Thursday, April 25, 2013

Courageous Faith

Dear Sarah,

Thank you so much for your letter earlier this week, it’s so good to hear from you and how you’re doing in HSE these days. I’m so thankful that even when we’re so far away we can stay in touch like this, letters are my favorite. I’m sure that all of you in Indiana are as thrilled as we are here that Spring has finally decided to show up. Kids are coming to school in shorts and t-shirts now, spending their afternoons at track practice or riding bikes around their neighborhood. On the weekends it seems like everyone is outside at soccer games or taking their dog on a walk. Any excuse to get outside is a good one. Before we know it school will be out for another year and summer will have arrived. I can’t wait for another season at camp with you where I know so many great adventures, conversations, challenges and new friends await.

This year though, I have to admit I’m feeling more torn than usual about the end of the semester. Normally I can’t wait to be free from all the books and classes and exams but this year that means I have to say good-bye to all the kids in the youth group I’ve been working with. They’re funny and loud and brave and creative and kind and sometimes they mess up but they’re willing to take big chances and I’m finding there is always more to their stories than I originally thought. It’s been such a gift to get to know them this year and I will miss them while I’m gone this summer.

I hope that the stories about Christ that we’ve been talking about lately will really sink in with them. We spend so long teaching them things in school about geography and algebra and character analysis, and I know that stuff matters, but it seems to me that our conversations about faith and life matter so much more. It’s hard to see what’s sticking with them sometimes.
This past week we were talking about the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Do you remember that one? It’s about these three guys who been taken captive and were now living under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzer. They believed in God but were now living in a place totally foreign to them where people worshipped a huge golden idol. You see in this place, whenever a certain song played in the city everyone had to bow down and worship that golden idol. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego believed in the one true God and refused to bow down to this idol. Pretty gutsy of them. People started noticing that they wouldn’t bow down and they had to face the consequences. This wasn’t just a slap on the wrist or getting arrested—they knew that the punishment was to be thrown into a fire-filled furnace. Can you even imagine?

These three guys were taken to the King where they had to tell him to his face that they wouldn’t bow to the idol. They told him that they believed in the one true God who had the power to deliver them from the fire, and even if he didn’t help they would still believe in God’s power. Wow—that would be intimidating to come before a king and say you were going to stand up for your God no matter what. The most amazing thing to me is that they said even if God didn’t rescue them they would still believe in him. It was worth it to them. Their faith wasn’t about making things easier, it was actually making their life a lot harder and a whole heck of a lot hotter.

You can probably imagine that the King was outraged. He made the furnace 7 times hotter than it usually was. They tied up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and then threw them into the fire. It was so hot that the soldiers who threw them in died of the heat. But something miraculous happened. When King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the flames he saw not three, but four men, walking around untied and unharmed. He knew that the fourth man was some sort of angel down there with them keeping them safe. The King called them to come out and when the three guys got out of the furnace not a single hair was singed and they didn’t even smell like smoke. The King was so impressed and amazed that He let all of the Israelites have the freedom and protection to worship their own God. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego even got a royal promotion.

Just like those three guys had to face a big decision about whether or not to worship God when it wasn’t the popular or easy thing to do, the kids I know here are in situations like that too. They’re facing their own fire.

Maggie, one of my girls, is from a family that’s not religious at all. I don’t think they’ve ever been to church, maybe once on Christmas Eve, and she’s never seen her parents pray. They think it’s pretty weird that she’s started reading the bible, praying and talking about God this year—they just don’t really get it.

Cody is one of the boys that’s been coming every week and he’s shared a little bit about his parents going through a really messy divorce this year. His parents fight all the time and I know sometimes he goes and tries to hide in his room so he can’t hear the yelling but it’s pretty hard to drown out. It feels  hopeless at home for Cody.

