No Longer a “Street Friend”

Beckie is my college friend.  Tim is my high school friend. Adam is my camp friend. Don is my American friend living in France.

It’s a common practice to refer to people in regards to how you know them, like my example above. I refer to the many friends I’ve met through our ministry as “street friends” because that’s where we met. So how should I refer to them after they are no longer on the streets? Just friends. But it’s more than that.

When I talk about Beckie, I tell people that we met in college but just became friends a couple of years ago, and that she is a kindred spirit.

When I talk about Tim, I say he’s my high school best friend, and that he’s the one who taught me I was worthy of respect and love apart from my sexuality.

When I speak of Adam, I talk about summer camp, and connecting with him through humor and stimulating conversations about faith and writing.

When I talk about Don, I tell people he’s one of my writing partners and close friends even though he lives in France. When they ask how I met a guy in France, I say he was one of the first street kids I met in Denver, share the famous Spades story, and tell them about him falling in love with a French girl. I love Don’s story, but why do I sometimes feel the need to share that he was a street kid?

There’s always an explanation attached to the name because I want everyone to know who my friends are, how we met, and what they mean to me.

Like Don, I have a few friends I’ve met on the streets that are no longer living there. I am amazed at their tenacity and courage and how they’ve brought about positive change in their lives against some heavily stacked odds. A small part of me wants to introduce them as “former street friends” because I want others to know about that tenacity and courage too. I want people to hear the pride in my voice as I speak of them being over-comers. BUT, is that rude? I don’t want to be rude. Ever.

If Don were standing next to me and I introduced him to you, I’d just want you to marvel as I do at his artistic talent, his stunning wit, and his undying love for his family and friends, not the fact that he lived on the streets for a couple of years. It’s not who he is.

Where we’ve been says something about us, but it doesn’t define who we are!

Why use the phrase “street friend” at all? Because we haven’t come up with a better alternative.

When we’re posting on Facebook that we need more volunteers to bring food for Supper in the Park so our street friends can have a hot meal, we want people to know that we’re sharing food with our friends who live on the streets without calling them “the homeless” or calling our meal a “feed.” You feed cattle. Our year-round hot meals in the park have nothing in common with a “feed.” The phrase “street friend” is meant to be one of honor and respect for the relationship we have with our friends who are houseless. It’s also to help people who aren’t familiar with our ministry understand that we’re not just inviting random friends to meet us in the park for a picnic. We have a purpose – to meet up with our houseless friends and share a meal with them. For some it may be the only meal they’ll have that day.

I wonder if this whole conversation is just me being a girl. I swear there is something in our DNA that makes us want to categorize people into levels of friendship. From a very young age, we girls distinguish between having a friend and having a BEST friend. We do it as adults too, at least I do. I have several BEST friends. Even Facebook has categories for it.

So how do you describe your friendships? Friends? Friends of friends? BEST friends? Friends from work? Friends from church? Neighborhood friends?

Is there a better way to let people know details about a friendship such as where you met or how you know your friend? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Love…

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by | February 14, 2014 · 6:17 pm

Nowell Flood Update (and how you can help)

*This post originally began with song lyrics, then Benny woke me up this morning and told me I mixed the songs up and posted something I would never have posted if I weren’t so tired and had thought (and sang) through it completely. For those of you who read it, I apologize for the mistake! I make those a lot. ;)*

The flooding we’ve had here in Colorado this week has been terrifying. Unless you don’t have TV, or newspapers, or an internet connection (how are you reading this?) you have probably seen the pictures and videos of our scary spots. I say “our” because communities come together during tragedies.

My angle in the second picture is different, but if you look at the railing it will give you an idea of the water depth and the bike/walking path that is underwater. The third pic is the same bridge from the opposite side.

Boulder Bridge

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It’s difficult not to stay glued to the screen as devastation unfolds, hoping and praying those I love are safe. It’s frustrating being so close and not being able to get to those who need help. It’s maddening to read people’s rude comments on news stories and not turn into hurricane Niki, obliterating them for their stupidity and insensitivity. I’ve walked a fine line between faith and fury this week.

Our family lives in north central Denver. Our ministry, church, and part-time jobs are 25-35 minutes north and northwest of us in Boulder, Lafayette, and Longmont. Our house was not affected at all. We were never in any danger as the only major water near us is a big water park a block away. But, many people we love have been isolated and trapped, or dealing with flooded basements, or worrying about loved ones they can’t reach.

