Thursday, January 30, 2014

More Lessons from (treacherous) Mountains

Apparently 2014 is the year of “Make Meredith outdoorsy.” 

In general, I love this year’s theme. It is just in the middle of the outdoorsy parts that I sometimes despise it. 

So in line with this goal, my team and I recently took 11 of our students on an “easy hike” to Blue Lake. I should have known that even on an easy hike Seth (my teammate) would find a way to make it more adventurous. It is an awesome (and terrifying) ability that he has. So after crawling under barbed wire, realizing we were going the wrong way, and climbing back through the barbed wire, we came upon an expanse of sharp rocks and this became our path. 

wooohoooo... (Insert cranky out-of-shape Meredith noises here).

As all of my Apache students and teammates bounded across the rocks like they were spider monkeys, I. . .did not. I struggled rock-by-rock, wanting to smack the person that chose that path. “I’m just not actually very athletic. I don’t climb rocks,” I exclaimed to the two kind girls that stayed back to make sure I didn’t die. “I’m noticing that,” one of them replied. I definitely felt empowered at that moment (not). 

To make matters worse (or more exciting), as the gap widened between me and everyone else  a commotion began on the other side of the rock expanse. One of our students had heard a whine. . .an animal whine. As everyone who had already crossed the expanse of death scurried to flee the area in case a momma bear returned, I sat down on a rock, ready to either die by mama bear or be the lone survivor in the attack (great movie by the way). 

As I contemplated the options for my final moments of life, on the other end Seth had gathered all our students and sent them in another direction. “Come on, let’s go! We gotta hurry!” He called to me. I said a few choice words under my breath. 

When I had finally made it to the other side of boulders, happy to be alive, I realized that after two feet of grass there was yet another long expanse of boulders. Seriously!?!? My whole body was shaking, but I knew I had to cross the rocks to get to the other side (and not get eaten by an angry bear. Which was a frighteningly serious option). 

But just when I thought my life was over, things got good.  

By this point everyone had noticed my embarrassing struggle to cross the rocks everyone so easily bounded across. So one of the students, Joseph, began to call back every few minutes, “You doing alright, Meredith?” Another one of our students, Torio (who is basically a monkey) would hop a few rocks and then sit down for a while right beside me, waiting while I managed my way across. He later told me that after the scare with the bear, he stayed with me on purpose. It was perhaps the sweetest thing I had ever been told. He could have stayed with his friends and been across like lightening, but for every few steps of mine he would bound a little bit across, sit, and wait. At some points, when my feet were stuck and I couldn’t figure out where to go, he would hold out his hand and pull me up to the next place. 

Still trying to recover from the climb. 

When I finally did near the top with the help of the freshmen boys, my body was trembling. In a slight moment of weakness and despair I called out to another student, “Hey...hold my hand.” (I was very pathetic). For the last ten steps Carlos literally pulled me up

Later when walking down a path that I was taking super slow Torio, who was still sticking with me, said, “Mer, you are wearing shoes that are made for this. You are going to be fine.” 

Though I was the "adult" these kids were teaching me what it meant to be supported and cared for.  When things got rough, they showed me the path and pulled me up when I got discouraged. 

Despite the embarrassing parts of being lame at climbing rocks, this trip was my absolute favorite. I was so intrigued by the way the freshmen boys cared for me and helped me along. It was a glimpse of the men that they are going to become, men that don’t give in to the standard set for them on the reservation. And my heart was warmed because I know that the way those boys treated me was a direct reflection of how the men I work with treat me. These boys are being discipled by godly men, and it is transforming who they are and how they care for others. It was a beautiful picture, being pulled up the mountain by my students, and it was such a beautiful reflection of the mutual transformation that occurs when working in ministry. Times can get rough here, and I can question my ability to go forward, but our students are so amazing that when I can't figure it out, they pull me along. 

The end goal! 

And in the end, all the trouble becomes one of the best things I have ever done.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Navigating the Emotional Road of Ministry

Ok guys, I'm going to be vulnerable. I don't want to, but I'm going to do it. Brace yourselves.

Last week I cried. A lot. And I actually forgot about it until yesterday, which is weird because I seriously have not cried that much in a long time. One minute I was talking with my roommate/teammate Tiffany and the next I was bawling, my whole body trembling with the emotion that was exploding out of me. 

I was as surprised as she was.

What I think threw me over the proverbial edge was a dream that one of my students had recently described to me. It was the scariest thing I have ever heard, complete with oppressive demons and the devil himself stealing her away. She cried, I cried, we all cried. And then we prayed.

I don't know what it was about that specific dream but it was the icing on the cake (I guess) to all that I have learned and heard of since being here. You can say it becomes your every day when working in a painful context, but there is a loss of innocence that occurs that can't be reversed. It hurts. And it changes things.

