All posts by daynacarr

Concrete Garden

Walking through the park this afternoon, I came across this flower.

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What a perfect thing to find in Glenwood, I thought.  A picture of our kids – beautiful creations pushing their way through  the harsh pavement surrounding them.  We see blossoms and get excited.  Sure, there are petals missing, but they’re alive, looking towards the sun.

When you’re tending a concrete garden, you celebrate the individual successes.  They often feel far and few between.

As I stood above the flower, though, my focus broadened.  I noticed this little survivor was not alone.

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Each little flower (weed, really) was unique.  Some had more blossoms than others, some perfect, others battered.  Up close, each was a beauty to behold.  Compared to others, some might seem less impressive.  Viewed together, I almost saw a band of brothers.  Separated by pavement, but seeming to encourage each other on – you’re not alone, you can make it.  

How many seeds had been planted, but didn’t make it?  What had these little ones endured on their journey so far?  How were they still standing so proud, in the middle of a cracked asphalt sidewalk where they were trampled daily?

As my gaze widened still, I was overwhelmed.

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The flower I originally saw as an anomaly, an exceptionally strong life surrounded by desolation, was in fact not rare at all.  Despite their circumstances, these little plants were determined to live.  To see the sun.  To display beauty and character.

And so it is in the city. Despite the harsh circumstances of poverty, single­parent homes, under­employment, drug trafficking, prostitution and more, life springs up. Like the flowers, we can’t appreciate the beauty of each person until we step in close. Close enough to see the missing petals. Close enough for them to see our torn leaves. Close enough to embrace the incredible life before us. And then, slowly stepping back, we are able to appreciate the beauty of the creation in front of us. We realize we are surrounded by a sea of precious souls, pushing through systems designed to keep them down, seeking the affirmation of the One who created them perfectly beautiful.

Lord, let it be so.  May we see each other closely, and may we stand in awe at the restorative work you orchestrate every day.  When the proof of your work seems hard to find, broaden our gaze to see the fields of flowers surrounding us.

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Thoughts on Lament

Lament has been THE most helpful spiritual practice in my life over the last two years. I really wasn’t familiar with the idea of lament at all – but it came at a time my soul desperately needed it. The first time I bumped into lament in a real and impactful way was at the CCDA conference in 2014. I came into the conference weary – the weight of family brokenness on my shoulders, along with the recent news of one of my kids from the neighborhood heading back to jail with another felony charge. I knew him, knew his potential, knew the times he had encountered Christ in real ways. Still, it felt hopeless. I wanted to feel sad, mad, angry over his situation and his choices, but really struggled to know how to express that in a way that honored the Lord. The thought of allowing myself to grieve felt like giving up – I think I had the idea that grief comes at the end of something, for example, grieving after a death. Discovering the beauty of grief in the middle of circumstances has been incredibly freeing, and has actually produced hope.

I’ve begun to realize, whether in terms of specific relationships or larger systemic injustices, that if I don’t allow myself to press in to the depths of the pain that exists, I’m not able to experience the vastness of hope that Christ brings. It’s in the depths of the pit that we realize how deeply we desire something to hope for and hope in – and as Christians we have that in Christ. It also reestablishes my dependence on Christ. When we fully lament the brokenness of the world – ourselves, families, systems, etc – we see clearly that we cannot do this on our own. In allowing myself to grieve over the young man headed back to jail, to weep for his soul, to peer into the depths of the pit, I was reminded that his savior is Christ alone. This is where hope is rooted. This is where we move from grief to lament. Lament invites us to press into the pain of this world so that we can more clearly see and embrace our Savior.

Forever Young (in my eyes, at least)

Three of my babies stopped by to visit last night.  I suppose I can’t really call them that anymore.  Two of the young men who stopped by are 19/20 years old, the third is a junior in high school this year.  They stopped by church to visit the high school youth ministry, and popped in to say hello when they saw me through the window in the winter emergency shelter we host at church.  They’re all living lives their way — basically, lots of weed and a little bit of work.  My favorite part of them coming to visit — they knew I’d be excited to see them.

