Monday, June 30, 2014

Beauty, Pain, and Pie

At first it was the stability, the predictability that got me. The concrete had nothing on the mountains and streams of Arizona, but the stability took the cake and left me with a longing I hadn't felt in a while. Friends with babies and houses with sofas showed the great divide between my (so utterly) single life and theirs. It is absolute beauty in both seasons, but it is the difference between freedom and tiny kisses, long hikes and quiet storybooks. So different, these seasons, and yet both so fantastic.

But again, my heart longed for the stability, the predictability. It longed for the office of a professor, the deadlines and expectations. It longed for cute furniture and babies and a straight path. Though there is nothing else I want to do with my life right now, the rocky nature of the path with my students sometimes leaves me standing in a (proverbial) canyon wondering, is the end really worth it? Is there even an end at all? 

That is what I think gets me. The months of heart-pouring and deep commitment only for them to disappear. To walk away. To get swept up in the promises of drugs, tradition, and earthly excuses for love. Will they return? Is this the end? There is a vision (I can see it so clearly!) for what their lives can be (it is so easy!), yet their vision has been covered with dark glasses that blind them. That make them believe that they truly are unable to do more than stumble and fall.

And my heart longs for stability. 

So I do what anyone would do in this place.
I ate pie. 

Actually I ate a lot of pie. I chased chocolate pie with cherry pie. At a place called The Pie Hole. With one of my besties.

It was heaven.

And she told me of the hope that I am not capable of building. The hope that can only come from God, who really is good in all things. And she told me that the greatest moment in God's plan, the death and resurrection of Jesus, was also one of great trauma. So is there not beauty in pain, and God in the midst of suffering?

So I chewed my pie (and my other pie) and I got all teary-like (because my feelings are deeper than the sea) and I began to see the stable path amidst the unstable one. The canyon opened up a bit to show me that in time I will have the family, the babies, the furniture and the house. And for now in the midst of the hikes, the travel, the heart-pouring and time-consuming, there is too .such.great. beauty.

And what (i must say)
 is God 
if not the beauty 
in the midst of each season? 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Loving those short-termers

It was with great trepidation that I entered into this summer. 6 short-term teams in less than 3 weeks? What crazy person scheduled that?? (ok, it was partly my own fault, but don't tell anyone I admitted it).

And believe me, it was exhausting. I swear it has been 2 weeks since I've seen my house for anything other than flopping into bed with dirty feet and sweaty hair and waking up to fight the roommates for the shower. Its been an adventure.

I know that plenty of missionaries have things to say about short-term teams (and not all of them are positive). So as a "long-term" missionary working with "short-term" missionaries, I have had my fair share of opinions. But as these 2.5 weeks end, I have come to a conclusion. Are you ready for it?

When done the right way, and with the right attitudes, short-term missions are fantastic. I'll even go ahead and say it. . . I love short-term mission teams. That's right. Gasp, throw out an "I told you so" or an "Are you kidding me!?" and get the shock out of your system. Got it? Ok good, let's move on.

These past 2.5 weeks have been incredible because each team has had different gifts and talents that could fulfill a different need that we hadn't even planned into our well-thought out schedules. Teams show up and
They end up playing basketball with guys from the community every single night.
They end up organizing, painting, and restructuring our back offices and storage spaces.
They clean the Kennel more than it has ever been cleaned before.
They build picnic tables, fix speaker systems and bug problems, build outdoor games and become the team with the life-saving handy-man.
They love kids, teenagers, and community members.
They embrace learning. And they provide laughter. And they embrace adventure.

And time with them, though exhausting, has been completely life-giving. They have done what I believe all short-term teams should do. They have supported us, helped our ministry in lasting ways, built relationships, and really changed life for the better for those of us who stay long-term. They have encouraged us, enriched our lives, and become advocates for this place and this ministry.

So I sit here in my newly organized and painted office (with fantastic new wall shelves that I adore) and I really am about to fall asleep. My eyes are heavy in the heat of summer, but my heart is heavy with gratitude for each team and person that has chosen to spend a week of their lives with us. For we should never doubt what God can do with a week.

Because let's be honest, so many of our missionaries (including me) once went on a week-long trip that changed their lives. And at least for me, nothing has been the same since. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Letter for a Beautiful Girl

A few months ago I asked God for a picture for one of my students, a girl who I have been walking alongside in her journey to discover Christ. Its a beautiful picture of her worth, and all of our worth even amidst our brokenness. 

Perhaps it can speak to you as well. :) 

My dear sweet girl,

Sometimes when I don’t have words I ask God for a picture. So I prayed on the way home, and this is what I got for you.

You are standing out in a field, but you are not fully yourself. Instead of normal skin, your skin has turned into breakable porcelain, like that of a doll or a ceramic pot. You stand there, unable to move, because your skin has become so hard and you have become encased in this ceramic. Your face is sad. 

And then Jesus walks up to you. And ever so softly, he begins to touch your arms. And with each touch, though they are gentle and kind, your “skin” begins to break away, like shattering glass, revealing only your tissue and your bones. And tears fall from your eyes as you become exposed and the sharp wind touches that tissue and bones. There is pain in what is happening, but you look into the eyes of Jesus, and his kindness and his compassion tells you to trust him. His smile reassures you, and he holds you as your hard exterior breaks away. 

