Jasmin Says Goodbye

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With a tender heart, I’d like to announce that my formal, professional time with the Love Wins’ community is coming to a close. With the demands of two young children at home, one of them with special needs, I’ve found that they both need more of my full-time attention. As I step away from this work, I’m sure my children will happily reoccupy a large chunk of my time. My family is also planning an out-of-town move, so the time, as they say, is ripe.

But for as long as we’re still living in Raleigh, I hope to remain a part of the community, whether that be through Wednesday lunch and worship, or just popping in to say hello to who I now consider to be my extended family.

There are so many moments I will never forget, so many people that are etched into my heart. Sometimes I was wrung dry, especially in the wintertime, when I hoped and prayed and hoped some more that we would not lose someone to the cold. Sometimes, I was overcome with joy, especially when I was privileged enough to witness or be the beneficiary of the incredible generosity of this community. And most of the time (see: every day), even if I initially didn’t feel like it, someone made me laugh.

We’ve said that the Community Engagement Center is a place of hospitality for people experiencing homelessness. It could also be said, that it’s a place of hospitality for people experiencing human-ness.

In other words, it’s a place for everyone.

Since it seems as if there are so few, truly safe and welcoming spaces for people of differing races, economic classes, sexual orientations, or religions (the list could go on), the unique experience of being a part of this community has given me such hope. I’ve caught glimpses of what a more beautiful world could look like. I’ve caught glimpses of love in action. I’ve caught glimpses of God.

I am changed. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Hospitality In Action

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This Sunday during my church’s worship time, we had what we call a “contemplative Sunday.” That basically just means that instead of singing we sit and meditate, which is usually accompanied by music and a reading. We were encouraged to offer hospitality by welcoming every part of ourselves to the moment. All of our weaknesses, along with our strengths; the dark places, along with the light; our sorrows and our joys. In the midst of this welcome, the phrases “lovely one” and “beloved” were offered as way to address ourselves, a reminder that we were all made in God’s image.

The community at the Love Wins Community Engagement Center wasn’t far from my mind. We may not mediate using the theme of hospitality, but you can see hospitality in action all the time. There’s Tori*, who is visibly offering the hospitality of her body through her pregnancy with her son Christopher. Roger, who offers hospitality when he cares for the kittens who were recently born next to his tent. Or, Johnny, who has taken Rick, another community member with some mental health challenges, under his wing.

The Center is a place where hospitality is always moving and living, a place where hospitality is in action. No one is perfect, but no one, thankfully, is expecting perfection. We only want to walk beside each other in grace, and support each other as we are able along life’s journey. I love the words of Catholic saint and Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world 

I’m grateful for the reminder that made in God’s image, we can all be bearers of hospitality in a world that so desperately needs it.

*If you’d like to share a gift for Tori and Christopher, you can find her registry here. Wal-Mart, Target, and Walgreens gift cards are also welcome. Or, if Amazon is your thing, our mailing address is: POB 28837, Raleigh, NC 27611. Thank you for your generosity!

Related: Hospitality Is Risky

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Go To Hell

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This was the text of the homily given in our worshipping community by Hugh Hollowell on August 21, 2011. The Scripture text was Matthew 16:13-20.

On the small has-been farm I grew up on, we had lots of gates.

There was the gate that kept the goats in their pen. There was the gate that kept the hogs in their pen. There was the gate at the bottom of the driveway that kept the stranger out when we were away. In shop class, I learned how to make a gate that will never, ever sag or drag the ground.

I know a little bit about gates.

So, in the passage we read today, when Jesus says “ I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” I noticed that.

To prevail means to be effective or to be victorious. How is a gate victorious? How is it effective? How does a gate prevail?

Gates have two functions: To keep people or things inside. And to keep people or things outside.

Gates are effective when they keep things in or out.

So, when Jesus says that he will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, he has to mean that the gates of hell cannot keep the church out.

According to Jesus, the church belongs in hell.

Hell is where we find the drug addicted. Hell is where the single mother struggling to pay the bills lives. Hell is where the alcoholic sleeps, hell is where the pimped out and the pimps both live. Hell is where we find both victims of abuse and abusers.

