CEO Sleepout - My Night On The Streets...

Okay, it was not exactly a night on the streets. We had coffee, companionship, and all-night access to a biffy. Still, 34 CEOs gathered in the park last night to sleep under the stars, contemplating the issue of homelessness.  The event, put on by Today House Inc, aimed at raising awareness about the growing issue of homelessness in Steinbach, and the dire need for affordable housing.

I'd love to hear the experience others had - was it deep, life changing, surprising...?  

I attended as a volunteer with Steinbach Community Outreach. My hope was to learn more about what local programs offer, and to gain a sliver more of understanding about the life of someone who is homeless or desperately poor. 

As I attempted to squeeze everything into a backpack (we would each carry our packs on the walk across town to various organizations), suddenly everything I owned became impractical or unnecessary.  

And yes, to me gum for fresh breath is a necessity :)

Here's what I took. The weather was mild enough that I didn't need the toque, and it was too dark and busy to journal. But the sweater and wooly socks saved me. Ten degrees makes for one chilly sleep!

Packed and ready to go, I couldn't help pacing through the house, scanning each room for that one thing I must be forgetting. I ended up taking silent stock of all the things I wanted that I couldn't have. Coffee. Pillows. Sudoku. Light. Heat. A book to read. 

My heart rate quickened as I felt the twinge of leaving. 
...What would this be like if I were doing this for real? 

20C when I left, but anticipating 10C at night.
How to layer without wearing it all at once?
Tie it on ... everywhere.
A brisk 1/4 mile trek (each hauling our packs) to the soup kitchen started off the evening. We arrived tired and sweaty, starting to glimpse another reality. Over soup and a slice of bread, we listened to stories of people who come to the Soup Kitchen, and why. Regular people like you and me. Often things happened beyond their control. Poverty and homelesness can happen to anyone; even community leaders.
After touring three facilities (Soup Kitchen, Community Outreach and the local food bank), - about 2 miles in total - we heard speakers from other organizations describe their services and experiences with the poor and homeless. 
Presentations ended at midnight, with a smile and wave "Goodnight!"

40 people wandered the park, scouting the best sleep spots. 
What a weird exercise. 
What makes a good spot? How can there be such a thing? (I never realized how well-lit the park is...) I chose a patch of grass, tossed and turned for an hour, and gave up, deciding to chat by the fire instead.

Around 3:00am I gave in and scouted a spot by a bed of flowers. Stars shimmered above. The moon glowed beyond tall dainty flowers and it was so... breathtaking. I needed to capture the moment. 

But I couldn't.  
So I tossed the camera into my pack and tried to memorize the moment instead. 

After a few hours of sleep, I woke to the chatter of CEOs cupping warm coffee in the gazebo. Over donated muffins and cheese, we compared notes about the night. While we smiled and rubbed our eyes, news crews milled about taking pictures (oh goody) and interviews. (Here's one article & photo)

My Take Away: 

- I loved seeing community influencers participate. Some were immediately compelled to action and brainstormed solutions on the spot. They seemed like a caring bunch of leaders who were said to be 'generous' and 'hand-picked not because of their big wallets, but their big hearts'. I look forward to seeing fruit from this seed.

-Sleeping outside is tiring. The ground is cold and unforgivingly hard. Traffic whirs by unstopping, ambulances scream, and yellow light spills around every corner leaving a person exposed. It's not at all like the cowboy movies would have us believe... 

- There are so many compassionate people with so much love to give. I'm humbled to be part of this community - this team of servants. I was made to see some of my invisible teammates last night. I hope to remember that the next time I feel alone in ministry. Or the next time someone else does. We are not alone. 

Thank you to the Today House team for initiating this - for speaking and standing for those who can not. Thank you for using your skills, knowledge and influence to affect positive change and motivating your peers to do the same.  Thank you for letting me be a part of it! 


