Why are we so afraid to ask God for what we want, to ask Him to fulfill those BIG dreams? What stops us? What keeps us from muttering those words to God in our prayers? Is it the fear of rejection, of possibly hearing no? Or is that we’re afraid that when God hears us ask, He may actually answer?
Our culture us taught us to dream big, strive after your goals, and pursue that “American Dream,” yet so many of us are living day to day afraid to really take that step forward and pursue those dreams. We sit around and go, well God has provided me with A, B, and C so I just won’t ask him about D. Maybe we sit there thinking, well he has already provided me with so much and I don’t want to ask for more. Or maybe we sit there thinking that He hasn’t answered those other prayers, why would he answer this one. And even more so we’ve been taught by others that those dreams don’t fit the norm, that we don’t fit the norm, so we feel unworthy and unwilling to ask.
In the Bible, Solomon became king of Israel after his father David passed away. In the beginning of his reign he followed the Lord closely and followed his statutes. One night in a dream God appeared to Solomon telling him to ask for whatever he wanted. At that moment instead of asking for wealth, glory, or the demise of enemies, Solomon humbly proclaimed and asked:
“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9)
Solomon prayed to God from the depths of his heart for a dream and a desire to govern over the people of Israel in a way that honored God. And at that moment, Solomon’s desires met up with God’s desires for his life. And God blessed Solomon with not only the knowledge and the wisdom he’d requested, but God provided further by blessing him with the riches and honor he hadn’t asked for.
At times it can be hard to imagine that simple requests, such as Solomon’s request for wisdom, can open doors beyond our imagination. Sometimes all God is doing is standing there waiting for you to ask, to realize that you are worthy of the blessings that He can provide. At times God will say no to a prayer, but be patient and keep praying because God will open up new doors and lead you toward new dreams.
So don’t be afraid, pray for those big dreams and see what happens. Don’t worry about what other people think. If Josh and I had done that we would never be doing Mission Year right now. God will never let you fail. We let ourselves fail by not turning to God and recognizing the support He can provide.
So dream big.
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” ~ 1 Peter 1:15-16
In Christianity there is a constant discussion about the calling to be holy, but what does it mean to be holy? How do you live a life that is holy? Is it even possible to truly be holy?
When I first picked up the book The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges I was quite skeptical about what was going to be inside. I am used to hearing the constant discussion that to be holy and live a holy life there is a strict set of rules and guidelines one must follow. And on the other side of the argument I’ve heard that the idea of holiness is complicated, not easily explained, and not really something to worry about.
Depending on what version of the Bible you are using, the word holy appears anywhere from about 550 to 600 times. Between the Old and New Testament, there are multiple versions of the word holy that are used. The general concept is of something, a place, or a person that is set apart and consecrated, or dedicated, to God. They are seen as pure, clean, and without sin.
Bridges presents that we are called to a life of holiness. God himself is holy and we are called to be like God. We are called to live a life free of sin; however, nowhere does God state that we must do it all on our own. God sent his son Christ to bear the burden of death for us; thus, he provided us with a path and a desire to seek this pure and dedicated life. Bridges discusses that not once is there a mention in the Bible about this path being easy, instead it’s going to be difficult, yet God is right there beside us, providing us with the strength to keep moving forward.
While God has taken steps to provide us with a path to pursue holiness, Bridges discusses that it is a two way street and that there are steps we must take to follow this lifestyle. Through the personal discipline of reading and memorizing scripture, daily devotional time, respecting and caring for our body, prayer, and letting go of past harmful habits and thoughts, we can move towards a life of holiness, one that is dedicated to God and is full of his love and grace. Going through the various disciplines that Bridges discusses, my initial reaction was “Oh no, more rules and guidelines to follow”; however, I realized that purpose of these disciplines is to provide a way to battle the daily struggles that can easily pull me away from God and his love.
Through an obedient and dedicated life to God, we opened up to a life full of his love and unending joy. “The daily experience of Christ’s love is linked to our obedience to Him. It is not that His love is conditioned on our obedience. That would be legalism. But our experience of His love is dependent upon our obedience” (150).
So I challenge you to give this book a try and be opened up to an idea of holiness that isn’t legalistic and drudging but instead opens up the idea of love and joy that can be experienced.
Prayer is extremely powerful. When you pray sincerely to God and what you are asking for matches up with His desires for your life, amazing things can happen.
Over the past couple of weeks, our team has been praying for direction and help when it comes to the community dinner we’re supposed to have on Saturday nights. Since we got back from the holidays, we’ve received a lot of “no’s” when we asked people if they wanted to come over for dinner. After some reflection as a team, we realized that many times we would ask the parents of kids we know and often times they would say no, but the kids were usually sitting there asking to still come over. Then the idea struck us, what if we see if the kids can come to dinner and we’ll offer to walk them home afterwards.
This past week we began putting this idea before God and praying for an answer, and God definitely decided to provide us with an answer.
By lunch time on Saturday Josh had put out an invite to a family we know, the parents said no but they were more than willing to let their two boys come over. The two of them were extremely excited to help cook dinner. By mid-afternoon, after I got back from working at the clinic, I found myself walking back home with three more kids coming over for dinner. By the time dinner was ready, we had one more join us for dinner. In the end we had 6 kids/youth, varying from ages 5 to 16 over for dinner.
At the end of the night I was exhausted. There was a point in the evening that Josh and I looked at each other in the kitchen, agreed that we loved having all these kids over, but we definitely didn’t want to have 6 kids of our own.
