Wednesday, December 16, 2015

To Burn-Out and Back Again

I was recently explaining to a friend the toll that ministry had taken on me over the last year. As many of you know if you have been keeping up, I spent much of last year with intense panic and anxiety attacks. With the stress of youth trauma, suicide attempts, rapes, and demonic dreams, I was sick more than I've ever been in my life. I had an awful cold for 3 straight months, losing my voice for quite a few weeks, and I was throwing up with flu-like symptoms twice in less than a year.

The stress and pressure of not being able to save these kids from the bad things that happen to them had led me to a heavy dose of burn-out. Unable to have normal emotions, motivation, or peace, I had to take a step back.

At the time, I didn't really understand God's plan, or if it was His plan at all. These kids were my life, I didn't have time to step back from them! I was distraught and confused as to why I was seemingly being pushed by God to back away for a month and learn how to breathe again.

Over that month I wept, as if part of my soul was being ripped from me. I had spent every waking moment for the last two years worrying about my Apache students and trying to fix their problems. Now God had given me an even harder task. . . taking care of myself.

As the month passed I felt myself begin to heal. My emotional reactions to things became more normalized and less extreme. I began to relate better to Cameron, to love better as my capacity for love filled up again. I had been poured out, dry in a desert, but my cup was being filled and I was amazed when I realized how my lack of ministry boundaries had affected who I was.

As God forced me to heal, I began to finally see how His plan made sense. I was again able to relate to the kids with excitement, and as I finally put strict boundaries on my life and ministry I was able to enjoy ministry so much more. And then, just within these last few weeks it truly clicked:

My ministry now is so different than it was before. . . and it is so much better. Cameron and I are thrilled when students come up to stay with one of us for the weekend, and together he and I are a better ministry team than I ever was alone. This is a new season for ministry as Cameron and I get married, but our ministry seems stronger, healthier, and more exciting than ever before.

You see, God had to pull me away from my calling for a minute, but He didn't steal it away from me, punishing me or forcing me to move on. He simply needed me to be healthy, and ready, and when I was He handed it back to me, saying, "To this I have called you. Now love these kids with a happy and healthy heart." 

And my goodness, what a happy family it is: God, Cameron, me, and these kids. I feel whole again, and so blessed to be allowed to continue in the relationships God has been cultivating for the last two years. These kids are family to me and Cameron, and they know it. So I praise God for helping me do what I could not do on my own. I praise God for knowing what I needed when I refused to see it, and for blessing me and Cameron with the best teenagers in the world as we build a home together.

Burn out or no, I wouldn't trade this last year for anything. But wherever you are, in your ministry or your job, I implore you to listen when God calls you to take a step back. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and His care for our needs is far greater than we realize. Let Him heal you, and watch as His light shines brighter than ever before.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Challenge

As we look to the needs of our community, I believe so strongly that the answer is simple: 


As we get to know and love each other I believe that we will be drawn to meet the needs of our neighbor. As we leave the doors of our churches as one body, one whole, feeling well loved and cared for, I believe we will be pushed to do the same for our community. To love well, to provide, to be like Jesus as we eat with our community, take care of our community, and put others needs above our own. In 2016, and even now, the challenge is to get to know each other. 

Let's become more than faces to one another. 

Let's become a force of love that cannot be contained.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thanksgiving Blessings

I can't believe that at the end of this month I will be standing next to my husband. . . husband. I truly can't wrap my mind around it. It feels so dreamy I swear that if you wake me up I will be so mad. I never want this reality to end. God is so incredibly good. Man, He just knows what we need when we need it. I should be better about trusting Him after seeing Him in action like this. It's all so good. 

I have to admit it has been quite the journey. Selflessness is not my nature. But every day I love Cameron more and every day that leads me to want to serve him more. A good reflection of our relationship with Christ, isn't it? The more we get to know Him, the more we love Him, the more we want to serve Him. Crazy how God gives us such a picture of our relationship with Him through the imperfect relationship with another human. God's a clever fella.

At any rate, as Cameron and I begin our lives together we have the privilege to begin as "mom and dad" and "auntie and uncle" to some of the coolest and most amazing teenagers on the planet. It has been such a light of my life to see my ministry transform into our ministry. We get to have cool experiences together like picking up of our kids for Thanksgiving this year, with all of Cameron's family. When I picked him up at his house he had had a redbull and 2 cookies for breakfast. Thank goodness we had better meals ahead!

It was the greatest joy to bring him through the door as our surrogate son. He is one cool kid and we really enjoy our time with him. One of my favorite quotes was when we were walking back up the stairs to my apartment after being filled up with deliciousness. As I mentioned the problem with the fact that I was carrying everything he exclaimed, "Like father, like son! We both leave mom to carry everything!"

What a privilege to be an example of family for him. What a task set before us to be the father and mother that he wants to emulate. What a blessing to have him and so many others as our sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces as we enter into marriage.

You know what they say. . . the more the merrier! And we welcome any of these kids that choose to walk alongside us in life. I guess I had quite a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. :)

Our "family" picture after Thanksgiving. Love this kid! 
God is so so so good. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Snow Day!!

It's the kind of day I have been waiting for. For 2 years in the "White Mountains" I have wanted a white Christmas-y snow day and today it has arrived. It seems to me good foreshadowing that we are going to get the crazy blizzard winter I was promised when I arrived here two almost-snow-less winters ago. Right now I am sitting in my cabin-condo surrounded by huge pine trees, and combined with the Christmas lights around my window and my pellet stove fire roaring it looks like the perfect winter wonderland outside.
I know most people hate snowy, dark, cold days but they are, along with rain, my favorite kind of days. Call me naive, tell me I didn't grow up in the north (trust me I've heard it all) but I find joy in layering up with mittens and scarves and scrapping the ice off my car as I go to leave for work. I am like a child as I stomp the crunchy snow beneath my feet with glee. It's winter and I love it.
One thing I love about winter is that it makes everything seem so peaceful (unless you are driving in a snow storm- that is anything but peaceful!). Even if the snow is blowing down in torrents, winter covers up everything. It perfectly blankets the world around me. The falling snow seems to whisper new beginnings. The white, the perfect white, covers up all the dirt and memories and makes me feel like everything will be ok. Snow means time with family is coming. It means that happiness is around the corner. It makes it ok for me to pretend, even if just for a morning hour, that the world and its pain does not exist. It makes me believe that Aslan is coming to breathe new life back into the brokenness. It makes me lean into the ones I love as we drink a cup of tea, glad just to be together. Winter is my favorite because it is beautiful, restorative, and leads me to spend cozy times with those I love.
It's fitting then, I suppose, that I am ending up having a winter wedding. New beginnings, the past covered with the pure snow, the trees whispering that joy conquers all. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Stepping Back

It's been a while since I have posted a "real" post. There has been so much going on in my head, my heart, my soul and what are the boundaries of sharing? What needs to stay close to my heart and what needs to be poured onto virtual paper? In a way this blog is as much for me as it is for you. As I write I heal. As I write, I discover. As I write, I realize.

Throughout my three years of being involved with Apache Youth Ministries my heart has so many times teetered between soft and hard. At times I have been so overwhelmed by the sorrows that I cannot fix and in other instances I have become callous and feelingless. It is the frustration of extremes- either my tears are relentless or my gaze is empty and feelingless. My heart cannot figure out how to handle all that I've seen, witnessed, heard over the last few years. I push it away and at the same time I refuse to let it out of my grasp. The experience is such a part of me. It has shaped who I am for better or for worse.

