Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Beauty in the Unexpected Turns

A few months ago I was walking around the streets of Baltimore with a dear friend. . . hopelessly lost. In the midst of the joy of being together on an adventure we had utterly forgotten where the car was parked. As the miles and hours passed (oh yes, we were lost for that long) we began to get frazzled and a little frustrated with our inability to be where we "needed" to be.

As we sat in a little coffee shop, windblown and tired, I decided that if we were going to be lost we might as well enjoy it! There was a sort of beauty in being lost and lost with a friend. So I pushed aside the growing frustration and decided to let the unexpected beauty fill my sight. As we continued walking we ran into churches, gardens, and museums that we would never have seen if we had taken the "easy" path. It was a longer journey for sure, but it would be a memory for a lifetime. What had started out as a frustrating misadventure was now a whole new beautiful adventure. 

2014 was kind of like that moment in Baltimore. It wasn't the path I had expected or the path back the way that I had come. It was full of its own steep hills and quiet frustrations, but amidst this unexpected path there was one thing that couldn't be missed. . . the beauty that I could not have come across in any other way.  

There was beauty in a faith challenged and made stronger and in the tears and laughs that brought me closer to some of the most resilient and amazing teenagers I have ever met. There was beauty in friendships made brighter and weddings in vineyards, long car rides and cakes with your name on them. There was unexpected blessings in new leadership, new structure, new ideas, in coming home and rejoicing with life moving forward. There were trips that came at just the right time and acquaintances that became the best of friends. 

It was a year of absolutely unexpected treasures. 

In the end, the bumps and the missteps all led me to right here, right now, exactly where I want to be. And the best part of it all was who I got to walk those steps with. Perhaps the theme for 2014 was new friends. I gained some of the best friends this year and they seemed to come out of nowhere! I got to rejoice in the depth of friendships miles away that held strong. And I leave 2014 feeling as if every long turn, every unexpected departure from "the plan" held every good thing I might have missed if I hadn't taken this unexpected journey. 


As we come upon 2015 I cannot wait to see what unexpected treasures lie ahead. I hope that I will embrace this year with more gentleness and kindness, and I hope that I will not miss any of the beauty in the turns of the path. 

Happy New Year my friends. Thank you for making this year one of the best! 


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Dependence of Our Love

I don't remember what we were talking about when I responded to two of our students,

"My love is not dependent on your actions."

"So if I came to the Kennel all high and jacked up, would you still love me?" one of them asked.

"No!" said the other kid, "She would kick you out!"

I gave that kid a look. To the other one I responded,

"Well, I would be disappointed and a little sad, but I would still love you."

They thought for a second and then said with sincerity and interest, "then what is your love dependent on?" 

I think that in the moment I replied, "Jesus, I guess." Which isn't a very good explanation, but hey, I don't work well under pressure! In fact, their question kind of caught me off guard. I had to think about it for a while. What, if not what they do or say, does my love depend on? Do I love them less when they disappoint me? The answer, of course, is no. In fact, I am perhaps so disappointed because I love them so much. So what does my love depend on?

The first thought that came to my mind was simple: Jesus. And though I said it out loud I wasn't quite sure in that split second what Jesus exactly had to do with it. I just knew it was the answer.

My strategy with our students these days is simply to point them to Jesus in all situations. I want them to truly understand the significance of Jesus Christ and how it impacts their daily lives. So when they move towards hopelessness or they have bad days, I remind them that Jesus died to give them life and life to the fullest. I remind them of His great love for them, His ultimate sacrifice, and the transformation that could occur in their lives if they truly believed it all.

But what does that mean for how I love them? 

As I pondered this question I was reminded of this Biblical gem:
"We love because He first loved us." 

Oof. I love it. So simple yet it explains so much.

I love these students with an unwavering love (even though they often annoy me) because that is what has been shown to me. My heart is full with the love Christ has poured out into me, and HIS love, not my own then flows into these kids. Loving them is always to me a picture of Christ, not in any way because I love them like Jesus does. . . Jesus has more patience than me! But because I am constantly reminded of the grace and goodness Jesus has for me in my constant mistakes and failures. When I get frustrated with the students I love so much I am reminded that no matter how much I frustrate my Savior He never leaves my side. He never gives up on me. And that is the love that I want to show them. That is the love I strive to show them.

I love them because He first loved me. 

And so my love for them becomes dependent on God's love for me, which is awesome because HIS love never fails and never changes (unlike my much imperfect love). HIS love overflows through my being and into the lives of these kids, and in the end it is CHRIST who is glorified. And that is what Jesus has to do with it (I knew it was the right answer :).

Praise God for loving us and giving us the chance to show His love to others. All good things are from Him and I am SO grateful for His love and for the chance to love these kiddos.

Best job I've ever had.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 15, 2014

Bambi, Ice, and Uhauls. Ay Yi Yi!

We should have known when we were scrapping inches of snow and ice off the truck at 6:30am that the day wasn't going to go as planned. Just 12 hours earlier there had been 5 people planning to go to Phoenix for a furniture-retrieving, sunshine-loving adventure. At 6:25am the last person backed-out and it was down to two.

As much as I adore winter, I have to admit that I'm not quite used to it yet. So I hadn't received the common-sense memo that ice+snow+nightfall will equal a lot of work before you can drive away. So my faithful friend and I took to the windows with a tiny ice scraper and our sleeves to make the windshield less of a Christmas wonderland. It wasn't the last time that we would be unprepared that day. 

After enough of the windshield was cleared we drove away in the snow, ice, and dark to Phoenix, land of eternal sunshine and free furniture. 

About an hour into the 3 hour drive, coffee in hand and a strong will to not fall asleep we encountered our second unplanned obstacle of the day. . . sweet little Bambi. Why did she have to run? Why didn't she turn around? So many questions! It was a split second encounter. She ran, we tried to swerve, and in a quick moment of Disney movie dreams dying, BAM! The poor baby hit the side of our truck with the most magnificent force. Now that I think about it, that deer might have been suicidal. 

