Monthly Archives: October 2011

Ponderings (by Emily Hunt)

  

Today I got to spend some time with one of my very best friends walking around Walden Pond in Massachusettts. I haven’t ever read through Walden by Henry David Thoreau in it’s entirety, though perhaps now I might. It was a beautiful fall day outside of Boston and I could immediately tell why Thoreau found it to be a place of peace, a retreat from the daily chaos. Some would call him a Transcendentalist, others a naturalist, and some would say a Christian Anarchist. I guess I can’t be sure, but regardless of his category I would agree with him that it  was a pretty pond.   It made me want to find myself a pond. Thoreau had Walden, but there are plenty of other ponds out there to go around. My time there reminded me of a favorite poem:

 

THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

—                      Wendell Berry

As Christians the peace of Christ can dwell within us despite location. Sure we can (and should) find our ponds, our places of respite. We know however that the surest retreat is found in the deep deep love of Christ, a place where we are known. The psalmist says “O God you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar.” You discern my going out and my lying down, you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:1-6).

 There is comfort in the fact that amidst uncertainties, whether big or small, that God is not uncertain about us. He is pretty certain in fact.  You don’t need to find a pond to find peace.

Emily Hunt is one of the leaders at Simple Free and has lived in Omaha for more than two years, working with students at Creighton University as a residence director.  She graduated from Taylor University, and has worked in Nepal with Tiny Hands International.

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Involved in Brokenness, Brokenly

Its hard and confusing and sometimes costly to get involved in other people’s brokenness.  Its much nicer to maintain your own world and stick with what you know.  Sometimes I get involved in broken situations to try to help, but you maybe don’t do things just as I should– I try to help brokenness in a broken way yourself, and while some good is done, not as much good is done as could have been done.  Thats how I feel about my relationship with John (name changed).

John answered a craigslist ad just over three years ago.  He was having difficulty finding work and a place to stay because he’d just been released from prison after 9 years, and he was on the sex registry list (in part because his girlfriend had been underage).  He came hoping to get a room in our house.  Letting him in meant our house went on the sex registry list.  I talked to the guys living with me at the time, and we decided to do it. 

John was a bit socially awkward, since he wasn’t used to life outside of prison and a lot had changed in 9 years.  He went through a couple jobs, and eventually got into buying and selling cars, which he had a knack for.  John avoided drugs and alcohol entirely, and when he found out his little brother in Iowa was getting into trouble, he asked if he could bring his little brother into our house too, and we agreed.  So the two of them lived with us.  They helped us with cars, and even helped a couple of us find used cars when we needed them.

More than a year passed, and John asked if he could rent a house I had been renting for 950.  The last tennants had been rough on it, and so we agreed on rent of 700/mo if he and his brother would improve the property.  I figured that it would help him to get the 250/mo discount, and it would help me to get the place improved. 

Unfortunately, there never were any improvements.  He tried to fix some plaster, but without skills, he really couldn’t.  I got him materials to fix the garage, but nothing happened.  A remodelling of the attic remains a pile of insulation and boards untouched.  He loved the house and wanted to buy it, but had no means to do so.  I’d buy supplies for projects, but most of them went unused.  Of course after a year of this I realized I was not actually getting much out of the deal. 

Last fall some law enforcement officials came and asked me for the key to the house John lived in– they had a warrant for his arrest.  By the time they went into the house, John had left and he lived as a fugitive for a couple months at his moms in Iowa, while his brother and girlfriend stayed in the house.  They got a little behind on rent, but caught up.  I knew I was losing a lot of money now on the place, and knew it wasn’t being kept up well, much less improved.  But I felt like I couldn’t kick them out at that point…then in the spring John returned, I was focused on getting married myself, and honestly didn’t want to face the prospect of having to ask them to leave and then losing a months rent and spending a couple months rent fixing up the house again.  So I followed the path of least resistance and just settled for the 700/mo knowing this was not a sound plan.

Had I been wiser and more involved, I should have talked with John and either raised rent to a fair level or given more specific oversight of projects and some clear commands on what to do.  But I didn’t.  I let it slide.  Then a month ago they let me know they were leaving.  I knew I’d given them 6,000 in rent discounts for nearly nothing by then.  I also found the place in worse shape than I thought.  It was discouraging and frustrating.  This was a house I’d renovated 5 years ago.  It had been a badly-converted triplex with a prostitute, some alcoholics, and Mike, one of my guys who works for me living there.  I’d turned it back into a single family home, redone the floors, plumbing, electric, and facade.  But now it was looking rough again.  I felt like I’d redeemed something, only to see it fall back into something needing redemption, and I’d watched it happen, doing little to change it. 

Now we are in the middle of re-renovating it again, and it is fun to see it come back to life as a cool old house.  We raized the model T garage in the back, and ripped off the front porch to rebuild a new one.  We have fixed all the plaster, and installed some more new windows.  It is a cool old house and now I remember why I like it so much. 

My relationship with John has soured, and while it is water under the bridge now, a lot of trust has been lost, and its easy to feel taken advantage of.  But I’m sure things look different to him, and whats in the past is in the past.  All one can do is try to do better next time and learn from past mistakes. 

It is tricky to try to mix your business with your charity.  What is important is that there is clear communication and clear limits.  Help without limits will soon be taken for granted, and then its hard for the receiver to feel as much thankfulness. 

