May 2013 Posts

(Ab)Normal

Written by, Josh Littlejohn Volunteer Coordinator, Lawrence Street Shelter

Part of my job involves giving tours of Jesus SavesDenver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter.  I start my tours off with: “Homelessness, poverty, mental illness, addiction, hard times…these things don’t have a favorite flavor they like to pick on.” Last week, I was reminded of that.

I swore to myself that I would never let what I see every day at Lawrence Street Shelter be “normal” for me. Or, that I would never let what I see at work each and every day be “just another day on the job.” Seeing this brokenness in the world isn’t supposed to be normal, is it?

In fact, I swore that if I ever got to that point, I’d hand in my two-week notice and find somewhere else easier to work. However, I was humbled last week when I saw more women, children and new faces in for lunch. In fact, Chef Josh and I agreed, that there were more new faces than “regulars.”

It’s days like this past Sunday that are hard, weighty and make me wonder, “Is this the normal?”

Then I remembered what I say to all the groups that come in to learn more about Denver Rescue Mission: Homelessness. Poverty. Mental illness. Addiction. Hard times. Divorce. Domestic Violence. They do not have a favorite person they like to pick on. These things shouldn’t be our normal.

Our normal and God’s normal are different. When we see abnormal – God sees perfection. When God set out in the process of creation, He did so with the intent that everything would bring Him glory. That it would all be perfect, whole and complete; that all of creation would be a reflection of His character. That was what God intended for ‘normal.’

Instead, last week I saw the opposite. When sin came into the world, these things: mental illness, addiction, poverty, among others became part of our world.

God’s solution to sin’s ‘new normal’ of disease, disobedience, addiction was the sacrifice of His Son. That was abnormal. We are called to be abnormal with Jesus, if we hope to make a dent in the sin of this world.

As I watched new face upon new face pour into the dining hall for lunch I felt something deep in my spirit say, “Josh, I love them.” God was reminding me that in the midst of sin’s “new normal,” He was doing something abnormal. He loved them, regardless of their circumstances. We, too, are called to unconditionally love one another.

If we continue to do what we’re supposed to do, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we too will be abnormal. We too will love unconditionally. We too will lay down everything so that we can break the cycle of normalcy that sin has set as the standard in our world today.

So, as I was humbled today in accepting this as the new normal in the world, I was quickly reminded that Jesus is still here in the midst of it all. It is only through His love and sacrifice that things are restored to what God intended: perfection and wholeness.

Jesus’ love gets us there. All it takes for us is to be okay with being abnormal.

Leave us your feedback and comments – we’d love to hear from you!

Rachel’s Lens // “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

The first event I ever shot for Denver Rescue Mission was the winter graduation ceremony (you can read it here). I remember feeling a little nervous and overwhelmed, but so encouraged by all of our graduates. There was cheering and tears all around.

Well today was my first spring ceremony and it did not disappoint. In the prayer with the graduates before the ceremony began, Brad Meuli (CEO and President) said, “Today is one of the best days we have at Denver Rescue Mission.” And you could feel the palpable happiness in the room. We see a lot of hard stuff, but it makes the good stuff that much better.

Denver Rescue Mission celebrated 11 GED graduates

One of the speakers was Don, a former program participant and current coworker of mine at Denver Rescue Mission. I’ve known him for months, shared meals with him and interacted with him on a daily basis. I feel like I know him fairly well. But to hear the details of his story were incredible. I found myself coughing to choke back tears the whole time.

The other speaker was a local worship leader who has a story similar to a lot of our program participants. He rejoices in almost eight years of sobriety and encouraged our participants and graduates that they, too, can achieve their goals and the lives they seek. I was honored to sit with and photograph such strong individuals who have overcome so much.

The second speaker talked about how all of us are at a different point in our stories. Today we celebrated some really significant events, but communally acknowledged that some people are still in the thick of it, enduring some hard times. And that is the miracle of Denver Rescue Mission. The community is here to celebrate, lift up, guide, and encourage people at any stage of life, at any point in their story.

I’m reminded of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It was incredible to see people come up victorious today.

