Friday, November 25, 2011

Where did the fall go?

My Volleyball Team
Has it really been three months since the end of summer?  Good glory.  And now the holidays are here, and so before I launch into decorating my house for Christmas, time to record for posterity the events of the past few months.

The new school year brought a fun but challenging new venture:  coaching volleyball!  The position had been posted in the spring, but I talked myself out of applying, thinking there was no way I'd have time to do anything like that during the year.  As the summer progressed and the position stayed open, I prayed more specifically about it and felt like Jesus was telling me that He was holding the door open for me.  So I applied and got the job.  It was glorious and overwhelming and wonderful and HARD.  The schedule was enough to run me ragged, but I wouldn't change the decision to coach.  These eight girls were so great -- challenging as teenage girls can definitely be, but I am hopeful that God will use the relationship built the draw them to Himself.  Now that it has been a month since the end of the season, I am more prone to say that I'll do it again next season.  I'm hopeful I'll cope with the schedule better now that I know more about what it entails.  :)

What happens when my advisory kids bring black athletic tape to class
My fourth year at Davis is also going well.  One of the BEST things is my advisory class.  I've had these kids since their freshmen year, and they are getting set to graduate this spring.  I just LOVE LOVE LOVE them!  I will be one sad panda this spring as they all graduate (well, most of them :-/ ).  There are a few kindred spirits in that group, and I'm thankful for the chance to really get to invest in their lives over these past four years.
Pier 1 fun with my YL gal Jenny
Colby K.

Young Life continues to be an important part of my life.  I still struggle now and again (usually on Mondays) with not wanting to be "in charge" of anything like this, but then I get to have important conversations with kids about their lives and their faiths and I think, "it is worth it."  YL allows me to add verbal proclamation to the ways I show the love of Christ to the kids at school, and while it is challenging in a LOT of ways, I am sticking with it for this year.  I have three GREAT leaders working with me, and another potential leader in the wings, so I know I'm not "alone" in the ministry.  Just last week, I got to share at the YL banquet about how God has changed the lives of two gals from Davis: Colby and Jeana.  Colby was my first YL kid (who went on to become a YL leader with us) and Jeana was her YL kid.  I took Jeana and her friends to see Colby at PLU over Veterans Day, which was such a blessing.  Colby is really doing well at school and has even stepped into YL leadership at another high school!  I'm so proud of her.  :)  I'm not sure how YL will play out this coming summer (whether or not I'll go on assignment, in particular), but for now, I'll just keep swimming.  :)

And that is the report.  God continues to challenge me to ask for His will in my life, not just for what I want.  And with that in mind and heart, I am thankful for this season of my life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A glorious ride

What a summer it has been!  I realize that technically it isn't over yet -- school doesn't start until August 31 (Happy birthday to me!) -- but the days have the feel of prepping for school: I'm meeting with potential Young Life leaders, squeezing in dates with my neices/nephews, and making lists of things I need to do so that I'm ready when my new set of English students walk through the door in two weeks.  While I am so excited about this fall and its new challenges, I would be remiss if I didn't write at least one post about The Summer of 2011!  Who knew so much could be packed into two months?!?!?

Young Life Assignment & Canyon Camp
A few fantastic members of my A-Team
I got to spend the first three weeks of this summer investing in the lives of Young Life leaders and campers at Washington Family Ranch's Canyon Camp. In three weeks, my team and I got to serve almost 2000 campers and more than 200 leaders as they experienced the best week of their lives. My job this year was a Head Leader, so I got to encourage and support the leaders as they walked (and ran and jumped and blobbed) with their students through the week. My Head Leader team (6 other fantastic adults who served in the same function as I did) was an absolute blessing. They were all HIGH CAPACITY people with great leadership/service experience and maturity; in fact, it was the humility and maturity that I appreciated most because -- believe it or not -- I was NOT the most outspoken person on the team. The whole thing had the potential to erupt in power struggles and ego clashes, but the Christ-like humility of each team member allowed for us all to serve in the same space. It was so great to participate with these kinds of leaders.  The rest of the Assignment Team was also a BLAST to get to know. There were so many opportunities to LAUGH with this group of Jesus-loving individuals!  It was also so much fun to get to serve leaders from the Northwest, many of whom I have met or served with at camp over the last two summers. I don't know what Jesus has in store for me with this Mission that is Young Life, but I am thankful for the chances I have been given to grow as a leader and as a disciple in this context. :)


The Davis Gals &  The Big Ball
During the second of my three weeks at camp, the girls from Davis came with Colby and Jael, two of the college-aged ladies who've been serving at Club all year.  It was so much fun to have them there, but it was also a real challenge for me. I was praying for discernment and wisdom all week long because I didn't know when I should step in to support them with the girls and when I should just let them lead without me. We lived three days in every 24 hours it seemed, especially as girls were open and honest about the pain in their lives and my leaders were experiencing their own personal challenges as well.  At the end of the week, though, both of them had a good experience as leaders and the girls loved their week as well. 

