A guest missing from the table

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be a part of a conference that brought together Doctors and literacy organizations to help start a dialog about how each of these sectors of our city can work together to ensure the success of every child in Cleveland.

I came as a volunteer in a medical center literacy program, but also as a person who is considering dipping her toes into the non-profit world and combining a love for literacy with a love for the kids of Cleveland.

I listened to speaker after speaker discuss the programs they have to ensure school readiness for children who are often ignored, and I listened to doctors who want to make sure they get parents the information they need so their kids can succeed at school.

And then one of the speakers said, we have representations from the business world, non-profit world and healthcare industry,

But where is the faith community? 

I looked around me and saw everyone nodding their heads in agreement. There is a partner who hasn’t shown up in Cleveland and for a second I wanted to scold that group as well.

Until I remembered I was one of them.

I didn’t go to that meeting representing my church or my faith. I went as a community member. Someone who sees such injustice in this city that I want to do something about it.  But I have that feeling despite being a part of the church.

Not as the church.

And much like Kristin Welch who went into the darkest parts of Kenya and asked God why he isn’t doing anything, I looked up and started to mutter the same words. And God answered me the same way he did Kristin.

Why aren’t you doing anything about this Jessica?

At the end of the day I walked away feeling disrupted. I thought I was going for one reason, and like God always does he lifts a sheet and I see the world completely different. It’s not that there aren’t churches doing good things, but they aren’t a part of the dialog of change. Its unique and precious voice isn’t being heard in the city. Its voice is hidden behind doors and programs that wait for people to come to them.

The church doesn’t need to make the community louder with programs. It needs to make the community loud with love.

The keynote speaker said  the biggest problem facing kids in poverty is toxic stress and it is one of the reasons poverty is passed through generations. It’s a stress that impacts development, learning and outcomes. It’s a stress that despite the best learning techniques possible is difficult to overcome. It’s a stress that is produced when a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t have food, doesn’t have a home.

Other stress can be overcome because a person feels a part of something bigger. And then I thought is toxic stress a stress,

from not being known, loved, or chosen.

That is the phrase that keeps rolling through my mind as I think through all the dialog from yesterday. It mixes with all those kids I knew from my days as an inner city librarian. The ones who came to me everyday just to check in, because they knew I cared where they were. It reminded me of an 11 year old girl who I taught to knit, who always had a smile on her face, who was killed by a stray bullet when she walked home from the corner store with a bag of candy. It reminded me of two brothers who were always in trouble, but always at the library because they had no where else to be and an empty stomach. It reminded me of the boy who once asked me why I was so nice to him, why did I care about him.

And all I could say was because I just did. It wasn’t anything he did or didn’t do. I just did. All those kids I knew and interacted with. All they wanted was someone to know them. To care where they were and who they were with. Someone to tell them they mattered in this world.

I think that is what the church brings to the table when we show up. Because we understand what it means to be loved when we don’t think we deserve it. The confidence we have to get through pain and suffering when we know we don’t walk it alone.

If the church showed up, could we show these kids that they are known, they are not forgotten, They are loved, even though they don’t always see it. That they are chosen to be who they are. And who they are is important.

They matter in this world. They are not insignificant.

My heart aches when I think about all those kids out there who don’t think they matter.

I went into that conference yesterday hoping to make a connection to start the literacy organization I’ve always dreamed of starting. But today, I’m wondering how I can get the church at the community table, spreading the circle of love wider and wider.

The one commandment we Christians are supposed to live out everyday, every breath and with every person is love. Isn’t that the best antidote to the toxic stress that keeps kids from experiencing transformation.

That is what we bring that other organizations don’t. We wrap all those good things they do up in love.

That’s how lives are changed.

That is how the world is changed.

So church? How are you going to show up today?


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