Thursday, July 31, 2014

Small Victories, Big Moments

“So. . .how do you two know each other?” the bank teller asked us (with slight skepticism) within a few minutes of arriving. 

“I work at the Kennel” (we were at the bank on the reservation), “So I guess we are a weird kind of family,” I replied with a smile. My kiddo smiled too. 

What the bank teller didn't know when she sat us down at her station was that she was about to be part of a most victorious event.  This was the moment when one of my students was to open her very first bank account. It was most definitely one of the proudest moments of my mentoring career. We sat there in the bank as unconventional family trying to figure out all the details (like home addresses and billing addresses and all sorts of other important but harder than necessary details) and I watched my kiddo take this moment so seriously. She had just a touch of nervousness and excitement. 

I realized what a big moment it was for her when we were setting up her savings account and she asked,

“Is that the kind where you can’t touch it?”

“Yea,” I replied, “You aren’t supposed to touch that account. You put a little money in it from every money you get and it stays there.”

Quietly she replied, “I always wanted one of those.” 

When we walked out of the bank we were happy as clams and I could have sworn she was walking taller, with more confidence in her step. She had saved up her own money and she had put it in an account. She had made rules and modifications, told me what she needed and allowed me to be on the account with her. She had shown that she was growing up and I couldn’t have been more proud. 

I texted her later and I told her just how I was feeling: “Chickadee I was soooo proud of you today!”

She simply replied, “Me too :)” 

The small victories. The cycles being broken. The moments of movement. These are the moments that I live for. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Friends and Chocolate

There are a few things in my life that I cannot live without. The first one is chocolate. I inherited that from my father, who changed the “apple a day” saying and never went back. The second one is people. The second one has a caveat that the first one does not have. The caveat is that a lot of times I deny that the second one exists at all. 

Case in point: When I moved to California I actually told the person I now call one of my best friends that I wasn’t looking for any friends. I had enough and didn’t need any more. Word for word. I told her that to her face. Those are the moments you look back on and shake your head. 

As I reflect on the necessity of number 2 (and my frequent denial of it), I realize how detrimental the word “busy” has become. Busy has become an excuse in my life to push the all-important relationships out of my oh-so-precious time schedule. “Busy” means I never check my voicemail (turns out four precious friends from the East Coast had called to catch up with me in the past two months and I hadn’t even known it.). “Busy” means I forget about a meeting with my pastor and thereby forego a great opportunity to discuss my own spirituality with somebody who can help push me forward. “Busy” means that I’ve been running this race, never stopping to see who is trying to run with me as I blow past them with another excuse.

Generally I think this happens because of two things: Either life gets hard or life gets harder. And all of a sudden I shut down. I shut down from relationships and friends and decide that I can do it all by myself. Why? I don’t know. But in the times when I most need to share the responsibility I shut the door and build a castle of preoccupations. 

Its a sense of desperate independence that has no purpose. 

Case in point: My pastor pulled me aside a few Sundays back. He told me that if I ever needed anything to let him know. But he didn’t just say it. He said it so intentionally, forcing me to look him in the eye and not just hear what he was saying but take the words truly seriously. “I know,” I replied, “I tend to think I can just do things on my own. Its a weird independence thing.” “Yea I know.” He replied. 

When your pastor speaks you gotta listen. 

So I fly through life with my bar of chocolate by my side (always half-eaten and smudged on my fingers) and I forget how important it is to have people by your side too, even when you live far away on a mountain. (The mountain became part of the excuse and the job the rationale.) But the fact is, we need people. Its always worth it to set aside everything else for a precious Skype or phone call. There is something about friends, near or far, that keep you grounded, that reminds you where you came from and what is important. 

So in light of all this reflection I have made a commitment for the new school year- That I will deny my friends less and chocolate more. 

…Or maybe I will just make them even…

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Understanding True Joy

If there is one thing I have learned since moving to Whiteriver (and I have learned a lot) it is perhaps the true meaning of joy. 