No matter how old the kids get, when I see them, I always see their 12 year old selves.  Behind the sunken eyes and smell of weed is the new kid who tried to get me to take the whole van of boys to Hooters.  Under the tie-­dye t­-shirt and glazed eyes of another is the kid showed up at my house and asked me to take pictures of the sharpie tattoos covering his arms and legs so he could show all his buddies.

I ran across this article over the weekend about Akiel Denkins, the young man in Raleigh who was recently killed by a police officer.  It resonated deeply.  Regardless of the choices Akiel made, the folks in his neighborhood knew him.  They didn’t excuse his choices, and always called him to higher standards, but they focused on knowing him and his potential more than his choices.

Regardless of the choices the kids make, I’m always happy to see them.  It is a joy that they choose to come back around, that they know they will always find love and a warm embrace, that they know they have a church home when it’s time to pop in.

The Ministry of Being

“Being is more important than doing.”  This is a difficult statement for me to accept.  I recently attended a workshop where a few of us dug into our theology of ministry among the poor.  We agreed that one of the pillars of this kind of work is incarnational ministry.  Being.  Assuming a position of intentional powerlessness.

I like the idea, but I also like programs.  I’m a funky mix of visionary and practitioner, which means that when I have an idea, I immediately start thinking 3-­4 years down the road.  Weekend cooking club?  Great idea!  But what if we grow too big – who’s going to fund this?  Where will we meet?  Will we need insurance coverage?  We need a ministry/non-­profit to sponsor us from the beginning so we’re sustainable.  Obviously this is a major movement killer.  On paper, it looks silly.  I mean really, just invite the kids over and teach them how to cook spaghetti.  God will provide.

To take it further, why worry about the program in the first place.  Just be.

I saw this video recently, about a woman named Ludmilla, a widow in the Czech Republic, who resides in the “Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I was immediately humbled and encouraged.  How simple.  Be with people.  Celebrate with them, mourn with them, be with them.

What a gift to have nothing to give but myself – just my time, my company and my friendship.

I think this was easier for me when I first moved to Glenwood – it was my only option.  Now, working for a nonprofit in the neighborhood, I think in terms of programs, many of which aren’t really a fit for the non-­profit currently.  I’m finding that I need to retrain my thinking, to find more opportunities to be and less opportunities to do.

This is modeled beautifully in our relationship with Christ – He desires us more than He desires our work – He invites us to be, then do out of the overflow of our time with Him.  Likewise, what a gift to be with our neighbors, then, out of that relationship, do with them.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come

Two guys were shot and killed in Glenwood last week.  Tonight, representatives from four neighborhood churches came together to pray for our community.  It was an incredible time of prayer – people came together who live, work and worship in the neighborhood.  It felt like a small picture of what could come down the line.  This was not an open event, per se.  Word got out to the believers who are intentionally in the neighborhood, and they came.  It’s exciting to think long term that prayer times like this could help usher healing for the community as a whole.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.  That’s what I heard as I prayed.  We broke into small groups to pray, and my group prayed for transformation.  Not for a “cleaned up” neighborhood that gets rid of the problems, or pushes people out, but a neighborhood where people meet Christ.  Where they experience grace, love, forgiveness, invitation.  That only comes through the Spirit.  And so we pray, come, Holy Spirit, come.  Make your presence known in Glenwood.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.  I prayed that for myself as I considered my own heart and reaction to the shooting.  I expect things like this, they usually don’t surprise me.  Honestly, I’m surprised that they don’t happen more often.  Most shootings in the neighborhood aren’t random.  In this case, they haven’t released a ton of details, but have indicated that the victims knew their shooter(s).  In a different case a few years ago, a guy was shot and killed in the street three doors down from me.  I was out of town at the time, but when I heard the news, I was not surprised.  The guy clearly lived an “active” lifestyle and made no effort to make friends on the block.  While I was sad to hear the news, I realized tonight looking back that I wasn’t necessarily sad for him.  I was sad for the neighborhood, sad for my neighbors, and sure, sad for him in a semi-disconnected “loss of a young life” kind of way.  But that’s it.  Tonight I pray, come, Holy Spirit, come.  Break my heart.  It should be no less sad when a criminal dies than when a child does.  His life carries no less weight than the child’s.  The stakes are high.  The impact is great.  The young man who was gunned down those few years ago was valuable, regardless of his life choices.  He mattered.  And these two young men who died last week, they were valuable, they mattered.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.  Help us to see the value in our neighbors before death.  And especially help us see it after.  Don’t allow us to check out when they do.  Help us find meaning in their passing, meaning that points people to you.  Meaning that wakes up our young people to their choices.  Meaning that draws parents back to you.  Meaning that reminds us of the incredible sacrifice you made.  A sacrifice that is valuable enough, meaningful enough to redeem and restore the most broken of lives.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.  Be our guide, our comforter, our reason and our redeemer.

