Saturday, February 17, 2018

I'm Not Supposed to Tell You This

Six months ago, I was at training, spending three weeks cooped up in the same building with forty-four other young aspiring missionaries. We had countless hours of discussions about difficult topics that are usually avoided. We sang songs in everyone's native languages, we had debates sometimes, and though I can't speak for everyone, I know I felt empowered. At the end of it all, I really believed I had been equipped with the information I needed to go out into the world and make a real difference.
Now I have been here two days shy of six months, and I have had enough time to start getting a more realistic view of my role here. The days begin to blend together, afternoons and evenings full of Perler beads and Candy Land, of "Close the door, it's below zero!" and "jump ropes are for jumping, not tying each other up." and even once "Why did you throw the doorstop in the trash can?"

It's not exactly what I thought it would be, but oh how I love what it is.

  I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that it is very likely that nothing I do during my two years as a US-2 is going to leave a noticeable, long-lasting impact. I know I'm not supposed to say that, but it's the truth. There are some barriers that I just don't have the resources to break down. Please don't take this as me fishing for compliments, I don't need anyone to tell me that what I do matters, because I know it does. I just needed to come to terms with the fact that I am only one person, and my sphere of influence has limits.
    I'm not being cynical, I'm just being realistic. In order to make a permanent impact on these children outside of the four walls of our after-school program, I would need a social work degree, or a law degree, or some other expensive piece of paper that I don't feel led to acquire at this point in my life.
So I've decided, after receiving some solid advice and doing a lot of thinking, that I just have to make the hours these children spend with me the best they can be. Many days I fail at that, but I'm working to become better. I can't change their circumstances, but I can listen if they need to talk. I can find crafts for them to do, and help them with their homework, and remind them for the hundredth time that jump ropes are for jumping, not for tying your friend to a chair. And while these things will likely not even be remembered a few years from now, at least I can take comfort in the fact that they matter in the moment.
    If I've ruined your vision of what missionaries do, I'm sorry. I'm not supposed to tell you this, but people who work with and for churches are still just people. It is time for me to accept the fact that there are some things I cannot do. Once I have done that, I can focus on doing my absolute best at the things I can do.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Work of Love

     I've been working on this post for days, searching for the right way to say what's on my mind. Over and over again, I see my fellow missionaries making passionate statements about systems of oppression, and other popular buzzwords, and I support them in their desire to make those statements.  I am sometimes envious of the way my colleagues use the power of words to bring their experiences to life.
     My dilemma is that the work I do in my day to day life as a missionary doesn't match up with any popular buzzwords. To many people it may look like I just play with children all day, and while that's partially true, there's more to the story that I don't share much about because I don't want to exploit stories that don't belong to me. Many of the children I see everyday are in the foster care system, and last week there was a situation that left me feeling emotionally drained, and reminded me that there really is a need for missionaries here because there is a lot of brokenness that you might miss if you don't stay for a while and pay close attention.
   I feel that most of the time when people in the mission field share stories, they rush through the middle to make the story more appealing. They tell you about someone struggling, then there's a small part about some action, and then suddenly there's a beautiful come-to-Jesus moment and then everyone lives happily ever after. What you don't often hear about is all of the minutia and the struggling that happens in between.
     I'll probably never have a job writing greeting cards for Hallmark, because the truth is I've come to realize that sometimes loving people is hard work. That is especially true when you encounter people whose life experiences have made them need to put up walls in order to survive, and you are one of the people who is trying to help them break down those walls.
    I don't mean to be cynical or imply that there are no breakthrough moments in the work I do. I've seen them, they just don't typically happen in loud ways. And by admitting that this kind of work can be draining, I do not mean to say that I don't enjoy it. It is without a doubt hard work, but at the same time it's the most fulfilling work I've ever known.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Unwritten Moments

