Tag Archives: community

Their Faces

We are all still trying to enjoy and eke out the best last bits of summer. No one wants to think about back to school things but I have to bring it up because of their faces.

I’m talking about the faces of the school children and their parents. In our community we are less that three weeks away from our 6th Annual Connect GCISD Back to School Fair where the economically disadvantaged students in our school district receive full school supply packs, backpacks, clothing and a huge array of district and community resources all in a one hour stop.

I’ve seen the joy on the children’s faces when they select their own brand new backpack and when they receive a huge bundle of supplies appropriate for their grades. I’ve seen them when they see their principals and teachers there; their school nurse and other adults in the community. I’ve seen the relief on the parents’ faces too as their children are provided for and ready to start school, equipped to learn. The teachers and counselors faces beam as well because they know they won’t have to scramble in those hectic first days of school making sure all their students have the basic supplies to be successful.

Every year we get a little better at the fair’s logistics.  This year, over 1300 children are pre-registered. We know from experience, the children and their parents will show up. This year, for the first time, we are not scrambling through the summer to provide funds for the school supplies. Because of the fundraising efforts of the Women’s Division of the Grapevine Chamber and because of generous donations to Connect, all the school supply packs have already been paid for.  I love our community, by the way.

Our community vendors, civic organizations, police and fire, faith based organizations are all ready to serve these families. Dentists are coming with their toothbrushes; vision screenings will be done by the Lion’s Club (every year we find hundreds of children who need glasses). Families will receive information about parenting and the services of GRACE (Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange). Even children who qualify but didn’t get pre-registered will receive school supplies from GRACE at the fair.

Really, we just need two things:

1) We need elementary age new backpacks. The little kid backpacks are the most fun to buy. Drop them off between now and August 3 at the GCISD Administration office, 3501 Ira E Woods Ave, Grapevine, 76051  Last year some people ordered from Amazon and had them shipped to this address. Do that!

2) And, we need you the day of the fair, Saturday, August 5 from 8-noon at Grapevine High School. 18 and older please! We like every single family to have a guide who walks them through the fair. We will teach you how and make you comfortable. We want these families to be seen, to feel loved and equipped and a personal guide seems to be a great way to do it.  Sign up here: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0b4eaeac23a5f49-6thannual or respond below and we will be in touch.

Last year, a little girl I know from the community, rushed up to me to give me a hug and showed me her new pink princess backpack. She said, “I saw my principal and my teacher from last year and they said they can’t wait to see me when school starts!” Her face was radiant. Faces are attached to hearts. That little girl felt loved and valued….and, I’m sure, ready to learn.

No one wants to think about back to school just yet, but we will, together, because of their faces.

     

When I Was A Child Living in Poverty

It was a Poverty Simulation our school district hosted. It was only for a morning. I was invited to attend as a community member along with school counselors and personnel from the district and some parents. I knew at the outset it would be stressful and that I would leave with an awareness I already had, that poverty was horrible. I even questioned why in the world I would attend such a thing when I could be going to yoga class instead.

I was shocked when the simulation began and I was assigned the role of a 9-year-old girl named Whitney. I assumed I would be a grown up, not a child. I lived with my younger brother who had some special needs and my 50 something year old grandparents who were raising us because our mom was incarcerated for drug use and our dad had disappeared. Grandma had a low paying job and Grandpa was disabled due to diabetes.

We spent the morning living out a month in the life of this family. My grandparents were totally obsessed with surviving; going to work; trying to access community services; getting food; paying bills. Periodically, life would happen and our family would be thrown a curve that sent us into even deeper crisis.

As a nine-year old big sister, I felt incredibly responsible for my little brother. At school, I was distracted worrying about my grandparents. I kept checking to see if Grandma was at work because if she wasn’t, we wouldn’t have food. My grandparents tried but they were so focused on surviving they could barely acknowledge my brother and myself.

At the end, my grandpa went to the doctor and learned his medication would cost $350 and there was absolutely no way we could afford it. The whole family settled into the devastating news that grandpa would probably die.

After the simulation, our family debriefed. We all felt stressed, out of control and couldn’t believe that our best efforts and planning did not help improved our family’s situation one bit. In fact, things got worse.

As eye-opening as it was about the terrible reality of poverty, I left with hope because of some of bright spots in place in our community. We have not solved poverty, a staggering 1 our of 4 students in our district live in poverty. But, we have created some light her; some let’s-just-do-something strategies which matter.

When I was a child living in poverty sitting at school worrying about my grandparents, if a mentor had shown up to visit with me, even once a week, it would have changed me. No one at home could afford to pay much attention to me. Here, we have a school based mentoring program overseen by Big Brothers Big Sisters to serve students just like me. http://www.gcisd-k-12.org (search Mentor) for an application. We have plenty of students in need, we just need more mentors.

When I was a child living in poverty, if I had been given a bag of food to eat over the weekend, it would have truly relieved pressure on my whole family. It would have reminded me that someone cared. We have that program here, which currently serves almost 1000 students in our district through the school year. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Weekend Food).

