Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Big News People! I'm Moving!

It was in a tiny shop in the middle-of-nowhere that I first heard about the poverty on Native American reservations. As I listened to this stranger tell me things I had never heard before, my heart was stirred. Maybe I could work on reservations.

A few months later the idea was still stirring, though quietly. I attended a few lectures at Fuller about sexual abuse and identity among Native Americans, and I began to write my papers on the web of poverty that many reservations are caught under. Then, as many of you know, I spent a hard and heart-breaking summer working with high school students on the White Mountain Apache reservation. I was overwhelmed by the brokenness, by the stories of my students, and the pain they went through.
  How could I not continue to come back after knowing how much need there was for the gospel in this place?

But time moves on and has a way of blurring the lines of your memory. I got involved in school, got distracted by my impending loan payments, and started applying for jobs. Going back to the reservation was not even an option. I had loans to pay and a life to get started. 

So when the idea hit me during my visit back for the Apache Youth Ministry spring retreat that maybe I had a calling in Arizona, I was as surprised as anyone. 
I never imagined going back so soon, yet God had planted a seed in me that wouldn’t seem to stop growing, no matter how much I tried to stop it out with logic and budget plans. It seemed that God had a plan for me that I could not ignore. 

The idea started with one of my students from last summer. As a graduated high school student she doesn’t seem to know quite where to go from here. Though she desires to be off the reservation it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Because of poverty culture and a lack of parent involvement, these students don’t have the skills they need to rise out of poverty and survive off the reservation. 

They are seemingly stuck in the mud, wishing to get out, but with nobody to give them a hand.

So this is where the exciting news comes: 
I’m moving back to the reservation ya’ll! God has given me a clear vision that is leading me back to Apache Youth Ministries as a team member, at least for the next year. Then, over the next few years I hope to develop a program for students who graduate high school on the reservation. It is my vision that I will have a home where they can come and live and be trained in order to reach their future goals, be it college or a specific job. 
The dream is to empower students to be agents of change in their lives, and to walk alongside them as we figure out the way to transformation. 

This is a big deal, and I could never have imagined this is where God would call me at this time in my life. I definitely feel excited to be back with my Apache students and to work alongside them. Although I will have to raise support before I am able to be in Arizona permanently, I am confident that where God has placed a path He will also place the means of walking down it. 

Another fun part of the story is that the support raising means I will get to be in Georgia for the second half of July and the whole month of August! So if you would like to meet with me to talk more about my vision then that can definitely be arranged. And if you are not in Georgia but would like to talk more with me about this vision, then that can be arranged too! And if you want to join my support team I would love to have you involved in providing the resources for me to follow God's call to the reservation. 

Pray, pray, pray for me as I continue to follow God’s calling in my life. I need all the prayer I can get, and I promise that I feel those prayers already being lifted up. It was by the many people praying for clarity that I came to this place and I am forever grateful.

So here we go. It seems the adventures never end. :)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When Lies Replace the Truth

I used to worry a lot. I don’t know what I worried about, I just remember labeling myself as a worrier. After a while that habit subsided and I lived happy carefree years trusting in the Lord and skipping through fields of flowers (ok, maybe I just dreamed the part about the flowers). But within the past couple of weeks I have noticed that I have picked the habit back up. The worries have multiplied and taken over.

I worry that I am not thin enough and I worry that my apartment should be cleaner. I worry that all my friends will eventually realize I am weird and decide not to be friends with me (no exaggeration) and I worry that the text/email/message I just sent was super dumb as I chastise myself for not being cooler. I worry that I will never find time to do laundry and then I will have to wear all the clothes I don’t like and then of course people won’t want to hang out with me anymore...get the picture? I have been consumed by these superficial worries that cause me to always second guess and apologize for myself. I have self-labeled it as a fear of inadequacy but I don’t know where it is coming from. Why now? What happened to the carefree fields of flowers? 

Then I begin to think. In my classes on poverty and development we discuss the lies that the poor believe which contribute to their marred identity and resulting poverty. Marred identity is in part only realizing the bad parts of your story, the darkness and the pain. The lies that the poor believe come from the powerful, the non-poor, and inadequate world-views, and as I listen in class this idea of marred identity makes complete sense to me in terms of the poor. I take copious notes and I make extensive plans for my future ministry, and I praise God for revealing this knowledge to me. 

But never once have I sat back and realized that it is not just the poor who are believing lies. 

Perhaps it isn’t such a stretch to say that this white, middle-class, American, Christian that sits in the chair at Fuller Seminary also has a bit of a marred identity at the moment. Perhaps I have begun to listen to the lies that say I’m not good enough the way I am, or the lies that tell me my personality is somehow undesirable. It is the lies that say my worth is found in my humor, my outfit, my texting skills, or whatever else you want to fill in the blank with. The fact of the matter is that I too have a marred identity, and I too need to write a new narrative. It seems that I might need to take what I am learning in class and actually apply it to myself (who knew!). 