The best was in youth group today when the 16 year-old stated to the group that the best thing that’s happened to him lately was coming over to our place last night for dinner. And it was great to share with him that dinner last night was one of our best moments lately too.
I am extremely thankful to God for answering prayers and providing us with needed direction. Even though at points yesterday evening things seemed crazy, I am more than happy to be a place where these kids can come and hang out, have fun, and be safe. I feel honored and blessed that their parents trust us enough to let their kids spend the evening with us. And I feel loved by a God who is there walking along side me every step of the way.
Vocation, what does that word mean to you? Is it a calling to a certain career, to follow a specific passion, a call to service and Christian ministry? By definition the word vocation comes from the Latin work vocare which means to call or name, to invoke. Vocation is defined in the dictionary as:
– A particular occupation, business, or profession; calling
– A strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career
– A divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life
– A function or station in life to which one is called by God
So what is vocation? Is it just one of these definitions or is it all of them combined?
This past weekend I spent time at a retreat with the other Atlanta team members for Mission Year and people from various other service corps in the Atlanta area. The focus of the weekend was to discuss this idea of vocation, especially related to the idea of what comes next after this year. Entering the retreat I was very hesitant. Josh and I have been married for almost 2 years, I’ve worked as a RN for the past 2.5 years, and we already have a good idea of what is happening after Mission Year. We left full time careers to do a year of service because we felt that it would be a great catalyst in to the type of lifestyle we felt God calling us to.
For the majority of people attending this type of background was far from their reality. Due to being a married couple in service corp for young adults, you find yourself frequently interacting with single young adults in the same or similar programs that are at very different places in life. Many questions were posed about what’s next – graduate school, applying for jobs, continuing a 2nd year of service, moving home or staying put.
I questioned was this conversation of vocation really meant for me?
What hit me the most was a talk by a speaker Anton Flores (check him out at alternacommunity.org) where he used the story of God calling Moses in Exodus 3 to discuss the idea of vocation. God knew Moses, knew his inner thoughts, desires, and fears. God knew that Moses, even with his weaknesses, was the one for the job to save His people from Egypt. Moses was content where he was at, but God knew of something more and something better.
So I have what I am passionate about and what my gifts are, but where those two intersect, is that my vocation? Or is my vocation the intersection of those with what God needs of me? That point where my needs and wants meet exactly up with what God’s needs and wants are for my life. Vocation is more than a mere calling or a career path, it is a transformative power God has placed on your life that says, “Come follow me.” A calling that you cannot ignore, otherwise the questions of “what if?” will just eat away at you.
Josh and I decided to do Mission Year because we couldn’t ignore the calling that God had placed on us. We both come from careers of caring for others and we are both very passionate about compassion and love for all, but we knew that we couldn’t keep on living our lives the way we were and be content. We knew deep down that God was standing their beckoning us forward saying, “I’ve got better plans.” While our time so far has been full of ups and downs, I know with every part of my being that this is where God wants me and where he wants us as a couple. I didn’t come to save the community I’m living in. I came to learn, to love, and to be loved. I came to be a neighbor and nothing more. To live out what Christ taught to the best of my ability.
As Dr. Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Senior year of high school the most common question a person receives is what their plans are after they graduate. If college is the answer, they’re most likely asked what college and what major. Upon reaching senior year of college, the same questions are heard again, except the questions are career focused. After spending two weeks visiting friends and family in Ohio, the most common question that Josh and I heard was what our plans are after our time with Mission Year.
For a person who would love to plan out my entire life, who would love to reach set goals by the age/time they’ve been set for, I have realized how open and unplanned life seems right now. And for the first time in a long time it feels great to be able to say so. Over the past couple months I have realized how important it is to be focused on the here and now if you ever want to reach the goals and the dreams that you have. If I am so focused on the end goal I miss the amazing opportunities all around me, the chances to truly live and love.
Over the past week I have been asked by multiple people in various ways what my dreams are for the rest of the year and beyond. While still trying to figure out exactly where I want to go with my career as a nurse, I have spent time reflecting and praying about what my dreams and hopes are for my time with Mission Year and beyond.
After much discussion and prayer, Josh and I have decided that we would like to stay in Atlanta, specifically Peoplestown, after our committed time. Amidst various transitions over the next year, like Josh becoming a full time student, we have thought about what would be best for us. Also, and most importantly, we want to have more time to develop the relationships that we are currently building in our neighborhood this year. Amongst so many unknowns with life right now, we both feel a strong calling to stay put and invest in our community. We also hope to build a strong support system for ourselves as we pursue this.
When I look over the past several months and forward to this year, I have realized a strong passion and desire to really dive in and dig deeper with some of the young teens I have gotten to know. I want to connect more with some of the young adults and provide them with a network of support so they can grow and develop into strong leaders for their community.
At many of the community meetings I have been to here, there is a common discussion about needing to get young adults more involved. Outside our team, most people that attend are in their 40’s and older. The issue of getting the young adults involved is the age gap. When I think about wanting to attend an event, I am more willing to if invited by a peer or a mentor just a little older versus someone who is several generations older. I would love and dream to see the young adults getting involved and influencing not only their peers but the younger teens and kids to get involved too.
