Category Archives: Things I’m Learning

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.

Advertisements

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.


transition.

What happens if you wake up crazy one day?

What happens if you’re living comfortably, thinking that you’ve found the place that you love and the little ministry niche that you fit into perfectly, and all of a sudden it hits you that you can’t do it anymore?

What if you’re surrounded by people who tell you that you’re exactly where you need to be, that you’re making a difference despite what you may think, but you can’t find it in yourself to believe the words they’re speaking to you?

Or what if you spend months losing sleep over scenarios that you can’t control and you spend every waking moment going over and over the mistakes that you made in conversations and you can’t figure out why these things are happening, why life is harder for some people and why there’s not a thing you can do about it no matter how hard you try?

I guess if someone were in that place and desperately wanted to remain alone there, they’d probably write safe things that resolved themselves in around 500 words, they’d put off questions with answers that satisfied but weren’t entirely truthful, they would push truth away in order to maintain a semblance of sanity.

And then they’d quit their job–the place they thought they just might stay for the rest of their life–and end relationships and move 227 miles north in the hopes that there might be more clarity somewhere else.

That’s exactly what I did.

I recently read something that a guy named Paul E. Miller wrote, and it said this:  “The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.”

Meaning that we don’t have to have it together to spend time with Jesus.  He wants us to come to him as we are–be that exhausted, overwhelmed, distracted, or a combination of the three.  It’s in those places of feeling less-than that we let him work best; often it isn’t until we’re at the end of our proverbial rope that we even begin to ask for help.  After all, we’ve been taught (subconsciously or not) that we must be self-sufficient–if we’re struggling, it’s because we’re not doing enough.

Here’s the thing, though…that’s just not true.

So what have I been learning these last few months?  Too much to say in this post, but I’ll begin to break it down over these next few weeks and months as I continue to process what my life is now.

Know this, though:  our God is a faithful one.  Within two weeks of moving, I had a new place to live with pretty fantastic roommates, a job working with crazy teenagers, and an overwhelming sense of relative security.

And really, while I’m not “on a mission at the Mission” anymore, I’m still very much on a mission.  My kids here need to know about Jesus just as much as my kids in Yakima did.  And I’m going to keep sharing him with them, and sharing the stories of what that’s like with all of you.

 


less than.

I’ve realized that I need to think less and write more.

I haven’t written anything for a time because, for a good while there, I had seemingly run out of things to say.  There’s a lot of noise in this world, and I wasn’t sure that my contributions to it were altogether necessary.

I think, too, my last post got me thinking way too much about injustice and the fact that things just aren’t ever going to be fair but no one ever said they would be so how did I ever come to the conclusion that someday I would wake up and feel good about the state of things?

Phew.  Let me just catch my breath after that.

To put it more succinctly:  there are a lot of things I don’t understand, and I’ve always accepted that.  There are people who wander through life not knowing where their next meal is coming from, or where they’re going to try to sleep for the night.  I have just assumed that that’s always going to be the case, that it is an awful but accepted truth.

But now that I’ve been on the front lines, so to speak, it’s become so much more of a reality.  These people that I’ve always known about now have names and faces and personalities.

And who am I to decide that some things should be kept for only me to know about?  By staying silent about the injustices that I see, I give them power. By not sharing them and being open and honest about the fact that they’ve been slowly taking over and consuming who I am, I allow them to do that very thing.

This is what our culture teaches us, though.  I have believed that if I am open about my feelings, if I share that being surrounded by poverty and loneliness and real hurt has changed me and shaken me to the core of who I am, then you will see me as broken and weak and less than.

But I am those things.  We are all those things.

I tell you this so you know that it’s perfectly acceptable to not be perfectly acceptable. It’s okay to fall short, to let the stories of others affect you in such a way that you become a little less of who you were.  Because when we realize we aren’t as strong as we thought, we open ourselves up to the possibility that we can’t fix everything ourselves.

I’m reading through 2 Corinthians right now, and in chapter 12, verse 9, it shows Jesus telling Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  And Paul says that makes him want to boast even more about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power will rest on him.

That sounds crazy to me, but hey, if it means Jesus is glorified, then I’ll keep talking about those things that mess me up.


dropped off.

