Living in expectation(s)

Having two weeks off from work has been an incredible blessing. Considering the fact that it is the holidays, I have also gotten to spend an unusual amount of time with my family. As I’ve mentioned before, I come from a HUGE family with siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins spread all over the state and country– people who typically don’t spend holidays together, but this holiday season has been different. Because I finally walked in my teaching license commencement a few weeks ago, I have been blessed to have the majority of my family in town at some point over my winter break, which has meant a ton of coffee dates and late night chats in our pajamas.

I love spending quality time with my peeps, but this time around I noticed that something is different in my life– something noticeable and big and sort of scary… kinda like the proverbial elephant in the room that was repeatedly unleashed when a family member would pepper me with the questions that every single 20-something year old woman dreads: “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” “Now that you’re finally done with school, have you started looking into buying a small house?” “Are you thinking of moving home to Pueblo or staying in Denver?”

You see, I come from a rather traditional Hispanic family– one where the expectation is that once you are done with your schooling (I have learned that “done” is an incredibly relative word, typically meaning once you have finished your Bachelor’s) you pack your bags and move home to be near your family in the small town where they are rooted. And for years and years, I wanted to follow that expectation; I wanted to move home and help start a Street School in Pueblo. I wanted to find a little house in my family’s neighborhood where I could watch my cousins grow up, where I could be near the side of my family that I see so infrequently, where I could learn to cook from my aging grandmother… I don’t exactly consider myself a “people-pleaser” but after being asked these same questions over and over again, I realized that part of me wanted to live up to these expectations and please my family.

But then there is the other part of me, the part that is independent and ready to go where ever God is calling me to go. The part that typically takes control of me and leads me about my daily life. After a few seconds of sadness that I wasn’t living up to my family’s expectations for my life, this part of me would regroup and I would respond to the boyfriend inquiry with a cheerful, “Nope” and the moving questions with, “I’m actually thinking of moving to Dallas and then maybe to a jungle or desert on another continent after I’m done with my Master’s Degree to work with refugees and assist with Bible Translation instead of coming home.” After that last sentence I could feel the room turn uncomfortably silent for what felt like a few decades, but what I’m sure was only a few seconds at most.

After the pause and some awkward squirming, my family’s overwhelming response was something to the tune of, “Oh, well maybe you’ll meet a nice boy before then and settle down.”

This is where my teaching training came in handy because as my mouth smiled and said, “Yeah. Maybe,” my brain was screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!”

Maybe I’m just crazy and stubborn, (Okay, I’m definitely crazy and stubborn.) but I don’t want to “settle down” right now. And I am tired of my culture telling me that there is something missing in my life. I am sick of being told that as a young, single, Christian woman, I am incomplete until I have a boyfriend that I can marry, buy a cute little house with, and then fill said cute house with cute little children.

I am sick of it.

Last time I checked, I have a brain, a heart, two eyes, two ears, a mouth, and four functional appendages; I’m not incomplete. I am a whole freaking human being! And finding a boyfriend or moving back to the little town I came from won’t make me any more or less of a human being.

Okay, let me hop off my soapbox and get to the point here…

Last week, I met up and had coffee with a dear friend who is not only in the same(ish) stage of life as me, but whom God is also calling to move outside of her comfort zone and into nations on the other side of the world. As Kathryn and I were chatting, she expressed many of the same frustrations that I have been feeling and how she, upon being called to Rwanda for the next several months to do ministry through her photography, felt guilty for not fulfilling her own family’s expectations of her.

She explained that she had Skyped with her home church’s pastor months ago, and had expressed these feelings of guilt with him. After listening to her mixed feelings of wanting to go where God was calling her, but not wanting to disappoint her equally traditional family, he said some of the most simple, but sage words of wisdom that I have heard in a long time.

“You’re forgetting that God created everyone differently. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage.”

As she repeated this story to me, all I could think was, Duh! How had I missed this? How had I forgotten that I am not my cousins or aunts? And that because I am different, I am not called to the same things.

For some reason, there was something so freeing about those nine words. For days I repeated them in my mind. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage.

