Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Mouthful of Sand

There are those moments that you completely hate, yet stick with you forever.  In the summer of 2015, I had one of those moments.  Every once in a while, kids have a bad attitude they can’t shake or hurt other children at Kids Club and have to go home early.  And sometimes, maybe once a year, a child has a complete meltdown, and I’m tasked with picking the child up and carrying them to the van that will take them home.  Deshaun was having one of those days. 

An intern told me Deshaun had punched another kid and was walking away from Kids Club.  When we found Deshaun, he was just a little ways away from the Park, sitting on the ground by a tree.  After talking for a bit, it was clear Deshaun wasn’t going to move, and I was going to have to carry him.  I explained everything and told him we would have to carry him, but he still wouldn’t budge.  Deshaun’s in fourth grade (2015) and isn’t really big, but he’s stocky and strong.  I could’ve carried him by myself, but when I picked him up, he started punching, kicking, flailing, biting, spiting, scratching, and throwing dirt.  It took me and an intern to carry him, as I carried his arms and chest while he held his legs.  It was one of the most heartbreaking days for me, because Deshaun is one of my favorite kids.  He has a rough home life, and I was convinced we had lost him forever.

Many of the kids here get into rough stuff when they are in fourth or fifth grade.  Some start running around White Swan at all hours, messing with drugs, breaking into homes, and causing havoc.  Many times I’ve seen kids in that age range stop coming to Church and begin a descent.  So when this incident happened with Deshaun, I was convinced this was just the beginning – his anger and rage were out of control, and he would hate us for having taken him home.  After talking to his mother, she said he couldn’t come to Church anymore, and we were also worried about having him around given his anger and inability to listen to leaders. 

Here’s a little background on Deshaun: at the time, he and his mom, her boyfriend, and three little sisters had been living for a year in a tiny camper.  They had cardboard over some of the windows and garbage bags over others.  The lot they’re on is their cousins, who have kids in a house on the same lot.  The area is surrounded with old cars, tall weeds, and garbage.  It’s a depressing place.  There are rough people going in and out of the house and drugs are almost certainly being used within.  Deshaun and his sisters, Church regulars, are living there. 

Deshaun is one of my favorites because he’s always helpful, smart, a regular volunteer for the stories, and often very kind.  When he gets in trouble, he’s sneaky about it, and it’s usually for messing with other kids or bullying.  During Christmas (2014), he got a tiny Lego set, put it together, and proudly brought it to Church, saying: “Joshua gave this to me!” When he forgot it at Church, I took it by his home, stood in the snow and ice, and knocked on the flimsy cardboard-metal door to return it to him as he beamed with joy and returned to his hellish home. 

After Deshaun’s meltdown at Kids Club, I was a mixture of discouragement and anger.  I was discouraged because I thought: 1. He’s not going to be able to come to Church again, 2. He’s descending into anger and we won’t be able to get him back, 3. When he does come back, he’s going to hate us, 4. I hate that his home is so rough, 5. If he can’t “make it” none of the kids will, and 6. Deshaun might be beyond help or hope.  I was also angry at: him, his mom, his family, their housing, and the way the Rez chews up and spits out so many kids just like him.  After we got back from Kids Club that day, I felt completely spent, and even though I thoroughly rinsed my mouth out from the dirt he threw at me, all evening I kept finding sand and grit in my teeth. 

How do you deal with kids like that? How do you go forward when the obstacles are insurmountable? At the time, I couldn’t see a way forward.  I didn’t know how to help or who to turn to for help.  But thankfully the staff here reminded me:
·         We still have hope because
o   God does miracles who does amazing things
o   God comforts the brokenhearted
o   God is bigger than us, or our sin, or Deshaun’s sin, or his family’s sin. 
o   God wants us to come to Him with our disappointment and sadness and broken hearts and tears.  We are called to weep and mourn and be angry and fight for things to be different. 

Chris Granberry often points out the importance of small short Bible verses and often cites:  “Jesus went around doing good.”  (Acts 10:38 NLT).  It’s a short tiny verse that reminds us when we don’t know what to do or what’s happening or how to help: Jesus did good things and helped and healed people.  I may not know what to do with Deshaun or have a clue about how to help or know what the future holds, but I can keep putting one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus as we try to do good and help people, and trust God is in control and loving. 

A few weeks later, Deshaun started coming back to Church, and has been regularly involved since.  Now he’s in the After School Program. For maybe six months (the winter months!!) his home life changed for the better but now they’re back in the same camper.  He, his sisters, and cousins are still regularly involved with Church, and I pray we can reach them and they know Jesus more and more.

