Thursday, August 21, 2014

Not Simply a Fair-Weather Friend

I'd like to share an amazing story written by two of our staff this summer.  I greatly appreciate their honesty and passion:

The times I expect outdoor things have always been the times it ends up raining. For the first few weeks, including training, the rain pushed us off the streets and into the subway for Hands of Hope-- a homeless ministry that takes us out to meet, talk with, and pray with our neighbors here. It started to feel like "rain" and "Hands of Hope" were intentionally scheduled together, and by the third week of the summer I found myself asking The Lord to bring on the rain and push us into the subway again. I had been talking with the same woman every week. My friends were there! Why would I want to go anywhere else?

On a day when one of those symbolic storm clouds you see in movies had been following me all day, the sky was finally completely clear for Hands of Hope. I had gotten hard news and my heartfelt heavy, like it really was a rainy day and there we were in the sun, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. All I wanted was some real rain so I could feel at home on my bench in the subway. I wanted the sit in the comfort of consistency. But there was the sun. I sat outside on the edge of a bench next to the Logan Square Fountain, with eyes on my group, swelling with unexpected joy as I watched them lock eyes with men and women, shake their hands, hand them bagged lunches, and engage with them just as they had with me all week.

I still felt like the rain cloud of my day was over my head. Through the thick of the storm in my head, I heard the woman on the bench next to me yell, “You! You're here! I had such a bad day and you found me!" Rochelle. My subway comfort. My rainy day consistency. The only person I wanted to see. She had decided to sit by the fountain instead of in the Subway and she sat with me. She sat and I heard all about her doctors who don't communicate well and the streets of Philadelphia and public transportation and the YouTube video her class at the women's center is putting up soon. As I eventually moved toward leaving I looked at Rochelle and I said, "Hey, you know, I had a bad day today. I needed a friend."

And she said, "Oh, I know, I could tell the second I saw your face. Come give me a hug. It's going to be okay."


It seemed as if the rain always came about when I was getting ready to engage the homeless through Hands of Hope. I had engaged with all types of people in Suburban Station, but I constantly longed to develop a deeper relationship with one of my new friends.

During my second week of hosting, I thought my opportunity to meet and greet my Logan Square brothers and sisters would not come. My youth group’s van broke down that week, the schedule flipped, and I had a site visit during the new Hands of Hope time. Fortunately, I was able to make it towards the tail end of this outreach experience, sitting on the grass as my group wrapped up a conversation with two men.

That is when I met Keith.

The group I was hosting introduced me to the two gentlemen. One of the men, Keith, reached out and shook my hand, and we spent only five minutes exchanging where our hearts rested for Philadelphia and the people there. I said my goodbyes to Keith and his friend and knew that I missed my opportunity to build a deeper relationship with one of the Parkways residents.

The following week, Hands of Hope went on as normal with my new group. We shook hands with those who laid on benches and the grass and exchanged bagged lunches for a warm conversation and prayer. I took a second to float through the park, being sure that my group was engrossed in this new experience. While walking along through cardboard boxes set up as beds, someone tapped me on the shoulder and stretched out their arms for a hug.

It was Keith.

“Keith! No way! You remember me?”

“Of course, Alexis. I wanted to see how you were doing and wanted to know if you had a new group.”

Keith sought me out. I did not have to seek for him, and the weeks after went just the same. Keith found me, whether it was in the Parkway at Logan Square or at one of our other ministry sites, like Chosen 300. He was the relationship that I sought to have, but it did not come to be until I stopped seeking and waited.


Whenever I go out looking to meet the "homeless" or the "wanderers", I am instead met. I aim to grasp brokenness and am greeted there by good news. It is as if my schedule is not planned by CSM and is not based on dinner times or ministry partners or weather patterns but on carefully planned divine appointments. Our creator is intentional. We are confronted daily here with new heartbreaks and scary, scary pictures of what it looks like to be wandering or homeless or without the things we're used to and it is here where we see God's face more clearly.

In the thick of it, I know my savior more because He is calling out to us in Philadelphia. I meet with Him and I find myself locking eyes with a Friend, a Comforter, and a rainy day consistency. My heart gets heavy seeing where the people of Philadelphia are wandering to, but every single day I learn more about God's heart for this place and I say, "You! You're here! I had such a bad day and you found me!" or “I wanted to see how you were doing...” He knows this hurt and I am drawn into his embrace.

My prayer for Philadelphia is that when our hearts are heavy for our neighbors, we seek to look this Friend in the eye and to sit with Him, and if we cannot find our Friend, we keep going and continue to walk in His path. He looks for this. He waits for it. He is not simply a fair-weather friend, but a careful planner who knows this pain and loves it all gleefully and does not skip out on time with us, even in the rain.

