The Student Who Disappeared

6840_NRCS_projects.jpgShe was the first student to ask me a math question.

I was being introduced briefly to my first classroom, in a remote reservation school. The semester was already underway, but I wouldn’t begin teaching until the following Monday (for reasons). But she asked if she could raise a quick math question while I was there.

I jokingly said “no”. She grinned and asked anyway.

Her name was Ashley, and we spent most of her sophomore and junior years tugging against each other’s wills like a pair of mules. She wore her heart on her sleeve. Neither her past nor her present were easy, and it’s tough as a teenager to hide the storms inside, so she was often decidedly outside a math mood when she walked into my class. Kneeling down by her desk and willing her through assignments was a common thing (though she was fully capable).

I’d do it all over again. Because with a few students, no matter how stubborn the will, you still have a grin for each other at the end of the day. She was one of them for me.

During my final year at that school, Ashley transferred away. I saw her only a couple of times that year when she’d come back for a visit. Unexpectedly, I saw her again years later, two hours’ distance away, when I delivered pizza to the hotel at which she and some family were staying. She recognized my voice and came running – a delightful little reunion.

Then, some time later, I heard she had disappeared.

She’d been at a party in her hometown and then – didn’t come home. Scarce leads, no immediately apparent motive.

It was then that I learned how much less attention missing persons cases tend to receive on reservations than off, especially with younger women. In an environment where local law enforcement is stretched to the limit and evidence was mishandled, Ashley slipped through the cracks. Her family even ended up testifying before Congress on how difficult it can be to marshal up effective resources to help these cases.

A year and a half later, Ashley is still missing.

This sort of thing wrenches my heart out. There isn’t a single former student whose future I don’t wonder over and worry about, so when it’s something like a disappearance…well. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since, hoping against hope even after all this time.

I wonder if you might say a prayer for Ashley today, and for her family. Though I lack the pay grade to explain why God allows these things to happen, I know he is powerful and loaded with resources. These is nothing he cannot do, and nobody he cannot find.

5 Encouragements for the Long Road to Finding “Your People”

Silhouette Friends Happy People SunsetIt took me a while to find “my people”.

Returning home after the Air Force, I found friendmaking difficult. I’m far from a natural.

First I tried the church’s college group. Never really fit in. Then I latched onto a Bible study of older singles. They were good people but had grown up with more money, and therefore with hobbies and pastimes I struggled to get into. Regardless of where I turned, I found myself on many D-lists.

And just when I was finally starting to feel at home, God called me away on a four-year mission. I still traveled back and forth, but building friendships in that situation is constrained.

Honestly, those were lonely and confusing years.

It’s part of life. I don’t hold grudges; not everyone will like you, or needs to. And honestly, there are people I’ve regrettably put on my D-list.

Eventually, God turned things around. At this point I’d say I have found “my people”.

I tell this story because I know other believers in the same boat, and I want them encouraged. It can be a long trail to finding “your people”, the ones God gives us to share the steep or muddy stretches with, beyond the randomness of a small group. Our band of brothers, our caravan, the human-shaped blessings who “get” us and are healthy for us.

You think you’ve found them (high school); you lose them (college); you have to find new ones (adulting). I didn’t start gaining altitude again until about age twenty-five, and even then, the climb was barely perceptible.

But God was in it. He never leaves our side.

A few thoughts if you’re in the valley now.

 

1. Forgive.

It does no good to hold grudges towards those who didn’t connect with you. It only cuts you off from both God and others. Most of the people who politely turn down your friendship mean no harm, intend no ill messages, and wish you the best. Wish them back.

 

2. Ignore the messages.

Isolation will lie to you. Satan is quite happy to exploit such seasons with messages that blind you to your identity in Christ, messages of worthlessness and self-doubt. Fight that poison tooth and nail. Get into Scripture and find the antidotes. You are God’s.

 

3. Don’t settle.

I am 1) an introvert and 2) picky when it comes to people. It’s hard to regret these qualities, because they drastically cut down on the drama quotient in your life. But they can make friend-finding a longer process.

But 2) is Scripturally mandated. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Cor. 15:33). “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Like dating, the temptation to just go along with those who “get” you, even if they’re not wise companions, is real.

Don’t settle. The wait is worth it.

 

4. Enjoy those you do find.

Sometimes our squad sneaks up on us. I was sometimes so focused on one person or group that I didn’t immediately notice the one or two loyal, interesting, high-character types that God was picking off each cluster for me. This is great. Trust me. They’re now my best mates, even from states or countries away. Relish them to the fullest.

