Friday, April 29, 2011

Finding The Good Times In Tough Times, It’s Gooood

Today, I sit back in my recliner, taking it easy. I have to say; I deserve it as it has been an incredibly busy long, repeat, very long few weeks. In the background is the television showing the Royal Wedding and I am listening to the throngs of people celebrate ‘the kiss’ of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (By the way, do they have a last name?)

Over the last few weeks I have been very busy with among other things, our Homeless Clubhouse Program through Mosaic. For those familiar with the Clubhouse Movement you are aware of what things was like, especially in starting a new program, for others, you may want to do a YouTube search on either Fountain House Clubhouses, or the International Center for Clubhouse Development to get a very small taste. Starting up a program like this, likely the first of its kind for the homeless, plus carrying out the responsibilities of a pastor has provided a long trying week, consisting of 6 AM – 8 PM days over the last weeks. But the week has consisted of more than just that, not all good, not all bad.

I normally like getting the bad out of the way first so here you go, but make sure to read until the conclusion.

The first thing that hits home is the lack of rest. I just went through 17-straight-days of working, with no break, not time off. This leads to exhaustion, especially when those days average out to be 14-hour-days. When I got home; I watched an episode of Jag on the DVR, and went to bed. I don’t think I have ever been as exhausted, but there is more.

The other night our son was coming home from work. He was driving my wife’s car and stopped at a convenience store. He went to leave, and the car was whacked. It wouldn’t start and for the brief moment it did, it made an awful sound of clanking. We had a tow truck tow the car off to a friend, leaving my wife and me one car. We were now putting in longer days as we were down to one car and having to go in to work together, either her being dropped off early or me being dropped off early. There is nothing like an even longer day in an already long day.

One of difficult things that lead to the next area is finance. To say the least it has been tough this month. The last thing we need is another expense in the repair of a car, if it can be repaired. We will know more tonight but it is still going to cost money we don’t have. With a salary for me of around $1,250 since the first of the year from the church, and the royalties yet to come in from the book, (kind of like the music industry where I know sales are taking place, but the checks aren’t here yet). It is getting tough, especially when our family tries to live modestly and gives away more than some think we should.

Another frustrating thing; many know of the difficulty with The Virtual Pew website over the last year. I finally had a fine fellow volunteer to help out. We were making progress, it looked like things were going to be working, and then the domain registration runs out and the renewal of the website, which costs money, is due. Needless to say, the web site is down, and once Michael (the friend donating his time to help) gets the site finished, I will have to come up with the funds to pay for the host.

There is another area that was difficult this week. I won’t say much, but all I have, all I believe in regards to my relationship with God is due in large to David Wilkerson. It was at one of his crusades I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I have a video I may try to find, convert and post of me sharing about that event. This last week he was killed in a car accident in Texas. While he later taught some things I disagreed with, mainly his perspective on Contemporary Christian Music, I still likely wouldn’t have what I have without him. His ministry, his life, and the message he preached about Jesus introduced me to my salvation. I grieve over his loss.

There is more I could write about, like how the worst thing is that with all of the stress, with all of the pressure, the worst thing is how I have felt pity on myself, and felt unappreciated. Most of the time, the sacrifice are worth it, but I just want to feel appreciated for the effort. Am I wrong for that?

To put some light on the positive I will start with that part about feeling appreciated. I recently reviewed the book, Recovering from Religious Abuse, 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom by Jack Watts. I also interviewed Jack in the process and decided to do something different. The book is more than a novel or self-help-book, it is a recovery plan for people that have gone through religious abuse and it includes a 91-day journaling process. I decided to go through the experience myself. As of this writing I have posted 18 days of the journal experience, although I am on day 28. The book has been a God send as it has become my daily devotional and is helping me deal with things. I have realized something I have realized in the past but I sometimes forget, I have to look at life as God intends and accept the love, appreciation, and respect God has given me. I have to view life the way God sees me, not the way others see me. This experience has been critical in helping me get through the last weeks. You will likely see the honest struggle, and ups and downs as you read the journal entries. The fact that God would use this book at just the right time is a real God send.

I am also blessed because one of the reasons I am tired is a lot is happening at Mosaic Church, not just in the day program, but the church. In the last weeks at church we have continued to grow. Many of those coming are homeless. There are others, but there other issues related to the homeless. One is the homeless don’t have funds to contribute, although there was a man who gave .13 last week. I only know because I was blessed when someone told me about it. Now don’t take this wrong, but understand, we aren’t doing what some places do, that is welcome them, feed them, we are trying to plug them into church by inviting them to play on the worship team, be a part of teaching times, even teach when qualified. They have responded amazingly, wanting to help paint, hang signs, cook and other things. It is simply an amazing and beautiful thing to see. To see God work in the lives of people often neglected is something that money can’t buy.

Another blessing for us is that one of the friends we are close to at church is a mechanic. Buckey and Jenni have blessed us so many times, in ways they don’t even realize. Bucky is working on the car and that saves us a ton of money. Sometimes the gift of service is as good as money; we have seen that not only in the help with The Virtual Pew Web site, but also the car. Buckey has been great and while we pay for parts we simply couldn’t come close to managing without his love to our family. His wife Jenni and he are other examples of how God gives back.

Another blessing for the church is that Hope Community Church contributed finances to the church to help. While I don’t know if that will have any impact on my family, I know that ultimately God is the provider and He will meet our needs, he continues to meet the needs of the church, so why not mine. I have seen others come through and help the church with things like cash donations, buying food for the homeless or buying needed items for the church. To see others serve the least of these is a tremendous blessing. I don’t know if people understand how much I am blessed when I see their willingness to give but I am deeply moved. The church has been providing meals every Saturday and Sunday for some time now. To see what our people are doing and how others are touched is amazing. Last week alone, the little church that could, saw over 350 people participate and use our facility whether for feeding or church activities.