The impact of it all hit me like a brick one night, like a bad break-up. I've been so attached, so devoured by my ministry that taking a step back is like ripping away my child. There was one night where I sobbed and sobbed for hours. So much sorrow poured out of me and I couldn't figure out why. In part I think that my identity was so wrapped up in my work that when I step back for boundary-sake I don't know who I am anymore. What is my purpose if not to be praised for my hard and heart-breaking work?

Though I am stepping away from AYM, I am not stepping completely away from the rez. I have four girls and two "sons" who are still near and dear to my life. I still find myself buying baby clothes, talking to girls about cutting and life and Christ, answering tearful phone calls and helping my senior girl apply for college. My life and tie with the reservation has in no way been severed, but in a new season, a season of boundaries, I am forced to admit that my life-breath was to serve those kids and now my priority has to shift. My priority must be to serve God by serving my own family and future with my husband.

I cannot even explain how my heart feels as I write this. My love will always be the reservation. My heart-beat will always be for what God is doing on reservations all over America. But for this new season I must build a life of healing. That's what the past month has been about really- healing from 2 years consumed by the impact of suffering, remembering who I am in Christ, and learning how to breathe normally again.

I am in no way fully back to who I was and I doubt that I ever will be. But I thank God for good people who are walking alongside me as I seek to make peace with the sufferings of others and as I figure out my place in God's calling. Transitions are hard and change is tough, but thank goodness the glory of the Lord endures forever! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Poetry to Heal

The other night I was freaking out a bit. There are a lot of transitions going on in my life right now, and though they are all good, I don't do well with change. It is hard for me to move into a new season and let go of the one behind me. So in the middle of the chaos I sat down to write, knowing it was the only thing to soothe me, and these were the words that flowed out:  

I want to shed my skin.
I want to scrape it off, inch by inch,
until nothing is left but muscles 
and bones. 
I want Your water to rush over me
to touch my scorched body 
to bring peace to the 
I desire Your hands
so caring 
to hold me tight
as I hear Your voice
like the rushing wind
whisper new life. 

I want to be new
to be refreshed
to not live in the past
or fear of the future
but to be here
to love here
I want to be Your 
but instead I give in
to the feeling 

The storm crashes around me
as I simultaneously beg it to 
and yet 
what calm means.
I want to be scraped into dust
so that You and You alone 
can reform me
and maybe this time
I won’t let myself 

I want to be able to breathe
To breathe in life 
and all that is good.
I want to let myself be happy 
instead of feeling guilty. 
is not from You. 
is not of You. 
is not Your doing. 
I want to give You control
because my body has grown
from grasping
at that which
evades me. 
I’m tired
of trying so hard
instead of giving in
and letting You 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Transformation through Reliance

There is a piece of paper in my car that reads:

missionary= person of weakness relying fully on God's power and grace

It is something I wrote while listening to a devotional this past summer. I kept thinking about the glorification of missionaries and the reality of a missionary life. The truth is that a missionary doesn't have it any more together than the average Christian. Sure, we chose to live our faith out differently but it doesn't make us the perfect Christian. . . heck, the only perfect Christian was Jesus!

The truth is that the "missionary" life on the reservation is hard, not in ways that are seen but in the manner of who it makes you to be. I've lamented over this recently as I look at the person I was when I came to the rez and the person I am now.

I came to the rez full of positivity, consistency in attitude and emotion, excited and ready to see what God had in store. Then as the years passed by I saw so many of the terrible things that I had been shielded from for most of my life. The amount of pain and suffering in these young lives began to crack the positivity and consistency I had arrived with until I didn't recognize the person I had become.

I arrived at the end of two years with an attitude of cynicism and negativity. My emotions had become anything but consistent. As I began to join my life with another I realized the deep impact that the trauma of the rez had had on me. With the slightest criticism, the slightest inkling that something was going to go wrong I would lose it. I had become so frightened of the bad that I lived in a constant state of anxiety.  I had very little control over my words, my tears, my attitude. My emotions had been torn to pieces by all I had witnessed and there was nothing left. Even to love was a risk.

With marriage in my near future the truth became clear, that transformation was necessary. I began to push and push to be different. At the end of each day I would be devastated that I had "messed up" again or fallen back into the patterns of my attitude that were less than favorable. I felt I was climbing a mountain but my feet were stuck in the mud. It was a fruitless endeavor, an exhausting movement without results.

It was when I was sitting with my mom in a coveted time together the other weekend that she mentioned something so simple that I was amazed I hadn't thought of it myself. She told me that I couldn't make the transformation myself. To get back to my best self I had to ask God to help. Only the Holy Spirit could transform my insides, heal my broken heart, and put all my pieces back together. I could continue to struggle or I could let go. . . I could let myself fall into the arms of my Savior and let His healing wash over me. It was a choice I had to make. Wallow in my negativity or allow Christ to do His work.

A person of weakness relying fully on God's power and grace. 

The power to heal my broken heart. The grace to forgive my mistakes. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Getting Married Last

Planning a wedding. Goodness what a lot of work it is!

I am finally getting married at the ripe old (or young) age of 26 and if you follow this blog you know that the last four years have sometimes been hard. Everyone was getting married, having babies, and it all looked so easy. To add to the noise, in the midst of my boyfriend-less world there was never a lack of young, married, happy people who had some advice for their single friends.

"It will come when you least expect it!" (true)
"If you just stop looking, stop wanting it, he will show up!" (not true)
"When you find the right guy the waiting will have been worth it!" (half true, the waiting still sucked)
"That guy is a Christian. . . date him." (seriously??)

Though the advice was all well-intentioned it wasn't always the most helpful, but much of what my married friends didn't know they were teaching me was extraordinarily useful. Being "married last," I have discovered, is actually one of the best ways to enter marriage. In fact, I would recommend it to almost anyone (although one must be prepared for some awkward solo wedding experiences and 3rd-wheeling with your friends.)

So here are the top three reasons why it is awesome to get married last:

1. You learn a lot about yourself

When I moved to California alone I wanted a husband so bad it consumed me. I actually had to pray to God to help me because I was convinced that if I wasn't alone life would be easier. But God didn't provide a person at that time and so in the midst of being truly on my own, I got the chance to learn about myself. I got to become strong in who I was, in my beliefs, in my self-image and self-worth. Because I had four years after college to improve upon myself and take care of me, I feel like I get to come into marriage as a more complete and confident person. My worth does not rest in Cameron, because I know that I survived just fine without him. I know who I am and to me that is a great gift of getting married last.

2. You learn a lot about marriage

I have watched all my friends get married, and being a very contented third wheel I have gotten to closely walk alongside their marriages. I have learned what I like and don't like, what I admire and what I want to improve upon. I have learned what real marriage looks like, not just the facebook kind. I have learned from friends who just got married and friends who have been married for years. And though I will be nowhere near perfect in my marriage, I am so grateful for my married friends who have who let me walk alongside their marriages and learn from their ups and downs. I've gotten a true picture of how to love well and I am so thankful for that.

3. It is so exciting. 

Guys, I've been waiting since I was 18 to find the love of my life. I have been on my own, I have tried to date the wrong guys, I have loved singleness and I have hated it. I have had adventures and travels and now I get to start a new adventure. And this one is just as scary as traveling to India alone! But no matter what nerves I have, all I can be is thrilled because in God's time He provided the most perfect man for me. And I get to keep him for the rest of my life! He was certainly worth the wait (although I still tell him it would have been nice for him to come a year sooner!) and I am extraordinarily grateful for him because I really do know what life was like without him.

