Category Archives: Life with High Schoolers

To Care or to Carry, That is the Question

I like plays on words. I tend towards alliterations. And I have been known to accidentally slip rhymes into everyday speech. Lately I’ve been playing around with one particularly interesting word play, caring and carrying, and I’m finding that the ramifications of choosing the best of these two words are not a matter of fun and games.

I first linked these words together in a discussion over poverty (see previous blog, “The Answer’s in Your Heart”), when I suggested to my high school girls that perhaps as Christians we are called to care for the whole world (because God does), but are only called to carry that specific part of the world that He places specially on our heart (because we are not as big, strong or capable as God). It is tempting in the face of massive world dilemmas to either not care at all (because it is too overwhelming), or to try and carry more emotionally than one person possibly can (a savior complex). Whether you fall off one side of this tight-rope or the other, the consequences to your communion with God can be dire.

A more pressing issue for me at present is that of caring versus carrying the people right in front of me. Are we called to do both? As I reflected on my months in student ministry, I realized that there were certain students that didn’t just want to be cared for—they wanted to be carried. Perhaps in some instances they needed to be carried. And when I look at my own heart and relational attempts I see many instances when I have tried to force others to carry me—to hear me inside and out, to have the answers I don’t, to fix or in some way shape or form, save me. When I can’t handle life on my own I’d rather opt out and let someone else take over. I need to be carried. And in those moments I often can’t even receive the loving care given by another person. In the face of a desperate attempt to be carried, caring just doesn’t feel like a sufficient response.

What happens to us when we demand to be carried by another? What happens when we try to carry someone else? Do we do each other more good or harm in our attempts? Is “bearing one another’s burdens” different from carrying them? Where exactly is that magical line between caring and carrying anyhow?

I don’t have any final answers to these questions, but I have a hunch. My hunch is that deep down we all need to be carried, but not by one another. We need to be carried by one who is sufficiently able to handle us and our problems. My attempts to make others carry me reveal that I have not developed sufficient trust in the arms that already hold me close. My attempts to carry others reveal that I don’t see those same arms holding tightly to them.

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Psalm 55:22; Isaiah 40:11; 1 Peter 5:7


Sitting Ducks

Taking the interstate home tonight I was startled to see two ducks–mama and baby–on the inner shoulder of the freeway. For a moment they waddled farther onto the road and I silently yelled at them for their stupidity. Then just as quickly they turned tail into the grassy median strip. I zipped past and breathed a sigh of relief when they were safely beyond my line of fire. Fluffy duckling killing would not be on my list of memorable events this day.

I pondered those ducks. What in the world were they doing in the middle of the interstate? How did a duckling manage to get out there without getting killed in the first place? I’m pretty sure he didn’t do it alone. No, he was following someone. Someone older. Someone he trusted. And mama duck led him right into the line of fire. Bad choice. I don’t know the end of the story–will they survive their foray beyond safe territory? I can only imagine how frantic they probably felt stuck between one whizzing car after another–towering over them, bearing down upon them–and all they wanted was to get safely back to the lake on the other side. What a terrible predicament. And all because a leader and a follower made poor choices.

This year I was mama duck to a large group of impressionable ducklings who were all making crucial decisions about how to live their lives–which roads to take, which roads to avoid–and they learn from my example. My duck encounter today caused me to ask again, have I led well? Can I say with the Apostle Paul, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9)? It was a mantle I chose to wear this year, and one that weighed heavily upon me. As the year came to a close, I felt a sense of relief to be able to lay it down. Not that I will live any differently, but just that I’m not being scrutinized so closely. I think James, possibly the brother of Jesus, knew that pressure. He wrote, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways…” (James 3:1). And Jesus turns the pressure up even more: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

I just got done watching Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Here is a modern text-book example of someone who is followed, someone who is hands down the center of attention. What is he teaching? And an even bigger question to me–why in the world would anyone want that kind of attention, that kind of pressure to perform? It’s seriously intense. I’m thinking the answer is, it has to be a calling. The pressure is real. And it is right. When we dare to teach others we are dealing with potentially hazardous stuff. If we just rush in beyond our ability, beyond the truth we know, with our own ideas and agendas, we may find ourselves trapped between two deadly interstates with a trusting young friend alongside. That is a place I hope never to find myself. It’s common to face pressures to lead, to “do something important;” but sometimes it’s better to wait, better to be silent–better a sitting duck than a dead one. Before I lead, let me test myself. Let me weigh my words carefully. Let me live a life worthy of the calling I have received before I presume to lead others into theirs.

