Monthly Archives: July 2011

Who Really Are the Poor?

I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the poor.  I live in an innercity neighborhood, 3 blocks away from the projects.  The city in which I live was recently ranked #4 in the nation for the most violent cities in America.  It seems like our local news is one major crime story after another.

(Grand Avenue bridge)

And yet this is where we chose to live.  The reasons for why we stay are very different from why we came, and who we were when we came here 6 years ago is very different from who we are now.

(an improvised basket for basketball – just down the street from our home)

There are many opportunities to serve the poor in our neighborhood.  There are grassroots efforts to mobilize the good in people and to build relationships within members of the community, and my husband serves as a community organizer for our local neighborhood organization.

There are also a lot of people who come to our communities to serve the poor. They come in from their comfortable locations filled with good intentions, some money or food, and a lot of ideas about how things work.  They will only stay when they realize that they themselves ARE the poor.

Elitism is the sickness of us all.  It is at the heart of every form of racism.  The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them.  Sometimes we’ll discover that our worst enemy is inside our own hearts, and not on the outside.

When we moved from affluent north Dallas to our innercity home in New England, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I felt much better about myself.  In Dallas, we were on the short end of the financial stick and were surrounded by others living in extravagance.   People who actually vacationed, who planned on getting their teenagers getting new cars at 16, who spent money freely at the mall.

When we moved to an innercity neighborhood, our income didn’t change, but the comparison did.  Suddenly we were surrounded by people who were wrestling with food security, struggling to get gas money, and hoping to find work enough to care for their families.  On this continuum, I found that I came out pretty well.  Sadly, that translated into how I viewed myself, and according to that assessment, I came out smelling pretty good.

When I realized this ugliness in my heart, it took a conscious effort for me to rethink my assessment of who was really poor.

Jesus came to bring good news TO the poor; not to those who SERVE the poor.  I think we can truly only experience the good news of Jesus in and through our own poverty.  The kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the poor who are crying out for love, the poor in relationships.

With those standards, I encourage you to think through who really are the poor…

(Quinnipiac River)
(All pictures by Josiah Janke)

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A Year of Memories #2

Our neighbors pulled out yesterday morning.  I guess I could replace the word “neighbors” with “family,” and the end result is that my insides feel like they’ve been scraped raw.  I walked through their empty house and remembered and felt.

My favorite memories of our neighbors:

Loud, crazy birthday parties for their kids.
Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations with their families.
All of the many cookouts that we shared.
Working and attending events at our neighborhood park.
Seeing their little girls’ faces pop up over our fence and the many conversations with them that way.
Eating sushi with them for the first time.
Going to the citywide Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Attending Spamalot with them.
A spontaneous evening of renting a movie with them.

There are just too many to list.   Some of my favorites are just the day to day conversations we had with them over the years.  Their friendship and fellowship will leave a big hole in our lives.

These next few scrapbook pages were put in the memory book that I made to capture the past year of our childcare for them.

The following close up is the story behind this page.

The heart “balloons” were cut out from antique (around 1915) magazines that were my grandmother’s.

The next page is doing art projects with both of their girls.  As I said on an earlier post, we rarely had their middle daughter at our house, because she went to day care right down the street from where her mom worked.  But on this day, we had the honor of spending a little extra time with her.

Little Aksel made us giggle this day when he fell asleep with his pacifier on his thumb.

I found making the pages throughout the year quite therapeutic, and if you’ll indulge me a little while longer, I am also finding writing about shared experiences and memories also therapeutic.   There are more pages to come and I’ll share more over the next few days.

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A Year of Memories – #1

Three weeks before school started this last year, the nanny that our neighbors had counted on for the school year moved to Texas.  There were no hard feelings – her husband had secured a job that required them to move.  However, it put our neighbors in a bad situation.

A little history…a week after we moved from the South to New England, our neighbors moved from North Dakota.  The husband had completed medical school, but was continuing his studies at Yale.  They had a 6 month old daughter, furniture that wouldn’t be delivered for 3 weeks, and knew no one in the area. Our family used its week-old knowledge of the neighborhood to help get them settled, to help them get to know the area, and secure people to help them unload their moving truck when it arrived.    That was the relational beginning of the best set of neighbors we’ve ever had.