The Rest of July
Once Assignment finished on July 8, I spent a few days running around Oregon visiting friends and facilitating at teacher conferences.  Every summer I say I don't want to do these anymore (I get SO NERVOUS), but every time I'm in the middle of presenting, I LOVE doing it!!!  What a silly Marah I am.
The Smith/Hemker Fam (and me & Jaelynn)
    When I got home, my family from Indiana flew in for a visit.  Oh how I love love love them!  Uncle Larry, Aunt Sue, Ian, Emily, and her whole family spent 10 glorious days with us in Washington. We took a day trip to attempt to see Mt Rainier (it was too cloudy) and had lots of pool time and laughter.  I am so blessed to have a family that really loves each other and loves Jesus together.
    Another short element of July was a 4-day fly-by trip to Canada to see Baba.  Now this trip, while I'm glad I took it, was really difficult.  Baba is 99, and his body is so frail. His mind is sharp, and he remembered me. I got to spend hours holding his hand and answering the same questions each day: what am I teaching, and am I married.  He is my last living grandparent and my heart just aches for him to go be with Jesus.  While that was challenging, I did get to have a short time to reconnect with a few of my friends in Calgary: Mike  and Greg.  Hurray for wings and laughter and books and music and Jesus and friendship.

Creekside Baby!!!
The other BIG event from this summer was taking six 8th & 9th grade girls to Young Life's Creekside Camp.  What a RIOT!!!  These girls were SO MUCH FUN!!!!  The camp property is incredible, and our assignment team was BEAST!!!  Water slides, mud pits, glow-in-the-dark leader hunts, and the truth about Jesus made for one incredible week.  Four of the six girls will be at Davis next year, and all six of the gals want to get together every week for "cabin time".  Hmmmm..... we call that Campaigners in Young Life.  :)  I'm excited to see what God will do with these gals during their high school years, and I'm praying for wisdom on how to lead and love and disciple them.

The Fill-In Days
My Little Tyler Joe
So those were my big events during the summer, but the fill-in days were just as glorious. I spent lots of time at The Ranch getting my tan on with Rachel and the kids. From watching Jaelynn conquer her fear of swimming without a life jacket on to being Tyler's catcher as he launched himself into the water, my auntie heart gets filled time and again by these sweet little people.  I also kept up with singing and teaching at Franklin Hill, though I'll be taking a little break in September to ease the transition into school and coaching.  Yep -- I said coaching!  I got hired to coach C squad volleyball, and I am more than a little nervous. However, I feel like Jesus held open this door for me and I want to see what this kind of work/relationship building/ministry might hold for me. Try-outs start on Monday, so that will be the official end of my summer vacation.

In all of these endeavors, I am seeing the hand of Jesus' protection and provision for me. I've learned more about myself and about Him and am so thankful for His reminders to rest in His Presence and not freak out about the maybes in my life.  Thanks to all my friends and family who have prayed me right through this summer!  I have felt so carried and protected in many ways.

much love -- mj

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Story Problems

In celebration of the end of the school year, it's time for some math!!!


1) Davis High School is taking 14 kids to camp this summer, and it costs $395 per student.   How much money does Davis Young Life need to raise?

Answer: 14 x $395 = $5530

2) Davis High School is urban (to say the least), so Young Life Urban Ministries has given them $80 per student for camp. Now how much money do they need?

Answer: $5530 - 14($80) = $4410

3) Washington Family Ranch gives $250 scholarships to students with financial need. Davis has received five of those scholarships; now how much money do they need?

Answer: $4410 - 5($250) = $3160

4) Marah Jean sent out prayer letters a few weeks ago to all her Christ-following friends and family.  From that, Davis YL has received the following donation amounts:  $25, $100, $150,  $200 and $790.  Now how much money do they need?

Answer: $3610 - $1265 = $2345

5) This morning, Marah Jean opened a letter from a family who sent one girl to camp last year.  That particular girl has been a BEAST all year at inviting others to club and camp, which Marah shared about in her prayer letter.  This family wants to help this gal AND HER FRIENDS get to camp, so they sent a check for two thousand three hundred seventy dollars. Now how much do they need?

