Day 1 in the TL: Witnessing Brokenness

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Before I share details of the first day at City Impact, I just want to share my journal entry from a couple days prior to leaving Davis. I was quite nervous and unsure of what to expect, praying God revealed that to me during the week. 

July 3, 2014– As I get ready to leave for San Francisco in the next couple days, I am beginning to have thoughts and questions on what my week will be like. Mostly, I am excited to experience God’s love and all He has in store. I am excited to serve and build relationships, meet new people and bond with my team members. I am excited to step out of my comfort zone to experience God and love on His people– both the staff at SFCI and the residents of the Tenderloin. However, I am worried about my safety during the trip. I am nervous because of the lack of details I have received and nervous to step out into the unknown and experience people unlike me in culture and background. I pray that God fills me up and reignites my passion for servitude. I pray that His love be displayed for me this next week. I pray I can be useful and my time will not be in vain. 

Looking back on what I wrote before the trip, I just realize how faithful God is, how He hears every prayer and answers, how He totally uses us, even when we believe we are not ready to be used. 

Finally, Monday rolled around and I found myself on BART headed to Powell Street, walking a few blocks from Union Square into the heart of the Tenderloin. My quiet life is Davis dissipated, our group met the two other teams we’d be serving with (a 50+ person group from a Korean church in San Jose and a small group from Nacogdoches, Texas), then we headed out for a prayer walk through the TL and Union Square. 

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So here’s my journal entry from day numero uno:

July 7, 2014– I’m sitting on a rooftop of 230 Jones Street at the heart of the Tenderloin District in SF. It’s breezy and the clouds are pushed swiftly overhead by the strong ocean breeze. The view from up top allows me to almost forget what I’ve seen on the streets below. But the constant screech of sirens drawing near and other street noises remind me of the brokenness I’ve seen today. A swift and short walk from BART in Union Square to Jones Street, the home of City Impact was a glimpse of life in this neighborhood– shifting quickly from brilliance, flashiness, high-class living to filthy, poor, forgotten, brokenness in just blocks. We were led by a City Impact staff member on a prayer walk through the city where we walked directly into a drug deal and witnessed individuals with wide eyes and deranged smiles (clearly marked by mental illness). The smell of urine, alcohol, marijuana lingered on every street corner– pungent, sour, and pervasive. These people are so broken and, even worse, forgotten. What are their stories? Who have they loved and been loved by? What have they seen and heard and felt in their lifetimes? How have they experienced God? My prayer for this week is that I see how God loves and heals these people, broken to the core– but no less broken than myself. I pray that people with mental disorders and handicaps and in vulnerable positions, like the man named David we met tonight who verbally harassed our group calling us “home wreckers” and “hypocrites” from outside the gates of City Impact, come to know Jesus as their savior. I pray Jesus protects them from the spiritual warfare that curses their (and my own) daily life. 

Amidst this brokenness, I must remind myself that although it seems the devil has a stronghold on this drug-infested, crime-ridden neighborhood, my God will always remain on top. As a mentor of mine once reminded me during a hard time in my life, if Satan were the size of tiny little gnat, God would be a grown man’s show stomping him down. 

My God is great, despite all this wickedness. I know He will reveal that to me this week and show me just how much He loves each one of His creations.

God answers every prayer! I don’t have much more to say beyond this journal entry about the first day of life in the TL, but am excited for you to read about how God moved in me and this neighborhood over the 6 days we served there. Stay tuned. 🙂 

Overwhelmed by God’s Love in the Tenderloin

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Hi all! 

I arrived home last night from a week in the Tenderloin at SF City Impact. I am thinking and feeling so much after the trip. I almost feel like coming back to Davis is a surreal experience – like I’ve been sucked into a whirlwind of God’s love and spirit for a week and all of a sudden flung back to my everyday reality. In additional to a total shift in the spiritual environment, things are just very different here at home. I am greatly underwhelmed (yet in a sense overwhelmed) by a lack of strong odors and sirens and screaming and drugs, a whole lot of quiet and a ton of space. 

I realize, in returning home, that I have learned so much from my week… Too much to share in one post. I’ve experienced a completely new world and taken from it a new perspective on living a life centered on Jesus. So what I’ve decided, given that I have so much to share, is that I am going to break it up a bit. I plan on taking each day’s journal entry, share it with you, and expanding upon it a bit with my hindsight perspective in the next 4-5 days. 

