Friday, August 20, 2010
My Journey to Yesterday
(Me at 28)
I had three significant conversations yesterday that made me got me started thinking about me nearly 20 years ago.... brash, outspoken, confident, still dreaming big about changing the world. My world, however, was pretty small and things were very neat and tidy. I had grown up in a home where I learned about holiness. I had been a Christian who was "radical for Jesus" at my high school, which pretty much meant only spending time with other Christians. I don't regret this -- it kept me away from several pitfalls I could have fallen into, but even in an inner-city Denver public High School, I learned to shelter myself.
I then headed off for four years at a Christian college and learned a lot more about how to be a good Christian. I attended chapel services 3 times a week, church twice on Sunday and had some kind of service on Wednesdays. We had devotions in the dorms at 10:30 on Thursday nights. I was saturated with Scripture, prayer, and the push to do something big with my life. In fact, the motto of the school, then called Bartlesville Wesleyan College, was "Building World Changers" and I knew I was about to become one. I was going to change the world.
I got my master's at a State University, but even there I did my best not to spend too much time with non-believers. My eyes were opened a bit to the messiness of life, but I was busy working steadily to build the College and Career Fellowship at church. My apartment was a hangout for those in Campus Crusade, and InnerVarsity and the Navigators. I had theological debates with my friends, I coached a Bible Bowl team, ingraining Scripture into my head, and I met some of the most wonderful people I had ever known. Again, no regrets, but my life was still so neat and tidy.
I returned to my Alma Mater to be Dean of Students and the same thing kept going in my life. I was immersed in the church. I rarely had contact with those who were not like me. For the most part, we were middle-class, WASP folks trying to be a "light to the world" without going into it. In some ways I think we were the closest thing to a city set on a hill that you could imagine. Bright bright lights all standing together so that we could be seen together from anyone who looked our way, but never going out and being light in the world. (Obviously there were exceptions to this -- but I realized more and more as I was in this environment that possibly I was secluding myself from the rest of the world. I even wrote an editorial about it once in college called "Asleep in the Light." All these years I was getting it and understanding that I was supposed to be out there making a difference in the messy world, but it didn't really seem like I could break away and do so.
And then I went to Mexico - the ultimate, right ? A missionary. Wow. Here I was, heading into a foreign country to spread my faith. My position was as an educational consultant at a Bible College that trained pastors. And while I learned a lot about myself during those years I was still sensing that my work was still with Christians. I am not sure that I had a relationship with one person in Mexico whose life was very messy. I left that up to those who were there with "evangelistic" job descriptions.
So that takes me to about 19 years go, just about, when I was 28 and still had this burning desire to change the world. I wasn't sure how I would go about it, but I had always dreamed of being a writer and a speaker. I wanted to fly around the country and share something important with people that would change lives. But God knew back then that I had very little to share that would truly make a difference in the world. Before I was ready to have the depth of character I would need in order to have something to say, my life would have to get messy. And so far, my simple, tidy Christian life lacked the character that comes from suffering -- that leads to perseverance -- that leads to character -- that leads to hope. (Romans 5).
Five years later my adoption journey began. We had no idea what a hard thing we were choosing to do. We were, like a lot of adoptive parents, naive and silly almost. So sure of ourselves and our communication skills, our intelligence and education, we were ready to take on parenting hurt kids with multiple issues and didn't really even think it would phase us. And we began a journey through messy on steroids. In fact, we are currently living in the midst of so many messy situations, our lives touching many people whose lives have been and continue to be hard, hard hard... and the refining process began.
Speed ahead fourteen years and here I am. Yesterday I was living my dream. I stood before an amazing audience of receptive caseworkers who are deeply entrenched in messy. They don't get the privilege of watching the tough parts of life from far away, they have to get their hands dirty. They walk into homes with police officers to remove children who are being abused. They talk to parents who are sobbing their eyes out battling an addiction who truly love their children and want them back. They take pictures of bruises, dry tears, make their way through filthy apartments to find children hovering in corners. And that is just the beginning.
And as I stood before them and shared the story of our parenting journey, teaching them how to help adoptive parents handle the tough things their kids put them through, I realized that I had become equipped to live out my naive "gonna change the world" dream only through really hard times. Messy, ugly, situations that were painful and debilitating emotionally. Experiences that didn't fit into a tiny box that could be addressed, solved, closed and shelved because they were ongoing struggles with things we had never known we would face.
Back in the day when I was dreaming of being a speaker and a writer, I wanted to skip the 19 years between. I wanted my world to stay neat and clean and without struggle. I liked it that way. It all made sense. It all fit.
And yet today, in a small way, I think that I have been able to achieve my dream of changing the world just a little bit. In the last 14 years, 518 children have been placed into homes and I have a part of that. Twelve of those were placed in my home and while I would like to think I've changed them some, the real truth is that they have changed me. I have spoken to several thousand social workers and parents over the years, encouraging them in their work and in their parenting. Our book has sold over 500 copies (I know, not exactly New York Times Bestseller, but still making a difference). And I have had multitudes of conversations online and in person with parents who are struggling that I hope I have helped in some way.
So this morning, just for a moment, I let myself enjoy the idea that possibly my dream as a college students of "Becoming a World Changer" may actually be coming true. Because we change the world one person at a time.
And I ironically, as I closed my session with last night, the world is changed as we ourselves change:
Everyone wants to change the way the world is.
Everyone wants to see the world happy.
But noone realizes that
to make this world a happy place to live
You have to change yourself - your heart
and not the world.
And while I am all about pushing people to change themselves, I recognize that for me it has been something much different. It has been about God changing me. And he did it through the character that only comes from suffering. He took me to some low places within myself to bring me out a better person. And he did it through my children and the people they have introduced me to -- the side of life I spent years trying to avoid.
And so before I head back into that messy world today, as I sit in my beautiful quiet hotel room, for just a second I'm going to be thankful that God is fulfilling the dreams I had as a twenty-something. It doesn't look anything like I imagined it would look (I didn't imagine myself weighing this much for example ;-) but it's what I dreamed of -- making a difference, one person at a time.