Tuesday, May 22, 2012

El Shaddai: the Compassionate Mother Hen

Below is the audio of my Mothers Day message at River City Community Church. I described the status of women in the ancient world and gave evidence of the feminine characteristics of God that are often missed in churches where the voice of women is silenced.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Illinois State Budget - "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves"

Breakthrough recently learned that the 2013 proposed Illinois budget will include a 52% cut to the Department of Family Support Services designated funds for the Emergency and Transitional Housing Program (ETHP). If this budget is approved, Breakthrough would lose $200,000 in support of transitional housing.

Admittedly, we are not politicians or budget experts and don’t assume to know what cuts should be made instead of these. I am hopeful that there are other areas of government waste and excess that could be cut rather than placing the burden to balance the budget on the backs of the poor who often don’t have a voice at the state level. We know that our guests at Breakthrough will be significantly impacted by this decision.

I believe there is a greater cost to society when poor people lose their homes and the services that help them get back on their feet, or when people begin to lose hope that their elected leaders care about them. As supporters of Breakthrough, we all must be willing to either speak out on what we want our government to prioritize, or, in the alternative, we must be willing to sacrifice more individually to ensure that Breakthrough does not have to cut services for those in need.

Breakthrough’s budget is $3.5M. A $200,000 cut in our revenue will not close our doors as it will many other organizations, but it will significantly impact our ability to deliver services if we don’t find alternative funding. Our hope is that our leaders will reconsider this specific budget cut that impacts the people Breakthrough serves in a very real way (kids, homeless, etc.).

Whether or not we change the minds of the legislators, I believe we're called to tell our elected leaders what we care about. We can ask our leaders to find another way. One way or another, we are called to serve the "least of these." I take seriously the words of Scripture in Prov. 31:8-9 to: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Regardless of the state budget outcome, we hope our supporters will stand with Breakthrough in facing these challenges. As the revenues to care for the poor are diminishing the needs are growing even greater. YOU CAN HELP by asking your District Official to oppose these budget cuts. Simply copy the letter below and paste into an email to the representatives listed or your own state elected officials by Wed, May 9.  

We have just 1 week to make our voice heard!

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Dear (Representative/Senator),

I am writing to request that you oppose the 2013 proposed budget which includes a 52% cut to the Department of Human Services designated funds for the Emergency and Transitional Housing Program (ETHP).

The Emergency and Transitional Housing Program provides temporary housing and critical supportive services to get adults back on their feet and help prevent future instability. Due to proposed budget cuts, this program is at risk of losing 52% of its funding, wiping out essential services for thousands of homeless individuals and families in Chicago and across the state.

A 52% cut to this program, from the 2012 appropriation of $9,083,700.00 to the 2013 proposed budget of $4,360,176.00, would leave more than 3,000 Chicagoans out on the streets and seriously at risk.

The state’s continuum of homeless services has shown success, even in the midst of a deep recession. However, because of the recession, programs like Breakthrough in East Garfield Park have ever-growing waiting lists and increasing numbers of turnaways.

When people access services, we see positive outcomes. Our program helps to stabilize homeless individuals. Half of the people served by the ETHP exit the program to permanent or transitional housing.

A 52% funding cut equates to a possible $200,000 reduction in funds to Breakthrough, impacting more than 250 men and women in the East Garfield Park community.

We are asking you to cast a vote for compassion, human dignity and housing.

Please do not support the 2013 proposed budget cuts of 52% for Emergency and Transitional Housing.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Where there's bacon, there is blessing...

Below is a blog post from my friend and neighbor, Colleen Currat. She beautifully captures feelings and impressions I often experience when I walk into our women's center at Breakthrough. Here is the link to her blog.

After teaching my weekly art class at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, I descended into a smell of bacon downstairs where all the women at the shelter were having breakfast. Worship music was playing, everyone busy in conversation. My daughter and I waved to a few friends and they came and gushed over my Sylvie. She loves seeing the friends we've made there and flashes smiles and high fives.

In the beginning of the year, I remember feeling so hesitant about leaving my daughter at this building that housed the ragamuffins waiting to get in the shelter. The line of women was intimidating to me. So many faces of struggle and hurt and some very grumpy faces too. But we approached everyday and soon there was recognition between us, greetings and sharing bits of our stories. They even share motherly advice with me, which I find so beautiful.

Everyday I go to Breakthrough, I have this awful shame of myself and all my shortcomings. My eyes and heart that have so many blind spots in regards to loving my neighbors (or anyone, for that matter) fully and without hesitation. The stark truth, is that my eight years of involvement at Breakthrough have brought me nothing but overflowing blessing for every minute I am there. So if there is blessing, why do I doubt or think that my judgements will lead to greater provision?

As I left the building, I was thinking about how God blesses so many of us here. I noticed a recent boarded up house. Just a few weeks ago it had brand new boards covering windows. Now they were gone and a ghostly curtain was blowing outside of the broken window. The house was missing metal fixtures. I could see peeling paint in the upstairs rooms. The house's structure is really beautiful, but before my eyes it was gasping its last breaths of dignity. A huge sense of loneliness came over me. How stark the contrast of that dying structure, across from the warehouse that holds my daughter and all my dreams for her, as well as the dreams and struggles of twenty exceptional women–not to mention the millions of dreams of the 30-40 children that attend programs at Breakthrough. I looked around the street at all the trash, the bottles, the old kite that has been entangled in vines for years and I wanted to shrink down in a hole. There's no one here to fix all this either. Quickly, God snapped me out of my hole. How could I already have forgotten? The bacon! That wonderful smell of bacon! Things may look bleak outside, but as the emptiness of that house sang its sad song, there was worship lifting across the street. As trash blows and collects outside, the dust of neglect and abuse is being blown off the souls of children and women inside--and that work is often quietly, steadfastly done.

I've noticed that healing is very quiet. Learning wisdom is very quiet. And God's power only becomes louder and more noticeable when we take our first practical steps after our healing. Small steps and then the power and testimony and the attention of others comes. I used to only be able to notice the noise, but since being here in this broken place, physically and spiritually, I've learned to hear the silence of God's truth as it soaks, lathers and coats into the hungry souls who need him. And it's just not about me to understand how God is working. It's just not my place to look outward and see ugliness and proclaim that God is not working. Shame on me, for ever being so quick to give up on what God gave EVERYTHING for.

I feel so proud to live in an ugly place. Though I go through stages of understanding it, I'm so very thankful that I've seen how God mysteriously builds up the broken places. And I made a promise to myself...when I see ugliness I'm going to remember bacon. I'll remember the warmth of that women's shelter, the loving volunteered hands that came to make breakfast for so many who needed it. Bacon, worship, healing surrounded by an ugly, cruel world. Reminds me of what it must have looked like, as Jesus was born into this dark world. I'm so glad he came for me.

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, The Message Translation

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always "me first," Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. Love never gives up.