"dream great dreams and find the courage to live them"

-erwin mcmanus

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

a good latte.

There are times when I miss the sound of the El overhead.  Days when I wish I would hear people speaking other languages.  I miss cultural diversity and the beauty of one's story that comes along with it.  A city full of creatively designed buildings, parks beautifully landscaped and a rich history to make it all come together.  Chicago will always and forever hold a special place in my heart.  I appreciate so much more the hustle and bustle of city life when I haven't been engulfed in it for the last two months.

But at this moment what I really miss are the small, locally-owned coffeeshops and their equally stellar lattes.  Chains just don't make them the same.  With lines out the door, they can't take the time to properly steam the milk so that the froth is poured properly and distributed throughout the drink.  I just really like a good latte.  And it's hard to find here.

I've been so encouraged by the other Bigs the last few days.  I'm thankful for new friends here, and a God who doesn't waver.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

His strength.

David writes:
"I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord."
-Psalm 40:1-3

These words have been so much of an encouragement this last week.
Sometimes I think I'm not strong enough for a job like this one.  Then I have to be reminded that my strength will always be insufficient on my own.  It is God who pulls us up onto a rock.  It is God who hears those cries of desperation.  HE is the one who makes all things work.

Let us praise God for his goodness. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

a glimpse.

Today I got an apology from a girl who was disrespectful to me yesterday.

A glimpse of beauty amidst the ashes :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

though i may break down.

Certain things frustrate me more than others.  One thing on the really frustrating list is when I walk in the door, somebody saying, "Erin, take me downstairs!"  Immediately followed by, "Erin, take me to the weight room!"  Immediately followed by, "Take me to my room!"

Yes, these girls are required to have someone go with them to the weight room, and yes, somebody does have be downstairs for them to come down, and yes, some of the girls can't be in their room by themselves.  But here's the thing:  They don't ask.  They demand it and expect you to comply immediately.  There is a sense of entitlement that runs amok with these girls, and it is pretty much a part of our job description to comply.  It has become a little frustrating - a LOT frustrating, actually.

I just wrote out several more stories about the girls, and then remembered the most important thing - Jesus.  It is not my duty to share all the awful, discouraging things that happen here, no matter how interesting they are.  It is more important to see the need for Jesus in each of the girls.

God often provides little glimpses of encouragement when we need them, doesn't He?  Some of the girls have been so sweet, so wonderful in the midst of the chaos created by the rest of them.  And one of the house directors pulled me aside last night to encourage me, too, and tell me what a good job I've been doing.  Little glimpses of light amidst the darkness.

A friend encouraged me with this quote: "What God has revealed to you in the light, do not forget in the darkness."  And isn't that the truth?  Why does it become so easy to focus on the problem instead of on the One who can come into the problem and redeem it?  To lose sight of the light when everything seems dark...  We are such sad, sinful people.

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." -Psalm 34:8

Friday, March 18, 2011

i will not back down.

Last night I broke the handle of a mug of the girl who intimidates me the most.  I was trying to care for her, to help her fall asleep by making her some chamomile and peppermint tea.  I saw it as the opportunity I had been praying for, to get to know her a little bit better.  And then I end up breaking her mug.

I was terrified of the response she may have, as she's been known to escalate quickly.  She once spit all over another Big's things because she was mad at her.  But I had been praying for a chance to see her softer side, to see who she was beneath the scary front she puts up.  So when I walked back into the room, timid and fearful, and apologized, her response was calm, rational, even flippant, but thankful for the tea anyways.

Why had I not given her the benefit of the doubt?  I mean, having a history of anger and violence does not guarantee that it will be the response in every situation, does it?  There is a real person, a hurting person, beneath the hard exterior, and I intend to dig in.  God has not given up on her, and neither will I.  It's what I'm here for, and I will not back down from it.

I appreciate my time off so much more when it doesn't happen every night.  When we get three hours off in the afternoon and I'm able to go out to lunch with some of the other Bigs, it makes for a great release, a happy interlude to the day of chaos.

Granted, it is spring break right now, so the kids don't have school, which means they go to bed later, and we are with them all day long, planning activities and keeping tabs on their every move, making their meals and cleaning up after their meals, and, well, doing everything.  They start school again on Tuesday, when the schedule will go back to normal.  Then we will have time (though it be in class and at meals..) with the other Bigs.