With closed eyes and an escaped scream we collided with dear Bambi. It's true. We have the dent and fur to prove it.  I think she escaped with just some intense brain damage, let's hope. It was quite the collision. 

Snow, Ice, Bambi encounters. . . . what else?? 

How about the Uhaul trailer almost not attaching to the truck? Or the ridiculously heavy piece of glass we had to move without any blankets to cover it with (I'm learning to be self-sufficient and let's just say I was in charge of the blankets and forgot them. Let's also be clear that without my faithful friend I would probably be furniture-less and still in Phoenix trying to figure out how to open the storage unit). Then perhaps after all that we drop the tailgate on the key in the lock and it snaps in two.

Sigh. What a day it was. 

But in the midst of the near death experiences, the strained arm muscles, and the frustrations, there was also sunshine, good friends, a delicious sandwich, and a trip to Ikea. And though the day was long, at the end I was reminded of this: 

Life is crazy. We have good days and bad days, but the gift is in going through them together. At the end of the day we have life, and each other, and a roof over our heads. I have friends that wake up at 6am to drive with me to Phoenix, friends that cut me down the perfect Christmas tree, and friends that let me recount every detail to them when I get home. And that is what sustains us through it all, isn't it? As much as people can be annoying, they are what pull us into tomorrow with the promise that all things will get better. The promise that one day we might be able to afford a dream couch, and even if we can't, we will have people that come sit on our floor for dinner. 

It is the people that make everything worth it, and though I sometimes feel isolated on this mountain, I know that I wouldn't make it through without the people that God has surrounded me with here. I am blessed beyond what I deserve and that makes every day easier to get through. . . 

. . . well, that and the hope that Bambi is still alive somewhere out there. . . 


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Power of Pressure

I'm going to admit something here, straight out into the crazy world of internet readers. Are you ready for it? Ok. . .

I've

been

stressed. 

Whew! Got that out there. I feel better now.

I've always had these idealistic views about how stress serves no purpose and reveals a distrust in God's provision (which is true). So I claimed an easy-going attitude and a yippidee-do-da nature and walked through life at ease, right? Well, despite these good intentions a new sneaky stress started to manifest itself in the tightness of my chest and the sleep that seemed to constantly evade me for about a month or two. As much as I wished I could get rid of it, no amount of forced positivity could change the manifestation of the stress in my life.

I couldn't figure out why this was happening until a co-worker pointed out with such nonchalance, "well yea you are stressed, you have a new job you are trying to figure out." Oh yea, that thing. The new job. The new job is more of a shift in responsibilities as I am now responsible for a lot of the details in running our new and constantly improving after-school program at our youth center. And the job rocks, but what I was experiencing with the stress was a new pressure I had put on myself to make sure everything and everyone was o.k.

The pressure was to create a meaningful afternoon for our students every afternoon, to take care of all their emotional needs, to figure out how to take care of myself and be better and on and on and on until I couldn't sleep and I couldn't breathe and I couldn't figure out how to fix it. And then of course (because I am who I am) I would get freaked out that stress shortens one's life which would stress me out even more as I realized I was making myself die earlier. Stress begot more stress. It was a weird little time.

So, how did I get rid of the little monster that pressed upon me with such force? Well, I took a retreat to a farmhouse for one thing, and I came back rested because for just a few days I had stopped worrying about everyone and everything else. I had to realize that I was not given the responsibility to make everything perfect or to fix everything that is wrong. When I put the world on my shoulders I sink fast into the ground. I had to be reminded that I answer to the call of the Lord, not the ever-changing response of the teenage people that I serve. The key became deep breaths, structured time, and prayer and Scripture as my guide.

I've been surprised actually. When the stress seems to pop its little gopher head up I have found that I immediately long for the Scriptures to soothe my soul. It seems to be the only thing that fixes the tightness of my chest. Isn't that cool? For God's Word reminds me that He is in control, not me (thank goodness).

And so each morning as I pack my things I have to remind myself that this task is not mine alone. As I pray for motivation I pray that I would be able to be content in doing my best. I pray that I would release myself from the bonds of expectations and simply work with the expectancy that God is going to do great things through this team, this program, and this year. And slowly but surely, the stress begins to fade. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Role of a Lifetime

I’ve lived my whole life being called “Mom Meredith.” It probably started when I was three and my brother was born. From the moment I held that little baby I decided I was in charge of taking care of everyone. I used to play a game with him in the bathtub where I was the mom and he was my “baby boy hippo.”

I never said I was normal. 

Through the years the “mom” nature never left. In college my friends in the dorm started calling me mom, much to my own mother’s dismay. I reassured her that it was an endearing term and people meant it out of love, whether that was actually true or not. I just cared for people a lot. And I liked rules. So I thought other people should too. 

It was this innate tendency that I couldn’t rid myself of, even if I had wanted to. I was always the nurturer, the bossy one, the rule enforcer, the listener, and the let’s-eat-chocolate-to-make-it-all-better kind of friend. 

It was at 25 where I realized that all my practice (whether invited or not) had been for a reason. No, I was not yet a mom to babies, but I looked up one day to find myself firmly fixed in the role of “mom” (or "auntie") . . .to 15 teenagers. Talk about unexpected. 

Finally it seemed that all those skills I had honed over the years were coming into use, and I fit the role like a glove. 

As challenging as it is to “parent” teenagers I love getting to find the balance between disciplinarian and comforter. Bossy is my nature, so having the authority to tell students what to do is awesome. But what I love even more are all the moments in between the discipline. I love getting to listen to problems and feelings, giving advice or simply empathizing. It is awesome getting to be embarrassing in front of their friends and I cherish the moments when they choose to hang out by my side. I love getting to be a part of their lives, not just as a friend but as a mentor, a confidant, and an authority figure. It is the best job in the world to "parent" these crazy teens. 

Being “mom” is something ingrained in me, and praise God that He has given me a place to use it, even though it is far from what I dreamed. I find that at the end of each day I am so in love with my job, and it doesn't matter what the mornings bring or what personal life goals I haven’t reached. It doesn’t matter what else I could be doing or what other people think would be better for me. 