Answer: $2345 - $2370 = -$15

And we haven't even done our fundraiser yet!!  BOO YEAH!!!

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21

Monday, April 25, 2011

Song for You

I first was introduced to Jenny & Tyler with their song One Eyed Cat.  So quirky and funny and fabulous. I downloaded that album and have used their songs Simple and Do Not Follow Your Heart in class discussions about Transcendentalism. Granted, some of my kids didn't quite follow me, but it was still a good idea.

Because I haven't been following the duo too closely, I had no idea that they released an album this past November. I was just putzing around yesterday morning and thought, "I need some new music.  I wonder what the One Eyed Cat people have done recently."  Little did I know what awaited me.

Song for You

Oh good glory.  My heart just soars and aches and wants to cry and scream and sing its guts out. To think that God Himself, who suffered the brunt of the justice that I deserve, longs for me with this kind of passion and ache is overwhelming. He has loved me from the beginning and done every thing necessary for real intimacy to be had. How often do I just shut down from His love and comfort because my little world and pet adulteries are more manageable and familiar? How often do I get overwhelmed with my list of things I must get done and forget to simply enjoy and reciprocate His attention?

I don't want that to be the case. Thank you, Father, for the nudge that led me to this beautiful reminder of Your heart for us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pilfer and Plunder

I love that God can use anything He desires to remind us of what He's already said to us. Today's case in point: somebody else's blog.

The specific someone else is Jon Acuff who writes a blog called "Stuff Christians Like." It can be pointed, sarcastic, spot on, encouraging, and many other adjectives. Today's post (particularly the last several paragraphs of it) is what I would have written had I not read it here first. :-)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cross-training

Spring is springing here in Yakima. We aren't in the full-on orchard blooming phase, but rather the cold in the morning, warm and windy in the afternoon phase. But soon, the afternoons will be glorious and the world alive with new life.

It makes me want to get out there and run. I haven't had that hankering for quite sometime, seeing as the 2007 marathon was a bit of a running overdose for this former fake-an-injury-to-get-out-of-running girl. I was thinking about running recently within the context of cross-training. Should I strap on my new snazzy Asics, it would just be in addition to the other exercise I already enjoy -- weightlifting and step aerobics and the playing Michael Jackson Experience on the Wii. Running has specific benefits that can't be gleaned from scoring in the 9000's on Thriller or Wanna Be Starting Something, and if I want those specific benefits, I have to engage in that activity. Of course, there are other things that will help me run better -- lower body lifting and ab training -- but, in the end, I just need to get out and run.

Over the last couple months, Jesus has really be challenging me in some specific heart areas and, if you read the previous blog, you know I did some fasting in February. Well, now March is here and the "results" of that time weren't exactly what I expected. (That's a story for another blog, I suppose.) At any rate, I got to thinking about fasting within the scope of spiritual disciplines and how it doesn't get practiced very regularly, even though it is in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as one of the three presumed disciplines of faith: prayer, giving, and fasting. Sure, we know we should pray and read our Bibles and go to church, but the more I've thought about it, though, the more I think fasting is a valuable component of spiritual cross-training. (Just for clarification, when I say fasting, I mean not eating. I don't mean giving up coffee or avoiding sugar or not playing Angry Birds.)

I know from experience that it takes challenge to grow physically. If I want to run a faster mile, I have to actually do some sprint workouts. If I want to have stronger muscles, I have to challenge them by lifting more weight. Could that not also be true spiritually? I know I have gone through many blase seasons in my faith and my private Christian life becomes routine and boring. I do the same things and just keep moving forward but it feels so routine. I'm not saying God doesn't use the routine and mundane seasons in our lives for good things, but I'm wondering if there couldn't be more freedom, more breakthrough, more intimacy with Jesus if I would incorporate fasting into how I worship Him.

The other thought I've had along the lines of fasting and cross-training is the possible connection it might have to the virtue of self-control. I have been reading Louisa May Alcott's book Little Men (the sequel to Little Women), and in it, Jo and Freidrich run a school for boys. One of them is nicknamed Stuffy because he stuffs his face and is rather portly. One year at Christmas, Jo is discussing with the boys what sorts of character qualities they want to cultivate in the coming year. Some boys choose generosity or patience or kindness (all of which are character qualities often recognized as valuable in today's world, at least according to the Yakima School District's Character Quality of the Month list). However, Stuffy can't think of one, and so Freidrich suggests cultivating self-denial so that Stuffy won't make himself sick next Christmas.

