Thursday, March 31, 2011

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for Heav'n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
A constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches over me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.
Today I am really grateful for the experience I got to have over lunch today. In an effort to gain some of the positive energy that's clearly evident around the VCU campus this week, I took a stroll through the undergrad campus. In all honesty, I was hoping to spot one of the VCU players. Well, I did spot Skeen, but this occurence pails in comparison to the experience I would have minutes later. As I continued my walk towards the student center on the southside of the campus, I stopped in the restroom before headeding back to work. Before I left the student center, I decided to drop in the interfaith meditation/prayer room in the student center. I've been to this meditation room a few times in the past and figured I would have a few minutes to myself to pray and catch up with God. All the other times I've visited this room, I have had it to myself. I figured VCU just put it in their student center because they had to, to fulfill someone's wishes who had given them money. It is actually a pretty peaceful place to get away from noise and to spend some time in silence or prayer. When I opened the door, there was a girl actually headed out and seemed in a hurry, so I did my best to get out of the way before I entered. When I entered, I noticed there was a girl curled up in the corner of the room with a tissue. She was wearing a Hijab and seemed to be reading something off of her cell phone. It didn't appear that she had been crying, but seemed to be sad about something. I asked her if she was OK, and at first I don't think she understood me very well. I asked again, and made sure that I wouldn't bother her by sitting in the room with her. She said that she was doing OK and that it was alright for me to stay. As I sat in my chair and began to pray, I couldn't help but think about what I was experiencing. After a few moments, a friend of this girl's walked in the room and took her shoes off. They shook hands and started talking to one another in their native language which I was unsure of at the time. It was only moments after that this second girl reached in a small cabinet in the prayer room and pulled out a rug that she would use to pray on. Within another minute she was on her knees and praying. This probably lasted about 5 minutes. I did my best to pray, but I think God had something else in mind and this was to admire these women for their dedication to one another and to their beliefs. I quickly thanked God for this opportunity and waited patiently, not wanting to disrupt her while she was praying. On my way out, I introduced myself to the first girl and she told me that her name was Malak. I asked her if she prays there each day and she said that she does. I thanked her for letting me pray with her in the space and asked her where she was from. She told me that she is from Saudi Arabia and reassured me that she didn't mind me being in there while they were doing their prayers. It was definitely a powerful moment for me. This was the first time I had expressed my faith in an intimate setting with a muslim and I hope it is not the last. I didn't really know what to expect when I walked into that room today. I definitely was convicted as I saw these two girls who seemed very devoted to their prayers, making time in between their busy days to not only commune with their god, but also with one another. I found this sight beautiful and empowering. I don't know if I will ever see these two girls again or if anything long term will come about, but I am realizing more and more how much God wants to teach us through people of other religions and beliefs about Himself and His love for the people of this world.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Z dam

Had a chance to get some good paddling in last week. The river spiked twice over 12' and Z dam provided some great park and play. Below are some pictures of Bobby, Peter, and I from the weekend.

Thawed out

      Over the weekend, my RCLI class had our monthly session and this month's topic was Land Use and Housing. On Saturday we visited a trailer park on the southside of town. The residents of this community really impressed me. I intentionally called what they had a community because to me, that's what it modeled. When we first arrived, I was reminded of the campground my family used to vacation at in Maryland. Initially, I had good feelings about the place. I saw kids racing their bikes around and a few men walking their dogs around while smoking cigarettes. We broke up into groups and took lunch to some of the residents of the trailer park. The first trailer we got to was broken up into three smaller "cabannas" which probably were the size of my kitchen at best-actually probably smaller. Inside the first one we arrived at, a neighborhood friend was helping "Sugy"(nickname for Sugar) who was upwards of 60 years old, fix her dvd player. Sugy was visiting with another friend who's daughter she had used to babysit. After a couple of minutes, we spotted an older man strolling through the trailer park towards us with a  beer can in hand and a smile on his face. He was the dad of the lady visiting Sugy. Within fifteen minutes of us arriving, there were four neighbors all visiting for one reason or another in this mini trailer that Sugy called home. Was it just me, or did this really fit the model of community we are all striving for in our comfortable middle class neighborhoods? I found a sense of comfort in this environment. Maybe I needed to be more sensitive to the physical environment these people are exposed to on a daily basis. Or maybe I need to be more understanding of the barriers these people face just trying to get to the grocery store which is close to a mile's walk as the bus route cut them off a few years back. Maybe I need to advocate for more affordable and better quality housing for these folks as they are paying upwards of $150 per week for these sub standard trailers. Maybe it was just me being selfish and being envious of the community they seemed to have. Obviously, I only got a glimpse into their lives and perhaps we caught them on a sunny day when they felt a rare feeling of friendliness and kindness towards their neighbor. This could be the case, but I tend to think we witnessed the norm rather than the exception. From our view, these people have so little. They are ripped off and taken advantage of. But they have something we don't. They rely on one another for the everyday things that we could pay someone to do, or have the access to that they no longer do. Something as simple as getting groceries or fixing a DVD player, they call on one another to lend a hand when one is in need.
On Sunday night, I had the opportunity to watch "Concrete Mattress", a documentary on homelessness in Atlanta, GA. The "event" was put on by City Church which meets on Franklin St. close to the Fan.
Even though I work for a homeless agency in the community, I often forget where these folks have come from, the stories they have and the struggles they continue to face. The documentary painted a really good picture of the harsh realities of being homeless and the many obstacles these people face. This may be a bold statement, but the more I think about homelessness, the more I realize that homelessness is seeming more and more to be a result the shortcomings of our society, churches, and policy makers. When I hear about "plans to end homelessness" they usually talk about some sort of new subsidized housing project, more affordable housing, or more shelters and transitional housing opportunities. In my opinion, these are efforts to "clean up" homelessness, not to end it. We may be able to get the current homeless population off the streets, but what are we doing for the next generation? What are we doing to reduce barriers, to improve access to services, and to learn from the stories of our current homeless generation? It will not be a senator or a pastor or a citizen that will end homelessness. It will be an entire community that is not afraid to engage in conversations with the homeless, to learn their stories, to visit the bridges they've slept under, to believe that they have a vital role in the betterment of our society.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Taken back

