January 31, 2012
“Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcast weeps. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” Brennan Manning
Dear Family & Friends,
Happy New Year! I cannot believe January is almost over and February is knocking at the door. Over dinner, Kevin and I were discussing an experience we both had over the holidays. It’s been churning in our hearts and minds and we are praying how God wants us to respond.
Allow me to share our encounter – it started at the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council meeting. It was in November right before the holidays and most of us were excited about starting our holidays and all the festivities that accompanied them. Right before the meeting ended, Gina Johnson, Ventura County Probation Agency’s Division Manager made a request. She asked if anyone was interested in judging the decorated rooms in the Juvenile Justice Facilities. Gina went on to say that the kids have been working hard and many of them had some incredible artistic skills.
This request sparked my interest, but December is a very busy time – between City Impact’s Christmas Hope Toy Drive, Secret Santa Outreach, Chelsea’s 21st birthday and the Ham’s Christmas trip toNew York City, could we possibly squeeze in one more thing? So, anytime I think I am over-scheduling myself, I bounce it off of Kevin. “Wouldn’t this be a great thing to do with those “knuckleheads” before we leave to NYC? It will put us in the Christmas spirit, if the above activities didn’t accomplish that task. Kevin must have read my face and enthusiasm and then succumbed to the pressure – “Sure – let’s jam one more thing in!”
So, December 20th, we joined Gina, Mark Varela (Chief of Probation) and the other five volunteers at the Juvenile Facility. Gina gave us a brief orientation and described the pods we would be visiting. She then asked if there were any questions, as I turned to look around the room there Kevin’s hand rose and he asked, “We can talk to the kids, right?” “Of course, you may – just remember some of them will not engage you.” Those words of warning did nothing to hamper Kevin’s gregariousness or his Christmas spirit.
We entered one pod after another, viewing the skill, creativeness and imagination of their handiwork. Wow, these kids are filled with talent and potential. Yet, you could not help but think – because of their poor choices and criminal behavior most of them would not be spending the holidays with their loved ones. Those thoughts did not hamper Kevin fully engaging the kids, “You created this? – tell me about it.” “How long did it take you?” “You did it free hand?” and then, the harder questions came, “What are you in here for?” “Does your family visit?” “How long will you be in here?” Kid after kid told us their story, bad choices, they did not think through the consequences, no one to guide them or hold them responsible. At the end of the evening, our hearts were bruised and our eyes moist with tears. Today, we are still praying how God would have Kevin and I personally respond. Yes, City Impact has programs inside and outside of the Institution, which I am grateful. But, we believe it is something more. Please pray as we contemplate what God would have us do.
Because of Him,
Betty Alvarez Ham, President