So here we come- a New Year's Eve wedding means I'll start off 2016 with a new husband and a new last name. 
Goodness this is fun!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Pinetop Fairy Tale

Gosh guys, I'm so excited. I cannot believe this is real life. God is so good! And I know you might get tired of the mushy-gushy, but I'm going to pretend that you guys like this stuff as much as I do. So today's post is a love story, a real life fairy tale perhaps.

The first time I met Cameron I looked him up and down and considered his potential. He was tall, good-looking, kind, and wearing a big coat with a fuzzy hood. He had potential. It was a few months before we really got to know each other. I was mean. He was sweet. I considered liking him then decided not to. He loved me with consistency. I decided to give him a chance. Two weeks later we were madly in love with each other. We both told our parents a week after we started dating that we had found the one.

He proposed at least three times in the course of our dating life. The first time we had only been dating for 2 weeks. We were in the car when he told me that he had "never been more sure of anything in his life" and he "wanted to be with me forever." I took a deep breath and didn't respond. The second time was a few months in. We were driving down to the reservation in the ministry vehicle when he asked if I would marry him within the month so I could have good health insurance if he got a new job (no joke). "Did you just propose to me in the AYM van on the way to work??" I laughed. He looked sheepish. I told him he was crazy.

The third time and final time we were in Scotland. We had caught a ride with some locals over to my family's ancestral castle in the northern highlands. It was a fairy-tale of a place. The castle was right on the coast and looked like something from Cinderella. We were in awe of our surroundings. I was hoping that today would be the day but I wasn't sure. Every time he reached for his phone in his pocket to take pictures my heart would jump, but each time was a false alarm. I considered pretend proposing to him in a tunnel we found in the gardens but thought better of it. As we walked through the gardens one final time he suggested we sit down. He wasn't quite ready to leave yet and wanted to gaze at the castle a while longer. I refused to sit down on the wet bench. He insisted. I sat.

"I've loved you for a long time now, even if you didn't always love me back at first." He smiled as he spoke the words. It felt like proposal talk so I replied with some words I don't remember and he went silent. I had thought he was going to propose but he just stared at the castle silently and nervously. I think I messed up his plan by talking back. He hadn't prepared for that. He was so nervous. Slightly confused by his deep desire to stare at the castle I suggested that we leave to walk the beach. He suggested we walk into the gardens. As we stopped by the fountain he looked around nervously. I gave him a hug and after a minute he looked down at me to say. . .


"So??" I thought, "So what??"

But in just a moment he was down on one knee, like the knight in a fairy tale. He finished his sentence,

"Will you marry me?"

This time it was for real. I began to cry (naturally). I swear I said yes but neither of us are sure if any words made it out of my mouth. He slipped the ring on my finger asking, "Is this the right finger?" I smiled. I had never been happier in my entire life. He confessed his love for me as I swore to love him for the rest of his life. It was my very own fairy tale. My knight in shining under armour had come to save me from the woods of Pinetop. He had ridden in on a white jeep and swept me off my feet with chivalry and bad dancing. He made me laugh. He made me feel like royalty.

As we walked along the beach I thought about the fact that I get to spend the rest of my years with this man beside me. And I realized that no matter our ups and downs, this was the best fairy tale I had ever read in my life. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fish and Flannelgraphs

Today at the office we were reading the story of Jesus calling His disciples. We all know the story from the Sunday School flannel-graph.
  Jesus walked up to the fishermen and said, "Hey follow me and I will make you fishers of men!" I think there are probably Sunday School songs about it too. Like this one. . .

Gosh that is a terribly creepy song. Please don't use that at your church.

. . . .

Annnnnywaysssssss. . .

Anyways the version we read this morning was in Luke and there was something I hadn't noticed before. This is the version where he tells the guys to put their net on the other side of the boat and when they do they get so many fish they can barely pull it in. And then Jesus says, "Follow me" and they pick up their stuff and walk away (that's the Mer-notes version).

I've always known about the "put your net on the other side" part and figured it was just Jesus showing them He was Jesus. But this morning a thought occurred to me:

It was a huge sacrifice for these men to leave their family business to follow Jesus. Without their physical efforts their families were probably going to suffer financially. So did Jesus perhaps enable them to catch so many fish before they left so that the family business could be sustained without them, due to the profit of that one catch?

I have never thought of it like that and I could be wrong, but it would make sense to me that Jesus would provide for the family since their sons chose to follow Him. It makes sense to me because God always provides when we choose to drop everything and follow Him.

I like the thought of Jesus taking care of those guys because of their faithfulness. It has always been a theme of faith for me. . .God's provision. Just like the fishermen God has never left me stranded because I chose to follow Him. I have always had food to eat and a roof over my head. And even when it doesn't make sense there always seems to be enough. 

How cool that God would give in abundance because of their willingness to give up everything. 

What is it going to take for us to cast our net on the other side of the boat? Do we really believe that God will provide if we follow Him? What will it take for you to give up everything and believe that it is going to be ok? 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

God in the Target Line

A few months ago I went to Pasadena for a couple of days. I was at Target (because of course that is my first stop when I return to civilization) in line buying a pillow for my couch. As is my usual MO I began telling the cashier that I worked on an Apache reservation and therefore needed to buy this pillow (strong logic).

As I was explaining my work the lady behind me started asking me more questions. Was I in social work? What kind of kids did I work with? The conversation continued as we left the check-out line. She turned out to be studying pastoral burn-out and she asked if she could pray for me.

We stood outside of Target in Pasadena and she prayed a prayer straight from the Spirit. The words she prayed were just what I needed, and she referred to situations I had never mentioned. As she prayed I felt my spirit lifted. God cared enough to send someone to give me His words of comfort. God loved me that much.

As I thanked her she exclaimed how it was God-ordained that we ended up in the checkout line at the same time. She had been driving around a school she wanted her daughter to go to, 7 times around because she felt God tell her to do so. On the 3rd time around she got worried that the crossing guard would think she was crazy so she started taking the longer loop around as she prayed. That put her at Target later than expected.

I had been on the phone unexpectedly with my dad so I had spent an extra 15 minutes in the placemats aisle.

And because of this we ended up in the checkout line at the same time.

Her words spoke of transitions into a new season. She spoke about being too hard on myself and of the graciousness of God. She spoke of His plan that He had already laid out for me and His love for these kids that I love so much. She spoke the words that I needed to hear in that moment. She spoke the words the Holy Spirit had given her to comfort me. 

I was amazed that God took time to give words of comfort to someone so undeserving. I was so extraordinarily grateful to have His grace revealed and to return to work strengthened by His truth.

Who knew God would show up in the Target checkout line. :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The "Three Ps" of Decision Making

This past week I got a text that read:

"When God has shown you what path to take in life how has He directed you?"

It was a good question and frankly I was honored to be asked. Though some might see me as "young" I've lived a lot of life and had quite a few direction changes in my years. God has continually blessed me but there have been quite a few crossroads where the path forward seemed uncertain or unclear.

The first piece of advice would probably be to chill out and wait but that didn't start with a "P" so it will just be an addendum. Plus I still stink at the waiting part. Too many times we are so anxious for knowledge that we think God is ignoring us, instead of realizing that we just need to wait for His timing. But waiting sucks, so I really don't blame you if you've gotten annoyed waiting for God to answer. It's all a test of patience (which starts with a "P") and trust (which doesn't).