These words have reminded me that no, I’m not defective for being a content single woman who doesn’t currently want to be tied to a house with a white picket fence. Nor am I strange for wanting to move out of my comfort zone here in America to the other side of the world some day instead of “settling down” and buying a tiny house here in the States.

I am called, as is Kathryn, as are you. Maybe we’re not called to the same things, but we’re all called to something, be that singleness, married life, to live in the U.S., Rwanda, Germany, or Lebanon… We are different and therefore differently called; what a novel concept!

And who knows, maybe God will drop an adventurous man into my life sometime between now and then, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll get to partially fulfill my family’s expectations for my life and have a cute little family overseas someday, but maybe not. Slowly, I have begun to realize that at the end of the day, none of these things matter. The only thing that genuinely matters is God and that I follow Him and His expectations for me.

So for now I am learning to be genuinely content with where God is placing me instead of living under the thumb of the burdensome expectations of my culture or well-meaning loved ones. It might not make me popular with my family come the next holiday, but I have no doubt that God will work that out when the time comes. He always does…

What has God called you to? Will you follow Him or will you let the expectations placed on you hold you back?

“Are you bound in marriage? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from marriage? Do not seek to marry. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried [wo]man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:27,32)

Immanuel (Even when “it” sucks)

The-Griswold-Family-Christmas

Sometimes Christmas sucks. Actually, if you’re a part of my beautiful, dysfunctional family, you know that suckage is one of our main holiday traditions. (Well, suckage and the watching of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, as pictured above.) Typically, the sucking sucks so much that I end up bawling my eyes out at some point on either Christmas Eve / Day, then sucking up all the suckage and carrying on about my holiday with a plastered on grin/grimace. This year, the dysfunction and suckage came early, and as I sit here at 4:00 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, (pre-“festivities”, mind you) I am already emotionally exhausted.

I don’t write this for pitty, trust me, I could pretty much care less at this point. Nor do I write this to bring down those of you that are having a wonderful, non-sucky time with your families. Instead, my main motive of this blog is to pass on the wonderful and snarky words of a fellow blogger & missionary, Jamie. If you too are having a sucky holiday, I advise you to read this lovely blog post on the Fall of Christmas.

I love how Jamie ends her post, and therefore I am borrowing her words to conclude my own; “Jesus didn’t come to fix it all.  He came to be with us in it all.

Immanuel.

God with us.

Blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry… for The Lord is with us.”

Merry sad Christmas, Beloved. You. Are Not. Alone.
May you celebrate the Birth of Our King today and tomorrow, knowing that He came to live with and within all of us, that we might never be alone in all of our suckiness.
Merry Christmas,
Lou

A Safe Haven

I haven’t written about work or my students in a while, and to be honest, it’s because I’m a bit crispy around the edges. By no means am I “burnt out”, but teaching “at-risk youth” day-in and day-out without seeing much change or success is exhausting to say the least.

In the last month alone, I have had students confide in me that they are suicidal, re-addicted to drugs and alcohol, being abused at home, homeless, self-harming… You name it, I’ve probably had a conversation about it with a student lately. Every time I sit and look into the teary eyes of one of my students during one of those talks, my heart splits in two.

I just want to go all “momma-bird” and swoop them up, let them live in my house, so that they can be removed from their circumstances, and love on them… but given the fact that I live in a glorified shoebox, I can’t. And thus, my heart breaks even more.

I know in my heart that God is the only one that can truly rescue my kiddos and deliver them from their circumstances, but sometimes not being able to provide a safe haven for them makes me feel like a failure as a teacher and advocate.

But today I was reminded that I am a part of a safe haven– a place that God led my boss to found and build 29 years ago– The Denver Street School.

This afternoon, my phone buzzed with a Facebook notification from the lovely and talented Kathryn Bronn. Kathryn is an art student who has partnered with the Street School for the last two years. She has provided free senior pictures to our students, free staff portraits for the teachers and faculty, and she has even poured countless hours into the making of a documentary for the school and two music videos. The notification I received today was telling me that this year’s music video had just been finished.