I am assigned to night coverage starting this Tuesday night.  It's the first real, assigned responsibility I've had so far, and I'm excited/nervous for it!  All it means is checking the girls' rooms in my wing every 10 minutes to make sure they are in bed and make sure their reading lights are out 15 minutes after bedtime.  Simple as it is, it means more contact with the girls.  It means doing something that contributes to this place in a tangible way.

This week I finished my kitchen training (minus the observation shifts, to be scheduled over the next few weeks) and I did my van training, so I can now drive the Shelterwood vehicles so I can take girls on one-on-ones if I want to.  Soo good.  Wednesday is med training, where I learn how to properly dispense the medication that these girls take on a daily basis - another way to tangibly help out in the house.

Sigh.  So much goes into doing this job.  I aspire to be a lifelong learner, whether it be deepening the knowledge I already have, or learning about new things.  I am thankful that I can learn so much here. :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

giving up.

We give up on people far faster than God does, don't we?

There have been several people in my life about whom I had basically thought, "She is a hopeless cause.  A mess, really.  God wouldn't want to deal with them, either."  Now, that thought may not have been iterated so concisely nor blatantly, and certainly not verbally, but it was still there, whether I acknowledged it or not.  God, on the other hand, had different plans.  Over the last few years, God has blown my mind with the people He has drawn to himself and I am in awe.

When my family moved into the house they live in now, we had some of the worst luck with neighbors.  A couple of the kids were so mean and awful and to my little sister that she would come home crying.  She would sometimes hide when they came to the door so that she didn't have to go out and play with them.  Another neighbor went off and on like that. She was sometimes nice to Kristen, and sometimes mean.  Sometimes manipulative, sometimes caring.

Kristen spent hours upon hours praying for this girl - for the last eight years!  Kristen never gave up hope; Kristen never let those mean words prevent her from praying that this girl would come to know the Lord.

On Wednesday night, she made a decision to follow Jesus!  Praise God!

God had not given up on her.  Kristen hadn't given up on God.  But we gave up on it.  Why do we give up hope?  Why do we doubt the goodness of God and His ability to save people?  He pulls us out of the pit.  He makes us clean.  He redeems us.  No matter how entrenched we are in the mire.

It makes me think of the girls here.  One, in particular, scares me.  She blew up at me the first night I was here and I've been intimidated ever since.  She says she's an atheist and she says she's bisexual, which makes the intimidation all the more intense.  But who am I to give up on her?  To (ashamedly) hope that she gets pulled from the program?

Lord, help me to see people with your eyes and with your heart - to know that you are capable of doing far more than we ask or imagine, hope or think.  You are God, worthy of all our praise.

Today I bought Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggemann.  I am so excited to start going through it!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

enjoy every day.

Looking back at some old posts was encouraging tonight.  I was reminded of some important truths that I had learned and subsequently forgot.

In one post in particular, back in January, I wrote:
"While 2011 will certainly include another transition, another move, more new people in a new city, I hope to truly enjoy my time there instead of anticipating what's next.

This is my challenge:  Find something to enjoy about every day - use excitement for the future to enjoy life now.  Each day is a beautiful gift from the Lord; let us not forget we are given life in abundance."

Let this be a reminder for today, and for every day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"How to Save a Life"

As promised, here is an inside look at The Fray's song "How to Save a Life."
(listen to it here)

I never understood this song until I came to this place and the intern here told me its background.  Here goes:

The Fray came to the old Denver site of Shelterwood (the place where I'm now working in Kansas City) to lead worship on a weekend retreat.  Everyone split up into prayer partners for the weekend, including the band members.  The lead singer wrote this song after being paired with a young man who was nearly suicidal and praying with him over the weekend.  The lyrics reflect a deep concern for the kid and for his well-being.  So much meaning, so much pleading, behind these words.