And somewhere along the way, our neighbors turned into precious friends.  These past 6 years, we’ve had many cookouts and many spontaneous evenings, and we credit them for introducing us to the amazing world of sushi.  They watched our kids grow from 6, 8, 10 and 12 to a grown up 12, 14, 16 and 18.  And we watched them produce another little girl and a little son.

Now fast-forward to the fall of 2010, and we find ourselves sitting in our backyard discussion options for them in light of the fact that their nanny just moved away.  I’m not exactly sure what inspired to me do so (I am not a natural babysitter), but I found myself offering to be their nanny.  It would involve care for their 2 1/2 month old son, and before and after school care (and transportation to and from school) for their 5 year old daughter.  We hammered out a few details, and before we knew it, we had a closer relationship with their family than we ever dreamed.

At some point in the year, the mama decided that she wanted to go to law school, took and aced the GRE exam, and chose a school in Minnesota she would attend (with a full-ride scholarship, I might add!).  Of course, that meant that their family would be moving to Minnesota after the school year completed.

There are so many stories to be told about how we fell in love with their kids, about the beautiful things it brought out in mine, and how it blessed both of our families to be so linked to each other, but the reason for this post is to give some background to a scrapbook that I created for them.

As soon as we knew that they would be moving and that the time with them would be drawing to a close, I began crafting a scrapbook to commemorate this year of childcare.  Last week, I gave it to them.  Through tears, we all went through the activities captured in the memory book.  It was a tribute to our friendship and to how much in love with their kids we fell.

Here are a few shots.

As the caption says, this page tries to capture the few first days with our new family members.  To capitalize on the early aspect, I used some of my late grandmother’s antique magazines (around 1915 – 1928) to accent the pictures.

While our neighbors have 3 children, we only nannied for 2 of them, because the middle child went to a preschool near her mama’s work.  We didn’t get to see nearly enough of Alex, so when it came time for her birthday (pretty early into the school year), we had a little party for her at our house.

And for a little close up…

This page says it all.  I used a Cricut paper cutter to create the smilie faces and to cut out the words.

I’ll post more of the pictures in the days to come.  As we watch our friends pack up for their move, these pictures become even more of a treasure to us – and I hope to them as well.


Filed under Memory Archiving

Serene Saturdays #18

As the day approaches when my friends all move away, my heart gets heavier and heavier.  It is hard to say that I’m serene.  Just below the surface of managing daily life is a churning river of grief and/or anger.  I’m not sure why I’m angry – I just recognize that its there.

I was speaking with a friend yesterday about the people who are leaving our lives and what impact it is having on me, and she put some unique words to what I’m experiencing.  She said that I am suddenly left with a lot of space in my life where my friends have been.

A lot of space.  I saw a visual of that as soon as she said it. Where life was filled with activity, trust, relationship, being known, a safety net, entertainment, help in parenting my kids, partners in outreach activities, etc, now there is nothing but space.  Maybe that’s why this feels so empty.

So the question is, with what do I fill that space?

The obvious answer is new friends.  But that isn’t something that I can manufacture or create on my own.

For now, I’m going to fill it with as much gratitude as I can generate.

This week I am thankful for:

*  Friends that met us soon after we moved here and attached themselves to us.  They hooked their vision and their dreams to our arrows and flew with us.

*  Friends that moved across the nation to join with us in community outreach.  What was on our heart was always on their hearts – whether it was work, ministry, kids, finances, or fun.

* Neighbors that quickly became much, much more than neighbors.  Friends who worked with us to redefine what we could expect from living life side by side, and who encouraged and supported us freely.

* A family that has been patient with the moments when the churning river of grief and/or anger breaks through the very thin surface of managing daily life.


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Role Reversal

I really haven’t thought much about the day that I’ll need to rely on my kids. Probably because I have been in such good health, and also because my parents are in such good health and they haven’t had to rely on me.

That day came a lot sooner than I expected.

As I have written, two weeks ago I broke my left ankle.  I hobbled around for 3 days before getting a diagnosis and a stabilizing boot.  During those three days, I was completely dependent on my husband and kids.  I had many tears as I tried to navigate our stairs or to simply go to the bathroom.  It was a helpless feeling, extremely frustrating, and very humbling.

