When My Heart Stops Breaking, It’s Time to Leave

For nearly 26 years I have worked with people who have pushed their own self-destruct buttons, fought without success to break the fetters of addiction and suffered from the callousness of a society that prefers to keep its distance from them.

For nearly 26 years my heart has been broken over and over again. With each new crisis in the life of a person we serve, I re-live the heartbreaks of the past.

As I prepare to visit yet another friend going through a tragedy of monumental proportions (sorry, but I can’t tell you about it right now) a part of me can’t help but pray for a healthy dose of “professional detachment”. That part of me yearns to be able to seal this sad situation in a box that I open only when necessary. The rest of the time I can go on my merry way oblivious to the anguish as I perform the more mundane tasks of ministry.

But is that what I really want?

Is it better to keep that emotional distance, or is it better to feel the pain?  I confess that sometimes I “grow weary in well-doing” and even dream of days without a phone call or vision of someone’s suffering or desperate need,  but over the years I have made a discovery:

Walking with people through their pain, sharing grief in their defeats and joy in their victories is the fuel for my passion.

God’s vision for this ministry is the engine and the Holy Spirit is the spark that gets things started every day. But it’s my passion for the people we serve, our staff, volunteers and donors that keeps the engine running on what has become a very long trip.  And I think I have enough fuel to go just a little farther.

God help me if I lose that passion.  God help me if my heart stops breaking.  When that happens it will be time to leave.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

http://www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

 

An Outrageous Challenge to Christians – What If?

I read a portion of a letter dated March 1, 1775 from John Wesley that struck a nerve with me.  Here is what it said:

As to the public affairs, I wish you to be like minded with me. I am of neither side and yet of both… Private Christians are excused, exempted, privileged to take no part in civil troubles. We love and pray for all with a sincere and impartial love. Faults there may be on both sides but such as neither you nor I can remedy; therefore, let us and all our children give ourselves unto prayer and so stand still and see the salvation of God.

Our country is in strife, although it has seen worse strife.  Remember that time about 150 years ago when a half million of us died at each other’s hands?  Or that time about 240 years ago when we took up arms against each other?

Wesley wrote his letter during a time of great strife and made a bold request to the Christians of the age. Most did not heed his counsel, but the proposition got me to thinking about what would happen if we did that now.

What if we as Christians took a break from fighting battles on issues to focus on prayer?

What if we as Christians sincerely prayed for those who oppose us, not asking God to destroy them or even see our way, but to somehow discover Jesus?

What if we as Christians held our tongues for just a season and gave God a chance to make His voice heard above the din of disagreement?

What if we as Christians could put aside our human tendency to “get even” and offer that undeserved merit we call grace?

What if we as Christians really got to know our opponents to find those things on which we can agree and build a dialog from there?

What if we as Christians started a national “Offer Grace Day” where we made a concerted effort to offer kindness to our enemies? Jesus said something about that, didn’t He?

I know this is extreme. And I have no idea how the world would respond if we did this en masse or even if they would notice, but God would notice. We would notice, and perhaps, just perhaps, we might be changed.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

http://www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

30 Years – Part 4 – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

This is the last in a series of self-indulgent blogs celebrating the 30th Anniversary of my new life in Christ. Check out Teens Opposing Poverty’s Blog for the rest of the story. 

February brought with it the formal filing of divorce papers.  Ever since my “warm honey” experience in November, I had been free of my angst over the situation.  I thought nothing else would bother me about it.

I was wrong.

As I signed the divorce papers, I was overwhelmed with a sense that I was a failure.  Instead of signing my name, I thought I should have written “LOSER.” My feelings took me by surprise and threw me into another funk. It wasn’t the mind-numbing emotional pain I had felt before, but it wore me down nonetheless.

Hoping to change my attitude, I dug into my research with gusto. By Groundhog Day, I had concluded that Christianity, the faith of my childhood, made the most sense both intellectually and in the way it fit with my experiences over the previous three months.

Once I embraced following Jesus on an intellectual level, it was up to the Holy Spirit for my faith to travel that short, but obstacle strewn, path to my heart.