 It is hard to believe that in the midst of a hurting community, in the midst of learning to deal with such pain, that one could feel that life is the best that it could possibly be. It is hard to reconcile the life of a missionary working with kids that break your heart everyday as an excitedly happy life. Certainly a lot of my writings deal with my struggles as I engage with my work environment, but the struggles do not negate the joy. There is a certain kind of happiness that comes from doing exactly what God wants you to do, and serving Him wholeheartedly in the place to which He has led you. Days can be tough and each week might leave me with more questions than answers, but I have never felt more at peace in a place. I make so many mistakes, I have to work through so many hard situations, but this community has become my community, this tribe my people.

It is sort of like a quiet hum of energy that runs through my system, radiating a feeling of true unity with the will of God.  It is the slight push that is always there to whisper, "this is the life." And its true. This is the life. To be a part of God's mission and to be surrounded by His fantastic creation is better than any path I could have chosen for myself. And I am so grateful for the opportunity to be challenged toward a deeper understanding of His joy.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

On Losing My Mind and Finding (bits of) it Again

Let me tell you. . . lately I've been prone to losing my mind. In 2 weeks I've managed to lose my house key, lose my phone, and today I came back after a few hours out hiking to realize that I'd left the trunk of my car open in the parking lot.

My brain is officially kaput.

To make matters more ridiculous, my phone was lost for three days and it turns out that the whole time it was in the driver's side door of my car. Literally inches from me. (Still no sign of the key.) How does that happen??

And sheer exhaustion makes everything heightened.  To the point that I cried when my pastor asked how I was doing and I just wanted to say, "Hey, don't worry. These aren't real emotions. I'm just. so. tired."

So I lose everything and I can't remember what I am supposed to be doing or where I am going and it all gets a little hazy for about a week.

And I'm telling you, I feel a little crazy and dysfunctional. And like I need a trip to a beach.

But then (thank goodness) I find my phone. And people are encouraging. And I hang out with people I love without being at work or talking about work. And I walk through fields of flowers (and cows) and laugh a lot. And those batteries begin to recharge (both the ones in my phone and in my heart). And I realize that no matter what is thrown at me, there is one thing I know:

I am exactly where I am supposed to be. And no matter what comes along, life is pretty darn close to perfect. And the hard days and the ridiculous times are all worth it because man, life is good. I'm surrounded by good people in a good place with a crazy unpredictable job that I screw up at all the time, but God is in charge and I love it.

I actually had no idea when I moved here that I would fall in love with this place, but the fact is, I have. And I wouldn't trade this life for anything (except I might make a deal for that house key...).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Learning to chill, with my girl Martha

Everyone always gives Martha a hard time. You know, Martha whose sister is Mary in the story with Jesus? People love Mary. She sits and listens and doesn't worry. But Martha, man, she should have known better, right? That's JESUS sitting at your house. Chill out.

Everyone gives Martha a hard time. But I'm pretty sure Martha and I kind of get each other. Martha was doing her best. She was trying to serve Jesus by working hard and by worrying about the preparations. Perhaps, like me, she felt that her worry in and of itself was for Jesus. I mean come on, we are trying to do His work and He told us that "the harvest is plenty and the workers are few." So seriously, the workers are meant to be pretty worn out, am I right?

Well, at least that is how Martha and I think. We go go go and do do do, not because we think we are awesome but because we really do love Jesus. A lot. And we are doing what we think He wants. And then one day we are so tired that we see someone else just chillaxing at the feet of Jesus and we yell out, "Hellooooo. Aren't you going to tell them to help me?? Hours in the day Jesus! So much work to do....for you!" (Being tired makes us say things we probably shouldn't.)

And Jesus says, "Hey. Meredith. Meredith, are you listening to me? ONE thing is necessary."

"Umm, Jesus, I get that, but you've got a lot of hurting people here and they need me, I mean us. And so yea, I know I need to make time to sit with you but I'm really exhausted from trying to do my best for you."

I think Jesus shakes His head at me a little bit.