I cried today when we finally heard that our dear friends, Bob and Betty, (Our executive pastor and his wife/church secretary) were rescued after spending a day and night under a tarp on the side of the hill above their home as the floods raged below them. I am so grateful they are okay!

My friend Alyssa’s parents are trapped as well with her father needing medical attention. We just got news a few hours ago that the National Guard will be flying them out tomorrow.

Benny and I spent some time in Boulder today checking out the park where we host our Saturday meals and checking in with some of our street friends. Everyone we talked with seemed fine and we haven’t heard of any of our friends being missing. I hope we don’t. The rumors about the homeless being turned away at one of the emergency evacuation sites were true, but the situation was corrected pretty quickly with the Red Cross, the City of Boulder, and the site in question saying it never should have happened.

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Here’s the area of the park we host the meal. As you can see, it is fine. The creek isn’t very far away, but we think the worst is behind us and we’re going ahead with the meal tomorrow night. There are people who depend on us to be there EVERY week, but the food is only part of what we try to do.  Clean socks, encouragement, hope, listening, prayers, looking someone in the eye and speaking life into them…it’s what being a friend is about.

I’ve had moments when I was completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the need in my community. It’s paralyzing and makes me feel inadequate. I’ll bet you’ve been there too. Rather than holding on to those feelings, I started making a plan. Realistically I know I can only do so much, but my much with your much adds up to a lot of muchness. So how do we help?

Here are SEVEN ways to show compassion when disaster strikes your community:

  1. Donate bottles of water, bedding, and other needed items to evacuation sites.
  2. Donate food to your local food bank, and pet food to animal shelters. Their supplies run low during disasters.
  3. Check on your neighbors. They will appreciate it!
  4. Open your home to family and friends who are displaced. Ask others for help if feeding extra people is taxing on your family budget.
  5. Be the middle man. Don’t have stuff to donate? Collect stuff from others and drive it to the needed locations.
  6. Volunteer with cleanup efforts. The more people help, the faster your community will be back on its feet.
  7. Donate money, but don’t complain about the charities overseeing the work. If you don’t trust that your money is going to help those in need, then get off your ass and FIND one you trust. Help them – no excuses. Complaining (whether it’s founded or not) doesn’t absolve you from responsibility.

Here are a few don’ts for you:

  1. Don’t donate teddy bears and other crap lying around your house when charities need money, food, and supplies. That sounds harsh, but it happens. A lot.
  2. Don’t point the finger of blame on an agency when things don’t move quickly enough for you. The response time is NEVER fast enough when you are in the middle of an emergency.
  3. Don’t give up hope. There is ALWAYS hope, and it may come in ways that surprise you.
  4. Don’t get mad when you see stuff like this:

Colorful Colorado Waves

Several of my friends are posting pics like this on Facebook. They aren’t being disrespectful. We’re all trying to get through this and sometimes you just need a laugh. For some it is too soon for joking like this, but for others, it’s a much-needed tension breaker. If you want to get mad about something, let it be about the jerks who are posting that this flood is God’s judgment on Colorado. Before I get all caught up in that, let me bring this post to a proper close.

There are plenty of ways to help. SEVENS focuses on our street friends who have ALL been effected by the rain and flooding. If you want to help us help our friends by making a tax-deductible donation, click on the “DONATE” page button at the top of the page. To donate through PayPal, click on the yellow button on the side of the page. PayPal donations are NOT tax-deductible at this time. If you’re a local and have extra sleeping bags, coats, shoes or boots, bottled water, or ready-to-eat food you want to donate, let me know where I can meet you to pick them up. nikinowell@gmail dot com.

Thank you!🙂

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Filed under Making a Difference, Niki, Reaching Out, Uncategorized

Tips on Goodie Bags for the Homeless

homeless bags

This picture has been floating around Facebook for a while now. Whoever made this bag had good intentions and a generous heart, and there are many versions of these bags being handed out all across the country. Over the past 6 years of running a homeless ministry, we’ve learned a few things about the needs of our street friends. We know what’s practical and what isn’t, so I’d like to help you improve on these goodie bags.

We call our version of these, SEVENS Packs. Ours include our contact information, a bottle of water, assorted snacks, a pair of new socks, and when we’ve received enough through donations, a gift card for a fast food meal and/or a $10 gift card to a grocery store.

Here are some tips for making your own goodie bags, no matter where you live.

WHAT TO INCLUDE

If you don’t know what would be helpful to the needy people in your area, ask someone who does. The organizations who walk beside the homeless and hurting can tell you what the needs are, and what they have in surplus. This will save you time and money.