There is never a day where I wish I was doing something else. 

Getting to be with these kids is the greatest honor and the weird little family we create is more than I could have dreamed for. I wouldn’t trade this family for anything. I wouldn't leave this role unless a Divine force came down and told me to move along. This is what I have been prepared for, and I love these kids like crazy.






Monday, November 17, 2014

Faith Alongside Disappointment

This weekend we took apart our Little Bluebird Retail Store, a vital part of AYM's ministry. 

The tribal council came on Friday and told us we had to be out by Monday because they wanted the building for their own purpose. The building is owned by the tribe so as their property it is also their right to use it, but it was still disappointing. It seemed not to matter that we had a business there, that we had renovated the building, or that we employed tribal members. What they wanted they got, without much concern for who it harmed along the way. It reminded us of the stark reality of working on the rez, that we are outsiders, and no matter the good we provide we could always be seen as temporary.

So we all gathered together on Sunday and started the move out, bundled in coats and scarves and an impromptu dance move or two to try and lift our spirits.

It was as we were loading the shelving into the big green bus that a homeless man walked over from the neighboring food ministry that was also being kicked out. As he walked through the gate into the retail store I asked him politely, "Hey man, what are you doing?"

"Oh," He replied somberly, "I was just going to look. Man, I am so sorry this is happening to you guys."

"Its ok," I replied, "We know God will provide for us."

"Yea. . . Man, I'm so sorry you guys have to move out. I'm so sorry."

It was a touch of kindness in the midst of a long day and it struck me as a rather significant moment, for being so small. In the midst of the work and disappointment this man united with us in our loss and it reminded me that together we are all part of something bigger than our troubles. From the homeless man, to the ministry next door, to the people all around the US who have partnered with us throughout the years, we combine to create a community that is strong. Yes, we are frustrated that things we work hard at can be taken away without concern, but the time was not a waste. 

Each person that gets fed, each student that gets loved, each email and note to our staff, is a vital part of God's glory being shown here on the WMA reservation, and Little Bluebird is a big part of God's glory. Little Bluebird is more than just a screen printing shop. 100% of the proceeds go right back into our ministry and keep things running. It provides jobs, services, and sustains AYM.  And the work continues, no matter what opposition comes our way. The tagline of Little Bluebird is "You gotta wear something. . . wear hope" and that is what we choose to do.

(Check out www.littlebluebird.com to see some of the great work they do).

When things get challenging I watch as our community, both on the rez and beyond, becomes more united and an even better testament to God's power and love. There is nothing that can separate any of us from the love of God and this weekend proved that despite the disappointments our community is still united. It was a beautiful, though bittersweet, moment to be united in this challenge because it was a reminder that God will provide.

Nothing can stop God's people from uniting for His glory, building or no building.  

The Little Bluebird T-shirt business still stands, it is just a little homeless for now. And we believe that God will provide in a way that is even greater than we could guess. We know He will give it a new home, and at the end of the day we choose to hold our faith alongside our disappointment, because there is nothing that can change His love and the work of His hands.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

There and Back Again

I spent last weekend cocooned within the comforts of a Maryland farmhouse. It was a restoration for my soul and I slept beneath the covers with complete peace of mind at the end of each lovely day. The days were filled with comfort food and long drives through the rolling hills of the Northeast as I began to breathe out the stress and breathe in the peace of God. It was a beautiful time of reconnecting with the quiet parts of my soul and the carefree fun that is getting lost with a good friend as I escaped the day to day of my normal life and entered into a world so far from my usual.

The brilliant changing colors of Fall and the comforting embrace of farmland lay out before me and I was sublimely happy spending the days exploring new towns, walking in the cold air, and conversing with lovely people. It was a dream of a trip and I woke up each morning feeling entirely blessed for having the chance to escape to the farm.

What made it even more lovely was that I had been there before, though it is now only a quiet memory. I wasn't more than 8-years-old the last time I roamed the hills next to the red barn at the house I stayed in. I was young and carefree with my long blond hair and my habit of wearing Sunday dresses to run around in.

Of all the things I have forgotten from my childhood I have never forgotten that little visit.

The sheep on the hill, the boys running beside me, it has sat quietly in my mind for over a decade. So on Monday morning I found myself standing in the same spot that had produced the memory, reflecting on where God had taken me since I first ran on that little hill- the paths He had reconnected, the unexpected directions, the beautiful blessings. I wondered, in my lively imagination, what that little girl would think of the woman that she has become.

I know it sounds silly, but I almost imagined meeting my little self there, connecting hands as we connected my past with my present, my present with my future. 

And I knew with absolute certainty that my life has been an orchestration of a lovely God, who takes quiet joy in making these connections that we would never even have the capacity to imagine.

As I boarded the plane to return to my normal, so very eager to see "my" kids on the reservation, I found that I was able to breathe in deeply the beauty of the 18 years between those farmhouse visits. What great adventures those years held. What brilliant opportunities for growth and what amazing turns my life has taken. I could not have predicted this path, but I find so much joy in getting to reflect on God's creativity and goodness that these years have contained. 

And all this from standing on a hill by a farmhouse in the autumn wind. :)




Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Shadows Prove the Sunshine

There were a few days this week that didn't start out so well. Cranky, worried, whatever, I got out of bed and was mad at the world. But in typical Meredith fashion, by the afternoon everything was fine. Seated with my students quietly reading books, trying out yoga with them in the backyard, picking apples together, each day ended with a sigh of exhaustion and happiness. As always, by the end of the day I was thrilled with the greatness of my life.

But most great writers write in the midst of emotion. When the world seems to be crashing down or the problems seem their greatest, that is when a writer sits down and lets it all pour out onto paper (or virtual paper in the blog world). That is what is interesting to read and what people can relate to. And it isn't the norm or even the majority, but simply the processing and the healing that comes when emotions become words and thoughts become paragraphs.

So sometimes I write in the mornings when life doesn't seem so great. And sometimes I write in the evenings, when I sit around and baffle at how I could possibly deserve such a sweet life. You never know what you are going to get.