But if I am to say just one thing that would summarize my week, it would be this: God’s love is so great and wide and strong and undiscriminating! No one is the exception to this love and nothing can separate us from His love, grace, mercy, faithfulness. I think Romans 8 encompasses the lessons of my week very effectively.

This all sounds very cliche, very Sunday morning, if you will, and I realize that reading these words will mean and will your heart less than living and experiencing these words. But my prayer for everyone reading this post is that God inspires you and allows you to experience this great love. 

I am so overjoyed and blessed by my week in the TL. I am excited beyond words for how I can apply what I have learned to life and also just to share these things with you and my loved ones. 

Enjoy the posts to come! 

The Moment of Truth

 

Ah, the moment of truth has finally arrived. Well almost. The moment I’ve been praying about, training for, and planning for months is very near to striking.

In less than 24 hours, I will be in the Tenderloin for about a week serving alongside City Impact, a permanent ministry in SF. (For more detailed info about the mission, refer to my previous post here.)

Several of my friends have continually asked the questions, “Are you ready?” and “How can I be praying for you?” And you’d think after the 4th or 5th time being asked a question, I’d have an answer. But each time I’ve looked at my friends at a loss for words, in complete unconfident mystery.

“Uh… you can pray that uh… God reveals to me why I’m going.”

Yeah, Brenna, that’s articulate and profound, I tell myself as the unsureness surely pervades my words.

But the truth is, as many times as others have asked and I’ve asked myself, I’m really not sure whether or not I’m ready. Can one ever really be ready to endure to unknown? Can one ever really train or prepare or study for what God has in store?

My answer to those who ask, however, is not dishonest. I truly am in a place where I have no clue as to why I’m being sent to the Tenderloin anyways. To do a good thing? Sure. To be the hands and feet of Jesus? Yeah. To change lives or make an impact? I’m not so sure.

There’s already a permanent ministry in the Tenderloin… several even. And after reading books like When Helping Hurts and articles of a similar nature, I’m not so sure short term missions trips are even that effective or impactful or even necessary as the church makes them seem to be.

So, here I am. About to leave for the city tomorrow. “Ready” to do Kingdom Work and serve God in any way possible. But there’s just something, a little something, that’s nagging at me. Something that tells me to be just a bit nervous for what is to come.

Despite this nagging, I am going to remain confident in the Lord and know that He works in the most unsure of times. Sometimes it’s okay to not be ready. How could He transform someone with all the answers and skills anyways?

Pray for me, friends. I’ll keep you posted on how the trip went ASAP.

All my best!

 

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Mark 25:40 

 

Conquering Loneliness

It occurred to me last night, after my first official 24 hours living completely alone in Davis for the summer, that I was going to be lonely. There is just no escaping it, I figured. Living in an apartment alone is just simply lonely.

And as the night rolled on, I began to allow feelings of loneliness creep into my being and thoughts of loneliness pass through my mind. I read my Bible alone, watched a movie alone, ate dinner alone.

Gosh, I’m so sad. I thought to myself. I feel like an old maid or something.

But then it occurred to me that my loneliness was my own doing, rather than a consequence of my physical state.

Sure, I’m living in 4 bedroom apartment of which only one room is occupied by, well, me. But since when was this a sentence for loneliness? For feeling miserable and unloved and unwanted?

No, this issue I was facing and this aching in my heart was a lot deeper than my living situation and physical condition. This loneliness was/is a condition of my heart and a reflection of my relationship with Christ.

Jesus said in John 16, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.”

This is a reminder that we, as believers, are never alone. Our Father, our God is always with us, always watching us, and always adoring us.

So, as a believer, who am I to whine and weep over living alone for a couple months? It occurred to me that this was equal to telling God that He is not sufficient for me, that his love is not enough, that I don’t need Him and want something (rather someone) else. In telling myself how lonely I was, I was really denying God’s promise to me… a promise to always love and protect and comfort me in my weakness.

Now, I am not saying that this summer is not going to be challenging in a lot of ways. I am not saying that personal relationships and socializing is not important. I just think it’s silly that I have failed to see until this point that loneliness is a lot deeper than just being physically alone.

So, my plans for when I begin to feel lonely? I’m first going to pray, I’m going to read books and make crafts and cook new foods. I’m going to call up my friends or write a blog post or go for a run. Most of all, I am going to take heart in the fact that my Savior died so that I can be intimately connected with God and never have to feel alone.

It’s summer! Can you believe it? I really can’t.

