When All Else Fails, FaithWorks

I originally posted this in January. I am posting again today because Class 40 is graduating tonight! FaithWorks of Abilene is an amazing place. I love telling people about it.

“It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”

I love my job. My actual title is Classroom Instructor; however, I learn so much more than I could ever teach.

At FaithWorks of Abilene, we provide underemployed and unemployed individuals with the confidence and skills necessary for gainful employment. Our mission is to help people find their place in the job market. We use a career counseling curriculum, provide counseling, teach the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, look at the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, and provide lessons in how to deal with conflict.

But that’s just a program description. It is important. I love telling people about it. (Seriously…invite me to speak and I will fill you in completely!)

However, there is so much more to FaithWorks than our program. It is all about our students. The reason I learn so much is that a diverse group of students bring their life experiences, their challenges, their unique abilities, and their resolve and determination to the classroom. We have students who have been told for so long they will never amount to anything. They come to us and prove people wrong.

I could tell you about the woman who made a mistake at a young age and spent many years in prison. When she came out, no one wanted to hire her; even though she attained three college degrees while incarcerated. After FaithWorks, she was given a chance by a local employer and has been promoted twice.

I could tell you about the man who was highly educated and working very successfully in his field. After a relationship break-up and emotional breakdown he lost everything. When he came to us, he had lost all of his self-confidence. Within two weeks of class starting, his confidence started coming back. He actually became a second teacher in the classroom.

I could tell you about our kitchen coordinator who never held a job for more than six months. After graduating from FaithWorks she started working in our kitchen and has been here for six months. Plus 3 and ½ years.

I could tell you about the woman who was homeless and always drunk who was estranged from her family. When she started, she had been out of work for a while. Due to some medical issues, she has not been able to find full-time work but she has been consistently volunteering ever since graduation. She has maintained her sobriety and has been living in her own home. She has reconciled with many members of her family.

I could tell you about the other 400+ students who have come through our doors.

I could tell you about the single parents who attend class and work part-time jobs in the evenings and weekends to take care of their families while they are in class.

I could tell you about the people working to make their lives better after making mistakes and picking up a criminal record.

I could tell you about the recovering addicts and alcoholics who just needed someone to give them a chance.

I could tell you about the students who experienced an unplanned life transition in their 40s and 50s and needed help getting reestablished.

I could even go on to tell you about how the systems in place that often work to make it more difficult for unemployed people to find work. I could tell you about all the obstacles that are placed in the way and all the hoops that people are made to jump through. I could tell you about the scores of people who keep telling our students, “You can’t.”

But instead of telling you about those, I just want to tell you that every single one of our students has faced a number of challenges. When they come to us, all they need is someone who will say to them, “I am on your side. You can do this.”

And once they receive a little bit of encouragement, they take off.

It truly is never too late to become what you might have been.

*If you live in Abilene and would benefit from our program, our Fall Class begins September 12! Check out our website: faithworksofabilene.org and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

When All Else Fails, FaithWorks

I love my job. My actual title is Classroom Instructor; however, I learn so much more than I could ever teach.

At FaithWorks of Abilene, we provide underemployed and unemployed individuals with the confidence and skills necessary for gainful employment. Our mission is to help people find their place in the job market. We use a career counseling curriculum, provide counseling, teach the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, look at the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, and provide lessons in how to deal with conflict.

But that’s a program description. It is important. I love telling people about it. (Seriously…invite me to speak and I will fill you in completely!)

However, there is so much more to FaithWorks than our program. It is all about our students. The reason I learn so much is that a diverse group of students bring their life experiences, their challenges, their unique abilities, and their resolve and determination to the classroom. We have students who have been told for so long they will never amount to anything. They come to us and prove people wrong.

I could tell you about the woman who made a mistake at a young age and spent many years in prison. When she came out, no one wanted to hire her; even though she attained three college degrees while incarcerated. After FaithWorks, she was given a chance by a local employer and has been promoted twice.

I could tell you about the man who was highly educated and working very successful in his field. After a relationship break-up and emotional breakdown he lost everything. When he came to us, he had lost all of his self-confidence. Within two weeks of class starting, his confidence started coming back. He actually became a second teacher in the classroom.

I could tell you about our kitchen coordinator who never held a job for more than six months. After graduating from FaithWorks she started working in our kitchen and has been here for six months. Plus 3 and ½ years.

I could tell you about the woman who was homeless and always drunk who was estranged from her family. When she started, she had been out of work for a while. Due to some medical issues, she has not been able to find full-time work but she has been consistently volunteering ever since graduation. She has maintained her sobriety and has been living in her own home. She has reconciled with many members of her family.

I could tell you about the other 400+ students who have come through our doors.