I think that sometimes when people read the "morning" posts on this blog they worry about me more than they should. They worry that I am sad, frustrated, or even a bit depressed. But I want to put your minds at ease. That is most definitely not the case. When I started working on the rez I wanted this blog to be real. I wanted to show the readers that one does not have to be perfect or have it all together to be a missionary. The goal was to invite people into the good, the bad, and the ugly of being on the mission field so that the glory of it disappeared. I wanted the reader to be left with the realization that they too could do exactly what I am doing. The goal was to put all the struggles and joys down on this virtual paper and invite you to a true understanding of life on the rez.

So I do include posts about the sacrifices and the hard days. But those days aren't every day. They are fleeting moments in the midst of a great life. As Switchfoot so wisely puts it, the shadows prove the sunshine. The moments of uncertainty, the questions of sacrifice, and the really really hard bits of this job make God's brilliance even greater. He shines far brighter than anything else, and each moment brings me closer to understanding His glory and His goodness.

I love my life, my job, my kids, and my weird little family here on this mountain. And yea, some days are hard, but I never question that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. I never question that God put me on a journey 3 years ago that led me right here to this mountain in Arizona.

And I never ever lose the joy for His work here. . . even if I do have a bad morning or two. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Reflection of Seasons

Guys. Winter is coming!!

Here in Pinetop we are having an absolutely beautiful fall season, full with color and breeze and light jackets and loveliness. But when the sun dips below the horizon and the air gets chilled, I can feel that winter is on its way. I know I shouldn't be excited. I know that the snow will last from November to April and I might maybe may get tired of it all by the end, but for now I embrace the coming change in season with anticipation and a good pair of boots. I may have even put the Christmas moose on the mantel a little early because I just can't wait (yes, the Christmas moose is a real thing).

One thing wonderful about Pinetop, Arizona is the anticipation of each new season. I love living in a place with actual seasons. Each one has its own beauty and its own appeal, but we never stay in one for long. When I look back at my year here in Arizona I feel like I can separate the changes in my life by the seasons (and man, has this year changed a lot in my life!).

The fall was all changing colors and horizons as I settled into my new home. It was sometimes a beautiful season and sometimes a hard one as I worked to find my place here.
Then the winter came and with the snow days and hot cups of coffee came a new sense of family and comfort. Perhaps that is why I love winter so much. The cold air brings everyone together as we seek warmth and community amidst the snow and ice. As the snow covers all the mess that fall left behind, so too did my community begin anew as we covered our mistakes with grace and new understanding. Winter was my favorite season.
Spring was happiness and the birth of new things as we began to dream a new direction for our ministry. It was the birth of everything that the Kennel Unleashed is now. Spring changed everything for us, and there isn't a day that I don't praise God for those spring days.
Summer was a whirlwind of busy weeks, learning, hiking, and taking on new leadership that brought me to where I am now. Summer was a season that transformed me, but man, did I need a Rip Van Winkle type nap when that was over!

Gosh, it has been such a year. Such a really really good year.

As I sit in my kitchen on this rainy fall day in Pinetop I find such peace reflecting on this past year and the current season. I know that there were a fair share of dreary days and rainy moments, but as I look back on the year I am so grateful for every moment of every season. Each moment was purposeful, each struggle was a step in the right direction, and I know that this year will be the same. Who knows what these seasons will bring, what joys and pains, happiness and concern.

All I know is that based on this past year, this next one is going to be full and beautiful. I cannot wait to see what happens. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Crocodile Dundee" Comes for a Visit

What a great Fall Break last week. My brother, the one and only, came to town. And it was glorious.

Back when we were little kids my brother and I shared bunk beds for a year. We were both scared of the dark and the solution was solidarity. I remember that year fondly. We would go to sleep talking together until Ryan would say, "Shhh, I need to pray." And he would fall asleep praying his long and all-important prayers. Needless to say, he and I have always been close.

So this past week, as grown-ups, we revisited our childhood. For the week Ryan slept on the floor in my room and we would spend each night catching up on years of missed-out togetherness. We would chat about my life and his, give each other advice, share our perspectives on any number of topics, and laugh until sleep overtook us. We may be in our twenties, but we still enjoy a good late night chat.

Having my brother here made this one of the greatest weeks of my year. Seeing as I have lived across the country for 3 years we only get together time like this about once every 2 years (when home for Christmas we are both preoccupied with our separate friends and activities). He fit in perfectly (of course) with my teammates and students. The kids nicknamed him "Crocodile Dundee" and it stuck for the whole week. I hope he felt the weight of that honor!

It was also so fun seeing all the things we had in common that we never realized. I swear we look nothing alike but my team, seeing us together for the first time, picked out a number of similarities. Oddly enough, we both have the habit of sticking our tongue out when we are concentrating on something. Who knew!

The laughs, the conversations, the meal times, and the interaction of my brother with my friends gave peace to my heart and comfort to my soul. As he reminded me to give God the control and to rest not on my own understanding I was reminded of God's great grace and provision in bringing Ryan out to visit.

When he left he commented, "Its a weird little life you have made for yourself out here."

"Thanks," I replied, "I kind of like it."  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Life as an Open Road

(conversation with student during tutoring/reading time at the Kennel)

"Hey Meredith. . . "

"Yes?"

"Do you think that life is like an open road? . . .because that is what this magazine is telling me."

____________________________

The other night my best friend called me with some spectacularly good news. I cried. It was that good. When we hung up the phone I cried again, but this was a mix of happy and quite very much sad tears as well. Here was one of the happiest moments of my friend's life and I was thousands of miles away from her.

I never imagined that I would stay out West when I moved here three years ago. The only thing I knew was that I was following God's call and I would take whatever He gave me. But I was perhaps not prepared for what it meant that I would lose. Living on this mountain in Arizona my life is rather small. I have lost most of my friends from college simply because of distance, both on a map and in our ways of life. For the 2-3 friends I do still keep in touch with there are great challenges. As my friends begin their lives with boyfriends and husbands and children I miss it all. Our lives are busy and keeping in touch takes effort. I am far from my family and my daily life consists of my job and my four local friends. Phone conversations are always a blessing, but the sense of loss hit me hard that night.

