Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blessings and Bravery

Ok, have you been held in suspense for long enough? Are you tired of my vague language and allusions? Alright, alright, I will fill you in on alllllll the deets (well, not everything...since you probably don't care that I just ate delicious teriyaki wings and am considering buying a new lamp).

Where to begin, where to begin.

Let's just jump right in.

The other night I received word of an amazing blessing, a huge donation, that covers my ministry budget for the entire year. It was perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to me because it was such a work of God. It was a feeling of the truest gratitude and amazement that 2 people in this world believe in the work God is doing among the Apache so much that they were willing to make such an amazing investment. I was definitely the closest to speechless and dumbstruck as I ever have been or ever will be. It was like a big neon light flashing, "We believe in you! God has plans for you! This is where you are supposed to be!" It was fantabulous (I made that word up, but it fits. You can use it if you want).

So just like that our prayers were answered above and beyond what I could have even imagined or thought of to ask for. I was prepared to go on the field at 80%, but in one fell swoop I was thrown right past that to land at 90%.

And that donation was just one of many that have been such affirmation of what God has called me to do. Every week I am amazed, flabbergasted even (now that's a good word) at the generosity and support I am receiving. Truly, our God is one that continually surprises.

Soooo.....All of this blessing means that I have officially booked my ticket back to Arizona so I can get to work. I leave on September 19th! And in the coming weeks will be continuing with my fundraising efforts, believing that I will be at 100% upon departure.

God is good, can I get an amen?

Before I close off I want to leave with this thought: Tonight I had dinner with two people who have been very formative in getting me to where I am today. They are seriously encouraging and I basically adore spending time with them, but among all the lovely things they said this one stuck out: they called me brave. I really tucked that one close to my heart, the idea that following God into this uncertain future, into a calling that will require work and grit, shows bravery. I felt a little like this:

(I do actually really want a bow and arrow)

But when I considered the idea of me being brave, I realized that the reason I can do that, the reason that I can have the confidence and courage to answer this calling, is because for my entire life I have had people like you guys cheering me on. In this last year I have had so many people encouraging me, reminding me of God's plan, and supporting me with great passion. You guys have been so excited for me, and that joy and excitement seeps into all that I am and pushes me forward. I go into the unknown with my head held high because you guys have made me believe that I can be brave. I recently wrote an essay about bravery, and the main thing I figured out is that being brave is all about who you are surrounded with, and man, God has surrounded me with some of the best human beings on the planet.

So I just want to pause for a moment to make sure you all know how much I love you, and how much your support is a part of this journey and this calling.

Thank you for everything you have done for me, and thank you for making me brave. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Can this really be happening???

I'm so sorry! It's been over a week without a post. I can't believe I haven't updated you all in so long! Goodness me. Well let me say, things be getting crazy. More details will come when I figure a few things out (when God does CRAZY things with fundraising I tend to want to check and double check to make sure I am seeing things right!) but let me just tell you, I am...speechless really. I am blown away. I am slightly freaking out (in a good way!) because I could not have ever imagined how much people would get behind this ministry. I am a Moses, lacking in the self-confidence, and a Abraham, making mistakes along the way, but you all are the power of God moving me along, showing me that this is BIG and that God has plans for the Apache people. I am blown. away. Eyes wide, no sound coming out of my mouth, just trying to grasp the greatness of our God and His people.

Seriously, this is basically the best thing that has ever happened to me.

So here is a slight recap of the last week, fundraising-wise (I will attempt to make it more interesting than accounting issues typically are). Oh, I also did go to Samford with my parents to see my brother's new house. That was fun and definitely worth mentioning.

So. This past week began with a lull of sorts. I was relatively stuck at a percentage just kind of hoping for the last bit to come in (I think a week ago I was needing $1000 in order to go at 80%). It was all quiet on the Western (or South Eastern) front. But of course, when things start to quiet down, God decides its a good time to jump out and yell "Surprise!!"

It looked a little like this:

Monday night I was blessed to be encouraged by the fellowship and generosity of a family that is very dear to me, which pushed me up more than I could have expected in the get-Meredith-to-Arizona polls (that's not a real thing...)

Then on Sunday 2 more individual commitments came in, and I got the opportunity to be at 2 amazing churches. The first was Tri-Cities Church in Atlanta, where my pastor from college now serves. I was so excited to be back with the couple that has been so formative in directing my life and my faith, and the worship had great soul and rhythm so it was such a joyful morning.

