Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Some of you may have heard of the DREAM Act. One of the kids I work with recently sent me a text asking me to speak on his behalf on this issue. This Act provides opportunity for the children of undocumented immigrants to become contributing citizens of America, but asks that they work to earn it.
After doing more reading on the issue, I was convinced that this Act could change the course of the lives of several of the young people we work with. It would also be a way to bring the Biblical values of loving my neighbor and showing kindness to aliens to life on a massive scale.
I would encourage anyone who reads this and feels like the DREAM Act is a good idea to contact their local decision makers in support of it. I wrote a message and sent it out to Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Jarret and I see her as we turn onto Plaster Road from Buford Highway. White, worn-looking. Her age is in question because her profession tends to exaggerate the years. A few absent teeth, streaks of white amid otherwise blonde hair.
- I don't know why they're here all of a sudden. I don't remember any hookers when we first moved here, I tell him.
- Or when I moved in, Jarrett replies.
She walks in the flash of our headlights, looks over her shoulder as if she knows she is being discussed, and keeps moving.
- I don't get the appeal, I say.
- Desperate times, I suppose.
We get to Jarrett's place, an apartment in our same complex, and he grabs a change of clothes before we head back out. Back in the parking lot, he says to me, There goes another one.
I look around to see what he's talking about and meet the eyes of a brown-haired, heavyset fortysomething white woman in loose-fitting jeans and a pullover rushing by.
- ANOTHER WHAT? she growls, and keeps walking.
It seems like there are more of them here every day, moving out across the neighborhood, looking cheap and tired, catering to probably the last market available to them in Atlanta.
They are not the ones we came here to reach, nor are they friendly to our purposes here, but here they are nonetheless, right in plain sight for management and the police and every lonely Latino laborer to see.
We have chosen for the story of the neighborhood to be our story as well. So when they move in and peddle their wares, they become players in a redemptive arc that has already been told somewhere, but remains obscure to us here, now. We are characters ourselves in this tale, and are neccessarily blind until the curtain closes.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
"OH! I took two classes on marketing! I can work there!" Miguel told me.
"Don't listen to him. I'm the one who should work there," Laura said.
Tomorrow, we take our first step toward developing a sustainable thrift store to meet material and economic needs in our neighborhood. We will hold a massive yard sale at Open Table Community Church in Chamblee.
If you live in the Atlanta area, please stop by. It will be at 2605 Chamblee-Tucker Road in Chamblee, GA, and we will have all sorts of stuff out between 8 AM and 12 Noon. Communicycle will be selling bikes there as well.
If you don't live in the area, don't worry. You can pray for shoppers to turn up, and you can stay tuned as we develop this into an exciting ministry to reach the families in our neighborhood.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
We have removed everything from the carpet for a cleaning, which is the final step in restoring the apartment to make it liveable.
The parallell between the gutting, repair, and deep cleaning which is underway in our apartment and the gutting, repair, and deep cleaning that took place in my mind and heart during the nightmarish month of October is so obvious that I thought for a second that it might be too obvious to even mention.
But it is worth noting. We have been through some serious renovation lately. We had to look at everything in our lives from possessions to activities to relationships, and determine if we should keep, exchange, or dispose of them.
As the apartment awaits its final cleaning, we are searching ourselves before we re-engage, making sure that we have purified, realigned, and reorganized so that every corner of our lives will be as ready as possible for whatever comes next.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Those of you who are my Facebook friends might remember the photo shown above. On a twenty-mile-long training run on the Appalachian Trail, I was attacked by a bee at mile ten right after the turnaround, leaving me with no choice but to run back to my car with my lip bouncing out in front of me.
I was understandably nervous about returning to the trail that humiliated me so badly last time, but I needed to get in a strenuous 15-mile run, and the round trip from Amicalola Falls to the Appalachian Trail trailhead atop Springer Mountain fit the bill (I added .25 miles walking from the parking lot to this sign, to those who are questioning my math).
I have been quite heavy-hearted about how things are going lately, not to mention physically drained. I felt exhausted on the run, opting to walk for large chunks of it. When I got up to the top of Springer, a big crowd had gathered and the smell of raw feces was thick in the air. I had a hiker snap this picture before heading home.
Out on the trail, I did a lot of thinking that led me mostly in circles, and I ended up just asking God to clear the way for us a bit. Sometimes it's hard to even know what to ask for.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
This has been good and bad. Sometimes people involved read our blogs and are not exactly thrilled with the things we say. Sometimes those people's feelings really matter to us.