By God’s grace I wore that mantle, and I pray I wore it well. If you are wearing that mantle, may His grace also abound towards you. And if you need to sit it out for awhile, may His grace abound to you even more.

Purpose Fulfilled

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me.” Psalm 57:2

We’re coming to the end of a school year. Too soon I will be signing girls out of the dorm for the last time. I will be giving final hugs and sending them off into the wild blue yonder, into an unknown future on faraway continents. And in the final days there is this frightening question hanging over me–Did I do what I was meant to do? Did I do all I could to prepare these girls to leave? What, if anything, do I still need to speak into their lives?

Over the weekend I took a brave group of international students camping on Minnesota’s North Shore. The purpose was to enjoy a lot of beautiful places and also get away from the hubub of the dorms one last time before the final flurry of activities was in full swing. I would also have one last chance to say some things–but what to say? In the huge list of possibilities, how could I discern what was most crucial? It intimidated me to no end, until I realized that Jesus had once been in a similar position. Jesus had a small group of students he had invested in too, students He needed to say goodbye to, release into the world and also ensure they were prepared to do what they were meant to do. His final charge to them is recorded in Matthew 28. We call it the Great Commission. I called it Eureka!

In his last words, Jesus hits on three big things. A pastor might label them purpose, power and promise. Jesus tells his disciples what their lives are to be about–the making of other disciples, teaching the good news. He tells them He has all authority, all power, to send them on such a mission (and by implication to make their mission successful). And He promises that even though they won’t be able to see Him, He will be with them always. I decided my focus for the weekend would be “God with us on Life’s Journey.” We looked at the Road to Emmaus story, and how Jesus can be walking with us and we don’t even recognize Him. We walked through beautiful places, and talked about where we’d seen God. But the whole time I had these niggling doubts. I was afraid the weekend was a bust. I was afraid the message was hollow. I was afraid I was failing in my purpose.

On Sunday morning before leaving camp we had to climb a rock-face next to our site. It was discovered that you could totally get up the back way with a guitar, and everyone voted to have our worship service up at tree level, looking down on the world below. As I shared my “last words” about Jesus’ last words, I suddenly realized how much I needed them. I realized that these three areas were precisely the places I am most tempted to give way to fear, to doubt God. First, I fear that God doesn’t have a special purpose for my life. Second, I fear that even when I know my purpose, I will fail. I won’t be able to succeed. And third, I fear that God isn’t really with me when I don’t “see” Him show up. I was juggling all these fears that very weekend! And in His wisdom, God gave me truth to fight off all my fears. His “last word” was to have the last word in the face of my doubts. Whether I saw evidence of it or not, He was able to fulfill His purpose for me.

We closed our service that morning with a song, but were startled in the midst of it by strangers approaching our perch. “We’re believers,” they informed us, “and we wondered if we could join you?” They turned out to be mission students who were really excited to meet my young believers from other countries, and asked to pray them out, asking God to go with them and empower them for what they would face at home. I was floored. It was a divine “amen” to our weekend, a God moment I could never have planned. In the Psalm that a member of the group felt led to read (Psalm 57), God had the final word. In the prayer of another, He did the official commission and send-off of my students. And later when I ask ed my girls what the best part of the weekend was, they all pointed to this moment–the moment God showed up, the moment He confirmed what I had been saying, that God was with us. He was with us in power. And He was with us to fulfill His purpose.

