You know you work at a group home when:

-you spend most of the day hearing teenage girls talk about boys, their hair, or what they're going to wear tomorrow to school

-a fight for who uses the phone is a nightly occurrence

-a lucky day rolls around where you get paid to actually take girls to the beach, the mall, or on a hike.

-you know every single pop and r&b song word for word

-you have become strangely good at "Just Dance"

-it's normal to not get one "thank you" after you spend 13 hours trying to meet the needs and desires of 6 young girls

-you have to take a deep breath every 15 minutes just to keep yourself from breaking down

-you're on a first name basis with the local cops

-you go home and all you can think of "did i consequence her right?" and "is she gonna hate me tomorrow?"

i am a residential counselor at a girls group home. i have been doing it for about 5 months now. i've had some challenging work experiences in my day, but this one takes the cake.

it's a 24/7 facility which means we have 24 hour awake care. which means that sometimes my job is to stay up all night and check on the girls every 30 minutes. we do that to make sure they haven't run away. or that they haven't tried to hurt themselves at some point in the night. sad, but reality. it's a level 12 group home. the highest level of care in santa cruz county. the highest is level 14, which essentially is institutional lock down. there are two homes within the organization Haven of Hope. i work mainly at the house for younger girls, 12-15. there are 6 of them. they can be terrors. and they can be gems. one of the toughest parts of the job is adjusting to their constant shifts in mood. they can literally be yelling and swearing at me one second and laughing hysterically and hugging me the next. it's a lot to roll with.

i find that when people close to me ask me about my job, i tend to complain about it a lot. i think sometimes i get consumed with the negativity that surrounds me when im working. and sometimes i don't feel like these girls get to see me for who i really am. because when i'm working i'm in "mom" mode. making sure they do their homework, get their laundry done, clean their rooms, be nice to one another, dress appropriately, and most importantly, what is on my mind every second i am on shift....keeping them safe. and keeping them safe looks different day to day. i've been there 5 months and i feel like they all have changed. grown up before my eyes. and they're dealing with harder and harder things each day.

yes, my job is difficult. and i have to see sad things. but i get to BE the person to be in their lives for the sad things. i get to be the one sitting on the bathroom floor with a girl as i wipe away the blood on her wrists from when she cut herself. and i get to tell her how amazing she is. and that there is hope.

i get to be the one who listens to their stories. who watches them unravel the experiences they've had and can hug them when they realize they have a long way to go. when they're scared of tonight and what they might do. when they're scared of tomorrow for who they might become. and i get to look them in the eyes and tell them how proud i am, for overcoming, for maintaining. and that it WILL be ok.


the broken

we've all heard it. and for those of us lucky enough we've seen it lived out.

the idea that God uses the broken to bring Him glory. a "broken and contrite heart" is what Scripture tells us He accepts as a sacrifice.
this concept is one that has been on my heart for a while now. i have been blessed to see broken people around me being used for the Kingdom, to come along side other broken people to remind them that they're not alone, and that not only is it ok to be broken, but it is good.

a few weeks ago i decided to go through the Bible and look for all the stories and references of brokenness. and i've been reading these stories of these people who were broken, but joyful. symbolism of brokenness is all over Scripture.

in Genesis Jacob's natural strength was broken when "his hip was wrenched" that he came to a point where God could clothe him with spiritual power.
it wasn't until Moses struck the rock in the book of Exodus, breaking it's surface, that cool "water came out of it for the people to drink".
it was not until Gideon's three hundred specially chosen soldiers "broke the jars thats were in their hands" which symbolized brokenness in their lives, that the hidden light of the torches shone, bringing terror to their enemies.
the poor widow who broke the seal on her only remaining jar of oil and
began to pour it. it was then that God miraculously multiplied it to pay her debts.
esther risked her life and broke through the laws and got favor to rescue her people from death.
Jesus broke the five loaves and the bread was multiplied to feed the five thousand. through the simple process of the loaves being broken, the miracle occurred.
my favorite story has always been of Mary breaking her beautiful jar of expensive perfume, destroying it's usefulness and value, yet allowing the wonderful fragrance to fill the house.
it was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken by thorns and nails that His inner life was poured out like water, for thirsty people to drink and then live.