So here I present to you the "3 Ps" of discovering God's path. It's pretty fail-proof and I totally made it up, so be suitably impressed. I discovered this theory when giving the same advice to a younger friend of mine from college a few years back. It was such a joy to realize what God had taught me over the years (and to realize that they all started with the same letter).

#1: Prayer
When I have to make a big decision like where to go to college, what to do after college, what job to take, where to move, etc. I first bathe the decision in prayer. This means like crazy bubble bath, all-in kind of prayer. For months I will pray, not that God will choose this or that for me (tried that and it didn't work), but that He will guide my path and help me have wisdom to choose the right direction.
When I have thoroughly doused a decision in prayer I believe (and this is just me) that the path I choose is the one God had in store for me. That is, as long as the decision is filled with. . .

#2: Peace
Once I have made a decision I always feel peace if it is the one God is approving of. It is the kind of peace that permeates your soul. The decision may be crazy, like move-all-the-way-across-the-country-to-a-city-and-a-school-you-have-never-seen-one-week-after-returning-from-India kind of crazy, but even if no one gets it and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense there is peace. When I moved to go to Fuller Seminary I should have been so nervous and worried about the decision but I wasn't. I had peace and so I knew that this was where God was directing me. Not to mention. . .

#3: Provision
This is the final piece of the puzzle, the final way that I become convinced that God is taking care of me and showing me the right path to take. When we pray through a decision and then make a decision that gives us peace, I find that in the end God always provides. After college no doors were opening for me, but when I decided to move to California I almost immediately had an apartment and the means to get out there. It was an open door. Generally when doors keep shutting in your face it means that God wants you to wait until He opens one for you to go through. And even if we have to. . .ugh I'm going to say it again . . .wait. . He always always provides as you walk in His will.

You might have some other ways you've seen God direct your path and sometimes He gives us more than one path and both are equally fine and wonderful, but these are just some tips that have helped me get through some big decision-making times. God is so good and He will never leave you alone, no matter what you decide. As long as your decision is within God's will (meaning that it matches the teaching of the Bible and isn't sinful) He will take care of you.

Remember that. God will always walk alongside you. So quit worrying and start praying. All will be well, and praise God for it. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Learning to Breathe

The other night I realized I had poison ivy all over my right arm. In the midst of uncontrollable frustration as to its symptoms (and initially thinking it could be bed bugs brought home from the rez) I then flooded my laundry room trying to wash all the pillows. It was one of those nights where the little things become huge problems and I felt my stress and anxiety rise as I rushed around my house howling about my arm that was surely about to fall off or kill me.

Perhaps I have a flair for the dramatics.

Though those problems weren't really as life-threatening as I made them seem they were a smaller symptom of a bigger problem. Throughout year 2 of my ministry on the reservation the hurts, the trauma, and the pain have built up to manifest themselves in the ever-increasing anxiety attacks that I have paid tribute to before. In the midst of the joy, the fun, the happy, my heart begins to beat incredibly fast and I cannot breathe quite as easily as before. It's definitely not good but it's become my normal.

But let's face it, it isn't good. So as I was freaking out with dramatic text messages like this one:

Me: I think I'm dying. These bug bites itch too much. And I can't sleep. Or breathe. 

I received back advice like this:

Cam: You need to take a second. Take a second and get your thoughts and yourself back under control. Just stand in one spot for a second and breathe. 

So I did. It seemed like simple enough advice so it was worth a try.

I closed my eyes and I focused on my breathing. In. Out. In. Out. As I took back control of who I am, who God is, and how ok life is I began to clear my mind and remember that everything really was going to be fine.

It was a brief moment of silence in the chaos I had created and the chaos that surrounds me.

 I think these brief moments of silence are all too often overlooked in the busyness of our lives. Yes, there are a million things on my to-do list but that doesn't mean I don't have time to stop, to breathe, to quiet my mind and find God's truth. I flood my mind like my laundry room because I've tried to shove too much in. The acts are good intentioned, they are for the "betterment" of myself and others, but if I don't slow down and if I don't de-clutter then good intentions are all they will be. In order to be healthy, to work with others in their health, I have to slow down. I have to breathe.

Because eventually the poison ivy will stop itching and the pillows will dry and Jesus will come back and everything will be ok. I breathe it in.

It's all going to be ok. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Challenge of Love

I'm going to throw this out there: loving someone is hard. 

I know, epic new thought, right?

Of course I always knew that love wasn't like the fairy tales, that prince charming didn't come and sweep you off your feet with a song and a ride into happily ever after. I knew that it was harder than the movies depicted, but I still kind of thought that real love would be entirely blissful and lovely and there would always be a twinkle in the eye and dancing in the kitchen (I do watch a lot of romcoms, let's be honest).

It's just been over the last few months that I have learned the true nature about love and let me tell you, it is oh so different than I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong, loving someone is one of the most beautiful, challenging, rewarding, and humbling experiences of my life. I will always choose love, no matter how hard it is. To love is wonderful but to love is to be challenged, much more than I originally realized

So here is what I have learned about love in the past few months. Maybe it will help you, maybe it won't, but here we go. I'm sure it will change and grow as time progresses but for now these are my new understandings of the fairy tale:

1. Loving someone is a constant challenge to oneself. As we combine our lives with another we actually have to deal with all of our baggage, with our past, with our selfishness and our priorities, and that's not always fun. I like to be in control, to be in charge of my life, and I don't like being told what to do- a relationship can't function if one person always has to be in control. Over these months my whole life has shifted from "me" to "us" and man, that is quite the transition. It is no longer all about what I want. Now I have to compromise, to give in, to put his needs and wants above my own. It is what I want to do because he is my best friend, but that doesn't mean it isn't hard to let go of my selfishness.

2. Loving someone is extremely humbling. It would be so much easier to deny all of my own issues, claim my perfection, and walk away to wait for someone who thinks that I am practically perfect in every way, but let's be honest I probably wouldn't like that either. Loving someone is humbling because there is so much to learn about the other and I have to make an effort to consciously respond to what I learn, to ebb and flow with the tides of new understanding. Sometimes I feel like I am terrible at love, like I am completely inadequate and everyone else must know some secret that I don't. But then I come back to grace, compassion, to the reminder that we are both imperfect people coming together to rely completely on God's goodness and guidance. Thank goodness God works with us and through us. Refinement by fire hurts, but oh my it is so good to grow and become better.

3. Loving someone is about letting go. For me it isn't just about loving Cameron. A lot of the same things apply in loving the kids I work with. Because I love them I want to fix everything. I want things to be perfect between us. I want to be respected and I want to say the perfect thing every time. But that isn't how love works. Love works by doing my best and trusting God with the rest. Love works by being willing to give my hopes and dreams for the people I care about to God, to not try to control but to give, receive, and let God hold each of them in His arms instead of trying to hold them all in my own. I can't be perfect, but God's love is perfect and thank goodness I can rely on that.

Loving someone is hard, but it is a beautiful kind of difficult. It is one of the most wonderful things I have experienced. It continually turns me to Christ as I am shown love I don't deserve. It helps me to more fully understand the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It challenges me to love the way that He loves us- sacrificially, humbly, with sincerity and purpose.

Love isn't like the fairy tales, but it is a story all its own and everybody's story is different. It is a beautiful flow of conflict and resolution, of words spoken and dwelt upon, it is the moments of laughing in the grocery store and buying flowers and struggling with plans for the present and the future. It is so different than what I imagined, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The More Difficult Path

It was the quintessential Robert Frost moment. The fork in the road labeled two paths and the decision lay before us like an open hand. There wasn't danger in one or the other, and neither had terrible consequences, but the first footstep would hold the answer.