I realized that I have had to give up family, friends, and relationships in order to serve God on this mountain in Arizona. I was struck with an overwhelming loneliness as all of this loss fell onto my head with one phone call.

So as I sat there, praying and questioning and listening, I had to ask myself: Is it worth it? Has it been worth it to leave everyone and everything to live in a small town and work with a bunch of teenagers and not know what the future holds? Above all else I want a family of my own. A husband, children . . . is it worth it if that never comes? If my children are these reservation kids and my life continues as it is now. . .

. . .is it all worth it? 

The answer, I will admit, does not come easy. I so badly want to hold on to these things of comfort, these memories of the past and dreams of the future. But I look to the heavens and I know the truth. I know that this life is temporary and that my only desire is to know God more and make Him known. I still struggle with the balance of working with these students and giving up my own future dreams, but I know that God will guide my path and calm my heart. I know that in the end, I would give up anything, no matter how painful, in order to serve my God. Sure, there will be tears along the way, and some days will be way harder than others, but in the end it will be worth the loss.

So is all worth it?

Yes. Yes it is.
___________________

"Yea Nick, I think I do believe that life is an open road."

"It says here, 'there is something new around every turn.'" 



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Seeing Brilliance Among the Annoying

Yesterday was one of those days where everyone seemed just the slightest bit annoying. I knew that it was in fact not everyone else that was the problem, but I let myself wade my feet into the notion that everyone was being dumb and they should all just be quiet. 

My friend reminded me of the reality that I probably needed to get my crap together. Truth. Spoken with the most eloquent of speech. 

The day wasn't even bad. I had a great breakfast with friends, got the chance to fill my cart to overflowing with groceries for one of our former students who is now the guardian of her 4 brothers, and spent the afternoon with kids that I love. I even got to help with math homework! There was such brilliance in the day, yet I let it cloud over with my own grumpiness. 

I have to tell you that the job is brilliant. The personal life is what begins to drag its muddy paws onto the work day. It is the little matters that direct my view away from the brilliance and into the clouds. It is the tiny splinter that distracts me from envisioning the monument that we are in the midst of building.  

So I sit down and try to figure out how to get my crap together. And the answer, I decide, lies in the word trust. Which I don't really care for. Because the truth is that I do trust God, I am just rather impatient. In the waiting times I like to let all the doubts and questions and annoyances become the only picture in front of me. I seek after God but as I read 1 Samuel every morning the nagging question begs for an answer, am I seeking Him with all of my heart? Am I on my knees, giving up everything, delving in and meditating rather than just trying to appease Him with a passing thought? Am I giving Him everything or am I bitterly holding onto the things that annoy me because He has not given me the answer I desire? 

Am I really seeking God with all my heart?

The answer becomes painfully obvious as I melt into the realization that without giving Him my full heart I have let myself wade too far for the day. I want better, for my kids, my teammates, my friends. I want to emanate the joy of the Lord. I want to be full to overflowing with the good news of the gospel. I want to seek God with all of my heart, not just part of it. And that is going to take work. It is going to take time and prayer and forgiveness. It is going to take my roommate pulling me in to remind me to trust in His goodness, to trust in the brilliance around me. 

And when I start getting my own self together I am able to once again see the absolute beauty of everything around me, even amidst the clouds of unanswered prayers. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The One Year Anniversary!

My dear friends, it has officially been a year. One year ago today I moved to middle-of-nowhere Arizona full of hope and excitement. I knew that this year was going to change me. Little did I know how much this year would transform my life. 

As I look back I am absolutely amazed at what God has done.

One year ago our team was a little less than friendly to one another. Today we are praying for each other, connected as family with a love that overcomes our differences. When people are around us they remark without fail, "You guys really love each other, don't you?" And the answer is 100% glory to God.

We are the epitome of iron sharpens iron.

We have seen the best and the worst of each other and yet we are better people because of the ways in which we have been challenged. I have to say that I am so immensely grateful for the place this team has in my life. They have transformed who I am and I wouldn't trade in any of this past year, the good or the bad.

This past year has also been more challenging than I could have imagined. I have lost hope and regained it. I have cried and cried again over the struggles of my students and my helplessness to change it. I have made mistakes and I have had moments of great accomplishment. Most surprisingly, I spent the year continuing to question God's place in the midst of it all. I reached low points, where God's goodness was hidden from my eyes, and I reached high points as those around me stuck with me through it. I was blessed by a patient God and people who were willing to be my eyes, to see His goodness and remind me of His truth. 

So I enter into this next year as a much different person than when I arrived. My faith has been tested and made stronger. My relationships have fallen and been rebuilt. Though I still do not have the answers I now have the faith that God is insanely in love with these students. I have the confidence that He is in control, and I can see His goodness in every moment our team works together with these students. I see His glory and His grace, and there is no place else I would rather be.

Praise God for continually challenging us. Praise Him for surrounding us with people who make us better. Praise Him for His provision even amidst our unfaithfulness.

What a year of ministry it has been. What a joy it will be to see what He has in store next. 

The very first team picture ever taken!

So glad that hiking has been such a huge part of this year. 



Family!
So grateful for the joy that is present in my life! 

A happy home has been such a blessing. 
This is the life my friends. What an absolute joy. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Covering the Fear of Failure

I woke up this morning to a frantic student. As we emailed back and forth I told her I could not help her. She angrily told me I was out of her life.

The words stung a bit but I knew, like in any parent/child relationship, kids will say things when they are angry that they do not really mean. And I also knew that if someone does not want the help you are offering then we have no choice but to turn away. After all, the amount of students on this reservation is numerable and there are others that desire the help we do offer.

As my mentor so smartly put it, we simply cannot always rescue students (or people) in the way that they wish to be rescued.