The truth is, just as I seek to empower the poor, so too do I need God to come into my heart and empower me. I can’t be super woman and “fix” the poor, but I can walk beside them as we both figure out what lies we have held on to, and as we both work to let those lies go and let the truth of God seep into the scratched pieces of our hearts. 

I will conclude by saying this: Satan is good at lying. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that at the same time that God gives me a serious, practical vision for serving Him, I have begun to doubt myself. It is no coincidence that when God tells me “You are able, you can do this” that a little voice also says, “Yea, but if you say that stupid thing no one is going to like you.” Satan is sneaky and when we aren’t looking he will strategically try to throw you off course. But I serve a God who is bigger. I serve a God who made me just the way I am because He has a plan for me. I serve a God who blesses me with friends new and old who support me and value me as much as I value them. 

So I started this post off with a worry problem and I end it with the truth of God revealed to me. It is time to start reconstructing the narrative of lies with a narrative of truths. It is time to finish well and happy here at Fuller, because my life is good and awesome. 

And let me tell you, happiness and joy are way more satisfying than worry. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Full Week (and also, I love line dancing)

Line dancing, Chick-fil-a, new friends, bagels, old friends. 
Work, class, tutoring, more class, and late night tater-tot runs. 
Laughing, dozing, eating, forgetting to eat. 
Friends episodes and good advice. 
Relationships, accountability, serving. 

All of these things fit into the past week of my life. I’m beginning to think that I have a tendency to fit too many things into 7 days, but even though it ends with me tired it is usually worth it. I have found that in running from place to place, and taking the time to fit friends into my schedule this quarter, means that I find blessings in the smallest things. It is the little things of each day that get me through, that give me confidence, that encourage me to pursue the dreams I believe God has given me. It is the kind word they probably did not even realize they said, the connections with home, the time spent resting and the time spent serving. Even in the midst of sheer tiredness I found so much joy in serving the homeless of my community at the Sunday Community Meal today. And there has been so much encouragement within the multiple opportunities I’ve had this weekend to share and articulate my vision and journey with others. (You all will be hearing about this vision soon so don’t worry. Exciting things are happening!) Anyways, as a new week starts I am tired but full. I am full of anticipation, contentment, joy, gladness, and appreciation. I am blessed with so much I don’t deserve, from the opportunity to study at Fuller to the means to go line dancing on a Saturday night. I am full with the joy of the Lord who has continually provided for my every need and who continues to surprise me with new joys every day. 

I am full because despite the bad in this world God continues to show me that 
He is good. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Power of Trust (and not getting in cars with strangers)

If you know me at all then you know I have a natural inclination to trust people. This worries some because they think I will get into cars with strangers or accidentally give all my money to a criminal, but that is not what it means to trust people the way I do.

I understand the faults of humanity and the nature of the world, but I also have a glimpse of what people could be. I have faith that good will triumph over evil, even in the human heart. 

I think this trait has had a significant impact on my “success” working with teenagers on the Apache reservation. Coming in I automatically believe in these kids. In the midst of their pain, their mistakes, and their bad habits, I see what they can be and I believe that they will eventually choose the right path. Enclosed in their layers of self-doubt and defensive actions I can see the seed of change struggling to break through. Sure, I get discouraged by their mistakes, but I do not ever doubt that they will one day realize that they are embraced by God’s love and decide to be better. I never consider any of these kids to be a lost cause. Though I may get my heart broken in this process of believing in them, I don’t foresee an end to loving these girls and encouraging them to dig deep and give in to the One who loves them more than anyone. 

In a way it seems like God is allowing me to be a portrait of His love for them. I don’t care what they did in the past, and I will forgive them when they mess up. I will give them grace for their mistakes and I will always welcome them back with open arms. Sure, it is possible that this optimism and trust will diminish as I spend more time on the reservation, but I pray that it does not. I pray that God will continue to use me to show these girls what kind of Love they are looking for, and what kind of awesome women they can be. I hope he will use me to show them that they have fabulous potential as girls made in the image of God himself.

Empowerment. Hope. Community. These girls could change the world, someone just has to choose to believe. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Letters of Value and New Life

My grandfather (known to me as Opa) wrote me a letter the day I was born. Being a well-organized family (ahem), the letter was lost in the abyss of my house for the next twenty years. When I finally received the letter for the first time since being able to read, it became one of my most treasured possessions. My grandfather was out of the country the day I was born and wrote to me of the people around the world rejoicing and praising God for my birth. It is a pretty inspiring letter, and at 24 it really gives me confidence as I look back on where God has taken me since that day. I feel like I was born an international kid, and that has been the driving force of my life since. I cherish his words and his account of when I was born, and I am so grateful for that letter.

