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Deepest Longings

We were dealing with some conflict in our home the other night. Those of you who have children, or who have a relationship with any human being might be able to relate. Our approach to the conflict that particular night was an exercise in building our Emotional Intelligence. We relied on one of those printouts of a 5×6 grid of exaggerated cartoon faces expressing different emotions and feelings. We each shared which pictures matched our current feelings, and then identified the ones we longed to feel. We shared some of the same emotions of anger and frustrations surrounding the conflict, and the feelings we all longed for were slightly variegated, but all overlapped, with the exception of my son’s outlier of wanting to feel ecstatic. Collectively, we were all longing to feel content, joyful, hysterical, encouraged, confident, happy, hopeful, and ecstatic contrasted with the initial feelings we experienced of frustration, sadness, anger, annoyance, and feeling overwhelmed. Reflecting on this experience, I am struck by the reality that the deepest desire for all people is to experience all the good feelings our family longed to feel during our conflict. The challenge we all face is arriving at this reality. It takes practice, reflection, teaching, forgiveness, and often a letting go our own way to choose a better way. As I reflect on the past year of working with patrons in our community, I can attest that the people I have met also want good for their own lives. Sadly, the disappointments and setbacks of life and living in disadvantageous circumstances often make it extremely challenging for some to access the support they may need to achieve these innate human desires of feeling peaceful, content, joyful, etc.. It requires some significant hurdle jumping to survive abuse and learn to love oneself. It is no wonder Jesus knew he would cross all cultural barriers and the expanse of time with these words of hope that have potential to connect with every person’s deepest and truest desires:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27) And “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) and “ I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) As I finish a year of connecting patrons to social services, I feel celebratory of the ways Neighbor by Neighbor has connected with patrons with the supportive services they have wanted and needed, and as a result, hopefully many have moved closer to their desire of feeling happy, content, peaceful and maybe even like Ben, ecstatic. 

One Man’s Story

Perhaps you had a chance to read the recent uplifting news story in the Herald Palladium about Odis Jones, a local man who recently secured permanent housing. I met Odis last winter, and shortly thereafter, case managers from Emergency Shelter Services did a phenomenal job helping Odis secure an apartment, and assisting him in all the necessary steps along the way. While most news leaves us feeling hopeless and spinning in a downward vortex, this story will land you on solid footing, restoring your confidence in humanity’s propensity to do good in the world: http://www.heraldpalladium.com/news/local/home-sweet-home/article_9eb8db34-4e85-5396-a7e2-04fda2c1cd70.html. I celebrate the section in the story that highlights the case managers’ relentless commitment to see Odis through the obstacles he faced along the way as well as the moving story of Odis’ life, inspiring Kendra’s painting. We are not left unchanged when we choose to invest in the lives of others. Jesus is recorded in the gospels as stating “the poor you will always have with you.” The context, is of course, a woman performing an extravagant, beautiful act of devotion and love by pouring expensive oil on Jesus. Her act is judged harshly by others, and Jesus responds with the words, “the poor you will always have with you.” It makes me wonder: Will the poor always be among us, because the rich have something to learn from the poor? And may they perhaps always be among us, because it is the way to work out God’s justice in the world? Is our interaction with the poor a working out of our own salvation? This story certainly doesn’t give us credence to sit back in complacency just because Jesus doesn’t provide a blueprint to ending poverty, but it may wake us up to the reality of God’s heart and concern for justice in the world. Just yesterday I met an individual on the streets of New Buffalo. His story is that he needs help paying his electric bill. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions, make a few calls on his behalf, and encouraged him to follow-up with United Way’s 2-1-1 to find resources in his hometown in Indiana, explaining that it is challenging to access eligible services out of state. Oftentimes all we have time to do is drive by these types of situations, or perhaps wave or meet the person’s eye, but when time allows, I wonder what it would look like for more of us to interact with the poor. Find out a name, a need, call 2-1-1 on their behalf. In God’s Kingdom, these are the stories that make headlines and change lives, ours included. 