Next I got to spend the evening out in the country (the best of the city and country all in one day!) where I spoke at my friend Evin's church. They were a picture of kindness, grace, and generosity. They gave me hope and encouragement that a little church in small-town Georgia would be praying for me and thinking of me, and it was such a blessing to be a part of their service and share my heart (of course I cried talking about my kids....why do I get so emotional these days??). And I was of course blessed to spend time with sweet and encouraging Evin!

Sunday was a long day but a glorious day. It was a privilege to get to worship with different parts of the Body and be a part of His work around the state of Georgia. And it pumped me up leaving just $925/month to raise to be at 100%.

And things keep on moving and getting better. I'll save the rest of the good news for tomorrow because it is getting late as I write this, but let's just say this:

I get excited at pretty much anything, and this is the 3rd time in my support raising that I have been stunned silly by generosity and faith in my mission and my vision. I really cannot even contain it all. So yea, I will leave with that. Oh, and this: You might want to get on your dancin' shoes, because things are going to start moving fast!!! 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

As the Rain Replenishes the Earth

It has been a rainy few days in Georgia. The sky is grey, the weather cold, and I am perhaps at my happiest. I love cloudy days. The smell of the air, the feel of the breeze, it reminds me of school days and the cozy stay-at-home days. Rainy days, in fact, are my favorite days.

And just as the rain replenishes the earth, so has my soul been replenished this week. Last week my heart was wrapped up in the sadness and the disappointment of this broken world. It had been wrapped so tightly that it had lost sight of its purpose and its hope. But God is patient, and in the midst of the heartbreak He waited, and in His time, He shone through. He broke through all the junk that I had wrapped my heart in and unraveled all of the lies and the falsehoods that had clouded my view.

And all at once the clouds broke. The sun began to shine in my soul again, and I remembered who my Rock is. I remembered the One who makes the rain fall and the thunder roar. I was reminded that where Christ is, there is restoration and faithfulness. He loves and takes care of me, as He always has. I had simply lost sight of that in the clouds. And as He shone through all the sadness of a broken world, He gave me a picture of His beauty and the joy of being in His presence. For where Christ is:

"Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
   righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
  and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The LORD will give what is good,
  and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
  and will make a path for his steps."
        Psalm 85:10-13

May these words ring true in our hearts this week, despite the rain and hardships we may face. May we always remember that His goodness never fails, even when our view makes it hard to see. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Danger is...

“The danger is when you have to toughen up and put on your emotional armor so that you will not be consumed by the misery that you see. Sometimes you reach a point when you have seen so much pain and sorrow, nothing gets to you, and the armor starts to corrode, the evil starts to eat through it, and you are tempted to despair of ever slaying all the dragons in the garbage dump no matter how hard you try. Let an ounce of cynicism into your heart, and ever so slowly, your whole system would be taken over, like a crippling virus that multiplied in your brain cells, leaving you in darkness and wishing you did something else with your life or tempt you to withdraw into a purely privatized spirituality or create an identity which does not come from the triune God.” 

-Fr. Beigno P. BeltranProphetic Dialogue with the Poor, 20

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tested and Tried, yet always Blessed

Today there is good news.

The good news is that God has blessed me enough to be 2/3 of the way to my leaving goal! I am trying to raise $3600 of monthly support and I am currently at $2,035! Since I am planning to leave at 80% ($3000), I have less than $1000 of monthly support still to raise. That is pretty darn awesome. I have to extend great thanks to everyone who has contributed, both in one-time support and in continuing support. I have been absolutely overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity, kindness, and confidence in my work. Each day I am surprised and words cannot even express my amazement. You all have come behind me with such faithfulness, and it gives me such confidence that God has great plans for us as we partner to work with the Apache nation. 

As I reflect on this past month of support-raising I can confidently say that this has been one of the most rewarding and most difficult seasons of my life. I could not have imagined how blessed I would be in this time, but I could also not have imagined how hard the enemy would hit me as I prepare for my work in the Apache nation. I feel that I have constantly been tested and tried, and it has been a struggle. The enemy finds whatever foothold they can, and they have worked to discourage me through every avenue, from health and body image issues to relationships and tragedy. 

To be honest, I am struggling to stay on top of everything. The stress is at times overwhelming, and when this week culminated with the unexpected, unjustified, accidental death of one of the most amazing young women I have ever had the privilege to meet, it was extremely hard to trust in the goodness of God. So many people had prayed for this young lady, including myself, asking for her life, but the prayer was not answered. She was only 20 years old, and a student at Georgia College. 