─ Olivia C. and Alexis W.-W.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seven Reasons for Three

Today marks 3 years since I packed my suitcase half with clothes and half with bedding, grabbed my guitar, and headed back down to Philly for another summer of adventure, not knowing that it would take me all the way until today.  I think people knowing me growing up might be surprised to find me here in Philly, but even- especially?- among the brokenness, I am in love with this city that has become my home.

I'm actually a little surprised to find me here, too.

So what do I love about Philly?  What keeps me here, celebrating instead of mourning 3 years today?

The first is the incredible community of friends I have met here.  What wonderful people you all are- dedicated, hard-working, graceful, and above all, loving.  I have shared so many wonderful times with you, and I hope to continue to do so.  Community is a wonderfully sustaining thing.

The second is the active on behalf of the many.  There is such an active community of Christians and non-Christians alike in Philly.  If I were more prideful, I would say that you make me know that I'm not alone in the work I do.  Instead, I want to say that I feel blessed to be able to join in the great work that has been going on for many years and that I pray will continue to go on for many more.  You are all so full of wisdom that I know my opportunity to glean from you will not dry out soon.

The third is my family- being from this region has been such a blessing, to be able to make my own life but to still remain connected to my family has sustained me as well.  They support me, check up on me, take interest in my life, and have fun with me at holidays, get-togethers, and any old random day.

The fourth is opportunity.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and there is a lot of need in Philly.  I don't know where my life will take me- I didn't think I'd even be here!  But I know that there is much to do, and much that excites me.

The fifth is food.  Let's be real.  Philly becomes more of a foody city with each day and I LOVE it.  That includes urban farms, CSAs, hole-in-the-walls, food trucks turned restaurants, co-ops, whatever that creation was I made for dinner last night, my backyard container vegetable garden, and more.

The sixth is the city itself.  It changes every second.  I drive the same route every day, but there is always something new to see or notice.  Some new graffiti, some new building development, sometimes less graffiti, sometimes less development.  If you've ever driven with me you know how distracted I can get by observing what's going on around outside the car- I love watching the city grow and change.  Which leads me to:

The seventh, which can at times be annoying, is the lack of privacy.  There's a lot of people in a small place here and especially in the summer, people take to their porches and stoops.  But that means that there are that many more neighbors that you see that much more frequently.  My block becomes alive again each summer, and it is such a blessing to catch up more frequently with neighbors, play with the kids, and look out for each other.  Plus, it's fun to watch the city live their life outside- friends greet each other at bus stops, neighbors watch other neighbor's kids, people go on bike rides or runs together, strangers help each other with engagements behind the art museum (it happened!), and people take to decorating their stoops or taking care of their front-yard gardens.

I think the most popular plant of choice in Philly is the knock out rose bush.  And everywhere you go you see these flowers uniting and beautifying Philly with their blooms.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An attempt to explain myself. Or, why I took a trip to the Northwest by myself.

As a lot of you know, I was able to take a trip to Portland and Seattle this past September.  It's been a dream of mine to see the Northwest since some time in high school when I started reading Don Miller and hearing about how beautiful Oregon was from anyone who had ever been to Oregon.

So naturally, when I got the chance to go, I took it.  What ended up happening was that I got to meet so many amazing people and discover another little piece of who I am.

I also ate more food than is necessary or possibly forgivable in Portland.  But I'm okay with that.

What I really want to talk about is one of the biggest take home messages that I got out of the trip (it was also really fun and gorgeous and I'd recommend visiting to anyone who has eyes or taste buds).  On my last day I was able to attend Imago Dei** which is the church that Don Miller writes about lovingly in many of his books.  Also I love visiting churches.  It had nothing to do with Don Miller, nothing at all.....

One other piece of background info you should know about me is that my favorite Bible passage is from John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well.  You can read it here.  I love the beauty of Jesus' gentleness in the woman's moment of vulnerability, the mystery of the timing of the whole thing, Jesus' vulnerability in return, and the incredible change that comes from knowing and being known.

So if you haven't figured it out, the sermon at Imago was on John 4, which was like, really?  Really?  Yup, really.  You wait for years to go do something and then it's more than what you expect.  That's really beautiful.

The pastor was basically like "Man!  It must have been so awkward all the time to be a disciple of Jesus."  He pointed out all the crazy weird things that Jesus did and how awkward it must have been to be there with him when he did stuff like turn water into wine or talk to a Samaritan women and then say he's not hungry even though they just walked all day.  Strange, strange man.  Basically, the point is, it's not about whether or not you have any idea what's going on or not or why Jesus is spitting into dirt and sticking it in a blind guy's eyes.  The point is whether or not you're willing to hang around and engage with what's up.