On Sunday a woman checked in, and I walked back to the parking lot with her so she could get the rest of her possessions out of someone’s car.  Her mom had kicked her out somewhat unexpectedly, and then had a friend drive her to the Mission.

She stood there, staring at the open trunk for awhile as though at any time her mom would call her and say, “just kidding, I changed my mind, you can come back now.”  After a few long minutes, she slowly began to unload her things.  She moved in slow motion, still hoping to wake up, and when her bags were on the ground around her and her backpack was on, she began to cry. Softly at first, and then harder as reality finally set in.  The person dropping her off pulled her in for a hug as though that would make her feel better about her circumstances.  It didn’t.  She was still crying as the trunk closed and the car drove away.

Her sorrow ran deep, stemming from a lack of hope–she didn’t have a definitive time frame to work with, so she had no idea how long this new stretch of her life would be.  It ended up being less than 24 hours before her mom changed her mind again and came to pick her up so they could work out their issues, but those hours were rough.  She wandered around aimlessly, fighting the inevitable process of checking in, and calling everyone she could think of to try to get them to pick her up.

I’ve been feeling a lot like her lately.

There are days when it is especially hard, when I feel as though Jesus dropped me off here in this life and then left me to fend for myself.  When it seems like I ask question after question about what I should be doing, and I am only offered silence in return.

And I know–oh, how I know–that He meets us in our weak points, in our loneliness, but I get so tired sometimes.  Not fed up, but exhausted, trying to fill those empty spaces with busyness so that I don’t have to feel them.  I waver between desperately wanting to be answered by the Lord and being afraid that He’ll tell me something I don’t want to hear.

I know that I’m not alone in these feelings, that there are a ton of people who can’t figure out their purpose in life and they feel like they’re just waiting around to hear something.  But how long do we wait?  And what do we do in the meantime?

I don’t know the answers to those questions.

I do know that, while the woman in the parking lot had nothing to put her hope in and nothing that told her things were going to get better, my reality is a different one.

I know that I have a hope built on Jesus’ blood and righteousness (how many of you are singing that hymn in your head right now? So good.)

I also know that God is for us, that nothing can separate us from His love, that He has a greater purpose for us and can make something good out of places where there seems to be only brokenness.

And I guess for now, knowing those things has to be enough.


keep looking.

Earlier this year, I planted a garden in the transition time between spring and summer.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, and the fact that it was in my parents backyard meant that there would be little to no daily work for me (clever of me, I know).  In one of the sections of the garden, I planted what I thought were going to be normal fat tomatoes.  But no.  Some prankster had put a grape tomato starter in the wrong section at the store and I, being the trusting human being that I am, of course inadvertently chose that one.

Fast forward to now, where those tiny tomatoes have taken over the entire garden.  Tendrils are everywhere, tomatoes are everywhere, I spent what felt like an hour harvesting a few handfuls and walked away from millions more.  Have you ever tried to pick grape tomatoes?  They grow in these clusters that you have to untangle just so you can get anything usable.  And then, there will inevitably only be two in the bunch that are ripe so you have to drop the other 85 back into the mess, knowing that you’ll have to come back to them sooner or later.

Harvesting grape tomatoes is a never-ending, mostly thankless task.  As, I think it’s safe to say, are a lot of ministry jobs (oh, you liked that segue?  there’s more where that came from).

There are times when I wonder what it would be like to have a job that ends at a certain time and that I don’t think about constantly when I’m not there.  And I often feel like a crazy mess as I try to remember which people I need to talk to about what.  Or people come in with co-occurring issues and it’s tough to know what to address first.

And then, I think I have a handle on something, or I finally start to understand where someone is coming from…and then bam!  Something blindsides me.  Similar to those masses of teeny tomatoes hiding under the grass (or the box that the garden’s planted in, or other plants, or…you get the idea).

In those times of being caught off guard, I have to remind myself that there’s a learning curve for everything, whether it’s counseling or listening or gardening.  And sometimes results from those are slow to reveal themselves, and I spend a lot of time reminding myself that God’s timing and my timing are drastically different.  But even when I’m frustrated, I am rarely disappointed.  And the only reason that’s possible is that I can look back at the ways that the Lord has been faithful, and know that He cuts a swath through our  untended overgrown ways of thinking and shows us where the truth is hiding.