i spent days pouring over these stories, amazed at God, for His intentionality and His sovereign plan.

and then i started thinking about plants (once a naturalist, always a naturalist) and how it is only when a seed is buried and broken in the earth that it sprouts, producing hundreds of other seeds.

and so it has always been, all the way down through the history of plants and people....God uses BROKEN THINGS.

i think about the people i have been blessed to meet in my life and the brokenness they have endured through their relationships, their finances, their health, their dreams, and their reputation. He uses those who seem totally hopeless and helpless. i'm not writing this because i'm helpless. but i'm writing it because this week i needed a bit of hope. the past few months have been full of adaptation, refining, change, hard adjustments, and reminders to constantly change my perspective to the healthier one. the past year the Lord has broken me in many ways. as painful as it's been, the dust is now starting to settle and through it i am able to see where He has brought me. i see Him using my brokenness to bring Him glory, even if in the tiniest of ways. the idea that we serve a God who will break us to show us more of Him astounds me. and so i will continue to offer myself, a living sacrifice, to continue to be broken. i encourage you to go through and read the all the parts of Scripture where it talks about something or someone being broken. i guarantee you'll come away with a bit more hope.


It's the little things...

Tonight my dad took me out to dinner.
A dinner date.
A dad-daughter date.

He taught me how to make a paper airplane. Out of a Spaghetti Factory placemat.
And I guess there's a lot I could say about that. But, when it comes down to it...I just thoroughly enjoyed the moment.


More than four walls and a steeple

A friend gave me this book recently when I was visiting my Mount Hermon home. There are many things I love about people giving/recommending books to me. I love when someone knows me so well that I can say something and they instantly think of the book that is relevant to the conversation that I just HAVE to read. I love people that fall in love with a book and then buy a bunch of copies of it to keep on hand to give to people. The author, Barbara Brown Taylor, reminds me of Anne Lamott. If you haven't read anything of Lamott's, drop what you're doing and go get one of her books. I recommend Traveling Mercies to start with. Both Anne Lamott and Barbara Brown Taylor write in such beautiful ways, putting their journey's of faith into words and inviting the reader to join them. The words are honest, transparent, and vulnerable. I don't know anyone who couldn't relate to what they say about the reality of loving God and others.