Now choose life :: Champa House

Written by, Robbin Brown, Education Coordinator at Champa House

“…Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20

This is one my favorite scriptures, and it came to life last year. I’m the Education Coordinator at Denver Rescue Mission’s Champa House.  My role is to educate single mothers, assist women earning their GED, teach life skills, and help these women navigate through a career development course. The goal of Life Skills, Education and Career (LEC) is to identify a woman’s personal, academic and vocational potential and how to develop the skills she needs to reach them.

The New Life Program is a life-transforming process. Women come to us broken down by life ready to learn how to choose life, not only for themselves, but for their children too.

Choosing life can take on many different forms, but one that I have seen these women choose is the life that Deuteronomy talks about. The scripture says, “The Lord is your life.” Some of these women come from the deepest, darkest trials. Some have had their children permanently removed from their care because of drug addiction. Some have given up everything for “love” only to find out the man they gave their heart to didn’t really want it. Some have had it all by our world’s standards and lost it in a moment. Before they chose life, they had to completely humble themselves and reach out for help. By taking that brave step, they chose life.

What does choosing life look like? A woman having her five children removed from her custody due to drug addition, enters the New Life Program and graduates from Champa House with a full-time job as a Dental Assistant.  Women who once found 100 percent of their worth in what one man tells them realized that their true worth is found in God. Women who thought their lives were over because of their choices realize that God really does work all things, yes all things, for good to those who are called according to His purpose. Mothers who at one time weren’t sure they even wanted their children begin to see their children in a whole new way and become some of the best mothers I know. Broken relationships in families are restored. Healing happens in ways that can’t be explained and second chances happen.  Choosing life doesn’t mean that nothing hard ever happens or that your children will suddenly never have to face tough times. When you choose life, when you choose the Lord your God and listen to His voice and hold fast to Him, you finally have something to live for.

As I watch these women day after day choose life, I have to ask myself, “What I am choosing?” The scripture is clear that we are all given a choice. Life or death? Until we hold fast to our Heavenly Father, we will never truly live. What does my life reflect? I am thankful for the lessons I have learned from the ladies here at Champa House. I am reminded daily of what choosing life really means. Now I ask you, are you really living? How are you choosing life today?

the beautiful ladies of Champa House

 

Rachel’s Lens // “I’m new to this”

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

I was very, very sick this week. This post may reflect that in its length.

I’m extremely excited for June’s issue of our Changing Lives Newsletter. Without giving too much away, below is a sneak preview.

I’ve spent most of the week running around and having some very interesting conversations…can’t wait to fill you all in next month. 🙂

Intern Post // More than 26 miles, More than 520 meals

Written by, Natalie Ziemba, Intern

For George and I, running the Colfax Marathon is more than 26 miles. We set a goal of $1,000 to donate to Denver Rescue Mission. As interns at the Mission, we see the life change that happens, but we also see the great need in our community. Raising $1,000 means 520 meals will be provided to the homeless, but it’s also more than meals. It’s about hope!

In conversation, I asked George why he was motivated to run the marathon as a fundraiser, “Well Ziemba, when people come to Denver Rescue Mission, we try to give them everything they need. They get a place to sleep, a warm meal, but more than that…we give them hope.”

Which is absolutely true, and the value of hope can never be underestimated. In fact, I think hope is essential for daily survival. Denver Rescue Mission provides all kinds of services to address temporary and chronic homelessness, striving to meet the physical needs of the homeless population in Denver (which, at the last count, topped 12,000 people on any given night).

For George, a native from Africa, the reality of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in Denver was completely unexpected. He always tells me that his friends and family back in Africa can’t fathom problems like that in a place like America. In the land of plenty, how can people go without basic needs?

For me, the reality has been there all along. I have had plenty of opportunities to go on mission trips and volunteer my free time to help out in my community, and I always knew that homelessness was a huge and persistent problem. But what could I possibly do about it?

Take action. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away; something must be done. We have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to leave our community better than we found it.  We can all do this. Running a marathon is certainly a challenge, but so is changing the world.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

This is a call for you and me to invest our lives to do things that have eternal significance. Providing meals might solve a temporary problem, but instilling hope is eternal.  Please join us to make this a reality!