God is with us on the journey, and the adventure continues...

Shades of Life

Dazzle. Delight. Captivate. I stood in front of the covergirl aisle, painstakingly checking that each lipstick was in its place and unused. Cosmetics duty at my local retail store meant spending hours looking at tiny labels—a little tedious, but it gave me hours to enjoy the creative names on products and contemplate what would suit me best. Would I rather Enchant or Enthrall with my choice of lipstick? Maybe I should go with a tinge of hope for my future with Rosy Tomorrows, think happy thoughts with a Chai Grande or Espresso shade, or personalize with my favorite nickname, Nutmeg. Who knows the impact choosing the right make-up could have?

I don’t buy a lot of make-up, but slap a cool name on the side and I have a hard time passing it up. I have no doubt that the people who market cosmetics are fully aware of the power of words. Name an eye-liner “Talk to Me” and you’re sure to prick the interest of lonely hopefuls. And who wouldn’t want to smother their lips in Soulmate? Words express the things of dreams and identity, draw out smiles, laughter and tears, have the capacity to either build or destroy. Proverbs says “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov. 18:21). Life and death. It doesn’t get much more powerful than that.

I had the chance to play a little game utilizing words with my high-school girls last week. We passed around a “magic paintbrush,” (just a random object) and whoever held the paintbrush was the center of our attention. The game began with the paintbrush holder sharing something they liked about how God had made them. Then others shared what they found good and beautiful in that person. It made my heart happy to hear these girls calling out the beauty they saw in each other, and they were good at it. I was the last to hold the paintbrush, and I didn’t want to put it down. The life my girls spoke into me was euphoric; it was like something in me changed in response to their encouraging words. Life and death.

Every day we have opportunities to speak life or death into the people around us, but many people spend more time selecting their make-up than they spend selecting those powerful words. And if it’s a challenge to intentionally speak life to others, it’s often even harder to speak it to ourselves. That’s one reason I like to surround myself with good words: words that remind me of what’s good and beautiful in myself, words connected to my hopes and dreams, words that keep me tracking with my purpose for getting up in the morning. It may be silly, but if a well-named eye-shadow will help me speak words of truth to myself, I consider it a fairly valuable commodity. Here’s a small example: today I will paint my toenails with Meet Mrs. Right (I promise I didn’t notice the name until after I bought it), and I foresee that when I do I’m going to shake my head and stifle a smile at what a ridiculous girl I am, but I will feel encouraged. Even though it’s silly, it’s still a word of life. If even an inanimate object has such power, consider what effect your real live life words could have.

So what shade will you choose? Dazzle? Delight? Captivate? How about Impart Life? That’s a no fail color that brings out the beauty in everyone.

Deadbeat Angels

I’m so proud of my girls. A small group student-led Bible study got a vision for something, walked it out, and last night saw it become a reality. They had seen a certain movie earlier this year, To Save a Life (comes highly recommended), which deals with the issues of peer pressure, teen suicide and the meaninglessness and worthlessness so many young people are facing. One day in Bible study this group got talking about how they could make a difference in our community and had this idea to host a public showing of To Save a Life as an outreach at the local high school. They organized, publicized, prayed and fasted, and last night more than 300 people showed up to an event that two months ago was just imagination. I feel like a mama bird watching my baby birdies jump from the nest and start to fly.