She writes a lot about church, and the different places she has met God. It got me thinking of the different places I have met God. I have loved many churches in my life, starting with the church I was raised in and still go to whenever I am in my hometown. Fellowship Bible Church. Where everyone knows who I am and have watched me grow up. Where people gather around you in prayer and lay hands on you when you're going through something hard or leaving to go somewhere new. They are the ones who brought meals to us when my mom was sick, who lovingly and honestly brought our family out of some of the darkest times we've been through, and who me and my dad went to Liberia, Africa with where I experienced God through the eyes of the women who spent all day cooking and cleaning for us, and through the eyes of the little children who held my hand even they didn't even know my name. FBC will always be home.
Then it was SALT, the Christian college ministry I was a part of for 4 years and interned for. I met God in the sanctuary, sitting on the floor, holding the hands of a friend and weeping in shame. In the intern room, with 9 other people, as my belief system got rocked.
Then it was Crossfire, the middle school youth ministry I was a part of for 3 years. I met God dancing and singing loudly alongside 6th grade girls, in a room where those girls shared their insecurities and their doubt in God, and in their accepting embrace every Wednesday for 3 years. They loved me better than a lot of people did and they were only in middle school.
Then it was Mount Hermon. 3 summers on Conference Center Staff I met God in circles of junior high girls on the grass talking about who they wanted to be and why it was so hard to get there. In Evergreen cabin, with girls with anorexia, depression, low-self esteem, and broken hearts, yet with the deepest desire to understand how much God loves them.
Then it was Outdoor Science. In the walls of the A-frame was where I lived when I lost the most important person to me, where I wept alongside a good friend and prayed that my scars would be healed, where I came back to after every class for most of Spring semester and cried because learning how to be a good teacher of something you have no idea how to teach is just plain hard and humbling, and where I was when I came back to Scripture and to the God that was waiting for me all along. My eyes were open to Him in the A-Frame. This was where the blindfold began to come off.
Then it was the Hitch. I met God here in the kitchen, where me and my roommates would gather to cook and have conversation. I met Him on the roof, watching countless sunsets, drinking beer, and listing the good things on the bad days with a great friend. I met Him under the canopies of the redwoods teaching about the root systems and how each tree's roots connect to one another to stay standing, watching 5th graders eyes get wide as they sat in awe of the majestic trees. I met Him on the trail, with 15 kids following me, trusting in me. I met Him teaching Outdoor Science, because once you know a bit about nature you see Him EVERYWHERE.
Then it was West Virginia. In the eyes of 3 people wanting to be led. In the calming voice of a strong woman in her office. In the conversation shared on a piece of grass outside the church at 1 am with a very wise mother of twins. In the hugs and tear stained faces of homeowners we worked with, thanking us for giving them hope. In the laughter of the little kids who walked to Kid's Club each day searching for friends. Yes, I even met God in the office where I worked this summer, in the details, in the never-ending paperwork and finances, and in the phone calls with trip leaders excited and nervous about what they were about to experience. And when I was too overwhelmed to handle it all, I met God on the fire escape where I went to seek solitude and peace.
Now it's home. In my short visit here, I've met God on the deck, where countless hours have been spent just simply "being". I've met Him around a campfire with my daddio, conversing about all that is good and hard and beautiful about this world. I've met Him in the faces of the old friends I have been blessed to sit down with and listen to what He has done in their lives the past 6 months. I've met Him in the late hours of the night when I can't sleep and my thoughts wander to that person, or that time, or why this or why that. He has been there in those fears, in those insecurities and worries. I've met Him in the overwhelming awe of His sovereignty and faithfulness, as all the details come together for me to have a new season of life in Santa Cruz.
Next it will be a red cabin at Mission Springs, with a porch swing and a fire pit, with 2 girls who I don't know much about but already love very much. And in the new job awaiting me and the people I will interact with and love. Yes, He will be there too. And my prayer is that I would find four walls, with or without a steeple, to congregate in with other people who want to follow Jesus and understand how to do this thing in this life together. But I will meet Him in that place. Yes, He is already there.
I know this is a long entry. But when you take the time to think about all the places you've met God...well, you would be surprised at what comes to mind too.

I see Him everywhere. I feel Him all the time. And I love Him more every day.


Hands and Feet

Whenever you're away for a summer doing something fairly awesome, like I had the privilege of doing this summer, you come back home and you get the "questions":

"How was it?"
"What did you learn?"
"What was the highlight?"
"Do you have an good stories to tell?"
"Would you do it again?"

These questions, while very good and necessary to think about and tell your loved ones, are a bit overwhelming. Especially because these questions are commonly asked the MOMENT you get back from your adventure, and you're just thinking "When can I sleep?" I just need to sleep." But, since I've been away from my little West Virginia life for about 2 weeks now, and since I've seen so many of the people I love the most in those 2 weeks, I've had some time to think about the answers to those questions.

I learned a lot in West Virginia.

