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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.


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.


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.


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.

 


you do what?

One of the best parts of working at a Mission (i.e.,  homeless shelter) is the reactions that I get from people when I answer their questions of what I do and where I work.

Some of the time I get a knowing nod accompanied by an “oh daaaang” (or something along those lines) that makes me feel like I’m crazy.  Like, they wouldn’t have expected me to give any other answer or they’re amazed that I’ve lived to tell stories.   Those are usually the people who try to get a better idea of what I do by asking me to tell them about things or people that I’ve encountered.

So I tell them about the woman who wanted to sleep under our Christmas tree, or the women who lunged at me (3 in one week!).  Recently, someone called me from the front desk to tell me that “a woman with hair like a lion” was looking for me.  It turned out to be the same woman who had tried to get me to help her with her belt and GIANT pants the week before…that’s an entirely different story, however.  There’s also the person who called our office and told my coworker that they’d found a dog that they were sure belonged to us because it was “acting homeless.”  We’re still not really sure what they meant by that.  But anyway, I try to always keep at least one good story in my repertoire just to be prepared for this response.

There are also people who give me this face that lets me know they’re thinking that I must be a really good person.  Let me assure you that I am not.  I mean, I do what I can, but there are a lot of days that I find myself wondering what in the world I’ve gotten myself into.  I enjoy talking with these people because they’re the ones who want to hear the encouraging stories, the stories of people whose lives have been changed.

There’s the woman who decided to follow Jesus after sitting through a few nights of chapel, or the countless people who come here because they’ve taken the first step towards breaking the addictions that are controlling their lives.  These are the people who also ask about my kids (a topic that I could talk about forever if given the chance), so I tell them about the 6-week-old baby that I got to hold while his mom unpacked their belongings or the kids who follow me in single-file lines across the parking lot, making me feel like the Pied Piper.  I love this response because they are eager to hear about how Jesus is the source of grace and patience and without him I’d never make it through my work week.

The third most common response is the blank stare.  People find out I work at a Mission and they have no idea what to ask about or what to say because it’s completely out of the realm of their thinking.  I think this is the hardest reaction for me to respond to, because I always assume that everyone wants to do what I do.  I’ve been assured that’s not true, but I’m still skeptical.  I get to look into the faces of so many different kinds of people, knowing that the Lord created all of them for a very specific purpose.  And then I get to watch as they begin to realize that truth, and discover what their purpose is.

To the people who stare blankly, I tell stories of normalcy, in an attempt to get them to a place where they fear less and understand more.  I talk about how conversations with people at the Mission are enriching experiences, and that I walk away from them having learned so much more about the world around me (granted, the things I learn aren’t always things I ever thought I needed to know…).  I tell them things like, we provided shelter to over 150 people in July (true story) or no, I don’t know every person who stands on the side of the road with a cardboard sign (I get asked this often, and am still surprised by the question every time).

The thing is though, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to me how people respond.  Because I get to give every person I talk to–about the Mission and the people here–a small glimpse of a part of their world that they may not think about very often.  And I want them to think about it, because these people that are so often overlooked are important to me!  But more so than that, they’re important to Jesus.


one year later.

As of late, it’s rare for me to write two posts in a month, let alone in a single week.  But as of yesterday, I’ve been working at the Mission for exactly a year, so I thought it might be fun (maybe not the right word, but the one I’m going to stick with) to look back at how I got where I am now.

Last year, I was a campus missionary in training, trying to figure out what in the world I was supposed to do with my life.  I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I could love people and tell them about Jesus, but I wasn’t sure which people I was supposed to love.  The obvious answer, of course, is “everyone”, but that seemed too broad…

So I prayed for a more focused answer.   Then I talked to my parents, my friends, my roommates, the girls in my Bible study, co-workers, other campus pastors, random people I met on campus, etc.  And then, I prayed some more.

After a few agonizing months of indecision, I realized that it didn’t really matter where I landed.  As long as I was following the Lord and earnestly seeking His will for my life, I was probably going to end up in a good place.  Once I realized that, things became way less stressful.

Around that same time, one of my best friends told me that there was a job opening at a Mission in my hometown.  I laughed at her, because I knew there was NO WAY I was moving back.  I was headed for bigger and better things.

But those bigger and better things kept falling by the wayside, as I was quietly reminded that it wasn’t about what I wanted at all.  The adventures that I wanted to take were, in a strange way, safer and more comfortable than going back home.