                                             <---- More Difficult                Easy ----->

I had been battling sickness all week so the sensible answer was obviously the "easy" path, but with one look at each other my brother and I knew what we had chosen. We took our steps past the "more difficult" sign with confidence and moved toward the goal of the lakes promised above.

The signs weren't lying with their descriptions of ease and difficulty. The path we chose included steep runs of slippery rocks that had to be climbed in the fashion of a monkey, on all fours or clinging to the surrounding terrain. After days of barely eating, the upward rocky climb wore on me quickly. I never doubted that we had made the right choice but I started to wonder if the effort was really worth it. Then we turned the corner.

We were about halfway up the climb when we walked to the edge of the cliff and realized what lay before us. Over the steep rock race there was the most magnificent waterfall pouring down. As the rain fell and our legs ached we stood in wonder at this most unexpected surprise. The more difficult path had contained a secret. With more risk came more reward. The beauty lay amidst the challenge and the waterfall applauded us as if to say, "good choice! Now wasn't it worth it?" 

Whether intentionally or not it seems that I have often taken the "more difficult" path since college. Moving across the country for school, traveling on my own, raising support to work on a reservation. . . all held their fair share of challenges. They weren't choices made simply for the sake of conquering the difficult, they were just forks in the road where a step forward had to be made. And always without much knowledge of what lay ahead, or knowing if I had the strength to go on, I took the steps determinedly in one direction and went wherever the path led me.

Without doubt the "more difficult" certainly has been, and at points in my life I've wondered why I didn't just take the easy way instead. Either path would have gotten me to where I am now, but I have always found that the adventure and the challenge brings out something else as well.  Without fail if I willed myself to move forward the beauty would eventually peak out of the hardships to whisper happily, "Good choice! Now wasn't this worth it?" The beauty that was only on the difficult path has defined my years- the relationships, the jobs, the road trips and the celebrations. All of it made me who I am today, and it made the choices so very much worth the climb.

Surely life will continue to fork, and as I stood in the rain on that day looking at the falls I decided one thing- I will always step away from the easy path in search of the beauty only difficult paths can provide.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Changing Out the Flag

Last night there was a bat in my ceiling, a spider in my bath, and I may have given my boyfriend food poisoning. Not the best Monday I’ve ever had. But hey, you win some, you lose some. And let’s be honest, it probably wasn’t my beautifully homemade and delicious meal that poisoned him, right? (At least I sure hope not. . .) 

Anyways. All that drama brought me to some deep thought (that happens when my boyfriend is indisposed and I don’t have someone to chatter at. . . I mean chat with). So in lieu of the usual chatter I settled into thoughts of independence. Yup, here we are again. You guys know I’ve always been one for independence. I used to thrive off of it, or the idea of it I suppose. If I was going to be single then gosh darn it I was going to be the best independent single person the world has ever seen! Look at me hang up these decorations on my own! Look at me get this couch on my own (and coerce the IKEA workers with frantic looks to do all the work for me)! Look at me be awesome because I don't need no man! 

Yea. Not really the coolest thing I’ve ever done. But really my bend towards independence wasn't all that legitimate. If I was honest with myself I was always secretly dependent on those around me. Different people have always helped me along the way and I recognize that I couldn’t have done life without them. Sure, I waved my flag of independence, but really it was the community that helped me along while silently shaking their heads at my determination and sweet flag-waving skills. 

But oh how times have changed- there is no denying it now. I can’t even pretend to deny my dependence. The other night before I poisoned my boyfriend you could have found him walking around my house with a knife because I thought I heard a creepy noise (turns out it was the dryer. . . ). What did I do before I had a pocketknife wielding man to save me? Who knows. Nowadays I still pretend I want independence and control but really I find myself saying things like, “babe, why did you have to get sick on the same day the bat goes crazy in the ceiling? I need you to save me. . .oh and can you fix the picture that broke on the wall?” *Sigh* Independence is a fleeting and silly thing. 

I guess it comes down to this: I strived for so long to be what I thought I needed to be. I fought for control by denying my need for others. But in reality, life is all about the people that walk alongside you to help you out. It’s the people that help you move, that catch you fish for dinner, that come over when you hear a bat and take your trash out when they leave. Life is about how we depend on others and in turn how they depend on us. And it is so much more beautiful than standing alone on a hill with a flag of independence wondering when someone is going to come up and ask how you got to be so awesome. 

In fact I think I’m switching out my flag. This one is going to say, “Help wanted. . . and no my cooking doesn’t poison.” 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Joy of Family

Today a phrase popped into mind that epitomizes the past week: “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” 

Goodness, what truth that is. 

I was feeling a little burnt out and cynical as the school year came to an end when like a fairy godmother new life came and turned the pumpkin into a coach! With two new volunteers from North Carolina who throughly embody the joy of the Lord and 15 (yes, FIFTEEN) kids coming to the Kennel this past week, things have gone from blah to ta-da! Gosh, God is good. 

It has been in the midst of this joy of the Lord that another important word has popped up: Family

We have always called our Kennel staff and kids a family, but this past week it has truly felt that way. Cameron has been coming to the Kennel most days (the only perk of his frustrating and lack-thereof work schedule) and the kids have taken to continuing the “daughter/son” phrasing. Cameron takes to the role with gusto. He loves being dad as much as I love being mom/auntie/sister. And in a community where good “dads” are hard to come by, I love watching him interact with the kids in such a way. Plus he is a big muscly dude so he takes the commanding stance well!

So yesterday we were at the church picnic and we just had five of the kids with us, but they are circling around Cam and I pretending we are their parents as they get introduced to Cam’s family, who they immediately call their grandparents. They just assumed that his family is now their family, a characteristic that I love about them. And they stall as Cam and I try to take them home, working to convince us that we should take them on our date, and stopping to check out the ins and outs of my house as they choose the rooms that they want to live in. I don’t mind that they are trekking through my place and checking everything out, I love having them around. And we talk about our next adventures and when they can stay over and no, you teenage girls cannot housesit while I am on vacation but thanks for the offer. 

And I realize that this is what I want my life to forever be. I know that wherever I live I want my house to be full of a bunch of kids that call us family, that come in and out and are related to us or not. I know that I want my household to be full of love and laughter and fun. .  an unconventional family with a ton of crazy kids. 

This is actually the most family I have had around in a lot of years, since I moved to the West Coast and left the family on the East. My heart bursts with joy as the love between the kids and us grown-ups continues to deepen, and the trust increases, and we know that we would do anything for each other. It is new life after a lull of exhaustion and cynicism. In with the wind is joy, such joy, and it all comes from the Lord. 

I will end with this: One of our youngest "kids" (who always asks where her "dad" is when Cam isn’t around) was hanging out with me at the Kennel the other night. They had all been tattooing me with washable marker so I decided to share the love and write a “tattoo” on her hand. I AM LOVED is what I chose. It was what I wanted her to know and what I hope each of these kids gets tattooed on their hearts as they continue hanging around the Kennel and becoming family with us. I am loved. The knowledge of this truth changes everything. Indeed, it has for me. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Adopting Daughters

It all started with one ninth grader. 

She joined a group hug with me and Cam and the rest was history. Within minutes she claimed herself adopted and started play calling us "mom" and "dad." When we saw her at the Kennel yesterday she jokingly started singing, "Reunited and it feeeeeels so goooood!" Cameron had willingly and lovingly accepted this first newfound daughter, but little did he know it was just the beginning.

We had spent the past weekend at the bi-annual Rising youth retreat. 28 middle school and high school students from our Thursday night youth service and it was awesome. 