I could tell you about the single parents who attend class and work part-time jobs in the evenings and weekends to take care of their families while they are in class.

I could tell you about the people working to make their lives better after making mistakes and picking up a criminal record.

I could tell you about the recovering addicts and alcoholics who just needed someone to give them a chance.

I could tell you about the students who experienced an unplanned life transition in their 40s and 50s and needed help getting reestablished.

I could even go on to tell you about how the systems that in place often work to make it more difficult for unemployed people to find work. I could tell you about all the obstacles that are placed in the way and all the hoops that people are made to jump through. I could tell you about the scores of people who keep telling our students, “You can’t.”

But instead of telling you about those, I just want to tell you that every single one of our students has faced a number of challenges. When they come to us, all they need is someone who will say to them, “I am on your side. You can do this.”

And once they receive a little bit of encouragement, they take off.

It truly is never too late to become what you might have been.

*Spring class begins on January 19. If you live in Abilene and would benefit from our program (or know someone who would benefit), check out our website: FaithWorks of Abilene

recruiting postcard2.

The Spiritual Practice of Highlight/Lowlight; Please Join The Conversation

I want to start something new on my blog, but I need your help. I want to hear the best part and worst part of your life over the past month. In other words: your highlight and lowlight. Or, if you prefer: your happy/crappy!

The fancy term for this is examen, which means examination of conscious. It is a spiritual discipline that leads the individual to focus on the consolation (the good) and the desolation (the bad) of his or her life. We all have triumphs and we all have defeats. I believe we must be sharing them with one another.

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DESOLATION

Here is something I have noticed. When I share a post about depression, loneliness, or some other struggle many of us face, I receive a lot of feedback. Often, the comments come on facebook or on this blog, but just as often those comments come in private messages. I get that. I get the anonymity that people believe they must have in order to prevent being put down or cast aside. When people open up, they are afraid they will be looked down on. And I can’t say that I blame them.

But I continue learning that none of us are facing struggles alone. There are so many people all around us that need to hear our stories—YOUR story. People need to know that others are struggling with similar issues so that we can begin to support one another instead of continuing to isolate.

CONSOLATION

Here is something else I have noticed. When people who have been in the midst of a struggle experience some type of joy, they do not know what to do with it. Is it appropriate to be happy? Dare I smile for a moment in the midst of all this pain? Sometimes we are afraid of being happy.

But all of go through ups and downs. All of us go through seasons of life. All of us face the variety of emotions common to humanity. We need to be able to speak the good just as often as we speak the bad. Because some days I need you to remind me that it will get better. It may never be the same as it was, but there is a day coming when there will be some relief.

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We should never stay in either consolation or desolation. We move back and forth between both. So here is my new, interactive task for readers of my blog: share with us your consolation (highlight/happy) and desolation (lowlight/crappy) from the past month. You can think about in several ways: simply use the terms I have already given, or think about when you were the closest to God and when you were the farthest away from God. For those of you who are not particularly religious or spiritual, when you were the closest to the person you need to be and when were you the farthest away from the person you need to be.

Please share with us. Share in the comments on this post. Or share in the comments on facebook or on twitter (my handle there is paulmathis2). I will do this once a month, so please take part continually. I believe this is an important spiritual practice. We end every day at FaithWorks of Abilene with this practice. I am in a weekly prayer group that practices this, as well.

We need community. We need to support one another. We need to know that we are not alone in our struggle. We need to remember that there is joy in the midst of our pain. So please join with us in sharing our highlight/lowlight.

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For me this month, my highlight is my relationship with my three children. I am so impressed at their thoughtfulness and spiritual discernment at such young ages (15, 13, 11). I have often felt far away from my oldest, but I believe we are closer now than we have ever been. My middle child is full of God’s Spirit and it shines through her constantly. My youngest continues to fill my days with joy.

My lowlight is my health. In the long run, it is not a big deal, but I have to go back on cholesterol medicine. A little over 2 years ago, my bad cholesterol was really high and I was given a prescription but never took it. My classmates at that time encouraged me, I started taking the pills, and my numbers came down. I began exercising (a little) and eating better. But I have been off the medication for a year and my numbers are back up. I am not doing as well as I thought. I come from a family of heart disease. My brother died 4 years ago at age 47 of a heart attack. I need to get this under control. In addition to the medicine, I need to better with diet and exercise.

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So what about you? What is your highlight/lowlight? What are your consolations and desolations? Please do not be afraid to share. May you find encouragement as you read what others have to say.

I Choose You, But Not You

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the meaning of community. In that post, I suggested that community is a choice. Today, I want to explore that choice a little bit further.

