Wednesday, July 29, 2009


This weekend I had some of my highschool small group girls from Upland come and visit. It was great to see them and see them experience a bit of Chicago—we ate at Giordano’s, went along the lake front, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and the absurdity known as Macy’s.

Over the past three years I’ve been a volunteer at Upland Community Church’s youth group, and it’s been an amazing experience to see how much change can happen over the course of three years. As the girls were driving away I remembered the beginning of the school year with our small group. God brought an incredible co-leader, Carie, to lead with me, but when we saw the groups of girls in our group we wondered how in the world is this going to work out?

It was an odd mix of girls, and the first months or so were rough. Yet as I watched them drive away this weekend I was left in awe of God’s faithfulness. It’s incredible how far we’ve come since last September. The girls have accepted each other, vulnerability has happened, and they have grown together.

Being involved with the youth at UCC is one of the most difficult and rewarding things that I have done. As I am getting ready to enter into my fourth year with these students I can’t help but see how faithful God has been.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

three little words

No, I’m not talking about the words I love you, though those can be important words too. What I’m talking about is probably less common, but in many ways I see as equally important.

Most of us have all had done our time if not lived our whole lives in a variety of Christian communities. In my experiences in such places, especially at Taylor and now here at YouthWorks, there’s a desire, an expectation, at times perhaps an obligation that we are to have meaningful interactions with everyone. That’s understandable; we all have a desire to connect with others and have deep relationships. Yet this expectation seems to also cause some damage.

It’s typical that when we are trying to get to know someone we try to find some common ground and there is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps it’s something like a shared liking of a sport or the outdoors or places we’ve been; we always try to find that common group. While this can be a good thing and helps us start down that road to meaningful interactions and deep-felt relationships, it can also be a great downfall (or so it seems to me).

I think a lot of times we carry this mentality over into deeper, more personal sides, of relationships too, and this is where I think that it can become harmful. Just because we are both trying to follow Jesus and maybe even have similar life experiences does not mean that we can fully understand what a person is going through. It seems that that attempt to find that common ground is brought to the table when we know someone who is experiencing something difficult. And it is without a doubt that we have all experienced difficult times in life, but to try to find a common ground amidst someone’s struggles can be more hurtful than caring. The thing is I don’t think people in Christian circles even realize that they are doing this.

I had a conversation with a dear friend Adam last night about this very topic. It is very easy for us to identify with someone else’s pain, frustration, or perhaps fears. Yet when we say the words I understand, it is as if we are minimalizing their experience. It can easily come across as I’ve been there and done that and really it’s not that big of a deal, all the while this may be the world that this person is experiencing and dealing with in the present.

There are times to seek that common ground, but far too often we are overly eager to find that. It has been my experience that in times of frustration, pain, and fear the most comforting of words can be I don’t understand or I can’t imagine. Those three little words are the ones that carry the most significance.

It’s not so much that we are looking for people who have dealt with those same issues that we may be facing, but rather I think we want someone to validate. The most meaningful relationship that I have had with others are the ones in which we admit that perhaps we can’t fully understand what the other is experiencing, yet we choose to be there, validate them, and offer our input only when appropriate. There’s a vulnerability in admitting that. This is not letting us off the chain and saying that because we don't understand we don't have to listen. No, perhaps the best thing we can do is listen, affirm, and be silent.

I think our world , us, and those around us are in need of a lot more I don’t understands rather than our advice and life stories. But then again those are just my thoughts and ramblings.

This has been a great frustration of my summer, so if you’ve read all of this I am impressed. thanks for reading along

Friday, July 17, 2009

hard times in middletown

Okay, I will confess it—I am a documentary nerd. I love documentaries. They have to be a worthwhile topic, but I consider this interest a good thing, all for the betterment of my education, right? Go ahead, make fun of me; the girls of 1EO already do.

Anyways, to the point of this… I subscribe to the American RadioWorks podcast and would encourage you to do the same. They put out some interesting stuff. Recently they finished their program called “Hard Times in Middletown” that focuses on Mucie, IN (a town that is pretty close to Taylor).

Here’s the deal: if you are a Taylor student I would encourage you to listen to this. It is well worth your time and will give you some good insight into a lot of things that are occurring in the Taylor region.

So go and listen. You will be better for it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

working it out

Due to our 90 hour work week with YouthWorks every week, there’s not a lot of time to work out which can be a difficult thing for me. I really do love it when I am able to get out and run during the week; unfortunately this job has us up at 6:30 or earlier and going till midnight or often later. But I’ve created somewhat of a plan to deal with this.

Every Monday I go to our ministry site, Casa Central, to hang out with Spanish-speaking senior citizens. Not only is it a blast to be able to hang out with these people, hear all of their crazy stories, and speak Spanish, but they have an aerobics class every Monday. There’s nothing like marching in place and doing ab workouts to 80’s music re-recorded to have the same rhythm with 70 and 80 year-olds. I love it.

