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Outreach Last Wednesday

It was cold and nearing 2:00 am, and I was tired and chilled enough to be seduced by the promise of two glazed doughnuts for 99 cents. I took my time in the convenience store, pretending to not know what I wanted while my toes thawed. A couple of loud young women came in, shopping the liquor aisle. One of the employees stopped by and told them it was too late to buy alcohol. “What?!” “Too late?!” they cried. Then one of their voices grew softer: “Can’t you make an exception, just this one time?” The employee said, “Sorry,” suggested another store, and walked away.

doughnutsI finally bagged my doughnuts and went to the counter. The man who was about to take my dollar pointed outside and asked, “Are you still walking around?” Surprised, I said yes, and he said, “Take all the doughnuts from the bottom shelf for the other people.”

I double-checked to make sure I understood him correctly. When I tried to thank him, he waved me off.

Gentle people, I want you to know that I did not take all the doughnuts from the bottom shelf. It was late; I didn’t think we’d run into any more guys. So I took five day-olds—one cake kind, a horribly sprinklified one, and more glazeds. As I made my way back to the counter, the employee intercepted me and handed me a serving of nachos with all the toppings. On the house. I paid my dollar, thanked the man again, got waved off again, and joined Al outside.

Al was most reasonably shocked at my fistfuls of food. I explained, and we set off to find whomever we could.

We didn’t find any more guys that night, but we found the other Outreach team. After the explanation (because I do not make a practice of walking around with nachos and bags of doughnuts), we found ourselves a wind-free spot alongside a building, spoke warmly of our benefactor, inhaled the scent of melted cheese, and tucked into our nacho-and-doughnut picnic.

Optimism vs. Hope

A good reminder for us today…

“Optimism is a matter of optics, of seeing what you want to see and not seeing what you don’t want to see. Hope, on the other hand, is a Christian virtue. It is the unblinking acknowledgment of all that militates against hope, and the unrelenting refusal to despair. We have not the right to despair, and, finally, we have not the reason to despair.” —Richard John Neuhaus

Grammar Lesson: The Backstory

grammar-lessonThe alarm bells went off in the fall of 2011. I was jarred by the realization that we work for an organization whose name is made of two words that end in the letter S. Worse, one is singular and one is plural. Emmaus Ministries. Oh. My. Gosh.* How could we have survived so long without providing a lesson on forming possessives in each of those cases?** Why was this not in our volunteer training curriculum?!? I nearly choked with panic.

At the next weekly staff meeting, I strode to the whiteboard and explained how to form possessives. I started with some “regular” possessives, then moved on to the possessives of ordinary words that end in S. Finally, I brought in the “real world application”: How to Form the Possessive of Emmaus—then, gently, tenderly, but tenaciously, of Emmaus Ministries. I instructed, I corrected, I cajoled—oh, yes—but even more, I inspired. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I went back to my seat, spent but victorious, the cheers of my appreciative coworkers ringing in my ears.

I’ve been doing a (loosely themed) grammar lesson at almost every staff meeting since.

Stay tuned.

—————————–

*This may be the first time I have used that particular technique. Jury’s out.

**If you have already dozed off with visions of your high school language arts teacher droning on about the subjunctive, this post ain’t for you. (That’s right; I used ain’t. Come get me. I have my Webster’s*** by my side.)

***Only because I can’t afford a complete OED.

Looking into the mirror

man-looking-in-mirrorMany moons ago, my wife Aubrey and I met while working at Emmaus. Or, more accurately, I was working at Emmaus. She was a volunteer. But she had just finished working there (completing her year of service in Emmaus’s Kaio Community) when we met. Emmaus was one of the things that we shared, and our experiences there were part of what drew us together.

Reflecting on our time there one night a few years back, Aubrey said something profound: Working at Emmaus is like looking into a mirror.

She was right.

If you’re at all introspective, it doesn’t take much time working at Emmaus to realize that what the men we serve here are on the outside, most of us are on the inside. Those dark parts of your personality, the parts you hide and are ashamed of? The guys we serve often have those parts of themselves on display. They live in the midst of them. They can’t often hide them like I can. I can try to forget that those parts of me exist. I have the luxury of pretending that I really am, 100% of the time, that good, loving, generous person people say they love me for being. The guys at Emmaus don’t have that luxury. What I’ve found in my life (and what I suspect is true for most people) is that what often seems most repulsive in the lives of our guys is the reflection of my own darkness that I see in them.

But even working with the guys, I can usually avoid confronting myself as reflected in them. They’re usually grateful, and some of them are even relatively eager to do what they need to in order to change. It’s easier to ignore their “mirror” effect then.

Jack doesn’t allow me to do that, though. I have to look in the mirror with him. Jack is one of the surliest men we serve. He never learned “people skills” growing up. While he accepts that he has mental illness (like a lot of the men we serve), he refuses to get treatment for it. His ADHD makes him impulsive, and the abuse he suffered as a child made him embittered. He often says exactly what’s on his mind, and what’s on his mind is often ungracious and caustic. He has a violent temper. He can also be charming, funny, and sometimes genuinely vulnerable (if you get him in a reflective mood at 1 or 2 in the morning).

But usually, Jack just isn’t very easy to love.

When I’m around him, though, I feel God looking back at me through him, challenging me. Do you really love these men? God seems to ask. Do you really love them when they just aren’t loveable?

I want to answer that I do… but the truth is, I don’t know. The truth is that I’m as broken as Jack is — just in more socially acceptable ways, so it’s a lot harder to tell. The truth is that I just don’t have it in me to love Jack some days.

And that’s okay. Because God does. Because I’m not the source of hope for Jack, or the rest of our guys. I’m not the force motivating and sustaining Emmaus Ministries. Jesus is. He is the source of both Jack’s hope, and mine.

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