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. . .




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.