I had to leave the event half way through to man the office back at my own high school across town, but the message contained in even the first half of the movie was already effecting me. I felt burdened by the aloneness and emptiness of the young people depicted in the film, with a seed of desire that I would be a person who saw the outsider and didn’t pass him by. As I drove away from the high school through an icy mist, I passed a teen with long cornrows and a hat pulled on backwards, earbuds in, walking through the rain alone. What is his story, and where is he going in the rain alone? I wondered if anyone sees him, if anyone communicates care in his life. It’s one thing to be moved by the message of a movie, another to live differently because of that message. It’s one thing to get a vision, it’s another thing to walk it out. It’s one thing to talk about loving God and your neighbor, it’s another thing to see the Samaritan on the side of the road when you’re late for work and pull over to the side of the road. Thoughts like these were filling my mind all the way across town. Up ahead of me I saw an odd spectacle; a woman was trudging down the road with a bulging newspaper bag slung over her shoulder. As I got nearer I saw she was lugging plastic bags of groceries in each hand. Maybe she needs a ride. I’ve been trained to avoid strangers and lock my doors, and I passed her by, but then almost without thinking hit the brakes and rolled down the window. She hurried towards me as I asked if I could take her somewhere. She nodded thankfully, “Oak Street” and then there was a flurry of getting bags into the car. Three blocks later I was dropping her at her front door; four blocks later I was climbing out of my car, thankful that I could help someone else with what God had given me, ridiculously happy that when an opportunity presented itself, I hadn’t passed by.

It’s one thing to get a vision, another to walk it out. Walking out your vision is hard. I find it oddly coincidental that the students responsible for the event last night were studying the book of James at the time. James has some pretty strong things to say about this topic: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22-25). I wonder how many people saw that movie last night, found it moving, and then went back to life as normal; they looked at their face in a mirror and then forgot all about it. I almost did. I came so close to driving by. How often does God give us opportunities to act on what we’ve heard, and we don’t have eyes to see it? How often do we miss the subtle shades of a divine moment, clothed in a tattered coat and carrying shopping bags? I wonder if God has a special task-force of angels who masquerade as deadbeats, down and outs, and druggies, just so He can school us in walking out what we say we believe. I wouldn’t be surprised.

The Answer’s in your Heart

Last week I was in my apartment sautéing rice before the poverty prayer supper I was hosting while one of my high schoolers paged through “Window on the World,” Operation World’s picture prayer guide for kids. “This book makes me want to travel,” she told me. We got into a discussion on why I decided to join YWAM, and from there all about life and calling and who God had made us to be. She voiced questions I’ve had to ask myself, like, “Am I really called to missions, or do I just want to travel?” The crux of it boils down to the question I find myself, other young people, and even many adults constantly asking: “Who am I, and what does God want me to do?” It was an interesting pre-discussion for our following exploration of the tough issue of poverty. After watching a picture slide-show of sobering images, one girl expressed sadness and hopelessness. It was like the same question of calling was in the air, but with a negative twist, “Who am I in the face of a world of suffering? What am I supposed to do?”

Nehemiah is an interesting book to have been studying in the context of these questions. Nehemiah is pretty well off, a servant who interacts face-to-face with the most powerful ruler of the day. Like us, he was in the top percentile of having the good life. But his brother comes to visit from a disaster area, the destroyed city of Jerusalem. And Nehemiah is suddenly confronted with the pain of a desperately needy people. He could have turned away or simply given lip service (“Oh, that’s so sad.”), and continued in a life of relative ease. But instead he retreated to a place of deep grief and prayer, not just for a few moments, but for several days. And in that place of grieving something special happened. God put something specific in Nehemiah’s heart (Neh 2:12). He had a plan, something to do, a calling. He left his job and his country of residence to change the world with a wall, and now he has a Bible book named after him.

I had a similar experience in Cambodia. Faced with the emptiness of 200 aids orphans, where each story I heard broke my heart anew, I came to a place of deep grief and retreated to my bed in tears. I cried out to God on behalf of these kids. And I emerged from that place of grief a different person, because in it I had encountered God. I left Cambodia with a piece of God’s heart; it was a piece inscribed with five special names, five special children, and I knew I had a calling to pray for those five. I had something to do.

The book of Nehemiah chronicles how one man of God walked out the challenging call God placed on his life, in his own words, what “God had put in [his] heart to do.” It’s a good book to turn to for wisdom in trying to walk out your own calling. It’s also a good guide in the face of situations that feel hopeless or even the simple uncertainty of who we are supposed to be. We can prayerfully ask, “What has God put in my heart to do? What small piece of His heart has He given to me to be my own?” He will not call us to fix every problem; He knows our shoulders are too small to carry the weight of the world as He does. But He is willing to let us join Him in the work, in the small ways that we can. Sometimes the thing He places in our heart might seem exceedingly small and simple, sometimes it might be a clarion call that changes our life and mailing address. Either way it’s always significant.