From almost the moment of our arrival four of the middle school girls had attached themselves to my hip. It all started with a comment of, “Is that your brother?” and the response of, “No, he is my boyfriend!” and the jokes and bonding was well on its way. At one point I asked them, "Do you want me to kiss him to show you he isn’t my brother??" To which they said, "YES!" I was so surprised at that answer that I replied maturely with. . . "Ew! Gross! No!" 

Later Cam slammed one of the quiet ones in the face with a dodgeball so hard it left a mark. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

The 7th grade girls were mostly interested in me and Cameron as a dating entity. Most of these students have never seen a healthy dating relationship or an example of healthy affection, so it was cool seeing the platform he and I were able to have with them. On the first day I was so excited to be able to have conversations with some of the girls about why I don't live with him and what God intended for relationships, both physically and emotionally. It was a joy to be able to speak into their lives in such a way. 

But it was the last night that I loved the most. After a bonfire with all the students I gathered my middle school girls to help me make french toast casserole for the next morning. Cameron decided to walk with us and before you knew it we were all linked arms and holding hands in a line up the hill. It was only minutes before they started calling us the Apache words for "mom" and "dad" and it felt for that moment like we were a little makeshift family, full of laughter and love and health. 

And I was so impressed because Cameron took to his newfound “daughters” with such goodness (yes, I am going to brag about him for a minute). In this moment he was able to show them what a good man, a really good man is like. He took to these girls like they were his own, without question or complaint. He showed them love, a good healthy kind of love. He told us all that we were beautiful and gave the girls strict instructions not to date. He let them call him dad and the girls noticed the way that he treated me. “We saw him help you put your jacket on in the session.” “He takes your tray after you eat.” The little things make the biggest impact. 

As we all linked arms up the hill he showed these little girls the love of a father, and by loving me well in front of them he showed them the kind of man that they deserve. As middle school girls living in a culture where men will use them and abuse them, I knew that this moment could be life-changing for them and I couldn’t have been more grateful that God chose to use us to show them what a healthy relationship can look like. 

We walked away from the weekend with five new daughters. And I walked away with a rich appreciation for the man that is willing to jump with both feet into this crazy thing I call my life, to love these kids with the heart of Christ, and to be a shining example of God’s love for me and others. 

I couldn’t have been more happy. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On My Shoulders


My goodness.

I've been busy.

This last month has been so wonderful, so exciting, so hard, and so tiring.

So many days I have felt overwhelmed by the task of caring for other people. It isn't the right way to think (and somewhere inside I know it) but I pile everyone up on my shoulders and promise to carry them wherever we go even if they didn't ask for it (metaphorically of course). I know everyone has legs and their own lives and they can walk through it without my help, but somewhere along the way I have rested into the notion that it all depends on me. The lives of so many people depend on me. And even if my legs fail, I will carry them until it kills me.

Well that is quite a burden to carry and it's rather impossible, especially considering that I don't have the time or energy to carry everyone and they don't really need to be carried. But I walk around with them all on my shoulders anyways as I cry out to my friends, "Why am I so tired? Why am I so overwhelmed??" They look up at all the people I have thrown over my shoulders and say, "Is that a real question?"

I'd almost forgotten they were there I've been carrying them for so long. But it's hard to put them down and run for myself.

So in light of smarter solutions I just decide to worry. Smart, right? And lately I've developed a trend of anxiety attacks which is so not cool. Sitting at a restaurant eating with Cameron, brushing my teeth at home. . . the timing never makes sense but my heart starts to beat too fast and I begin to freak out that everything is falling apart.

Failure, that's what I am afraid of. Control, that is my problem. 

I want to control things and fix them, but no matter how hard I try I cannot fix it. I cannot change things. And that feeling of helplessness, of fear, that lack of control makes my heart beat too fast as I sit on the ground in despair.

I don't want to feel this way. I want to be able to let it go.

So I put a hairband on my wrist as the wise Pam suggested and every time I begin to fear, every time I begin to freak out, I move the hairband to the other wrist and I say a prayer. "God, please take away my fears. Help me to trust in you." It makes me conscience of the pattern. It makes me create a new pattern. And I try to take a deep breath and be ok with the fact that I am not perfect and that's ok. I am not going to be perfect, I am not going to have it all together, and that. is. ok.

It's hard to be ok with being human.

I know the pressure I put on myself is all self-inflicted, so I think it's time to stuff it all in a balloon and let it float away into the heavens because my goodness. . .

Freedom > Fear

Grace > Guilt 

I'm a work in progress.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shawarma and a Boyfriend

A few months ago I was walking around Barnes and Noble, single, with just my greek food beside me. (You can read about it here). It was pretty epic. Fast forward to yesterday and I’m eating the same greek food and perusing the same aisles of Barnes and Noble (what can I say, I’m a creature of habit) but this time there was something different. This time I was there with someone, and that someone calls himself my boyfriend. 

I know. It’s weird to put it in print. I have a boyfriend. We all were a little worried it would never happen, we can be honest about that. I live in the woods, I work all the time, I have a weird need to prove my independence and love men that are imaginary. . . not quite a recipe for success. 

But there he came. Riding in on a white jeep, the knight in shining under armor. He pursued me relentlessly with kind words and gushy looks. I fought back with comments like, “Don’t look at me!” and “Stop being so nice!” Its a surprise he stuck around. But eventually I realized that complaining about a man being too chivalrous wasn’t really an excuse and I should give the boy a chance. So I purposely mentioned I was free on a Sunday and he said with uncertainty (I suppose I was giving mixed signals) that he would like to take me out. I responded with something like, “I wouldn’t mind” and walked away. I guess I was a little nervous. 

Guys, I’ve got to tell you. You would like this man. He makes me laugh and says gooshy nice things and always makes me feel good about myself. If you were a fly on the wall when we are together you might get grossed out because its so sweet. Oooshy Gooshy kind of stuff. He’s all kinds of wonderful. 

So together we are walking around Barnes and Noble and he doesn’t even complain that I’m taking forever sitting on the floor reading poetry and checking out the newest children’s books even though he is hungry and he wants to leave. He lets me read him quotes and point out all the books I’ve read and listens to my reviews. I want him to think I’m smart. He wants me to be happy. 

But let me tell you, despite the cutesy goodness, this thing is hard. Just a bit ago it was just me and the shawarma all independent and focused and now I’ve got to consider this other person and I have to be kind and I can’t just shut him out with everyone else when I want to believe that everyone is annoying and I’m the only sane one. And just when things are going well I start getting all up in my own head and I start to worry and then I worry about my worry and goodness gracious the cycle can be exhausting. Poor guy. Good thing he thinks I’m cute. 

So after over an hour in Barnes and Noble I finally put the books back and grab his hand and ask if he would like to eat some shwarma with me. I’m a creature of habit and I would like to introduce him to my former love (just kidding). So we eat and we talk and then we buy a hammock and go lay in the sun. We read poetry and C.S. Lewis and I know that this is a crazy adventure that I want to be on. Each day won’t be perfect and many days will be hard, but I know that letting him in brings me closer to knowing and understanding the goodness of our Savior. I know that each day that I try to run, and he patiently tells me the truths and reminds me of the good, that God is saying, see? I’m never going to leave you. I love you and I provide for you. Take joy in my goodness and stop worrying about it all

I take a deep breath and I decide that this is how it is going to be. That one day at a time I will let go of the walls I’ve built up and let him read books with me and make me laugh. One day at a time I will come to terms with my flaws and then realize how grateful I am to be loved. One day at a time I will look up to God in amazement as I realize that He really did bring me someone to peruse the aisles of life with. And goodness, if that's not lovely and oooey gooey I don't know what is! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Prayers for a Little One

About a week ago I was sitting in a hospital holding a baby that had been born less than 24 hours before. He was tiny and perfect with a head full of hair, enough to make into a baby mohawk as we sat together. He was so innocent and untouched by the world. I loved him from the moment I held him.