He went on to further explain that when you do go, he (Jesus, God) will pull you into relationships that are awkward and hard and confusing but ultimately healing and reconciling.

I, and other transplants to Philly like me, can tell you about awkward.  Like having a conversation with someone who you know is speaking English but at the end you just have no idea what you're talking about or how you got on this subject, whatever it is.  It's trying to tutor middle school girls and not understanding what it means to have actually grown up in this broken, dirty city.  It's being surprised that the elementary school kids you're taking on a trip to Lancaster are both excited and terrified by seeing cows in person.  It's, for the first time in my life, walking into a grocery store or a church or a workplace and being the only white person.  It's attending a church where half the people pray in Spanish, half in English, and there's hardly ever translations.

And I've been, am being, healed.  Am learning what a long, hard, complicated journey reconciliation is.

See, where I'm from, you don't really go to Philly because it's supposed to be dangerous and bad.  But something occurred to me back in college- people live in Philadelphia.  1.5 million of them, I've since found out.  And actually live there- and I figured, hey, they might just be just as much people as the people I know out here in the suburbs with hopes and lives and kids and hobbies.  I imagine that Jesus already knew that when he took his besties through Samaria and that was what he wanted to show them.  As if he believed that taking them out of their norm, pushing their boundaries, and making them interact with someone new might make them better people in the end.  And that's what I've experienced since being here- when I come in contact with the new, it makes me realize how imperfect, judgmental, and broken I am.  But through the grace that is necessary in all relationships we are all healed, all a little bit more reconciled, all a little bit more human for it.

I went to the Northwest kind of afraid but mostly excited, kind of hoping that I'd fall in love with it and never want to come back East.  Instead, I found the words to help explain another part of my story.  And that's why I went to the Northwest, to find out why I really wanted to stay in Philadelphia.  A take away message can't be the reason for deciding beforehand to go a trip, can it?  Well, maybe time is a little more circular than we think.

**I'm going to summarize what I got out of the sermon but you can check it out for yourself.  One of these links should work (It's the Sept 29th 2013 sermon):

Monday, March 18, 2013

Contrast: it's more than just an option on Instagram

These past two weekends I was able to attend church service at Chosen 300 where a large portion of the congregants are homeless or below the poverty line.  I don't know what it is, but something about being around the homeless has always made me feel pretty at home, and yesterday I was singing away like I hadn't for a long time and enjoying the freedom that comes when you don't have much to lose or be embarrassed over.

As we were leaving, both this week and last week the group leaders pointed out a building across the street.

"Look, there's an abandoned church for sale, right across the street."

That's a pretty sweet looking church.  Philly is full of them, too.  And when you turn around you see a live chicken store and an unassuming brick building with a red awning proclaiming "Chosen 300" across the top, but it's a church nonetheless.  It's this contrast that reminds me how much Philly has changed over the years and how the church can adapt to the needs of a city.

My groups were there to help serve breakfast to the men and women who came to church that day, and in another moment of contrast I saw a line of kids from another part of the world standing alongside trays of grits and eggs across from a hungry congregation of mostly long time, weathered Philadelphians.  Contrast.  You know, it's a little awkward at first to have lines so distinctly drawn, but then you all sit down to a warm plate of grits and suddenly everyone's pretty happy.

I really believe in what I do and the impact a week here can have on a group or on places in Philly, but I have to admit, sometimes I wonder why anyone would come to Philly for only a few days.  Why come to this city that's not you're own, be uncomfortable all week, invest in people you may never see again, and then go home?  At some points, it just doesn't make sense.

So I'm standing outside these three white fifteen passenger vans watching my group attempt to unload (it's a process, let me tell you) and this man was walking along the street.  This was last Saturday night (read: St. Patty's day warmup) and we were in Center City, in a pretty high end area getting ready to meet some of the homeless who live there, so the guy who came up to us looks (smells) like he's started a few hours earlier and he was asking us how to get to the Parkway (read: a bar).  So, I turn him around and send him the opposite way of our group and I look back over this laughing bunch of kids and parents as they pass out socks and chapsticks between them and I think, "You know what, they're here."  And the simplicity of that made me smile.


Sometimes you need it in order to see what's right under your nose.  My hope is always that these groups go home and learn how to see their own town in a different way, or their own lives, or their own schools.  Any little bit is why I do this.  To have one person look to someone out of love and realize the need and humanity in another person and see that maybe there isn't so much of a difference between us, but that contrast will highlight that we are essentially all the same.  Contrast defines the dark from the light, helps us see the image clearer, and maybe it can help us define what isn't worth holding on to, and what is.