 

5. Don’t give up.

God sometimes sends us on roundabout journeys to even his purposes (and we know life certainly isn’t accommodating). Don’t give up. You have not been abandoned. You’re not hopeless. You’re not globally incompatible.

Keep hitting your knees in prayer. Good things are coming!

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Scripture for Our Generation: Psalm 54

Somehow verse 27 had never come to my attention in this otherwise well-known passage.

Jacob, why do you say,
and Israel, why do you assert:
My way is hidden from the LORD
and my claim is ignored by my God”?

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He never grows faint or weary;
there is no limit to His understanding.

He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.

Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,

but those who trust in the LORD
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:27-31)

The Error of “That Was Then, God…”

partingLast Thursday life dealt me an unexpected jolt (I did have a hand in it). By the time you read this Monday morning, life could look much different for me. And for four days, I’ve borne a familiar stomach knot of anxiety over it.

What if the worst happens?

Something you should know about me: I’m very literal. I engage in military-grade overthinking. That can prompt me to use good theology in bad ways.

God has come through over the years, sometimes in pretty spectacular albeit last-minute ways. But do I trust him to provide for me again? What if this time is different?

I’m fairly committed to the idea that God disciplines us for our good, and that his rod can take any form he sees fit. We can’t place parameters or expectations around his discipline, nor hold it against him if it’s harsher than we desire. That’s just solid theology. (And observable reality.)

But I can twist that, too. The creative lobe of my mind can manufacture all kinds of ugly scenarios God might emplace, then recruit the “solid theology” lobe to counter any “oh, come on, he’s not going to do THAT” reflex. After all, we can’t place limits on how hard God swings his rod, right?

The end result is that I end up imagining the worst-case scenario in most situations and guilt myself into expecting it.

But then I remember the Old Testament.

The Old Testament is one long remembrance of humanity’s forgetfulness. The ancient document records God coming through for his people again and again, and each time the sun seems to rise on an Israel that’s forgotten what he did. A new need arises and Israelites fear that things will be different this time.

The ten plagues free the people from Egypt; they cry out once cornered against the Red Sea.

The water parts and Israel is delivered; the next morning, they wish they had more water.

God slakes their thirst; later, it’s food they are short of.

Bread arrives; they disobey God’s commands and hoard it, though it’s promised to return the next day.

The seventh day approaches; now they’re commanded to hoard, on God’s promise that the bread will keep this time. Instead, they go out looking for more.

And lest you think the Israelites are stumped by new problems, in the very next chapter they’re out of water again, and react in the same way.

And I?

Well, I cannot rule out the possibility that God will allow what I most fear today.

But will that destroy me?

Will I forget his goodness past?

The God of the Scriptures didn’t rescue his people on Friday so that they would expect something different on Monday. He rescued them to establish his character and trustworthiness.

Either God delivers me or disciplines me. Either way, I’m not destroyed.

Perhaps I will put an end to this overthinking and simply let God decide what he’s going to do.

 

No, Atheist, Faith Isn’t the Easy Way. It’s the Hard Way.

cliffEver seen a teacher accused of having it “easy”?

Having had my own classroom, I’m galled when people consider teachers overpaid for working 8am-9pm writing lesson plans, attending (or coaching) sports events, tutoring, meeting parents, re-decorating, supervising detention, and, yes, grading mountains of graffiti-ed tree product. However you feel about certain teachers, I assure you the good ones don’t bolt at the bell.

I feel somewhat similarly when some atheist announces that the Christian faith is easy. That we somehow settle for it, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, because it’s easier than changing our minds.

Behold this gleaming nugget:

“Believers are…easily trapped and continuously fooled by their own choice. Because it pacifies. It’s easy, and it’s comfortable.”

My jaw dropped. Then chortled at the absurdity.

Followed by a long sigh.

Easy? Comfortable?

The Christian faith is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve long been on my knees for a sister fighting cancer (three children in tow). My church is scrambling for foster homes for countless little ones without anyone to look after them. We’re not spared the statistics that report almost half the world living on $2.50/day.

We see it. Experience it. Far worse in some countries.

And in each case, the onus for progress lies on us.

The church steeple is no shelter from the age-old questions of “if God, why evil”. In fact, it serves as a lightning rod, bringing them straight to our hearts. We don’t get to avoid suffering or pass it off as senselessness or randomness – we’re taught to embrace it as growth and God-familiarization, to seek God’s purpose in it. Weekly we’re pushed to persevere, with no real guarantee of healing or breakthrough in this life. Nothing reminds me of my disappointments like stepping into church.

I don’t seek pity for all this. I have God.

But I do seek to educate, because I wonder if certain skeptics have ever spoken to a Christian in their lives. Comfortable?