At times this dream seems daunting; however, as abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Growing up in a white suburban neighborhood, predominantly upper middle class, I can easily say that I grew up in a bubble. I would always hear jokes about it growing up from friends who lived in other areas, and my instant reaction was always to deny the “Upper Arlington bubble” (the name speaks for itself). My family went, and still goes, to a primarily white church located between several predominantly white suburbs. All of my friends growing up were white. I went to Xavier University, and while there was a decent population of people of other races, all of my friends were white. I began working in Cleveland and chose to live in a predominantly white neighborhood, and the majority of my co-workers were white. It all sounds fairly white doesn’t it?
Most of my close interactions with people of color were my co-workers who were African-American, between the group home I worked at in college and the hospital as a RN. Entering Mission Year, I was challenged to think about my interactions with people of other races and what beliefs and opinions I hold, especially since I live in a predominantly Black neighborhood
This really hit me when we read Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum. She challenges the conventional definitions of racism and prejudice, showing that racism is actually a combination of prejudice (a preconceived idea based on limited knowledge) and power. Tatum defines racism as a system of policies and cultural messages that are beneficial to white people and detrimental to people of color and due to this, “white privilege” has developed. The idea being that while white people today are not all to blame for the discrimination present in society they do benefit from the system.
The idea that I as a white person may actually benefit more from society than someone of color shocked me, and actually is still a hard pill for me to swallow. Recognizing that the opportunities I have been provided with in life are related to my race is hard to face. The issue is that these opportunities are due to where my family has come from generations back. Someone who is black just has to look one or two generations back to find a family member that was held back by very blatant racist laws.
Tatum than takes it a step forward challenging that while everyone needs to take an anti-racist stance, white people can make a much more powerful impact by doing so. The challenge with this is that white people have to actually recognize their “white identity” and that they are not the “norm” but actually a culture themselves. And by recognizing this in a positive way people who are white can actually be a huge agent of change in society. Thus, I felt even more pushed to analyze who I am as a white person, the “privileges” I have taken for granted, and the “norms” I have pushed on others.
While still trying to mull over these thoughts, in came Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. Using data collected from 2,500 phone survey’s and 200 personal interviews, they work to show how religion, specifically Evangelicalism, has created more racial divisions and inequalities in society. The issue is that the majority of people that associate themselves with Evangelicalism are white. Going from Tatum to this book felt like another slap in the face since I grew up in a white evangelical home.
Emerson and Smith use the term racism in the same way as Tatum, stating that we live in a racialized society where there is a misuse of power and differing levels of opportunities and life experiences based on ones race. The main issue they faced was that many of the people that they interviewed, mostly white evangelicals, felt that race was no longer an issue in America. Also, many of the people they interviewed used terms such as “I’m color-blind.” What resonated most was that I could identify with some of the comments, and I could clearly see them in the culture I grew up in.
They argue that the main reason white Evangelicals currently do not recognize or are not facing the present race issue in our society are their fundamental beliefs of personal freewill, the idea of the personal relationship with God, and anti-structural individualistic views. All of these were beliefs that were taught to me while growing up. When I went to college (a Jesuit school), I became aware of some of the issues behind these beliefs that are all focused on the individual and what they can do. Are we not a community? Don’t we share a responsibility for one another?
Both books offer that open communication between all parties is necessary to find any type of reconciliation on the race issue. Tatum offers a very individual way of addressing the race issue in our society. Emerson and Smith address that we must move beyond just the individual facing these issues, especially within the evangelical movement; however, they provide no opinion on how to do so.
These books have dramatically changed my view point on some of these issues. And my largest struggle after reading them is finding a way to get others to recognize that racism is still an issue today. I can sit here and recommend that you read these books, which I do; however, that doesn’t answer how we as a society deal with it together. My hope is that this year helps to provide me with some of those answers.
Around the Holiday season we are filled with the constant reminders to focus on love, joy, and peace. I recently heard a sermon centered on how to find authentic peace amidst our world of constant conflict. While discussing that peace seems to be fairly absent in our world, the minister focused on the idea that Christmas is a time we celebrate the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace, into our world, and as he continued he pointed to the idea that the real and authentic peace is only possible through Christ.
A key part of the sermon was that we must personally know Jesus Christ to understand that real peace is possible and that it is a personal experience. You must find peace through your relationship with God. Also, it is necessary to know that this peace being offered through Jesus Christ is permanent, will never change, and will never leave. And that is where the message was left, that real peace is possible, personal, and permanent.
As I sat there listening, I began to think is simply understanding the peace Christ has to offer and accepting it enough? Aren’t we challenged to take this peace out into the world? If I have found a personal authentic peace, shouldn’t I share it with the world? Shouldn’t I help, through the peace of Christ, find a way to have peace for all?
My greatest struggle wasn’t just what I was hearing in this one sermon, it was the fact that I had grown up hearing similar sermons. And over the past several months, I have learned that Christ is anything but the “personal Jesus” I had grown up learning about. Through various readings and reflections over scripture it has become evident to me how much God values community and seeing His people working together, loving one another, and sharing His love with each other.
In Matthew 5:9, one of the beatitudes, Christ states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (NIV). Blessed are those who work to bring peace to others, not merely those who have found their own and live in peace. One of the ways we are able to accomplish the task of sharing peace with others is sharing the message of God, sharing His love and desire for reconciliation between men and between Him and man. (Check out 2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
So my hope for you this Christmas season is to recognize the peace Christ is offering and that you share it with others. I pray you recognize the call God has given us to be peacemakers, to be just and righteous.