 

All the Parts

Neighbor by Neighbor hosted a Home Repair Collaborative last month, which provided a great opportunity for many in the community to not only learn more about social services in our area, but actually meet the service providers face-to-face. As a result of this day, Neighbor by Neighbor has had the opportunity to follow-up with several attendees. I’ve been pleased to learn from many of those in attendance that connections have been made with agencies and non-profits! The collaborative also allowed me to learn more about a great ministry out of Water’s Edge Church United Methodist Church in New Buffalo. They call themselves SON (Serving Our Neighbors), and the group of volunteers has been in existence since 2015. Just this week I had the opportunity to learn more about the types of projects they are involved in: painting, siding, cleaning up yards, tree trimming, cleaning out gutters, etc.. Following my meeting with the field coordinator, we went to a local patron’s home who is seeking home repairs. After learning more specifically about the needs,  SON has committed to begin the work project next week! Sometimes social service agencies, rightly so, require much-needed paperwork and significant assessment. Of course, much of this is required to leverage funding, provide education and long-term assistance and change. The asset of a local church group such as SON is that the work can often get done without these stipulations. I believe we need both types of services to serve our neighbors well. One of the best parts of my job is interacting with so many different groups and agencies, and witnessing how each one fits together to benefit those in need. It keeps all of us humble to know we need one another, even the agencies/groups providing service. Jesus provides us with such a simple illustration, using the body as a metaphor of the many parts working together in service. May we too, welcome all the gifts and talents within the body, depending on each of them, and serving humbly. 

Validate My Story

Besides working as a Resource and Referral Specialist, another one of my important roles in life is to be a mother to two wonderful children. As anyone who takes part in teaching children knows, it can be relentless work. I succeed most in my role when I can remember that, I too, fumbled to reach the same developmental milestones my children are facing. Last week, my son was distraught because my daughter did not hear and believe his side of a story. His side of the story: he was the one who had created the object and felt frustrated she didn’t believe him. Her side: she didn’t believe him and reminded him of the importance of “agreeing to disagree”. As I listened to all of this unfold I was reminded of the importance of our stories being heard and validated. My son was hoping that I could convince my daughter to believe him, and I assured him that I could not. Having one’s story heard and validated is a gift, and it can’t be forced or coerced. In my role as R&R Specialist, I hear many stories of people’s lives, and I often get the opportunity to give people the gift of hearing and validating their experiences. There is only so much evidence I can gather to validate a person’s experience. In the end, I have to choose to trust the person’s story. This happened just last week, when someone was stranded in New Buffalo and needed gas to get to his job. This, of course, does not mean that we yield to a person’s every request. We have limits and boundaries, but every time the opportunity presents itself, Neighbor by Neighbor gives the gift of a person’s story being heard and validated. There are people in the world who have yet to be given the gift of having their story heard and validated. As I recently learned from a wise person, it is important to error on the side of generosity in new relationships. Time will allow truth to unfold. May we, in our daily life and work, be generous in hearing and validating people’s stories.

New Buffalo Ideas Fair

After having worked as a Resource and Referral Specialist for Neighbor by Neighbor for the past 10 months, I am still surprised by the number of new resources I learn about in our local communities. I had the opportunity to set up a booth at New Buffalo High School’s Ideas Fair last week. Organized by an inspired student and teacher, the Ideas Fair promoted local services and groups from our communities. The keynote speaker, addressing the high school students, provided information about the growing number of people who are addicted to pain killers, and the alternative methods available to cope with stress and pain.

It made for a great segue for me to open discussion with students who visited my Neighbor by Neighbor booth. It gave me a chance to let them know about the PATH program (chronic pain management) offered by Area Agency on Aging hosting a class at our very own River Valley Senior Center as well as Families Against Narcotics. These served as great jumping off points to introduce to them the type of work I do to connect individuals in need to social services. Many of us won’t seek to know about services until we need them, so I took the opportunity to resource these students with knowledge about what is out there in the community. Why grieve alone when we have resources like Lory’s Place? Why go hungry when food is provided at the Harbor Country Emergency Food Pantry? And why go it alone in understanding your child’s autism when you can receive the supportive services of LOGAN center? These are just a few of the many valuable resources our community has to offer. Like the wonderful New Buffalo High School students, let’s be open to new ideas, and then share these ideas with our neighbors.