We want the church to be a place where we meet and hang out with our friends, but Jesus pictured the church as an expeditionary force, bursting down the gates of hell itself and bringing liberation to those who are imprisoned there.

Jesus is calling his church to wade into hell itself to bust out the homeless, the hungry, the adulterer, the pornographer. To drag them out of the depths of hell, after we tear down those gates.

Hunger, homelessness, addiction – all that is one kind of hell. But there are other hells.

There is the hell of being told your sexuality or your gender somehow makes you less than acceptable to God. There’s the hell of being made to feel less than human because your skin is darker than everyone else’s, or because you were born in another country.

And there is the hell of being poor and losing your job and being told it’s the fault of the immigrant, who, in reality, you have much more in common with than you do the rich man who laid you off.

Whatever hell people find themselves in, the gates that keep them there are to be torn down by the church. We are most like the church Jesus had in mind when we proclaim to the captives that the hell they live in is not part of the plan – that there is another way to live, and we find it when we work together to bring about the Justice of God.

The justice of God is a personal justice. It involves sacrificial love. It means dying to ourselves, our ambitions, our preconceived notions of how things work. The way of Jesus invites us to be the means by which God’s justice comes into being. It invites us to go to hell, for the sake of those imprisoned there.

Today, my brothers and sisters, my most fervent prayer for the church is simply this: I pray I will see you in hell. They need us there.

 

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Criminalizing Poverty

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The cycle of debt, poverty, and incarceration is insidious, a difficult chain to break.

Steven Gibbs was put in jail twice because he couldn’t afford the probation fees after driving on a suspended license. He now lives in fear that he’ll be jailed again, and still can’t resolve his debt from the salary he earns with a job at McDonalds.

“Probation is supposed to substitute for jail or prison, requiring offenders to report regularly and maintain good behavior. But in this fast-growing county outside Nashville and more than a dozen states, probation for misdemeanors is a profit-making — and increasingly contentious — venture.

Those with cash to pay fines when they’re convicted often avoid supervision, while poor offenders can be snared in a cycle of debt and punishment. Critics of for-profit probation say it can create a modern debtor’s prison,” writes Gellar and Cohen from the Associated Press.

I recently told an acquaintance where I work, and she wondered aloud, “I’d like to help [people experiencing homelessness] too, but how will I know I’m not helping a criminal?”

I’m sure my cheeks turned red with anger, but I don’t think she noticed. There was no time for more conversation, so I had no opportunity to say what I would’ve liked to. If I could have I would have told her this:

First of all the assumption that people who are poor or housing vulnerable are criminals…is just that: A terrible assumption.

But, maybe you would actually help someone society has labeled a criminal, someone you can’t see as anything other than that. Perhaps they made a mistake. Just as, I’m sure you have at some point in your life. But unlike you, they lacked the support – whether it be emotional, financial, or educational – to keep their mistake from spiraling out of control.

Perhaps the real criminals are the companies that profit from these mistakes. Perhaps institutions that value money over human life are criminal.

And perhaps, in the end, there is nothing you can do to “help” the “criminals.” But maybe, just maybe, entering into relationship with someone different than you would change you. It’s scary, I know, but it’s the best way to stay so intimately connected to the complex beauty of humanity (in others and your own) that I know.

Relationship. Community. These aren’t just buzz words. They enable us to live in love.

And, even if we’re too scared to admit it, isn’t that how we’d all like to live?

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Being Poor

While Hugh is on the road, I pulled this piece he referenced from the archives: a poignant glimpse of what it’s like to be poor. If you haven’t subscribed yet to the blog, you can do so here. Peace, Jasmin

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For the record, being poor sucks.

No one has ever captured it as well for me as John Scalzi, a writer of some note.  Scalzi wrote this in the immediate aftermath of Huricane Katrina, when there was a lot of folks dissing the poor for not leaving New Orleans in advance of the storm.

“Being Poor”

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn’t spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.

Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

Go read the original, especially the comments. It is eye opening.

Related Content: How The Poor, The Middle Class, And The Rich Spend Their Money

 

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Grace In The Cracks

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To say that being a part of our community is hard would be an understatement. It can feel, at times, devastating.