Because for me, heading home meant that I would have to fight against people’s perceptions.  I would have to prove to those who knew me that my years away had changed me, that Jesus really had done a good work in me, and that was something that I didn’t feel up to doing.  I wanted to go somewhere new where I could reinvent myself, where I wouldn’t have to deal with silent judgement and the constant questioning about whether or not I was really any different.

I was reminded, though, of 1 Timothy 1:15-17.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

I was shown mercy so that people would see the change in me.  My life is meant to be an example, as are the lives of everyone who is following Jesus.  I was forgiven and changed so that people would look at me and realize that He really does work miracles.  I’m not saying that I’m done being changed, because really, I’m reminded daily (sometimes even hourly!) of how far I have yet to go, of how many things in me still need to be refined.

And so, I came back.  I started spending time with people who’ve found themselves in a tough spot.  And I began to realize just how much Jesus wanted me back here, wanted me to see for myself how much I have changed, wanted me to see how much being here would change me even further.

Because I’ve realized how much I am able to love these people unconditionally.   Even when things are crazy and the shelter is completely full like it has been lately, and so I feel like I can’t give everyone the time and energy they deserve from me, I love them.  Even when they ask me about something that I just spent 20 minutes explaining, or they get gum all over the sidewalks that I then have to scrape, or they for some reason find it impossible to follow even the simplest of rules, I love them.  That is definitely not something I would have been able to say a year ago.

And so, as I head into Year 2 (of many, hopefully), I’m excited for the things that God is going to keep teaching me, and I’m really excited about getting to keep hanging out with and loving on the people here.


faithfulness.

The admission I’m about to make is not for the purpose of trying to gain either your affirmation or your sympathy (really).  It is just something that needs to be written because I think I can often come across as overly confident when I’m talking/writing about what I do at the Mission.

And so, I think it needs to be noted that there are times when I don’t think I’m very good at my job.  For those of you reading for the first time, I should probably explain that I work at a homeless shelter.  Because I work long hours, and because I have the unique privilege of living on-site, I spend a lot of time here.  And because not all of the women who come in have people in their lives to give them solid Godly advice, they often use me as a sounding board for their problems and ideas.

The thing is, though, that a lot of the things that they face on a day-to-day basis are things I have yet to encounter.

For example, I’ve never been married.  I’ve never had a boyfriend who cheats on me or spends all of my money on his drug habit.  I get along–for the most part–with my parents, and I know that I’d always have a place to go back to if things didn’t work out the way I thought they would.

I haven’t ever known what it is like to be hungry because there is just no food to be had and I have nearly always had a bed to sleep in (the exception is on mission trips, where sleeping on cement floors is an adventure).

Because of that, I have to try harder to understand how people at the Mission think.  It’s not easy for me to always recognize the instinct that most of them have in them that causes them to be a little unsure, a little brusque, not always willing to automatically let me into what they’re thinking because they’re afraid of being looked over or looked past again.

I have this sometimes overwhelming desire to try to fix everyone and everything, even though I know there’s no way I can.  I’ve mentioned that before, but I think it’s worth writing again because, despite the fact that I know better, it is still easy for me to get swept up in the unrealistic notion of measuring success in terms of results.

When I can’t immediately find the right words to say to someone, or when I get so tired of having the same conversations with the same people over and over, frustration takes over.  The results aren’t what I want, and so I feel like I’m failing.  Hence my earlier admission of often feeling like I’m not very good at my job.

And so, I’ve had to remind myself that I need to shift my thinking.  I want to share this with you because I think it’s a reminder that we all need:  If we are following the Lord and desiring to do things His way, then success cannot be measured by standards that we make up ourselves.  Neither can it be measured by standards set before us by other people.

For at least two straight years, one of my favorite people in the world beat it into my head that true success has to be measured by faithfulness.  She’s a wise woman, that one.

Success measured by faithfulness is such a freeing concept, when you think about it.  To be faithful means to press ahead in what God has called you to, even when you want to give up day after day after day.  It means sitting and listening even when you know you aren’t going to have a solution to whatever problem is being presented, and trusting that the Holy Spirit will let you know what, if anything, needs to be said.  It means that, if you’re earnestly desiring to serve Christ and to show his love and grace to the people around you, the concept of “being good” at something takes on an entirely new and different meaning.

Is being faithful easy?  No.  Definitely not.  But it is absolutely worth it.