In the last few months, I've posted about two things which warrant an update, and maybe a correction:
- The political problems that I discussed at our church have been resolved. Our relationships are healthy and loving. We just had to get through a rough patch. I still struggle with the big concept of church, but thankfully we have peace at our little church.
- I have taken out some frustrations with our apartment management on this blog as well. But they care about us, and they seem to want us there. It's just a difficult job to keep a complex in working order. We understand that, and we hope to develop a more positive relationship with the new property manager in the future.
So I won't go back and unwrite the things I've written, but I would like to qualify them with the fact that we are not really qualified to judge why or how people do what they do, and that we are thankful for the team we have to work with, both at church and in the apartment office.
Recently, there was a management change that coincided with the discovery of mold in our apartment. We notified the new manager, asked her to take steps to fix the problem, and moved out temporarily so that the work could get done. She gave us a two-week timeline.
A month has passed, and the mold is still multiplying, the ceiling is still soggy from a leak upstairs. Because of this delay, someone learned that we were not there and broke into our home, stealing our valuables.
When this happened, management called us only to try to collect money for the window.
So the question we face now, with no apparent progress on the apartment, with the school year progressing for the kids, and with our time and money ticking away, is what does all of this mean for us? If we believe in a God who is in control- a pretty difficult concept to grasp at the moment- then where is He leading us through this mess?
Are we to renew our committment to the neighborhood and wait out the problems, losing money, time, and credibility with the neighbors? Are we to switch locations and start new work? Should I consider alternate work? Further education?
Everything is up in the air, and we can't predict where it will land.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Our initial inventory suggested that we lost a Macbook Pro, over 70 DVDs (a collection I built intentionally over several years), our DVD player, our comforter (more on that in a second), and some breaded frozen eggplant from our freezer. Other contents from our freezer were scattered on the kitchen floor:
Luckily, since our iguana was sitting on the side of the couch, the thief or thieves seemed to be avoiding the area where her tail would strike (this meant I got to keep all my Coen brothers, Robert Altman, Sam Fuller, and Terry Gilliam films, thank God). We knew that Rockette would serve some practical purpose some day:
So, the best we can figure, it was a sloppy smash-and-grab operation. It seems the burglars broke a window, unlatched the patio door, and entered the apartment, going to the freezer (a common hiding place for cash, I am told).
They then went into our bedroom and threw what they could grab without getting smacked by our iguana (hooray Rockette!) onto our comforter, wrapped it up, and exited through the front door, which they left open.
In the morning, a cleaning lady saw the open door, closed it, and called the police.
We are obviously shaken by what happened. From a long-term perspective, we can survive the losses. In fact, I'm surprised we didn't get burglarized sooner.
But still, it feels awful. Especially since the manager, a new hire, seems intent on blaming the whole thing on Ruthie and me, who are probably her greatest asset in terms of improving the property.
And to add another difficult element, the mold problem is still unresolved, so we can't even stay there very long to deal with the fallout.
I'm still hoping for this long story of mold, burglary, and management trouble to turn a good corner. Fear not, dear readers, I'll keep you posted as it develops.
Ruthie and I traveled to the race with one of my best friends and training partners, Dr. Charles Chung. Charles and I got into running at the same time. I tend to run a little farther than him and he tends to run a little faster than me, which makes us a good team.
We carpooled down to FDR State Park, a beautiful area boasting some of the gnarliest, most rewarding trails in Georgia.
Our friend David Taube met us there. David is a trail running veteran, and showed up to run this race just a week after finishing another trail marathon.
As we all lined up to begin the race, ultrarunning superstar Dean Karnazes gave a little speech where he asked who was running their first 10k. Since the race was a half marathon, no hands went up. Then he told us that it was a gnarly trail, and that he would see us out there.
Then a funny thing happened. The race started, and everyone made a hard right after the starting line, curling around into the woods. The race officials called out to us over the intercom that everyone was going the wrong way, and the whole field of runners did an about-face.
The runners around me took the first hill hard. I had run the course before, and I remembered that the most punishing climbs were in the first five miles, so I locked my pace at a slow jog and concentrated on breathing rhythmically.