I’d give a lot to know what my Nehemiah’s wall, my “big call,” is. Some days I think I’ve got it, other days I’m not so sure. But one thing I do know–what’s in my heart to do today. So today I’ll pray for my five Cambodian children and love my high school girls. And when my girls ask me how they can know who they’re meant to be, or what they can do when confronted with injustice, I’ll know what to tell them. Seek God, cry out to Him, and do whatever He puts in your heart to do.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

Helen Keller

Old and Forgetful

I’m sitting in the dean office at the Christian high school where I work. The time is pushing mid-night, lights are out, girls are in their beds, hopefully with dreams of sugar-plums in their heads. I should be there too, but first I will write.

Tonight we had a visitor in the dorm, a former student just a few years older than my girls. He was stalking old grounds and visiting with old friends, but he stopped in to meet the new deans, and something that he said struck me funny. He said, “It’s strange to come back. They’re so young…they look younger every year.” It struck me funny because I remember feeling that way when I went back to college a couple years after graduation. So young. What makes it funny is that I don’t feel that way anymore. What a strange thing to realize. For the first time in my life I am unconscious of the age difference between myself and those considerably younger than me. Sometimes in my job I have to remind myself that I am ten years older and wiser, that they are still teen-agers and I am an adult. It used to really bother me to be so much older than everyone around me, and now I don’t even notice? What has caused this transformation? Perhaps it was a gradual process. First there was Bible school, where I lived in a dorm for a year with girls who were 18-21, where even my RA was five years younger than me, and I lied about how old I was on my birthday. But they were my friends, my equals, and in some areas my betters. Then there was YWAM, where I was in the old set, even compared to the DTS staff, and one of my room-mates was 17. I sometimes felt old and boring (and tired, I had had enough of late nights in college!). But they were my comrades-in-arms, my co-seekers of God and my encouragers; their energy and passion challenged me. I came out of college burned out; they were still very much on fire! I joked that living with so many young people kept me young. Now I wonder if it’s true. Either I am younger than I used to be, or I’ve gotten really old and forgetful.

Have you ever reflected on the beauty and power of youth? They are a time-bomb, ready to explode upon the world. They are full of hope, full of dreams, sometimes full of drama, but incredibly full of life! Some of them want to change the world, and un-like many of us older folk, they believe they can do it (and Kudos to YWAM for giving them opportunities to make that a reality). Where I am now, my girls’ optimism and perspective on life and God challenges me. Two weeks ago I took a few girls on a blind trust walk. I pulled their hats over their eyes and led them down the path and then off it into knee deep snow. They stumbled and struggled and pressed on. It was meant to be a picture of life when we can’t see where we’re going and have to trust God. I saw it as a challenge. They got it. But they got something else that I totally missed: “You know it should be exciting too, to not know where God is taking you.” What I saw as hard they called fun. That exhortation to recognize the exciting part of not-knowing has stopped short more than one of my intended pity parties in the last week, because there’s truth in it.  After all, if we truly do serve a big and loving God, we should be excited about where he’s taking us. I have much to learn from these younger followers, and they are totally unaware of how they have encouraged me and caused me to look at life a little differently. How true the word in Timothy about not looking down on someone because they are young, for they can set an example for us to follow. The sold out to God young person can certainly set that example in enthusiasm, passion, and hope-filled perspective. How much the old and young need each other! Life’s hard knocks have taught me some “lessons” (could we insert “lies”?) that I would be wise to forget. Maybe the more time I spend around godly youth, the more I will find myself forgetting what is behind and pressing on towards what is ahead. Seen or unseen, it is exciting. And if believing that is a trait of youth, I hope I continue to grow younger every year I live.