Sunday, June 28, 2009

When Nothing But A Hug Will Do

It's been a while. Life in Chicago finally slowed down a bit the last two weeks. Our bosses were both out of town which slowed work way down. It's much harder to have conversation and get the answers you need when you're juggling time zones, meetings, availability in general. Overall, it was nice to relax a bit but frustrating to not see progress with your work. We're at that stage that budgets HAVE to be approved, orders HAVE to go in, money HAS to be spent or we won't have anything when 36,000 kids show up in New Orleans. Scary. On the other hand, I had lots of time to be reading website upon website and learning tons of things about what different groups are doing to fight the social injustices seen in our world. And Pandora is my new best friend at work.

This last week has been really great. I discovered about two weeks ago exactly the one thing I've been missing the most. A hug. I've decided that I get completely spoiled in Florida, from school to home, there is ALWAYS someone there to give you a hug when you need it, and even when you think you don't. The last hug I had was when I dropped Kaitlin off at O'Hare on May 31st. That was until Tuesday. Four whole weeks later. It seems silly I know, but it taught me something incredible about the power of human connection and community. Sure a smile can make your day but sometimes you need to have that reassurance that only a hug can bring. We all have a need to feel connected to one another and the way that is displayed varies from person to person. I needed a hug. It came in due time from an unlikely source that I'm so thankful for.

Tuesday, I saw an old family friend of ours for the first time in about 13 years. Heidi's son, Andrew, plays professional soccer for the Chicago Fire and she was in town for the week to see him and catch a couple of his games. By the wonders of Facebook no less Andrew and I had reconnected barely but it was a means of communication. I randomly told Andrew that Lana and I and her boyfriend had wanted to come to the game on Tuesday and it worked out perfectly that his mom was going to be there too. He arranged for a ticket for me and we saw a great game (the Fire won) and I finally got my hug the moment I walked to my seat in Toyota Park.

The Dykstras then continued to spoil me all week - the game Tuesday, made me dinner at Andrew's on Thursday, game and dinner and even my very own Chicago Fire tshirt on Saturday. It was great to have that reminder of "family". I mean 13 years...Andrew and I had to completely reintroduce ourselves to each other because we were like 10 the last time we saw each other. But then we all just picked up like it wasn't nearly that long. And we got to celebrate Andrew's success. He had come into the team in March/April as the 3rd goalkeeper. He was promoted to 2nd about the time I moved here, but there was still a chance that it could be lost just as quickly. On Friday they found out that the other keeper (original #2 then moved to #3) had been released from the team and Andrew's spot was solidified. Hard to take in in some ways, but an amazing opportunity for him. He got to share that with his parents. And even after the team lost on Saturday, he was still all smiles. Family is good, for so many things.

But all of this only got me even more stoked that my Mom is coming to town on Thursday for the holiday weekend. 4 days and counting. I couldn't be more excited. It's The Taste Of Chicago here, and I know it will be insane with people everywhere, but we're going to enjoy it, just like any other tourist. It will be exactly half way through the summer for me, which is so crazy that it's almost here already. In 3 weeks I'll be in New Orleans, and then my summer is pretty much over. So crazy. But I'm most excited for more hugs. Enough to last me the rest of my summer I hope. I'm convinced moms give the best hugs...lucky for me I'll have seen two moms in two weeks!

Remember sometimes only a hug will do. Go hug someone you see today. You never know how long it's been since their last and how much they truly need it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Life You Can Save

So today was another busy day at the office. More training (there is some awesome technology out there...the latest, WebEx conferencing systems), another free lunch with co-workers to get to know one another (taco bar this time!), lots of research and planning (Jackson Square is going to be awesome!). Then Lana and I decided to take one of our supervisors, David, up on his offer to attend a book discussion at a church in Oak Park tonight.