My supervisor Tim Cummins has been coaching me on the mental aspect of running, and he has been helping me to let my instincts take care of the work of running while I focus on breathing well and relaxing.
This discipline served me well. I gradually passed other runners at a steady clip, especially on the climbs, and all my systems felt great. For a few miles, I followed an amputee who had one prosthetic leg. He was a powerful runner with a steady, aggressive pace, and I enjoyed watching him master the trail as we gradually caught up with and passed packs of runners.
The first aid station, a little beyond mile 5, popped into view quickly. I refilled my handheld water bottle and retied a shoelace while a few runners passed, and I fell back a few places. I took off into the woods for the second leg after a brief rest.
The second leg was the most enjoyable. I still monitored my systems closely, making sure just to drink and eat enough to keep going. The views got better and better as I crossed clearings where I could see miles of forest, other mountains, and sprawling valleys. Since the race had thinned out a bit, I was able to run alone for a few stretches. Solitude is one of the reasons I first got into trail running.
The second leg ended in a series of long climbs and switchbacks, and just as I was starting to tighten up and feel the fatigue, I passed the second and final aid station, where I learned that I only had 2.6 miles left.
There were several 10k and 5k runners on the trail at this point, and I lost a lot of time trying to get around them on the narrow, technical trails, but it was exciting to see runners of all fitness levels getting out and enjoying the trails. I picked up the pace as much as I could, keeping a steady jog up the hills and attacking the descents.
When I heard the finish festival, I turned on the jets and pushed my pace, feeling my muscles begin to burn and my lungs struggle. Just as fatigue threatened to overtake me, I emerged from the woods onto the final stretch of grass. Thrilled to be finishing, I picked up my pace to a sprint:
Although I missed both of my goals by a hair, I felt great about the race. I finished 55th out of 159 runners, and I performed well without getting injured.
Thrilled with the outcome, I took a moment to do a quick photo shoot with David and Charles before heading back to Atlanta to get a late lunch:
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Susan's car seat is now a fixture in our Plymouth since Ruthie spends so much time helping her family get around. Here she is belted in and ready to go to RB class:
Purna and Esther are both excellent at detailed craft work. They put their talents to work on these rings, coming to a sales event near you:
Also note that I am sporting my t-shirt from the StumpJump 50k. After what I went through to get it, I feel entitled to wear it at least every other day.
Monday, October 11, 2010
I actually have the opposite problem. I tend to be a bit confused and concerned when our numbers go up, because we have such limited time and resources.
This Sunday, while Ruthie was out of town, I drove from Lawrenceville (the mold situation is still pending) down to our apartment complex to pick up some kids and bring them to a local church. After taking one carful of kids, I called a second family who sometimes comes along. I was running late, but I figured I'd give them a ring.
"Hey, Lesly, anyone coming from your house this morning?"
"Yeah. There's six."
"Six? Total? Who?"
"We're coming, and there's six more."
Meaning that Lesly's whole family of four wanted to come, and they had six others who wanted to join them.
I called my friend Jonathan from Communicycle and asked if he could swing by and squeeze in a few kids. True to form, he came to the rescue.
Even with Jonathan's help, I ended up taking a total of three trips between the apartment complex and the church, and when the service was over, I did it again to get them all home. By the end, I felt exhausted from the stress and disappointed at the rushed interactions that the volume of lives necessitated.
So the additional numbers give us a chance to touch more lives, and they look good on our blogs (the fact that 13 unchurched kids got to go to church this Sunday is an impressive stat. More impressive is that all of those kids were shown love in a small way, which is astounding. So please take what I'm about to say with care, because I don't mean to downgrade the blessing of a numerically growing ministry).
Here's the thing about numbers: I believe in a God who works on the micro- and macro- levels. But when it comes to frienships and time spent together, I'm a micro- kind of guy. I want to make every relationship in my life count, but it gets harder the more relationships I have.
Sometimes it feels like the opportunities multiply in direct proportion to how quickly our resources dwindle.
So to all those praying for our ministry to grow, please pray that we will have the resources, partners, time, and energy to meet the demands that those rising numbers bring. And that we will do a good job with every single life we touch.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
- The afterschool program is temporarily closed. We are working with apartment management to get the mold cleaned up. We stopped in the other day to hang out with the kids, and they understand the situation. Hopefully their grades won't slip too far.
- We are staying with Ruthie's mom in Lawrenceville until the mold is dealt with. The new maintenance supervisor is a Godsend, but this stuff takes time.