Oh, and here's something else for contrast:



Yeah, a group did that.

*Thanks to Google maps for the first two images!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Groping through darkness..." "It's never wrong to love."

I have to admit, I was touched by President Obama's remarks on Sunday night.  The line that keeps resounding in my head is one I've heard from others in the past, "we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God's heavenly plans.  There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love we have for our children, our families for each other.... We know that's what matters.  We know we're always doing right when we're taking care of them, when we're teaching them well, when we're showing acts of kindness.  We don't go wrong when we do that."

And that's so interesting to me, because about a year ago a friend of mine at the after school program said basically that same thing, "Even when things are hard and we don't know what to do, we can cling to the things that we know are true.  Like loving the kids.  It's never wrong to love one another."

I know that I've clung to that through this past year, when students don't want to do there homework, when I'm not sure what's next in life, when I get confused, I know at the very least, if I love those around me, at least that then is good.

Since everyone has a child, knows a child, and/or was a child once and also has been to school, has seen a school, and/or has watched an after school special, everyone was touched by Friday's tragedy.  So the question that's ringing in all of our ears is, "can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?"

The sad thing is that the answer on Friday was no.  And the sad thing was that the answer on Thursday- regardless of whether Friday was going to come or not- was  no, too.

How many kids in America go to bed every night hungry?*
How many are falling behind in the achievement gap?**
How many teens struggle with depression?***
Why are the bathrooms locked in between classes at a certain small urban middle school?****

And the list goes on and on and on....

So let's love and let's work hard to find a way to keep even one more person safe, to help even one more child learn how to take care of themselves and others, or to help even one more person through.

I don't pass these kinds of things on a lot, but I want to end on a positive note and some of these are really cute:

To everyone who has lost, my prayers and thoughts.  I can't even begin to understand what it must be like.

* 16 million.  Or, 1 in 5.

** 8% of students in poverty graduate college by age 24.  Oh yeah, that's basically that 16 mill that are going to bed hungry every night, too. (PS 8% is not a lot.  It's about 80% in children not in poverty).

*** Suicide is the third highest cause of death in teens, right after accidents and homicide.

**** Because students were being initiated into gangs between classes.

*** and
**** The security guard at the middle school where I did my observation placement.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's the Holidays and I have so much stuff.

Or, alternatively, I want to give some other people some stuff!

If that sounds like you, check out these opportunities below!  I know a lot of you already donate time, talents, money, etc, but if you're looking for new ways to give, check out these!  I'll post more as I find out through December.

Inglis House
Inglis House is a home for those who are wheelchair bound.  They do there best to help all residents reach a level of independence that they want.  I've seen people who can only move their heads navigate computers with ease using adaptive equipment.  I've learned to weave alongside residents.  I've listened to stories residents have written.  It's an incredible place.

Inglis is looking for people to donate items for their holiday gifts which they evaluate and then personalize for each resident.  The list is kind of long, so check out the bottom of this page for the list!


If you wonder where food banks get there stuff, look no further than Philabundance, a food bank serving 9 counties in southeaster PA and New Jersey.  They do some great work, but they need help getting Thanksgiving meals to people!

Check out this site if you'd like to help donate to give a Thanksgiving meal to someone: Click here!


It's getting down to the wire on this one, but if you've got cash and you want a MANNA Pie (it helps feed a family!) make sure you get down there soon!

 Forgot to order your Pie?   
Pick one up at MANNA's Cash & Carry Pickup Sites 
11am - 2pm 
  • The Bellevue Hotel, Broad & Walnut Streets, Philadelphia 
  • 30th Street Station, 30th & Market Streets, Philadelphia 
  • MANNA, 2323 Ranstead Street, Philadelphia 
Traditional Apple | Holiday Pumpkin | Southern Pecan  
Questions?  Call MANNA at (215) 496-2662 or email 


That's right, CSM fundraises as well.  If you'd like to donate to CSM, click HERE for my personal fundraising page.  I'll have a new goal set next year, but it's not too early to get a head start on it!

Thanks to everyone for checking out this info, and for considering helping out!

Have a great Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays all year.