     There was a lot to write about in 2017. I started the year off applying to be a Global Mission Fellow, spent a good part of my summer at training meeting new friends that have similar passions, and spent the last few months of the year acclimating to life in Nome, Alaska.
    I wrote about a lot of that, but the start of the new year has inspired me to think about all of the things I haven't written about yet.
      I haven't written about all the time I spend washing dishes. It's not glamorous, but when you're cooking for a large group of people, it's something that needs to be done and as part of the staff, sometimes it's my turn to do it. And then there are my own dishes at home, which never seem to be clean even though sometimes I feel like I spend half of my life standing in front of a sink. People love to hear about the moments in the life of a missionary when there are inspiring breakthroughs, but in between those moments there are many more moments spent doing mundane tasks like washing dishes.
     I haven't written about the days when everything seems to go wrong and I become frustrated and act in ways that I regret, or the days when bad experiences from past jobs haunt me and I start to doubt myself.
     I haven't written about my internal struggle with a large part of my job as part of a faith-based program being at a place that is not faith-based. I've come a long way with my thoughts on that as I've struggled with it privately, and maybe some time in the future I'll be ready to write about it.
     This year, I want to get back to writing authentically. Not that I have been lying in my writing, but sometimes I have elaborated on the happy moments and swept aside the difficult moments. I've put the pressure on myself of satisfying everyone back home with stories of a grand adventure, and forgotten that by definition, adventures are unusual and even hazardous.
     I've been told a lot lately that I seem very happy, and thankfully I can report that I truly am. But as a person who also knows what it feels like to be very unhappy, and felt that way in the not so distant past, sometimes my desire to convince myself and everyone around me that I really am happy now has made me afraid to acknowledge anything unhappy in my life.
     In 2018, I will strive to write a more authentic story. I will attempt to share more of the challenging stories, but also the moments of success and joy. I hope you will come along with me for this year of authentic stories.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Carols Explained

As I was listening to Christmas music yesterday, I started thinking about the unique ways some of them apply to things in my life. So, in lieu of a sappy "I'm not home for Christmas" post, here are some Christmas carols, explained from the perspective some someone who works with children.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

     A question I ask my co-workers at least once a day, usually when I am in front of a hot oven that I can't leave unattended at the moment, but I think I hear a child crying across the room, or a teen listening to a song that I suspect has lyrics not fit for young ears to hear. Another verse of this song, "Do you see what I see?" also applies because sometimes when you spend a lot of time with children, there will be moments when you just need to check with another adult to make sure you're actually seeing what you think you're seeing.

 What Child is This?

     Have we met this child before? Do they have a membership form turned in? Are they even old enough to be here? This could also be slightly modified to "What Child Has Done This", when someone has taken something out and not put it back in it's place after using it and I make it my personal mission to track them down and make them clean up after themselves.

Silent Night

This is a song about a mythical concept known as "Silence" which does not seem to exist to children. I did see it once, for a brief moment when they were in line to talk to Santa. Maybe I should start wearing a fake beard and red suit to work.

Joy to the World
     As much as it might sound like I'm complaining, and as much as some moments that happen where I work can drive me crazy, I am so happy to be here doing what I'm doing, and the Christmas season has reminded me of the reason why I am here, and that is definitely something to be joyful about.

Monday, December 18, 2017

An Uncomfortable Christmas

     With Christmas just  a week away, I'm feeling disoriented by the lack of familiar things that usually accompany this time of year. Obviously I can look at the calendar and know that the day is fast approaching, and there are signs of the holiday happening all around me, but still I can't help but feel that I am on the outside looking in.
     This will be the first time in my life that I will wake up on Christmas morning somewhere other than the house I grew up in. Even as I say that, I realize how much privilege the statement holds. I am fully aware that there are many people who would love to have a home to wake up in, and that that many people have jobs that require them to work on Christmas. But no matter how many stern reminders I give myself about these things, there is a stubborn streak of sentimentality that I just can't seem to shake. Selfishly, I long for a Christmas that feels familiar to me.
     I know what my family's Christmas tree looks like through our front door, I know what our stockings look like hanging from our mantle. I know what Christmas morning feels like with my family, and although it may not be perfect, it is familiar and comfortable, and I think I will miss it even more than I expected too. I love the job I get to do, and I have known for months that I would not be spending Christmas at home with my family, and yet still I can't help but feel a bit melancholy now that the day is almost here.
     As I sat in church yesterday, I was reminded that some things about Christmas will never change, no matter where I am or who I am with. Although my personal experience of Christmas will be different this year, what Christmas is really all about has not changed, and never will. No matter where my life takes me, every December will bring back the same story of a baby born in a manger, surrounded by shepherds and wise men. I found it very comforting to here the familiar verses that I am used to, even though I am on the opposite side of the country this year.
     This year, as I spend the Christmas season in a different place, away from the people I am used to celebrating with, I hope it allows me to see the Christmas story that has become familiar to me in a new and different way.  And maybe it will serve as a reminder that being comfortable was never the point of Christmas anyway.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Few Good Men