Let’s Color!

I had some unexpected time with students today during the last hour of school, which also happened to be the last hour before Spring Break.  I was counting down just as much as the kids.  The week before break is always hard.  The kids check out a little early, they’re super excited, and generally, just a little more difficult.  We had several volunteers for our tutoring program no-show today, which meant we had two options:  absorb those kids into other tutoring groups or group them all together to do something different.  It’s hard enough to absorb kids on a normal day – you’re used to working with your group, you’ve figured out the dynamics, and for the most part, you’re successful.  The few hours before Spring Break – well, that’s a recipe for disaster.  So, I took the 15 or so kids that needed something to do.  Considering the circumstances – again, the fact that we were in the FINAL HOUR BEFORE SPRING BREAK, and the lack of notice/planning, I did what any reasonable adult would do with 15 middle school students:  color.

It sounds ridiculous, but it was great! Earlier in the week I brought in my new “grown up” coloring book that I had for myself for over Spring Break.  The kids went NUTS over it.  It features mandalas, meditative symbols that are relaxing to color.  They also loved another super detailed peacock coloring book that I have.  While they thought it was funny that my big plans for Spring Break simply included coloring and sitting on the beach (I’m seriously burnt out at the moment), they didn’t think it was too funny to join in.  All week they’ve been begging for copies of coloring pages.  So, when I discovered my afternoon plight, there was no question.

We colored peacocks and mandalas; listened to jazz, bluegrass and the blues; and relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company.  All of those independently are major feats for a middle school kid.  Collectively, it’s nothing short of magic.

It was neat to see the quiet fall over the kids as they colored.  To see them have relaxed, uninterrupted time to think.  It’s hard to come by for many kids, virtually impossible if you’re one of the kids with 10+ people in your home.  I imagine some would be quick to criticize time spent coloring with middle schoolers – unimportant, a waste of time, etc.  But if it enables them to think, to be with themselves, to speak to & hear from God, to reconcile things in their mind, well, I’d argue that’s a gift we should give them more often.

A coworker and I are planning to attend a zentangle class in a couple of weeks, with the hopes of hosting a club next fall.  Our kids may not be given a lot of time to think, process, or just be, but my hope is that we can teach them to create that space for themselves.

Also, if anyone’s interested, the two coloring books I have are here and here.  I’m sure I’ll be ordering more soon!

For such a time as this…

For such a time as this…              

I’ve been studying Neighborhood Mapping by Dr. Jon Fuder with a group of neighbors, and we recently discussed Esther.

 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  — Esther 4:14

We talked about this passage – how Esther was in the palace for such a time as this – a time where she had an opportunity to speak on behalf of her people.  Her position was unexpected, but it had a purpose.  We talked about not remaining silent, about using our voices in our communities.