Inglis' Wish List:

Shopping Ideas to Help
Bring the Holidays to
Inglis House Residents!
Winter scarves, hats & gloves
Decorative scarves
Fabric headbands
Socks & slipper socks
Costume jewelry
Women’s purses
Waist packs (men’s & women’s)
Sweat pants
Elastic waist skirts
Winter fleece vests and hoodies
Zipper-front sweatshirts
Long sleeve shirts
Lip balm
Body wash (men’s and women’s)
Perfume/Cologne/After Shave
Denture cream
Toiletries (Continued)
Battery operated toothbrushes
Shampoo & conditioner
Body Lotion
Other Ideas
AA and AAA batteries
Decorative wall calendars
DVDs and CDs
Fleece blankets
Target and Walmart gift cards
Greeting cards
Large wall clocks
Writing supplies (note cards, paper, large size pens,
fine tip markers, postage stamps)
Picture frames
Small photo albums
Small refrigerator
Wheelchair bags (canvas and fabric)
Wireless headphones
Wrapping paper
Please drop off unwrapped donations in the Volunteer Office (first floor, main lobby)
by Thursday, December 13, 2012. Be sure to sign the holiday card while you’re there!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Be a Blessing!

If you've ever worked with me at CSM, you know this phrase because I've yelled it at you as you leave for a day of service, and you've probably rolled your eyes and (hopefully) chuckled a little bit at me.  I like to have  fun and make people laugh, but I also mean what I say, even if I'm laughing.

Be a blessing!

With Thanksgiving approaching I've been thinking about what it means to be on the reciprocating end of thanks.  We're trained to say thank you when we grow up, we write thank you cards, and we cook turkeys in honor of the Indians.  And we know that it's right and good to be thankful towards people because we also know how good it feels when someone says thanks to us- and how bad it feels when they don't.

I guess I've been thinking about this because a lot of life is really thankless.  Nobody thanks me for making my bed, eating food, and generally taking care of myself.  That would actually be kind of weird.  But now that I think about it, how cool would it be if the people that really knew you and loved you said to you, "I'm glad you got out of bed today and brushed your teeth.  Thank you for taking care of yourself so that we can spend time together."  I'd feel really loved by that friend.

Or... no well it's still kind of weird.

I guess it's just that thanks have become so expected and routine in some areas (thank you cards after certain occasions, or a "Thanks!" after you pass the salt) that they don't really mean much anymore.  And any time you feel like you should say "Thanks!" outside of those social norms, you're really putting yourself out there.  Like, "Oh, I really liked what they did, but they know that already so I don't need to say anything."  Or, "What if they think I'm weird for liking this or just overly joyous or even straight up lying?"

Am I the only one who thinks these things sometimes?

Anyway, let's get to the stories.  Last week all of the year-long Apprentices came to Philly to be trained and I had the privilege of hosting them.  I also had the privilege of laughing my head off with them over the amount of food one* can consume at a diner.  I got to share with them some of what I learned last year, and I got to show them around this awesome city.  But the best was at the end of the week, I got this hand-made card with everyone's signature on it thanking me for my help.  I didn't do this for the recognition, I did it because Apprentices are awesome people and I wanted to meet them and help them get off to a good start. But man, I sure felt appreciated.

Another example.  I have just returned from gorging myself on the most excellent pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner I have ever eaten in my life.  This is half of it:

There were EIGHT kinds of meat.  EIGHT.  And, sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, stuffing, mac n cheese, rice, collard greens, cabbage, punch, pasta salad, potato salad.... I'm getting full just typing this all out.

Here's the thing.  This awesome family, for four years now, has hosted this party and invites, from what I gather, like, everyone they know.  Because at this time of year, why not just throw together an entire extra day of food for everyone you know?**  But the thing is, everyone felt so appreciated.  It was laid out beautifully, it was delicious, and it was fun.

I've got a lot to learn about really appreciating those around me, thanking them for being in my life, and saying to them directly, Thank you for being in my life, you are meaningful to me.  Like I said, it's a big risk.  I mean, what if you have this party but no one comes?***  Or what if you send a card but the person doesn't write an awkward blog post about it?  Or if you say those words above, but they get all freaked out?  We even all have different ideas of what it means to be appreciated.  How can we even be a blessing if we don't know what that's supposed to look like?

What I try to remind myself of though, is that since the risk is so deep, the payoff is so deep too.  Because as I left that cozy house, I felt full, but man, I really felt loved.

BONUS!  SIDE NOTE!  Or, bottom note, as it were.  Anyway, a lot of you know about this, but this can be a tool that can potentially help you understand more tangibly how you love.  It's called love languages, and the quizzes are free, so, even cooler.  Just click on your category!  Or, the wrong one and see if you can win.****


**Because it's a lot of work.

***Because everyone can casually resist this meal.

****Just kidding, loving is not about winning.  Except when it is.  Which is never.