Archive for June, 2009

June 25, 2009

Self Care and Random Thoughts

This week I am taking off most of the week for self care. I have been feeling tired recently. I realize that I haven’t taken any time off in a long time. I took a week off for Christmas and I had a week long vacation last July. So I heeded the instinct to slow down a bit this week.

I have been keeping careful enough records of my direct service time to make a graph of my hours. Since January (and really since last September), I have been doing 20 hours of direct service per week. The rest of the time goes into preparation, administration, study, community speaking, and other forms of marketing (to potential clients, networking partners, and financial donors).
However, this June I made changes and added more direct service time. My average weekly hours went up to 25 hours a week. This may not sound like much but it definitely has taken a toll on me. So I’m going to have to do some soul searching and cut back down. Eventually I may be able to handle this load when I’m full funded since maintaining the financial donors takes less work than securing them all. However, after 5 months of fund raising work, we’re receiving 40% of what we need. I still need about 50 more donors so I’ll be doing fundraising at least through the end of 2009.
In those 20 hours of direct service, I typically see 70 different people in 120 different conversations. Most are brief follow-up, some are longer, and about 20 per week are in depth. Each week I meet about 10 new people on the street.
So how does one do good self care? I think it’s one of the most important keys to working in this field… second only to the ability to have compassion for others. I have been privileged to learn from people who really care about me and care for themselves.
First in importance is to be in prayer and study of the Word. I do this in several ways. My ministry partners help hold me accountable for prayer before ministry. And record keeping also helps me remember to pray for individuals. I am kept in the word by a bible study group. You can join it, too. It’s described at By holding my feet to the fire daily to be reading the Bible, I gain enormous strength and refreshment. I also listen to KNLE while driving to and from work. (And yes… I give them a portion of my tithe, too! They need more!) They play lots of Christians songs which help center me on my work.
Second, you pay attention to your feelings and act early. I was feeling tied so they encouraged me to take time off. You have to be self-aware of your own feelings even as you work with others on their feelings and issues. One of the best ways to do this is to have a regular meeting with someone once a week to check-in with them. Hopefully they will ask, “So how are you feeling about your work this week?” It’s not a yes/no or good/bad question. It’s a question that needs some comparative adjectives… better than last week, more tired than last week, really centered compared to a couple of weeks ago.
Third, you set and hold boundaries for yourself. You can’t be more invested in an outcome than a client is. While we are there to encourage them, we really can’t make them want anything. We can offer options for solution and they have to make all the choices. You also can’t solve all of a clients problems. This is really hard, but you can only go down a list of things that you know how to do. Once you have, you (and hopefully the client) have to accept that you’ve done all there is to do. There’s a Linda Martin song about this… “What do you do when you’ve come to the end… You just stand.” As someone who sees 70 homeless people a week, I have other boundaries that may not be needed for the average person: I don’t give out money, I don’t take people places, I don’t bring people home to sleep in the garage or couch, and I don’t go buy people new items that they request. The issue with any of these is the same: which of the 70 people would I choose to start? and where would it end? I’m not saying any of these things are bad, and in fact I praise the Lord that there are people who have the ability to take in one or two people at a time and do so regularly. However, I recognize that I am not positioned to do this. And I limit what I give away to those things which can be purchased on my very meager ministry budget and which can be donated by many very many Christian supporters. I want to give my homeless youth everything that I can, but it needs to be given through loving hands and not simply a credit card. And these boundaries keep me able to love and able to continue my ministry because I have taken care of my biblical requirements to be a good provider and head of my own household. You will be temped to violate your boundaries from time to time. I have done it, but I heartily recommend checking with a friend before violating them. It is far to easy to rationalize yourself into doing something you should not. A friend can really help figure out if what you are doing in an exception or the first step to disaster for your personal self care.
Forth, you have to spend time time processing what you have done. I think it’s extremely helpful to write down some stories. Or you could simply meet once a week and tell some stories to a friend. Often we cannot see the forest for the trees. This happens two ways for me. First, sometimes I fail to see the big picture for a specific person because we’re so busy working on little details. It’s only later that I realize that this client has really made a ton of progress, e.g., because of how they are approaching the situation compared to a month ago. And it also happens across multiple clients. You can be so busy with each client that it only dawns on you in reflection that you’ve been helping 8 different clients with drug counselling and that 6 of them are making progress even though they’re in different stages. Reflection takes time and discipline, but it’s definitely part of self care. I find that record keeping helps me take the time. By keeping sufficient records that I can count the interactions and name the type of interactions I’ve had with clients during the week, that I also have sufficient raw material in reflections to realize where my ministry is.
Fifth, you have to enrich yourself constantly. Enrichment comes in many forms. You can read what others are doing to pick out new best practices. You can get certified to do something new. And you can take time to practice and hone new skills so they become easy and second nature. In my ministry, I always read descriptions of services for street youth with interest. I want to know what is being done out there in the world so I can copy the best of the best. I also try to get classes, continuing education and certification on new things. I became a voter registrar to I can help people with a secondary ID. I became a notary public so I can help those who support me with a useful service. I became a certified food handler so I could be sure I knew how to handle foods given out safely. And I am always looking around at what gets done for homeless, and asking myself if I could learn to do that. If the answer is yes, then I get mentored, start practicing, and then start doing it. An example is filing out certain forms. This usually means passing the client to someone who is qualified, but this is disconcerting to the client. So if I can become qualified and practice so that I can do it well, then I can be of better help to the clients. Another example, if dealing with specific situations. Unless you have benefit of a mentor or a book, you are going to learn how to handle such situations one person at a time. But by referencing an expert, you can grow much faster. However, it still takes practice to master.
Finally, you need to find new inspiration from time to time. I thrive on being around passionate people and on hearing great stories. So I go once a year to something called the Leadership Summit. I know I will hear from 10 great leaders in the country from churches, academics, and business. And I know I will hear amazing and inspiring stores for two solid days. I walk away totally energized and totally ready to face another year!
So whatever you do, be sure to exercise good self care!
June 19, 2009