Then, at community group the next night we talked about Job and suffering.  I spoke about how I don’t believe that God makes us suffer, but He does sometimes allow it.  Someone then asked me, “Do you feel like you can say that the things you went through as a kid were ‘for such a time as this?’”  My answer was an unwavering YES.  When I think about the kids that I’ve connected with the best, they’ve had very similar stories to my own.  Would God care for them without me being present?  Sure.  Just like Esther, God didn’t rely on her – she could have chosen to remain silent and God would have still provided relief and deliverance.  Likewise, I can choose to keep my story to myself, to pretend life was easier.  In doing so, it’d be easy to question why I suffered the way I did, why things were so difficult.  But in reconciling with my path, reconciling with God in knowing that he wants to bring beauty for ashes I have the opportunity to connect with kids who need to see reconciliation, who need to see what life can look like on the other side.

The other point that stands out to me is that Esther and her family would perish if she remained silent.  You’ve probably heard the statement “a little piece of me died that day” in reference to traumatic events in people’s lives.  Maybe you’ve uttered that in regards to your own life.  In recognizing God’s presence in our story – not just the big picture, but in every little detail – we find redemption in those moments.  We do not have to let those pieces of us, of our hearts, die.  We can see restoration.  That’s what Christ came for.

In speaking up and speaking out in the places we’ve been called to, we get to encourage and edify others, and receive purpose and healing in our own hearts.  Just as Esther was in the palace for such a time as this, I am in Glenwood for such a time as this.  And Christ died for such a time as this.

Lament

Just saying the word feels heavy.  I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months about lament, about grieving.  I talked about it some here.

I had the privilege of attending the CCDA National Conference in Raleigh at the end of September, and they actually kicked off the whole event with a session on lament.  Leroy Barber and Noel Castellanos spoke about how the road to flourishing communities doesn’t look the way we think it should.  Justice costs.  Our lives as followers of Christ are centered in struggle.  I’ve thought about these statements a lot.  The roads our kids often choose really don’t look the way I think they should.  Things always seem to be harder than they should be.  Old habits really do die hard, even though what lies ahead of you is infinitely better.

I just finished reading Neighborhood Mapping by Dr. John Fuder.  I have LOTS of thoughts after reading that book.  But, there was one quote that stopped me in my tracks.  I couldn’t keep reading.  And I’ve thought of it every single day since then.

“Christianity is keeping one hand on the plow, while with the other wiping away the tears.”  — Watchman Nee

 What a life we’ve signed up for.  We spend so much energy trying to forget the bad, to focus on the positive, to try to experience joy unspeakable.  But we are called to a balance — not all joy, all the time.  Catherine Booth, cofounder of the Salvation Army, laments, “Oh that we could weep the gospel into people.”  It’s quotes like these that remind me of the gravity of this work we do.  It’s easy to get in the mode of inviting folks to “join the party,” so to speak, but I feel like that waters down what’s at stake.  Salvation is worth weeping over.  Lives wasted should cause tears.  Generational poverty should break our hearts.

Later, Fuder goes on to say, “to get to true kingdom life change, you must have a willingness to let your heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  Nobody wants a broken heart, but the promise that’s present, true kingdom life change, well, that’s worth it.

Nobody told me it’d be this hard.  My guess is that no one told you either.  The good news comes in a statement Noel made that opening night.  “We do not have the power within ourselves to heal the brokenness of this world.”  We need Christ.  We need Him desperately.  And I believe that truly needing Him starts with weeping, with lament, with a broken heart.  Only when we recognize that it’s not in our power can we stop doing things our way, ask for help, and watch His power work.

I know trouble is fleeting, that heaven awaits, that Christ came to reconcile.  But I think we’re amiss if we try to skip the trouble and always dwell on the positive.  We certainly need encouragement and joy, and celebration has it’s place, but we also desperately need times of weeping and lament.  Times to express the heaviness our souls carry for our neighbors.

The Heartbreakers

The heartbreakers.  They’re the kids that are dripping with potential. They’re charming, bright, and have goals. They know they want something different in life. And for the most part, they know what it will take to get there.

BUT.

They don’t choose it. In some cases, they won’t choose it.