Toiletries

NEVER mix toiletries in with food items. The smell/taste of things like soap, deodorant, and toothpaste permeate everything else in the bag, and the food will not be edible. We once received a large donation of bags similar to this one and we had to throw all of the food items away.

Bars of soap are cheap, but they’re bulky and messy. Baby wipes are a better option for a quick clean up. Any place our street friends can access a shower will have soap, shampoo, etc. for them to use. Any toiletries should be put in a separate bag, and we suggest freezer bags instead of storage bags because of the thicker plastic. Suggested items:

  • Baby wipes/wet wipes
  • Lip balm
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen

Snacks

In general, our street friends do not have access to dental care other than teeth extraction, so we try to stick with easy to chew snacks instead of crunchy ones, though a variety is nice. They trade what they don’t like for items they do.

  • Fruit /applesauce/pudding cups (with or without a plastic spoon)
  • Chewy granola bars (Cereal bars tend to get crushed into mush)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Assorted crackers or cookies
  • Fruit snacks
  • Beef Jerky (this is a favorite even though it’s hard to chew)
  • Small bags of nuts or trail mix
  • Hard candy like peppermints or butterscotch
  • Bottled water

Misc. Gifts

It doesn’t have to be a holiday to give gifts. Some of the things on this list aren’t really gifts as much as possible needed items when you call the streets your home.

  • Travel coffee mugs from local gas stations that get them discounted coffee refills
  • New socks – When you travel everywhere by foot, clean, dry socks are a must.
  • $5-$10 gift cards to nearby restaurants or grocery stores
  • Travel size first aid kits

Winter Items

  • Hand warmers
  • Warm gloves (NOT the little knit ones that don’t keep anyone warm)
  • Beanies

WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE

  • Used items
  • Hotel shampoos & soaps
  • Religious Literature*

*A Note for my Christian Friends:

Homelessness does not equal Godlessness. PLEASE do not include religious literature. Your intentions are good, and your motivation sharing the love of Jesus, but don’t assume anything. Unless you have the time to build a relationship with someone, you don’t know what their story is and what role religion has played in it, both good and bad. Trust that God was on the streets long before you came into the picture, and faith conversations happen within the context of relationship.

ONE LAST THING

Presentation is important. Look people in the eye. Smile. Offer your gift in love and without agenda.

You’re giving hope and help to someone who is walking through a dark time in their life.

That matters, and it tells them that they matter too.

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Filed under homelessness, Hunger, Making a Difference, Reaching Out

Why SEVENS?

It’s the most commonly asked question when people want to know who we are, what we do, and why we call ourselves by this extraordinary number. There are many answers, but the simplest one is this:

God loves the number 7 so much,

He repeatedly uses it to illustrate His nature and plan.

The number 7 is found over 700 times in the Bible, second only to the number 1. In Genesis, God rested on the 7th day after spending six days speaking the world into existence. He told Noah to take 7 pairs of every clean animal onto the ark, and it was 7 days from the time of the closing of the ark until water began to fill the earth. The pattern continues through Revelation. It’s a number symbolizing completeness, perfection, being finished.

Life operates in cycles of 7: Days of the week, notes in the musical scale, wonders of the ancient world, continents, colors of the rainbow, number of holes we have in our heads, etc. We were astounded by all of the ways 7 is represented around us, but we kept coming back to the original 7, the idea of rest. That was the seed that had begun taking root.

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While God was wooing us into a deeper relationship with Himself, our eyes were opened to the lack of rest around us. We work mainly with two groups of people: Christians, and the homeless. Sometimes they are same, but even when they’re not, they have a lot in common.

Believers are taught from birth to “Go into all the world,” but I think someone scratched the record and we got stuck on the word Go and forgot about ever slowing down or stopping. To rest was to risk idleness or laziness, and we didn’t want to give the enemy a foothold. And there’s so much to do! There’s no time to rest. My grandma used to say, “You can rest when you’re dead.”

I recently heard the phrase “Christian Fatigue Syndrome.” As much as I loved youth ministry, I was definitely suffering from that when we moved back to Colorado 8 years ago. It’s an epidemic among ministry staffs everywhere. More on that later.