I can’t tell you the date or even what week it was, just that it was February. I remember that it was a clear, dry day and I was cleaning stalls in the barn of my parents’ horse farm. I had scooped up a fork full of horse manure and stood there staring at it with the words “failure” and “loser” filling my mind. I looked at the manure and thought, “This is your life. This is what you are on your own.”

I continued to stare at the manure when, all of a sudden, memories of sitting with my grandfather watching Billy Graham Crusades flooded my thoughts.  I could see the crowds shuffling down the aisle toward the platform.  I remembered the prayer of salvation.

It was time.

“Jesus, without You my life has turned to this. What scares me is that I know I can go lower, and I don’t want that to happen. I know I’m a mess. I know I’m a screw-up. I know I’m a sinner, but You want me despite all of that.  I guess that’s what I see in you that’s so great. I’m yours. You paid a huge price for me. Forgive me for turning away from you and all the other sins I have committed. I can’t begin to count them.  Do what You will with me. You lead. I’ll follow.”

I dumped the manure into the wheelbarrow.  To be honest, I didn’t feel that much different. I just knew I had done the right thing; the best thing. The wild adventures of faith that would follow over the next thirty years and the ones still ahead continue to convince me that I chose the best path.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

http://www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

 

What I Learned from My Dog

Mandy the Little Lady

As the vet was preparing the injections that would end her life, our dog, Mandy, laid her little head on my hand.  With tears flowing, my wife, daughter and I were all gently petting her as she took her last, small breath.

 Mandy had fought a cancerous nasal tumor for a year.  The veterinarian had told us she might last 6 months if we gave her a high-dose radiation treatment.  We refused, and took a natural course that kept her happy and content until the last couple of weeks of her life.  Oh, she had some rough spells, but she would always bounce back. 

 Finally, dental disease we couldn’t treat, combined with the cancer, brought her to a point where she could only eat a little bit at a time.  She began to lose weight quickly, but still was our bright, cuddly puppy.  It wasn’t until the last few days of her life that she grew despondent. On the last day, her expression took on a distant sadness, and she sought out hidden places to curl up and die.  Before we put her in the truck for her final ride, she let us know that she had made her decision about life.  How could we not honor that?

Like most dogs, Mandy loved her family.  Every time we came home she acted like she hadn’t seen us for months even if we had only been gone an hour or two.  If we did something that hurt her, she quickly forgave us like nothing had ever happened.  She loved attention and food more than anything in the world.  A few pets and a full belly was all it took to make her happy.  It makes me want to re-think my desires in life.  Maybe I want a bit too much.  I’ll admit that I might want more than a tummy rub to experience the richest joys in life but do I really need all the stuff I think I need?

 During her illness, Mandy taught us how to face adversity with courage, taking it in stride. Even on her bad days, she would still come up for petting and greet us when we came home.  She didn’t stop trying to get the most out of life just because she was going through hard times.  Mandy looked for, and discovered, every little positive when almost everything around her was negative.

 But the greatest lesson Mandy taught me was a trait she possessed that was rare even for dogs. She loved ALL people.  When Mandy was young, we kept one of Lindsey’s little friends with us for a weekend.  I have to confess that the child was incorrigible the whole weekend.  At one point, I heard Mandy squealing in pain and ran in the next room to find Lindsey’s friend pulling as hard as she could on her ears.  I know a lot of dogs would have would have tried to bite or attack to protect themselves.  But not Mandy.  She never made any attempt to hurt that child.

 God loves all people, regardless of how they look or smell, whether they’re nice or nasty, rich or poor, liberal or conservative (although some of you may disagree with that last one).  My little Mandy demonstrated that kind of love more than any earthly creature I have ever seen.  She never judged anybody and would show love to everybody.  That didn’t make her much of a guard dog, but it sure endeared her to a lot of people.

 So as I take these sentimental moments to reflect on the life of my little dog, my prayer is that I can learn to love all people half as much as she did.

 God’s grace to you,

 Steve Jennings, Executive Director