And there you are standing, just tissue and bones and broken bits of your doll-like exterior. And Jesus moves next to you and reaches out to hold your hand. Now in front of you both is God. And He looks at you with so much love and just a touch of sadness for your pain, and He begins to breathe on you. And you would think that the wind of His breath would hurt because you are so exposed without skin, but it doesn’t. It feels warm and sweet and it surrounds you and seeps into all of your broken places. And as His breath enters into and around you, something amazing happens. You begin to transform. What once was broken and hard is now soft and beautiful. You have been given new skin, and it is flawless. In fact, you are the most magnificent thing I have ever seen. And you are no longer wearing normal clothes. You are wearing the most marvelous, amazing, beautiful dress. It is white and a soft, light fabric, and it blows around you and glitters in the sunlight. With the breath of God you become new and even more beautiful (because you are beautiful as you are now too!) and whole again. You look down and touch your new skin, and you can feel that He has healed more than your outsides. He has healed your heart.

And when you look up, there is God. He reaches out His hands. And though they look so big and powerful, when He reaches to you He gently pushes your hair back and cups your face and His hands feel soft and they radiate of love. And in that moment, you close your eyes. And you have never felt more ok, more satisfied, more safe and more whole. He kisses you on the forehead and Jesus leans over to whisper to you,

See? I told you He loved you more than anything in the world.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hope against the Pain

So many young lives hang in the balance. So many mask the truth of their pain with a tough exterior, a flippant remark, a quiet demeanor. The lie of being alone, of being unchangeable, unredeemable, floats in their minds and tugs at each of their thoughts. It is hard to watch them crumble, to watch them drift away. We invest so much, but there is always so much more to do. We care for them, we fight for them, we shower them with truth and love, and even still, we watch as the pieces of their lives fall and the darkness threatens to overwhelm. 

And I worry. I worry about them because I can see the hollowness in their eyes. I can hear the quiet desperation in their voices. And I know that their fragile lives hang so precariously on the edge. I know that one simple thing can make them throw it all away. One thought, one action, one decision. 

But in the midst of their pain the answer is so seemingly simple. I hear it in the wind and I feel it in the sun. It is the warmth in my eyes and the pressure in my heart. The answer lies in them coming to believe that they are truly valued in the eyes of God, that there is a way of life that will bring them to a fullness of life that they have never known before. 

And it is to this hope that we must cling. It is this hope that will push against their desire to jump into the false promises of death. It is this hope that will slowly strengthen the hearts and minds until they can stand against the winds of hopelessness and declare that they are truly worthy of life. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Finding Beauty Past Insecurity

If you have been around AYM or Arizona lately, then you would know that things are going great. Our ministry is rocking it, our staff is incredible, and our short term teams have been fantastic. We have been built up with encouragement and love and continually affirmed in the new direction that we are taking the ministry. 

When I look at my life personally, I mostly think that things couldn't be better. I love my job, I feel successful at what I am doing and am really pleased with this lifestyle. We hike a lot, something I never thought I was capable of. And an active lifestyle has become something I really don't think that I could live without.

But for every encouragement that I have received, every affirmation that has been tucked away in my heart, I struggle with a quiet nagging insecurity. My life is fantastic, but small lies creep in and draw my attention away from our mission to make me feel inadequate. For instance, I recently have become preoccupied with my own body image. Though I am healthy and getting more and more in shape, I desperately want to be skinner and more fit. Though I might be told that I look great, deep down I don't believe it. There is always something that could be better, skinnier, less like jelly. Don't worry too much, I still eat ice cream sandwiches on the way home from the grocery store, but I want to be honest with you all that sometimes the distractions come from things as simple as our own skin.

And the rough part is that this lie creeps in and becomes a false truth. So much so that it becomes ok in my mind to want to be thinner, and yet I can't figure out why I'm not pleased with how I look now. It isn't until someone close to me calls me out that I realize, perhaps I have a problem. Perhaps the way I see myself in the mirror does not reflect the truth, and perhaps Satan can use even the slightest distractions to pull us away from what is important. 

As I think through my own insecurities, I always begin to think about my girls. I want the girls I mentor to be confident in their own skin. I want them to find beauty in their curves and in their uniqueness. But how can I inspire them to something that I have not achieved myself? 

I know that my insecurities run in cycles, and as I seek the Lord and seek to expel the lies of the devil, I know that I will be able to see beauty not only in my students and my work, but in myself as well. God has created us all for a purpose, and I do not want to let anything come in the way of who God has created me to be.

And I know that He has created me to be an active, loving servant of the Apache people and His mission. He has created me to walk alongside both short-term mission teams and Apache students as together we all seek to realize the identity we have in Christ
and the beauty that there is in all of us. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Place In Their Lives

There is something so special about the bond God has given our AYM team with our students. We all attended Noah’s 8th grade promotion ceremony last week and afterwards were invited to his grandmother’s house for the reception. When we got there the extended family and friends were all present. The grandmother hushed the crowd for the prayer and then, referring to the food line, said, “Now Noah’s family goes first. Noah’s church family.” 

Isn't that powerful? What a privilege. What a privilege to be called family for these students. What a privilege that the one who takes care of Noah, an elder in the community (meaning she is to be respected), gave us that kind of honor and respect. What a revelation to realize that we have that kind of place in our students' lives. And what an amazing moment for my team- all non-Native, young, outsiders- to be honored among our student’s true family. 

Noah: “Meredith, you are my auntie, right?”

(Travis: “Yea! Yea! Me too!)

Me: “Thats right! I am your auntie! I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews around here.”

Noah (rather hushed and proudly) to Travis: “That’s us! We are the nephews!” 

You are my auntie. :)

Why yes, yes I am. And it is one of the proudest roles of my life.