A Note From Inside the Cloud

A grey cloud of oppression has surrounded me in recent months, growing thicker and thicker. I feel it may be about to dissipate. (Lord, let it dissipate!)  The cloud is still here and thick, but I’m starting to remember what hope feels like.

I usually don’t mention it until I come out on the other side, but I wanted to, in this brief moment of remembering hope, share it with you. Maybe you’re in a cloud too, and need to hear it as much as I did this morning.

The heart-wrenching ache can come from anything: Mourning a loved one, grieving this dark world, or tiring of perpetually screwing up and falling short and of trying.  
Whatever the ache, it can become too heavy to bear.

I tend to hide. Because surely I have to fix this before I can come to God and offer myself again, right? But of course I can’t fix it, which means I can’t yet approach God, which  means I keep on hiding. 
The cloud thickens.

The glimmer of hope today is this: I can’t fix this.

The bar is too high. The pierce of this pain is too intense. I can’t hide and I can’t change.
This is the end of the road.  (Are you encouraged yet?)

Precisely where this road ends though, is where a new one begins.

Where I stop trusting myself 
    is where I start to trust God. 

If I can’t fix this or free myself, there is only One who can. And finally my eyes turn away from self and turn toward Him. And I’m sprawled before Him, face down, offering all that I am which is not much, but I’m too worn out to hide anymore.
Finally a shaft of light pierces the cloud and I can praise the One who can help me.

"Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—" (Psalm 43:5)

"My Savior and my God! You are my King and my God.
You command victories for Israel.
Only by your power can we push back our enemies;
only in your name can we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow;
I do not count on my sword to save me.
You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies;
you disgrace those who hate us.
O God, we give glory to you all day long
and constantly praise your name." (Psalm 44:4-8)

The ache is still there, but I’ll praise Him anyway. Practice trusting Him anyway.
And ask friends to join me in praying against this oppression. (thank you friends!)

And most of all, I will decidedly, intentionally, fiercely
fix my eyes on Him, the Author and Perfector of my faith
who is good and able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until the day of his return. (2Tim1:12)

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Heb12:1,2)

May we be kept safe and encouraged, 
enduring to the end 
by His grace. 


When We Feel Spiritually Bi-Polar

Sometimes the spiritual highs and lows make me wonder if I’m crazy. How else can I explain the heights and depths of this experience?

For days, sometimes weeks, I walk in victory. Life is a dance on a hill and I hear God’s voice frequently. Love, patience and acceptance of circumstances (even hard ones) all comes fairly easy. Praise and thanks are continually on my lips. I may not be elated all the time (I am human even in victory) but all is well with my soul.

And then…

For days, sometimes weeks, it feels too much to walk at all. Life is a long trudge down a dark and threatening alley, and I don’t know if I’ll make it to the end. I read my journal entries from victorious days and wonder who on earth wrote them. I wish I could be like her – full of faith and joy. But now, all is grey and sad. Frustration and sorrow pull my face in hard lines, and to smile takes conscious effort.  And I wonderis all still well with my soul?

And back and forth we go. It’s enough to make a girl question her sanity.

One day I told a friend about it. “I feel spiritually bi-polar!!” She was silent for a moment, and then said, “King David was like that…”

Yes! King David – a man after God’s own heart! – experienced intense highs and lows, victory and defeat. One day David praises God with everything in him, and the next he’s asking God to leave him alone or he’ll die. Oh! Maybe I’m not insane after all. 

Still, I have to wonder why 
I don't stay on the mountain top. 

What sends me plummeting to the bottom?

Is it sin?

Pride about victory definitely sends me into a spin if I allow it to continue. If I’m refusing to obey God in some area – even in something small - victory is compromised. When I humbly turn away from my sin and praise God instead though, joy and victory return.

Is it growing in faith?