I guess Lana and I finally shut down our computers and left work about 5, grabbed some dinner, roamed Target, did a drive through of Park Ridge (the town I live in) and a quick tour of my house, then headed back to the office to meet David at 7. We were invited to go on Tuesday so this did not allow us time to read and reflect on the book (The Life You Can Save) that the others have had about a month to ponder.

It was a small group, 9 of us, from different places and different backgrounds. Some worked for Bread for the World, one was a Pastor who held David's job for 16 years quite a few years ago and just recently returned from a 5 year mission/trip to Ethiopia, a guy who specializes in microfinance, an interesting group none the less. Most consider themselves "activists" on some level or another. They graciously let Lana and I just sit and listen to the debates and points they raised and try to absorb all the ideas and concepts with a very brief overview of the book itself.

At some point this summer I will pick the book up and dive into it more myself, but from the gist I got, the author, Peter Singer, really challenged people to consider how much money they are truly giving in proportion to what they make. He created a whole model of what he thinks would be a reasonable amount based on income levels. There were varying viewpoints on this but I felt like our discussion kept coming to this narrow focused point. Many of those around the circle are extremely advocacy focused, headed to Washington, D.C. in the coming weeks to lobby for this and that. And to generalize their feelings, they got stuck on the fact that Singer was talking money and individual giving and how that didn't apply to the work they see for themselves. They seemed to think that we needed to be spending much more of our time and resources on petitioning our government for foreign aid (which is not a bad thing, let me clarify) and that asking someone to sacrifice a latte and donate the money instead was just not enough. I struggle with this.

The work that I am apart of this summer, I am coming to find, is so incredibly comprehensive and because of this, so incredibly exciting. We (the ELCA) have a whole team that is dedicated to advocacy, we have whole teams dedicated to getting people to donate funds, we have whole teams spending their time on education, we have teams that are distributing money both domestically and abroad to those most in need and in the most practical ways possible to have maximum effect. A lot of times, we're fortunate, because those teams overlap in a wide variety of ways. But not all of us are born to be lobbyists in the halls of Congress, not all of us are born with the boldness to plead the case for funding with a potential donor, not all of us are given the gifts of dynamic presentation to deliver speeches. But that is what makes all of us who we are. God made us the way we are with the gifts we have and we have to understand that about one another. We can't start judging people because their strength isn't what our passion is.

My biggest job this summer is to encounter 36,000 high schoolers in a 5-day span and get them to be aware of the enormity of World Hunger and Poverty and care. To empower them, that even though they may seem like one kid who can't do much about it, they can have an impact, greater than they can fathom. Even if they just spread the word, even if they skip a latte (or a coke or burger or movie...think big!) and donate the $3, even if they say one prayer for those suffering. Or maybe they feel it bigger than that. Maybe, just maybe, they get it. They discover what their gift is. They take a risk. They involve others in their congregation. And, heres the best part...TOGETHER we can start making change. Using our overlapping gifts to stick up for the "bottom billion", to lobby our representatives, to help the homeless person you see on the street everyday, the list goes on. If one kid walks away changed...imagine.

What life can you save? How can you make a difference? Is it donating money or goods or how about just your time? Think about it. Pray about it. Then, and this is most important, ACT on it!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Whole New World

Wow. 10 days in Chicago and counting. Never in my life have I had quite the experiences I've been having since k10, kdogg, and I first saw the famous skyline racing closer through the windshield of the 'Runner. The 'Runner interestingly is pretty much the only familiar thing I brought with me that I got to keep here. I never thought I would be so thankful to get in my car and drive 2 miles to work everyday.

I moved here to be an intern for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America working with their World Hunger program. I LOVE MY JOB! From Day One, there was never a doubt that this is where God wanted me this summer. Ok, really Day One was just training with HR but even that was pleasant. I am so fortunate to be working for a team of people who are excited to have interns and really trust us with important things. Lana is a fellow intern and new friend. Praise God that we get along great because our work is constantly overlapping and we are able to count on each other for support everyday. She is also new to the city so we're going to have an awesome summer of adventure and exploration of all the nooks and crannies of Chi-town!