The lack of rest among the homeless looks different, but produces similar results. When you’re homeless, rest is a safety issue. When you’re exposed and your life is lived in the public eye, rest isn’t really an option. You’re on your guard at all times, protecting yourself or your stuff. iphone pics 12302011 048

Do you know what happens when your body doesn’t rest? It’s susceptible to illness and disease, and you cease to function at the level for which you were created. You become cynical, judgmental, and inward focused. It’s the same for the spiritual life.

For the last six years, our goal has been to be a place of rest for our homeless friends. Amidst their stormy lives, they could find shelter in our presence, share a meal with us (we DO NOT call them feeds), and know they have friends who will walk through life with them. This happens through conversations, doctor appointments and jail visits, weekly meals in the park, and a lot of hanging out.

It’s also been our goal to teach Christians the concept of rest and give them an opportunity to experience it through our Spring Break and Summer trips called SABBATH. See what we did there?

Rest takes a few different forms. Sometimes it’s getting away from it all to be refilled and renewed. Sometimes it’s sitting in the Father’s lap and resting in the midst of a stormy season of life. It’s physical AND a state of mind, and absolutely essential to EVERY human being.

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I love how it’s stated in Matthew 11:28-30:

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)

That’s the life we desire for our friends and family, and certainly for ourselves.

Today is the first day of the 7th year of SEVENS,

and the beginning of our first Sabbath year.

That’s the big announcement. Can you hear us all cheering?😉

This means so many things to us. Our ministry in Boulder is far from over, but we have reached a wonderful milestone. We’ve been creating a community for six years, and while we’ll still be nurturing and doing life with our community, we’ve come to the place of needing to rest. This 7th year will be all about that. We have a few ideas on what that will look like, but we’re relying heavily on the Holy Spirit to lead us through the process.

Our regular outreach and weekly meals will remain mostly unchanged, but we’ve decided not to hire summer interns or do any SABBATH groups this year. Our summers are the busiest time of the year with training interns and running our program, and that’s a good thing. What’s better than that? Our family ministry. This isn’t an either/or situation. Our children are a big part of the way we live out our ministry. They are a gift, they come first in our lives, and they deserve/need a Nowell family summer. In their 9, 10, and 13 years of life, we’ve never taken a family vacation. Never. The closest we’ve come is tacking a few days on to a youth trip. Even that has been over 9 years ago. We may or may not travel this summer, but everything we do will be in the spirit of rest as a family.

Why the big announcement?

YOU are invited to join us in our SABBATH year.

We know it will look different for each of you. We’ll be sharing some specific ways to find and make rest happen, but this is not a year of strict adherence to religious traditions. Really people, have you ever know us to be like that?  Think of it as a restful journey, and a practice that we promise will bring about greater blessing in your life. We’ll be hosting some fun challenges and activities relating to the number seven. Our website/blog is under construction to reflect the theme, and we’ll be chronicling our journey of rest here, and on Twitter and Facebook.

May I ask you for a favor? If you’ve ever been on one of our SABBATH trips, we’d like to hear your story, how it impacted you and or your community. Submit your stories, quotes, photos, etc. to be included in our Sabbath chronicle. Anything you feel will be uplifting and encouraging to others.

For those of you who love us from afar or haven’t participated in our groups, we’d love to hear from you too. Tell us what you think about the idea of rest. Is it difficult? How does it make you feel to take a day off? Do you take one at all? Share your stories about the number seven showing up in your life, or whatever you’d like to share.

Ty Reynolds

To kick it all off today, the first 7 people to respond to this post on the SEVENS blog (with more than 2 sentences, thank you) will receive a free t-shirt. (Not you, Ty. SEVENS interns not eligible. :P) If you already have one, you can give it as a gift, or donate it to someone else. Every time you wear it or see it, you’ll be reminded to live in the unforced rhythms of grace.

So what’s your story?

Will you join us?

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Filed under Big Announcements, Making a Difference, SABBATH

Greeting Cards & Bubbles

I guest blogged on Sacred Margins last week with the following post. Be sure to check out their site when you’re done reading here!

So many nights I’ve cried out to God asking Him for reassurance that we’re still doing what He called us to do with our street ministry. The heartache and lack of respect are draining, but there’s also been a drop in financial support, and increased criticism. We’ve reached a rocky incline and I’ve found myself doubting my ability to keep going, wondering if I’m making a difference at all.

I spent last weekend in bed with the flu and had to miss our weekly meal in the park. I was too sick to care, but then my family brought this card home to me. My breath caught around the lump in my throat as the gesture sank into my heart. Somehow, my street friends had scrounged up a greeting card. The inside was filled with their names wishing me peace and love, get well soon, and angels all around me. I was stunned, and renewed. It reminded me of Galatians 6:9 which says,

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Don’t give up. I matter. Got it.