So I cried and wept and shook with emotion for the pain and crap that my students go through. I was angry at the devil, angry that demons can physically touch and scare my students, and angry that this kind of crap exists.

That night I had a roommate sleepover in the living room because I didn't want to sleep alone. The nights before I hadn't been able to sleep without a light on. I was affected, and it was messing me up.

After all of that I felt like I was fine and it was over and I moved on. Or so I thought. But then this week multiple people mentioned that I seemed different, and to be honest, I felt different. As a person known for grandiose empathy, compassion, feelings, and joy, I realized that I now felt rather empty inside. It was as if a door had been shut involuntarily and I had lost all capacity for emotion, positive or negative. My "compassion meter" seemed broken and I struggled to feel anything at all.

Involuntarily, and without my permission, it seemed that my body and mind had decided that enough was enough. The great outpouring of sadness, fear, and frustration had led my insides to choose for me. And my insides decided that it was best to close the door to emotion and protect myself from feeling that way again.

I can tell you, it is almost as terrible to not feel as to feel. I wish I still had those strong messy emotions. I would rather hurt than cut myself off and harden my heart to what goes on around me, but I have not yet found the solution. I haven't found the balance and I am in the process of figuring this whole "loss of innocence" thing out. My prayer is that in some way God will be able to bring that joy back to my soul, that He will push ajar the door that leads to my vulnerable heart.

But until then, I will continue on. I will seek the council of those that God has provided to speak into my life, I will pour into the Word of God, and I will find His presence in every day and every moment.

I can assure you (in case you are worried) that this is not a post of emotional breakdown or deep problematic issues. It is simply a step in the journey of working among the poor, the marginalized, and the broken. I will not leave this place the person I was when I entered, and that is ok. No matter what happens I know that through this experience God will be glorified and I will be sanctified. Sure, this post doesn't have a concrete end or solution, but I know that God will not leave me in this alone. I know that (as the song says) there will be an end to these troubles, but until that day comes I will praise Him. For what else can we do in the midst of suffering, but believe that in the end, everything will work out for the good of those who love Him.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Momentary Lightness of Being

Sometimes I get frustrated with worship music.

I love listening to worship music and being encouraged by the messages within, but ever since I started working in a place with widespread hardship and suffering I have become increasingly frustrated with the music I once sang without even thinking.

For example, the song "Oceans" has been of great encouragement to me since working on the Apache reservation. It calms my soul and puts peace in my heart. But I catch myself wondering if those who wrote these songs have ever actually been in the midst of these turbulent oceans. No one in their right mind would ever ask to be led to deep waters if they really understood how easy it is to drown there. The song states, "Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior."

Yes, I agree! Hallelujah! That of course is the hope and the desire, but I have found that it isn't that easy. In these deep waters there are many times when I don't have stronger faith, but instead (on certain days) my faith is made weaker as I seek to navigate the floods.

It is the same thing with songs that ask to "give me Your eyes" or "Break my heart for what breaks yours." Do we truly know what it means to ask these things? Do we understand the pain that will fill our hearts when we are given His eyes and His heart? Do we understand that deeper waters will truly test us, more than we could ever imagine? Do we really want to ask for what we are asking for?


The other day this all came to light as I was sitting with a student, talking about culture and religion, places where I have gone wrong, and my hopes for her walk with Jesus.

All of a sudden my eyes betrayed the emotions that began to well up inside of me, as my mouth moved and the words poured out. “If I could take every ounce of pain, every bad thing that has ever happened to you, and every wrong that has ever left you scarred, I would. I would take every ounce of it so that you wouldn’t have to bear any of it.” My voice began to shake slightly. “But I can’t. As much as I wish I could.” As I looked at the teenage girl sitting across from me, a new truth suddenly dawned on me, and amidst my watering eyes I almost began to shout. “Oh my goodness! Oh my gosh! But God feels the same way! He sees all of the bad and sadness, and all that has harmed us, and His one desire is to take it on Himself so we don’t have to bear it. But here is the difference! God IS going to do that! He IS going to come back and take every sadness and every ounce of pain. God feels the same way as I do, but He can actually do it!” 

In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of Himself. In the midst of my worry and doubt, He gave me a momentary lightness of being as I felt what He felt, the depth of love that makes us willing to heap all of another’s pain upon ourselves, if only they don’t have to bear it. In that moment, He showed me Himself by allowing me to feel what He feels. And He reminded me of the truth, that He does love us that much, and that He will come to take it all away. It was a beautiful and emotional moment. And it reminds me that He is good and He will take the pain away, because He loves us. 

