Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Blessing of Poverty

I’m sitting in my office the other day with someone who came to speak with me concerning an unlicensed homeless shelter that she had stumbled upon. Things of this nature happen often for me because I oversee the outreach ministry at Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant, SC. People often come to me for advice or help but this story had a different impact on me. I wanted to hear more. I was intrigued by the fact that a place like this could be in my own back yard yet I had no idea it even existed. Anyway, as we were talking, I asked her, “how do you get to be involved in all of these things that you are involved in? How do you get to help so many?” Her answer was staggering: “Oh it’s such a blessing, I’m on disability.” We went on to talk about how she never imagined that disability could ever be a blessing but she is using it to serve God in mighty ways.

This conversation reminded me of myself and my own struggles. I have never been on disability, but have been through some things that, at the time, I thought were the worst that could happen. You see, 8 years ago I found myself living in a motor home in my dad’s back yard with 2 young children and one on the way. Although I had a small place to lay my head each night, I was homeless and wasn’t sure how I was ever going to get out of this predicament. Some very poor choices from myself and from others had put me there. I had been a stay at home mom for a few years which in and of itself made it difficult to find a job, but I was also pregnant with my third child at the time. I found a job preparing taxes at a local tax company. Tax season runs from January 1 through April 15, which was how long my job would last, and the baby was due April 30. Joshua was born on April 18, three days after my last day on the job. It paid $7.50 per hour, which as you can imagine, is below poverty level for a family of my size. It was just enough to put some food on the table and maybe a few extras but it certainly wasn’t enough to get me out of this dilemma. I spent the next 6 years moving from place to place, being evicted here and there. By this time I had taken a job at the church as an administrative assistant making more than $7.50 per hour but still not enough to make ends meet. Through my years at the church, I have changed positions and received a raise or two as I slowly climbed out of this deep hole I was in. The church has been very gracious in my times of need but I don’t think they truly had any idea how bad it was for my family.  Two years ago, I bought a home through Habitat for Humanity. This was the one thing that created stability for my family. We still don’t have many of the extras in life, but we are stable.

I have never had any significant amount of money, but I did like nice things. In fact, so much so, I went into deep debt over those things. It was what I thought was right. Everyone else was doing it. I filed bankruptcy by the time I was 21 years old. I think in hindsight, it was just another way to fill my emotional needs and the gaping wounds from my past. Those “things” made me feel good for the moment.

Through my experiences over the last 8 years, the LORD has done a work in me. He has changed the way I see the world. You know, there is an old saying that goes “you never know Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have”. I had nothing and He reached down, took me by the hand and showed me, a little at a time what the world looks like through his eyes. Now I don’t turn a blind eye to those in poverty. I don’t judge how they got there. The one thing that I have learned that has become more significant than anything else is that my family is not wealthy, but we are one of the richest families in the world. Not because of what we have but because of who Jesus is and what He means to us. What He has done for us. Francis Chan writes in his book “Crazy Love” in reference to Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” “How can I walk out of a mud shack and back into my two-thousand square foot home without doing anything?” He also asks whether or not we take the word of God literally or not? For me, I ask “can I walk into a house made of plywood with mold, asbestos, and for all purposes should be condemned and walk back in to my twelve-hundred square foot home without doing anything”? Can I go to the homeless shelter mentioned above where some have lived for over 20 years in horrible conditions and do nothing about it? What the last 8 years has done for me has allowed me to answer those questions with an explicit NO. God has used my circumstances to break down walls of pride and materialism as well as show me on a regular basis His hand of provision. He has also allowed me to see others as an extension of him. After all, He created them too (Proverbs 22:2). In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least we are also doing for Him and whatever we don’t do, we are not doing for Him. I know that I for one do not want to disappoint Jesus. I don’t want to let him down because He has loved me so much and has changed my life more than I ever thought possible. He has shown me how to love others by showing me his deep, abiding love for me. So, eight years ago I found myself homeless and uncertain of my future and what I thought was awful and cruel turned out to be one of the biggest blessings that I have received to date.  So today, I can say with 100% certainty that I am most Thankful for my journey through poverty and how God has used it to change me.

Psalm 69:32 ~ The poor will see and be glad ~

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's a Slow Fade

I came across this song a little over a year ago. The words are so profound, the message right on target. Given the number of families that crumble and fall apart every day this is a song that everyone needs to hear. But not just hear, allow to it invade your very soul so that we can in turn live out the message that the musical group Casting Crowns is trying to depict. The message is so simple yet it is missed by so many. I know that my choices haven’t been the greatest in the past. I thank God everyday for His redeeming love and His grace. Every time I hear this song, it literally brings me to tears. If everyone could grasp what they are saying, understand the message that they are trying to illustrate, see the picture that they are trying to paint, then families would look a lot different. The world would look a lot different. Be a lot different...

Be careful little eyes what you see

It's the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings

Be careful little feet where you go

For it's the little feet behind you that are sure to follow

This is speaking to adultery as you will understand from watching the video. It starts with a first glance, but it is the second glance where we allow Satan to run rampant in our lives. The second glance is where we begin to justify our actions. The second glance that assures us that he/she is just a friend. It is so natural and almost instinctive to take a first glance, but it is the second glance that binds us.