Pillars Of Flame And Ash

“You know there are some children who aren’t really children at all, they’re just pillars of flame that burn everything they touch.  And there are some children who are just pillars of ash, that fall apart if you touch ‘em. . . Me and Victor, we were children born of flame and ash.” From the film Smoke Signals, 1998.
On the Rez, especially at Kids Club, you’ll see children that appear to just be pillars of ash. They show little emotion.  They don’t laugh.  They don’t cry, or cry very easily.  They don’t smile.  They don’t engage or do much of anything but sit and watch with blank faces.  Sometimes they’ll start a craft or play, but break down or quit at the slightest adversity.  These children are the pillars of ash.  The pillars of flame stand out at Kids Club, because they’re the ones who fight, throw rocks, cuss, destroy crafts, and cause general havoc. 
Pierre was a pillar of ash.  During the first week of Kids Club, I noticed Pierre every day at Kids Club.  He would sit on a wooden box in the middle of the basketball court and just watch.  Pierre, in 2015, was maybe four and not at all interested in crafts, games, playing, chalk, or much of anything.  (You see, Pierre lives in a rough home; a place that’s so chaotic Pierre's toddler cousin died in an accident the previous fall).  Several times, I approached Pierre and offered to read to him and sat beside him and read aloud to him and other kids, but he never spoke.
However, I didn’t think much of it – it’s just another kid that is hard to reach.  It’s tragic and heartbreaking, but I’m putting it in the back of my mind because there are lots more kids and I didn’t have time to dwell on it.  I also didn’t pray at all for Pierre, his situation, or the other kids there. 
On the first day of the next team week, it rained, so we had Kids Club at our Church Building.  Team members were assigned stations, and one guy named Carl volunteered to lead the reading table.  For 2/3 of the time, Carl had zero visitors – I felt badly for him, but someone has to man the station in case a kid shows up and wants to read a book.  Eventually, Pierre showed up and spent 15-20 minutes reading with Carl.  And then things started to change. 
Pierre connected with Carl and they were buddies all week.  They did crafts together, colored, tossed balls, did sidewalk chalk, and the most memorable thing: bubbles.  Throughout the week, I would be doing something, hear squealing laughter, and turn to see Carl running with his arms stretched high above him as he held Pierre in the air and chased bubbles being carried by the wind.  It was an amazing contrast as Carl is a big strong man who played linebacker in an SEC program, and Pierre is tiny.  But I couldn’t get over the change in Pierre.  He was engaged, laughing, smiling, joyful, safe, loved, radiant, and happy.
Psalm 30:10-12 says: “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper! You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”
For that week, Carl was able to be a picture of God to little Pierre and exchange his mourning and sackcloth for gladness, dancing, praise, thankfulness, and joy.  And for that week, Pierre was no longer a pillar of ash. 
Over the next year (2015), Pierre continued coming to Church and was noticeably different.  He connected with more team members, started talking, laughed more, and was happier.  He didn’t come around weekly, but was still regularly involved.  When spring teams of this year rolled around, I was pumped to find out Carl was coming back, and I shared with his team the story about him and Pierre and the difference one person can make on one kid for a week.  And on the first day, I watched with a mix of trepidation and exhilaration as the two reconnected.  Again, Carl made Pierre laugh and smile and chase bubbles, and they spent every moment of Kids Club together. 
Later in the week Carl shared that he loved hanging with Pierre and seeing him smile and laugh, but he was blown away when they were playing with chalk.  One day that week, they were drawing with sidewalk chalk and made a giant house and all sorts of things, when Pierre asked, “Where’s the slide?” Then Carl remembered – the previous year the two of them had a made a giant house, with a huge slide that wound all over the basketball court.  Carl had completely forgotten about it, but Pierre remembered the slide.  Pierre remembered the slide.
Back in May, Pierre and his siblings and cousins moved out of White Swan.  We still see them occasionally when they’re visiting cousins.  For every kid we work with, we don’t know what the future holds.  We don’t know if CPS will take them away, or if they’ll move to Oregon, or completely disappear with no kids or adults remembering them or knowing where they went.  It happens a lot – too many times to count; sometimes even the remembering can be too painful to retrace.  We don’t know what will happen with Pierre or if he’ll be in a Church. 

Right now, Pierre is five or six and in kindergarten.  I don’t know if Carl will return, but if he doesn’t, Pierre won’t remember his name, and probably won’t remember the fun stuff they did.  I pray and hope that he remembers the Church people loved him, made him feel safe and happy, and he finds Church people and Jesus one day.  As Church people, we can be an oasis for the kids, a place of rest and peace in the middle of a sun scorched desert.  Some kids won’t care, but others do and are changed.  Some stick around and we see growth and leadership, while others get scattered to the winds.  But God knows where every single kid went, and their story, and He will bring many back to Him and other Church people down the road.  And it’s an amazing thing to be a part of. 
Reading Time at Kids Club: 

Face Painting

Tiny House Update

Here are the latest pictures of the Tiny House.  Most of the siding is up, and the interior is completely stripped and ready.  Once we get the ok from the county regarding permits and location, then we'll begin the interior work.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sheathing (1/3 done)

Don't be deceived. We're not done.  We still have to do the other 3 sides, but it was pretty cool to get one side done!  It's coming along.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Trusses are done (almost)

Here's another video of our working.  This is of us finishing up the trusses and doing some insulation work.  All the furring out is done and most of the insulation is up.  All the trusses are up - one is missing b/c we're one short, but will have it up soon.  Things are coming along (Slowly), and will eventually done (maybe next year).

I forgot! The high this day was 22!! It was crazy.