But something kept stinging my mind as I considered this morning's interaction. It is a worry that sneaks in at moments like these. It is the deep-seeded fear that I am not doing things in a way that will please God. As we deal with these most unusual circumstances and I do my best to be/do as God wills, I am so worried that He will not be pleased. I fear arriving at God's feet to hear Him say, "Why did you not love them better? Why did you leave them there or not help them out here?" It is a worry that sits quietly on the edge of my mind as I do my best but perhaps do not do enough or do it right. It becomes crippling to have the pressure of making my Father proud beating down upon me as I am so hard on myself trying to do what He would do in these situations.

Yet as I write this post I look down at my fingers that type, and there on my right hand is a ring with two words engraved upon it: revealing grace. It has been the theme of my life since I started this blog. It reminds me to have grace on others and in this moment it reminds me to have grace for myself. Because God Himself pours His grace upon my life. I must remember that He does not require me to be perfect or flawless, but to try my best to be faithful to His calling, to try my best to do as He would have me do. And I will make so many mistakes. Goodness, look at the disciples! Jesus loved them and they made so many mistakes. Therefore I must rest in that grace. I must cover the stinging fear of failure with the all-covering power of grace. 

So I will try (imperfectly of course) to rely on the promise that I wear on my finger each day. I will cling to the promise that God is pleased with the work we are doing here and that He has grace for our mistakes. And I will, as any parent would, place the lives of these students in God's hands, knowing that He can care for them so much better than I.

I must trust, I must believe, and I must rely on the truth. God help me to rest in Your truth. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Heading into Portlandia

Tomorrow I head out to a city I have always wanted to visit: Portland, Oregon. If that weren't exciting enough, I am heading there to participate in the wedding of a most precious friend. Some people don't like weddings. I love them. Adore them really. I fall in love with all of the romance and pretty flowers. I'm hopeless. 

Seeing as this is the 8th wedding that I have been a part of (there is a phrase my mother sometimes says involving the words "always" and "never" that we will refrain from using here), I have a plethora of great memories involving my friends marrying the love of their life. 

I'm reminded of returning from Spain to a Georgia that had completely changed while I was gone as I (the tallest in the wedding party) walked with the smallest in the wedding party down the aisle. I am brought back to the first time I became BFF with my Great-Aunt Ruth (she is a legend) and the time I got to solve all the problems of the day simply by having pockets. I am reminded of the dance parties and the late nights and the chance meetings with John Travolta (for real, that happened). And mostly I am left thankful for so many wonderful people in my life and for the joys that I have gotten to be a part of. 

What a joy it is to witness the joy of others. 

So for the next few days I am forgetting the worries of the world and my job and my life and I am going to pretend that the worries of this wedding are the only things of importance. I am going to cheer my most amazing and accomplished friend down the aisle as we rejoice in God's immense and incredible love. And I am going to wear a pretty dress and twirl around and it is going to be the most wonderful wedding Portland has ever seen. 

So there you have it. 

That is my plan. So world, I will see you on Monday, when I return to the potential of lactose-intolerance and other worrying uncertainties (seriously, all I eat is cheese and chocolate so if this is a thing in my life, my world will be crushed. Crushed!). 

Until then, enjoy all the beauty within your lives and soak up all the good you find around you! God is always good. :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Shawarma and Singleness

The other day I thought I was a genius. 

As I got out of the car in Flagstaff I had the all-too-common problem of not wanting to leave my half-eaten gyro in the car, but also not wanting to eat it or throw it away. Dilemmas, am I right? So after a brief moment of consideration, I tied the plastic bag with the food in it around the strap of my purse and let it hang by my side as I perused Barnes and Noble. Genius. So there I go, walking casually around Barnes and Noble in Flagstaff, filling my arms with more books than I could possibly take home to live with me, and my half-eaten gyro is flopping by my side. I swear I smelled like some serious onions and taziki. It wasn’t until the 8th or 9th weird look that I looked down and realized how absurd it was to have a plastic bag of chicken and pita hanging off of my purse.

In that moment I concluded that if I were a hermit I would be crazy. I’m telling you, if you guys think I am a little weird now, you cannot even imagine what I would be like without social norms to attend to.

So of course this moment of weird solitude got me thinking about being a hermit and being alone and eventually downslide into the pool of understanding singleness (threads of thought run rampant when I hang out by myself). And I decided a few things. 

I decided that I don’t think anyone- the church, the world, society- deals with singleness correctly. My whole life I have been told that I am waiting for the right man. I have been taught to anticipate the blessing of marriage, to believe that it is part of what I am striving for. But no one ever sat me down and told me the truth.

Truth #1: Being single is awesome

 No one ever prepared me for growing up by saying,

“Hey. I want you to know that being single is fantastic. It is a seriously fun season so enjoy every minute. Go hike mountains, take random road trips, hang out with people and travel the world. Make the most of every minute because this season will not last forever.” 

Why in the world do we not glorify singleness? Why in the world do I have to feel inadequate if I am not married at 25? This season has been the most blessed season I could imagine. God has been able to move and work in me, improving me each year and teaching me through a variety of experiences. In addition, I have gotten to walk alongside so many marriages, learning from the struggles and joys of my friends. I have become much better prepared for the next season because I have used these years of singleness to the fullest. 

Truth #2:  Single people can be friends with married people. 

My married friends are awesome, and I don’t mind at all when they cook me dinner or let me watch a movie with them. It rocks. And we all learn a lot in the process. So don't be afraid to mingle with the marrieds. Marriage is as awesome as singleness. 

Truth #3 Neither singleness nor marriage is a fairy tale, nor are they a death sentence. 

I will be honest, I am definitely looking forward to the next season. I believe that someday I am going to meet someone who is going to be the greatest of blessings and I will enter into a new and exciting chapter. And I really do hope that it is coming sooner rather than later.  

But for now I get to work a dream job every day. I get to travel and explore and sleep in a tent in my living room. And this season of singleness is not filled with sadness and longing for the future, it is filled with joy for what is now. It is filled with so much good that I know I will look back and see that these years were not wasted. God was alive and good the whole time. And it is a blessing of my life that I want other people to see and understand (although I will take any recommendations on any men you might know, preferably tall and on the West Coast who are looking for a shwarma/book-loving girl with spunk…i.e. me….). 