To support Natalie and George, click here.

The runners // George and Natalie

Rachel’s Lens // Moving for the 23rd time in 8 years

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

I’m moving today…for the 23rd time in eight years. I know, I know, that sounds a little crazy. But it’s also very true. I’ve lived in cramped studio apartments, college dorms, rat-infested houses, other people’s guest rooms, century-old row homes, and even in a mansion. But I have never once been able to call one place my very own. I don’t decorate, I don’t arrange furniture well and truthfully, I don’t think I’ve truly unpacked all of my belongings since 2005.

There were parts of that lifestyle that were so appealing. If I didn’t like the small kitchen, it was fine because it was only temporary. If the toilet or showerhead broke, someone else paid for the repairs. Bad roommates? I was out in three months. I could fit almost all my stuff into my tiny Honda.

But there were gaping holes in my life when I was constantly in flux. My relationships could only reach shallow levels since I never knew when I was leaving a place behind. My mind constantly chased the “next big thing.” Because I hadn’t committed to a place for long-term, I never settled into a job long enough to genuinely invest. Community? How do you build community without consistent neighbors?

So many of the people that I interview here live a life in flux. Some are forced from their homes because of overdue mortgages or abusive relationships or something as simple as bed bugs. Some live on the streets because of loss or addiction or mental illness. Life happens. But at some point, their trials led them to Denver Rescue Mission, to community. For most of our program participants, this is the first time in years or even decades that they have found stability in the midst of a wandering lifestyle. Some have been craving it without knowing it and relish in the new support system. Some try to put up a privacy fence around themselves, keeping others out. I relate to the second group.

Can I be honest? I’m scared – terrified even – to grow roots and settle down. Life is so much easier when you get to start over every couple months. It’s like getting a bunch of second chances at being the person you want to be and ignoring all the mistakes you made in that last place. But, because of my conversations with our program participants, I’ve realized that this is a completely unrealistic way of living life. What is life for if not for connecting with others, building community and growing together in Christ? How do I improve without the insight and experiences of others? The people I meet each day remind me that even though community is hard, raw and honest, it’s also the only way any of us are going to make it.

Not one person I’ve interviewed has said: “Yes. Living a life of isolation was WAY better. I hate having all this help.” Sure, it was more difficult for some to embrace community living with a smile. But I can guarantee that each of them would tell you that the tough conversations, the probing and unwelcomed questions and the intentional prayers are the sole reason they are living a self-sufficient lifestyle today.

Many people call Denver Rescue Mission home for a season in their lives. They are changed forever by Christ. It’s because of these stories that I welcome this permanent and hopefully final move. I’ve chosen Denver. I’ve chosen these people. And as scary as it is to anchor my feet somewhere, it gets less scary when I realize it’s at Denver Rescue Mission.

Staff Spotlight // Tom Konstanty

Written By Danielle Charbonneau Public Relations Intern

Working at Denver Rescue Mission and being a part of Denver’s recovery community, I frequently hear miraculous stories of personal transformation. The details are different, but the story is the same. A person hits rock bottom, spirals in to a pit of despair and experiences darkness like they never knew possible. Hopeless and alone, they collapse and cry out in desperation. Then, somehow — like the Phoenix rising from the ashes — they are plucked from the sinking ship and brought to dry land. They transcend their circumstances and become a new creation — unrecognizable, even to themselves.

As these people recall their past, it’s as if they’re remembering some distant nightmare they once had. They are so far from that place now, that connecting the dots from where they were to where they are is hard to do. Even though they lived it, they can’t quite explain what happened to them. It’s as if something supernatural has occurred.

And in fact, that’s what most of them conclude: that it was, without a doubt, the hand of God. He did for them what they could not do for themselves. He rescued and restored them. He changed their lives forever. And now, as they speak of their present reality, they glow. They have found unspeakable joy. They radiate from the inside out with an unmistakable, profound gratitude for life.