The narrow path is one of self-denial, self-examination, and wrestling with the thoughts. Power and riches are pooh-poohed by Christ. Instead, we’re taught to love the unlovely, pray for enemies, and leave no motive unappraised. All the while, the world spins itself apart around us, seemingly deaf to the cries of the broken, oppressed, and collaterally damaged.

Can non-Christians live stoic, introspective lives? Yes, some do.

But I know few atheists (or Christians) who aspire to lofty standards like “everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27). How do you explain why one would cling so tightly so a faith that denies him sex? Something tells me the sex drive is slightly stronger than The Comfort of the Status Quo.

Same with survival instinct. If the martyrs hint at anything, it’s that something more is behind Christianity. People don’t die for uncertainties.

That’s just two arenas, but none offer any less stratospheric a call.

There’s nothing easy about Christianity. The desire to cling to your upbringing is feeble next to the gale of livingit. Its tenets defy every human impulse, cut off every self-indulgence, and preclude the possibility of being the product of flawed human inertia. If I were making my own religion, it would look like anything but Christianity.

And that, skeptic friend, is a great part of how I know Christ is real.

 

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

It’s Never Too Late to Come Back

waitingI have regrets.

It doesn’t matter how mine compare with yours. Scripture says they’re all the same in God’s eyes. So I cannot approach you with judgment in my heart.

Instead, I can relay this story.

‘I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.  So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:18-24)

Take in the gladness of this moment. The father doesn’t sit down forbiddingly, list his son’s errors one by one, or even let him finish his apology. He runs to him. You can see a weight lifted off his shoulders, months (years?) spent grieving over his son’s absence, perhaps waiting with dread for news of his death, evaporating in an instant. His relief and delight are unrestrained, bountiful, fierce.

And when the older brother would bring up the returner’s past (could we insert your own experience with bad churches here?), he is gently rebuked – and invited into the celebration.

But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (v. 29-31)

May God spare me from being the older brother. If I ever have, I repent of it. For Jesus also crafted whole stories to rebuke such a heart (read Matthew 18:23-35 for that), to shield the returning from the condemnation of those already at home.

Instead, may I be an older brother who invites you home. Who marshals the servants. Who helps find the robe, unshelf the ring, dust off the sandals, grill the steaks, and lead the household in a toast of gratitude.

This Father waits for you as well.

What if there is only relief and reconciliation waiting on the other side of admitting our past to God? What if God has decreed that no black record can restrain his love?

Test the story. Come home to God today and find rest for your soul.

Come At Me, Brethren

4933411158_d307f2590e_zIn a world that seems to be all about pulling out the red carpet for one’s ego, I say this: I need criticism.

I wouldn’t say I love it. But I’ll tell you this: the worst feeling in the world is not criticism. The worst feeling in the world is fearing that people have criticisms of you but won’t tell you.

Sure, I’m a sensitive soul. Perhaps folks want to protect my feelings.

But I’m not going to grow that way. The saying is “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. The saying is not “as silence sharpens iron”. Silence doesn’t sharpen anything, except perhaps the cut of my mistakes.

Then I stumbled upon this passage and went yes, yes…this is exactly what I’m talking about!

Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing
or perform wicked acts
with men who commit sin.
Do not let me feast on their delicacies.
Let the righteous one strike me—
it is an act of faithful love;
let him rebuke me—
it is oil for my head;
let me not refuse it.
Even now my prayer is against
the evil acts of the wicked. (Psalm 141:4-5)

Amazing. David would rather be rebuked by a brother than sin against God. How many of us have those two priorities reversed?

My mission teammates once sat me down and informed me that I was behind on my lesson-building preparations. A prominent woman and friend pulled me aside to tell me that a facial expression I’d used while speaking about her husband could be taken the wrong way. And just last year, a looongtime friend sat me down to explain to me how one careless comment of mine had thrown my loyalty into question.

None of these people were wrong.

And I need this stuff. It’s hard to hear, but it’s better than having no idea where I really am, how I’m really doing. It’s better than not growing.

And if I’m ever going to be raised into higher levels of life – ministry, marriage, parenthood – I’m going to need it even more. Every one of those arenas features heavier fire. Even blogging has required stronger discernment and the occasional gentle correction of others.

So I would say to those who call me a friend – if I need refinement, let me know. I welcome it. I need it. We cannot be sharpened if we have thin skin.

And let us all seek out friends, mentors, and spouses who can challenge us kindly and tactfully, but powerfully. It is one of the greatest gifts of Christian community.

*ducks and braces for the firestorm*

The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. (Proverbs 27:6)