Working as a preschool teacher for a year has brought great perspective to my life. I have begun to realize just how much behavior is learned. I can now better comprehend how the majority of my beliefs and habits have been shaped by my upbringing. This doesn’t mean that as an adult I haven’t questioned many things or chosen to differentiate my opinion from my parents. However, it is amazing how much we take for granted as innate that we have actually been taught.

I first realized this while teaching a two-and-a-half-year-old Eritrean boy how to eat with a spoon. His family eats the majority of their food with their hands, and his impulse was to grab his food. This often lead to getting more food on his shirt and the table than in his mouth. While making a mess eating is common for any preschooler, teaching this boy to use a spoon for the first time was a unique challenge. What struck me was how much muscle coordination actually goes into holding the spoon properly, bringing it fully into your mouth, and retreating it sans food in an organized manner. For me this is so second nature. For the little boy, many spoonfuls ended up in his lap either before or after entering his mouth. It was a frustrating teaching him how to use his spoon for weeks before he began to do it correctly on his own. He would put it in his mouth, spin it, and end up with an entire spoonful of yogurt or cereal down his shirt. But as he ages, he will surely forget that at one point his coordination with a spoon was taught to him by someone else.

This experience lead me to become much more conscious of the power of learned behavior. What have we been taught that comes as second nature? Is a belief or habit you have really due to your agency, or is it due to what you have been taught? It might be worth examining others’ actions in this light of learned behavior, and realize that the majority of our daily lives consist of things that were taught to us as normal, not things that are inherently human. The way we cook, the way we bathe, the way we travel, the way we dress, the way we think, and even the way we eat. Silverware is not a common human experience!

Daily life is largely contingent on upbringing, but continual growth and development as a human being requires feeding oneself healthy and beneficial information and skill sets. As Christians, the process of learning to use a spoon can be used as a metaphor for learning to take in scripture. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 Paul says,

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

Paul believes the Corinthians are not yet ready to hold the spoon on their own. He doesn’t believe they have processed what he has been teaching, so he is continuing to give them spiritual “milk” as nourishment instead of giving them the complexity of spiritual “solid food”. But oh, how great the pleasures and richness of tastes that come with solid food! Let us as Christians be sure to press onward as followers of Christ, and prepare ourselves to receive information, revelation, and solid scriptural sustenance in the name of Christ in a lifelong pursuit. Let us remind ourselves that not all of our knowledge and skills are universal truths, and strive to become participants in global Christianity by becoming open to diverse behaviors and solid, cross-cultural conversations of scripture.

The boy in my preschool did eventually learn to eat perfectly with his spoon. However, I also had the privilege to eat with his family and learn the art of eating food with my hands. It’s not as easy as it looks.

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In transitional housing, clients are often facing more than lack of stable housing. Criminal history, lack of job experience, single parents with young children, lack of education, and mental illness are only a few of the barriers that prevent families from reaching stability. Clients who end up in transitional housing often have limited familial or social ties that will benefit their growth. Regardless of the level of support outside of the transitional housing units they reside in, clients need to be supported with examples of healthy relationships within the organization that is helping them.

Within any workplace, positive and encouraging relationships are crucial. Working in a hostile environment can bring down efficiency and productivity. When working in social services, it is especially important to remember the importance of demonstrating positive working relationships for a population that might not have had the privilege of witnessing them in the past. Frustration with coworkers is not unique to social service positions. However, civil cooperation is crucial. For many social service providers and organizations this is unfortunately not a priority. Differing theories on how to handle policies, client cases, and workplace conflict creates tension when service providers are unable to cooperate and work through conflict in a healthy manner.

Clients residing in transitional housing are often in tune with conflict among staff. When those who are working in transitional housing are unable to maintain professional and positive relationships, it makes growth in client’s relationship skills more difficult to foster. Lack of healthy skills in clients will often lead to increased conflict among housing residents and more work for staff.

Clearly conflict is not avoidable entirely. However, positive modeling of relationships by staff members working with transitional housing clients can have a highly beneficial effect on the program’s integrity and the client’s growth as a whole.

Every year the drop-in center I volunteer in has a Thanksgiving party for the youth. At these parties there are tons of tables set up, and youth and staff sit together while volunteers serve them food at the tables. Normally at drop-in the food is served cafeteria style, so the youth have to walk through the line and carry their trays back to the tables. That’s pretty standard for a homeless center. So to have food served to them and passed around the table is special, and to enjoy it with the staff is even better.

This year, after attending the party, my family Thanksgiving was given a whole new meaning. What God has given me most in this internship thus far is perspective. Recently I have been stressed about how little money I have. I have been worried about what I will do after I graduate. I’ve been concerned about how I would manage if a great financial crisis arose.