It was a moment of being given the broken heart of God and the eyes to see the truth in His plan and His love. For that moment He allowed me to feel as He feels, and it transformed my view of God. I had felt a fraction of His love, a love so deep that I would put myself in terrible pain just so another would not have to bear it.

And in that moment, I finally understood those songs. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A War Worth Fighting

I never thought that this would be my life.

In fact, I'm not sure that I even knew these kinds of things existed. The "battle" was a metaphor. Now it is my everyday. I'm reading a book about war and it is a fitting analogy for what goes on between God and evil in this world. Never in my life have I truly understood the weight of the battle as I do now. The death, the pain, the frustration. Living spiritual death. . . it is just as hard to watch as physical death.
Never have I realized the seriousness of our task as Christians, the literal lives that are on the line as we fight for them to know and believe in a God of love, amidst the pain.

I've never known an intensity so deep. 

And the pain, oh goodness, the pain. We only see the smallest portion. There is so much more, so deep inside, so embedded in them. I wish I had a magic wand that could make it all disappear, that could turn them into Cinderella at the ball, without problems or memories of what was before. I wish I could fix it all, but I can't.

I've never been so angry at the devil. I've never seen him work this hard. he must be exhausted. We must be putting up a good fight. But I fight the lie that this is my fault. The lie that if we weren't here, causing a fuss over these kids and pushing them to know the Truth, then maybe they wouldn't be getting hit so hard. Maybe demons wouldn't be visiting them in their sleep. And in the midst of the lies and the Truth I cry out, why not hit me harder? For I would rather be hit harder than the devil hit our kids. I have the tools, the Truth, the faith. They are fighting with nothing. I hate the devil. I hate him and his evil ways. I'm glad God defeats him.

It is hard to watch, this battle, this war. It is hard because I believe that we will win the war, but we keep getting stuck in the battles. I want to cry out to them, "Believe! Please! I know it is hard but you have to believe." But it all takes time, time that I am worried we don't have. I wish an angel would come down to them. I wish just one would have their eyes and heart opened to God and a domino effect would occur.

That is my prayer. Revival. Transformation. Dominos. 

It is a lot to take in, but it is a war that I am privileged to fight in. I will not hold back. I will not shrink away because the going gets tough. I won't stop believing, and praying, and fighting. I won't stop putting myself in front of my kids to take the sword for them. Because I know that God is here. And I know that in His time, He will reveal Himself in a mighty way to these students. I know that the devil is a fool and that he has no control over these kids, in the name of Jesus Christ, all evil is defeated.

So I pick up my helmet and my shield (and an extra pack of tissues) and I link arms with my students, because this is a battle they won't be going into alone. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Things to make you cry (like naps and sweet teenagers)

I took a nap instead of writing this earlier. Then I missed the first hour of the Golden Globes because of said nap. Life is cruel. (just kidding)

Today I presented (along with some of my fabulous students) at a local supporting church. It was super cool to present on our work with Apache Youth Ministries IN FRONT of my students, since normally I can say whatever I want without them in the audience. :) But it really was awesome to make sure that I was respecting them and their community with what I said, as well as letting them know how much we love and care for them.

It was basically the best day ever. Our kids are the bestest. And the nicest. And the funniest. Don't you wish you could work with me?

Here is what I shared with the church, that I can now share with you:

We have all moved to this area in the last few years from all over the US because we believe that God wants to do a mighty work among Native American teenagers. For many, when they look at the reservation system, they see statistics, but in our line of work we view those statistics differently. When others see a youth suicide rate 5x higher than the national average, we choose not to see despair, but to see an opportunity to transform hopelessness into hope. When others see that over 40% of the reservation down the road live under the poverty line, we see an opportunity to mentor our students and help them envision a better future, one that might include education, a healthy family, and a safe life. When others see the high risk of violent crime that surrounds us in our work place, we see a community begging for transformation, a community that needs to know and understand the redeeming and healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

6 days out of the week we spend investing our time in students that we believe are going to be the beginning of a new work that God is doing on the reservation. Through hanging out at our youth center after school, tuesday night bible studies, thursday night youth events, friday night movies and saturday night church pick-ups, we believe that lives can be transformed when the lies are expelled and the truth of God remains. The truth that each and every student is valuable, is loved, is worthy, is strong, and is capable. Our goal is to empower Apache youth by believing in them, and helping them to build a personal relationship with a God who believes in them too. 

And these kiddos blew me away. Check out their testimonies (it will make you cry. . .and you also need headphones so you can hear their beautiful words). It is worth your time. 

Click here!  Make sure you do! Click there! Do it! (It is a facebook video, so you need an account to see it. If you don't have a facebook account, email me or comment below and I'll send it to you.)

Now check out these pictures:

(We borrowed the baby.)