Heartbreakers are inspiring. They’re the kids that everyone wants to help. Sure, sometimes they’re mischievous, but most folks are willing to overlook it.  Their natural charisma outweighs their flaws.

I’ve experienced a few heartbreakers over the years. The girl intelligent enough to be a doctor or lawyer, but had an unexpected pregnancy. The young man with social skills that would have taken him far in business, but ended up running with gangs. The girl who fought for a spot in a top high school, but gave it up before she even realized her potential.

As I’ve reflected on the lives of these kids this week, I’ve noticed a recurring theme. They were all dealing with extreme circumstances at home when things started to fall apart. Homelessness. Desertion. Abuse. All of it out of their control.

The enemy creeps in and asks, “Is it ever going to change? There really is no way out of this cycle, you know. The kids can’t overcome the circumstances their parents put them in, and the parents don’t want to change, so WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

And then I weep.

We do see kids making amazing changes, but they’re rarely in the most dire circumstances. The easy and gratifying choice would be to only work with kids who are at least partially on track, kids that you know have a chance at success. But somehow that just doesn’t fit. Jesus certainly didn’t only choose to pursue those who were easy.

The heartbreakers are a really tough crew. In the end, they need to experience the transforming love of Christ. But it’s so hard for them to trust that, to take a chance on it, when they’ve been betrayed so heavily by the people closest to them.  When I think back to all of my heartbreakers, without exception, they could never fully commit to a loving God.  I think it just didn’t make sense in their young, pained minds.

And so we pray. We encourage. We speak hard truths. We love.

And at home we weep. We pray. We try not to harden our hearts.  We try to make sense of the pain — both our own & the kids’.

There will always be a heartbreaker. The enemy says that’s all they’ll ever be. Christ says they are overcomers.  Lord, let it be so.

Back to Basics

When I think about what made me fall in love with Glenwood, I think about hot summer days at the park, kids stopping by my house to visit, talking with neighbors while taking walks. Now, when I think about my day-to-day life in Glenwood, it rarely includes any of these things. What happened? I could give a laundry list of reasons why these things don’t seem to fit, but I think the reality is that I drifted. A few years ago I would say that having a full-time, demanding job outside of the neighborhood took all of my energy. Over the last two years, I’d say a full-time job in the neighborhood took all my energy — I’m with neighborhood kids all day, right? These excuses represent a drift that is all too familiar to me — much like the slow drift away from Jesus that happens when we’re too distracted to pray, too tired to have a quiet time, too bored to engage at church. We drift away from our first love, unintentionally, and at high cost.

This summer, a few friends and I were reminiscing about the “good old days” in Glenwood. There was joy in laughing over old memories, but a sadness and longing underlying the discussion. As we talked, we realized one of the parts of living in community we had really drifted from, without even realizing it — the spontaneity & fun of just hanging out and meeting new neighbors. It’s great working at a school where our neighborhood kids attend, but the reality is, my time there is spent making sure the school runs. My time at the park can just be spent listening to a kid, no background concerns about whether the food delivery came or how I’ll ever find enough test proctors.

So, we decided to take it back to the basics. What made us fall in love with the neighborhood was the kids and the time we got to spend with them. We planned a kickball game — 7:00 on a Friday night. We hung a couple posters in the park and brought drinks on ice. The result? Almost 50 people showed up. We played an awesome game of 20 on 20 kickball. Almost all of the kids were under the age of 10, so it was pretty hilarious. Girls who wanted a break from the game got their nails painted. Parents hung out and chatted.

It was (and is) such a great reminder of how easy relationship can be.  The fruit of these encounters is seen all over the neighborhood — in the kids who gravitate to the community garden for friendship and fresh veggies, in the moms willing to take a chance on a bunco night with women they don’t know, in the neighbors who watch out for you because they know you watch out for the kids.  Beautiful relationships are sprouting from such small investments of time.

The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood…but I’m pretty sure He didn’t just sit in His house! Thanks for that reminder, Lord!  We were created to be in community, and it’s waiting just outside our front doors.