Sunday, November 18, 2012

There Is So Much Good In The Worst Of Us

I'm listening to this song today

It is playing as a background to my facebook surfing... to tell you the truth, I can't even tell you what the song is really about (I enjoy the tune of it so I let it play)... and then... this line... "There is so much good in the worst of us, so much bad in the best of us".

And it hits me with truth... I can't shake this sentence off my mind... and I don't even know what the rest of the song says.

The neighborhood I work in is full of homeless people, meth addicts, and people I would have previously labeled as "strange".  Over the course of my few months there I have met and gotten to know some of these people... and I've grown to miss them when I don't see them often.  As Christians, we are quick to offer help to those we consider "needy" and "broken" but so often this help only extends to those we're comfortable with.  It's so easy to close our eyes to those we consider "undeserving", those who (in our not so humble opinion) have brought this suffering upon themselves, those who may take our "hard-earned" money and use it on drugs or alcohol.

I beg you today to be different from those who are rushing past with a disgusted look on their faces.  I beg you to see (even if just for a moment) past the addiction, past the smell, past all those exterior things - and try to see the good in those people.  I promise you - your life will be enriched by their stories and their friendship.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Finding Truth... So Many Questions

As a child I grew up in the Soviet Union.  Without going into many specific details - allow me to simply say that there's so much about my culture and my point of reference that is great and so much that is not so great.  

One of the things that I am being confronted with today is that I never learned to ask questions. There was only one true political system... there was only one way to live your life... your political leaders knew what they were doing and any difficulties you may have faced in your life were due to circumstances beyond their control.

Even after the Soviet Union fell - that mentality stayed.   In over 20 years of independence my home country of Belarus has only had ONE (!) president who has been in office for the past 18 years. In the newly found religious freedom most Christians were taught never to question their leaders.

Why then I am sitting in front of my computer now... at 30 years old... struggling to understand some inconsistencies of my Christian experience... trying to find the real biblical truth behind Sunday School lessons?

Every time I found myself asking difficult questions I bumped into 2 kinds of people - the cynical hard-hearted disillusioned people or the gossipers... I want to be neither. I just want to find the truth.

I want to know what it really means to love your neighbor.
I want to know what it really means to submit to my husband.
I want to know what the duties of a pastor are... and how much say should a pastor have in my life.
I want to know what to teach my daughter about being a woman in this modern world (and as much as I hate to admit it - she'll do most of the learning by watching me so I better get to it).
I want to know what the church is... and what the service should look like... and if worship is defined as obedience then why is it equated to slow songs... and what would God want from our children ministry...
I want to know what evangelism looks like to Jesus... what God really thinks about legalizing gay marriage... or being gay in general... or sex outside of marriage... or gossip... and when is gossip a gossip and when it is not... or pride...
I want to know about grace... and where that almost invisible line lies between freedom to sin and do whatever my heart desires and being forgiven of my mistakes and letting go of guilt...
I want to know what "having a relationship with God" really should mean...
I want to know about decision-making...
I want to know about politics and God and whether church and state should be separate or not...  what freedom really means and how to protect my freedom without infringing on the rights of others... and how not to let others to infringe on mine.

DISCLAIMER #1: I know many of you have a strong feeling about some of those questions and I know the responses will vary... I don't necessarily need to know your opinion - for it may be faulty [gasp]. This is my journey - I want to know the truth - straight from the heart of God... so even while I welcome an honest discussion over a cup of tea or coffee from those of you who personally know me - I do not want this post to provoke angry debates in my comment section.  Can you please do me a favor and follow a simple rule every mom should have taught her children - "If you got nothing nice to say - don't say it at all"?

DISCLAIMER #2: I believe in God.  I believe in Jesus, the Messiah.  I believe in the hope, in the forgiveness of sins.  Of that I am certain.

When you look at the beliefs you hold - why do you believe what you believe?  Have you ever asked yourself that question?  How much of your world view is shaped by your family?  your church?  your school?   your friends?  your social and cultural background?

Have you learned to accept your point of view as correct?  Or do you find yourself asking some difficult questions... questioning the very truths you once held unwavering?

Today I resolve to think for myself.  Today I resolve not to let myself build my opinions on what others (no matter how knowledgeable they may appear) say.  Today I refuse to blame my culture, my church, my family or my upbringing.  Today I promise to admit that I am not sure what I think on certain issues. Today I promise not to choose sides based on religious affiliation but to dig for the truth.  Today I resolve to sift through my convictions and be responsible for the ones I choose to hold on to.  Today I choose to be me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cry For Help

It breaks my heart every time I go outside.  Far Rockaway.  The area where I spent the last 7 years doing Sidewalk Sunday School.  The people whom I saw almost every week.  Struggling.  No power, no heat, no phone… in many places still without gas or running water (even though gas and running water have been restored to some areas but not everywhere still).

I HATE SANDY (the hurricane)!!!

On Saturday I was in Far Rockaway again doing the relief work with Metro Ministries.  As I was standing by one of the trucks I saw a woman I knew from one of my Sidewalk Sunday School sites (mind you we’re at least 38 blocks away from where she lives). She cried and told me they lost everything…

I wish you could see this with your own eyes.  People still staying in the apartments with no heat (some apartments closer to the ocean had broken windows).  Many apartments on bottom floors (1st and 2nd) got flooded destroying every piece of clothes and furniture and mattress and blankets these people had – how can one get warm with no heat and no blanket?  Many apartments got looted.  One of my dear families lost everything not because of the flooding but because they returned to the looted home.  They have no clothes, everything of value had been carried away, their mattresses slashed to find hidden money (as if they had any).