I think these words can speak to any sin of the eyes however. The Bible says in Matthew chapter 18 “if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell”. Sounds pretty awful but I think the point is to “be careful little eyes what you see”. Don’t let your eyes convince you that the woman across the street has a much better home than you or the mom at your children’s school is much prettier than you or your friend is a better mom than you are. Our natural eyesight can be very deceiving and only leads, with the second glance, to us coveting what we think others have. Let your eyes lead you to the blessings that God has bestowed on your own family. Because we are so accustomed to looking outside ourselves, it may take some work but I am certain that if you look hard you will find treasure in your own home. Ask the LORD to show you.

The second part of this verse clearly speaks to watching where we go and what we do because our children are examining us. For those that are parents you know how true this is. Our children are like shadows waiting and watching what they are to do next, only knowing by the actions of their parents. The Word says again in Matthew chapter 18 “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”. Again, this sounds dreadful but I think that the point being made is how important it is to “be careful little feet where you go” because “the little feet behind you are sure to follow”.

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away

It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray

Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid

When you give yourself away

People never crumble in a day

It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

It’s a slow fade...these are the words to remember. It is not the first glance, the first choice, the first thought that leads to destruction, but the second that slowly leads to the fading of our values, our family, and our lives. I think these words speak to many areas in our lives; our marriage, our purity if we are single, our parenting, our integrity and so much more. I see it often in my own life when I let discipline slide, or I don’t hold my children accountable for certain actions. The first time usually doesn’t matter. The boys know the routine, but before I know it, my entire household is out of order again. The kids are unruly, the rooms are a mess and I am on edge about to explode at any moment. If I had only not given in the second time it wouldn’t have slowly faded into this. Fortunately I can now recognize the signs before it gets too far and rein everyone back in, including me. I am sure that you can see and possibly have witnessed in others how areas such as purity and integrity can slowly fade into indecency and disgrace. I have unfortunately seen it firsthand. What was once black and white has now become very gray. The negative or impure thoughts invade, the choices are then made and the price will be paid by everyone around the one who is slowly fading. People never crumble in a day.

The journey from your mind to your handsIs shorter than you're thinking

Be careful if you think you stand

You just might be sinking

It doesn’t take long, after the thoughts have invaded for the actions to follow. Just like me with my children. The thought is: I am too tired to enforce rules today. Too tired to oversee chores, too busy to stop what I am doing and deal with it. The actions that ensue are laziness, messiness and disobedient children. With your purity, the thought might be “it’s ok to go back to the house, nothing will happen” or with your integrity “I’m just going to borrow the money, I will pay it back”. I love the next two lines: Be careful if you think you stand, you just might be sinking. You know, it’s true; the journey from your mind to your hands is much shorter than you are thinking. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says “...take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”.

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away

It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day
_____________________ never crumble in a day
(put your own word here)

This song by Casting Crowns is one of the most profound songs and carries one of the most important messages that I can think of. Listen to this video. I have already done so seven times this morning. Let it sink into your mind. Let it change you as it has me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Will Never Be The Same

I experienced something this weekend that will forever be etched in the images of my mind. I don’t think it is an accident that I just finished reading the book “Same Kind of Different as Me”. If you have not had the opportunity to read it yet I encourage you to make it a priority but know that it comes with this warning: YOU WILL FOREVER BE CHANGED! The LORD has used it to soften my heart, change my thinking and respond differently to atrocities such as the one I wandered upon this weekend…
I got a phone call from my precious friend Mari. She is the kind of woman who would save the world if it were possible for one woman to do so. She gives of herself so freely to others and is such an inspiration to me. She was participating in a ministry called Adopt-A-Block as she does every month when the team stumbled upon a precious man of 105 years old. She called me to see if the church could help with some repairs on this home. I had seen his house several times during the last few months from the outside and it was dreadful, but nothing on the face of the earth could have prepared me for what I was about to walk in to. There were floors missing and the walls were actually about to crumble. I could see the bare earth through the multitude of crevices and to top it off every wall in the house displayed mold in a fashion so nauseating that my heart began to literally break in half. I felt as if I had been transported to a third world country. I couldn’t believe that someone in Mt. Pleasant, SC could live this way. How could this be possible? How does this happen only a few miles from where I lay my head down safely each night? How can no one know about this and if they do know, how can they not care enough to do something about it? There are houses going up just a block away that some would consider mansions. Do they know that someone in their own neighborhood lives like this?

Well now I know. My eyes are no longer blind to the reality of poverty in my own backyard. What am I going to do about it? It is overwhelming to consider and I am certain that it is not a burden that I can carry alone. I know my friend Mari will be the first to do what she can. I also know that the Adopt-A-Block team has committed to going back this weekend to clean and repair this home and get involved in this community long term. My prayer is that many others will have the veil removed from their eyes and begin to make a difference in their own community. This is our calling from God. His word speaks incessantly about how we are to treat the poor.

Psalm 82:3

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed

Proverbs 14:31

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Will you honor God and uphold the cause of the poor in the community around you?  One lesson that I have learned from this experience is that no matter where you live there will always be the poor and the needy.

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