He was the baby of one of my students and I had come to visit them. She is only 15 and we ended up spending 24 of those first 48 hours of the baby's life together. Together we tried to figure out his needs, his sleep, and how to get her rest through those midnight hours. We were in this together and I wasn't going to leave her alone.

When he was a little over 24 hours old I took him out of the bassinet and held him close. My student was finally asleep and as I looked at his little face I began to pray. I prayed for his life and his future, that God would raise him up to be a good man, one who served Him and treated others well. I prayed into his little self that he would be a great and responsible man, despite any of the circumstances that would surround him in the years to come. I prayed in those first moments of his life hoping that the prayers would envelop him, that they would become the words that formed his life and that God would honor the requests for his protection.

It felt so important to cover his little self in prayers and love, to have those words seep into his heart. 

I've still been checking up on baby and mom as the days have passed since then. And each time I hold him I whisper tiny prayers into his ear as I kiss his baby face. And every time I think that I most certainly have the best job in the whole entire world.

I am so grateful that I can walk with students through these things. I am so thankful for God's provision and for the way He has honored the prayers spoken over my own life. He consistently proves Himself to be faithful and I know He will be faithful to these young ones.

God is so good. Even in the moments that are tough, God is so very very good. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ten Years Later. . .

It took me by surprise when I realized that I was standing in the exact same spot I had stood 10 years ago. Ten years ago when my life was about to drastically change it all started on that corner in Mission Beach, San Diego. And here I was again.

The last time I had been there I was a junior in high school and life was kind of falling apart. My family was about to move to a different state and I felt like I was losing everything, but for a week none of that mattered because I was going on my very first mission trip. As I sat with my friends in San Diego we were prepared for what God would have in store for us that week, but I had no idea that it was going to be the week that changed the entire direction of my life.

I remember that trip so clearly. It was the kind of mission trip movies are made about. The kids chasing the van each morning, the relationships built with the locals, and the mentorship of a local leader who challenged me to use my skills and gifts and to let the voice of God enter into the chaos that was my life back home. Everything in that moment was perfect because it was the moment God used to call me to His will. My heart was stirred and my direction was changed. I knew right then that missions was what God was calling me to do. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that He wanted me to work among other cultures, and my "dream" became building a youth center for teenagers in Mexico.

Things were changing in my life, and I had no idea what the next year, or 10, would bring as I sat with my friends on that corner in San Diego. 

Fast forward 10 years (my goodness, TEN years!) and I am standing in that same exact spot with a bunch of high school students, who are almost exactly the age I was when I stood there before. I'm now working at a youth center on an Apache reservation and it hits me that God has returned me to the place where it all began. With exhilaration I realize that I am doing exactly what God called me to do and He has brought me to this place with the students He has called me to serve. 

With a soaring in my heart I realize that 10 years later I have returned to the spot of my calling, living fully in His plan for my life. It was surreal. It was amazing. It was a moment of understanding and gratefulness, and it was a moment of peace.

When I stand by the ocean it always brings me peace. As I stare out at the vastness of the sea I am reminded of how much God controls, of how much beauty He has in His hands. And I think to myself, if God can control the waves of the ocean, how could I not believe that He also has control over the chaos of our lives? What peace it is to remember how many great and chaotic things He cares for and how well He cares for them all. 

As I stood by the ocean this time I knew, with such certainty, that He had been guiding me back to this point all along. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Beautiful, Marvelous, and Miserable

I was talking to one of my kids the other day as I drove them all home in the van. We were talking about life (obviously) and in an effort to be positive I exclaimed that life was "beautiful and marvelous!" I asked one of the kids if he agreed.

"Yea," he replied, "beautiful, marvelous and miserable."

I laughed because I thought that sentiment was so perfect. Beautiful, marvelous, and miserable. That's life, isn't it?

The beautiful are the quiet moments that make life so good. They are the everyday blessings that we almost forget to notice. It is the perfect cup of coffee, the breeze and the sunshine, the friendships that make you laugh until your stomach hurts. It sounds cheesy but it's true. Life is full of beautiful moments if we look for them. For me the beautiful is having an apartment all my own, getting unexpected packages from faraway friends, and getting to love on the best kids in the world. Each day we can find the beauty if we pay attention.

The marvelous are easy to notice. These are the wonderful moments that make everything seem brilliant and all the hard stuff fade away for a time. The marvelous are the babies being born and the people falling in love or moving to a new country or a new adventure. The marvelous moments are getting to rejoice with others when life-changing things happen. The marvelous is that moment when we realize how God has been working all this time and we finally see that it really is going to work out. Marvelous moments are always moments of God's greatest blessings.

And then, as my student so astutely pointed out, there are quite a few miserable moments as well. Unfortunately, these moments are inevitable and many times they cloud over the beautiful and the marvelous. The dark clouds cover the brightness of the sun and we remember that this world is imperfect and nothing will ever be quite right until Jesus makes it right. These moments kind of suck, let's be honest.

But you know what? I don't think life would be complete if we didn't have a little bit of each. We need the miserable to make us appreciate the beautiful. We need the marvelous to give us momentum to keep going no matter what each day brings. We need all of life's ups and downs to remind us of God's unchanging, steadfast love and attention through whatever the day brings. It doesn't matter how we feel or what goes on, the most brilliant of it all is that God is constant and He is always always faithful. 

Brennan Manning seems to know me when he writes:

"I believe in God with all my heart. And in a given day [when bad things happen]. . . I wonder if God even exists. As I've said before, I address Him and I get discouraged. I love and I hate. I feel better about feeling good. I feel guilty if I don't feel guilty. I'm wide open, I'm locked in. I'm trusting and suspicious. I'm honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I'm a rational animal. But I'm not." 

That is my life- a series of paradoxes and ups and downs and who knows what each day will bring. But my goodness our God is constant, and isn't that something to rejoice about?

Beautiful, marvelous, and miserable. I'll take a little bit of each please. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Let's Be Happy!

Perhaps you find this blog to be simply a series of ups and downs, highs and lows. Perhaps you are thinking, "Wow Meredith. One day you are all mad and stuff and the next day you are all cheery. What's up with that?" Or maybe you aren't thinking that at all, who knows.

But it actually is kind of true. The highs are high, the lows are low, and all the stuff in the middle (which is most days) is too boring and you wouldn't read it. So you get the good and the bad and I keep all the normal days to myself. But that's ok. This is the journey we are on together and I like that.

So this post is a happy post (to combat the relatively unhappy post of last week). This post is going to be about glorifying the God who loves us more than we ever could deserve. And I can never write about that enough (even if you get tired of reading it).

For example, let's start with this:

Last week God brought 3 new volunteers to the Kennel. . . who we had never even met before. They had simply found out about AYM and wanted to help. Seriously?? It's true guys, it happened.

Ok, what about this:

Last semester we averaged 7 kids at our after-school program Unleashed. We took out all the fluff and made time productive. Kids weren't too thrilled. This semester we are averaging 10-11 kids a day. We increased our kid count in just one semester. For real?? Yes. This is a big deal.