I’ve known Annie’s group of friends for a while now so I was surprised to see them change this year. A few of them got invited to a party with some freshmen over Christmas Break and they tried drinking for the first time. Some of them decided it was a bad idea and haven’t done it again but a couple of them do it a ton now. It’s not really making them any happier and it’s slowly ripping their friend group apart. Annie knows she doesn’t want to get mixed up in the drinking and smoking but doesn’t know how to stay friends with those girls and have them know she still loves them and isn’t judging them.

There’s this girl Casey I’ve gotten to know that’s so special. She’s funny and kind and creative but because she’s not like everyone else she gets left out or made fun of a lot. She’s told me things that she’s overheard people saying about her and it breaks my heart. They think she doesn’t know what they said but she does and it just really sucks. I think Casey’s so brave for continuing to be herself even when it’s not winning her a lot of friends.

Taylor and Cory had been dating for a couple weeks when they went too far and made a mistake that they both regret. Everyone at school found out about it and rumors blew up about what actually happened. Now they’re both getting called awful names that they don’t deserve. Taylor has told me that she never wants to make a mistake like that again and even though she knows that God forgives her it’s really hard when everyone else is still judging her and holding it over her head so she can’t forget.

I think sometimes kids hear the message that a life with God is going to make everything easy. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. Just ask Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego right? Because they followed God and refused to deny their faith they were thrown into a fire. Literally. I think Maggie, Cody, Annie, Casey, Taylor and Cory are each experiencing their own fire right now. They’re all making the decision that those guys had to make so long ago when they stood before the king. They’re going to stand up for what they believe in even if it’s not the popular or easy thing to do.

I have to ask myself, “Is my faith important enough to me that I’ll believe even if God doesn’t rescue me from where I am right now? Even if I don’t get rescued from the fire… from the fighting… from the rumors… from being left out… will I still follow God?”

I pray that my kids will all know that even when things are so hard that they are not alone, that God is with them every single step of the way. I hope that they know there is always hope. That’s what following Christ means for us. There is always hope.

                On the flip side, about half of my kids don’t feel like they’ve experienced a fire like this yet. Their lives are pretty great and it hasn’t been that hard for them to be a Christian so far. My hope is that they’ll open their eyes wide enough to notice what’s going on in the lives of people around them. What I’m continually learning is that God works through us in the lives of other people. We get to be his hands and feet while we’re here on earth. Love does stuff, it doesn’t just think about it.

How cool would it be if one of my kids reached out to Maggie and invited her to come to church with her family because she knows Maggie doesn’t get to go with her own parents? What if one of the guys who knows that Cody’s parents have been fighting checked in on him and invited him to spend the night so he could stay somewhere else sometimes? What if Annie told her friends that she would love them no matter what but challenged them to stop messing around with drinking and all of that? What if someone invited Casey to go with them to the mall on Saturday even if they’re not best friends? What if someone was brave enough to stand up for Taylor and Cory and tell people to stop spreading rumors? What if they told Taylor that they didn’t care about what happened in her past? It gives me chills thinking about what it might look like if we all had faith and guts like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

In a book I’m reading write now the author said, “I think heaven is a place where everyone loves each other perfectly. But loving people here on earth makes us stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways. Loving teaches us and changes us. That’s what we’re here do. God sends us here to learn how to be better at loving people, to learn how to be loved, so we’ll be prepared for heaven.” I think that’s a pretty cool idea. I think we all need to keep that in mind while we’re keeping our eyes open to see what’s going on in the lives of people around us.

I know that it won’t be easy but I’m sure that with our God my kids are capable of living out this kind of courageous faith. I’ll be praying for them as they continue to live out the next step of their story that they’ll be bold and confident in their faith.  Even though life is difficult and hard I know that God is so much bigger than that and he is willing to make me and them new again. That’s so reassuring. Right now my goal is to make the most of the time I have left with these kids in the youth group—God’s right here with me in the midst of it all. When I make it through this semester I know summer is right on the other side of the finish line. Love ya tons Sarah, I’ll talk to you soon.

Love,  Mary

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