I guess my hope is that every young girl and guy can begin to see the fullness of life that is within singleness as well as marriage, and perhaps we as adults can begin to change our tune as we talk with younger people. Singleness is awesome. Marriage is awesome. Let us rejoice in both. 

And if, by chance, you are ever walking around a bookshop and smell some greek food amidst the literature, go ahead and look for me. I will living up my weirdness in the fiction aisle and I would love for you to join me. :)

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Hardcore Life

Life is good.

Today I am taking some of our kids to the fair down on the reservation. It is the one really big event for our tribe and the kids even have the day off of school. I am definitely going to be trying some blue corn mush and some acorn stew. I am also looking to avoid riding any swirly rides after I eat said things.

Also I learned jiu jitsu yesterday.

And I bought a tent.

So I am basically becoming hardcore.

After a lifetime of "I don't work out" and "I don't camp" I have officially unleashed the beast and am loving both of those things. It feels good to feel strong and to use my muscles for what they were made for. It is quite empowering. Plus I learned how to take my roommate down yesterday, so if she doesn't do the dishes I can just beat her up. Important stuff.

In other news, last weekend I took a spontaneous road trip with a few friends to the great state of Californ-i-a. The conversation was basically, "Man, we should go to the beach." "Let's do it." "Ok." It was awesome. We camped by the ocean and it was the best 2 days I've had in a while. It was just the rest we needed after 2 busy weeks of a new school year (well, the 20+ hours of driving were pretty exhausting but it was still worth it). Our toes in the sand, the sun drenching our skin, camping out and walking around town. . .it was really close to bliss. I even got to catch the La Jolla farmer's market, so I was a happy camper (literally...ha ha).

So there you have it. I am now an in-shape, hiking, camping, strong gal who lives in the mountains. Pretty funny if you look back on my number 1 characteristic in this blog post from 2011. I'm perhaps one step closer to who I always pretended I was in my head. Hooray for that and hooray for God always being full of surprises!





Let the adventures continue!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Be Strong and Courageous"

Lately I have had a string of anxious dreams. Each night I go to bed hoping for peace. Each night I toss and turn as another scenario plays out, a scenario in which bad things are happening and I have no control. I wake up weary. I wake up frustrated.

And I seek to understand why I have so much unfelt anxiety. Is it the world that is getting to me? So many bad things happening at once. So many people hurting, dying, in pain, and so much injustice that I can do nothing about. I can only allow myself so much access to the news. It breaks me.

Perhaps it is the addition of our new programming at the youth center. It could not be going better, but the enemy loves to sneak in fears of failure. The enemy tells me that we are losing kids, that we aren't doing our job, that we are going to fail these kids that need so much.

But I know that it is not true. I know that my prayers for this world are powerful. I know that there is life in the 5 students that have been committed to what we are doing at the youth center. I know that God is moving and powerful and that we are not failing. I know the truth, that we are being faithful and God will take care of the rest.

Funny enough, I have been studying the book of Joshua since we started school here in AZ. I got all the way to the 2nd to last chapter before I realized that the answer to my anxieties had been right in front of me every morning. The battles in front of me seem insurmountable, but did God not remind me in the beginning that He was taking care of it all? Did He not repeat the phrase over and over in my readings? "Be strong and courageous, says the Lord, for I will be with you wherever you go." Be strong and courageous. Be in the Word. Listen to me. Let me do the fighting. Hold fast to Me. Follow my commands. I have already won the war. 

The answers from my King are clear. He has placed me in leadership. He has given me a task and a people to lead. And I cannot control it, true, but I can be strong, confident, and courageous knowing that He does not lead me into anything alone.

"And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he has sworn to their ancestors; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass." 
Joshua 21:43-45

Amen. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Beauty of New Experiences

When we started our new programming on Monday I was a little apprehensive. About 50 kids walked out of the Kennel, leaving us with 9 interested in sticking around. As I watched 50 kids wander outside our gates I wondered, are we doing the right thing?

On Tuesday the answer became clear. 

Again 50 students left. 8 remained. We hopped in the van and headed up for a field trip. The trip was to learn about animals and veterinary things. After a quick tour of the veterinary clinic we headed out to farm along a very very muddy road. Let’s just say I tried my hand at mud-bogging and had to hand over the wheel. 

When we got to the farm it was awesome. There were all these animals our students had never encountered before. A llama, alpacas, a miniature horse, pigs, and dwarf goats. The kids lit up as they got to pet the animals and learn about them more. I mean come on, who doesn’t want to take a llama for a run on a Tuesday afternoon? 

It was so apparent to me that we were doing the right thing when I watched a certain kid walk the llama. This is a kid who was plagued with depression last year. He was empty and broken. This year things are looking up for him. He had so much joy hanging out with those animals I thought I would burst. I never imagined seeing him happy and content. When he was watching the llama eat grass he yelled out to me, 

“I like the way he eats! And I like the way it sounds. He is making me hungry!” 

“Maybe you should try some of what he is having!” I jokingly suggested. 

A minute later he has picked up some grass and put it in his mouth. 

“Yuck!” He exclaims. “That doesn’t taste good!” 

“I didn’t mean it!!” I laughed so hard. 

But my favorite thing ever was watching T. T's dad died last year and he still is trying to recover. For him this has meant drinking away the days with no hope for his future. His goal, he would exclaim was to be a camel (a drunk) for the rest of life. I was worried that the rest of his life wasn’t going to be very long. 

But T lit up around these animals. During the sedation of the horse and the subsequent examination of his teeth, this student was right by the veterinarians’ side. He asked intentional and intelligent questions. He went elbow deep in the horse’s mouth, examining and listening closely to what he was to feel for. 

There was a light in him that I had not seen in a very long time.

I was watching as kids found a passion, a path, a possibility. I was watching them light up with new experiences and opportunities. I was so tickled when Noah’s prayer for the food ended with, “. . . and God, thank you for letting me hold a goat today.” 

And it produced in them a gratitude that I have never seen before. 