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.” ~ Isaiah 9:6-7
Over the past several years and my multiple and very different experiences with missions, one thing I have learned is that many people expect to hear stories about the countless conversions and miracles encountered. If I have learned anything it is that missions can be anything but those moments. Missions can simply be the mundane daily interactions and scheduled events that occur. And honestly, I feel like that can be the point of missions, those simple moments where we can really share and show God’s love.
One thing I constantly remind myself is of what David J. Bosch (a missionary from the Dutch Reformed Church) said about mission. That it “is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love”
My first exposure to longer term missions than those one week or weekend trips was when I spent a summer in college in Namibia, southern Africa, traveling to schools providing HIV/AIDS education with a focus on abstinence with The Navigators international missions program. I spent another summer in The Gambia, in western Africa, as part of a school program that focused on working in health clinics. While these two experiences transformed my life, neither trip provided those big conversion and miracle stories people seemed to want to hear. I couldn’t provide numbers of people I brought to know Christ or the big miracles I saw or participated in. The stories I had were of simple ordinary people I met and talked with, the clinics I worked in, and my team members I traveled with and these stories are sometimes far from glamorous.
Now at the end of three and a half months with Mission Year, I look back and realize that this still holds true. I can’t look back and pick out any story of me leading anyone to Christ or any big miracle moments; however, I can reflect on these months and think of all the relationships I have started to form. While there are a few people I have gotten to know very well, most of the people I interact with are on a surface level, and I am okay with that. I can reflect back on these months and think that some of my largest struggles have been the “mundane” daily events, which have also provided me with some of my most meaningful moments.
Relationship building is a hard task, especially when you are looking for deep and meaningful ones. You cannot force yourself or anyone else into a relationship, it must occur naturally. And this holds true for introducing Christ into the relationship. Through the variety of people I have met and the relationships I have been building, they are all based around a built trust that has formed over multiple interactions, attending same events, and close proximity.
I look forward to the next seven months of Mission Year, and I am excited to see how these relationships grow and change. I look forward to meeting more people, building new relationships, and getting involved with new things. I am thankful for changes to come and new journey’s to be taken. I expect challenges to come and stumbling to occur, but I constantly remember that God brought me here for a reason and will not let me fail.
Josh recently wrote a paper on the history of Peoplestown and current issues the neighborhood is facing. I’ve provided some of the excerpts from his paper (the whole paper is 11 pages, a little long for the blog) so people can have a better idea of where we are living.
Peoplestown: The Beginning
The story of Peoplestown began in the 1890’s. The Peoples family, a Jewish immigrant family, owned over half of the developed land in the neighborhood. They are reported to be the namesake of this Atlanta community. In its infancy, lining the streets of Peoplestown were single-family Victorian style homes with small servants’ quarters hidden in the rear. By the 1920’s the population of Peoplestown was comprised of African Americans, Whites, and Jewish immigrants. The residential area continued to expand with the introduction of the street trolley system that transported residents to and from work in a growing downtown Atlanta. As the neighborhood experienced continued growth it also became segregated by race with whites living on the west side of town and blacks on the east. By the 1930’s and 40’s development slowed and many white residents began to move out of the neighborhood. The large houses that were left vacant quickly became boarding houses and fell into disrepair.
With the conclusion of World War II, Peoplestown saw a revitalization of its once diverse community. A large successful industrial area had developed that stretched from Peoplestown to the neighboring community of Mechanicsville. “Schools, a library, post office, hospital, drug store, clothing stores and movie theaters were close enough to the neighborhood to provide employment and recreation, allowing for a convenient urban existence” (Neighborhoods Count NPU-V 2004). As a result of all of this, many jobs were made available within walking distance.
During the 1950’s and 60’s, Peoplestown and surrounding areas experienced drastic changes. Two of the biggest things to impact the community were the massive freeway and parking construction projects, and the Federal Housing Act of 1949. The housing act brought subsidized rental housing to the community, which inevitably decreased property values. It is said that the decline in property value was a root cause of “White Flight,” the rapid loss of affluent white residents and business people.
However, race and racism were also prevalent forces in the loss of nearly half the population of Peoplestown from the 1960’s to 2000. In Atlanta, white business leaders met with other leaders in the surrounding African American communities to mediate issues surrounding violence. During that time there was evidence of how hate and violence related to Jim Crow laws, desegregation in schools, and Civil Rights, were affecting the economic stability in Birmingham, Alabama. However, Atlanta during this time was deemed “The City Too Busy to Hate”; in return individuals, most of whom were white, verbalized “other” financial reasons for their departure from Peoplestown. The use of “financial reasons” allowed themselves to not have to focus on race relations or the true reason they were leaving Peoplestown.
These changes and attitudes, and the affects they had of Peoplestown, were also seen in other areas of Atlanta. During this time there were several promises made via the Urban Renewal program that were not kept. For example, the former Fulton County Stadium and its parking facilities were constructed on land in Summer Hill, a neighboring community, which was originally reserved for the rebuilding of homes that were destroyed because of the freeway systems. In general, the Civil Rights movement greatly affected the city of Atlanta as a whole.
