the art of losing.

Anyone who knows me well knows my propensity towards losing things.  I set things down and forget where I’ve put them all the time, and my particular brand of distractedness lends itself to placing a higher value on keeping track of facts rather than items.

I’ve spent years mastering this art, losing everything from driver’s licenses and debit cards to coffee mugs and my birth certificate (I still have no idea how that happened.  Or where it is.).  I even once lost my car for a 24 hour period because I walked home after forgetting that I’d driven to school that day.

When I was in high school, I read a poem called “The Art of Losing” by Elizabeth Bishop, and in it she writes about the evolution of loss—how it starts small, losing things (keys, in her case) that are frustrating but without real lasting consequence, and then progresses to losing memories of names and hopes and then possessions and places and communities and relationships.  It’s not a particularly joy-filled piece of writing, but it strikes something deep within me every time I read it.

As I make yet another life transition, I keep thinking about this poem.  One reason is that I have loads of experience losing small things, but right now I’m in the process of losing those other things that she waxes eloquent about.  Accepting a new job in a new city means that I’m losing proximity to some of my closest friends, I’m losing a job on a campus that I grew to deeply love, and I’m losing a city that I finally(!) learned my way around.

But, like Bishop notes towards the end of her poem, losing those things isn’t a disaster.  I had some really good years being near those people in that city—and I’m thankful that I even have them to lose.  Sometimes things need to be lost for the sake of finding others.

And I’m not actually losing the people, I know that (Let me reiterate this to those of you who I consider to be my people and are now freaked out:  I know I’m not losing you.).  I’m just farther away.  I know, too, that I’m stepping into something great—I’m pretty confident that I’m going to love the new campus I’ll be working on, and that I’ll eventually learn my way around that city and even that I’ll meet people who will let me hang out with them occasionally.

Here’s where I get philosophical (you had to have known this was coming):  I think the other reason I love this poem so much is because it reminds me that in order to miss something, you have to know that you’ve lost it, that you’re missing it.  And those of us who follow Jesus know…it’s kind of our whole job to show people that they’re missing something, to say to them, hey, there’s actually something bigger than you out there, let me help you figure out what it is.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 about the lost sheep (yes, yes, I know it’s also in Matthew.  Chapter 18.), where he asks this rhetorical question about shepherds:  “Which of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doesn’t leave the other 99, and go looking for the lost one until he finds it?”  One of the points here is that the shepherd who’s serious about their job keeps track of all of their sheep, not just the ones that stay close and safe.

Being a missionary on a community college campus means being a shepherd, and I want to be serious about that job. It’s often easy for me to just pay attention to the students who are interested in what I have to tell them about Jesus, the ones who come to our Bible studies or services or whatever and then stick around and ask questions.

But as I get ready for another campus and a new wave of students, I want to be aware of the students who will slink in with their unasked questions, thinking that they’ll need to keep their doubts to themselves, and then will slink back out when we don’t address all of those unspoken thoughts right away.  The truth is that I know all about the art of losing things, about letting things and people wander away, but I want to get better at knowing how to find them and recognizing that they need to be found.

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some highlights so far.

It’s been almost a month since school started for the students I’m working with, and already a million crazy things have happened.  That’s a slight exaggeration, but you should be used to that from me by now…that said, here are just a few of the things:

-I showed up on campus one morning with some poster board and a bunch of crayons, with the intent of meeting as many students as possible.  My expectations were relatively low, as I had no idea how excited community college students would actually be about drawing/coloring.  Within the first hour, though, I met 15 new students, most of whom hung out for the whole time I was there.  After a quick lunch break with one of our students, she convinced me to move to a new area and do it again.  We had 20 more students show up, and several asked me why we don’t do things like that more often.

-During opening week of school, we put on several events to let students know that we exist as a ministry on campus.  One day we played Frisbee, and a girl named Teal showed up.  Then she showed up the next day to board games.  Then she showed up the next day to our photo scavenger hunt.  Since then, we’ve been hanging out at least twice a week, and despite the fact that she regularly tells me that she’s an atheist, she keeps letting me talk to her about Jesus.