It seems like growing into a new step of faith means standing on a trap door that suddenly releases. Instantly I’m in freefall into some dark hole. How deep it is, I do not know. But whatever I was standing on is gone for some reason, and now I’m flailing around trying to find something to hang on to. It’s scary. Finally though, I fall to the bottom – the very foundation. Carefully I feel around, checking that my footing is secure. Once the new footing is found to be trustworthy, I walk freely on it and discover my new surroundings.
That’s growing in faith. It’s scary and painful, and definitely feels insane.
Is it God’s Silence?

I do not believe God is ever completely silent. We’re surrounded by His creation which proclaims His goodness everywhere. (Ps 8) But He definitely hides himself at times (for our good and His glory). Still, He invites us to seek Him persistently and promises that when we do, we will find Him. (Mat 7:7)

Silence between friends doesn’t usually make me uncomfortable. When I can’t hear God clearly though, I get really uncomfortable. Fear and insecurity grab hold and questions come – have I gone deaf? Am I in sin? Have I forgotten how to pray? Did I ever really know how? Why?!?! 

Maybe I shouldn’t let the ‘silence’ become thick with fear. Maybe silence between friends is okay, and I need to remember that God and I are friends.

All three of these possible reasons for feeling spiritually insane have something in common. 
At the core of each is the question 
“Do I trust God?” 

 to be the keeper of my soul even when I doubt?
 to perfect my faith when it falls so horribly short?
 to intercede for me when I can not pray anymore?
 to be gentle with me even when this is the 47th time I’m here, struggling?
 to love me?
 to call and protect and keep all of His people – children, grandchildren, friends, family, martyrs, widows, orphans, leaders, the starving, the hopeless, the abused, the tortured, the deceived… everyone – can He reach all of His children and keep them until His return?

But here in the middle of crazy 
I have to know that these two things are true: 

First, I’ve got to know that the spiritually bi-polar feeling is okay. King David, Moses, Elijah, John and even Jesus each experienced emotions that soared and plummeted. To seek and serve our God is intense. And that’s okay. (I love that John wrote in 1Jn3:20 that "God is greater than our feelings" - it's a lifeline on crazy days.)

Second, I’ve got to know that the God I seek and serve is good and faithful and able, and that He IS love. I have to believe He will never abandon me, and that He can keep me even through the crazy. I’ve got to know that – even if it means hanging on to just one of those, and only by a thread – I’ve got to, or I may never find that new footing.

Some verses that encourage me in the grey and sad and freefall: (may they encourage you too)

“The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of  trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you O LORD do not abandon those who search for you.” Psalm 9:9,10

“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering…” Romans 8:23

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness… The Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” Romans 8: 26,27


A Quick Thought... (experimenting with off-the-cuff)

I clear the lawn of branches so the tall grass can finally be cut. 
Our yard, flanked by huge Willows on three sides, gets pretty doggone full of branches every spring. Many of these sticks are an inch or two in diameter. They could seriously damage our mower. 

I decide the mower can probably handle the smaller ones, so I just collect the largest, thickest, and longest.  

I know stick collecting is not exactly action-adventure material. The decision making process though, intrigues me, and parallels our navigation of spiritual dangers. 

The grass is tall enough to hide 80% of what I  need to find. I have to walk right up to it to even see it.  Then, once spotted, the stick is analyzed. Will it damage the mower? If one end is driven over will the other pop up and poke me?  Can I leave it there and assume all will be well? 

And I wonder what kinds of spiritual sticks hide all around us. Do I look across the lush green grass from my safe patio bench and declare "Oh, how beautiful!"? Or do I actually inspect it before making that call?

And when I find sticks in that otherwise lovely lawn, what will I do then? 

Ignore them, regardless of the harm they will likely cause?
Will I decide on my own which ones are dangerous and which are not? 
One by one pick each one out?

Maybe the metaphor doesn't fully connect, because the lawn I clear is mine.  I am responsible to clean it, and if I don't no one else will. And if I don't, I will cost me personally. I'll have an ugly yard, trip on sticks, and damage our equipment. 

