“The most basic human longing is to know and be known, to love and be loved, to belong-to and be longed for.” – LeRon Shults
None of my students have articulated this truth to me. No one has outright said, “All I really want is to be known…” or “All I want is to be loved…” but I can see it in their eyes during Bible class when they start to share a personal story and trail off, lost in thought. I can see it in the eyes of my girls as we sit on my bed at night and they cry into my blankets, telling me about the brokenness they left behind in their villages.
I see their longings and I feel them tugging on my heart.
The young men and women of Alaska long to be known, loved, and a part of something beautiful. (Don’t we all?!)
For far too long my students have been told by the world that they are the only ones who can protect their own hearts. They have been wounded deeply by the people who should’ve protected them and they’ve been rejected by those they should belong to.
The resulting wounds, and the ways that my students guard them, has made our first month here at TLC a challenge.
My students don’t fully trust me yet, and frankly I can’t really blame them… They’ve been hurt by the adults in their lives; why should I be any different?
For the first few weeks of TLC, as we sat down at meals or together in class, I could feel my students eyes on me when I was looking the other way. They were silently sizing me up: Can I really trust you? You’re brown like me, but you speak this weird mishmash of English, Spanish, and who-knows what else… You’re loud and kinda wild and never stop talking about this Jesus guy. I just don’t know…
True to His hilarious character, Jesus did something small in our first few weeks to prove to my students that, despite my wild child appearance and demeanor, that I am safe and trustworthy.
All of the TLC staff and students stood in a field one morning just after the sun had come up.
“Pair up.” Anna instructed our students and staff. “Okay, staff members, step in front of your student and clasp your hands together in a fist. When I say go, you’re going to fall back, stiff as a board. Students, it’s your job to make sure they don’t fall to their deaths. They’re trusting you to catch them.” I smiled nervously at my sweet, quiet Andrea* and took a step in front of her. I stiffened and silently prayed not to die from a concussion in a village that lacked a doctor. “Go!” Anna shouted.
And I fell.
In the split second before Andrea caught me mid-air, I was convinced that I was going to hit the ground. But she did it; Andrea broke my fall and I lived to tell this trust-fall tale.
“Okay, switch fallers. Students, you’re going to fall into your staff member this time.” Andrea gave me an anxious glance and a quiet laugh. “I’ve got you, I whispered into her ear.” And just like that, she took her first trust fall back into the safety of my arms.
I would love to say that ever since that moment, Andrea and the rest of my students have trusted me completely, and that forming relationships has been easy. Oh, and that trust has come quickly. But… it hasn’t. Because we live in the real world here.
But we are building trust, day by day.
Every morning, I greet my girls with a slightly comatose, half-caffeinated smile and a feeble “Good morning…” that hopefully says, “I’m here for you, even before my morning coffee. I love you simply because Jesus does. You can trust me.”
And every morning we walk to Bible where we read God’s word as a class. We hear Him say to the Israelites and our own hearts over and over again, “I’m here for you. I will fight for you. You can trust me because I have never let anyone down—not even once in thousands upon thousands of years.”
Trust is slow to come, but with it comes the feeling of safety, love, and belonging. I’m willing to wait, for I know that the Lord is at work in all of our hearts. He is teaching me to be patient, just as he is teaching my students to fall into His arms, and mine.
“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
*Students name changed to protect their identity