After finishing up a week of finals, I headed to San Diego for less than 24 hours only to jet off to Maui, Hawaii with the fam bam. Maui was fantastic– such an awesome blessing from God to relieve some stress and simply relax after a hard year. But that’s not the point of this post.

What is the point then?, you ask. Well, the point is that it finally crossed my mind today that in less than 2 weeks I am headed to San Francisco for a week. Another vacation?, you roll your eyes. Nope. A mission!

I’m not going shopping in Union Square. Not eating clam chowder at the Wharf. Not sipping rich hot chocolate at Ghirardelli Square.

I’ll be hanging in the Tenderloin District. The Tenderloin?! What’s the Tenderloin?!, you ask if you have never heard of it before. It’s pretty much what it sounds like… some of the darkest, poorest, most sin-ridden streets of SF.

So Brenna, what’s a white girl like you going there for? Like I said, a mission. With a small group from my church (FBC Davis), we will be partnering alongside a permanently established ministry in the Tenderloin called City Impact. City Impact exists to offer “three types of work: RELIEF for those in urgent need, REHABILITATION for those wanting a way out, and DEVELOPMENT to ensure the cycles of poverty and despair are not repeated.”

What I will be doing there is still TBD… perhaps mopping floors, cleaning toilets, playing with children, talking to residents, doing street ministry. I’ll let you know in a couple weeks.

The reason why I am posting this is not to brag or make myself seem righteous. I am so excited for what the Lord has in store for me and my mission team. I trust that Jesus’s call for my life– and every other believer’s life as well– to serve “the least of these” will be an opportunity for growth and trust in God. But the true reason I post this is to call my believing friends to join alongside me in prayer– both for my time in the Tenderloin and for long-term success of City Impact/ the Gospel in SF.

Just pray. That’s all I ask.

I’ll keep today’s post short. However, if you’re interested in hearing more about my mission (besides what I choose to post here), feel free to comment, email, text me. I plan to write letters to those prayerfully supporting me about God’s work in the Tenderloin both during and after my week there.

 

Living in Unexpectation: On the way God works

As I’ve added years to my young adult life and grown in my faith, you’d undoubtably think that I would understand more and more how God works. You’d think that my encounters at the feet of Jesus– whether they be moments of pure brokenness or of joy and praise– would allow me to be able to better predict God’s next move on the chess board that is my life. You’d think that coffee dates, church services, and prayer with other believers would help me to see where my life is headed, where God intends for me to walk with him.

You’d think.

I thought.

You see… My past 6 months have been rocky. I’ve felt both God and Satan throwing curve balls at me. And just when I get up and clean the dirt out of my wounds, another bully comes around the block to push me back to the floor. More recently, I’ve had a serious lull in my faith the past 3 weeks. After attending a funeral, enduring a stress-filled finals week, and feeling overwhelmed by the freedom of summer, I’ve lost my routine of devotion and have felt distant from Jesus. It’s been my fault though. I’m aware. I recognize that.

I’ve been expecting a wakeup call. My resentful, bitter, disobedient attitude gave me the idea that I would make some huge, sinful mistake and I’d be forced to hopelessly repent and ask Jesus to bring me back to Him. What that mistake would be… I guess I was willing to find out.

This is how I expected God to work in my life. He’d done it before. He’d used my sinful nature and absolute evil nature to bring me closer to Him in the past. Why wouldn’t he do it again?, I thought. I’m bound to mess up soon.

I woke up this morning feeling like today was the day of my utter failure. I felt it in my gut. But the day proved to be pretty ordinary: I went for a walk, got a haircut, met an old friend for lunch, met my dad for coffee…

And just as my dad took his final sip of his Aztec mocha, as I slung my Dooney strap over my shoulder, as we pushed in our metal, outdoor chairs, a man wandered by with a notebook and tablet in hand.

“Would you like our table? We’re leaving,” said Dad.

“Yes. Thank you!” the man smiled.

“I recognize you. Do I know you from Horizon?” (Horizon is the church I grew up in.)

“Yes, I did attend Horizon!”

And from there the conversation unravelled. Upon hearing where I attend college, this man immediately immersed my father and I in a joyful narrative of his recent week at a Christian camp just a few hours north of Davis. He described it as a “tunnel of God” and encouraged me to apply to work there next summer, as I appeared to him to be a “lover of Jesus.” I was more than flattered.