When I first started working at Love Wins and discovered that one of our community members was pregnant, after congratulating her, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen after the baby was born. We have a few more expectant mothers in the community now and after asking this question again, Hugh gave me the unvarnished truth.

“If the hospital staff has reason to suspect that you’re experiencing homelessness, they will get a social worker from CPS to come review your situation,” he paused.

“And?” I prodded.

“And if you don’t have a permanent address, you can’t leave the hospital with the baby.”

“What happens to the baby?” I asked aloud, already knowing the answer to the question.

“Foster care. Or, they’ll try and find a stable family member to house the baby first. But chances are, if there was a stable family member around, the mother wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.”

Teresa’s already picked out a name for her child. And Kim, who isn’t as far along, has been on the hunt for maternity clothes. They are both excited, full of questions, and eagerly anticipating bringing their little ones into the world, just like most moms-to-be are.

While new parenthood is daunting enough, the task of birthing and then giving up your child because you have no home to bring them to is truly lamentable.

Though we can’t do much to change the situation, we’re here to stand (or sit, or cry) with them in them midst of loss and upheaval.

Tommy, who wrestles with addiction, walked into our offices one morning, sat down plaintively, and asked no one in particular, “Do you ever just want to end it all?”

Those of us who heard him grew still and focused our attention on him. After talking and asking him a few more questions, he decided to go to the hospital for help. We took him to the ER and checked him in, but it would only be a couple of days until Tommy was turned back out onto the streets again.

There’s no promise that we can keep Tommy from an overdose that might one day claim his life. But we are here for now, loving him as best we can, and giving him a place to belong.

George is tall and broad, has a penchant for pacing, and sometimes his speech impediment makes him difficult to understand. One cold, almost-but-not-quite, spring day, he kept walking in and out of the community center, forgetting to close the door behind him every time. Letting the cold air in did not make the other community members very happy, and George quickly had quite a few people irritated with him.

When George tried to explain himself, the meaning of his words was lost on us. He grew more agitated. The community grew more wary. There were several misunderstandings over the course of about an hour.

Finally, it took someone telling him several times, “We are glad you are here. We are happy to see you,” that seemed to help George calm down. I suspect those are words he does not hear very often. George is probably often ignored or the brunt of someone’s irritation.

But when he’s here and we’re able, we’ll communicate that we are happy, simply because he exists.

There’s no easy answers for any of our guests. I certainly don’t know how, try as I might, to see some of their stories through rose-tinted glasses, hoping for a happy ending.

Sometimes, I can only bear witness, grateful for the slivers of grace that fall through the cracks.

 

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Goodbye, Madeline

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Madeline Anderson has resigned as Operations Manager of Love Wins Ministries’ hospitality house where she’s generously and faithfully served for a year.

Madeline has been more than simply the manager of our hospitality house – she’s been a true friend to our community. With grace and fluidity, Madeline’s operational style has been a combination of warmth and strength, and the occasional tough, no-nonsense air that earned her the affectionate nickname, “Boss Lady.” The entire community will miss her.

While we’ve treasured our time with her, we give her all our support as she leaves to seek opportunities closely aligned with her passions, strengths, and career goals.

As the hospitality house of Love Wins Ministries transitions to an independent non-profit (a.k.a: The Love Wins Community Engagement Center), we’ve begun the search for a Director of Operations to oversee, manage, and develop this new program.

Think you or someone you know would be a good fit? Check out the job description here.

Related Content: Come Work For Us, Changes At Love Wins Ministries

 

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Exchanging Gifts, Exchanging Love

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A few mornings ago, I walked into the office to find a Sprite sitting on my desk. Thinking it belonged to someone who’d accidentally left it there, and since I’m generally a water, tea, or coffee drinker, I moved it to the donation sorting conference table. Quite promptly, I forgot all about it.

Hours later when Tommy came for in for an aspirin and to say hello, he sat in the chair across from mine, peering over my shoulder to see what I was working on that day. When a community member so obviously wants to chat, I try to remember that the interruptions are our work, regardless of what might be vying for my attention on my computer screen.

“How’s the baby?” he asked, always curious about my daughter.

