up. Because it feels better that way – to call those who feast gluttons. They whisper their prayers not believing until they see. Faith is an exercise they’d rather abandon. And despite their greatest attempts at grace, it falls short in the glare of their envy.

This upsets me. I’m not the only one. It upsets me because in their own deception, they have deceived His Bride, and convinced His daughters that they too must starve themselves to be acceptable.

Then, there are the beautiful. They are made up of the shattered masked and the recovering starved. They will be transparent, despite the onslaught of judgement. They will wear their scars humbly before the Redeemer as His Bride with the knowledge that they do not deserve a smidgen of the grace they’ve been given, but instead of clutching it to them as a prized possession not unlike that of Golum, they freely extend and search for others, the broken that need to be repurposed – and they come – silently, quietly, desperately, running away from the life of the masked and starved, wooed by the Lover of their souls, longing for more than cheap beads, desperately believing they are a pearl recently discovered.

Sadly, the masked seem to have chosen; their pride shadows any look at what could be. They have what they need, or so they believe. They’ve hidden themselves perfectly and scoff at those who try and touch them. Like the starved they only nibble, but just enough to point out others wrongs. Only God can set them free, and He will when they are humbled and have no where else to turn.

I believe if we show the emaciated and starved a mirror, they can turn around, too. But, first they have to see themselves honestly – The way they are, jutting bones, protruding clavicles – The stark reality that they are wasting away when they think they are fine. They have to admit they need help, and they have to be willing to do the work, to be vulnerable, to reach out. They aren’t alone if they will open their eyes. We have been there before, those of us now pink cheeked but scarred and many still chinked. We encourage them not to hide what He has done and is doing. We remind them that He alone makes us beautiful. Hopefully, then, they will see our healthy glow for what it is – His love. Our girth for its intent – His grace. And slowly their greenish hue will fade into a radiant white as our image becomes the unblemished Body of Christ!

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I am scared

I am scared.

That’s not an admission of guilt; it’s a transparent expression of fear.

I am scared of what I don’t know, what I can’t see, what I can’t quite put my fingers on, and what puts its hands around me.

I can utter a million reasons why I shouldn’t be. I can recite scripture after scripture of how God wouldn’t have me fear, doesn’t want me to fear, and begs me not to fear…and yet… I fear. Doesn’t mean I don’t trust Him, I do. But He knows I fear, and He has compassion on that fear, and gently guides my heart to peace.

I am fragile.

That’s not meaning I am weak; it’s means instead that I am vulnerable.

I am vulnerable to the emotions of others, to my own feelings, to the way that others see me, and the way I see myself.

I can hold a grip around my heart and beg it not to beat, not to bleed or feel the internal struggle and the worlds needs. I can remember His Word that says I am strong and brave and courageous and able to do anything through the power of His name. But, I’m fragile just the same.

I am small.

Though my frame is slight and my height petite, this is my humble reality.

I am too small to change the world by myself, to save any desperate soul, or to end any wrenching heartache.

I can’t even pretend I am more when I am not. I don’t expect to have the answers, to rescue anyone from any pain. I don’t imagine I can hold my ground with any giant that steps upon my land. Not in myself. In myself, I am merely small…merely human.

But when I commit my scared, fragile, small self into the hands of a powerful, strong, and mighty God, who I am ceases to matter. Who He is becomes my destiny! And I let the words of His character roll off of my tongue and slide down my heart and into my soul –

He is peace.
He is a strong tower.
He holds the universe in His hands.

And because of Him, I am.

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For the love of them…or us?

I recently read a great article about Toms. The shoes. But more so the real purpose of the company.

It’s a great idea, right? You buy a pair of shoes and they will give a pair of shoes to kids who don’t have them. I’ve seen kids with bare feet and gone on medical clinics to see them treated for hookworm and other things because of it. By golly, I will pay $50 for a pair of canvas shoes for a good cause! Who wouldn’t?

But, the article I read made a point. Even though this is a good cause (it is, no one is disputing that). It’s not really solving any real problems. Why? Because the company works from outside of the countries that are in need. They make the shoes, consumers buy them, and they are delivered to countries that need them. Who feels the best about what they do? The consumer. It’s a company model built around a good cause, but in the end it’s meant to make the consumer feel good about what they buy.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Intrinsically. But it isn’t solving the real problem…the reason the kids don’t have shoes isn’t that they aren’t available. The reason the kids don’t have shoes is that they are in poverty stricken countries where they can’t afford shoes. So, they get shoes. They also get rice and beans from a charitable aid organization, shoe boxes filled with well-meaning gifts once a year, but they are still living in poverty. Have we fixed the problem or have we simply made ourselves feel better?

I’m not saying any of those things are bad. In fact, quite the opposite! They are good things! Don’t stop supporting organizations that help underprivileged countries! They need all the help they can get! But is our help a momentary fix or a solution? That’s all I want to ask.

I recently read a post on my brother’s wall that basically said that sometimes it takes a cold cup of water from a person’s hand before you will accept the Living Water from their hearts. I get that. Meet a physical need to gain access to meet their spiritual need. Christ exemplified that. There is nothing wrong with that. But, the old Chinese proverb holds some truth, too – “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” So the question I’m pondering today is this, in my good deeds am I simply making myself feel better for the day, or will their lives be different?

There is a time and place for every purpose under heaven. Solomon drives that point home. But, there are organizations that are making permanent solutions in war-torn and poverty stricken countries not just momentary fixes but hard core “We see this need and we are going to fix the problem not slap a bandaid on it.” I want to see more of this.

Toms could do more to make a difference, a permanent difference. They could teach the locals how to make their shoes (honestly, it can’t be too hard!). They could buy the canvas, the leather, and the cork from those people, and sell them very cheaply so that the poor make a profit… then those leftovers that don’t sell…they could be given to the kids that desperately need them. That’s just a thought. But the point is, one pair of shoes at a time is only going to last at the most a year. Whereas teaching them how to make the shoes and sell them, that could make a lifetime of difference to ailing countries. Like, Digging wells. This is a permanent solution. This makes a complete and total difference in the areas that get this privilege. We take for granted our easy access to water as we fling another bottle in our purse as we leave the gym, we don’t even think about famine or drought or the fact that the animals bathe and leave waste in the one stream we might share as a village…which is like 3 or more of our subdivisions combined. Organizations and missionaries that teach a trade in order to help villages to support themselves, not to live off of temporary handouts, these people are heros…life savers…fixers. Artists that take their time to teach African women designs for necklaces that they can make and sell to raise money to invest in their families and communities, this is life-changing work. Funding goats and livestock and corn and seed and feed, these are donations that are going to make a failing community prosper! These things will feed and clothe and aid multiple families and pass on hope and knowledge and wellness to the next generation. And, these are just a few roles of amazing organizations from medical to agricultural that are making life-restoring differences!

I will probably still buy Toms. And I hope you will, too. I’m not out to sabotage good works. I just want to ask the question, “Am I doing this for the love of them…or me?” I am not leading a crusade to fight economic injustice; I just want to ask myself the tough questions, the raw questions that get to the quick of my motivation because I want to see their lives changed for the better for GOOD not just for the moment. I don’t want there to be any doubt that the work that is done IS for them and not for me, and that the One that sent me provides not just for a day but for all eternity.