I have sat face-to-face with many people wearing that grateful glow. I can picture it with crystal clarity. And it’s what I pictured recently when I read an email from Tom Konstanty, the Assistant Director of Programs and Operations at Fort Collins Rescue Mission. The email was his response to a few questions I had asked him in preparation for this month’s staff spotlight.

The responses themselves weren’t particularly elaborate, and yet, I could still somehow sense that “thing,” that glow I’ve become so accustomed to. Although simple, I still felt that his responses communicated a story of rescue, redemption and transformation.

The email reminded me of something important: it’s not just the people in our programs who have access to God’s transformative power — it’s also our staff, our volunteers, our donors and readers — it’s all of us. We can all tap in, and be changed by, God’s loving power. So thank you Tom for that reminder, even if you didn’t intend on giving it.

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Interview with Tom Konstanty (Assistant Director of Programs and Operations, Fort Collins Rescue Mission)

1) DC: Tell me about where you grew up, what your family is like, what’s shaped you into who you are…

TK: I grew up amid four boys in an upwardly mobile, competitive family in Chicagoland. What seemed like a good home turned abusive around the time I was a teenager. This will forever mark me.

I also have intimate experience with mental illness/addiction…God is crafting me as a wounded healer. Now having truth; now having literally been rescued, my hope has been restored.

God has moved in me to use my passion and plight, and He’s given me a venue to do it right here. The passion for hope, truth and liberty, and my compassion for the hurting drives me every day.

2) DC: Tell me about your journey getting to the Denver Rescue Mission and then to Fort Collins Rescue Mission…

TK: As a Christian, I have always had a desire to be on the front lines serving with a heart for the hurting and a zest for the gospel. I really thought I would be residing in Africa as a missionary, but doors closed. God had other plans for me. I wanted to go; He wanted me to stay.

In my last semester in seminary, I met an awesome girl. I chased her to Colorado. While there and through some connections, I met Lon Gregg (ok, I married the awesome girl too). Lon told me to pray about doing a Chaplaincy internship in 2003. I took him up on it.

God’s hands have been all over my entire time here, in the hard and great times. I have grown a ton and am still growing.

I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed Chaplaincy. It was partly the clients, partly the awesome and gifted people I worked with and partly the incredible moving of God here. The position is humbling and unheralded but also very fulfilling.

Yet despite my enjoyment, about three years ago, I believe God began to stir in my heart a desire for something different. I know….three years. I did not know what it would be and knew that God had much more to refine in my character. When would it happen?

Moving, other jobs and timing were never right until the FCRM leadership opportunity came up. I believe God had this for me. I absolutely love it here and am excited to go to “work.” It is also huge to me that I get to work on developing as a servant leader. This has been a recent heart’s cry of mine. I am also so blessed by my new friends and colleagues (we have a great team being assembled at FCRM), and to be a part of something much bigger than myself… wow!

3) DC: What do you see as some of the defining moments in your life?
TK:

  • Family “dynamics”
  • Thorns of my flesh
  • Being rescued from death
  • Receiving eternal life
  • My decision to follow Jesus in discipleship
  • Going away to seminary not knowing anyone
  • Mission trips
  • My marrying up, to my best friend and being a Dad

4) DC: Tell me something quirky & fun about you, your personality and/or your hobbies…

TK: I love sports (watching and playing), especially endurance things. I absolutely love to compete and can make a contest out of anything. I love to read, too. Unfortunately I often start books and do not finish them. I think I have some seven or eight going on right now.

5) DC: What’s on your bucket list?

TK: I would have said some particular athletic endeavor, a Ph. D., or a global adventure before I had kids. Nothing is really on my radar right now. I have been a bit exhausted and focusing on enjoying our little family (me, Liz, Stella, 3.5, and Samuel, 7 months).

 

 

 

The Best Reflection // Lisa’s Story

(Posted in the Changing Lives Newsletter – May 2013)

Lisa was always good at making money. It seemed that everything she tried, she did well. She succeeded effortlessly and made a comfortable living by the young age of 17. She met her husband at work, fell in love and got married.