If I could just catch a break

I first met “Mark” a couple of weeks ago. He’s new on the street and obviously isn’t having a good time there. I really didn’t know that much about him, but today I felt a tug to spend some time with him. I think the encounter surprised both me and Mark.

Mark is on his way from the east coast to the west coast. He’s got a “sure thing” job lined up out there. If he can only get there. He took his life savings with him and set up from the east coast. Now he’s lost and used that and is stuck here in Austin. He’s been taken in by the local community of street kids and shown the ropes of how to get by. But it just isn’t sitting well with Mark. He doesn’t like handouts and he definitely doesn’t like the difficulty of the life. The Texas heat is killing him. And he’s hungry most all the time. “If only he could catch a break… get a job.” Marks says this all the time.
I decided to find out why Mark left the east coast. The answer surprised me. Mark sheepishly and slowly revealed to me that he had gotten in trouble at home as a kid–trouble with drugs and selling drugs. He got caught when he was 18 and sentenced when he was 19. He spent 7 years, the maximum for his charge, in prison. And nothing changed in prison. He used drugs and sold drugs. He got solitary confinement and other punishment regularly. However, he just knew that once he got out, he could start over… start fresh.
When Mark got out of prison, his family shunned him. He had caused too much pain and too much trouble for them. He wasn’t welcome anymore. However, the mother of one of his friends offered him a job in a restaurant. The other help lived together in a place and let Mark move in with them if he agreed to chores and keeping things up at the apartment. However, Mark was really uncomfortable with the handout and the lifestyle at the apartment. The other folks were 18 and 19 and they lived like it. Mark, now 26, just couldn’t play video games, drink and party all the time anymore. He felt he needed something more. And he was angry about the past. So he took off with a friend for the west coast… to work on a farm run by a friend who promised them a “sure thing” when they get there.
Suddenly at this point in the conversation, I realized that Mark has only been out of prison since the spring of this year. Wow! I cannot imagine how confused and angry he must be. And yet he is so nice to me on the streets. I began to understand that Mark was running away from the hurt, the anger, and the difficulty of the last 7 years. I now wondered about his faith life.
I asked Mark to tell me about his views and experiences with religion. He was very shy to share at first, but began by saying he’s a Lutheran… confirmed and schooled that way. In his own words, “But I’ve become lost. I don’t know where any of that is anymore.” He told of believing in God but not “knowing him” anymore.
Now I understood how I could help Mark. I explained that the longing for something more that he felt in his heart was very real… and very right. However, the journey that he needed to take was probably not to the west coast but was a journey that needed to start in his own heart. He’s been through a lot, and there is a lot to be angry and grief-stricken about. However, the stirrings within himself to change should be directed to getting to know his roots again in the church. Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere, but (as Mark himself said) Mark has lost himself from Jesus. The sense of belonging that Marks wants can be satisfied first by reconnecting with Jesus again. And then by plugging into a community of believers. Mark took all this in with a very sullen and contrite attitude.
Suddenly a friend of his came to the door. He wanted Mark to go. Mark said OK and started to leave. I asked if I could pray with Mark. He hesitated… looked at his friend… looked at me with big sad eyes… and said “yes.” Right there in front of everybody he sat down and asked me to pray with him. Together we thanked God for the journey that Mark is on. Together we asked forgiveness for both our sins. We asked God to guard and keep safe Mark on his journey of healing. Together we confessed that we know God loves us, that Gods sees us as precious and beloved children, but that we often just find that too hard to believe. We asked for faith to believe, strength to persevere, and safety to survive day by day and grow closer to Him.
As we began to pray, I could sense and see the anger come to the surface in a very real way. As we continued to pray, I could feel the sighs of recognition by Mark of his situation and the truth of our prayer. As we finished and sat quietly for a moment or two, I could fell the beginnings of Mark “catching a real break”–the only break he truly needs–to come home to the Savior who has always known him, who he knew as a child, and who wants to give Mark all that he will ever need. I pray to see and walk with Mark in Austin as many days as God see fit. Amen.
June 13, 2009

Can I come home?