When we were recounting the experience over pizza the kids asked, without prodding, “Who bought the pizza?” 
Lydia explained that she has picked it up. A chorus of thank yous followed. We even heard “yes ma’am” and “yes sir!"

Their impeccable manners had been an unexpected result from these new opportunities. 

As we got in the car to go home one of the students yelled something at me and then said, “love you!” 

“Love you too!” I called back. 

“Yea, I know you do. You guys really love me.” His voice was sincere. 

“We definitely do man,” I replied. “We love you a lot.” 

It made all the changes with our programming worth it. It was a long day, so very long, but I wouldn't have traded it. It was rain storms and floods on the way home, but I wouldn’t have exchanged my life for anything.

It was a day in the life of the best job in the world. 


Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Revolutionary Action

“Why do you need to be spending time with God every day?”

“Because my job is really draining.”

“No,” he replied. 

Crap, I got the wrong answer in front of the pastor, I thought. 

“You need to be spending time with Him because He is your daddy. You need to be spending time with Him because He is your breakfast, your water, your sustenance. If we are only spending time with Him because of our profession, then we have it all wrong. We need to be spending time with Him because He is life.”

Oh yea. Mind. Blown.

“So you are starting tomorrow, right?”

“Oh, uhhh, yea!”

It was a conversation that changed the entire trajectory of my year. It had been a long summer and most of my encounters with our pastor had included some tears, mostly from exhaustion. But what Pastor Ernie made me realize was that my exhaustion, my inability to cope, came not just from the overwhelming nature of our overbooked summer schedule. It came because I was trying to serve a God with whom I was not spending any time.

So the next day I pulled out my Bible and sat in a comfy chair on my porch. I began where I had left off in my ill-fated attempt to read the whole Bible. I sat down with Joshua. And each day I sought out to begin my mornings in the same way. 

And I began to feel the difference. I began to pray more, for people I know and people I don’t. I began to pray with passion and determination, truly believing that God was moving and listening. My perspective on life began to change, and in the places where I had been struggling on my own, I began to see God so clearly.  Opening my mind to the Word opened my life to the movement of the Spirit, and opened my eyes to see that God had been all-around all-along. 

It was as if life came from those pages. It was as if God was sitting down next to me as we took in the truths of His goodness. It was the light of a calm spirit as I watched and experienced His truth come to fruition in my life and ministry. 

Where there was blindness there was now sight. Where there was despair there was an unrelenting hope. And it all came from spending time, intentionally, each morning, with my Creator.

Revolutionary, right? :)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

To Him Be the Glory!

It was the first time in a long time that I had felt it. It was the all-encompassing, overwhelming understanding of what Jesus had actually done for me. It was the incredible energy and gratefulness for what my life was, fully knowing that my whole life, every minute part of it, was all because of the goodness of God. It was overpowering. It was beautiful. It was the greatest peace and joy I have ever known. 


Such common words but my goodness the way they seeped into my soul! I could feel it so deeply. It wasn’t the all-too-common head knowledge that Jesus washed me white as snow. It was the song of my spirit, crying out to God in utter thankfulness. It has been so long since I have truly comprehended the magnitude of God, His goodness, His presence in my life. Perhaps 10 years have passed, of ups and downs and a struggle to regain the faith of my youth. And the past two years have been full of questioning, of doubt, of a lack of understanding as to God’s goodness in suffering. 

And here I was, surrounded by believers and the church, the music welling up in my being, finally realizing the truth. 


What incredible joy that thought brought me! Being in eternity, in front of Christ, is usually a point of anxiety for me. I can’t comprehend the infinite nature and the reality of eternity. But last night I soared to the heavens, so thrilled with the anticipation of getting to actually be in the presence of Jesus, for as long as forever. 


What a prayer! What a desire! What an intense need. Lord consume my life and change me.

It is almost a year to the day that I, for the only time in my life, denied the existence of God upon hearing of the death of a beautiful girl named Julia Tarter. One year ago today I was broken and saddened beyond belief. I was at a complete and utter loss at how to see or feel God in the midst of a completely broken and unfair world. 

But in His goodness He brought me to a mountain, to a place where I could escape Him no longer. And I think there is no coincidence that exactly one year later I can say with the greatest of confidence that despite the brokenness surrounding us, God is so full of goodness and His presence is so strong. He has redeemed my life. He has had patience in my questionings. And He has brought me to see Him so clearly through the struggles. 

Praise Him, from whom all blessings flow. To Him be the glory, the honor, and the power, forever and ever amen. 


26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1: 26-31

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Feeling Welling Up Inside

You can feel it in the air. I know it is cliche, but it is so true. There is an energy surrounding us, our conversations, our anticipation. 

It is like that night before the first day of school feeling on steroids. I can barely contain myself. 

God has been crazy good over this past year. Our team has gelled crazy well. The support and love we have for one another is something we never could have dreamed of (believe me, this time last year we all were a little, let's say. . . independent). And He has been shaping this plan, this dream in us for the last so many months, and finally the time for it to come to fruition is here. Tomorrow we begin a crazy, risky, all for His glory new plan for our youth center. And it is awesome. 

And the energy for it is ridiculous! Because here are the facts: we are exhausted. Already. With a team in this week we haven't had a good day of rest in a while. So we are starting the school year out completely beat. But we are also starting the school year out completely energized and excited, because this year is going to be about learning and purpose. Our roles and ideas are defined. Our expectations are high, yet realistic. And we just know that God is in it. 

It is all building up to something big and I feel it so strongly, like at any minute it is going to all explode into something bigger and more God-glorifying than we could ever have imagined. 

“Look at the nations and watch—
    and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told."
Habakkuk 1:5

Can you feel it? That is our verse for this year. I'm telling you, I wish you could be here to feel it too. After a year of struggling to see God and feel God in this hurting place, I truly could not feel His presence stronger. God is up to something people, and by Thanksgiving I just know that our little team, our big job, and our community are going to be different. 

Eeeeee! It is so exciting. God is so good. I'll keep you all updated as it all pans out, so stay tuned and keep praying!