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.