 

Growing Something New

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It feels as though we woke up to spring this past week. Daffodils, tulips, dandelions, weeping cherries all suddenly in bloom. After school yesterday, as my 6 year old son, head to the ground was collecting grape hyacinth with focused attention eventually looked up and said, “Wow! That’s amazing” as he pointed to the Magnolia tree in bloom at the edge of our property. Even as an adult, I find myself awestruck each year by such beauty that springs up from the Earth. While the physical beauty alone seems satisfying enough, God brings to mind a deeper spiritual truth and a simple metaphor of God’s work in the world. While the world, at times, appears dead, dormant and lifeless, God is always actively at work bringing forth new life.

I turned rocks over in my garden this morning while weeding and edging, and saw a picture of all the work that has been going on under the grassy surface: the paths of insects, fertile soil, and tangled roots.  It reminds me that God is never absent in our lives and situations. God is always at work on our behalf, putting everything together for the good of all creation.

Something new has grown out of the collective efforts of Three Oaks United Methodist Church, The Harbor Country Emergency Food Pantry, and Meals on Wheels. On May 17, 5-7PM, the church will host a dinner called Open Kitchen for the communities within Harbor Country. Because there is no cost for this event, even those without financial means will have an opportunity to attend. As Neighbor by Neighbor has worked to meet some of the social service needs of those in our community, it has become apparent that many seeking services are living alone, and are oftentimes lacking social support. I’m thankful for the collective effort of these groups to respond to this need in such a practical way of providing food and social engagement. None of us grow well without the support of others. May we be pleasantly surprised and hopeful, like my son was when he saw the Magnolia in full bloom yesterday, at the work God is doing in our midst.

 

Courage and Risk

Sometimes learning a person’s story takes time. In most cases, it is just one conversation at a time, strung together into a series of conversations over weeks or even months. As they come together, they collectively tell a more complete story of the person. The image it reminds me of is that of a child stringing beads on a necklace, each one adding to the whole and finally the parts coming together. Much of my work with Neighbor by Neighbor is like this because I do much of my work with patrons over the phone, one conversation at a time.
Neighbor by Neighbor addresses such a variety of needs, and it is difficult to predict what obstacles the individual on the other end might be facing. There are times I get clues and glimpses, such as the cacophony of arguing voices in the background or stated realities of anxiety, racism or fear. These allow me a glimpse into the person’s reality. During these past nine months, I have become increasingly cognizant to the reality that an abundance of courage is required for the patron to even make the call to Neighbor by Neighbor. The idea of courage and risk in conversation is discussed in a thought-provoking book I am currently reading by Andy Crouch. It is on the topic of finding wisdom in using technology, but he includes a short section on what is involved when we enter into conversation, and the risk it requires. Crouch, referencing author, Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation, shares the insight that most conversations “take about 7 minutes to really begin. Up until that point, we are able to rely on our usual repertoire of topics—the weather, routine reports about our day, minimal and predictable chitchat. But around seven minutes, there is almost always a point where someone takes a risk- or could take a risk. The risk may be silence; it may be an unexpected question or observation; it may be an expression of a deeper or different emotion than we usually allow. All conversations really are risks, exercises in improvisation where we have to listen and respond without knowing, fully what is coming next, even out of our own mouths.”

 

All conversations are risks. I find this to be a fascinating observation, and it is a phenomenon that plays out in the work of Neighbor by Neighbor almost daily. In an era where cyber communication leaves us largely unaccountable and requires slight risk, our program seeks to be sensitive to what it may require for an individual to reach out for support, by phone, through conversation. My hope is that Neighbor by Neighbor would be a safe place in our community where people are invited to enter back into the flow of society, to discover better who they are and how they fit. And this is happening this week, as an individual facing homelessness has made the courageous step of meeting with Veterans of America. It is also happening this week with another individual meeting with a case manager from Emergency Shelter Services.

 

We all have the opportunity to create a safe space for a person in a place of need by simply being curious and creating a safe space. I wonder if we might be the ones to take the courageous step with a neighbor, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. Individuals are relying on curiosity and courage to call Neighbor by Neighbor, and my hope is that, we too, are moving in the direction of meeting our neighbors, and offering a safe space, sometimes much different than the chaos they may be living in.