Monday, October 28, 2013

Musings at 2am

It is 2:00am and I am still awake. I don't know why but I am not the least bit tired. Perhaps it was the afternoon nap or the late night chat with a friend about life and love and the adventures that God dreams up for us when we aren't looking. Whatever it is, I am unable to rest my wandering thoughts so I will embrace them and let them roam until they grow weary.

It has been quite the weekend, so it is a wonder that I haven't collapsed into the warmth of my covers. Last night's adventure included driving a 15 passenger van in heels. I was taking our kids from the Kennel to church "up the hill" and since we work every day at a youth center, I choose Saturday nights to dress nicely. I think I did go a little too far because I kind of looked like I was going to a benefit gala, but hey, I looked good in the White Mountains. So without shame I drove around the rez in my little black dress and my high heels and picked up 15 students, the most we have ever brought with us to church.

Though I slightly dreaded the significant amount of driving time ahead of me (think 4-5 hours of driving for pick-ups) it was a sacrifice worth making so that our students could experience a great time of fellowship and worship. And it proved to be so much fun.

What I discovered in those hours was that the driving time actually amounted to quality time. Those hours became valuable minutes with the kids, and I realized in those moments that I want to soak up as much of that time as I can. Being with them more and more brings a new level of comfort and fun, as we joke around, sing songs loudly, and gain a new level of honesty and openness.

As I spend more time with these students I swear I can see them transforming. I can see God moving in their lives, whether they can recognize it as that or not. And it surprises me sometimes, at how completely open these kids are with their "sins" or wrongdoings. Students we don't even know very well will describe to us how they overdosed on pills or got high with their friends. They will openly admit to being "bad kids," and since I grew up in a culture where secrets seem to be encouraged, their honesty and openness is both refreshing and intriguing.

Their openness is a fine line, for one day they tell you everything and the next they act like they don't know you. It is a balance, as they test you, wondering if you are going to stick around even after you know the bad stuff. But to me, it doesn't matter what tests they throw my way, for I have begun to truly love these kids. I know I am here for a purpose, and though I may grow weary of the driving or the small town, my heart beats with them as they discover a desire for something better out of life. Each small victory becomes a great joy that spurs me onward and makes me look forward to the next day of work.

In fact, what a joy that it doesn't seem much like work at all. It feels more like a privilege to drive these kids around in high heels and tell them they are fantastic. It feels like I won the lottery as I become a sister to these kids who may think I am crazy, but seem to not mind spending time with me and my team.

So yes, I can't sleep, but my heart is full and excited and even a little thrilled at what the future will hold. And if that is why I can't sleep then I will take it, because these are the hours I will remember when I look back. These are the feelings that, I hope, will take hold and make their home in my wandering mind as they settle down deep into my heart. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

To chase the moon

Last night I tried to capture the moon. Driving home over the mountains the round brilliance looked close enough to touch, big enough to wrap all the people of the world around, and clear enough to see not only the man, but the hills of cheese as well. I thought that if I could just get closer, following its glow in my car, I might be able to capture its brilliance on film. I'd never seen the moon so big and so close, and I wanted to remember it forever, to capture the truth of it so everyone would believe me, so that I would believe the memories of its grandeur. I'm telling you, it was like those pictures of the African sun setting on the plains, it was like nothing I've ever seen.

So I chased it. I grabbed my roommate and my camera and chased the moon to try and get a clear view of it through the trees. When I found a spot where I could pull my car over I did all I could to catch it. I stood in the middle of the winding forest road while my roommate watched for cars. I changed the settings on the camera and I tried again and again. But the moon could not be captured. It defied my attempts and declared that its brilliance would not be found anywhere but the sky.

