Experiencing Grace

The chances are if you are a Christian, to varying extents, you’ve listened to sermons, read scripture, and sung multitudes of praise songs, all of which, in someway or another, to help you better understand God, God’s relationship to you, and your relationship to the world. Well, if you’re anything like me, the moments when the messages of the bible reveal the most is less during church, and more when I can relate my experiences to those messages. Having the opportunity to work at New Horizons has given me many experiences that have brought to life the messages of the bible, and most recently, what it means to be covered by God’s grace.

New Horizons is much more than just a drop-in center for homeless youth. What makes us unique, and I’ve been told this by many of our youth, is that we try to intentionally build relationships with everyone who walk through our doors. Some of our youth are ready to build those relationships, some aren’t. Of those who want to build relationships, some are a pure joy to work with, others make me want to rip my hair out.

Lately, I feel like I have been building more relationships with the latter. Just the other week I offered to drive a youth to his old work place to pick up all of his belongings because he had just gotten fired. So we drive to this place, load up all his bags, and head back–no problem. We ended up having a good conversation too, which is a bonus in my book. We drive back to the New Horizons parking lot, which is two blocks away from our actual building. He has around six bags total, and as I open up the doors to unload he happily volunteered me to be his pack mule. Yes, Dean you carry five bags, and I’ll carry this small purse-like bag and my skate board. Thanks, Dean! I’m jokingly thinking in my head “well that’s not very polite, especially since I just drove you to pick all this shit up!” Anyway, I laughed about it and kept walking.

We’d made a deal that he would pick his stuff up, sort it all out at New Horizons, leave what he didn’t want, and head out. Well, apparently that previous agreement wasn’t going to work out and he now needed to do his laundry before sorting his clothes. Which I said yes to. Now, normally we don’t let youth in our building past drop-in hours, and I was already letting him slide by sorting his clothes, and now I’m really letting him slide by getting his laundry done. Four hours later he finally finished up and somehow instead of six bags he now only has two. I was suspicious where the other four bags went, but I was tired and working overtime so I left, not asking questions and followed him out the door.

A couple days later I find out where those four bags ended up when he storms up to me during drop-in, upset that all of his stuff was now on the hangers in our clothes section. Apparently he hid his bags in a storage closet. When youth leave their belongings overnight we wash them and take them in as donations. This particular youth has been coming to New Horizons for multiple years and knows he can’t leave his stuff at New Horizons, which is exactly why he hid his stuff in that closet.

When I found this out I was furious. I didn’t have to drive him to get his stuff, but I thought it was a good opportunity to form a relationship. I drove him, carried his bags, let him do his laundry, and it felt like it was all for nothing. He manipulated me for his own gain, and when his scheme didn’t work, he took it out on me. Unfortunately, this is a common theme at New Horizons.

It was this experience that shed light on what it meant to be covered by the grace of God. It’s easy to give our youth enough grace to keep coming into drop-in, but it’s not easy to give them grace in our relationships. Choosing and wanting to continue forming a relationship can be extremely hard when someone continues to break that relationship. And it’s knowing how hard it is to show that grace which has helped me to have an even better understanding of God’s love for me.

I could totally break into sermon mode right now, and repeat a message you might have heard several times, but i’ll try to sum in up in one sentence. God’s grace doesn’t run thin like ours, it’s not hard for God; no matter how many times we break that relationship, God will have grace for us and continue to seek that relationship. Again, if you’re anything like me, hearing that is only going to impact you to a certain degree. I encourage readers to reflect on their experiences, emotions, interactions, relationships, and see how they might bring sermons, songs, and scripture to life.

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Loving A Neighbor

When I first started to make this blog it took me a long time to figure out what to name it. So many blogs out there have really catchy, witty, names, and I really wanted my blog’s name to be fun and catchy as well. The more I thought of names the more hopeless I became; for having the last name Witt I’m really not that witty.

I eventually told myself I’d just settle with something simple, so I decided to go with Street Love. I mean, what’s more simple than that, right? The very basis of what I do at New Horizons is to bring love to the streets. Street Love seemed like a great fit.

But after working at New Horizons for just about two months now, the name Street Love means something very different to me. At first, I thought I knew what bringing love to the streets meant. I had a loving family, loving friends, and a loving community. I had felt love, I could show love, and I was going to bring that knowledge and apply it to the streets. It was simple…not easy…but simple.