And now as if that weren't enough struggle - a snow storm hit NYC yesterday.

on my way home from work - a snow storm

It’s killing me to not be able to do much. The organization Bryan & I volunteer at has done amazing job at going out into the affected areas of Red Hook, Coney Island, and my dear Far Rockaway and handing out blankets, food, and water.  There is still so much need.

I wish I could help that family.  I wish I could buy those girls new clothes and new mattresses but I can’t.  We gave them our sleeping bags and some towels and things… but it seems so little…

Last night I wanted to write the post and ask you to send money so we can buy some clothes and mattresses for this family and others.  But I realized that even though it is important – it is more important that you ask yourself this question – “What can I do to help?”  I assure you the need is huge.  What can I do to extend God’s love to these people who are getting more and more desperate now with this snow storm that fell upon the city?  Can I send money?  Can I send clothes?  Can I pray?  Can I send blankets?  Can I… options are endless as to what you can do.

This morning I am not asking you for money.  Sometimes it is easier to write a check than to allow God to break your heart for the suffering of the people.  Beware of that danger. 

I am asking you to get involved in whichever way you can.  I am asking you to seek God and do whatever you can to help these people (whether it involves sending money or not).

The Scripture I’m about to quote is often used in reference to two people getting married or two friends.  I urge you today to read it as brothers and sisters in Christ – family to those who you may not know personally but who so desperately need your help.  Many of them are all alone in their trouble now.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.  Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone?”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)
The snow storm has hit NYC - and many people are still struggling
without water, heat or basic necessities

Attitude Adjustment

I am in my apartment. I’m cold.  I have warm pajamas and a sweater on as I crawl underneath my blanket and want to stay there until spring.  I’m annoyed by all the little rodents that are trying to find their way into my home now that the weather is terribly cold outside and in the basement.  I’m making some tough decisions right now.  My internet is out which means this post would have to wait to get published until I get to Starbucks. I’ve dealt with a few people’s problems yesterday and they made me feel like nothing I say ever matters so why bother trying to help people. It is snowing outside and did I mention that I wanted to stay underneath my blanket till spring?

Yet, as I look at my tiny inconveniences they all seem ridiculous. Tiny, puny, and insignificant little issues that can easily be reversed with a little attitude adjustment.

I have an apartment.  I remember when we looked for one and could not find anything within our budget.  This apartment was a blessing from God that allowed us to stay in New York and continue doing what we do.

I’m cold.  I have warm pajamas and a sweater on as I crawl underneath my blanket and want to stay there until spring. But I have a sweater to put on and my heat as weak and broken as it is is better than nothing.  And did I mention my blanket and my warm pajamas?  Those fuzzy socks are sure coming in handy right now. This is more than most of my friends in Far Rockaway can dream of.

I’m annoyed by all the little rodents that are trying to find their way into my home now that the weather is terribly cold outside and in the basement.  Ok that’s a tough one.  I hate mice and I hate them even more when they are trying to share an apartment with me without contributing to the paying of the bills.  I can still be grateful.  I can be grateful for the fact that I have a husband who’s trying to get rid of them.  I can be grateful that he’s dealing with that and not me.  If I try to focus on the right things – I can still be grateful.

I’m making some tough decisions right now. I’m grateful to even have options to choose from. 

My internet is out which means this post would have to wait to get published until I get to Starbucks. Really? Come on, Helen!  Firstly, it’s just the Internet and it’s not like I don’t have a smart phone.  Secondly, did I mention Starbucks?

I’ve dealt with a few people’s problems yesterday and they made me feel like nothing I say ever matters so why bother trying to help people. Because one day either it’ll click or they will be left speechless when God holds them accountable for their thoughts and actions.

It is snowing outside and did I mention that I wanted to stay underneath my blanket till spring? I’ve covered that already.

My circumstances never changed.  The situation I find myself in – here in my apartment typing up this post – has not changed.  My attitude did.

My prayer for you today is that when you find yourself in a situation where your heart is growing whiny and discontent – that you would be able to reverse it with an attitude adjustment.  We do have so much – let’s be grateful.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Love In The Midst Of The Storm

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to minister to the needy and broken.  I wonder if I am making a difference  I wonder if bringing a truck and a piece of candy to a kid who is living in a tough situation is really making a difference.  Yesterday I realized that it did.  In fact I didn't need a truck, or a fancy story, or toys, or games, or candy... all I had was an eleven month old baby in a pink polka dotted snow suit. 

Yet playing with that baby brought joy to children who have been living in darkness (literally!) for four days.  

Our Sidewalk Sunday school site is between the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay, the entire peninsula is only a few blocks wide..  Due to the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy much of this peninsula was flooded, leaving residents without power, water, or heat.  Hundreds of people were lined up outside in the cold waiting for food, water, and other supplies from the Red Cross.  When it came, it came in armored vehicles. 

But as I was standing there watching people get their supplies I was reminded why kids were happier to see us than the army trucks, why they were happier to see a little girl in a pink snow suit than bottles of water.  There is one reason - LOVE.  I realized that LOVE is what resonates with kids when we come every week.  God's love is what we are really giving them.  And that it a reason to keep ministering to the hurt, the needy, the lost, and the forgotten in this world.  Because God's love is the only thing that will really make a difference in their lives.

all cars that were left parked in Far Rockaway are damaged beyond repair -
many were washed over by the ocean and wind from their parking spots

many areas are completely covered in sand - this picture is taken in a playground
that is right next to where we do Sidewalk Sunday School every Friday

Please continue praying for the residents in Far Rockaway and many other areas that are still without water, gas, heat, or electricity.  If you can do anything to help - I urge you to get involved. The need is so great that every little bit counts.

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