Thankfully I have amazing people in my life who are able to be my strength and arrows of guidance when I lose my direction, but this battle is wearing on me as I fight to keep my head up. There have been times in the last month where I have failed to recognize God’s goodness and where I have considered giving up on this calling, but the one thing that keeps me going is that I know you all believe in this work. It is evidenced by my support raising- so many of you believe in what God has called me to do, and you all are able to see the truth, the passion, and the vision when the enemy tries to cloud my view. 

I know that this will all just get harder, but I am fighting to believe in the truth of God's love and calling. I am comforted by these words from a book called Mentoring Leaders: 

“God loves you as a person even more than he loves what you do as a leader. . .There is absolutely nothing you can do to make him love you less- or more. The relationship you share is based on the character of God, which is unchanging. He loves you with an unconditional love based on his character- not yours. “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jer. 31:3 NLT).” -Carson Pue 

And I swear that I see God's character in so many of you. So thank you! Thank you for getting me to where I am in my support raising, for believing in this mission, and for being my strength throughout this past month. I know that our God is good and faithful, even in the midst of this terribly broken world. And I am quite sure, that I will soon be on the reservation witnessing a taste of that goodness and faithfulness through Apache Youth Ministries. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Art of Being Still (and how much I hate it)

Rest and stillness. 

Two words that I do not like. I mean, in theory they sound great. In theory, they include a contented regiment of book reading, walking, cooking great meals, and quiet. In truth, they drive me crazy. As much as I would love to enjoy sitting around all day, and as much as I am sure all of my friends and family who work 40 hours a week might envy this period of my life, I'm starting to get a little frustrated.

It makes sense why. I  am an on-the-go kind of girl, always busy and always moving. Last quarter I took an overload of classes, worked 30 hours a week, and still found time for a social life. College was the same way. I kept myself busy and I liked it that way. But three weeks ago I got plopped down in Georgia and told to sit still...for a month.

Granted, the first few days were a thing of beauty. I stayed in my pajamas, I watched movies, I slept in...fantastic. But eventually I started to miss my job, the structure of places to be and things to do, and I started to feel purposeless. Don't get me wrong, I'm not truly miserable. I have the freedom to be with family and friends, I do have a purpose in raising support to go work on the Apache reservation, and sometimes my mom cooks dinner for me...but a girl can only take so much, and the thought of another month like this is starting to make me squirm.

But as always, when I get impatient God decides to teach me another lesson. So when I was reading a book on spiritual friendships and spiritual directors the other night (yes, I am still in classes. I finish at the end of the month) my eyes settled in on a few words that I tend to hate, and I really shouldn't have been surprised.

To be a spiritual friend, it said, and to fully be there for those you love, you have to find a place of stillness inside yourself. 

Hm. Stillness. Fancy seeing that word there. The book continued to say that if we cannot find a place of quiet inside ourselves, and if we are always preoccupied with our busy lives, then we can never fully be a spiritual friend to someone else. Meaning that without a quiet space inside myself, I cannot be an adequate mentor for the girls on the Apache reservation, and I certainly cannot do my job well.

So there it was, staring at me on the page, and all I could think was, "well darn. It looks like I might have to try this thing after all." And so kicking and screaming (not literally) I reluctantly put the words from the page into my head and heart, and decided to give this thing a go.

To be honest, I don't even know what stillness looks like, and I am sure going to be a pain as I try to learn this lesson, but I think perhaps it is one that God has put in front of me at this specific time for a reason. If I cannot learn to be still, then I cannot be what He wants me to be for my team and my students at Apache Youth Ministries. I have to trust Him that learning to be still is still being productive, and that this lesson will be vital to my ministry and life.

So here it goes. This weekend I am going up to a lake house with a few college friends of mine, and I am putting it on internet paper that I will not worry, fret, or be preoccupied with my fundraising and my future. I will try to simply be. Be with my friends, be with their stories and their lives, and be present in the moment. Funny, my boss at AYM sent me this verse the other day:

"Let Him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you." 1 Peter 5:7

I like that translation of the verse, and I think it is about time I let it sink in.

So here is to letting go and finding joy in the stillness.

I'll let you know how it goes. :) 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Put on your dancing shoes...things just got GOOD.

