"...we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us"
*All things expressed hereafter are opinions and my raw feelings about some of the experiences I had this summer. I am not an expert nor do I know the inner thoughts or feelings of the people mentioned. Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree.*
I've been waiting to find a good stretch of quiet time to write this post. This summer has been full of so many great opportunities and experiences. I chose this verse for the title because of its emphasis on perseverance and hope. In verses 1-2 of Chapter 5 Paul speaks of how our faith has resulted in receiving a taste of God's grace. This taste of His grace is so abundant that even just the "hope of the glory of God" (what is to come) leads to exultation.
Side note: The common/more modern definition of exult is "to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy; rejoice exceedingly; be highly elated or jubilant." However, exult used to be used in a way meaning "to leap, especially for joy." I don't know about you, but thinking about sharing in the life of God makes me want to leap for joy :)
Okay anyways, after this Paul goes on in verses 3-5 to recognize that we will face tribulations in this world. Yet, through perseverance we can increase our character and find hope. Then he ties it all together by saying hope does not disappoint because of the grandeur of what we have to hope for (the glory of God). Exult!
What does this have to do with my summer? I had the privilege of meeting some truly incredible individuals who embody perseverance through trials. I worked at a summer program called REAL. The goal of the program was to introduce young adults with vision impairments to employment and independent living. I was a job coach, which involved teaching participants job skills and supervising them on the job. Most of the work I've done in rehabilitation has been in the mental health field. This was a very new and exciting experience for me.
Each job coach was assigned two participants to supervise throughout the program. From the first day, I knew it was going to be quite an adventure. My participants were awesome! We had our shaky moments and definitely did a lot of persevering during the five weeks. We were assigned to work at elections administration in Denton. The office was full of so many wonderful people who were excited to have us there. But, the jobs the participants were assigned weren't the most exciting. Each afternoon, after a long day of folding cards to be mailed out, they returned to the dorm to hear their peers tell stories about working in retail, testing electronics, and designing a component to Second Life for those with vision impairments. Suffice it to say we did not have the most exciting job. But we made it through and even had some fun doing it. Thank goodness for my participants, they kept me laughing throughout the day.
Both of my participants amazed me with the things that they had experienced throughout their lives and how they handled them. The first thing I learned from this program was why "person first" language is so important. These individuals are so much more than the vision impairments they have. They are people, teenagers to be exact, first. As we all do, they experience things far greater and more meaningful than their visual acuity. I enjoyed so much as my participants started to open up to me about their lives outside of the program. They were all so talented. My male participant was awesome with computers and had played and beaten just about every computer game out there. My female participant has the most beautiful voice! One day after work she sang for me and it was so hard to fight back the tears. There was also a participant who played every instrument I can think of. On graduation day I was down the hallway and heard one of my favorite praise and worship songs being sung; I dashed down and got there in time to record the last part of the song. He also wrote a beautiful song which he played at the graduation. Here's him playing the praise and worship song:
I absolutely loved working in this program. It makes me even more excited about finishing graduate school and getting to work with people just like these.
I recognize this is getting long, but I have one more experience of perseverance and hope to share. For one of my class assignments we were asked to step out of our comfort zone and interact with a culture different from the one we grew up around. I chose the homeless community. One Saturday afternoon Jason and I drove to downtown Dallas. I have to be honest, when I first got there I begged Jason to let me turn around and find a different culture. I was very nervous. But he encouraged me to approach a man standing by himself digging around an ashtray. I went up to the man and asked him to join us at lunch. Ronald was definitely a little startled. He was very quite for the first 30 minutes and visibly uncomfortable being in Subway. I learned a lot from Ronald; mostly about human dignity and the way we treat those who are homeless. As with those with vision impairments, those who are homeless are first and foremost people. After this experience I can see how someone who is homeless could start to feel less than that.
First, people chose to either look away from us or stare. There wasn't much of a middle ground. I definitely noticed this. I'm used to receiving simple smiles of acknowledgement from others in passing (and at A&M a "Howdy"). This absence was strange. I can see how day after day of this could make one feel as though they are "lesser" than those whizzing by. Even when someone did stop to give change, they did so without a word and usually didn't even stop or look at the person; more often than not, change was tossed in the general direction of the person sitting next to the wall. If there's anything I gained from this, it was to always look at those who are homeless in the eye and give them a smile, a wave. Even if I cannot provide change or a meal, the very least I can do is provide them a sense of dignity.
Second, I wondered how often Ronald heard his name. Names are such a big deal for humans. No other species takes the time to name their peers. Eventually, your name becomes part of your identity. Girls often change their name in marriage as to be identified with their husband. But as a person who is homeless, especially one who hitchhiked as far and often as Ronald, hearing ones name could be a rarity. In some sense I can also see how this might start to ware on a person, making him or her feel separated from their identity.
This experience truly had a profound affect on me. The homeless population is one I'm becoming passionate about. Through it I was able to identify where outreach efforts, particularly those involving social work, might be going wrong. We must start to look at the world through the eyes of someone who is homeless. Perhaps the reason people choose not to go to soup kitchens or homeless shelters is out of feeling increasingly marginalized (look at the typical location of these, about as marginal as it comes). We must start to align our goals with theirs, build trust, and ultimately treat them with the dignity all humans deserve.