If I have learned anything it is that I need to be willing to confront and maintain accountability.  It is harder, short-term, to maintain that accountability, and its easier to let things slide.  But the long term consequences of that short term easy solution can be costly. 

I do pray blessing on John and his brother as they are in a new place with a great garage for all their car deals. 

May God have mercy on us all…

Release Ministries: Helping Teens in Jail and out of Jail

This morning at the 11worth cafe I got to have breakfast with Garrett, one of the most encouraging people I know in Omaha.  Garrett has been working with Release Ministries in Omaha for a number of years.  Release  works with teens in prison, and helps them as they transition out of prison by having group homes which give oversight and direction to them outside of jail. 

A lot of us don’t know anyone in jail personally, and the idea of our kid going to jail seems pretty distant to many.  But Garrett works with families and kids for which this is a fairly regular occurance.  They try to break the cycle of incarceration and hopelessness, and they have some wonderful stories– and some very depressing ones as well.  The reality of evil and brokenness of the world becomes more apparent when you are working first hand with teenagers who often come from broken homes in disfunctional neighborhoods. 

Release does three things primarily: organize volunteers to go into jails to meet with teens.  Garrett told me this morning that they have plenty of opportunities, but not enough volunteers.  I plan to do it when we return from Milwaukee full time in the spring.  Its once a week, with a one-year commitment.  Garrett says its easy for them to get 8-12 kids to want to come do a bible study etc, and the informal mentoring is very beneficial.

Second, they line up mentoring for kids who come out of prison.  Again, its a once-a-week commitment to get together with these teens to give them a stable friend and mentor to talk with and get respect from. 

Third, they have group homes— they are currently renovating their third one right now.  They hire group home parents to live in the house with the teens.  Garrett and his wife and kids had some of these troubled teens in their home for years. 

Every year Release Ministries has a fundraiser dinner.  It is next Tuesday the 18th, and they have a great speaker lined up.  I went last year and plan to go this year.  Release does things outside of the box.  They are a local homegrown ministry here in Nebraska, and since I know some of the people involved in it–ike Garrett– and I know they are meeting the needs of kids around us in our own neighborhood, its a no-brainer for us to choose to support it.

If you have even a slight interest in helping this ministry, please consider acting on it.  They rely on the support of whoever happens to know of them.  If you are around, I’d encourage you to go to the banquet next Tuesday.    I’ll see you there.

Shortcomings and Failures: Living in the Valley

I try to read Oswald Chambers pretty regularly, and this morning the reading was on living in the ‘valley of humiliation’,   which seemed appropriate after the Nebraska-Wisconsin game last night.  As usual, Chambers’ devotional was powerful:

After every time of exaltation we are brought down with a sudden rush into things as they are where it is neither beautiful nor poetic nor thrilling. The height of the mountain top is measured by the drab drudgery of the valley; but it is in the valley that we have to live for the glory of God. We see His glory on the mount, but we never live for His glory there. It is in the sphere of humiliation that we find our true worth to God, that is where our faithfulness is revealed. Most of us can do things if we are always at the heroic pitch because of the natural selfishness of our hearts, but God wants us at the drab commonplace pitch, where we live in the valley according to our personal relationship to Him. Peter thought it would be a fine thing for them to remain on the mount, but Jesus Christ took the disciples down from the mount into the valley, the place where the meaning of the vision is explained.

There is a temptation for me to try to avoid the valley, to escape it, to avoid it, and to live above the day to day.  But when I am stuck in the mire of the daily difficulties, and am at the end of my strength, with no energy to pretend– that is when I have little choice but to give in to God and believe, because there is nothing else I can do.  Chambers says, “It takes the valley of humiliation to root the scepticism out of us.”

Here in Milwaukee we go to a little Lutheran Church which is great for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the liturgy that we say together.  Each week we have a prayer of confession together.  This morning’s meant a lot to me, because it speaks to our brokenness, our incompleteness, and our failure to be what God has made us to be.

First, the pastor said:

Lord God, we confess our failure to be all that you have created us to become.  We acknowledge falling short of what we could have been as a community, congregation, family, people.

  Then the congregation all said these words together:

Where we might have been compassionate, we have shown indifference; present, we have been absent; our voices heard in protest or support, we have remained silent.  Where we might have sown seeds of understanding and love, we have scattered conflict and confusion.

We confess the promises we have broken, the vows we have violated, the relationships we have compromised.  We confess all the possibilites for growing up that we have ignored for the sake of being comfortable and secure.

There isn’t a line there that I couldn’t relate to.  No one knows our own unfaithfulness like we do I suppose.   I know I often am indifferent when I should have shown compassion.  I know that I’ve been absent on purpose in situations where I should have been present.   Many issues I should have spoken for or against, and I’ve remained silent.  Many times where I caused confusion and dischord instead of bringing love and understanding to a situation.  Promises I have broken, relationships I have scarred or broken, and many possibilities to grow and get stretched which I have given up for the sake of comfort and my own lazyness.  Nothing like church to get you cheered up 🙂

But these things are true whether we confess them or not.  It is not less depressing to hide them and cover them up, but we like to live in intentional ignore-ance of these truths.  When we confess we acknowledge that we are in the valley, and then in our need we are able to receive from God.  When we still pretend to be self sufficient and ‘together’ we are so busy holding things together that we cannot open up our arms for mercy. 

I was reminded to two things today: I like Oswald Chambers, and I like to go to church…

May God have mercy on us all…