Mmmhmm Mmmhmmm mmmhmmm. That's right. I feel like dancing. I feel like jumping onto the roof and yelling to the world that our God is GOOD! (Can I get an amen?) Let me tell you, let me tell you what has got me dancing in the halls until my brother shuts the door!

I had two meetings at my home church about raising support for my work with the Apache this morning. It was such a joy to get to share with so many loving people, and it was such a blessing to receive their questions and encouragement. It was a good morning.

So tonight, I'm minding my own business, reading a novel instead of doing my homework online, and all day I have just left the phone upstairs because I figured no one would call and I didn't really need it. So upstairs I come, bugging my brother, complaining about the dogs, you know, normal "emerging adult returns home" stuff and I see I have a voicemail. I obligingly go through the other voicemails that have sat neglected in my inbox for weeks and finally reach the one from the number I don't recognize.

And here it is. The call. The call that says that the verdict is in and support amounts of been figured out. I waited with eager anticipation...and boy oh boy! Let me tell you! It was goooood. It was more than good! It was more than I could have imagined, or hoped for! It was an answer to the verse I had been praying through all morning, that God would "meet all my needs according to the riches of his glory in Jesus Christ" (Philippians 4:19). I cannot remember the last time I was that excited and that happy. With this one call I was bumped from 1/6 of the way to my fundraising goal to 1/2 of the way there! In addition, current needs in support raising expenses and moving expenses were paid for. Even now I am worried that I heard wrong...because really, could this be real? Could the prayers have payed off and God blessed me more than I ever expected?

I'm reeling, I really am. I am just so pumped because God has shown me His provision and His blessing. Even more than that, throughout this last week He has shown me that I am not going to do this work alone. People are behind me, they believe in this mission and they are partnering with me to go on this field. It is such affirmation, and I am so excited to see what God has in store next.

I am being blessed to be a blessing, and I can't wait to see how the rest of this journey will come together. We are halfway there folks!

Praise be to God, for He is good....ALL the time!  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Meet My Students! (They are fab!)

If you ask me about any of “my kids” on the Apache reservation I could talk your ears off about their awesome qualities, their potential, and the ups and downs of their stories intertwining with my own. They are some of the most resilient teenagers I have ever met, and they honestly inspire me. I don’t know that I would be able to handle the amount of hardship and sadness that they have seen in their teenage years. So today I want to give you a chance to meet a few of my students, as well as hear what they have to say about my time with them. *I have asked permission to release their names and pictures to you, so don’t worry, they know :)* 

The first person I would like you to meet is Crystal. 

Crystal is such a gem. She and I got the chance to really know each other at a retreat we went to in Missouri last year. She rides bulls at rodeos and is a pretty tough cookie. She has had her ups and downs, but I am really proud of her effort to stay on track with God, even when she falls. She is one of the girls I am closest to and I am so excited to continue partnering with her as she works hard to be faithful to God. Here is what Crystal had to say about our time together last summer (side note: OEW is On Eagles Wings, a special opportunity for some of our students to travel to the “worst” reservations and share the gospel. It is an application and selection process and something Crystal worked hard to get accepted to): 

“Meredith, God had blessed me with you for so many reasons. You told me last summer OEW was going to be great for me. I took your word for it. I love how your like a older sister to me. And Boy! Would it be more than a blessing for you to come back for good. We love you and thank you for being there for us.”  

The next person I would like you to meet is Carmalynn. 

Carmalynn and I also bonded at last year’s retreat and she is honestly my inspiration. At 18 she is a mom, and just a few months before baby Scarlett was born the father (and Carm’s boyfriend) took his own life. She has been through so much but she has an unshakeable faith in the Lord and His plan for her life and she has powered through. She is an incredible young woman who I feel honored to know. Here is what she had to say about my work with AYM: 

“Meeting yu was a blessing and God sent yu to us for a reason. Thank yu for always being there for me for us and thank yu for yor prayers in th hard times I been through. My first WLS experience was fun w yu as our leader. Thank yu for evrything Meredith!”

Finally, this is Rico. 

His quote was in my last post, but I hadn’t heard if I could show ya’ll who they were yet. So now you can put a face to his words (and I promised him it would be a good pic! haha).

I hope this helps as you picture my future ministry and partner with me in prayer and support. I believe that God has given me favor with these students, and I am excited for the plan He has for my continuing work with them. I am humbled by this whole experience, and I hope you will join me in praying for the rest of my financial support to come in so that I can get back to these students that I love so much! 

Happy Friday :)