-Somehow, I’ve managed to break into what might be the most heterogeneous group of students on campus.  In the three hours that I spent with them last week, we talked about everything from anime and the Western church to ’90s rock and something called the Hebrew Roots movement.

-At the house I’m currently living in, we have community dinners 4x a week, and I get the privilege of cooking with two of my housemates every Tuesday.  A couple weeks ago, we decided (aka I forced them) to choose a theme and cook through it the whole quarter.  We opted to cook food from a different country each week, and chose China as our starting point.  I wasn’t in love with the idea, but I went with it anyway.  Then on that Tuesday morning, I woke up at 4am praying for China.  Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds like it would be.  I fell back asleep finally and woke up at a relatively normal time, realizing that could be a sweet addition to our theme…we could pray for the country we’re cooking from!  That night at dinner, one of our housemates had invited a friend over.  Fun fact:  that friend is an international student from China.  Fun fact #2: When I said we were going to pray for China, this girl started telling us about everything that’s currently happening in her country, crying as she was telling us about college students who are protesting a governmental takeover.  Fun fact #3:  That girl doesn’t know Jesus, and had only just met our housemate a few days before.  Through praying for her country, we got to show her how much Jesus really cares about her and her people.

I need to get back to planning a Bible study, but I wanted to give you just a glimpse of the sweet things that are happening here all the time!  If you want to see some pictures or read abbreviated versions of these stories, you can click on the “what else is happening right now?” tab at the top of this site.


concurrent.

This seems like as good a time as any to officially let you know what I’m up to next:  I’m headed back into the crazy world of telling college students about how much Jesus wants to radically transform their lives.  Yes, yes, I’ve done this before.  And I loved it and missed it so much that I’m doing it again.  This next year I’ll be based at a community college, so I hope you’re prepared for some really really fun stories.

To give you a better idea of the kind of things I’ll be doing, I’m going to give you a bit of a visual…stay with me, it might be rough at first. When solving systems of linear equations using a graph, there are three potential outcomes:  one solution, no solution, or infinite solutions.

When the system has no solution, it looks like this on a graph:

parallel

 

Note that the lines don’t overlap; those in the know (that group does not include me, I asked my math teacher dad) call that parallelism.  I often meet people whose lives are marked by this phenomenon.  This happens when they’re living dual lives:  trying to keep their relationship with or thoughts about Jesus separate from every other thing that they do.  A few years ago, I mentored a college student who was a perfect example of this.  She would come to Bible study every week, praying fervently for her fellow classmates, and then she would leave and conveniently forget about everything we had just talked about.  Her life in the ‘real world’ showed no evidence that Jesus played any part in her actions or decision making.  I’ve also met students who don’t think that faith has anything to do with their lives at all, so they just choose not to think about the effect it may have on them.

When the system has one solution, it looks like this:

intersecting

You’ll notice here that the lines overlap once, but only once.  This solution does a pretty good job of representing the way of living that you or I probably see most often.  When we live believing that Jesus is important, but only when we want or need him to be, we create an independent system (coincidentally, also the name for the graph pictured above).    We tell Jesus we want him to be in control of our lives, but only so long as he’s letting us do what we want.  The intersection occurs when we’re faced with a difficult situation, when we realize that actually we can’t do this life on our own.  The unfortunate thing about this is that there’s very little lasting impact; you’ll notice in the graph that the lines diverge again.  I’ve met with many students whose lives are characterized by independent systems–they seek guidance from the Lord only when it is convenient for them.  And then they wonder why things fall apart.

There has to be a better way.

Don’t worry, there is.  Here’s what a system with an infinite number of solutions looks like:

infinite

Check this out.  Matthew 4:18-21 is one of the accounts of Jesus calling his first disciples.  It says,

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there…”  

I’m only quoting the verse up to that point because I want you to take note of the fact that Jesus doesn’t wait around for the disciples to follow him; he says, “Let’s go!” and then keeps moving.  The disciples could have kept living in their small independent system, intersecting once with Jesus, but not letting him fully impact their lives.  But instead they followed him into a system of dependence, of relying on him to take care of them no matter what was ahead.  And yeah, they definitely lost sight of this at times, but most of the time they found their way back.  