Thanks for tuning in! And thanks for supporting me as I live this crazy beautiful adventure. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Praying for Peace

While spending a quiet few days in Pasadena, California two wise friends asked me if there was a theme they could be praying for this year, in terms of my ministry and my needs. It was such a seriously good question that I was taken aback a little bit. How do they even come up with this awesomeness?? But they hooked me in and I love the idea of a prayer theme.

So after a little bit of thinking I gave into the word that kept floating into my head: Peace. 

Peace, in all its definitions, means freedom. "Freedom from disturbance" "quiet and tranquility" "mental calm, serenity." Freedom...I love it.

As I consider the needs I work within I invite you all to join me and my fabulous two friends as we pray for peace in the White Mountains.

Here are some handy-dandy bullet-point prayers for your convenience:

1. Peace for my soul: Working in a high-risk environment can wear on a person. I need prayer for peace in my relationship with God and my understanding of His goodness amidst despair.

2. Peace for my mind: I worry about "my" kids a lot, knowing that if something happened to them I would not be able to recover. I need prayer for peace as I consider being a huge part of these kids' lives and take on everything that comes with that.

3. Peace for my heart: I need to rest in God. I need to rest in who He has made me and in the truth of His Scriptures. I need peace as I consider my impact here and the tools and gifts that I may or may not have to offer.

4. Peace for these students: For these kids, life is consistently unstable and not peaceful. They worry about their families, relationships, grades, and much more serious matters. Pray that they find peace and rest in God and in their interactions with AYM.

5. Peace for this community: The White Mountain Apache reservation has a very high crime rate and a very high suicide rate. Pray that this community finds peace in God and that crime and suicide would decrease.

6. Peace amongst spiritual warfare: I have never seen the spiritual battle as strong as it is here on the reservation. Pray for peace in this battle, that God will declare victory and all evil will be expelled. I believe that there is power in Jesus Christ and that this prayer can be answered.

At Apache Youth Ministries we hope that our youth center is a place of peace and that we become relationships of peace. Those six points should help lead me towards that. As different issues and concerns come up I will make sure to post them so that we can continually be praying, and I hope that you will join me in prayer this year.

Here is to "Shalom" in the new year. Love to you all :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Spare Change and Strangers (the colliding of stories)

On New Year's Eve I was in the grocery store waiting my turn in line, when the man in front of me turned around and asked for 20 cents.

He looked slightly unkempt but his eyes were kind. His purchase was simple, a loaf of white bread and some Kroger brand turkey.

As I looked up at him he began to explain.

"Its just that this is going to be $3.79 and I only have $3.60." He squirmed slightly as he waited for my reply.

"Of course!" I replied as I pulled out my wallet. "Here. I have a quarter. Will that be enough?"

He looked grateful and relief flooded his face as he replied, "Yes of course. Thank you so much. Thank you!"

As his turn in line arrived he made his purchase with three crumpled dollar bills and spare change. Before he left, the cashier handed him back a few cents. To my surprise, the man turned back around to me, this time with his hand outstretched to return to me the extra. 

"No no, you keep it." I stated.

"Thank you so much."

And he was gone.

As I walked out of the store I was struck by our simple interaction and I couldn't put into words why. Perhaps it had to do with the beauty of his request. He asked me for exactly what he needed, no more and no extra. And when it was over, he turned around to give me the excess. There was no advantage being taken, no con and no grand gesture. It was simple but beautiful because it was humanity coming together to help each other out. And it settled into my being and changed my perspective. There was some sort of intangible beauty that surrounded that quiet moment.

The fact was, I didn't know that man's story. I don't know if he was homeless or just low on cash. I don't know if he was getting dinner while waiting for the Rose Parade or if this would be his dinner for a few days. The point is, I don't know his story and he didn't know mine. But in that moment, our stories collided. In that moment two worlds came together with the exchange of a quarter and a few words.

On this first day of the new year I was retelling this story to a friend of mine and it struck me that what had occurred was a beautiful portrait of God. The man had asked only for what he needed and then immediately tried to return the excess. He was both humble and grateful, and it was this posture that stayed with me the most.

So too then is it with God. Are we not to ask for what we need and then receive His blessings? So too will He then provide for us, not over and not in excess, but exactly what is needed to survive. And isn't it true that we should always return the excess to Him, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant? It was a lovely picture and reminder, for there was Christ in my interaction with this man, and it was on that note that I ended 2013. 

Its beautiful, isn't it?

Through this man's small act of asking I was blessed. We both received something that night. As we walked away into our separate stories we both walked away with what we needed, he with a meal and me with a new perspective. We both walked away better because of the interaction, and it reminded me of the beauty that shines when stories collide.

May we not forget in this new year that there is beauty in giving and receiving, and there is blessing in even the smallest of gifts.