Ok, let's talk about this:

Some days I get really annoyed. Sometimes I'm tired. Every now and then (believe it or not) I am kind of rude because I just don't have any more room to be compassionate and kind. And some days (like today) I wake up just feeling good and happy and like everything is beautiful and funny. But no matter what kind of day it is, I have friends, mentors, a job, a purpose, and a whole group of people I get to love on. No matter what kind of day it is I get to spend my days with some of the best kids in the world. I'm serious. We expect a lot from them and they step up to the plate. And sometimes my heart breaks and sometimes it is filled to overflowing, but His blessings are new each day. And prayers are always answered.

And get this:

In a few weeks we get to skip out of town with these lovely kids for a four day trip to San Diego. We get to drive out of town and breathe in the sea air and go on adventures together. How awesome is that?

So I'm going to repeat the words that never get old. I am going to keep saying these words because my goodness, especially when things get hard, they are so so very true.

God is faithful.
He is so much more than good to us. 
He is love and patience and beauty. 

And what better life could there be than the one serving Him. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Truth of It All

I’m going to be honest with you: sometimes there is not a silver lining. 

Sometimes knowing the evils of the world leads us to bitterness and rightly so. 

It is overwhelming, the evil that impacts our students and our world. In 2 weeks we have had four students raped. All of them are under the age of 17, 2 of them were hospitalized because of the insane brutality with which the crime occurred, and there is a great chance that the perpetrators will never be charged for their crimes. 

It is simply put, overwhelming. 

As I sit trying to process through this evil my body quietly shakes. It is hard to handle even the thought of this happening. Whether I know them personally or not doesn’t matter. Crimes like these are so far beyond unacceptable. This violence is not what God ever intended. It is straight evil. The anger wells up into a rage and all I can keep saying is, “This has to stop.” 

This has to stop. 

This has to stop. 

You know, I can measure my time here by the tears I have cried over the hurts of the people God loves. There have been distinct moments when the weeping has been the only thing I had to express everything that words could not. The tears have been a part of the journey. It is a part of having eyes opened to the truth, and man, it hurts. Sometimes I wish I could squeeze my eyes shut and everything would disappear, that I would once again be that kid who didn’t know the world was such a bad place. Ignorance certainly is bliss when knowledge makes your heart break. But ignorance is not the better option. 

I think it is perhaps satan’s greatest tactic to distract us from the truth of his evil work with insignificant things. “Ignorance is bliss” is probably his favorite saying. Do you know what I mean? 

We all become obsessed with the color of a stupid dress on the internet and ignore the fact that Christians and innocent people are being raped and slaughtered all over the world. Yea, I know that isn’t a cozy thought. I know it makes us cringe but it’s the truth. The crimes that happen here on this reservation don’t just happen here and they didn’t just happen this week. This happens every week on reservations and middle class communities around the US and the world. We have simply chosen to become blinded by all the materials and comforts that cloud our view. We become blind to the truth of the pain because it is too hard to handle. 

And I get it, I really do. I’m not judging you. I know that it is easier to ignore the pain. Trust me, I wish I didn’t know the truth. I don’t watch the news because the burden is too deep if I know the bad of the world. I can barely handle my here and now so I understand needing to shield ourselves from the overwhelming truth of evil.  

But now, here in the midst of it, it cannot be ignored. 

My mind and my heart know the atrocities and they will never forget them, for as long as I live. I have held the hands of the victims and preached God’s love to those who have felt abandoned by a “good” God. And I may want to lock myself in my room in my pajamas and watch tv for days and pretend none of it is happening, but I have a responsibility. I have a responsibility to be honest about who God is and be honest about the fact that I don’t have the answers. Any given Thursday when I preach at our youth event I could be talking to 50-60 kids. I don’t know their stories or their pain, but I must preach in a way that does not belittle it. I must preach in a way that helps them see God’s love through their pain, and goodness knows that I know how hard that is to believe sometimes. 

So I am burdened. And I wish I didn’t know, but I am, in a weird way, grateful to be fully aware rather than fully ignorant. I would rather live a life pained by the pains of my people than go on happily in the false comfort of not knowing. Just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it goes away. Just because we ignore it doesn’t mean that it stops happening. Evil happens. And its hard. And it will break us and challenge our faith and it will shatter so much of our own innocence. 

But we cannot be silent. This has to stop. This distracting ourselves and pretending we can’t change things isn’t ok. You are right in one thing, we can’t change things. But we can hold on to those who are hurting. We can be on our knees every night praying to the One who does change things. We can give hope and truth to those who need it. Don’t give into the lie that we can’t make a difference anyways.

Last year this news would have broken me beyond repair. I would have lost my faith, questioned His presence, questioned Him as a loving God. Last year this would have broken me. But this year, all glory to God, is different. Obviously the impact is still great and the tears come and the anger is present because one cannot become completely hardened to this kind of evil. But the difference is that I now have a firm foundation built on the rock of His proven faithfulness. I see the evil but I know that God has not abandoned this community. I weep for the foothold Satan has, but I know that God’s love is stronger and His redemption will be bigger. I have the confidence now that His justice will reign. And I know that my God is still good, no matter what the news tells me. 

Will you believe it with me? Will you ignore the mundane for just a moment, get on your knees and pray for our hurting world? Right this second. Let’s do what we can. 

Let’s call on the Creator that we know has saved the world, no matter what the devil throws our way. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

His Great and Perfect Love

I was in the middle of preaching a sermon when it washed over me like a flood and almost made me stop in the middle of my words. It was a truth that I had been searching for without knowing that I had lost it. It was a truth that I was desperately trying to teach the students when all the while God was trying to teach it to me, trying to embed it in my heart so that I would truly understand. It was a moment of clarity that I can only pray some of the students had as well. It was for me, a moment of beauty. 

What I was preaching on was love (I love love!).

The point was this: These kids, like many teenagers (and adults), are continually looking for perfect love in each other and the results are detrimental. We have at least five teenagers who are pregnant, countless who are left feeling worthless or heartbroken, and so many others who are moving from guy to guy or girl to girl searching for something that they will never be able to find in each other.

So I began telling them where they could find it. I began to give them Scripture after Scripture that described God's love. We talked about how His love never changes, how it is always forgiving, and how it is always without fear of rejection. We read that God IS love, the creator of love, the embodiment of love, and on and on. It was perhaps my favorite sermon to ever have preached because it was full of so much hope and goodness and truth.

And then I landed in 1 John. And the verses were beautiful. Here, take a moment, read them too. You will be glad you did:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love

It was on verse 9-10 that the wave of truth came for me:  

9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Not that we loved him but that He loved us. Gosh. It just hits my heart again as I think about it. God didn't choose to love us because we deserved it, or because we would eventually be good. He let His only son die because He simply loved us enough to give us LIFE. Doesn't that make you shiver a little bit!? If it doesn't, like I told the students, then you don't get it! Go back and read it again! He loves us without condition. He loves us simply because it is His joy and delight. We are loved perfectly by the One who knows us, truly knows us. Doesn't that just make your heart feel overwhelmed? It does mine! 

Goodness it was amazing to be as blessed by the message God was giving through me as I hoped some of the kids were. It was amazing to be standing up there preaching to myself as much as to my audience. What an easy challenge to rely not on the imperfect love of others, but on the all-satisfying, all-perfecting love of our Savior. We are loved that much guys. Isn't it fantastic? For me that moment of clarity was also a moment of gratitude, and as the night went on I couldn't help but smile because I finally knew.

I finally knew how much He loves me.