Today marked the end of one often frustrating, yet fulfilling, leg of this journey called life. Today marked the official end of the Y.A.L.E. program (Young Adult Life Enhancement) where I have worked since October 2012.
For the last 2.5 years I have worked with 18-21 year olds, most of whom were considered “youthful offenders” or “at risk youth” when they were underage. I was their Leadership and Lifeskills Teacher. I was their Case Manager. I was their “don’t come to me with the same problems over and over… CHANGE things” advisor. I was their encourager. I was their “mama”. I was their friend.
“But you can’t be a friend to your clients”, the age-old mantra says. Really? You can’t? Oh but, there are times when you must.
You see, a friend loves in spite of………. They’re not a “yes man”, agreeing with everything that you do or say in order to stay in your good graces, but a friend will tell the truth, and often disagree, even when it’s most painful to hear. A friend sees through the bravado and posturing, listens past the words, and reaches in to get to the heart of an issue. A friend lays down his/her life for others. And a true friend sticks closer than a brother.
Many of the students that I spent the last few seasons with had no brother. Many had lost family at the hands of another through street or domestic violence. Some had lost family due to their own mishandling of life and they had shoved them away with their anger, violence, or drug use. Others had lost family to mental health issues – whether the family member’s or their own – it didn’t matter, they were lost. And then there were those who still lived at home with family. Or perhaps I should restate that… there were those who still inhabited the same four walls as those who have borne the same blood yet were not safe, nurtured, or appreciated there. They had no brother. They had no real “home”.
These were the lives of our students. And so we, the staff, became their friends who stuck closer than a brother.
There were the days when we got to celebrate with a student who passed a portion of their GED – or that all important final test was completed with a pass. Days when one (or several) completed a training certification, graduated from high school, or enrolled in college or trade school – and really attended. Perhaps it was that a student handled their anger in a more appropriate way, or approached a conflict with calm but direct words instead of weapons of flesh and steel. Or when one of our students got a job, drivers license, first car, or the keys to the first place of their own. Oh the celebration! Some students would quietly stand holding evidence of their accomplishment, but the grin that was spread across their face spoke so very loudly. Other would march proudly in the door, yelling loudly for all to hear “I passed!” or “I did it!” There were always high fives, “I KNEW you could do it”s, and hugs all around. We did know they could do it. Sometimes they didn’t know.
There were also the days when we cried with our students. Like when one had to bury her child and she was but a 21-year old mother. But more often there were the days that we cried FOR our students. When a student told us – after a few days with us – that he had been sleeping in a slide outside at a local park when he left orientation each afternoon. Or when another was a victim of domestic violence yet would not let us help for fear of being “alone again”. And I won’t soon forget the 6-foot tall, strong-in-body, young man who told us he was “lost” and had no idea where to even start to change his life, tears ran down his face, and ours ran unchecked as well as we talked about options for the taking, possible solutions, and hope.
There were oh-so-fascinating days when we were able to take our students outside of a staunch and stifling setting and get them out into the world, where many of them had never been. We laughed belly laughs when a student saw a real live cow for the first time and referenced a Wrong Turn movie when we took him to the country. We huffed and puffed and then watched faces light up in wonder when we hiked The Cascades. We walked and talked about futures and dreams when we took them to RU and VT campuses – places many had only heard tale of. We played basketball, served the community, saw the Globetrotters. Our students shone like stars with their talents and service at a local Black History celebration. And we whooped and hollered, with shouts and cheers, when some conquered their fears on ziplines, high ropes, and even in canoes.
But the most heart-gripping of all were those days – and sometimes nights – that were consumed with reading and watching the news, listening to the “street gossip”, making phone call after phone call, and waiting with baited breath to see/hear if any of our students was involved in a local news stories about youth who were perpetrators of violence or wounded victims of the same. Despite every effort made, pretty regularly, we would get the word that “one of ours” was making headlines in the news, or sick, or homeless on the streets.
It was always a heartbreaking thing when these reports came. Hard to hear. Often hard to understand. Because when you pour your life into someone, you want them to grab hold of the truth that – regardless of what they’ve done, or been, in the past – there is hope for something different. Something better. You desperately want them to “get it”. You want them to understand, without question, that there is at least one “someone” who believes in them, loves them, hopes for them. And you want that understanding to empower them to change… to choose a better course that may be difficult due to unfamiliarity, yet knowing that they can handle it because they are strong.
I’ve witnessed many a changed course while working with Y.A.L.E.. Many causes for grand celebration. I can list every success with absolute joy and pride for the young men and young ladies who did, indeed, “get it” and squared their shoulders and determined they were worth – and capable of – so much more than their past.
And I’ve witnessed many who, it seems, don’t have the strength to shake off the iron grip that holds them, like the hands of a captor covering their eyes and strangling the life out of them, pulling them back into their past. It’s life and comfort for them. It’s all that they’ve known.