So that right there is the simplest thing I want my students to internalize:  that we are a part of a system that functions when we are fully dependent on Jesus, when we are following him without looking back, when we let him change our trajectory so that our lives begin to line up with what he has for us.


you are not forgotten.

To some extent, I feel like I don’t even need to write anything else, that title says everything I want to.

But then I think, well, what if it’s misinterpreted?  Or, more importantly, what if someone reading this needs that to be explained, needs further convincing, because they aren’t quite sure whether or not to believe it?  If that’s you, we’re in the same boat.

There is a wise woman who has put words to this–Sarah Bessey–and by clicking on that external link (the underlined name, for those of you who are still working on being tech-savvy), you can watch a short video that she made specifically about this truth that we are not forgotten, but the rest of her blog is definitely worth checking out as well.  And it should be noted here that, though the thoughts in this post have been stirring in my brain for quite some time, it is her video/subsequent words that spurred me into actually writing them down.

For the past few years, I’ve lived in this tension of knowing that Jesus is very real and very present but at the same time being very sure that he was too busy to remember who I am, that his time was better spent on someone else.  I became convinced that he had, in fact, forgotten about me.

This is not an isolated occurrence.  I felt this way when I started college and again during one of the many summers I spent working at a Christian camp, and those are just the times that immediately come to mind right now.

I just finished reading a book of Mother Teresa’s letters in which she speaks of feeling a sort of soul darkness, an overwhelming sense that God had forgotten her or left her alone.   And not even just alone, but lonely.  Like bone-jarringly lonely.

And while I haven’t felt the Lord’s absence to that degree, I can begin to understand being filled with questions about whether or not we’ve been left to fend for ourselves, forgotten even by the One who created us and breathed us into being in the first place.

One of Mother Teresa’s spiritual advisors wrote about how the ache that she felt was made even greater by the fact that it hadn’t always been there–making the point that she wouldn’t have known something was missing if she had never experienced it firsthand.

It’s not entirely clear to me why this happens, why we experience seasons of doubt or loneliness, why sometimes it just seems like we aren’t heard or like we aren’t actually even being listened to.  And oh, how I wish I could wrap these thoughts up neatly.  Just throw in a couple verses about how Jesus is always the same, about how he’ll never leave us or forsake us, and that would be that.  But life isn’t always that neat, yeah?  I can say those things, all of which I believe to be true, but none of which alleviate the very present and very real sense of being left alone.

I would love to be able to say, also, that these seasons don’t last forever.  But maybe that isn’t true, maybe the sense of loneliness will stretch on and persist, leaving us with gaping wounds that we can only hope will one day be filled like they used to be.

Isn’t hope what this life is about, though?  We press on, we keep living and breathing, because we have hope that one day this will get better.  One day all of this will make sense, and we will understand why Jesus chose to let us stay in whatever space it is that we feel trapped in at this moment.

And already, I can feel myself being able to minister out of and through loneliness.  I think that knowing what it feels like has given me that much more insight into the reality that people without hope must wake up to day after day after day.  And while, to some degree, loneliness is a very unique experience (meaning that each person wrestles with it in a slightly different way), it also begins to fade a bit when it is offered up, when we begin to speak of it to others.

So if this is you, if you’re in a lonely place right now, my encouragement to you is to not give up hope!  Rather, let the hope of something better be what keeps you moving forward and pressing into this life.  Put words to your loneliness, invite others into it with you.

And friends, know that just because the Lord is silent does not mean He is absent.  He sees you.  You are not forgotten.


finish well.

Yesterday I had a heart-to-heart with one of my favorite 3rd graders who had just thrown a backpack at a woman holding a baby carrier.  In her defense, she just has really poor aim, but I felt it was something I should probably address anyway.  I walked away from the conversation feeling like she had a pretty good grasp of the situation, and that I had made it clear that throwing things isn’t the best idea.

I’m not sure when I’ll start consciously remembering how wrong I often am about these things.

