Saturday, September 08, 2007

My day yesterday

Yesterday I was feeling crushed by the overwhelming weight of all that I have to do at work. I was in despair, not only at the length of my to-do list, but at how urgent it all is, or was. There are times when it is all I can do to keep up with the needs of my clients...."putting out fires" is how I would describe it lately. I have had to testify in court, spend hours scheduling clients for different times now that school is back in session, attend Critical Risk team meetings for all of the crazy situations my clients are facing, file a report with DSS, make sure the insurance companies will pay, and keep up with a million pieces of paper that have to be signed and updated and written. All of this was in my mind while at the office. And then, I did outreach.

I often feel at the end of the day that all I want to do is shake off what I have seen and heard and forget it. And in some ways, this is the healthy thing to do. But I also think that I tend to forget the magical moments that happen. And when they do, the mounds of paperwork don't seem to matter as much.

Yesterday I went to three homes. For confidentiality purposes, I won't use real names or specifics. But I think I can give a picture. I first went to Angela's house. She is seven, and lives in the housing projects, cramped in with several family members because her other house burned down. We decided to therapy outside yesterday. I forget not to wear flip flops when we do that because of the litter in the yard. Yesterday it was trash, a large piece of foam insulation, an abandoned red grocery cart, and a forgotten soccer ball with hardly any leather left on it. Happily she engaged me in a game of soccer, and I let her teach me all the best ways to kick the ball. We put the grocery cart on its side for a goal, and at one point I sat on top of the goal while she fervently kicked it straight in. Then she wanted me to push her around in the cart. Going with it, I did. So I'm in the projects pushing a seven year old around in a grocery cart. She wanted to push me. At that point I drew the line. :o)

Next home: lots of boys for family therapy. They like to play cards and call each other names. One of the boys, Jack, was quite sullen when I arrived, and when I finally got him to tell me why, tears streamed down his tanned cheeks. He didn't want to play cards, so we didn't. I played with a piece of rolled up shaved wood from the table centerpiece, wrapped it around my finger and tried to talk about football and school. His dad offered us both watermelon :o) and slowly words came. The whole time we were sitting there Jack was playing with a broken handheld pinball game. He took out one of the batteries and started spinning it around on the table. So I pushed the centerpiece aside and we started flicking the battery back and forth, figuring out new ways to spin it and get it to go on its side. He would get frustrated sometimes but would try again (this is what we call building frustration tolerance!) Eventually I saw a smile. The other boys came in, intrigued about why in the world we were spinning a battery back and forth. One of the boys rifled around in my toy bag and got out my frogs. My plastic frogs are great. They cost me a dollar at Target and they work with kids from 2 to 15. You have to press on them and make them jump into a little pond. Pretty soon I had four boys playing, and we were keeping score. When I left everyone was laughing. Pretty cool.

Next house: A sweet girl named Amy who has a past you wouldn't want to hear about. But she smiles more now than she used to, which is great to see. Her mom finally bought a car and she was so excited to show it to me, especially the fact that you can adjust the volume on the steering wheel. We played Mancala and War. She won. And did you know they make erasable highlighters? Never seen that one before.

So that was my day yesterday. Now when I think about it, it wasn't so bad.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Fellow Doubter

So this morning I was meditating on the story of Gideon in Judges chapter 6. Like me, he was faced with a situation where he had to rely on God alone. And, as it turns out, he wasn't a pro at it. But God met him where he was anyway.