     One December morning not many years ago, A girl excitedly stands in the crowd at a popular morning show, her father by her side. She shakes the hand of a famous newscaster, who at that time is quite beloved by many people. It is her first celebrity encounter, and in her young mind it is a very big deal. That newscaster will later lose his credibility when he is accused of unspeakable things, at a time when it is becoming very common for men in the public eye to be accused of unspeakable things.
     When she hears of why this celebrity is under fire, it will at first send shivers down her spine to know that his hand briefly touched hers. But her mind will soon turn to other memories of that New York trip at Christmas time with her father. She was at an age when many girls would rather do almost anything than go on a trip with their father, but she still wanted to. Because there is something inherently similar about the two of them that she can't quite name, and they make great travel companions.
     That women would ever need to protect themselves from men is not something she had to learn at home. The men in her home were not perfect, but they were almost always kind, and she never had reason to fear them. Often when she is sitting in training sessions and the topic of what women should watch out for in the workplace and how they should protect themselves comes up, she will think of the men in her home, and how they allowed her so many years of ignorant bliss. Yes, the idea that women would ever need to protect themselves from men is not something she had to learn at home, and the more people she meets, and the more she learns about the world, the more she realizes how fortunate she is.
     She can no longer live in a state of ignorance, because she is a woman living in a world where the hard truth means that there are certain things women need to be aware of. But when the harsh realizes of the world start to be overwhelming, and being a grown woman starts to sound like an intimidating task in this broken world, her mind will turn to the good men she knows and she will be comforted. Because even though the guys who do bad things are the ones who make the news, her world is filled with a few good men, and that is enough to keep her hope alive.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why Me?

     When I started this blog, I was in my first year of college and experiencing independence for the first time. I was under the naive impression that it would get discovered by internet strangers, and that I would be able to speak in an uninhibited way about every feeling I experienced without worrying about who would read it. This theory was soon blown out of the water when I told my parents I had started a blog, and despite the fact that I was not connected to either of them on any social media at the time, they already knew. Although I'm not ignorant enough to put things on the internet that I don't want my family and friends to know about, My young mind was a bit surprised by how quickly they did.
     Nowadays, I actually like that people I know enjoy reading what I write. It's flattering that so many people care, and it's also a great way to stay in touch now that I've moved across the country. But I've also noticed that it causes me to be very careful about what I say and how I say it, in a way that I'm not sure I like. I guess what I'm saying is, if you see my parents in the grocery store, you don't need to tell them that I sound sad on the internet. Besides the fact that I'm an adult living on the opposite side of the country than them, and besides the fact that you can't gauge a person's inner thoughts solely by what they post on the internet, I am actually quite happy. Now, with that incredibly long disclaimer out of the way, I can get to what's actually on my mind today.
     As much as I love what I'm doing and where I'm living, I sometimes hide any negative aspects of my life because I don't want anyone to think I have doubts that this is where I'm supposed to be. But that's become way too much pressure to put on myself. When the demands start to outweigh the thank-you's, and I start to feel like I'm just free labor in the eyes of some people, sometimes I just need to vent. Normally I do that with trusted friends or my parents and keep it off the blog. But today I chose to do some public venting, because I think it brings up an important point. I've heard it said that if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life. I don't think that's true. This is the best job I have ever had, but it's still a job. And just like any other job, it has it's benefits and it's drawbacks.
      Why do I have to be the one that has to send children home when we close, and tell them there's nothing I can do about the fact that they have to walk home when its thirteen degrees and pitch black dark because their parents can't or won't pick them up?
     Why do I have to be the one who hears the difficult and unpleasant things I know I am mandated to report, with enough frequency that I sometimes doubt my instincts and think I am being too judgmental? And in my worst moments, I have wondered why I am the one God chose for this job that seems like ten jobs rolled into one, that I could never completely finish even if I worked 24/7.
      But even as I'm asking these questions, I'm already thinking of all of the benefits that outweigh the drawbacks. For instance, I also get to be the one who sometimes spends an entire hour of my workday playing board games with children. I get to be the one they talk to about their day, and the one that makes sure they have a proper meal to eat. Most of all, I get to be doing what I feel called to do at a very young age, something that many people have to sacrifice because the need for a job and provide for yourself outweighs the desire to be content.
     I'm still figuring out how to be honest and transparent without crossing a line into oversharing. I haven't figured it out yet, but right now I have friends to hang out with, so my journey to self awareness via blogging will have to be paused until next week. If this long diatribe has any solid point, maybe it's this; be kind to your pastor and everyone who works at your church, whether they are on a payroll or not. As a matter of fact, maybe just be kind to as many people as you can throughout the day, whether they are a cashier or a CEO. We're all trying to make it through this thing called life, and I have a feeling it would be a lot easier if we were all a little less concerned with our own motives, and a little more sensitive to the needs of the people around us.