Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Night shift numba 3.  Night shift brings silence. Silence brings contemplation, and contemplation brings enlightenment.  Night shift is so good for the introverted soul. Night shift is so good for my introverted soul. I'm tired of saying night shift.

It has been one month and five days since my arrival to Shelterwood, the place I will call home for a year.  Truth be told, at times, Shelterwood oddly does feel like home and at other times, it feels like a sick joke... (okay, that's a little extreme)... but really, sometimes (most of the time) this place is just plain hard to live in/at. One day here would fill three days for a normal person. We are living with 19 girls with 19 different stories. Everyone is all over the place, and we are floating from one person to another, living moments of their stories with them. At times I wonder how in the world I am going to get through a whole year in this place, when it feels like I've already worked enough hours to fill a normal person's work year (exaggeration). 78 hours a week, 16 hours a day (14 if we are lucky), less than 48 hours off a week. It's exhausting. All the time.

I am tempted to escape this place daily out of weakness, exhaustion, fear and a desire for comfort.  We are constantly moving forward and dealing with the heavy problems and struggles of 19 teenage girls, not to mention the fact that our program is completely changing and at times seems to be hopeless. It's uncomfortable. Our emotions and feelings are left behind without support. Our Director just left for another ministry, "Bigs" are leaving left and right out of exhaustion, "Littles" are regressing back to bad habits daily, some are just too much to handle: cussing us out, doing whatever they feel like doing, running away, etc.  others feel excluded and neglected as we are chasing around the littles who seek the most attention.  We are dealing with girls on so many ends of the spectrum: cutters, eating disorders, defiance (to the max), sex, etc. We are daily in a war zone with these girls, fighting for them when they cannot fight for themselves. Most either become apathetic or angry in their attempt to fight the program.  At times, it leaves us feeling tired and hopeless. As humans, we cannot possible take this feat on ourselves. It is not meant to be done alone. We will die.

I am not in control.
It is not my good deeds nor my words that will save them.

I have to keep reminding myself of this. This is not about me or what I can do, this is about Jesus and about what He can do and is doing. This program won't save these kids. He will. This is not about a behavioral change, it's about a heart change, something that will last for life if we let it.

I have been slowly inching my way through A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller these past few weeks during morning shifts and such. Please read this book if you haven't already. It has changed my life. This morning I was moping about, wondering why God would send me to such a shit-hole of a place, a place where I feel the life sucked out of me on a daily basis. Why God? Who signs themselves up for something like this?
     Miller writes about his near death experience (suicide) and talks about the feeling of hopelessness. He then goes on to write about Victor Frankl, an Austrian Neurologist and psychologist who is 1942 was deported to Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp that housed Jews is transit to Auschwitz. Frankl was separated from his wife and lost his parents in the ghetto, yet still worked to prevent suicide among his fellow prisoners. Even though it was against the law and even though he could be killed, Frankl would whisper in people's ears that "life, amid the absurdity of human suffering, still had meaning. Suffering, as absurd as it seemed, pointed to a greater story in which, if one could find fulfillment in his tragic role, knowing the plot was heading towards redemption. Such an understanding would take immense humility and immeasurable faith, a perspective perhaps achieved only in the context of near hopelessness."
     Now, I am not saying that my suffering is anywhere near being close to the pain and the suffering that the Jews had to experience during the Holocaust, nor am I saying that for the girls of my house... but what I am saying is that we all seem to feel this sense of hopelessness at least once in our lives, and probably more often than that if we are really honest with ourselves. We feel hopeless because we feel that we deserve so much more than we do. We feel we are entitled to pleasure and euphoria, yet we deserve nothing. Frankl, after surviving the camps and even after losing his wife to the Nazis, indicated a philosophical conclusion that misery, though seemingly ridiculous, indicates life itself has the potential of meaning, and therefore pain itself must also have meaning. Freud argued that the purpose of life was to find pleasure, Frankl argues that life is a pursuit of meaning itself and that search for meaning provides the basis for a person's motivation.  Donald Miller writes, "Pain then, if one could have faith in something greater than himself, might be a path to experiencing a meaning beyond the false gratification of personal comfort."

That punched me in the face. This year is about the experience, which is painfully hard at times, but the easy road is not always the best road. There is meaning in everything... even in a program that seems to be falling apart at the seams. I am not going to be comfortable this year, but in the long run, it's only a year and maybe comfort is NOT what I need during this time. In fact, I know that it's not what I need. I need struggle and I need a challenge, and quite frankly, it's changing my life. 

I am feeling a little more experienced and hopeful as each day passes. Some days are much harder than others. Some days we give thanks for the good hours that we gracefully receive in the home. I am learning and growing in ways that I never would have expected to. My heart is broken daily for the girls of this house that I have grown to love so deeply. I hear girls singing songs they wrote saying, "I just want to be loved" and I see girls trying to do anything to get that love that they are desiring. Sometimes, certain cases seem hopeless, but I have to remember that: 

There is purpose.
There is meaning.
There is love.
There is God.
He is here.

Please keep us in your prayers. We are so grateful. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

We are all just lovers.