Suddenly I realized how much the little money I have really was sufficient. There was nothing I needed that I didn’t have. Food, shelter, water, and people in my life who care about me. So what if I had to wear multiple layers instead of having one giant fluffy coat? Who will really remember that I didn’t have the most stylish shoes and cutest outfits? To be honest, I don’t remember anyone’s footwear from high school. Or even from last year. I could wear the same shoes every day and probably no one would notice. Yet I still feel an anxious desire to accumulate excess.

The youth at the Thanksgiving party were entirely pleasant, laughing and having a good time. They took pictures with a volunteer dressed as a turkey. They had a raffle. They got to come in out of the pouring down rain for a couple of hours and feel loved. That’s the hope.

I still struggle with the question of why God put us in our respective circumstances. Why does someone my age end up in a world of pain and struggle, while I come into the world with a privileged lifestyle (to say the least)? So far all I know in answer to this is that to whom much is given much is expected. It is my responsibility, with the resources that I have, to share my blessings with those around me. I cannot even begin to make an impact by myself but I know I must give my part. I am thankful that being able to serve homeless youth has given me an opportunity to do so.

I hope your Thanksgiving was rich with blessings. Were you warm? Were you full? Were you in familiar company? Count your blessings! God’s been good to you!

“My God has given me
More than I ever dreamed.
A precious family,
And friends who care for me.
Why should he love me so?
Oh, that Ill never know.
I am unworthy of it all.
Still He keeps on givin’ to me.”
-Crystal Lewis 

One of the hardest things for me is learning when to lay down a boundary and when to give grace. God extents to us unscrupulous amounts of grace. Yet we often say that we need to lay down boundaries as a form of protection from getting hurt.

Does God get hurt by our actions when we betray Him? Do we need to protect ourselves and God doesn’t? Clearly God has more power, and therefore it would make sense if He was not threatened by our actions. Is He hurt by them, though? Is there ever a point where God lays down boundaries?

What about gravity? Pregnancy? Starvation? Obesity?

If we try to jump and fly out of our natural ability, we will fall. If we try to have sex for recreation out of our natural ability, we will likely get pregnant. If we decide not to eat, or to eat excessively, our bodies will respond with negative consequences. These are all boundaries of the universe. God told us in Job that He set these boundaries with intention.

Who do these boundaries protect? Us or God?

I believe God lays boundaries primarily to protect us, His children. Pain is beneficial because it sends messages to the body that something is going wrong. Without pain, we could damage our bodies greatly and not even realize it.

When setting boundaries with people it seems like we immediately try to protect ourselves. Without any vulnerability there is no opportunity. How can we find a way to navigate through this dilemma? God made Himself the utmost vulnerable. He came to us as a baby. Surely He could have come as a great big beast! God did not hesitate to create boundaries, and even violently opposed the money changers being in the temple. However, His motivation for those boundaries are His love for us.

I truly believe that our boundaries need to come from our motivation and love for others. If a youth acts out where I work they are told they need to leave, and often given a time frame they can not come back in. This discipline is not to punish the action, but to set precedence for appropriate behavior in the future. If the action involved a staff member the youth must come and talk with the staff member who the offense involved, and apologize for their actions before they can be let back in.

What I am impressed with is how often the youth, even after initial protest, seem to understand the value of this. Often the youth can even have a sense of humor about it, like one student who laughed and announced he was getting kicked out for the night after meeting up with someone and smoking pot outside during drop-in. He left hugging all the staff members on his way out the door.

I need to remind myself that in setting boundaries I am not doing it simply to protect myself. Clearly there are some boundaries that involve my personal safety, such as not allowing a stranger off of Craigslist to just come over and chill in my apartment. However, the majority of boundaries I set should be for the love of others, especially when dealing with youth whose main way of survival in life has been to push boundaries and defy odds.

While difficult, boundaries are necessary. God says to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our first instinct is to protect ourselves. Radical love is to reverse this natural effect and put others above our selfish ambition.

Philippians 2:3-4
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Being at college within a few hours of my mother’s and my father’s home I didn’t often get unbearably homesick. If I did, it was easy to arrange a visit so that I would at least have a time I could look forward to. Being at a place for homeless youth, home is a topic that one needs to be sensitive about. It’s hard sometimes for me to keep this in mind when my family is such an important part of my life.

At this year’s Thanksgiving party, after the great feast all of the youth scattered and began talking in groups or leaving the building to smoke. One youth sat quietly on his own, his eyes slightly glazed. I asked him if everything was ok, and told him I noticed he looked a little sad.

“I’m just homesick,” he said.