As I got back in the car and headed home, slightly disappointed at the elusive nature the moon had decided to present, I contemplated what sort of metaphor this would produce. What did it mean that the immense and overwhelming beauty of the light would not be held? What was the significance of witnessing grandeur to be admired but not contained?  As I sought to find the lesson in the chase I decided that some moments were simply made of a beauty that is not meant to be replicated or captured. They are but a magnificent brilliance that becomes the form by which everything thereafter is made more amazing and more true. It is these moments, these memories, that become the light that is never forgotten as we seek to find that same beauty and awe in all that follows.

This first month working with Apache Youth Ministries has contained more light and beauty than I could ever reproduce in words or pictures. The ways I have seen God move, the conversations with girls from the high school, the opportune Scriptures, or the way my team works together, no thing can truly capture its brilliance. No matter how hard I try to hold on to it, this month will always be a memory, a light that shines on the rest of my time at AYM. It will never be forgotten, yet it can never be fully held on to. 

With time I will forget the things that have made me laugh and the conversations that have made me cry. The details of dinners and advice, of conversations and hopes, will all start to fade as the new lights and the new memories are formed. But what will stay with me, no matter how many days pass, is the immense and overwhelming brilliance of God's light in this past month. The beauty of His work and His plans and His hands will cast its extravagance on all that is to come. Though there will be times of darkness, times when mistakes are made and apologies are necessary, I will always remember the light that shone across the darkness in my first month here.

And that is worth far more to me than anything that could be captured in a picture or a word. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

God's Faithfulness to Hear

The other day I went on a walk and I prayed. I prayed that God would bring back one of my students that had been MIA for over a week. I prayed that she was safe and that He would take care of her. That day at Open Kennel she walked through the doors. 

God is faithful to prayer and faithful to respond when we ask, even if it is not in the manner we expect. Though there were troubles in the past weeks He brought my student back to our youth center safely, and we were able to rely on His faithfulness again as we prayed for her family and the troubles of her situation. 

God has also been faithful with our programming here on the rez. Last week we had 14 girls at Bible Study. In addition to the girls there were probably 10 guys, our largest number of students to date. We got to meet with the girls as female staff and talk them through Exodus 30, a really awkward chapter. But even though the chapter is full of cubits and regulations we were able to talk about the truth of Jesus, of the transformation from death to life, of the intimacy we can have with Him when we come to Him in reverence and respect. It was awesome. I loved answering their questions and talking through the chapter together, as even I learned more about its purpose, reading it through carefully and asking God for wisdom. 

I love the joy that one of my other students brings. I love hugs and she embraces that...literally! I love that I can immediately call her and the other girls out on their "romantic" relationships, and I'm pretty sure that they secretly love my prying. Nothing gets past me, and I use this talent to talk about important issues such as boundaries and God’s purpose for relationships. From day one this one student and I have bonded and she is like a breath of fresh air. I am so blessed by her. 

This work is not without worry. Like a mother hen these girls are my chickies and I would do anything for them. I worry about them, I want them to do well in school, and I want to take care of them. But like we told our girls the other night, when you have the faith to believe, God will honor that. So I place these chickies in the hands of my Father, having faith that just the whisper of his thoughts can change their lives. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Neighbors, God, and Groceries

God's provision is a beautiful thing.

Today I took one of my students to the grocery store so we could pick up some food for her family. We had gotten to know each other better over the retreat weekend, and when she expressed the need I knew I had the funds and ability to take care of it. I thought of it as relief aid, but at the same time asked her to come work at the Kennel tomorrow in exchange for the groceries, for a wise professor once told me that "to be nothing but a recipient of services denies someone of their humanity" (Jude Tiersma-Watson). So this morning I got up and ready and went to walk out the door to pick her up for our adventure.

As I opened the door I was surprised to find that there was a box of food lying on our porch waiting for me. I couldn't believe my eyes, because the one day I was going to go provide food for one of my students was the one day that a random neighbor decided to leave a box of groceries on our porch.