The book, Who’s Who In Peoplestown, highlights a brief history of the community during the 1950’s until the late 1990’s. In the book, community members described Peoplestown in the 1950’s before the freeway was contracted and built, and they discussed the area before the Fulton County Stadium that was then demolished and a new stadium was built for the 1996 Olympic Games. Louise Phipps:
“After we got the gas and the street paved, and the school and the park, everything looked good. Most everybody owned their houses down in here…We used to do our shopping on Georgia Avenue. They had a big supermarket there. They had a chicken house there and they sold chicken and fish. And then they had a theater on the corner of Crew Street and Georgia Avenue. Then below that they had a shoe shop, a bakery and on the other side of the street they had Fritz’s Ice Cream. They used to have a grocery store up there at Violet and Haygood.”
Activist Ethel Mae Matthews (a dear friend of Father Austin Ford):
“Peoplestown was a people’s town. Rich Jews, poor blacks, rich, white, just mixed in together. We had drugstores, grocery stores, a theater” (Who’s Who In Peoplestown).
Peoplestown: Continued Change
The population of Peoplestown continued to drop from 5,598 in 1950 to 2,527 by 1990, and has continued to drop to approximately 2,096 as of 2010. This shift in population has continued due in part to the failed promises in 1970, and also the lack of resources, jobs, and recreational activities within Peoplestown. During the early 90’s after the city of Atlanta had been given privilege of hosting the 1996 Olympic Games, several key community members in Peoplestown including Ethel Mae Matthews, Columbus Ward Jr., May Helen Johnson and others formed the Atlanta Neighborhoods United for Fairness (A’NUFF). A’NUFF protested the stadium being built in the Peoplestown neighborhood. The plans for the stadium and subsequent parking areas were moved ¼ of a mile further from Peoplestown as a result of their dedication and activism.
At this time the Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation was formed by many of the same community members as A’NUFF. The Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation has a mission to create positive opportunities for community members related to recreation and housing. Ms. May Helen Johnson is a member of several activist groups including Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation. In addition, she is one of the board members for Emmaus House, worked side by side with Father Ford, and has lived in the community for more than 40 years. Ms. Johnson met with me to discuss her views of Peoplestown:
“There are no banks, drycleaners, post office, groceries, not even a Home Depot or anything like that for people to shop in and be able to feel productive and fix their own homes. There are no tax dollars coming into Peoplestown. The only good things we have here are families, the McDevitt Center, and Emmaus House. I want to see opportunities for people to have employment. I don’t know the answers, but I have always believed that; it may not change but you must make the effort to make it change. That is what I have been trying to do for almost 40 years here.”
When asked about her highlight over the time she has spent with Emmaus House Ms. Johnson replied:
“The highlight for me would be that when people come down here to Emmaus House in spite of what they read or know, they always leave with a good impression of what we do here. Our doors are always open, even until the last biscuit. I’m glad that all my work will pay off in the end and better the neighborhood instead of myself.”
Currently there are approximately 876 homes in Peoplestown and 300 of those are abandoned or have been boarded up by their respective owners. With the lack of inhabitants, crime and vandalism are rapidly becoming a more noticed issue. The current trend, however, in neighboring communities such as Grant Park is that young white business people are moving back into neighboring areas often gentrifying the poor there, while trying to boost the economic structure.
Emmaus House completed a community needs assessment in October 2011 highlighting the perception of residents in 251 of Peoplestown’s 876 occupied residences. The project focused on race, employment, education, homeownership, renting, length of time in the neighborhood, children, religion, health, crime, safety, recreational activities, quality of life, and services offered through Emmaus House. “Of the 251 participants, 69.7% were female and 30.3% were male. The majority (88.4%) identified themselves as Black/African American; 8% were White/Caucasian, and the remainder reported being Hispanic/Latino, Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander, mixed heritage or other” (Emmaus House Community Needs Assessment). Of those surveyed one in four (25%) are between 25 and 34 years old and 62% have lived in Peoplestown for three or more years. The number of residents’ having a high school diploma/GED are 39.4%, and the percentage of those who completed college is 21.9%. Employment rates for Peoplestown are low. Only 26.3% of those surveyed have full time employment, 17.5% have part time employment, and almost 55% of the residents surveyed in Peoplestown reported being unemployed. . Over half of the individuals have a place of worship, however less than half of those attend services in the Peoplestown neighborhood.
For the majority of individuals surveyed there were significant issues mentioned concerning: gang violence (31.5%), drug dealing (53.8%), violent crime (43.8%) and property crime (51.8%). Other challenges for the community include little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or even a grocery store, limited activities for teenagers, and educational attainment in Peoplestown is below average for the City of Atlanta. However, even in light of the concern, it was interesting to learn that over 68% of those surveyed feel that Peoplestown is a good place to live over all.
In relation to Emmaus House, and the services offered, 77.7% of individuals reported knowing about Emmaus House. Of those people that had utilized the programs offered, most acknowledged they had positive feelings about the resources being offered at Emmaus House for the community.
Emmaus House, and the McDevitt Center, is actively involved in the daily life of the Peoplestown community. The community’s nine Christian churches and one Mosque seem to do little in the way of providing for the needs of individuals outside their congregations. On the fourth Thursday of each month Emmaus House hosts a free community dinner. During a recent special dinner held on November 10, 2011 discussions were taking place while waiting in line by several of my neighbors. They were discussing that it seems none of the other churches in the neighborhood are willing to provide assistance or an area for fellowship for Peoplestown community residents.