I got to thinking about that: self-denial as a character quality. That one didn't make the school's top 12, and I doubt many people would list it as something worth cultivating. It wasn't on my radar, at least not by that name. I do know, however, that I want to exert more self-control in certain areas; the thought came to me that practicing self-denial would be like cross-training for the self-control muscle. To use weight-lifting as a metaphor, hammer curls and bicep curls work the same muscle but in different ways, and for me, bicep curls are more difficult. Sometimes I skip them because they are hard, but if I were not only to incorporate them but challenge myself in those curls, would not the other bicep exercises be easier? If I were to practice self-denial (fasting) in a regular way (not haphazardly), could I not hope that other spiritual disciplines would be strengthened?

These are all questions at this point because I'm on the front end of this journey. (Interesting that I'm teaching on "Keeping Your Prayer Life Fresh" in just a few weeks. I think these thoughts will be in there.) What do you guys think?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Keeping things Up-to-Date

6:29 am on Tuesday, February 22. I realized my last blog post was at the end of December, and now we're a week away from March. For those of you who check back semi-regularly, it is time for an update. I don't have any funny stories or big broad analogies about life today, but want to share how God has been encouraging me these past weeks.

The year started out rather bleakly for me. Those of you who know me well know that I lost a fourth-grader's worth of body weight (90 lbs) after college. In the five and a half years since I've moved out of my parents' house, a third of that weight has crept back on. I've gone through several seasons of renewed efforts in addressing the issues, but in the last year, God has uncovered that, for me, this struggle isn't really about food or exercise. I know what to eat and I love to be active. For me, the issue is about control. More specifically, my heart got to the place in January where I felt out of control in this area. Maybe you can relate? Telling myself in the morning, "Today, I will make good choices", then ending up eating three bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios for dessert that night and thinking, "Tomorrow, I will make good choices." And that's a tame example of my own behavior. It got to the point where I just felt hopeless, despondent, ready to dive head-first into a dozen donuts.

But God in his infinite mercy saw me sinking in the mire of that pit, and reached down, and called me into a time of fasting. (And by fasting, I don't mean no Facebook or giving up watching Modern family. Fasting = no food.) In college, I fasted semi-regularly, but fell out of the practice and now felt rather freaked out by it. As January progressed, I had all sorts of fears and justifications for not doing it, but when it came down to it, I feel like Jesus said to do it. So, I did. But even that sentence is wrong because, in those three days, I was writhing internally, looking for ways out of this self-imposed discipline. But for each internal maneuver towards the exit door, God provided specific encouragement to stay with it. Day 1 it was the story of Hannah in the Bible: if she could literally give her son away because she said she would, can I not give my "right to eat" away because I said I would. Day 2 it was the story of Jesus clearing out the temple: He is just as vehement in his removal of the blockades in my life that keep me from experiencing God's healing and wholeness. Turning over the tables in my heart is messy and frustrating but nevertheless good. Day 3 it was just the title of the day's devotional: Getting Past Your Quitting Point.

After the fasting time has come a retraining my eating patterns time. I've been eating like a vegan for about 3.5 weeks now, and have found that I can overeat on brussel sprouts and natural almond butter (not together...I don't put almond butter on my veggies. Bleh!) as easily as I can on chips and cheese or ice cream. So now the challenge is to walk through the healing steps for addictive behaviors. I'm meeting with a friend who has been clean and sober for YEARS and we're using the 12-step curriculum. It's humbling because the word "addiction" is so incredibly charged, especially in my family when Carrie's addiction sucked her into the underworld for five years. Also the idea that I am powerless over something rankles.

But then, I read the words of Christ: I am the vine, and you are the branches. Apart from me, You can do nothing.

Nothing, Lord? Really?

Yes, Marah. Nothing that really matters.

In the midst of these weeks, I've revisited Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, and in the fasting chapter, he talks about the worship of the will. I could see quite clearly that in this area, that is what I have been doing for the last couple years: worshiping myself and my ability to conquer this area. It took a LOT -- twisted ankles, ripped shoulders, LifeSigns, out-of-control tummy on the throne of Marah -- for me to see that I have been worshiping my own willpower.

Apart from Him, I can't do it. Praise be to our Papa Bear in Heaven that I can do all things through Christ. The new habits and patterns that will sustain change aren't enough; Jesus must be in those habits and patterns, the Holy Spirit must empower them. So I press on towards the goal, the upward call of God in Christ.

I covet your prayers as I finish out the next two vegan weeks. I don't intend to run back into the chains from which Jesus is freeing me, but I don't want to inadvertently slip into them either. :-)