This is not something that has ever happened to us before, someone leaving food on our porch. There was no name on the box, simply a note that said "Here are some leftover groceries. We hope you can use them." It turns out that it was probably one of our neighbors who was leaving Pinetop for the winter, but we don't even know the people who live around us. What adds to the crazy is that most of our neighbors do not know what we do on the reservation, they have simply noticed that we live here year round. There was no way that anyone could have known I was going to go provide groceries for a student today, and yet it included the perfect things:  mac and cheese, canned goods, crackers, little bags of pretzels.

It was such evidence of God's provision, and I was so excited to tell my student of how much God must care for her and love her if He drops gifts for her on our front porch! It reminded me of how God listens to our needs, and how He provides for us in so many ways. And as I was able to provide for my student, so too was I provided for, as He blessed me with the time to get to know her better and to encourage her as she strives to live a right life in the midst of the temptations of alcohol, drugs, and a broken family.

How good is our God and how greatly He loves us, that He provides for our needs in so many ways.

Be in prayer for my sweet new friend as she fights to know Him and the depth of His love and goodness. Pray for her family and pray for me, that I may have wisdom as I seek to partner with her in the pursuit of a better future. God certainly continues to surprise me, and I am so very grateful for the ways He is growing and challenging me in this adventure!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Perils of Peanut Butter after Dark

Let me paint a picture for you: 

It is pitch dark outside and barely 7pm. My arms are full of groceries, a computer, a random jar of half-eaten peanut butter, and other essential items. I am also on the phone. Did I mention I live in the woods? Like seriously, not even the suburb kind of woods, the straight-up outdoorsy kind of woods. Oh, and all our porch lights are out, because apparently we don't change lightbulbs. 

The task: Unlocking the door to my condo. While I have succeeded in climbing the stairs without falling to my death, blindly finding the right key and putting it in the doorknob the right way proves to be more difficult than rocket science. Frustration begins. 

First reaction to frustration of being locked out of my house (with the key in my hand), exclaimed to my mother who is still on the line despite the added obstacle of holding a phone to my ear while trying to juggle everything else (and despite the fact that I could have used the phone as a light):  

“Dang it! Mom, I’m going to get eaten by a bear!”

Welcome to my new life friends. Truly, it is always this riveting and exciting. Where not finding the right key to the door while holding a jar of peanut butter is truly a life or death situation. 

On the next episode hear how I got lost deep in the dark forest of the country clubs for a frightening five minutes before I was rescued by a kind gentleman (ok, ok, fine. I was in a car with someone else and it turns out we really were not that lost at all. But for at least a minute I was sure I was going to have to ration the half-eaten pie for the next few days and figure out how to make a signal fire. The woods and I are just not friends. I blame Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find. Stupid short story frightened me of woodsy roads for life).

Geez louise. What a life. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Impromptu dancing and the spirit of hope

When it comes to me and youth ministry there are a lot of impromptu dance parties, movie nights, and ice cream. And I do love it, this work here, the students I am connecting with, my awesome teammates that I live, eat, work, and breathe with- it is great. But as this week has gone by there have been little reminders that life here is not all dancing and soda pop. Little reminders like the bridge over the canyon being blocked off by two police cars, or a student not being home for church pickups because she left the night before and didn't come back, and not seeing her since. Little things that our students do or say at the Kennel remind me that this is not an easy place to live or work. I take my students home and I am reminded of the poverty and hardships, that though they might not recognize them, take a toll on their lives.

But even still, I am constantly amazed by my students' tenacity and joy in the midst of this broken community. I am encouraged and boldened by the work of my teammates, who have been here longer than me, and still have the strength and faith to put forth a great effort and love toward our students. Though the reservation is a messy place, and there are so many obstacles on the way to transformation, I continue to have this strong feeling that things are going to be different here. Maybe not tomorrow or even next year, but I sense that it is coming. My heart stirs with optimism and confidence that the students invested in at the Kennel are different than the rest. These are the ones that are going to be great leaders, that are going to rise above and live their lives serving the God who loves them. I see so much hope here and it stirs me on, it keeps me going, and it keeps me dancing.