"Meredith. You are anxious and troubled about many things. Hear me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light. Come to me and you. will. find. rest. The rest that you are out of? Come. Sit. Chill out. Calm down. One thing is necessary."(Luke 10:38-42 and Matthew 11:28-30)

And maybe Martha and I feel slightly sad as we really listen to what Jesus is saying. Because man, when Jesus sees into your heart and just speaks straight into your soul, its convicting. And I write this broken by the realization that when I reach this point, all I have to give is myself. Not me and Jesus, but just me. Which isn't enough in this ministry. I have been so busy trying to serve Jesus that I have forgotten to just chill out and spend time with Jesus.

And I almost want to delete this post and be like, "naww, that's not true. I'm being dramatic because last week was crazy and I'm still recovering." But it is true! If my life is not centered on spending time with Jesus then it is dramatic and important! I have to stop making excuses that my life and work are sufficient in "being with Jesus." I need to realize that my first priority is waking up every morning, driving out to the lake, and shutting up for a little while. So I can hear. So I can breathe. 

Yea, I feel for Martha. I think we would have been friends. And in the end we would have sat down to coffee and admitted to each other that it would be a process, changing our mindset and learning how to chill out, but that the process would be worth it. Because Jesus loves us crazy do-ers too. And we truly want nothing more than to know Him.

*Shout out to Pastor Ernie for a great sermon on this stuff, from which much of what I have written was inspired.*

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Lesson from the Worst Runner Ever


When I was in middle school I was an endurance runner. That’s right. For my three glorious years of absolute awkwardness I ran cross-country. I was without fail, one of the worst endurance runners you have ever seen. My claim to fame was that I was never ever last in a race. 

I was second to last in almost every race. 

This tiny victory, the fact that at least one person was still behind me, was what I held on to. Others did not see this placing as a success, but I always did. I was proud because I had stuck it through the race. And though others may have seen me as slow or inconsequential in winning the race, I never counted myself a failure. I never came in last and that was something. 

As we think about endurance, endurance through this week, through this life, through our relationship with Christ, I think we can learn a lot from awkward middle-school Meredith. 

Whether we work with middle class, lower class, any class students, for a week or for years, so many times we feel just one step above last. The same goes for our (or at least my) walk with Christ. The idea of "winning" the race or even succeeding in placing well seems so out of grasp. As the race goes on, this marathon that we run with God, it almost always feels that we are just one step from what others might call failure. And I think that in the midst of this marathon we can fail to remember why we are running the race at all. If we cannot win in our journey with God, why run at all? If we cannot have what others define as "success," what is the point? 

But I think, even as I strain to grasp this understanding, we can continue to learn from my scrawny, bushy-eyebrowed middle school self. 
I never questioned why I ran the race. 
And I never expected the win. 
It wasn't on my radar at all. I simply ran as hard as I could, always giving my best, and rejoicing in the small victories that others might not see as victories at all. I was the kid almost last in every race who ended it like I had won the Olympics because there was someone else behind me. In my mind, this tiny feat was victory. 

You see, we aren't meant to be the winner, the one getting the glory. In fact, that honor is set aside for God. We are meant to be the scrawny kid running as hard as we can in a race that so many others think we are foolish for running. We are to be rejoicing and jumping up and down for the small victories that took all our energy even when others think we have nothing to gain. We are not called to “win” or “succeed.” We are simply called to finish the race and finish it well. 

John 17:1-4
New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Prays to Be Glorified
17 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.

Finishing the work that you gave me to do. Is this not what we are called to as well? 

And here is the last thing. Sometimes I do look back and wonder why I kept running for three years. I'll tell you what kept me going: my coach. If it weren't for him I would have quit. Without fail this guy believed in me. He believed I was awesome even when I was miles behind. And how true is that for our spiritual race? We have a God who doesn't see our scrawny, slow selves. Look at all of scripture. He uses the scrawny guys. He believes in us despite our downfalls, and when we end the race He will be there to say, "well done." 

How cool is that? 

So that is my challenge to us today. As we walk or run in endurance a race that tests our patience and our resolve, let us not feel like failures because we can't "win" like we think we should be able to win. Rejoice in the small victories. Don't question the job or God's purpose in it. Finish, and finish well. 

I guess sometimes God wants to use the scrawny kid, the kid that comes from the back and has never had a "real" win in their life, to teach us a lesson. :)