One of my students shot another of my students last night. He’s one who can’t quite summon the courage to escape the fingers of the grip of his past to break free into something better. Something different. For some like this young man – although the consequences will be, ultimately, much harder to live with – the security of living what they know is much easier than risking ridicule and retribution with change.
So there’s a glimpse into my season with Y.A.L.E.. Celebrations and heart-breaks. Conversations and consternations. Graduations and GEDs. Adventures and awards. Courtrooms, jail cells, and funerals.
Given the chance I might do things differently. I would be more firm – or more gentle – with some. I’d try one more home-visit in an effort to get through to someone. I’d push for more outings and adventures where our students could experience things they hadn’t before. But one thing that I couldn’t change is how much I love and believe in each and every one of those 100 that crossed my path through this job.
Did it change things for them? Some it did. Others, I may never know. But what I DO know is that love never fails. And sometime, somewhere down the road, that love that was shown will come back to mind and maybe, just maybe, it will spark something in them where they can begin to fully recognize that they are valuable, capable, believed in, and loved.
2.5 years of my life as a teacher. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.
Ever read a scripture passage that reached into your soul a grabbed hold with an iron grip as if to say “Pay attention to me! I have something for you!”?
This past week I was reading and came across a passage like this. When the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they encountered a man who told them “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” – Mark 16:6-7
Go and tell His disciples…. and Peter. In my mind this implied that Peter was being mentioned separately from the disciples possibly due to his sin of denying Christ 3x.
However, every Commentary that I read indicated otherwise. They all agreed that Peter was not be distinguished from the disciples, but instead was Peter was being singled out to assure that he was informed along with the other disciples… to guarantee that he was included in this report of Christ’s resurrection and His promise that He would come to them again.
Peter’s name was called out to make certain that he knew he was included in the invitation to meet with Christ once again.
I can only imagine how his heart must have skipped when his name was called. Such a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, and guilt. He had, after all, sworn and uttered curses as he denied even knowing who Christ was in the midst of the God-man’s most physically/emotionally demanding… potentially damaging… days on Earth. He had abandoned Christ. Turned his back on the Christ that he had walked with, talked with, ate with, slept beside, been taught by, and even been called by. Peter had refused to acknowledge the One Who had – with all patience and understanding – seen the potential in Peter’s strong-will, brash personality, and impulsivity.
Peter had sworn he knew no such man called “Christ”. Three. Scandalous. Times.
And yet, Peter was being called out by the same, Christ, and acknowledged as His in the presence of all the other disciples… who, most assuredly, knew of his shameful denials.
Scripture later records that Christ appeared to the disciples when they were fishing and John recognized Who was on the shore. And rather than waiting for the rest of the disciples to row there in their boat – for that would take to long – Peter jumped from the boat and began to swim to shore (is it any wonder with his impulsive nature?). He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus.
Christ waited until all the disciples were together and had shared a meal. He then called Peter’s name again. He singled him out once again in the presence of the others. Imagine… “Peter?”
Was He going to rebuke Peter for his sinful, slap in the face, spurning? Would he point out how Peter had denied Him and then, publicly, announce that he was no longer chosen to represent Christ? After all, how could he?
How could Christ, in all good conscience, allow Peter to represent Him and His cause knowing that Peter had stood before many and, cursing and swearing, joined in His ridicule and refused to acknowledge his relationship with Him ? How could the hand of God continue to anoint Peter’s life with such a blatant rejection? So many thoughts and emotions must have been leaving footprints on Peter’s mind and heart.
“Peter” “Yes, Lord?”
“Do you love me?”
Three times Christ asked if Peter loved Him. Scripture says that Peter was hurt because Christ asked him the third time. Could it have been another painful reminder of Peter’s 3 rebuffs?
“Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You”
And Christ, for the 3rd time, reaffirmed Peter’s calling to “feed My lambs”… to minister to those who are lost and hurting… to those who have no Shepherd.
“Lord, You know all things”…..
Indeed He does.
Christ knows all things. He knows that we are human. He knows that we make mistakes. He knows that we even, at times, reject or spurn His place in our life with our actions and/or words. He knows.
And yet, just like Peter, He continues to call out our name. He continues to let us know that if our heart is still trying to find Him through the dense fog of shame that can cloud our view of Him… if we are still seeking His light in the midst of our own mental and emotional darkness… if we are willing to jump out of the boat and “swim” towards Him – not waiting for things to be just right or others to come along with us… if our response is that pain-filled, guilt-ridden, cry of “Lord, you know all things. You KNOW that I love you”… then, in spite of our sin, He calls out our name and reminds us that we remain called, appointed, chosen, His.
Such marvelous Grace.
I’ve got it and I’ve got it bad.