What compounded my discouragement was the fact that my husband would be leaving for two weeks, and I would find myself in a position to rely solely on my kids.  Other than the extreme basics (going to the bathroom and bathing myself), I would need to rely on them for everything.

So here I am in the middle of the two weeks.   I think we’ve weathered these days pretty well.  I have depended on them for glasses of water, going into the grocery store to retrieve and pay for items on my list, running into Target for household supplies, and especially helping with the little ones for whom we nanny.

The kids came through for me.  Because of their insistence, I wasn’t allowed to make any move in the house without questions as to whether it was necessary that I move.  I wasn’t allowed to go up or down stairs without assistance.  I had kids jumping up to retrieve whatever it was that I thought that I needed.  I had one son who repeatedly yelled, “We have a roller!” whenever he saw me starting to walk somewhere.  (Why he yelled that, I don’t even think he knew.  I had a rocking boot – not a walker with wheels or a wheelchair…).  That was his alarm to let the kids know that they needed to watch out for me.

I certainly didn’t want to be in this position.   I am not a good patient, nor one who willingly asks to be served.   For the last 18 years, the role has been that I am the one taking care of the needs of my children.

I believe that I will forever see little kids within the faces of my children, no matter how old they get.  Therefore, it makes stepping out of myself and seeing glimpses of their adult selves so special. What I saw was reassuring and made me so proud.  These four kids, who haven’t seen me as one in need on a regular basis, stopped their lives to make sure that I was safe.  Even more than that, they went above and beyond to make sure that I was comfortable.  It made me so proud to see their capacity and desire to serve – even if it was me that they were serving.

It was like having a glimpse into the future and being able to exhale a huge sigh of relief…


Filed under Family and faith

Celebrating My Son

Today was my younger son’s birthday.  It was pretty low-key, because we bought him his big birthday present (an android phone) when his old phone died a month ago.   It’s thrilled his heart for a month, but it is still hard to sell something that you got a month ago as a birthday present.  His sibling got him gifts, but his brother is out of town at a camp, so the brother’s energy and creativity were missing in the day of celebration.

Also, he is joining his dad on a trip to Honduras tomorrow morning, so much of our activity was spent getting them ready to be on a 6am flight.

My life drastically changed the day that this son was born.  My first two were placid and easy-going.  This little guy was born opinionated.  He cared how I held his head.  He cared if he was wet/dirty/cold.  And he made lots of noise.  I’ve said for 14 years that this son made me learn how to parent differently.  The style that I’d used for the older two was thrown out the window when he came along.

But let me tell you, the flexing and adjusting that I’ve had to do has been so worth it!  This son is unique, happy, deep, passionate and energetic.  He brings a freshness to our family and delights our hearts on a daily basis.

He is a collector – a collector of toys, ideas, potential careers, hobbies, inventions, knowledge.  If he has an idea, he tries it.  Many are the times that I hear banging from the basement because he is attempting to build something that he saw in his mind. He has created 3 entire languages, complete with pronunciation and grammatical rules.  He is in the process of writing a story that explains/uses one particular created language.

The thing about this boy is that you NEVER know what he’s going to do.  Ever.  He got an idea of a way to better our neighborhood, and before we knew it, he had a Facebook page and a website dedicated to sending out his weekly challenges.  He presently has over 70 followers in 4 different countries.

When he was little, it didn’t matter where we were going in the car, he was excited.  His little face beamed and his whole body rocked with excitement. He still does that.  He is always ready for an adventure, and actually needs fun things planned in his day to which he can look forward.

He also needs plenty of introspective down time.  He is a thinker, and uses time alone to contemplate big thoughts.  To observe his world.  To create new ones.

He also is a great communicator.  Words come easy to him, and he loves sharing what he’s recently researched or learned.  And he knows a lot, because he is an expert at googling answers to ANY question that he has.  There isn’t one day that goes by that he hasn’t wondered something, looked up the answer to his wondering, and then shared it with all of us.

Today, my husband’s business partner had a son.  He will share the same birthday with my son.  Imagining what this sweet couple is going through as they begin the journey with their son brings me back to the journey we began 14 years ago with ours.  I pray that their baby is as full of life, as creative, as loving and kind as ours.  If so, they will be blessed indeed – as we are.

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Filed under Family and faith