The overview of my job is that I will be in charge of many of the large World Hunger events that are currently going on or will be coming later in the summer or year. The biggest and most exciting for me is designing a 15,000 sq. ft. space in the Convention Center in New Orleans where the 2009 National Youth Gathering will be held and 36,000 youth from around the country will come to serve New Orleans and learn about their faith. My job is to teach them as much as I can about World Hunger and Poverty issues in the short time that I will have their attention. CRAZY! I'm also currently working with 3 Pastors who are biking their way around the country visiting 65 cities to raise awareness and funding for the World Hunger Appeal and it's programs that it supports. Oh Yeah...their riding a bike built for three (called a triplet) and it's made of BAMBOO! These guys are awesome and crazy but it's been fun. They will also be making appearances at the Youth Gathering so that should be fun for the kids. There are a ton of little things that I'm responsible for but that too much detail. I'm busy. But doing great things.

Today, we had the opportunity to visit one of our Domestic Hunger Grant sites here in the Chicago area. The program is called Bethel New Life ( check them out!) and they are an incredible group of people trying to change the face of one of the toughest and most forgotten neighborhoods in Chicago. Their ministry started 30 years ago out of Bethel Lutheran Church as a senior ministry, to assist elders in their community. The program has grown exponentially and they now serve almost every part of life imaginable from day care to job training and placement to assisted senior living to a million other things. One of the most moving things I think they do is their work with those who are returning to the community from serving time in Prison. Called the Welcome Home project, they seek to provide "criminals" with a second chance getting them job training and internships and working with them to give those who truly want to change their lifestyle a hand up and support as they attempt to assimilate back into society. Today we met Mr. Riddle who has recently completed the program and been hired on at the facility to help others because he was such a model participant. Mr. Riddle served 20 years for first degree murder. He is 41. That means that when he was younger than I am now for whatever reason he took someone else's life. But that was not the man that I saw before me. I saw someone who took responsibility for making an incredibly terrible choice when he was just a kid but who genuinely learned from that and wants to be given a chance to live a better life. He could have done the program and gone to find another job with the skills he had but he stayed at Bethel because he earnestly wants to spend the rest of his life giving back to others and trying to help them out of the many situations that the people of the Austin/Garfield neighborhoods find themselves in. "I love my murderers." is what the director of the Welcome Home project said to us today. She floored us but then went on to explain that these are often the participants in the program who are the best candidates for success. They have lost the most already and know what it is going to take and want it more than anyone else. 1,500 people are released from Chicago prisons per MONTH! Their program can only handle about 18 per 6-8 weeks or so. What happens to the rest? Who is looking out for them? Why do we wind up with so many repeat offenders? It becomes clearer to see when you walk the streets of this neighborhood. But God is working there. In small ways that will have a great impact. There are people who have not lost hope and refuse to leave even though they have the means. This place matters to them and they are going to fight to get people to rise up. I'm excited for what Bethel is doing and what their presence means. I could go on and on about the things I learned today and the ways they are helping the people of that community. It is wonderful to see and wonderful to know that the work I am doing this summer helps to fund their grant which contributes significantly to the work they are trying to accomplish.

We ended our field trip today with some SOUL food. haha. best meal yet. chicken (fried or baked). mashed potatoes. collard greens. mac&cheese. corn. green beans. cornbread muffins. peach cobbler. banana puddin. mmmmmm. delicious. lol. joe young is the man for giving us the mcarthur's soul food experience.

pray for the people of the austin/west garfield neighborhoods and for bethel new life. they still need lots of support. they still need grocery stores where they can buy affordable healthy food. they still need one company to fill one of the many vacant factories. to take a chance on them. to give them hope. and jobs. and affordable housing. and a way out. they are people. like you and me. god loves them. we need to.