One may be tempted to focus on all of the negative that exists in Peoplestown and become disheartened and jaded that anything positive could thrive here. But, daily I have been able to see positivity in my neighborhood. I see the guidance of mothers who want the best for their children. The smiles of children as they play in the field at Four Corners Park, or the new D.H. Stanton Park that will one day be part of a much more accessible public transportation network called the Belt Line. Peoplestown has grown up out of racism, industry, and segregation. But an old deeply rooted hope exists focused on reconciliation, justice, peace, and safety. What Peoplestown lacks in resources for employment and economic opportunity it makes up for in the attempts at increased education at D.H. Stanton Elementary School. Peoplestown has potential. Its community leaders are passionate, its neighbors are involved, and again there is hope for a successful future. This hope is the heart beat of many who feel that the “inner city” and Peoplestown is not lost.
During the busyness of the holiday season it can be important to take time to relax and center oneself. Provided is some information on stress and exercises you can try at home to relieve and manage it.
What is Stress?
Stress is the perception, the way one views, a threat to one’s well being, and the perception that one cannot cope 3. The American Psychological Association defines stress as, “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes”5.
While some levels of stress can be beneficial and give you the drive you need to complete certain tasks, large amounts of stress can have negative effects.
According to the American Psychological Association there are several types of stress:
Acute stress is the most common type of stress, which is caused by “demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future” 5. It is short term and can be thrilling in small amounts.
Most common symptoms – emotional distress; tension headaches, back pain, jaw pain, and muscular tensions; stomach, gut, and bowel problems like heartburn, gas, diarrhea, and constipation; can lead to elevation in blood pressure, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, dizziness, migraine headaches, cold hands and feet, shortness of breath, and chest pain 5.
Episodic acute stress occurs in people when they suffer from acute stress frequently. Commonly these people describe themselves as having “a lot of nervous energy” or being “worry warts.”
Symptoms include – “persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain, and heart disease”. Treatment is usually needed and involves intervention and professional help 5.
Chronic stress, “comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation” and “the individual gives up searching for solutions.” It can be caused by ignoring and poorly managing every day stressors, involvement or exposure to traumatic events, stress of poverty and economic hardship, and dysfunctional families 5.
When gone on untreated, it can cause “anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system”1. These health conditions are serious, causing people to wear down, and even cause death.
Stress and the body
Physiologic Effects of Stress (Physical effects on the body)
In response to a perceived threat, or stress, the body initiates a cascade of events in the body that is started by the nervous system, most commonly known as the fight or flight response. It prepares the body for physical activity to either deal with the perceived threat or run away. The cascade of events stimulates various responses in the body due to hormones released, including:
- Increased muscle tension
- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate
- Heightened awareness of the environment
- Shifting of blood to the large muscle groups
Continued exposure to stress can cause negative effects on the body, such as:
- Decreased immune function
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Tension headaches
- Pain, increases pain perception in older adults
- Gastrointestinal complaints 3
Psychological Effects of Stress
Psychologically stress is shown through negative moods, “such as anxiety, depression, hostility, and anger. These emotions (mood states) can in turn negatively influence a person’s ability to concentrate and effectively problem solve”3.
Social and Behavioral Effects of Stress
Often times when people are feeling stressed they respond with unhealthy behaviors, including changes in eating patterns (over or under eating), large amount of alcohol consumption, smoking, or even abusing drugs. People may also be prone to socially isolate themselves at times even though it has been shown that social support has been shown to have positive effects on a person in times of stress 3.
When choosing to disconnect due to stress, a person can feel a loss from their life’s meaning and purpose. They can also choose to withdraw from religious affiliation and activities 3.
It is necessary to find healthy ways to cope and manage stress in one’s life. Listed here are several stress management techniques with examples of how to implement them into your life.
Cognitive therapy “helps individuals reappraise or reevaluate their thinking…the intent of the intervention is to change or restructure the distortions in thinking patterns that cause stress” 3. It is a short term intervention to help an individual change negative thoughts and replace them with rational and more positive feelings.
Recognizing automatic thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions that occur in response to a stressful situation can help a person change these to more positive beliefs.
- Stop what you are doing (helps to break the cycle of escalating negative thoughts)
- Take a deep breath (helps to release physical tension, promotes relaxation)
- Physically, how do I feel?
- Emotionally, how do I feel?
- What were my automatic thoughts?
Another exercise that can be used to recognize automatic thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions is the vertical arrow exercise:
- Identify a stressful situation
- Ask yourself why it is a stressful situation
- Ask yourself, “if that is true, why is it so upsetting?”
- Continue to use this to question thoughts until you are able to see a positive way to face the stressful situation
Exercise for developing an affirmation, or encouraging belief, about stressful situations:
- Identify a stressful situation – i.e. work, family, or health
- Decide how you would like to feel in the situation and what you would like to see happen
- Make the goal into a first-person statement, in the present, and in the positive – i.e. “I am confident in my work” or “I am becoming healthy and strong”
- Repeat this affirmation throughout the day
Over time the affirmations developed during this exercise will become a second nature and help reduce stress in these situations 3.
Journaling is a great way to keep track of thoughts and feelings when using these exercises. It allows you to examine life’s events and put them into perspective. With journaling it is important to not simply whine or complain about the event but to reflect on what happened, how it made you feel, and problem solve.
Eastern approaches to exercise, such as yoga therapy and Tai Chi, are useful in promoting health, decreasing stress, and increasing well-being. The various breathing patterns and postures are used to provide relaxation. Many exercise facilities offer classes for these therapies.
Yoga Therapy is the use of “yoga postures, controlled breathing, relaxation, meditation, and nutrition to release muscular and emotional tension, improve concentration, increase oxygen levels in the blood, and assist the body in healing itself” 4.