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At FaithWorks, we help people explore options. Many people, especially those who come from generational poverty, often think they have no options.* They believe they must continue to live the way their families have lived for the past two or three generations.

In addition to that, many people come to us dealing with addiction, health, or legal issues. They believe they are severely limited in what they can do because of the consequences of their past actions.

One of the first things we do in class each semester is identify things we like to do and do well and explore how those interests and abilities can translate into jobs. While there are some realities we need to accept (certain felonies disqualify individuals from certain jobs; personally, my height and color-blindness disqualify me from being a pilot), it is amazing to realize how many jobs are available.

As students begin to learn there are a variety of options available, it is almost as if scales are falling off their eyes. They are beginning to see a world of opportunities they never knew existed.

They have learned they have choices.

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We often think we have no options when it comes to who we spend time with. We live in neighborhoods. We go to school. We work. We attend church. We cannot help who else chooses to live, learn, work, and worship in the same places, can we?

What do you look for when you make those decisions?

Often, we take work wherever we can find it. Either we need to work so we put out a lot of applications or we invest years and money in an education that will lead to a job. We choose from the job offers that are made and try to find the place that will allow us to provide financially for our families while growing as an individual.

However, with the other categories, we have more choices than we sometimes realize, or than we wish to admit.

What are our criteria for making these decisions?

Do we choose houses based on square footage, potential resale value, condition of the house, etc.? Or do we choose our neighborhood based on how closely the neighbors resemble ourselves? What would be different if our criteria were based on finding a diverse racial or socio-economic makeup in the neighborhood?

Do we choose neighborhoods to live in based on the school district? Are we looking for districts that have high test scores and an impeccable reputation? Or are we more concerned about the average salary of the families whose children attend the school? What would be different in we decided to choose school districts where we would be in the minority?

When we decide where we will worship do we look first for the truth that is being taught and the opportunity to serve? Or is our first criterion the ethnic makeup? What would be different if we decided to worship at the church closest to where we lived?

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I once struggled with how to encourage members of my congregation to become more involved with congregations that had a different ethnic makeup. This was a difficult endeavor. I was faced with many objections: their worship style is too different; it lasts too long; it is too far of a drive; I feel like they are yelling at me.

There were a number of objections. None of them had to do with the truth of what was preached or the opportunity to serve others. Although some people may have had serious reservations as to the theology at different places, they did not begin with those reservations. They began with the cultural differences.

But the important thing is: they made a choice.

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We choose our communities. We choose who is in our lives and who is not. The only limits to who joins our community are the limits we have placed on ourselves. When we realize that and learn that we can choose to invite different people into our lives then the scales can fall from our eyes. We can start building communities of diversity.

 

*I cannot overstate the importance of reading books like Bridges Out of Poverty to learn more about the long-term effects of poverty and how difficult it can be for people to move out of it.

Victorious Defeat

“Once again hear me; hide me in Your favor; bring victory in defeat and hope in hopelessness” (Psalm 4:1, The Voice).

I love reading Psalms with the FaithWorks of Abilene class every day of every semester. Although we only get to 92 and I read those 92 three times a year, it is a blessing to have different verses, different phrases, stand out every time I read them.

Today is the fourth day of the Spring class, so we read Psalm 4. In The Voice Bible, verse 1 adds a call to God to bring victory out of defeat and hope out of hopelessness.

How great to see God doing those very things again and again.

In order to see victory in defeat and hope in hopelessness, we need to change our definitions.

Defeat is pretty easily defined by our society: if you don’t look good enough, make enough money, have the right skin color, or dress the right way you have lost. If you have struggled with addictions you have lost. If you have been caught in a sin you have lost.

And there are other ways to feel defeat: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a broken relationship.

We all define defeat as those times when our lives are not following the prescribed pattern we desire.

But that is not how God defines defeat. It is in those dark, painful, lost moments that God draws victory. Because defeat is not losing what the culture of our time holds sacred; defeat is losing all connection with God.

And He fights for us relentlessly.

God pulls His victory out of our defeat because He is not willing to give up as easily as we are. God pulls His victory out of our defeat because He is not limited by our human definitions of success. God pulls His victory out of our defeat because He is not willing to give up on us.

Which is also why He brings hope out of hopelessness: We feel hopeless when we live out of our definitions. We feel hopeless when we live out of our limitations.

God doesn’t do that. He is stronger than that. He is bigger than that. He brings hope when we have nothing left because He doesn’t know better. We tell ourselves all hope is lost. We tell ourselves our situation is unbearable and overwhelming. God says, “You think you’re hopeless? Well, let me show you what I can do.”

Which is good, because I can’t do this thing called life on my own. Please hear me, God: bring me Your victory out of my defeat and Your hope out of my hopelessness.