No, it’s not split personality disorder. Not a sad case of the blues. I’m not madly in love with someone other than my husband… well, except for myself sometimes.
I’ve got a messiah complex. A ridiculously inaccurate messiah complex.
It’s my responsibility to save things and fix people. Every. Single. Day.
The world can’t survive without me. At least that seems to be what I subconsciously tell myself at times.
My students and co-workers will be lost if I take a day off. Things at church might not go smoothly if I miss a Sunday… or a leaders meeting. If I say no to an invitation with family it might upset things. My input is important in most any situation. My opinion valid. My perspective pretty awesome and accurate. My way, quite often, the most reasonable and practical – the wisest way.
See? I have placed myself on an imaginary pedestal without even realizing it. I unconsciously believe that I am the all-knowing, troubleshooter of the totality of what is wrong in life. The ever-wise moderator of relationships and conflicting conversations. The oracle who sees the errors of ways. The prophet who speaks the hard-hearing truth.
I have set myself in a high place in my own mind. I have assumed the position of savior of the world. … again.
There have been several times, in my life, when I have climbed up to this high and lofty mental place of honor. Times when I wouldn’t – couldn’t – say no for fear of the world stopping if I did so. Times when I had to be ever-present for everyone or things would forever be marred and scarred (at least in my own mind).
And each time I have gotten soundly, profoundly, and squarely, knocked off that pedestal and painfully back onto my reality-recognizing butt.
My mind, my emotions, my body, or all three at once, take control and say “enough is enough” and they forcefully set me off my feet and onto my kiester, or my back. This is where I am forced to recognize that the world will continue to spin – tasks will still be completed – life will go on – friends, family, loved ones, students, and co-workers will survive… and possibly even thrive – all without my influence or interference.
Although I do not believe God is the author of sickness, fatigue, breakdowns, or anything that is evil, I do believe that He allows us to crash and burn at times as a natural consequence of our own ignorance or sin. And when I have fanned both ends of the candle flame for an endless amount of time, and there is no light left in me because I have been an improper steward of the gifts/talents that He HAS given me, then He allows me to become as a scorched and melted puddle of wax.
At that point I have a choice. Refuse to acknowledge that I am not the end-all, be-all, messiah without which the world cannot flourish – and thus grow cold and hard as His glow extinguishes and I continue to believe I, alone, can save. Or remain pliable, willing to be reshaped and reused by submitting to the heat of His character-molding, mind-renewing fire and the blaze of His Spirit. Allowing myself to be ignited with the His love-shaped, grace-filled Zippo – recognizing that without Him I am nothing. And even with Him, I am simply a broken vessel of light that He has chosen to carry His spark… not to pervert His standing as Messiah and Savior of the world.
Scripture admonishes that man not think more highly of himself than he ought. Proverbs advises that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Me, Myself, and my Messiah complex struggle with this at times and forget. Ever been there?
Time to really show up for life and choose to grow up
Man up. Woman up. Pull your big girl panties up.
Rise up. Stand up. Go-on and lift your hands up
And say “I’m in”. “Here I am.
Ready to really be a man… or woman who is getting rid
of things that I did as a kid.
Like gossiping, back-stabbing, in-your-face ugly jabbing
calling names, putting down, pushing others to the ground
by elevating, lifting, raising my me-centered self
higher and higher upon a shelf
of arrogance and ego, pride and ‘follow me’ so
you can feel
lesser than, lower than, just a little slower than
I believe I am ’cause I’m the great I am
in my own eyes
When really I am nothing more than insecure and small.”
Maturity puts these things away and recognizes that every day
is one great opportunity to build, lift, uphold, and raise
another God-crafted human being emotionally,
mentally, give them a sense of dignity
instead of expecting them to measure up to
my self-serving standards that really do
have absolutely, positively, nothing to do with their true worth
M is for seeing, treating, viewing, greeting others with maturity.
It is Not. About. “Me”.
Ever been blindsided by anger from someone who has misconstrued or assumed something you’ve done or said? Unexpected, angry words hurl toward you like bullets in a drive-by, causing you to duck and cover internally in order to protect yourself. Or, your response could be as someone who has been wounded and scarred by life and abuse and so you retaliate, firing back your own volley of venom-filled verbosity while you defend your honor and pride.
Perhaps the warrior of words has been you. How many times have you been the violent instigator of your neighbor’s wounds because you mentally created scenarios of wrong-doing or imagined them aiming at target-shaped bull’s-eyes on your happiness or character? So you fire off a round of white hot insults and accusations, causing soul-trauma to the victim of your word weaponry.
Any of this sound familiar?
Most of us can identify with both. Although we’ve all, most likely, been the victim of someone’s harsh and sudden criticism or irritation, we’ve also all dealt our share of oral outrage. We’ve been both the casualty of a verbal violation and the trigger happy dispatcher of uttered ammunition – probably more than once – in our lifetimes.