Tai Chi is a movement exercise that “enhances coordination, balance and breathing, and promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being”4.
Relaxation techniques and practices offer many benefits such as:
- Decrease in anxiety about stressful situations
- Decrease muscle tension
- Decrease fatigue and improve quality of sleep
- Improve sense of well being
- Decrease pain and increase the effectiveness of pain medications 3
Examples of relaxation techniques include:
- Autogenic Training
- Muscle Relaxation
Mediation is the practice of focusing your mind while maintaining a passive attitude. There are many practices of mediation and each one centers on creating relaxation and a sense of calmness.
Mindful Breathing Meditation I (Lying Down)
- Lie on the floor, on the couch, or in bed
- Place your hands on your abdomen
- Close your eyes and feel the movement of your body with every rise and fall of the breath
- Take deep breaths in and out
- With each inhale, repeat, in your mind, “Breathing in, I am aware of breathing in” (may shorten to “In”)
- With each exhale, repeat, in your mind, “Breathing out, I am aware of breathing out” (may shorten to “Out”)
- Try this for 15 to 20 minutes
Mindful Breathing Meditation II (Sitting Down)
- Find a comfortable chair or spot on the floor in a quiet place
- Focus on a point on the floor in front of you and gently lower your lids until they are almost closed
- Focus your attention on your breathing
- Take deep breaths in and out
- With each inhale, repeat, in your mind, “Breathing in, I am aware of breathing in” (may shorten to “In”)
- With each exhale, repeat, in your mind, “Breathing out, I am aware of breathing out” (may shorten to “Out”)
- Continue to bring your attention to your breath, allowing any thoughts, feelings, or awareness to pass through
- Try this for 15 to 20 minutes 3
Meditative Prayer – take a prayer, read it aloud to yourself, and pause after each line so that you can slowly repeat it silently to yourself. Provided is a prayer by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
Prayers from the Bible are also great sources to mediate on, such as Psalm 23:
The Lord Is My Shepherd
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Autogenic training is the process of giving yourself commands that result in physiological responses, or physical changes. These commands are meant to be self healing and promote relaxation 3.
Provided is a series of autogenic training exercises designed to help reverse the physiological effects of stress and help you relax. Think about each statement for about 30 to 40 seconds. Practice these exercises while seated in a comfortable chair or while lying down. These exercises are provided from the American Holistic Nursing Association.
Statement Number 1
My arms are heavy. My left arm is heavy. My right arm is heavy. Both of my arms are heavy.
Repeat each part of this statement to yourself several times, slowly and rhythmically. It is helpful to visualize your arms as being heavy, to feel them sinking into your lap or against the chair or the floor.
Statement Number 2
My legs are heavy. My right leg is heavy. My left leg is heavy. Both of my legs are heavy.
Think about your legs being heavy and relaxed, with the muscles being loose and limp not tight or restricted. Feel the weight of your legs.
Statement Number 3
My arms are warm. My right arm is warm. My left arm is warm. Both arms are warm.
Visualize warmth taking over your arms. You may want to imagine your arms being suspended in warm water or being warmed by the sun.
Statement Number 4
My legs are warm. My right leg is warm. My left leg is warm. Both of my legs are warm.
Again, visualize your legs being warmed in the sun or suspended in a tub of warm water.
Statement Number 5
My heartbeat is calm and regular.
For some people, it is helpful to place your hand over your heart so that you can establish what the heart rate is and its regularity. Then, passively think about your heart rate being calm and regular.
Statement Number 6
My breathing is calm and regular.
You may want to think about your breathing being deep and easy so that you have full, deep breathing, producing a calming sensation. Passively think about this. Don’t force changes in breathing patterns.
Statement Number 7
My solar plexus is warm.
The solar plexus is located in the mid-section of your body, the area below the chest and just above the abdominal area. Visualize your body floating just below the surface of very pleasant warm water or being warmed by the sun shining on this region of your body. Think about this passively.
Statement Number 8
My forehead is cool.
Here again, you want to use visualization. Picture a cool breeze blowing on your face, calming your forehead. Or you may want to picture a cool moist cloth being placed on your forehead.
My arms and legs are heavy.
My arms and legs are warm.
My heartbeat is calm and regular.
My breathing is calm and regular.
My solar plexus is warm.
My forehead is cool.
When you are ready, take a deep, cleansing breath; let is out; gradually stretch your arms, legs, fingers, toes, neck; and focus on being alert and relaxed.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you become stressed, the body reacts by increasing muscle tension. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a process of tensing muscle groups to focus on this sensation and then slowly releasing the tension. The process allows you to deepen the experience of comfort.
When using Progressive Muscle Relaxation you work all the major muscle groups in the body. It is recommended to follow this sequence when progressing through the muscle groups:
Right lower leg and foot
Entire right leg
Left lower leg and foot
Entire left leg
Right forearm and hand
Entire right arm
Left forearm and hand
Entire left arm
Neck and shoulders
Note: If you are left-handed, you might want to begin with your left foot, and so on 6.
Step One: Tension
- Focus your mind on the muscle group
- Inhale and simply squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about 8 seconds, i.e. squeezing your right hand or tightening your abdomen
Step Two: Releasing the Tension
- After the 8 seconds, quickly release the tension from the muscle group
- As you are doing this exhale and feel all the tightness and pain flow out of the muscles
The American Holistic Nursing Association provides some tips when practicing this technique:
- Always practice full PMR in a quiet place, alone, with no electronic distractions, not even background music.
