Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tips on Being Awesomely Embarrassing

Being a mentor/guardian figure has it perks. One of those perks is being able to work with your kids on great accomplishments. The other is embarrassing them in the process. I think the second might be my favorite. 

Case in point: Yesterday I got to assist one of my kids with an interview to win a trip to Washington DC. It was the second stage of the application process and we were floating on clouds of proudness. 
So the night before she stayed at my house and we helped her with her final essay and the all-important outfit choices. Dressed in my bright blue sweater and Tiffany’s black pants (along with her converse tennis shoes) she looked ready to win it all.

Up early we ate a solid breakfast of oatmeal and I tried to pump her up with advice on interview skills. I think I succeeded in thoroughly overwhelming her with “Don't forget, eye contact! Smile! Speak clearly! You’ve GOT this!” 
I was excited.

At 9:30 we were out the door and on our way. When we pulled up I think we were both surprised as we watched well-dressed white kids walk into the door of the center. I could tell my kiddo got a little nervous so I continued on my cycle of endless positivity. “You are going to do so well! I am so proud of you!” I repeated as we prayed and walked in. 

Over the next hour of waiting I felt seriously nervous, and I wasn’t even the one being interviewed! To keep the mood light and her nerves subdued I acted as the awesomely fun mentor/aunt. 

Surrounded by kids that were obviously not from the reservation she whispered to me, “I feel weird.”

“Whyy?” I whispered back. “Because you are nervous?” 

“No, because of all the white people!” 

I laughed, because it was true, the two of us coming in together stuck out in the room for sure. 

To make matters more hilarious, the monitor gave the kids strict instructions not to tell the judges what school they were from. With only one reservation school being represented I leaned over and jokingly whispered, “Yea, ok, like they aren’t going to know what school you go to just by looking at you!” 

Later I texted on my phone and handed it over:

“All these white kids look the same.” 

She laughed and as her one friend left the interview room she whispered, “And now I’m the only Apache!”

I acted extremely offended. “Hey! Watch it! I’m Apache. . . kind of. . . in my heart.” 

She shook her head. 

Finally her name was called for the interview. 

“Eeee! You’ve got this! You are going to do so great!” I whispered. As she walked out the door I couldn’t help myself, the mom came out in me and I called out, “Proud of you!!” 

Embarrassing mentor points: +10.  It was one of my finest moments. 

So proud :) 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sharing the weight

I recently spent 5 days in the great state of California. As much as I love my job, I sat on the plane with a heavy weight on my shoulders, the kind you can actually feel pressing down upon you. The weight was the result of 2 months of work with high risk teenagers, and an innate desire to hand them my life in an attempt to make everything better. I was exhausted, so as I entered into the sunshine of Pasadena, I knew the trip could not have been better timed.

Over the weekend I met with one person after another, sharing my story, my concerns, my woes and my joys. With each meeting, each hour, I was able to hand off some of my burden to those who love me. As I passed the weight from my shoulders, piece by piece, to each person I encountered, I watched as they accepted it and held onto it as their own. It was incredible to be a part of, for by the end of the weekend I felt physically lighter, and a great wealth of happiness and excitement was able to be released from the freedom I had received.

It reminded me of the passage that has been bound to my heart for the last week. In the Meredith translation, Moses is ticked off because everyone is complaining and he feels weighed down by the needs of the people. So he yells at God and says, "Hey! This is crazy! These people are too heavy for me. Just kill me off because I can't handle this." And God loves him, so he listens (and is rather sassy back). He says, "Listen. Go get all the elders, and I will put some of your spirit on them so that they can help you carry your burden."

This is what happened to me in Pasadena. I passed on part of my spirit to all of the lovely people that I call family, and I was able to be released from the oppression of holding it all by myself. As a result, the amazing encouragement and advice and kindness that was given to me was tucked into my spirit and is now resonating in my soul. Its hard to express how much each conversation, hug, and prayer has carried me back to the rez this week, but I can feel everyone walking in this with me. I no longer feel overburdened or unprepared, and have come back to work with a joy and a feeling of great privilege that I had lost before I returned home.

Home. That is what I realized Pasadena is for me now. More than any other place in the world, Pasadena is home. Because God enabled me to begin a life there, and it is now the place where I am surrounded with my own community, with everlasting support, and with a love that reaches past the mountains and all the way into the hills of an Arizona reservation. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Advice and Vacations

I spend a lot of my time giving advice. Asked for, unasked for, I give all kinds. When I'm not giving advice I am usually worrying about it. Its a vicious and exhausting cycle.

As I come close to two months of working with Apache youth I can assure you that I mostly feel inadequate and unprepared when it comes to giving advice to my students. My Master's degree was great, but it doesn't make me feel any more confident when it comes to dealing with the issues I come across every day. Some days I rock it, spouting out Scriptures and doing cool object lessons with chairs, but other days I feel like I totally miss the mark.

What this all leads to is a job that wears on you without you noticing it. Listening to my students doesn't seem to make me feel exhausted or defeated, but the pressure of understanding their lives begins to quietly weigh me down. It isn't until it is too late that I realize I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and I need a vacation.