I clicked the link and as soon as I hit play, my eyes started tearing up and I swear I felt like I had butterflies in my heart.

The teenagers in the video below aren’t just my students– they are my kids… and they’re “playing” because they know that they’re at home.

There are felons, drug addicts, and current and former gang members singing in this video. There are kids that have been thrown out of their homes and have lived on the streets dancing. There are girls who have traded their bodies for love and acceptance, only to be crushed, giggling, and boys who have suffered unspeakable abuse smiling.

This video was a perfectly timed reminder that God is doing something in each and every one of their lives… Even when I don’t see the daily changes, I can rest in confidence knowing that He brought them into the DSS family for a reason and that He loves them more than I ever will.

Thank you Kathryn, you are a beautiful soul and I am beyond thankful for the work that you have done for our school!

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

(Psalm 30:11-12)

Do I know you?

This past week I had the honor and blessing of being able to see Carl Medearis speak at a Perspectives class near my house.

About half way through his lesson, he said something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since:

Several years back, Carl was given the opportunity to speak in a mosque in Lebanon. As he was walking up to the podium, the shah who was introducing him, tapped him on the shoulder and quickly asked him not to speak of Christianity, but simply of Jesus. (In our American-Christian minds, these two seem inseparable, but in most people’s realities, they’re not. Muslims believe that Jesus was a teacher and prophet, just as Christians believe that He is our Messiah and Savior.) So Carl chose to speak about Jesus as a teacher, sliding in tidbits about His life, love, and Ultimate Sacrifice on the cross as he went along.

At the end of his 45 minute time slot, Carl had run out of things to say. He had told all of the parables that he knew off the top of his head and was feeling stuck, so he tried to end his speech. But when he turned to walk away from the podium, he looked down to see the shah twirling his finger in midair, as if telling him to continue. “Continue? But my time is up…” He mouthed aghast, when a man stood out his seat and shouted, “YES! TWO MORE HOURS!” As he stood at the podium and stared out at the room packed with people, a murmuring of agreement went through the crowd.

This mosque full of men was so enthralled with the teachings of Jesus that they were begging him to continue. But Carl, internally panicking knowing that he was out of words, politely declined his half-request, half-command to continue, prayed, and walked off the stage, with his head hung low.

“I didn’t know anything else about Jesus. I was a “professional” Christian, a man who had given up everything in America to follow Jesus to the Middle East and I only had 45 minutes worth of knowledge about Him– My “Everything”, my Savior. I couldn’t believe it, and I knew that I never wanted to be in that position again.”

As I sat in my chair listening to him recount this story, I was stunned. My first thought? Oh my gosh, could I talk about Jesus for more than 45 minutes? Probably not. I’ve been a Christian for over 6 years, and I couldn’t even tell you more than maybe five of Jesus’ parables, at least not without butchering them. My second thought? AHHHHH! I’m about to give up the life that I love in Denver to go to school to (hopefully) become a Bible translator and I couldn’t even tell you more than five parables right now if you asked me to! Crap!

Hearing Carl talk about these things made me realize a third thing also… albeit later on in my week: I need to stop being a passive participant in my quiet times with God. How often do I read my Bible and think, “Wow, that was nice”, write about it in my journal, pray about it, and then not do anything further than that?

This Perspectives lesson reminded me that it’s not just the job of missionaries or seminary students to learn scripture. As Christians, we should be unable to function outside of the word and will of God. We should constantly be looking at scripture for guidance, and then committing that to our memory so that we can bless others with the words of God when they need it.

As Christians, we need to learn the teachings of our teacher and be able to talk about Jesus as if He really is our best friend, lover, and everything, like we say that He is.

I never want to be at the point again where I can’t think of more than five of Jesus’ parables, or where I doubt that I could talk for more than an hour about the things that I have seen God do in my life and the lives of those around me.

Never again do I want to doubt that I really “know” Jesus the way that I say I do.

(Also, Carl Medearis tells the above story much more eloquently in his book Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Relationships. Check it out. It’s pretty rad.)