I held my first street based Bible fellowship last week. It went very well. Four street dependent folks sat with me in the air-conditioned comfort of a church on Guadalupe Street (not my home church, so I really appreciate them opening up their doors for this missionary). They listened about the history of the Bible. They read aloud and discussed the first chapter of Mark. They raised questions like “do you really need to be baptized to go to heaven” and “how much does Jesus know about temptation.” Great questions. This went on for two hours of fellowship!

Later that week, I saw one young man who was there reading a New Testament. That was a new sight for me! Wow!
And at the end of the week, one man, Jesse, came to me and said he plans to participate this coming week. But first, Jesse had a question.
Some of his “friends” have blasphemed God in the past, and Jesse needed to know if God really meant they couldn’t go to heaven now. You see, his “friends” had gotten mad at God and cussed him. “They” had called him names and walked away from God. “They” had had nothing to do with God or Jesus for quite a while. But now “they” were sorry, but could they be forgiven. “Had they blasphemed?” he asked me very urgently.
I told him that clearly his “friends” had separated themselves from God when they had turned their back on him, cussed him, and called him names. God still loves us; however, we know that God is unchanging. As long as we remain with our back turned, he cannot accept us. However, when we humbly come back to God–turning around and repenting–it’s in God’s nature to love us, accept us, and take us back. God is unchanging in both cases. It is us who changes.
So, I told Jesse that his “friends” needed to turn back to God, needed to tell God and Jesus they were sorry, and needed to stay focused on God. I told Jesse that his “friends” needn’t worry about being unforgivable because of one utterance. The Bible tells us that to have blasphemed, to be blaspheming, and to continue to blaspheme is unforgivable. It seem naturally so, because in this state we are faced away from God and there is no way for us to ask for or receive God’s forgiveness. However, when we turn back to God humbly and ask forgiveness, his grace is there.
So, Jesse… Yes! Your “friends” can come home again. They are still beloved children of God. Jesus wants them to be his brothers, to bear with them, and to love and serve with them. Come on home! We’ll throw a party!
June 5, 2009

Knocking or Running Away?

I spent the morning with “Jacob”, a young man in his mid twenties man who lives on the street. He has invited me into conversations about Jesus before, but this morning he was obvious. And we talked at great length.

Jacob is a street poet. He finds little joy in anything else. He imagines that if he had money, he would engage in all sorts of activities that would make him happy. (Intriguingly, they were all activities which are dangerous and thrilling, just like the street like he currently lives.) I guided him to continue to explore the poet and entertainer that lives inside him. (You’ll find a rare quotation that “Jacob” shared with me by permission at the end of this article that I think is simply beautiful!)
Jacob was a foster kid, like so many kids of the street. He did prison time for a felony starting as a teenager, like so many others as well. He is very unusual in that his foster mom is a preacher. He was encouraged to go to Bible college and did.
So what does he need to talk with me about? Jacob came to doubt the Bible during his studies. He finds many inconsistencies in the Bible. He is able to debate with a fine, sharp point all kinds of issues. And he is also able to apply the Bible to the churches he sees and find many flaws. To him, these inconsistencies (in the Bible and between the ideal church and the modern church) have become a license to create his own religion and love is own God. He finds comfort in this, rather than viewing it as idolatry that it is. I know many who take this same position, both on the street and many living in homes.
I was happy that Jacob came to talk. I shared with him that belief in the Bible starts first with meeting the very real Jesus in person. After that, faith builds and you simply know that the Bible is true. For me and for most, there is no magic moment when it all makes sense. Often we’re not sure how to understand or apply some particular part of the Bible, but by walking with Jesus we simply know, feel, and observe it’s truth. Over time, the simple value and weight of the whole become allies in balancing those parts which we have difficulties to grasp.
Jacob’s heart was not instantly melted by our conversation. However, he was refreshed by a non-judgemental chance to talk about his concerns. And I was overjoyed to have the privilege of looking after him for a day. It was hard to decide if Jacob was knocking on the door today, or if he was running away. It’s likely he’s doing both. May he soon come face to face with Jesus as his personal savior and truly find what can make him complete and happy! Amen.
A quote from Jacob’s street poetry. He writes many dark lines about his experiences, his yearning for honestly and openness. This is one of his beautiful lines. I wish I could find him a publicist or an agent. If you’d like that, contact me.
“Tell me that you think I’m beautiful
not in spite of my flaws,
but tell me that you think I’m beautiful
because of my flaws.”
Jesus does look down on Jacob and say, “I love you just the way you are, Jacob. Come home to me.”