Turns out he is from California. He came up here as a journey into adulthood, but quickly got into legal trouble. He shared that he sees his presence here as a mandatory step in his becoming a man. While he did not mention it, he might also not have a safe place to go back to and it might not be an option for that reason alone.

This time of the year is hard for a lot of the youth. Yesterday a young woman shared that she did not get to see her one year old baby on Thanksgiving. Many youth have parents, children, siblings, and other family members that they long for during the holidays. Reality beats nostalgia. If a youth longs for a traditional holiday meal, but knows going home will only result in trauma, it’s not even an option. It can still be a painful reality. If involvement in the street has led to, or resulted from, drug addiction, dealing, prostitution, or other illegal activity you could lose a chance to watch your child grow up.

God tells us that we are to build our house up on a rock. God, the rock and our salvation, should be our foundation, not the things of this world. He tells us that there are many mansions waiting for us after we are reunited with Jesus. How beautiful is this message in a world where safe, adequate housing is a luxury?

We’re all homesick for our Creator, that will never change. I pray that soon these youth will find a home on this earth that they feel comfortable in. I hope that while doing this they can look forward to a greater sense of belonging and purpose that waits for all of us.

“Home,
Where the flowers grow.
A place for us to go,
Where I don’t feel alone
.”
-Circleslide

It’s amazing how much our names are tied up with who we are.There is a whole science around naming children, and the opportunities they might or might not have in the future according to that name. God revealed His name to His people as a means of disclosure and intimacy. We call God by different names to address His different characteristics and reign over our lives. King of Kings; saying that God is the King of not only one nation but the entire world. Wonderful Counselor; saying God is the holder of ultimate wisdom and comfort. Savior; ultimately the confession that God has saved us from our sins and our despair.

If you’re like me, when you hear a name you attach it to certain people or memories. The names of my best friends will always bring a smile to my face no matter who bears them. In contrary, meeting someone with the name of a person I haven’t gotten along with in the past can make me hesitant in my interactions.

I can see why someone with a traumatic past would want to change their name. If your name is associated with screaming and beatings, you don’t want that brought to mind by whoever you meet. The youth often take on creative nicknames for each other while on the street. These names are chosen, bestowed, or earned. They’re usually unique and unusual.

A couple of weeks ago a staff member was talking to a young man who shared that he grew up in a church, was baptized, and still considered himself a Christian. He had no hard feelings towards the church, and expressed that he would be interested in going back, but felt that he wasn’t in a good place for that right now because he doubted God still loved him while he was in his lifestyle. This particular youth had only been known to staff by his street name. The staff member said she would pray for him, referring to him as his street name. The youth interrupted her and told her his birth name. When she asked if he wanted her to use that name all the time he said, “No, only when you pray”.

What a great testimony to the power and intimacy that comes with knowing someone’s name! While street names cover a multitude of pains and sins, there is still something to be said about how your birth name is wrapped up in your identity. While God saw revealing His name as a step of intimacy with us, so this youth saw his name as a means of intimacy with God and with our staff. This encounter was not only a huge step for connection with this youth, but helped me realize the complexity of ways our names define us.

Proverbs 22:1
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; 
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

Being in a volunteer position is interesting because some of the things you are doing other people get paid for. Choosing to do those same things without pay defies most natural instincts. However, according to volunteeringinamerica.gov, 62.8 million adults volunteered in 2010 totaling to almost 8.1 billion hours in local and national organizations, service valued at almost $173 billion.

How do organizations manage to attain this much help, especially in a time where people are desperate for work and survival?

One big thing to note is that this includes religious organizations, of which much more positions are volunteer positions, and people largely do them to fulfill what they perceive as a higher calling or to pacify social pressure that might be on them from within the church.

The place I work at requires a yearlong commitment, which is not something many people eagerly sign up for. However, even in my two years of sorting clothes every week, I felt like it was not a chore to go. The staff is warm and friendly. They introduce themselves to me and talk to me every week I was there even if they had other stuff going on. They made an effort to make me feel like a part of the team even when what I did felt very menial.

This past spring I was given the mug that pictured above as a gift while I was working one day. It is my favorite mug. I almost cried because it was so meaningful that they included their regular volunteers, including myself who just put away clothing donations, as part of their staff.

Now that I do drop-in and outreach, I see even more how they include everyone as a part of the team. They give the non-paid staff equal authority in drop-in time and expect equal contribution. Besides there clearly being excess knowledge that the experienced staff carries, an outsider would likely not know the difference during drop-in of who is paid and who was just volunteer. Making those who volunteer feel meaningful and important to the team. That is a way to get people to volunteer.

“This ain’t my American dream. I want to live and die for bigger things. I’m tired of fighting for just me.
This ain’t my American dream.”
~American Dream, Switchfoot