Check out these lyrics:  ("you" refers to the singer, "he" refers to the teen)

Step one you say we need to talk, He walks you say sit down it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you, You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame, You begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Let him know that you know best, Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense, Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong, The things you've told him all along
And pray to God he hears you, And pray to God he hears you

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

As he begins to raise his voice You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road Or break with the ones you've followed
He will do one of two things:  He will admit to everything
Or he'll say he's just not the same, And you'll begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

The lyrics that affect me the most, I think, are "I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life."  We, as the mentors here, don't have all the answers.  Nothing we say or do can prevent these kids from making the same bad choices again and again.  Nothing we say can relieve them of their fierce self-consciousness or their self-centered worlds.  Nothing we say can pull them out of their darkness.  Only God can.  We can pray, we can be there, but it isn't us who do anything - it's Christ in us and through us who influence these teens.  This is becoming more and more of a reality as I delve into a life here:  The focus must remain on Christ or it is utterly meaningless.

So if/when you hear this song, will you pray for the kids here?  And for troubled teens in general?  Let this song be a reminder of the hurt that so many feel, but that so many hide.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

thoughts on redemption.

"I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened."
-Fyodor Dostoevsky


Girl N gets mad this morning before church when she's told that rather than sleeping through the service, she has to sit and stand with the congregation regardless her actual participation in the worship.  She gets mad and stands through the whole service (Thankfully we were up in the balcony so it wasn't too disruptive).

On the way home from church she's singing worship songs with the rest of us at the top of her lungs.

Girl O went on a rant of fury yesterday, yelling and cursing out another one of her wingmates.  All of this started while she was sitting on her bed reading her Bible.

Today she tells me that she wants a tattoo on her arm that reads: "If God is with me, whom shall I fear?"
There's something missing between knowledge and actions, between belief and the outpouring of that belief in one's everyday life, and it breaks my heart.  At the same time, I am excited to become a part of their learning process, their growth, their recovery.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


After talking with a few people about why it has been so hard for me to be here (aside from it being an overwhelming new experience..), I realize that my giftings do not necessarily line up with the relational side of this ministry.  My strengths lie in the planning, the organizing, the administrative side of things - not in working one-on-one with the teens.  So as I do this job for the next ten months, I need to keep in mind that it is only ten months and there is no real commitment after that.  This will be a learning experience, but one that I'm not entirely comfortable with (which usually means the most growth).

So hello to uncomfortable situations and learning to strengthen my weaknesses.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


As I work to understand the Shelterwood system and the philosophy behind their ministry, I have a lot on my mind.  What is the best way to discipline these teens?  What is the most effective way of treating them to affect real change in their lives?

Oo, I have an "official" job title, too!  I am technically Direct Care Staff, which might give a better explanation of what this job entails, if you're familiar with residential treatment facilities.  It just sounds so much better, so much more official, than simply "mentorship staff," doesn't it?

This afternoon I have my first official "day off" (Which really just means noon to midnight.  I'll take what I can get :))  The first thing I did was drive into Kansas City - somehow being in the same buildings for a whole week made me anxious to get out and see other people and new things.  So I explored a little.

Advertised as a "Road Trip for Your Soul," I found the Kauffman Gardens a great place to do just that - to quiet my mind, process the week, and allow God to refresh my soul.
In the summer I'm sure the outdoor gardens are just as beautiful as the indoor one was.  I look forward to coming back here when the flowers are in bloom and the fountains are running. :)

A few more places/things I found as I explored:
I happened upon the Kansas City Sculpture Garden.  Before I knew where I was,
these big birdies (shuttlecocks, if you will) sure did throw me for a loop!

I like this area a lot so far, though I haven't seen too much of it.  One wish:  locally-owned coffeeshops.  There just aren't any outside of downtown, which is too far away to make quick trips.  Sigh.  I will have a proper latte again someday - just not today.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

the ugly parts.

The busy-ness of this life here is similar to that of a summer camp staff, but the severity of it is exponentially greater.  Instead of hanging out with the girls in the craft shop or shooting BB guns with them, we sit in the hallway while they have study hall.  We have to maintain legal "coverage" in all areas of the building, so if we leave a room, we have to make sure that there are enough adults there, or that some of the kids come with us.

Each room has a lockbox, containing razors, nail clippers, tweezers, compact mirrors, nail polish, white-out, sharpies, sewing needles - anything that could possibly be used for self-harm.  These items are kept under close watch, as many of the girls struggle with this.  The restrictions are lengthy, yet the girls a given quite a bit of freedom within the regulations.  All this is to say that life here is like nothing I've experienced before - And I'm not even integrated all the way yet - just wait until all my training is done and I'm really in the mix!