- Remove your shoes and wear loose clothing.
- Avoid eating, smoking, or drinking. It’s best to practice before meals rather than after, for the sake of your digestive processes.
- Never practice after using any intoxicants.
- Sit in a comfortable chair if possible. You may practice lying down, but this increases the likelihood of falling asleep.
- If you fall asleep, give yourself credit for the work you did up to the point of sleep.
- If you practice in bed at night, plan on falling asleep before you complete your cycle. Therefore, consider a practice session at night, in bed, to be in addition to your basic practice.
- When you finish a session, relax with your eyes closed for a few seconds, and then get up slowly. (Orthostatic hypotension—a sudden drop in blood pressure due to standing up quickly—can cause you to faint.) Some people like to count backwards from 5 to 1, timed to slow, deep breathing, and then say, “Eyes open. Supremely calm. Fully alert.”
Imagery by definition is the process of taking “internal experiences of memories, dreams, fantasies, inner perceptions, and visions, sometimes involving one, several, or all of the senses, serving as the bridge for connecting body, mind, and spirit” (HN 295).
Imagery is a technique that can be used to provide a sense of relaxation and harmony when facing stressful situations. Guided imagery is when another person reads a script that helps you to imagine and create a relaxing atmosphere. An example is provided below.
“For a few moments allow yourself to take several nice, long, deep breaths. Notice the cool air coming in, filling your lungs, and the soothing warm air going out. Just let all your thoughts float away as you bring your attention to your breathing… in and out. You might mentally scan your body and notice if you’re holding any tension in your muscles. If you are, just gently let all that tension melt away with every out breath. Bring your attention to your breathing, in and out… in and out… let yourself feel more and more comfortable sitting where you are.
In your mind’s eye you see yourself descending down a long, narrow, wooden stairway towards a beautiful, inviting beach. Your bare feet feel the rough weathered steps, and with each step, you feel more and more tension gently melting away from your body. As you continue down the stairway, you notice how the bright white sand stretches down the shoreline as far as you can see. The ocean is a deep shade of blue with the fine white crests of the waves sweeping towards the shore. You reach the end of the stairway and step down, sinking into the warm soothing sand. As you rub the sand lightly between your toes, a soothing sensation of relaxation gently melts through your entire body. The roaring sounds of the sea’s surf, the waves crashing over each other, calm your mind and allow you to feel even more relaxed.
You begin walking slowly towards the edge of the water and notice the warm sun on your face and shoulders. The salty smell of the sea air invigorates you, and you take in a deep breath… breathe slowly out… and feel more relaxed and refreshed. Finally, you reach the water’s edge and you gladly invite the waves to flow over your toes and ankles. You watch the waves glide smoothly towards you, gently sweeping around your feet, and the trails of sea water that flow slowly back out again. The cool water feels soft and comforting as you enjoy a few moments allowing yourself to gaze out on the far reaching horizon. Overhead, you notice two seagulls gracefully soaring high above the ocean waters, and you can hear their soft cries becoming faint as they glide away. And all of these sights, sounds, and sensations allow you to let go and relax more and more.
After a moment you begin strolling down the beach at the water’s edge. You feel a cool gentle breeze pressing lightly against your back, and with every step you feel yourself relaxing more and more. As you walk down the beach you notice the details of sights and sounds around you, and soothing sensations of the sun, the breeze, and the sand below your feet.
As you continue your leisurely walk down the beach, you notice a colorful beach chair resting in a nice peaceful spot where the powdery soft sand lies undisturbed. You approach this comfortable looking beach chair, then you sit down, lie back, and settle in. You take in a long deep breath, breathe slowly out, and feel even more relaxed and comfortable resting in your chair. For a few moments more, let yourself enjoy the sights and sounds of this beautiful day on the beach. And, when you feel ready, you can gently bring your attention back to the present… still letting yourself feel nice and comfortable sitting where you are” 6.
Music Therapy is the systematic use of music to produce a sense of relaxation and desired changes in thoughts and feelings. Music causes various experiences for each person, so when using music to relax, the idea is visualize peaceful settings that match to the music.
It is important to select appropriate music to promote positive outcomes. Each person has different music that they find pleasing and relaxing, so it is important that you choose what works best for you 3.
- Alvord, Ph.D., Mary K., Karina W. Davidson, Ph.D., Jennifer K. Kelly, Ph.D., and Kevin M. McGuiness, Ph.D. “Understanding Chronic Stress.” APA.org. American Psychological Association. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress.aspx>.
- American Psychological Association. Stress in America Findings. Rep. 2010. Print.
- Dossey, Barbara Montgomery., and Lynn Keegan. “Nutrition.” Holistic Nursing: a Handbook for Practice. Fifth ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2009. Print.
- “Managing Stress.” AHNA.org. American Holistic Nurses Association. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://ahna.org/Resources/StressManagement/ManagingStress/tabid/1813/Default.aspx>.
- Miller, Ph.D., Lyle H., and Alama Dell Smith, Ph.D. “Stress: The Different Kinds of Stress.” APA.org. American Psychological Association. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-kinds.aspx>.
- “Stress Exercises.” AHNA.org. American Holistic Nurses Association. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://ahna.org/Resources/StressManagement/ManagingStress/StressExercises/tabid/1814/Default.aspx>.