- Ruthie and I are both battling residual sickness from the mold and/or the ultramarathon and/or the stress of our life recently. We can't seem to get healthy and stay that way for more than a few hours at a time.
- Our newsletter is written, and it will be sent out next week.
- Refugee Beads continues to thrive, with new partnerships built, a new member, and a whole big pile of events coming up. We should be adding another bio to the artisans page in the next few weeks!
- Our Buick is still in the shop getting its transmission rebuilt. We thankfully report that our trusty Plymouth Acclaim, despite its constant complaints and hiccups, is getting us around in the meantime.
Okay, well there's much more, but that should be enough to keep our ravenous readers at bay for now.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Dirt and some pebbles skitter down the face of the mountain behind me. Kevin, Eric, and I are engaged in a conversation about Flannery O'Connor, and for the first time in several miles, I'm glad to be here.
A massive valley sprawls out to our right. The air moves in cool and warm currents, and the sun splinters through multicolored leaves. We jog forward slowly, humbled by the miles we have already run, exhausted, and vaguely aware that after Suck Creek, we will have to finish the run with two massive climbs back up Signal Mountain.
All of a sudden, a new wave of nausea slams my stomach, and I feel the blood leave my limbs in response.
"Guys," I tell my team, "I gotta walk. Go ahead. I'll catch you at the next aid station."
I know this feeling, because I got it on my 20-mile training run. I've hit what runners call a "bonk," when your body runs out of fuel. With no way to get fuel to my system since I can't hold anything down, I am stuck dragging my heavy legs forward through the rest of the race, and I still have a long way to go.
I will skip through most of what happens during the final miles, because it would be just about as grueling to read about as it is to haul myself through. However, just to give my readers an idea of what it is like, I will mention that there is a tiny, older asian man in a safari hat who keeps overtaking me by walking slightly faster than I can. I pass him on the hard climbs, by sheer willpower, and the last few miles of the race feel like a battle between snails, with this guy hot on the heels of our team.
We break out onto the road at mile 30, and the race volunteers tell us just to run up the hill and around the corner. Eric and Kevin, who have waited for me, dragged along with me, and encouraged me to keep moving, both break into a slow jog. I speed up my walk to keep pace with them.
As we round the last bend, we hear cheers erupt from the finish line. Ruthie and my older sister Lisa have spotted us, and are going crazy.
I force my legs to jog down the hill. The better portion of the runners have finished the race and gone home, but many men and women I talked with out on the course are still here, watching, eating burgers and cheering for everyone else who comes across.
A few hundred feet away from the finish, I burst into tears. I fight the urge to double over, and I run with Kevin and Eric across the line, my face flushed, my legs burning from fatigue, my skin and clothes spotted with the crust of salt deposits left by long-dried sweat.
The feeling that washes over me as an official shakes my hand and gives me a finisher's medal is difficult to describe.
The moment is one of victory, the reason for 8 months of concentrated training, and I have accomplished something that few people even dream of. But I don't feel like a hero or a victor. I feel humbled, defeated, exhausted, and relieved.
Underneath the pain, as the minutes run by, as I hug my family, pose for pictures, try to sip a Sprite, a realization of what I have done grows alongside the pain. Something inside me changed between throwing up the last of my nutrition at mile 16 and stumbling across the finish line at 31.
I know the bliss of being completely exhausted, obliterated, embarrassed, and hurt. I know the kind of humility it takes to get to the finish line, because this course taught it to me.
As Eric and Kevin and I climb into the back of Lisa's car and head back to where we're staying, I feel and enjoy every twinge of pain from my knee, every screaming soreness that shoots up and down my calf, every reeking whiff of my own sweat-soaked clothes.
These are the things that tell me that we did it. That the race changed me in a profound way, and all I had to do to receive its gift was to drag my tired self through everything its long, slow miles had to teach me.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
This past week I was blindsided by a combination of internal politics, miscommunications, and just plain unpredictability. It has robbed me of the little emotional energy I had left and, worse yet, it has taken my focus off of loving my neighbors.
I steered clear of any church meeting for much of my early twenties, but God ushered me back through a congregation whose main focus was reminding its members of the gospel. I found much healing there, and was optimistic about functioning within a local group of Christians.