Another thing taking place is the Mosaic Clubhouse Day Program. I loved working in the Clubhouse Movement back in the day and am pleased to have made the contributions to improving the lives of the Mentally Ill. I am taking the Fountain House Concept in applying a day program for the homeless. It is totally different, and to my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been done specifically using this model, (long recognized as the top rehab model for the mentally ill) for the homeless. We are far exceeding expectations in this program and yesterday, in a model where people are working in the program, developing ownership and membership, we had 25 people involved and the numbers continue to increase.

In the clubhouse concept we focus on work from 9 AM – 3 PM and before and after that are allowances for recreational activities. Of course, many people find ways to continue working or doing things like building relationships. I had a homeless individual tell me this week that he had never seen anything like it. ‘I have never seen the homeless working together or getting ownership like they are getting here, this is amazing. Mike what you are doing is going to make a difference.’ Of course I know there are others involved in helping this happen, Barb and Chris Atherton from Mosaic have been there as volunteers virtually every day for the duration of the work-ordered-day, there have been others like John Stinson who has been there bringing supplies, or Sharon or Sherry who has donated or brought by food. Then there is Richard Augustas and Novus Orsa who has helped in providing services and help. Those who come and see the program at work, quickly see something remarkably different and good.

As a result of our work with the homeless we had the Interfaith Homeless Coalition, AECH group meet at our facility this last Tuesday evening. They saw first hand the work that is taking place and were impressed with the things we are doing. There is more to do, but I know, I am involved in something that is making a difference in the lives of people. It is growing, and it is a beautiful thing to be a part of. I can’t help but think God is pleased with the efforts of all involved.

There is another thing I have enjoyed as a part of the experience. Yes work is sometimes hard, sometimes stressful, but work can also be fun. The last couple of weeks have had highs and lows. The highs had me believing and knowing that it was one of the best spiritual highs I have experienced in my walk with Christ. To know that I am making a difference in the lives of others, and at the same time, growing in my relationship with God is an incredible place to be. There are times that have been low though, those normally center on finance and the need to feel appreciated especially when at the moment, I don’t know how I am going to have gas to put in my car beyond Wednesday of next week with all of the commitments I have between now and then. I realize there are more pressing needs though, the needs of those at our program who have little food, no respect, little or no money, no bed to sleep on, and often times, the places they have to stay, according to them, treat them like objects instead of human beings. There are certainly those who have less and need far more than I do.

In the fun things I have also realized something else as I sit here typing, with new callused fingers. I have been at 3 PM playing and practicing music with a homeless individual in the Mosaic Clubhouse Program. George is a phenomenal guitar player. Chris Atherton had an electric guitar he bought from home that George loves to play. He has an acoustic guitar, but he has missed playing his Classic rock n roll. So with the guitar and the Marshall stack we have, he has started playing again. I have wanted to play this style of music again for a long time and George has provided that, working my fingers off. He is a perfectionist, and while his teaching style is at times a little confusing, he has me playing every day, learning new licks, and making progress in playing music I love. We plan on playing each Saturday during the feeding times at Mosaic between 1:30 and 3:30. From Bob Seeger to The Beatles and Stevie Ray Vaughn, we are having fun.

In his playing George has inspired me. We have spent a lot of time talking. He has shared that he has serious blockage on his heart and is supposed to be taking nitro pills, which he can’t afford. We have spoken about how many think free health coverage is available for those that need it at the emergency room. Some of us know the truth of how that isn’t true. He has shared how no one except his elderly mother cares for him. It is why the Clubhouse Program is important; he has a place to come to and make friends. He needs money, a job, but with his heart condition doesn’t know how he can do it. He has admitted a substance abuse problem in the past but is doing better now. I have seen his face light up with a smile as he picks up the guitar each afternoon to ‘jam’. Of course I have seen him roll cigarettes as well. He’ll give another homeless person a cigarette if that person will roll 5 for him. He wants to quit, even went to the doctor who told him he had to quit because of his heart. He asked for help, he has tried the patch, and other things but he thinks the gum is what he needs, but it costs money. He asked the doctor for help and got some great advice, ‘Just quit!’ the doctor said. That doctor also said his office don’t give out samples of medication. Obviously the doctor doesn’t understand the addiction, neither does he understand the pressures this man, who is incredibly talented endures. He often sleeps in his truck in one of the 2 churches parking spaces; he has a place to belong, a place to call home.

When I look at George, I have little reason to complain. George inspires me, but he is only one of many, there is Mike who is hurting and has been hurt by others in ‘authority’, another Mike who is owed $420 from a man he has painted for over the last 2 weeks but the man refuses to pay him, and then Gary who makes me smile every day by teasing me. Gary even sleeps in an abandoned car on Saturday nights so he can walk to church on time on Sunday morning. If he stays at the mission, he gets bullied and pushed around and sometimes misses the bus because he has a bad foot. I don’t know, when it really comes down to it, do I have a reason to complain. I guess the only reason I may have is towards those who choose to not help, don’t think the work we do is valuable, and in return turn their backs on the very people Jesus commands us to love.

I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t even know how I can do the things I am called to do, unless God provides. What I do know is that God provides. He knows the needs of the sparrow, He knows my need. He knows the needs as well of those on the street. I also know that sometimes, He calls people to meet those needs who have the means, of course there is this thing called free-will. Will those people listen, will they respond? I don’t know, I can only control one thing, that is to be the best husband, father, grandfather, pastor, brother, friend, disciple that I can be. It isn’t easy, but is it worth it? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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