Each week I will meet with my discipleship group, which is with the intern and another girl who arrived here last month.  This morning we had our first "meeting" at Einstein's bagels where we sipped coffee and talked about God and his desire to be in our brokenness.  So often we try to hide the parts of ourselves that we find unattractive - the things that are hard, the faults, the thoughts that need to change, our doubts - ugly parts.

The beautiful pat of being broken is that God comes to us as we are.  He doesn't require us to be beautiful, to be perfect, to be fixed (in fact, we cannot possibly be those things without him).  These girls here have experienced so much, they have been faced with circumstances that nobody should have to deal with.  Regardless their openness to God's healing, they are openly broken.

This is not going to be an easy job, but, my goodness, will it make a difference in the lives of these teens.  I get to show them Jesus, get to know them, and love them every day - what better way to minister to them than this?

The inside scoop on The Fray's "How to Save a Life"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

i press on.

Who knew that it would start this way?
Last night, I spent time with Kristi and Sam, friends from Northwestern.  Conveniently, they live in Cedar Rapids, which is exactly halfway between Green Bay and Kansas City, so I was able to spend the night there!  Playing games with them and other Northwestern alumni was a good time to reminisce.

But I had a headache through the entire night of games.  I ignored it and woke up with a dry throat and a cough, which led to an other headache and now chills.  Who wants to move to a new city, start a new thing, a hard thing, no less, when they're sick?  Yeah, me neither.

Within the first hour, one of the teens who I share a room with swore at me (repeatedly), ordered me to leave, threatened to pierce her nipples if I didn't, and told me to find her some pot.  And that was just one girl.

This is what I signed up for.  What else did I expect?  These kids are here for a reason.  They need love - they need stability - they need Jesus.

So here I sit in Panera, about 20 minutes from the facility, eating dinner, processing what just happened, and trying to take on a new perspective.  Will you pray with me for strength?  To depend on God?

Hosea 6:3 says: "Press on to know the Lord and as surely as the coming of the dawn, He will respond."
I press on.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I arrived back in Green Bay almost exactly a month ago.  This has been the most time I've spent here since I graduated high school - and I have loved it.  My family all got together tonight for a little goodbye gathering and we just had so much fun.  Hilarious memories were relived, jokes were made, and games were played - all in the name of good family fun.  I love them.

Moving frequently for the past six years, I realize every time that I have far too many possessions that I cart around with me, from one dorm room to the next apartment.  This move to Kansas City, I have made a concerted effort to pack lightly and learn to live simply.  One small under-bed storage container of summer clothes, one suitcase of winter clothes.

It's the shoes that are hard.

It's always the thought that "well, maybe I'll need my black heels and the brown ones won't be enough!  I mean, I can't wear brown heels with a black dress!"  I feel so shallow with all these black/brown thoughts running through my head, all so apparently important.  I find myself with a small laundry basket full of shoes, heels and flip flops, flats and chacos, tennis shoes and wedges - a sign of my materialism and my nearly-failed attempt to pack lightly for this year.

I think to myself - "Why is it so hard for me to leave behind these shoes?"  The answer lies in materialism - a dependence on things instead of on God.  So often I cling to my favorites (and even my non-favorites) because I would hate to not have this oh-so-important item that I might possibly use one time in the next 12 months.  How ridiculous am I?!  While I'm talking about shoes here, the problem goes far beyond the foot-coverings.  Yes, this lies in the heart.

Tomorrow morning I'm sorting back through my shoes - praying for a healthier perspective.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

always a journey.

I had the privilege of spending time with an old mentor, now friend, this morning at one of my favorite coffeeshops in Green Bay (Kavarna).  A stellar combination. :)

When I'm with the people I knew so long ago (which I realize is relative, considering high school was only six years ago) I remember who I used to be and see how much has changed since.  I remember consistently turning to Shannon to rant about my parents and their ridiculous rules/punishments/everything - and she bringing me back to reality and pointing out my awful lack of respect for their authority.  My, how far I've come.