But after her wedding, Lisa worried about her appearance. She restricted food and overexercised to lose weight. Four years after giving birth to her two daughters, her marriage fell apart and her relationship with food took another turn. She began purging everything she ate. Eventually, the habit took control over her entire life. “It’s an addiction like anything else. When I was done with all my obligations for the day, I would turn on the TV, sit and eat, binging and purging until I went to sleep at night,” says Lisa.

Her health was failing as well as her relationships with those around her. After spending most of her fortune on expensive houses, vehicles and vacations, her savings account dwindled. “At that time, I was running my own mortgage company. Though I was doing really well, I was spending over $100 a day on food. I was a workaholic, negating my responsibilities as a parent,” says Lisa. Her eating disorder became so severe that she couldn’t think straight and could barely work. In 2006, she weighed 80 pounds and was waiting to die.

Lisa’s daughters, then in high school, wanted nothing to do with her. For the next three years she was in and out of treatment facilities and hospitals. There were months when Lisa would be in a facility and her daughters lived alone in her small, rented apartment.    “I have so many letters from doctors saying that I wasn’t going to make it. My heart was failing,” says Lisa. Her only thoughts revolved around food and her daughters.

Finally, out of money, with no way to pay the next month’s rent or to afford her eating habits, Lisa sought help. She heard about the STAR Transitional Program offered at The Crossing. She had three weeks until her rent was due. In May 2012, she went to The Crossing and was put on a waiting list. Just days before facing eviction, she was able to move in.

“I was so scared and nervous. I came here wanting to maintain my lifestyle. I couldn’t imagine a day without binging and purging, but I had no other place to go,” says Lisa. She did try to keep her old habits. But one of the requirements of the program is that each participant meet with a counselor. Loyce, a volunteer counselor at the Mission, began meeting with Lisa each week. “I met Loyce and loved her. She is an amazing mentor. She prayed for me, and one morning I woke up and decided, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’ All of her prayers were heard,” says Lisa.

By August 2012, Lisa had stopped binging and purging and felt free from that burden for the first time in 15 years: “The Crossing played a bigger role in that than anybody did. It was the community, as well as the support that I had from the staff…there were people I was able to reach out to. The Crossing made me realize what life is all about.”

Lisa’s biggest loss in the last 15 years was her relationship with her daughters. They moved out, started college and became young women. It crushed her that she wasn’t a part of their lives. But as she continued to grow and heal, they saw changes in her. In October 2012 Lisa met with her oldest daughter, Arielle, for lunch. At the end of that meal Arielle looked at Lisa with tears in her eyes and said, “Mom, I see hope.” Lisa felt it, too.

Now, she sees her daughters twice a month when they visit her at The Crossing: “The fact that I have this relationship with my daughters—I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s like heaven on earth. And it just keeps getting better. This is what community does. It’s so powerful,” says Lisa.

In five years, Lisa sees herself closer than ever with her daughters. She sees herself healthy, living in community, having a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Missions, and working with children. “Getting my degree has nothing to do with money. I want a simple life and I want to teach children,” says Lisa. The Crossing provides the opportunity for STAR participants to earn a degree on-line through City Vision College. Lisa plans to take advantage of this program and start classes in the next few months!

For now, she’s volunteering at a children’s center every week, feeling more fulfilled than ever before: “Through it all, my whole life, I never felt like God left my side. If there is something going on beyond my control, I let go and let God. Whenever I’ve prayed, I’ve always gotten an answer.”

Lisa spends time volunteering at Colorado Miners, a community center for at-risk youth.

To post a note of encouragement for Lisa on the Mission’s Facebook page, visit Facebook.com/DenverRescue.

Rachel’s Lens // It snowed this week!

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

So Wednesday was May 1st. And it snowed. Not like, “Oh cool! It’s flurrying in May!” kind of snow. More like, “Do I really need to wear boots and scrape the ice off my car?!” kind of snow.

I had packed my sweaters up and pulled out my flip-flops. I was ready for summer, not expecting a storm at this time of year. But this seems to be a winter that just won’t end. We’ve had 80 degree days interspersed with sudden storms for the last month. My sinuses and allergies have no idea what to think and I’ve been sick multiple times.