This afternoon, I turned around to see the same kid throwing a cup full of something (cereal? peanut butter? It remains unclear.) at the wall of the snack area, allegedly trying to hit the garbage can but instead coming within centimeters of hitting another child.

When confronted, she looked at me with this stare that clearly conveyed that she was sure I was the crazy one, that throwing the cup was actually completely normal behavior.  We then had the exact same conversation we’d had the day before, with the exception of a more immediate consequence–she was treated to a lesson in sweeping and taking care of the Club (which, come to think of it, she really should have paid me for…it was a great lesson.).

Yet, instead of doing the easy thing by spending five minutes sweeping up the mess that she herself had made, she decided instead to tell me how unfair the situation was and how she, in fact, wasn’t going to help at all because it wasn’t her responsibility, someone else is paid to clean up those kinds of messes.

And I thought, oh good. I’m being taught a lesson right now.  I need to pay attention.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, I totally understood where she was coming from.  I would MUCH rather let someone else clean up the messes that I’ve left behind.  In the moment, it is significantly easier to begin something and walk away, to leave it for someone else to fix and deal with.  The important part of that statement is, of course, in the moment.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked back at a scenario that I left intentionally terrible and thought, “wow, I’m so proud of how I didn’t finish that, of how I had the worst attitude ever while walking away.”

Finishing well is important.

Whether that means revisiting a situation or conversation that there’s still hope for or following through wholeheartedly with a project that we aren’t super excited about anymore, seeing things through to the end is an important skill to have.

Think about it:  If we only tried to perform to the best of our abilities in things that we absolutely one hundred percent were excited about, a lot of things would get left undone.  And who would do all of the other things that we deemed unimportant or unnecessary?

At some point in time, we need to start living life with the realization that we have a responsibility to uphold–those messes that we’re leaving for other people?  They’re ours, and we need to either not make the mess in the first place (a largely unrealistic expectation) or be willing to pick up a broom and get work done.

 

 


the club.

I realized that I’ve never written here about my current job. And I figure, hey, 14 months in isn’t too late.

When I decided to move north two winters ago, I had no idea what I was going to be getting myself into.  I practiced talking myself up for interviews, bought a new cardigan (I seize any and all opportunities to do that…my last roommate and I once figured out that we had upwards of 25 between us…but I digress), and started looking for jobs that involved working with a lot of people.

After realizing that the “social service” field wasn’t as ripe with opportunities as I had once hoped, I broadened my scope and ended up as the coordinator of a Teen Center at a Boys & Girls Club. Essentially, I traded spending time with homeless women and children for hanging out with low-income at-risk teenagers (this is how they have been defined to me. I generally define them as “outrageous”, ambiguous as that may be).

I still have a hard time explaining what exactly it is that I do, and all that this position entails.  Sometimes it’s as crazy as simultaneously running two mentoring programs while teaching a class on financial literacy or planning a 12-hour overnight event.  Other times it’s teaching teens how to play board games so I can beat them…I mean…teach them good sportsmanship…

It’s interesting how my time at the Mission prepared me for my time at the Club.  I have attempted to cultivate just the right amount of genuine care and seemingly lackadaisical demeanor that inadvertently tricks people into trusting me.  The techniques I used with former addicts who preferred arguing to listening are the same ones I use for 14-year-old’s who would rather play Minecraft than learn about leadership and community service.

Though I would hope it goes without saying, Jesus is just as present here as he was there.  I can still tell when I am spending too much time relying on my own strength to get through each day, because programs tend to fall apart and I find myself becoming annoyed by the most ridiculous things.  It’s also those times that I tend to focus on the transitional nature of this job–I know that I’m not going to be there for very much longer, and it’s easy for me to get caught up in that, to think only of the future instead of being present in the here and now.

This all goes back to the idea of waiting that I’ve been mulling over–this truth that regardless of the season we are in, we are in some way being prepared for things to come.  And we have to hold onto that, lest we go crazy always wanting to be somewhere else.  For example, I know that this season has already taught me much about what Jesus is actually calling me into.  While I was sure for so long that it was specifically ministering to those who find themselves homeless, I am realizing more and more that what I get most excited about is the equipping and sending out of all people.  When I was at the Mission, I found the most joy in the situations that resulted in learning; whether the person in question all of a sudden realized a bit more about their true worth or they realized what  small steps they needed to start taking, it is those things that I still think about.