But the spiritual realm connects with everything. Government policy, government (public) education, big business, small business, finances ... everything has a spiritual element. So what is my responsibility in these 'big' things? Whatever path I walk through them, ought I not pick up a stick or two if I see it, to help my neighbor? And if the stick is too big and I see someone else struggling to lift it, would I  not stop to help?

I hope so. 

Unless I'm on a patio bench, looking out over the lush green grass. 
There is a time for rest and appreciation of a field even with all its sticks. 
But if I'm intent on believing it's beautiful just the way it is, and it needs no help or work from me ever,
then I might be annoyed by the guy heaving big sticks 
because he is blocking my view.

What Does God Think About Global Crises?

Confession: I don't claim to know all that God thinks.  
(and we should all be wary of those who do)

"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD.
"And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-10

But sometimes I sure wonder what on earth He thinks about the injustices and atrocities that surround  us. Evil seems to grow powerful and pervasive, and sometimes it makes me desperate and cry out,

God! What do YOU think about this!?

Recently I have been learning about the various industries and their powerful influence over nations and the world as a whole. One evening, after watching a documentary (Blue Gold: World Water Wars) I became especially bothered by the injustice of powerful industry essentially exploiting and killing the poorest of the poor - the 'least of these', and profiting greatly from their oppression.

I could think of little else. I washed dishes and shook my head. I cleared the table, wondering what God is up to. I tucked in the children, wondering what my responsibility is in such a huge problem.

The next morning I opened the Word to continue reading in Psalms. "Lord, help me know what to do" I pleaded, and then began to read Psalm 37.

Know what the first words were that I read that morning?

"Don't worry about the wicked
or envy those who do wrong."

Lips parted in surprise. I was about to hear from Him on the subject. 

"Be still in the presence of the LORD
and wait patiently for Him to act.
Don't worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes."

His Word is so alive and active, isn't it?  At this point, I found myself secretly saying something like, "Yeah but... yeah but... what do I DO?? Just sit here and trust you and do not act? Doesn't that make me a culprit too?"

And He repeats about twelve times in different ways, "Trust me".
The stanzas echo in deafening volume the promise given to God's people in Deuteronomy 32:34

"I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
In due time their feet will slip.
their day of disaster will arrive,
and their destiny will overtake them.'

(Side note: You may point out that this passage speaks of the punishment that befalls God's own people when they turn away from Him. But God also addresses His justice on His enemies at the end of the song:)

"For He will avenge the blood of His servants;
He will take revenge against His enemies.
He will repay those who hate him
and cleanse the land for His people." 

What God thinks of those who oppress the poor and steal and murder and profit from their misdeeds is clear. He will not tolerate it forever.

In the meantime, He uses these injustices (and I do not presume this to be the only reason!) to purify His bride. It's funny - Christians are widely trained to believe that Jesus came to bring peace and comfort and heaven on earth. And we work feverishly to insulate ourselves from trouble, and complain when hardship dares to afflict us. US! The children of a Holy God! Gasp!
Yet Jesus never EVER said we will live in utopia until He comes. Quite the opposite. 

"Do you think I have come to bring peace to earth? 
No, I have come to divide people against each other!" 
Luke 12:51

(How does that sit with your picture of Jesus by the way?) 
Why does He say this? Brother Lawrence understood well that one must trust God in all things. He knew "God could remedy any mischief, although sometimes He permitted evil for reasons very true and useful in the order of His Providence." (p.18, The Practice of the Presence of God)

And I see the benefit of suffering in my own life too. Repeatedly
Even now, as I am torn over evil done to others near and far, the Lord challenges me to trust Him: rely on Him and wait patiently for Him to act. This is difficult. It feels lazy and even wrong to just sit and pray.

But this is the working out of salvation; trusting Him beyond understanding. Belief.
"Jesus told them, "This is the only work God wants from you: 

Believe in the One He has sent."
John 6:29

Whatever your struggle, I encourage you as the Lord encouraged me: trust Him and wait patiently for Him to act. He is good and able and He. Will. Do it.

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