When I was a child living in poverty, if my family had a community agency that would visit with us and provide resources for clothing, food, medical care, holiday needs, a summer lunch time food option, it would have made all the difference. We have that here. http://www.gracegrapevine.org

When I was a child living in poverty if someone offered my family a hot meal, at a large table where we didn’t have to worry about the cost or the clean up, where we were treated like guests, we would have felt like we were less alone.  We have that here. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Be Our Guest Meal).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there was a huge Back to School Fair where I could get school supplies, a backpack, countless community and school resources, all in a one-stop setting, we would have felt equipped and loved. We have that here. (search Facebook for Connect GCISD).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there had been an after school program for my brother and me, my grandparents would have had more time to oversee our home. Someone would be there to give us a snack, a hot meal, help with our homework and a place to belong. We have that here thanks to a partnership with our local police, school district and churches. http://www.grapevinetexas.gov (search Grapevine Community Outreach Center Vast).

Living in poverty was horrible. And I know, I really have no idea how horrible. But, at least there are bright spots here. At least there are places you can give, serve and work and know that you a bringing light to a child.  At least there is that.

Bittersweet and Beautiful

Yesterday marked the 28th anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry.  I have no idea how 28 years flew by so quickly.  I still vividly recall, as a 25-year-old, kneeling and having hands laid on me and how heavy those hands felt as the ordination prayer was prayed by my favorite theology professor. I wish I could recall the exact words he prayed.  I just remember his words were beautiful. And, when I stood, tears running down my face, I was changed. Something happened in the kneeling and praying. I was somehow equipped, empowered and infused with God’s presence in a way I hadn’t been before.  It was strange.  But, then again, this whole journey has been strange.

A month after ordination, I found myself officiating the funeral of a 14-year-old girl in my youth group who had been killed in a fall off of a horse. I remember standing to speak thinking this was not at all what I signed up for.

Not too long after that, I interviewed for my first full-time ministry position, 7 months pregnant with our first child. A crusty west Texas businessman asked me a question I don’t believe was legal to ask, then or now. “How in the world do you think you are going to be able to be a mother and a pastor at the same time?” I don’t know what I said but I thought, “I have no earthly idea, I’ve never been either one.”

I got that job.  I became a mom. An older, shut-in church member there took my face between her weathered hands and prophetically said, “Trust God with your ministry and your baby.  God will provide.”  And guess what?  God did. God has. God will. Fabulously, stunningly, miraculously and with impeccable timing over and over again for 28 (!) years.

Ministry has been harder than I ever dreamed. It has taken its toll on my heart. It has driven me to my knees, to tears, to despair more times than I care to admit. One somebody asked me, “Is your job too much for you?” Without hesitation, I said, “Yes, but that is when God shows up and the community of faith sustains. No one could do this job without that. It really is impossible.”

It has been hard, impossible and, at the same time, wonderfully beautiful. The births, the weddings, the new life, the grace, the transformation, I’ve seen it all. Like life, ministry is a Holy mix. I call it the bittersweet, beautiful ache of ministry.

28 years. I am humbled, honored and so amazed. God really does provide. And God, really is so good.

I Want Us to See Them

In our local school district (Grapevine-Colleyville, Texas) there are over 3000 students identified as economically disadvantaged.  That number grows every year, currently it is right at 1 in 4.  These are the children on free and reduced lunch.  This the little girl who showed up to see the school nurse on Monday morning with a tummy ache.  When the nurse questioned the child she discovers the last time the little girl ate, last Friday, at school.  This the little boy seen limping every day.  He wasn’t injured, his shoes were just several sizes too small.

I know we can debate poverty forever.  I know many of us disagree on how to address it.  Maybe the people should work harder.  Maybe we are enabling them to stay like that by giving out food and clothes. Maybe there are immigration issues that no one can agree on.  I finally decided, that I, personally am not interested in debating poverty anymore.  I’m done with it.  I just want these children to be seen.

So a few of us decided to tackle something really big  It is so big there is no way it can be done alone.  We decided to invite our community to look into the eyes of the children in need in our school and do something to transform their situation.

I want us to see them; get to know them; listen to their stories and hear their needs. We all know if children are fed, clothed properly and have the right school supplies, eye glasses, dental and medical care, they will be better learners and community members.  We know if a child has just one mentor, they are less likely to be at risk for all kinds of things.  When they are better served, we all move forward.

So less than two years ago, Connect was born.  www.connectgcisd.org. Connect is about doing not debating.  Connect is about tackling something bigger than any one of us.  Connect requires all of us, churches, synagogues, civic clubs, teachers and school administrators, the city personnel, businesses and countless other organizations to pool our resources so that we can see these children.

When I first heard the story of the little girl with the tummy ache who hadn’t eaten all weekend, my eyes filled with tears.  Then I got mad.  Then I just said, “Not in our backyard, not in our schools, not on our watch.” 

You and I are what we see.  Our life is somewhat defined by what we look at.  Right here in our community, in our schools, just around the corner from our neighborhood there are children in need.  I want us to seem them, really see them.