Most of what he said to us were mere details of the camp itself and how deeply he was affected by it… but there was something about it. About him. About the way he spoke, the way he beamed, the way he clearly loved Jesus so deeply… with all his heart and every ounce of his energy. With less than 10 minutes of conversation and an exchange of business cards, I felt oddly pushed towards Jesus by this stranger. As I slipped into my Nissan Murano and put the key in the ignition, I sighed, feeling as if I had just come face to face with my Savior Himself.

That was it. That was my wakeup call. 

And in that moment, I realized that I had very little clue as to how God works. Growing into my faith has given me very little insight into what God’s next move will be. While I approached my slump and its remedy with negatively, God’s plans were to work through one of his children with joy, peace, and encouragement. I had completely underestimated and belittled God. I has acted as if my God was not full of mercy, did not love me passionately, was not pursuing me kindly.

And so here I am. It’s strange, I’ll tell ya. Last night I felt completely lacking in my walk with Christ. Tonight is different. I feel inspired. I feel motivated. I feel lifted and encouraged and pushed in the right direction.

I am so very glad I do not understand the way God works and I hope I never will.

My Encinitas Love Affair

This is my hometown.

Quaint. Beachy. Trendy. Sunny. Young.

My hometown is a stroll on the sand in ankle deep ocean while wearing shorts and a trucker hat… any month of the year. My hometown is a summer evening bonfire made from wood flats collected behind local grocery stores. My hometown is a run – or maybe I should say an obstacle course– on the Pacific Coast Highway 101, dodging surfers with longboards in hand and women walking small dogs. My hometown is free, impromptu paddle board lessons from that random professional paddle boarder with the bleach blonde dreads that hangs at Cardiff. My hometown is a Bomb Burrito from Karina’s after an uninterrupted day in the water.

My hometown is organic. My hometown is Whole Foods and pitaya smoothies and acai bowls. My hometown is athletic, fit, tanned to perfection in neon racerback tank tops and spandex short shorts. My hometown is endless sets of stairs up and down the cliffs from highway to surf back to highway. My hometown is pilates, sunset yoga, SUPing, surfing, swimming.

My hometown is sun bleached and sometimes sun burnt. My hometown owns more bikinis and board shorts than pairs of jeans– those are for special occasions and frigid 60 degree evenings only.

My hometown is Switchfoot slamming “Dare You to Move” on their guitars over a sandy-footed crowd packed onto Moonlight Beach. My hometown is the Beach Boys, Bob Marley, Foster the People, or the Dirty Heads trailing open Jeeps and ragtops.

My hometown is legit. It’s dank. It’s sick. It says “shaka” and “brah” and throws up a “hang loose.”

And I stand on the cliffs of Swami’s overlooking washed-up oldies on their freshly waxed boards vying for the next wave. “It’s mine, brah.” I imagine one shouting as he paddles farther into the Pacific towards a fresh set.

And I sit on the deck of my favorite cafe as the sun that warms my shoulders and back. 1950’s Corvettes and 70’s VW buses– complete with baby blue, leather interior and peace signs in the windows– line-up on the 101 for the monthly old car show.

And I stare at the the pinks and the blues and the yellows and the oranges that blend with what seems to be the stroke of a painter’s brush. Soon the cumulus clouds cave in and the burning ball of fire that warmed my day, darkened my skin, and bleached my hair disappears.

And for a moment– a second, a minute, a week, a month even– I am in deep, passionate, fulfilling love. I wonder how any one thing could get any better. I am free and inspired and the person I am meant to be. My mind races with thoughts of my lover and the days I will spend within its boundaries.

I am unfazed by the grains of sand that remain in my hair, between my toes, in the nooks and crannies of my car. I forgethow badly my hair needs a good shampooing– I’m content with it’s curls and waves made possible by salt water. The stickiness of SPF 35 and chipping nail polish is also ignored.

But the time always come where I’m back in an airport. Back on a plane. Back in Northern California. The Encinitas lifestyle is untouchable, intangible. My love affair has ended and is only a memory.

And I realize that once I’m away from my hometown, my beloved Encinitas, it is not so beloved. I am distant from and perhaps even resentful towards it. I concoct a list of reasons why it is no good for me: It makes me vain. I don’t fit in. I’m really a NorCal girl after all. Who needs the beach anyways? 

But here I am now. On a lawn chair. It’s sunny and 75. And I’m living a love affair. Soon I’ll be gone and fall out of love. But for now, I’ll feel no guilt, forget why it’s wrong, and remain in blind adoration.