On top of that every Wednesday I have karate classes. I kid you not! Wednesdays I’m at a kid’s club all day where they bring in a karate instructor for three hours. It’s hilarious to watch as the instructor tries to get 5-13 year olds to all focus and do what he says. Every Wednesday afternoon I get to come home and show the boys (that being Brad and Johnny) what amazing karate skills I learned that day.
I’m going to be a karate master by the end of the summer.

Changing up the workout routine…got to love it.

stretching it out before karate class

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the city

There’s an exhilarating feeling that comes with living in the city—all of the people, diversity, the accessibility of everything, the adventure, there’s always something new and it is never boring. I’ve really enjoyed living in Chicago, especially in Humboldt Park (got to love speaking in Spanish).

Yet while the exciting aspects of the city still remain, many of the harsh realities also became more vivid than ever this week. One of our staff members was sitting out on our stoop one evening as was robbed at gunpoint. He wasn’t walking around the streets, or even the sidewalks, he was just on our stoop! Needless to say, sleep was low and emotions were extremely high this week. YouthWorks was quick to respond in putting our site as a top priority crisis, but there’s not a lot that can be said or done in a situation like this.

Within a day the neighborhood and community that I had felt so comfortable in faded away. I’ve passed the crack house down the street more than ten dozen times, but suddenly it seemed real. The drunks and high folk that walk the streets stood out all the more. Every door that the participants left propped open became an opportunity for something to happen. The gang signs graffitied on the walls seemed to be everywhere. Sentiments of security had vanished all within a matter of 30 minutes.

We managed to make it through the week down a staff member and with many cups of coffee and much grace. Now I’m left with these conflicting feelings, and it is so easy to let fear creep in. I was talking with Sara, one of our staff members and my boss, and she was talking about how there’s a voice that just keeps saying throw in the towel. It’s not safe; you’ve gone through too much; just leave. It is an easy lie to believe, and one that I think the church and Christians have fallen for many times. But that can’t be an option; we can’t live dominated by fear.

So right now we’re learning what it looks like to stay. To see and be fully aware of both side of the city, yet decide to stay and have a presence.

please be praying for our staff as one of us has left, a new has joined though we're not sure for how long, and we've been hit hard throughout this whole week.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

i choose the city

I got this from a friend, and thought I would share. It's by Dr. Francis DuBose, a seminary professor of urban ministry and missiologist.

I Choose the City by Francis DuBose

I choose the city…
Not simply to live in it,
to see it,
to hear it;
But to touch it;
yes, to embrace it,
to hold it,

To feel the wild glory of its
pulsating soul,

To move over its wide,
hurried broadways,

To stand stilled and sobered
at the nowhere of its dead-end streets,

To be trapped with it in its
pain and problems,

To be at once chilled by its ill
and covered with its confetti.

I choose the city because I choose God,
Because I choose humanity,
Because I choose the divine-human

The struggle which will be won
Not in the serene path through
meadow and wood,
among the bees and birds, and flowers,

But in the city street
Made by the hand of man
Through the gift of God–
Main Street: the final battle field,
The scene of the ultimate struggle,
Where man chooses right
Because he is free to choose wrong.

Babylon, dirty and daring–
Babylon, yes–
Babylon today–

The New Jerusalem!

Francis DuBose, Mystic on Main Street, Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 1993, pp. 78, 79.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

the norm

This week is our third group of participants on site out of eight. Already I am feeling the drain of doing the same thing continuously for eight weeks in a row. It’s a little different too, because unlike camps, the students that come to our sites already have adult leaders with them—we’re just here to iron out the details, get them plugged in, and try to steer them in the right direction.

Tonight I felt that drain unlike any other. For the first time in a long time I had some time to think. We had an hour before club (our nightly church service type thing), and Brad and I had finished setting up the chapel. So while Brad was chillin and playing guitar, I got to think and be.

The summer has been an immense challenge and I’m not even half way through it. After the semester abroad I feel as if I’m still making cultural adjustments especially moving back into an extremely Christian environment. As I sat there wrestling with God and my own thoughts, there was a great feeling of purpose and meaninglessness. I have no idea why I’m here or why YouthWorks is here or the 70-80 participants that come every week. And it’s with those doubts that I entered into our club time.

But for some reason last night, God decided to make it clear to me that he is at work here. To make a long story short there ended up being three students crying, adult leaders saying that they had some of the best conversation in church group time following, and our neighbors who came to sit in for the evening said that was exactly what they needed to hear. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these are signs of greatness or that making people cry is the perfect symbol of spiritual growth or challenge, but all of that served as a sign that there was something going on. That for some reason God is using what we’re doing though many times it feels pointless. That feeling is fleeting, but I’m learning that for this summer it will be something that I have to trust.

I still don’t know how or why I am here or how God is working through this thing called YouthWorks, but he is and for some reason I’m here in the middle of it. Thank you, God, that you can use people like me.