Basically the story takes place when the Israelites have been held captive under the oppressive power of the Midianites. Judges 6:6 states
"Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. When the Israelites cried to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, 'I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.' " The first thing God did was to remind Gideon of His faithfulness. In this way He was helping Gideon to get back in touch with who He was. As we see later, Gideon needed this reminder.
"The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." It is amazing that the God of the universe chose to come sit down with Gideon while he did such a menial task. He met him where He was, promised His presence, and then reminded him of who He was in God's eyes: a mighty warrior. Somehow I think this must have been the farthest thing from Gideon's mind. For seven years his people had been held captive. Surely he must have been in a hopeless place. In fact, we see his doubt: "'But sir,' Gideon replied, 'if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt? But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.'" Where were you, Lord? I can say that I have asked that many times in my life. And even now, in a life-changing decision I am wondering why His voice has been so hard to discern. Gideon addresses the universal questions that plague us all: Why, God? Have you abandoned me?
And what happens next? Read on: "The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" Instead of turning away from Gideon in his doubt, he turns toward him. And then tells him that though he is weak, he can proceed with the strength he has. He doesn't have to wait until he is stronger. Because he has God's promised presence, he is able to do the task before him. But watch Gideon's response this time: "'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." Doubt again. Gideon cannot see past his own weakness. He just does not feel good enough. And what does God say then? "The Lord answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.'" God does not chastise Gideon for his doubt. He gently reminds him of his promise to be with him, the same promise he gave in the beginning. He doesn't mind that Gideon needs a little repetition. The discourse continues:
"'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.' And the Lord said, 'I will wait until you return.'" Gideon needs a little more proof. And God is willing to give it. He patiently waits until Gideon trusts Him. For an offering, Gideon brings out some meat and bread and a pot of broth. God tells him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth." Gideon is now walking in obedience. He still has doubts, but he is obeying. He is following. He is learning to trust. The end of the story is that the angel of the Lord (manifestation of his presence, not actually God because noone can see God and live) touches the meat and bread and sets it on fire. When Gideon realizes that it is God who has been talking to him, he fears for his life and God says, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die." Again, another promise. Gideon is reminded not to fear but to receive the peace of God. So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace." Gideon's response to this encounter with God was worship. God took him from a place of discouragement, doubt and hopelessness to a place of worship. He has encountered God, and although he cannot see all the signs that there will be victory in battle, he can trust the God that met him where he was.

I realize that this is very loose, unscholarly exegesis. But what I am taking away from this as I have meditated on it is that no matter what I do for my career, or where I go next, His promises are true. I need to remember His faithfulness in the past and trust that even in my confusion and uncertainty God is still present. Ultimately, His goal is to bring us to himself in a relationship of trust and reliance on Him. Even if we don't have it all together, He meets us where we are and says, "Come, follow me." Just as we are, doubts and all.

Friday, July 27, 2007



i know you've all been anxiously awaiting my "decision" on the job in north carolina. first, before i let you know my answer, i want to praise God for his faithfulness in making His will known. even though up to about an hour ago (and i'm sure i will have moments in the future as well) i thought i just might change my mind and go the other way, i feel finally at peace with my decision and i'm confident that God is in this. if anything He has used this process to refine me, to expose my sin as well as my deepest desires, and He has been calling me to trust him and listen and *wait.* second, i want to thank you all for listening, praying, and encouraging me over the past two weeks. this has been a very difficult decision and i have felt your support. it means a lot to me that i have friends who will devote their time and love to me in such a real way, at such an important crossroads in my life. i realize that i am not alone in this and you are all part of helping me realize that. (you can reread this again if you skimmed it to get to my answer :o))

so after much prayer and contemplation i called the headmaster yesterday. i thanked him for believing in me (he made this clear in words *and* actions) and he said he truly trusted the testimony of my friends and colleagues there and never doubted for a second that i was the person he wanted. unexpectedly, as i told him how much his belief in me meant, tears came. and then i turned the position down. it felt so uncanny to be walking away from something that seems right in so many ways. salem was where i would say i received my calling. it was there that i fell in love with teenagers, and where i discovered my gifts in ministry and counseling. it was certainly a place where i came alive.
and yet it was also a place that, in the end, failed me. i felt overworked and undervalued. it was like a relationship i knew i had to leave.

now, five years later, it is the opposite. someone realizes the gifts i could bring, and is fighting for me to come back. and my hesitation to return has caught me by surprise. as good as it feels to have a potential employer believe so strongly in me, it doesn't mean that it is necessarily the right thing. it doesn't make it right for me to pick up my whole life here and start over right now. in five years i have changed, and i have grown roots here in boston. it is no small thing to leave that behind, and i don't think i'm ready to just yet. i will be, if the timing is right, and if i feel compelled to go. but for now something is stopping me. something invisible and unexplainable, but something nonetheless.

i don't need a ministry at salem to define me anymore. at one point it consumed me, and i didn't know who i was apart from it. that was why it was so hard to leave the first time. now, i know that God could use me in so many other ways, and i look forward to seeing what those are.

maybe He will bring me back to Salem one day. but it will be when the timing is right, and when i feel that it will be right for me. until then, i will look at my yearbooks, and read my old tag room notes, and browse through my pictures. and smile.