Truth be told, it gives us satisfaction and gratification to get things off our chest… to spew our sarcasm or anger-laden speech all over someone else. We may even delight in the fact that our diatribe has suddenly stunned them into silence and our pride increases and ego inflates.
For some, that feeling of superior euphoria is short-lived. There is recognition that the momentary verbose vindication deflated the spirit of another God-imagined, hand-crafted masterpiece. The light has been extinguished from their eyes. Their soul is wounded. Auditory arrows have been shot into their hearts and it grieves to the core.
For others, the personal pleasure and pride continues to grow. There is refusal to admit any wrong. Dialectical damage is ignored and the journey goes on, one day at a time, leaving bruised and battered beings in the dust… behind… where they cannot be seen.
Time to put the big girl panties, or the big boy drawers, on.
Time to own it. Own the fact that we do, at times, allow ourselves to be used as tools of the enemy. Time for all of us to stop playing the marred martyr and instead man – or woman – up. Take responsibility for our own words. Admit that we have not, will not, choose to control our tongues when we are offended or anticipating attack… no matter how figmental that attack may be. Confess that we, at times, put our own need for one-upmanship over relationships and recognition of God-value in every human being.
After owning our sinful, spiteful, hateful motivations behind our agitated outbursts – and asking the God who created our targets for forgiveness – we owe a heart-felt, care-filled apology to those we’ve wounded. They deserve to have their dignity restored as we humble ourselves and acknowledge our vainglorious frenzy. No excuses. No justification-filled reasoning. No lengthy dissertations. Excessive words marked the genesis of this injured exchange. So keep it simple. Make an offering of a few honest, authentic, apologetic words. This primes us, and those around us, for maturity – and allows opportunity for restoration and healing in the souls of all involved.
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires….26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:19-20, 26
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 …Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!….17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. – James 3:7-18
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1
We all do it now and then.
We all get frustrated with the dishonesty from those who believe they are of good character, yet they twist and turn scripture, words, and situations, to cover their behinds or advance their own selves. They do this all while standing proudly beating their chest and giving credit for their character, or lack thereof, to God. The reason? Raw, unchecked, furious emotion.
Jumping into a venture with both feet due to heightened emotions is unwise. It causes mistakes to be made, impulsive decisions to go bad, and dishonest excuses to be given in order to hide the fact that feelings were the source of these things instead of the Spirit of God.
Whether building a business, a ministry, or a relationship – if the foundation consists of a mix of emotion, dishonesty, and pride – it will, at some point, crumble and leave others damaged beneath the rubble. This doesn’t change simply because we are children of God. Actually, the cost – and repercussions – become greater when we bring Christ and His body into things.
The issue isn’t having emotions, God created us as emotional beings. The issue is when we look at a person or situation and our heart strings are pulled, so we take action – giving no consideration to how this action may affect others not directly related to the immediate face/circumstance before us. We move swiftly as if our intervention is the only thing that can possibly change things (which makes us greater than God in our self-serving eyes). Or we assume that, because our emotions are so heightened, there’s no way our decisions could be wrong – and those who don’t agree, or don’t follow our examples in word and deed – they are the ones that are wrong… they’re VERY wrong.
We step from the emotional ambulance or fire vehicle, onto a platform of ego and arrogance. And as we pile excuses, dishonesty, and pompous “words of wisdom and spirit” one upon the other, our prideful pedestal grows higher and higher.
Tall, self-glorifying props are difficult to step off. It requires the humility to admit that we’ve allowed things to become unstable due to our own emotional recklessness. It demands the willingness to admit wrong and stop using God as an excuse for why things aren’t as we said they would be. Stepping off needs help. Unemotional. Practical. Wise. Spirit-led. Help.
God the Father is ready to lead and teach us how to follow Him and not be dragged along by the leash of emotions. His Spirit waits for us to allow Him to take HIS place as The Rescuer, the “Need-Meeter”, the Wise Guide in our lives so that we can be effective servants and representatives of Him – in every area of our lives – instead of self-aggrandizing emotional callouses on the Body of Christ.
Step off the Emotions and Ego. Step into His Spirit and Leading. The greater glory comes from Him.
Perhaps it may be possible
to change the world
Rearrange the world
Accomplish absolute upheaval
exchangin Good for selfish evil
by extendin’ out a life-worn hand
to that grace-scattered
beaten, broken, bruised and shattered
cold-hearted shell of a man
In this age of me and mine
If it feels good do it ne’er mind
how it relates to thee and thine
Buy it, steal it
Take it, fake it
Lie your way out
just to make it
obvious that there’s not a care
‘cept for the only one that’s there
in the mirror
through glassy, empty, soul-less eyes
that’ll do most anything to grasp the prize
of recognition, affirmation,
man’s applause and commendation
sacrificing character for that