Well, it turns out showing love to homeless youth is neither easy nor simple. I’ve learned that the difficulty to love someone is very different than the complexity of knowing how to love someone.   Love becomes difficult when you try to show love to someone you don’t necessarily want to show love; for example, when your neighbor keeps letting his dog poop on your front lawn. Love becomes complex when you want to show someone love, but the way you choose to express love isn’t accepted; for example if you love to give hugs and the person your hugging dislikes physical contact, the more you continue to hug that person, the worse off your relationship could become.

When I started to think more about the complexity of love, I also began to think more about what Christ teaches about love. Christ tells us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” but what exactly does that mean?

For the first month and a half I had been loving the youth the way I wanted to be loved, but sometimes that’s not what they need or want. In the morning when the youth come through our doors and I greet them, I’ll say something like “Good morning! How ya doing?” and sometimes I’ll get responses like “leave me the f*** alone” or “don’t f****** talk to me.” At first when a youth would say something like that, it would set off a trigger. I thought it was a cry for help, and I wanted to talk with them, listen to them, help them through whatever it was making them so angry, but I later realized that might not be at all what they are asking for or need. Sometimes the best way to show them I care is to actually leave them “the f*** alone”.

I’m realizing the only way I know how to love myself is from what I’ve learned about love from my own cultural background. Almost every person I have built a relationship with in the past has come from a similar, if not the same, cultural background. All of my family and friends have finished high school, have a career or working toward one, have never been severely addicted to drugs or alcohol, and have always had a place to stay at night. Most of what I just mentioned cannot be said by our youth. The way I have learned how to love was developed from a context that is worlds apart from the lives of street kids.

Now I’m not saying that Jesus was wrong. I’m just saying I think there is more depth to that commandment than the literal translation. Instead of loving someone as I want to be loved, it’s even better to love someone how they want to be loved.

In light of this, Street Love doesn’t necessarily ring the same to me. Instead of reminding me that I’m here to bring love to the streets, it reminds me that I’m here to learn how the streets need love.

Losing A Life

As I sit here trying to come up with the words to accurately describe my experience in Seattle, a verse keeps coming to mind. Matthew 10: 39: Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. This verse resonates with me because I have given up a large part of my life to be here.

For the past 22 years, everyone who has ever had a significant impact on my life I met in Grand Rapids. I have met and befriended some of the most amazing people I will ever meet, and they have all contributed to the formation of the person I am today. My life was built in Grand Rapids, and so much of my heart is still there. I miss and love my community back home. And that is exactly why Matthew 10:39 hits me especially hard.

I promised myself I would go wherever God called me to go, and I am sticking to that. God called me to start this exciting new adventure, but he also asked me to leave the life I had in Grand Rapids, my family, my friends, and my community. But as hard as it is to leave that life, I feel as though God is revealing the purpose of mine.

It’s hard to not question yourself when making life changing decisions. “Is this the right choice? What if I’m not meant to do this? What if I’m wrong?” At least, it was hard for me to not ask myself these questions as I was driving down the road to Seattle. Fortunately, God has a way of extinguishing fears.

It wasn’t long before I realized that this transition is just another step in God’s plan to reveal my life’s purpose. The blessings have been poured out on me. I moved out to Seattle with almost no housing plans whatsoever, and the executive director at New Horizons has kindly allowed me to take over the basement of her house, rent free. In two weeks, I have managed to find a great church, make some amazing friends, and find a permanent housing situation. Not only has life outside of work been incredible, but life at New Horizons has been equally amazing.

The work we do, the kids we meet, and the relationships we build attach overwhelming meaning to life, and I am incredibly thankful that God chose me to work with the New Horizons staff. In the short time I’ve been at New Horizons, I’ve experienced both heartbreak and miracles. I find myself leaving morning Drop-In and itching to go to evening Drop-In. For once in in my life, a 13 hour day doesn’t appear as hell, but rather a gift. Each day I find myself more and more attached to the youth that walk through our doors, and it makes me feel at home.

In losing the life I had back home, God has comforted me by revealing a life I can find here. Any doubts I may have had have completely gone out the window. I am meant to be here, and God is with me every step of the way.