Tonight is my very first night watch, meaning that I get to stay up all night long, pacing the halls and checking beds every 15 minutes. Oh how I've loathed Red Bull (or any energy drink for that matter) for as long as I can remember... but, tonight Red Bull may become my new best friend since my eyes are telling me that they would love to stay shut for a very long time, since I've been awake since six yesterday morning! 7 hours of free time in the middle of the night bears a lot of room for thought since the sound of silence surrounds me. It is nice to experience some peace and quiet for once and some time to process life in a group home full of wonderfully emotional teenage girls.  Ironically, in the midst of this stark silence, I can't get a song out of my head! oh, how I love Portugal. The Man!:)  On their album The Majestic Majesty, and song, The Sun, they sing, "We are all just lovers... Born of earth and light like all these others."  This song is something/an idea I've been thinking about/processing for a few weeks now...
     We are all just lovers. We are all searching for it in some capacity- we all want it and we all want to give it (to some extent). We are all looking for that deep soul connection that will bond us to another for life, whether that be through a loved one, a kindred spirit of a true friend or through a romantic companion. We all want it, because we were born for it. We were born to love. We were born to be loved.  Everyone knows it to to be true to some degree.
    Living in a house of 19 sad, angry and broken teenage girls makes you realize how very relevant and true this living statement is. Most teenage girls' hormones are heightened between ages 13 to 18 -and if you put a bunch of them together, you will be given: emotions. Lots of them. All the time. It's nuts.
     Every single girl is here because they desire to be loved and admired/accepted by someone. Anyone! Most of the time, they are here because they have experienced a lack of parental love that they know they were made for, and even if they don't consciously know that they were made for it, they are subconsciously acting out through destructive and unhealthy patterns, because they were made for it. 
     The truth is... that we are already so loved. Every single one of us, whether we like it or believe in it or not, we have been loved and pursued by a loving and relentless God since before we were in our mother's womb. He calls us His Beloved and He calls us to walk and live in His love. Yet, most of us (including myself), don't fully understand this love that is constantly being offered to us, because it seems like its too good to be true. It's hard to understand when traumatic things happen to us, or to those who are around us, that there could be such a thing as true love. Yet, I'm pretty sure that once we are able to understand the concepts of true love and grace, most of us will go on living our lives so much differently than before because by accepting His love, we are accepting His sufficient grace. Once we are able to accept the fact that we are His beloved, He gives us the world to bless. So, yes, I do believe and love the fact that We are all just lovers in one way or another. My current issue or charge is to the girls of Shelterwood, and what I must continue to remember is that I have been placed as a shepherd in to the lives of these girls, and they need to be loved just as much as I do. I am to love them with the same love that I have been loved with. My hope and prayer for these girls is that they too can see that...
We are all just lovers.
-and my shift is almost over. Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nobody Ever Said That This Was Going to be Easy.

    Leaving a place of comfort and entering into a place of discomfort is never easy. You can try to prepare yourself as best as you can, but there is no way to fully understand what it means to live on a day-to-day basis with your own struggles while at the same time living on a day-to-day basis with the major struggles of nineteen teenage girls, at least not until you are in the midst of it. This year I have committed myself to a ministry called Shelterwood, a place which commits itself to addressing issues of depression, anger, substance use, risky behavior, anger, substance abuse, family discord, and school failure in struggling teens in order to bring restoration and healing to the hearts of the teens as well as the families of the teens. The listed struggles usually stem from a loss of connection between the teen with his or her family and ultimately, a loss or a lack of connection or intimacy altogether with the God of this universe. I am currently living in a lodge with 19 teenage and 10 other mentors. My job as a mentor, or in Shelterwood terms, “Big,” is to come alongside the residents, or “Littles” and reconnect them with healthier ways of living. We are given daily opportunities to pour into the lives of these girls who feel that all hope is lost. Through living with these teens, we are positioned in such a way that we are able to bring the hope and the key to the healing and restoration that is so needed and desired in the lives of the teens of the program.  We are up at 6:30am to make sure the Littles are up and ready for school, and we are with them until they go to bed at 10:30, with the exception of school and counseling. We make sure that they are on time to every appointment and meeting, we take them on random trips to ice cream shops and fast food joints, we laugh with them, cry with them, pray with them, struggle with them and for them, and ultimately love on them with a love that is not our own.  It’s a year of learning to die to self and to live for the sake of a group of kids who are not in a place to care for themselves. 
    Nobody ever said that this was going to be easy.
I am convinced that this is going to be the hardest year of my life, but I couldn’t be more excited to enter into this season with a hope and a truth that will hopefully rock the world of the teens that I am to enter into the lives of.  This year I expect to hit lows that I’ve never hit and to enter into highs that I’ve never reached.  I am expecting to see lives changed and hearts softened to a God who is an all consuming fire and a God whose kingdom cannot be shaken. I am excited to see the work that He wants to do in my own heart as I struggle and learn more than I ever have.

If you pray, please join me in prayer for these struggling boys and girls. It is not only the mentors who are living in a place of discomfort, but it is also these teens who are ripped from everything familiar to enter into a program that they have no desire to be a part of.  Most of them are so hurt and angry that they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is going to take much time before they start to experience the joy of life again. 

Pray also for the Bigs, who have little to no time to themselves. Sleep and energy is coveted amongst us... We are in a battlefield for these teens and it takes a toll on our stamina and effectiveness. 

Pray for me as I struggle with being assertive and authoritative. This is a job that requires me to stretch my personality in ways that I am not used to. Pray that I will connect with the girls that I am meant to connect with and to love the girls that I have a hard time connecting with.