I do wonder why God sent me to a place where my heart would be so burdened. I feel too soft for this job, and I certainly think my life would have been less complicated if I had never met these kids. But I don't wish for that. Despite the pressure on my heart I will continue to do my best to give advice and listen intently. I will pick myself up after each setback and continue being faithful to what God has called me to do.

And I will also take a vacation. Just a short one, a long weekend to Pasadena, California, where I can be loved on and cared for for a few days. I will be refreshed by the food and the fellowship, and I will let other people give me advice. I will pour out my heart and let them sew it back up with their love and compassion, and the hope is that I will come back ready to dive in again. That I will feel filled up and better prepared to do for my students what others have done for me.

Said Moses to the Lord, "I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me."

The Lord said to Moses, "I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself."
 "Is the Lord's power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not."

Numbers 11:14, 17, 23

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Taste of Rejection


For the great amount of love and affection that we get from our students, we always receive our fair amount of rejection. Generally it comes from the kids we have been loving on the most, the ones we believe in and spend the most time with. One day they are confiding in us, laughing with us, and begging for more time. The next they simply aren’t. 

I know that there are many reasons why this happens, all amounting to it not being my fault. Perhaps they are testing the lengths of our love for them, or perhaps they know that no matter how many times they walk away from us, we will always be here waiting when they return. Or perhaps they are afraid, afraid of getting close and being rejected themselves. Perhaps they walk away out of fear. 

Whatever the reason, it hurts. I guess it is a taste of being a parent. The ones you pour your whole heart into turn around and reject it. Certainly this must be how God feels when we turn our back on Him. It simply leaves me at a loss, a loss for what to do, for what to say, for how much to pursue or to push. Mainly it just makes me sad. Because I see greatness in them and I believe so much in what they can be, but with one “wrong” word they refuse to open the door to me, both figuratively and literally. 

What I really want to do is push past the door and run in. I want to force them to face me so that I can tell them how this feeling of rejection or anger or whatever is in them isn’t true. I want to look them in the eyes and tell them that the devil is a liar and that I make mistakes, but I will never turn away from them. What I want is to scream from the rooftops that I don’t care what they did or what they do. The love of Christ that is in me is full of grace, and mercy, and forgiveness. 

But I won’t do that. I will simply return to knock on the door tomorrow, and the next day, and forever more until they see that I’m not going to leave them to run this race alone. Because in the end, they are right. When they decide to return, I will be here, waiting on the stool behind the counter, without judgement or anger in my eyes. When they return I will welcome them with open arms and an undiminished love. Because I have poured my heart into them, and nothing they do can make me turn my back. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tattoos on the Heart (a great book by the way)

A lot of our students at Apache Youth Ministries have tattoos.

Yes, that's right, a lot of our teenage students have permanent tattoos. 

You notice them on their hands, their arms, their feet. Some (few from what I've seen) are professionally done. Most are homemade, which makes them look even better! (sarcasm). I've actually learned something new by openly asking about the strange marks on our kids. Apparently you can tattoo yourself with liquid eyeliner and a sewing needle. Yep. Who knew. Also learned that one of my girls pierced her lip with a safety pin in the Kennel bathroom last year. This job is certainly never dull.

With the extraordinary amount of homemade tattoos on my students I began to ask myself why. Why do these kids in particular feel the need to mark themselves with liquid eyeliner and ink? I was reminded of something I learned in a fantastic class called Encountering the City. In the class we heard from a guy who was a graffiti writer. Just like tattoos, graffiti can be seen as a sign of immaturity, as rebellion, or anything else negative. But then you take the time to listen. You begin to understand that really the tattoos and the graffiti are signs of something deeper. In the case of the graffiti writer, he wrote his name all over the place in order to see that he had an identity, to be known, to have proof that he existed. 

I think the same is true of my kids. They want to know that they are different, that they have an identity, they want to be marked so that they can prove their existence, their identity. Perhaps they don't realize this deep reason for their eye-liner tattoos, but here is what I think:

I think that Christ can be the tattoo that truly never fades in their lives. I believe in what we do at AYM and I believe that the more time these kids spend with us the more they will realize the importance of Christ's tattoo on their heart. My goal when I hang out with these kids is that they know that they have an identity that goes past what they are told by their parents and guardians. I want them to know that with me, they have nothing to prove, and nothing they do can make me erase them from my heart. The hope is that they see that their names are written on His hands, that He has marked them on His heart. 

Their tattoos, therefore, become for me a reminder of why I am here. I am here to help these students become prisoners of hope instead of despair. I am here to let them know that they are tattooed on my heart, and that they have an identity and a purpose in Christ's deep and abiding love for them.

And I am here to let them write (temporary) tattoos on my hands, because sometimes that is what it takes to know you exist and will not be forgotten.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Llama love

Today I walked a llama. Need I say more? Ok, I will say a little more.

I love llamas. Coupled with giraffes I think they are the coolest animals on the planet. So basically today was a dream come true. And the best part? I can become best friends with this llama if I want to, because I know the llama's mama.

For your enjoyment, here is the beautiful proof of my llama-walking adventure:

Llama love. What more do I need?*

*According to my dad I apparently need a life companion that doesn't have four legs and a furry neck...but what does he know!