Yesterday, I was walking back to work through the park after lunch with Scott. I experienced something I never had before. For those of you who know me, I work at a community health center in downtown Richmond. The population we primarily serve is the homeless. In Richmond, there are approximately 1,200 homeless individuals, according to the last count in January. We see them all the time, on the street corners, under bridges, at the bus stop, in McDonalds. If you've lived in Richmond for any length of time and been in the the city, you've probably seen a fair share of panhandlers on the street corners or just off the exit ramps that lead into the city. As I walked through a park that has been known for years as a refuge for the homeless, I saw something I can't say I've ever seen before. From a distance all I could make out was a middle aged man sitting on a curb in the park writing something with a black magic marker. As I got closer, I could see that he was more than likely homeless and was writing on a piece of old cardboard that he would probably take to a nearby street corner in the next couple of minutes. As I approached, I slowed my pace as I started to realize the effect this was having on me. As I neared the man, I started to make out what he was writing. His message was simple. The sign read in bold letters, "Please Help". You're probably asking yourself, "What's the big deal? Don't you see this kind of thing all the time?" No, I don't.
I'm still not sure exactly why I was so moved by seeing this man in the physical act of writing out his plea for help. I guess it's just something I never really thought about. Where should have I thought these men and women get their signs? Are they just passed out like bottled water and a warm breakfast might be at a local church on a Sunday morning? Do they somehow drop from the sky and land next to them as they sleep under the stars each night? No.. That's not how it works. I think it is starting to come together.. Regardless about how you or I feel about padhandling, these men and women took time from their day to humble themselves enough to ask for help. Now, you might be the type who thinks that the homeless use that money for the wrong things and the money they acquire is simply perpetuating homelessness. You're probably right- I think that sometimes too. What I think moved me most was seeing this man find the humility he needed to ask another human being, a stranger he has probably never met, for help. How often do we lean on one another for the things we need in life? Our culture seems to be so focused on self reliance and independence that we have forgotten how to ask for help. I guess it was his humility that moved me.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Changing Lives Mitt by Mitt- by Nicholas Kristoff

Quote of the week

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.' Hungry not only for bread - but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing - but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks - but homeless because of rejection.
Mother Teresa

Sunday afternoon creekin'

     Yesterday, Ben and I headed out from Richmond around noon headed for Staton's Creek in Amherst County. It rained the whole drive there and continued to rain until we got home. Wen we arrived, the level was close to 200 cfs. The first time I ran this creek it was close to 125 cfs, so I knew it would be somewhat bigger, but I didn't really know how it would compare. When we put on, we skipped past the entrance rapid as there was sticky hole at the bottom. We ended up scouting most of the run since there was quite a buildup of wood in a lot of the drops. We also skipped over two of the other big drops because of wood, but ended up having a great time on this micro Virginia creek. When we got off, we found out that it has risen close to 300 additional cfs since we put on. We had no idea we were running it close to 500 cfs! All in all, a really fun run. When we got back to Richmond, we were greeted by a surprise party for Ben at our apartment which Peyton had planned out. Definitely a fun way to end a good day of paddling. Additionally, it looks like we've got some big water headed to Richmond, with the James expecting to crest around 13 feet tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Afternoon in DC

  Yesterday afternoon, my Dad and I left Richmond headed for DC to watch Reggie's team play against the Wizards. Reggie Williams was in my class at VMI. Being that we only graduated 215, we were a tight knit class. I had a few classes with Reggie and went to most of the home games at VMI. He was the highest scoring player in the nation our junior and senior year and then played professionally in Europe for two years after college. Last year he was called up from the NBA development league to play for the Golden State Warriors who had some injuries and were in need of a high scoring forward. This is his 2nd year in the NBA and currently has an average of 10.6 ppg this season.
We got to DC around 5:00 and stretched our legs walking around Chinatown and the museum district. We stopped by the Naval memorial and the National Library Reserve. We grabbed some dinner before the game and got to the Verizon center about an hour before the tip off. We were hoping to see Reggie practicing before the game but he stayed in the locker room till the team came out right before the game. Being the first NBA game I've been to, it was actually really impressive. I always thought NBA was a slower paced game than college hoops, but it was actually a much faster paced game than I expected.
The Warriors won the game by 6 and Reggie (55) scored 11 pts. 
A good experience indeed, along with some good times with my dad. Hope to get back next year if Reggie's still in the league. Below are some pictures from the afternoon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011