Most of us are not in the habit of reassuring each other of our significance, which makes it easier to believe the lie that we don’t matter. But the truth is who we are makes a difference even if we don’t see it and need to be reminded. Sometimes those reminders come in strange, unexpected ways.

A few years ago, I sat slumped at my desk, working on a writing project I didn’t think would matter to anyone but me. Lost in my melancholy mood, I sat there so long my screen saver popped up.

I love bubbles. I watched as they bumped and bounced, passing over or through each other, and sometimes sticking together for a bit.  Some moved faster than others, some stayed in one general area while others made their way to all corners of the screen. I thought to myself, we are just like those bubbles, confined to a certain space and have no control over who we bump into on our journey. Notice the words confined and control – good indicators of my mood. But then I watched something amazing happen. As the bubbles touched each other, they changed colors, and it struck me that we’re like that too. While there is constant motion in our lives, we are all changed by our interactions with others.

That’s true for you no matter who you are and what you do in this life. You are changing the people around you just by being you. That’s pretty significant. And it’s okay if you need reminders now and then. They may be as bizarre as a screen saver or as sweet as a greeting card, but they come when we need them, because we are loved, and we all matter. We need to say it and live it.

Who are the people you’re bumping up against today? Tell them they matter.

You just might be the reminder they need to keep going.

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Filed under Making a Difference, Niki, Reaching Out, SEVENS Partners

Supper in the Park

Benny took Max and his best friend hammock camping for the weekend to celebrate Max’s 13th birthday. I can’t believe he’s 13. With every voice-cracking, smelly sock wearing, girl liking day, I’m the proud observer of emerging manhood. Today while two of my wild men are out conquering the Colorado forest, the rest of our family will be hanging out in Central Park in Boulder, sharing life with our friends that call the streets, parks, and woods their home.

The summer is coming to a close, and many of the 150 people we’ve been sharing our weekly meals with will be heading for warmer temps for the next several months. Our “regulars”, the friends we know by name as we seek each other out, will shift into winter survival mode. Benny will find fewer on the streets when he does outreach, but the conversations will be longer, deeper, and more desperate. Every week they’ll meet us at the park, we’ll talk about life and needs and prayers and hopes for a better tomorrow. It’s a beautiful time at these mini family reunions, yet we struggle to provide for them and for our own family. It’s sobering to process all of this, but there is peace in knowing we are right where we are supposed to be. God doesn’t show up in Boulder when we’re there, He dwells there and invites us to join Him in what He’s already doing.

We have amazing volunteers that bring the meals each week, but we need more help. We have a group that can no longer provide the meal once a month, so we need another group to step in and help fill the gap. If you are interested in more information about what it takes to host one of our suppers in the park, please email me at nikinowell@gmail.com

We are thankful for all of the people who help us serve each month:

1st Saturday – The Journey Church from Westminster

2nd Saturday – Boulder Valley Church of Christ from Louisville

3rd Saturday – The week we need filled!

4th Saturday –  Marc & Raechel Leduc & Friends

5th Saturday – Barlow’s Premium Cigars & Pipes from Lafayette

While I’m taking a moment to thank friends of SEVENS, and really a moment is not enough, we could not function without the support of our many friends that partner with us financially and/or donate resources throughout the year:

  • Alme Chiropractic / Maximized Living
  • Boulder Valley church of Christ
  • Camp OC
  • River Wild Ministries
  • The Barnett Family
  • The Browning Family
  • The Burham Family
  • The Clang Family
  • The Cloud Family
  • The Cunningham Family
  • The Cox Family
  • The Estler Family
  • The Frantz Family
  • The Gaddie Family
  • The Gilbert Family
  • The Hart Family
  • The King’s Oasis / L. Rose
  • The Lech Family
  • The Leduc Family
  • The Miller Family
  • The Moldenhauer Family
  • The Moore Family
  • The Norsworthy Family
  • The Olson Family
  • The Robey Family
  • The Rutledge Family
  • The Schlachter Family
  • The Sears Family
  • The Vardas Family
  • Vinelife Church
  • Westlink Church of Christ

I hope I’m not forgetting anyone. If I listed all of the people that encourage us and pray for us, I’d be typing all day. If this is you, thank you! We love you!🙂

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Filed under Making a Difference, SEVENS Partners, Supper in the Park, Thank You!, Volunteers