Can you imagine dealing with these sudden weather changes if you spent the majority of your time outside? If you had to carry all of your possessions in a small backpack? Can you imagine trying to be prepared for winter and summer for an entire month? I whine about the changing temperatures. But does my life depend on being prepared? Absolutely not.

Our shelters have to be prepared for a massive influx one night and a calm one the next. We have to make sure we are staffed appropriately, enough meals are made, linens are washed, and systems are firing on all cylinders. The more extreme the conditions, the more support Denver Rescue Mission needs.

Though as a city we are all collectively crossing all fingers and toes that there will be no more snow, we covet your prayers and support in times like this!

Training Day // Colfax Marathon

Written by Natalie Ziemba, Denver Rescue Mission Intern

Running the Colfax Marathon means months of training with ample opportunities to get sick, injured and time to change my mind! So before I actually completed my marathon registration and paid the fee, I made sure that I really wanted to run 26.2 miles.

My training began. My first training day was kicked off with a successful 10 mile run. Knowing I could do that, I went and registered for the marathon.

After a few weeks of training, I upped the mileage to 12 miles, and I realized that it takes a lot of effort to maintain motion like that for so long. My arms were really tired after being held at my sides for two hours, so I added weights into my work-out routine.

When I hit my 14 mile training run, I noticed the culmination of my training. I had run one half-marathon previously, and 14 miles marked the farthest I had ever run in my life. Staying hydrated, building all my muscles and gradually cultivating endurance and stamina worked in my favor. I managed to run 14 miles without hitting the figurative wall, like I had in my half marathon. Exhilarating doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling – I felt I could easily run for days, and the marathon would be no problem!

George and Natalie are training for the Colfax Marathon, but they are doing it for a cause. They are hoping to raise $1,000 for Denver Rescue Mission's efforts in serving the homeless. (www.crowdrise.com/Miles4Meals/fundraiser/georgebugz)

At 16 miles, I found my training partner, George. I’m always hesitant to run with other people because it changes the dynamic of running, affects my stride and breathing, and adds general complexity to the whole endeavor. But it also adds entertainment, motivation and companionship. George encouraged me, I encouraged him and we ended our run feeling collectively excited about future opportunities.

Unfortunately, I also got a killer blister during my 16 mile run. I’ve learned from past experiences that you CANNOT run with a blister – you have to wait for it to heal. This blister was so bad that I could hardly walk for days (I should have taken pictures, it was really gross!). After a week, the blister was still there, but I knew I had to do something or give up on the marathon and all the training I had built up. I stuck to a bike for the next week, and then tried running again with George for our Saturday morning run.

I had planned a 4-mile route for us, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to go far. At the end of the 4 miles, I told George I couldn’t go any farther. He wanted to keep going and I told him he should. “Anything is better than 4 miles,” I told him. “And 4 miles is better than nothing,” was his response. Even though I was feeling discouraged, George supported my efforts and unfailingly believed in my ability to complete the marathon.

This past weekend marked my biggest undertaking yet – 20 miles – the longest training run on my schedule before the marathon. And I was doing it alone. I started at 5:30 in the morning, just as the sun was starting to peak over the horizon. When I really hit my stride and running was effortless, I looked around and saw how gloriously beautiful the Rocky Mountains were and could truly revel in the strength and ability of my body. When the running was not so easy, it was all I could do to look ten feet in front of me and set mini-goals for completing my run. My favorite part in every run is when I pass my previous record. I always think to myself, “Every step from here on out marks the farthest I have ever gone.” It is continual improvement and achievement. Jumping from 16 miles to 20 miles gave me a lot of opportunity to say that, but it also gave me a lot of opportunity to say, “It hurts too much to stop.” Every slight variation in pressure I felt in my shoes gave me a moment of panic. If I had to stop and re-tie my shoes, I would never be able to start running again, and I was miles away from my ending point.

By the time I finished, I felt physically exhausted, but still stronger than I expected. A short cool-down walk was followed by a cold bath to help my muscles relax – although I apparently didn’t sit there long enough because it still hurts to walk! However, the soreness is only minor compared to the determination, anticipation and excitement I feel for the 26.2 miles I’ll be facing in three weeks!