And even now, I get to be a part of equipping and sending out:  I have daily conversations with teens that result in the reshaping of their concepts of respect or tolerance or gratitude, and then I get to watch them go and live that out with each other and with their families.  Instead of working directly with every demographic of people that I want to, I am learning to center myself in one and then send them out to the rest.  Funny that it took me so long to figure this out, because it’s the model Jesus himself used, when he first spent time with his disciples and then sent them out to do the work that he couldn’t be directly present for (Matthew 28:16-20).  Please note that I am in no way trying to equate myself with Jesus; rather, I’m just reiterating the fact that this idea of Jesus-replicating discipleship is straight from the Bible.

Anyway, let’s set that aside for another time.  If you made it to the end of this somewhat rambly post, I applaud you.  And I leave you with these snippets of what my days at the Club are sometimes like:

The other day I was at a park that’s essentially in the backyard of the Club and a 6-year-old wandered away from her group because she wanted to be with the teens.  I asked her to please go back with the other kids, and she let me know, very matter-of-factly, that she was going to bite herself to death if I made her go back.

There’s another kid who, upon learning that we had temporarily banned glitter from the Club, brought her own from home and proceeded to “share the love” by spreading it across every single surface she could before someone finally stopped her.

And then there are my teens.  At least once every other week, they tell the story of how, on one of our drives from their school back to the Club, I ran over a curb with the van.  In their retelling, they maintain that I nearly killed all of them, neglecting to mention the fact that I was actually avoiding being hit by a car.  They also remind me often of my singleness and that they’re sure I’m going to live alone with multiple cats if ever I reach adulthood (their words, not mine).

At least they’re keeping me grounded.


wait. and then wait some more.

I thought it only fitting to post this on Ash Wednesday–the day that marks the beginning of our 40-day season of giving things over, of surrendering, of letting ourselves be emptied so we may be filled.

I am realizing that I have inadvertently let my life be characterized by disappointment:  I begin things, only to have them go in a different direction than I had originally hoped or planned for, and so I leave them where they are.  I tell you this almost as a confession, not so that you would absolve me, but so that it would be my first step towards recognizing and correcting.  And I also know that I am not alone in this practice; we have been raised in a culture that says it’s okay to leave things half-finished, to end relationships instead of working on them, to give up instead of asking for help.

All that to say, my last post was about 10 months ago, and in it I wrote of transition and how I felt as though I needed to be somewhere that I wasn’t.  Did I end up somewhere that I’m supposed to be?  That remains to be fully seen, I think, and so I have spent the last year struggling with that question.

But back to Ash Wednesday.  In January, or maybe earlier, I realized that there was some part of me that was already looking forward to Lent–the name given to the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  This is, as some of you may know, an odd thing to be ready for.  It’s a season of mourning, for one, and is the time when Jesus followers remember, among other things, the sacrifices made for us on the cross (though, really, we should always be remembering that).

As I thought about it more though, and as people began confirming that my overwhelming sense of anticipation for it was strange, I realized I had felt the same way about Advent–another season of waiting–and Passover–more waiting.  So I took a step back and looked at my life, in an attempt to figure out what I was supposed to be gleaning from all of these realizations.  And…ready for this?  The last few years of my life have been about waiting for something, whether it’s a new job or relationship or housing situation or conversation or any number of other things.

During those times, I chose anxiety and fear as my companions, rather than trusting in Jesus to walk through it with me.  I allowed disappointment to rule me, because it was easier than admitting that I needed to work on something.

While I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fullness of this lesson, I know that the Lord is building in me a posture of joy and peace in waiting.  As you may know, changing a way of thinking can be incredibly painful.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that it has been.  I also think that there is something to be said to all of us about waiting, and about what exactly we do with it when it seems like it’s going to stretch on forever.  I don’t actually know what that something is as of now, though, so I’m going to continue to wrestle with that.