However, I am starting to feel like every church is a trap to keep Christians from fully engaging their everyday lives and communities. Maybe this just comes in light of all that has happened recently, but it's a sincere concern. Why does church usually feel like a vacuum for my energy? Why are people always mired in politics?
I really want to know. When Paul said not to give up meeting together, was this what he had in mind?
Monday, September 27, 2010
"You have to put up scaffolding to build a patio. But we feel like we spend the bulk of our time on the scaffolding, and we only put up a board or two on the patio every now and then."
Strictly speaking, this is not the case. We spend a great deal of time in our neighborhood, talking with the kids, meeting with the refugees, shuttling people to local churches, government offices, and grocery stores, and doing the exact things we came down here to do.
However, the mold in our apartment is making an increased impact on our health, so we feel a bit like we're doing maintenance on the scaffolding, trying to figure out how to get apartment management to check it, trying to figure out where to sleep in the meantime1, trying to figure out where we would go if we had to move.
We may need to close the afterschool program for a few days, because we are concerned about the safety of holding it in a mold-infested apartment (although Lord knows how bad the conditions are in the kids' own homes).
We near the end of this post. It is, hopefully, one of those multi-post stories2 that arcs noticeably up after the few miserable early posts. We shall see.
1. Actually, during the writing of this post, a friend called and said we could use his guest bedroom this week. I left the concern in there and decided to footnote it instead because of the influence of David Foster Wallace, whose mammoth novel Infinite Jest has distracted me through the mold-related stress of this day.
2. For another example, see "Flesh and Spirit" series on this very blog.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
At least, that's what we're shooting for. A few recent challenges have proven more challenging than usual, though. So I am typing these concerns out so that those of our readers who pray can pray specifically.
- During the last year, Ruthie and I have been constantly sick with respiratory and sinus issues. It appears we have a lot of mold in our ceiling. I will be investigating today and exploring cleanup options. Please pray that we will be able to continue living and working out of this apartment.
- It looks like God will provide a reliable, working car for us in October. However, we decided to go ahead and get the transmission fixed on our Buick so that we could either use it as a second car or sell it. We had the money lined up to do the repair, but CCDA ended up draining us financially, so now the car is getting fixed, but we do not have the money to pay the bill. Please pray for the wisdom to manage our resources well, and for financial provision.
- The CCDA conference took a deep emotional toll on both of us this year. While it had its bright spots, the time was challenging to our friendships, our faith, and our relationship with our local church. Please pray that our focus and energy would return.
I hope that you understand what an important role your prayers play in keeping us here, keeping the work going, and bringing the love of God to bear among the lives in this neighborhood.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Upon Ruthie's return, she told them that she would start giving them bonuses each time they ran an event without her. Later, she overheard Nivin telling a friend, "We will encourage Ruthie to stay home and rest from now on."
Over at the afterschool program, the student leaders continue to show more and more of a passion for running the show. They now sign up for jobs, help the younger kids with homework, and lead prayer times.
I told Miguel, one of our young leaders, that I was only two years older than him when I ran my first afterschool program.
He thought about it for a minute and said, "I think I'd lose my temper with the little kids."
I was impressed with how seriously he considered it, and I think that he is getting a good picture of the challenges and rewards of leading in his own neighborhood.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Our time was full of intense stresses, grand conversations, emotional interactions, and rich conversations. The only thing it didn't have much of was sleep. We returned home exhausted, barely able to keep the car on the road for the eleven hour drive from Chicago back to our home in Atlanta.
Today, after we've had a little time to rest and get back into life, we are growing more and more thankful for the conference and its aftermath.
Below are a few highlights of the trip:
I was excited to learn that two of my friends from college were performing with their new band Alert at the conference. We closed the booth down early to watch their set:
We finally got a chance to meet and spend time with my friend Tad's new son, Judah. Ruthie and I fell in love with him immediately. Tad and his wife Stephanie loaned us their couches for a few nights as well, and Tad and I went on a few runs, which helped me keep my sanity through the week.Ruthie used to work as a nanny in Chicago, and her boss became one of our close friends. We spent a day and a half with them right after closing down the booth on Friday.On our last night, before beginning the long trek back to Chicago, we got to experience a dynamic, intimate performance by a great band. My friend Jonathan is part of a group called Tango Espejo, and they were playing a combination of traditional tangos and pieces by Piazzola.
The next morning, after a brief barefoot run with Tad along the lakeshore, I hit the road again.