|Check out our backyard for the summer! Pretty easy on the eyes. :)|
(Quick update: Ryan graduated with his Master of Arts in Counseling last month…yahoo, so proud of him!!!...and about two weeks later we flew to Alaska. We’re living in the picturesque little town of Port Alsworth, where my brother Nate lives. I’m volunteering at an awesome youth camp, and Ryan is working ground crew for Lake Clark Air. We’ve been here a little less then a week and are really, really enjoying it so far!)
With each passing year I understand a little more that each person is living through their own battles, and needs grace and mercy from me because of that. Being at a youth camp this summer will refresh that lesson for me; and if I’m lucky, engrain it into my heart so I never forget it. This week has already begun to do so.
The first week of youth camp is for teens: an awesome program called Teen Pursuit. Kids—many Alaska Native-- began to fly in on the bush planes Sunday evening and were all here and unloaded by Monday afternoon. (A bit more of a production when they’re flying in from remote villages and not being dropped off by mom and dad!) In the course of getting to know them, you quickly pick out those who are the attention getters of the group; the outgoing, good looking, personality plus types. Others are quiet, ordinary, the types you find yourself looking at three days into camp and thinking, “Has she been here all along? I never noticed her.” Others you notice for all the wrong reasons. Maybe they’re particularly awkward or backwards. Maybe they’re constantly acting out or causing trouble.
Andy* was one of the latter. I noticed him at first purely because of how awkward he was. Dark, unreadable eyes in a pock-marked face, hood pulled low over his forehead, Conversation halting at best, almost painful at worst. I looked at him and something in me (I’m not proud to type this) was almost repulsed by his looks and mannerisms. We sat in a circle, a group of people sharing struggles and prayer requests, and my eyes were drawn to Andy again and again. Then something clicked in me and I remembered how loved this boy is by Jesus. Like, passionately and crazy loved! Created, treasured, drawn to intimacy with God. Just like me. And so I decided that I would love him to, if only to rebel against the shameful feeling of superiority rising up inside of me. I said a prayer for him. And immediately something cracked inside as Jesus replaced a little of my heart with His… and gave me an eye transplant along with it. This boy was unique. This boy needed extra prayer this week. And I was going to provide it. I’d love on him until I loved him.
Towards the end of the meeting he spoke up. “I’ve been feeling alone….I feel isolated and left out…I really need God to help me…I need prayer.” WHAT a brave boy. Admitting something that I’ve felt many times but have rarely been willing to verbalize it and ask for prayer, let alone in front of strangers. My prayers rose again for him and after the service I sought him out and told him so. He smiled, then… a huge, light-up-his-face, beautiful smile. I made my first teen friend. He is a gentle, sweet, delightful kid.
Sometimes first impressions can be really, really harmful. I think Satan can whisper lies in our ears about people to turn us against them before we even know them. I’ve found that when that happens, I probably need to quit thinking so critically and start praying for the person I’m tempted to disregard or dislike. We are Jesus to those around us… and if we can’t love and accept unconditionally, unreservedly, unbiased, then who will?