I gave him the latest rundown on milestones, the current one being the baby Olympic event of walking. We talked for a few minutes until he noticed the Sprite sitting on the other table.

“Don’t you want this?” he asked, holding the Sprite up over his head, shaking it a little. “I bought it for you!” he exclaimed.

And once again, I was touched by the generosity of this community.

“I had no idea it was for me. Thank you!” I told him, taking the Sprite and putting it in its rightful place (i.e. back on my desk).

Whenever I begin to develop amnesia and fall into the trap of inadvertently thinking we (myself, my co-workers, our supporters, and volunteers) are giving to them (our community members), I am so beyond grateful for and humbled by the reminder that there is no “Other” here. We are a community, and a community is built on and maintained through relationships. We all belong, and we all having something to give and receive from one another.

In an article entitled, “The Psychology of Gift Exchange,” the author states: “Gift giving is a social, cultural and economic experience; a material and social communication exchange that is inherent across human societies and instrumental in maintaining social relationships and expressing feelings.”

By gifting me with a Sprite, Tommy had done more than show me he had been thinking about me and wanted to show it. He was doing his part to cement a social bond, the kind of bond that keeps our community engagement center the uniquely beautiful and hospitable place that it is. It truly is these little things, these moments that keep the spirit of Love Wins alive. When we exchange gifts, we’re really just exchanging love.

 

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Relationships Can Change The World

You never have your best day alone. Think about some of the best days of your life, they all include relationships, don’t they? When homelessness is, at its core, a relationship issue, we believe that relationships have the power to change a life, and ultimately change the world.

Check out Hugh’s Tedx talk below. Peace, Jasmin

 

Related Content: Slow Cooker Church – Relationships Take Time, Relationships Are Key

 

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

3 Things You Can Do About Health Care And Homelessness

Henry walked into the offices and after happily greeting us all, announced that he’d recently had some blood work done. Henry hasn’t been well, but that day he had good color in his cheeks and walked just a bit taller and easier than he has in awhile. “I’m doing better!” he cried joyfully. We hugged and congratulated him, knowing what a struggle it’s been for him to make it to doctor’s appointments without access to reliable transportation, obtain medications, and get the kind of rest that is essential to the healing process while living outside.

Though Henry is experiencing better health these days, there are so many amongst our community that are not able to receive the care they need. first-aid-908591_1920

According to The National Coalition for the Homeless:

“Homelessness and health care are intimately interwoven. Poor health is both a cause and a result of homelessness. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council (2008) estimates that 70% of Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) clients do not have health insurance.  Moreover, approximately 14% of people treated by homeless health care programs are children under the age of 15 (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2008)…

Diseases that are common among the homeless population include heart disease, cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, skin infections, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, and tuberculosis (O’Connell, 2005)…

Unfortunately, many homeless people who are ill and need treatment do not ever receive medical care.  Barriers to health care include lack of knowledge about where to get treated, lack of access to transportation, and lack of identification (Whitbeck, 2009). Psychological barriers also exist, such as embarrassment, nervousness about filling out the forms and answering questions properly, and self-consciousness about appearance and hygiene when living on the streets.”

While I know it’s a big, complex problem that you might feel helpless to tackle, there are things you can do to help support our neighbors experiencing homelessness who face disease, disability, or mental illnesses.

3 Ways to Support Health Care for People Experiencing Homelessness

  1. Support Mental Health Services. Can we work to de-stigmatize mental illness? Even just changing the language you use to describe people experiencing mental illness is an important shift. Also, don’t forget to make your voice and vote matter by electing local officials that support the expansion of mental health services. Or, consider attending a Mental Health First Aid course near you.
  2. Support Affordable Housing Initiatives. Speak out if you know of development plans in your area that do not include affordable housing options. Elect officials dedicated to supporting housing for a variety of incomes. While we believe that the opposite of homelessness is community (and not necessarily being housed), the more people who are able to recover from illness indoors, the better.
  3. Donate First Aid Items. We often administer general first aid items such as band-aids, bandages, Advil, cough syrup, or Tums to our community. Grab an extra bottle while you’re out for us, and we’d be grateful.

Always remember that your awareness, compassion, and generosity can go a long way as you act out of love.

Related Content: Someone On Their Side

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.