So today I am giving a letter, to a little girl named Ayden who was prayed for and hoped for, and now she is here. I am so glad to be a part of her life here in California, and I want to do for her what my grandfather did for me. I want her to know how excited we were that she was coming, how the weather seemed to get crazy in order to tell us, "She is on her way. Your world will never be the same!" I want her to know how her mom and I cried when we thought she might not be able to ever have a little girl of her own, and how much we cried when we found out God had listened to our pleas. I want to be sure and let her know that her mom was in labor for 30 hours, so when she gets sassy perhaps she will remember to be grateful. I guess in general I just want her to know that she came into this world surrounded by love, and that for the rest of her life she will be wanted and cared for. I want her to find this letter 24 years later and feel confident that she was made to do great things.

If you have kids, or nieces and nephews, or little ones you like to love on, give them a hug or write them a letter today. Let them know their worth and value. Even if they cannot read now, one day they will be able to, and your words will mean the world.

Welcome baby Ayden. You are such a precious gift, and we are so glad you are finally here. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Reflection on Fuller Seminary

I can’t believe my time at Fuller seminary is almost over. This is my last quarter in Pasadena. Man, how time has flown! Fuller has impacted me greatly, but it hasn’t always been easy. Fuller has an uncanny ability to completely deconstruct and reconstruct everything you thought you knew and wanted.

In other words, it is as if you spent your whole life building this grandiose sculpture out of legos, and then your little brother comes and knocks it down. 

At first you are kind of angry because you worked darn hard on that thing and it took years to create! It was good! You were comfortable with your creation! So you consider punching said knocker-downer but when you realize you can’t do that you decide instead to question whether you were even meant to build in the first place. Apparently there seems to have been holes in your lego sculpture, problems perhaps, so maybe you weren’t qualified to build and should instead go on to basket weaving or McDonalds serving. 

But with time and good professors you realize that this deconstruction isn’t actually a setback, but an opportunity. It is an opportunity to take the pieces strewn across the floor and put them back together in a different way, using the new skills you have acquired to remake the sculpture into something better and different. Many of the pieces are still the same, but you have changed in the process, and therefore the product is entirely different than you had ever imagined or pictured, it is a thing of beauty. It is a work in progress as your vision becomes more clear and as others join in to help your dream take form. In the end, you are glad for the process of knocking down and rebuilding because you realize that it has made you stronger, more focused, and better. 

So yes, Fuller does have a great talent of taking all that you think you know and making you reconsider, but it is a talent that I am grateful for because Fuller doesn’t let you stay comfortable. They challenge you to think deeper, wider, to question, and to not stop at your first thought, as my current professor put it. Fuller makes you strive to be the best servant of God that you can be, and as I look back I am glad for the challenges and the probing questions. As I soon go back into the world to serve God with all that I now know I am confident that I was meant to build, and that I am useful for His purposes. 

Fuller, its a good place ya’ll. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Life Decisions

Life decisions. Seriously. What a mess. You live your whole life as a kid, thinking about growing up, depending on your parents to tell you where to go and what is best, and then all of a sudden you are standing there, on your own, and your time has come. The future is now and you have to make the decision that changes the course of your life. Its pretty overwhelming. People have opinions and you have to sort through them like mail, throwing out the junk, holding tight to the important stuff, and always wondering about the small pile you don’t know what to do with. Time seems relative and you can’t quite figure out if three months is a while or a quick blip of passing moments. You think about all the little tiny details of every option, consider making a pros and cons list, and then ditch that idea because you are hungry and you will probably lose the list anyways. Life decisions. Bleck. 

Certainly it would be nice if God could just come down in a dream for a minute and tell you exactly how everything was going to work out and how you would make money, and if your dreams will come true, and if you will get to marry a good-looking man and have cute little babies, but that is unlikely. So you reach in your tool box, take out all the lessons you have learned in life so far, all that you know about the character of God, and all the stored-up encouragement you have left in there for times like these. You take out the map of life and you consider by what compass you are traveling, and what the point of all of this is anyways. And over time, the road seems a little clearer and a little less scary. 

Sure, the path of “success” seems like it would lead to a comfortable life, but looking through Scriptures one realizes that isn’t quite what we are called to. Sure, the thought of asking people to fund your salary sounds awful, but perhaps trusting in God’s provision would be a good thing. Through endless hours of contemplation and snack breaks, you begin to see what really matters. You begin to see the lives that could be changed if you just realize that God is providing the path, and you just got so caught up in the mode of transportation that you forgot to look for where you are going. You begin to realize that even though some people might be disappointed in you, and some may not understand your choices, there is only one judge, and one ruler who needs to approve. And though the path that becomes clear looks much more rocky than the path to “success” you realize that you will make it through. That there are people all along the way waiting to cheer you on and walk that path with you. 

Life decisions. Maybe they aren’t quite as hard as we think.