I learned how to:
- cook meals for 70 + people for a week.
- buy stuff for those meals every week and how to pack "Tetris" style into 2 vehicles.
- balance a budget, for the first time in my 25 years of life.
- appropriatly get the attention of a lot of people "WEST VIRGINIA WHAAAAT???" "YOU KNOWWWW!!"
- lead 3 people the way they need to be led and loved
-support adult leaders instead of youth, which is all that I knew how to do before this job

the list goes on and on

I miss a lot about West Virginia too. I miss:
- Gene, the church's custodian, ringing the church bells every Sunday morning waking us up
- trying to go to the bathroom when you wake up on Sunday mornings and having a bunch of small tikes from the nursery looking at you as you stumble down the stairs in a sleepy stupor
- "I mean...", "Here's the thing...", "Where's Paul?"
- playing computers with my staff till the late hours of the night, saying every now and then "We really need to go to bed...."
- getting pied in the face on Friday mornings and sitting in dairy filth for 3 hours before we got to take showers. Or maybe that was just me...
- Paperwork finishing/scanning/emailing crazy-ness and me literally LOSING MY MIND
- my staff just knowing me so well. when to ask me questions, when to come in the office and when to stay out, when to take me out of the office and away from the Site Director nonsense details, when to make me laugh, and when to just let me be one with the paperwork...
- getting all the groups together on the church's front steps on friday mornings to take a group picture and then taking pictures of ourselves with their cameras
- that one time Kasi shut the cats tail in the van door while 80 people were watching
- talking to Bob every day when he walked his dogs
- drinking coffee and chatting with Pam, the church's secretary, every morning after the crews left about life, God's faithfulness and goodness, why she thinks I should get married and to who, and about the silly quirks of the people around us
- the huge inflatable water slide in the pouring rain. best weekend EVER.
- the Sunday night jambalaya staff meal intro
- calling Tom by his full name
- pillow talk with Kasi
- Paul- "TOMATOES!" Enough said.
- worshipping with a room full of high school students and adult leaders and along side my staff, singing His praises even when we were so tired, beat down, and dragged out, with nothing left to give, missing home, but singing...still singing.
- knowing we would be loved unconditionally wherever we went
- my staff. i miss everything about who they were. and what they meant to me in that season of my life. they loved me so well. they always gave me what i needed. did what i asked. did things before i even asked, actually. saw who i was. who i wanted to be. and accepted me for where i was at. i couldn't have asked for better people to work with. and i saw Jesus in them every day.

I think I could go on for a long time about the way West Virginia impacted me this summer.
But overall, I saw the the people of that state, the groups that came to us each week from all over the country, and the 3 people on my team be the hands and feet of Jesus.

There's a lot you learn from that. There is a lot you are convicted about from that. There is a lot of joy in that.

I'll never forget Mingo County, WV. The little brick church on the corner in Williamson. I am forever changed because of that place.


Humidity, Healing, and Hugs


We’ve become pretty used to it here. 6 weeks after taking up residence in Williamson, WV we are now becoming used to things that make this place what it is. We’re getting used to being in air conditioned buildings and then walking outside and being hit with a wave of heat, wet heat, that makes you feel like you just got out of the shower. But of the adaptations we’re dealing with I would say humidity is the smallest of them.

We’re becoming used to sitting in Pam, the church secretary's office every day, talking about the weather, how we’re doing, and how she is being impacted by us being there. The other day I went up to have some Pam time and she looked up at me and just started crying, saying how she had been listening to us worship with the youth earlier that morning during devos. That our voices being lifted up to Jesus touched her, and that she needed it. We talked about how healing it is to listen to voices worship in genuine praise to their God. She had her Bible open the whole morning, pouring over the Word, soaking it in like a sponge. I saw her earnestly seeking Jesus’s face that morning, and it’s what I needed to get through the week.

We’re becoming used to the community members, their personality’s and mannerisms. For example, Hazel, an elderly church lady who runs the kitchen at the church we’re staying in, is quite the character. We’ve had some “Hazel Encounters” that scared us to the very core. No one comes between Hazel and her kitchen. So we are all now extremely paranoid about keeping it “clean for Hazel”. But she’s very sweet and never fails to embrace us in hugs when she sees us. Always smiling. Always wanting to serve and love.

Gene. The church’s janitor. Always available to help us out with anything we need. A key broken off in a door. A clogged toilet. Who to talk to about...well...everything. Gene knows.

Pastor Jerrod. We love this man. Best accent in all of West Virginia. And some of the best preaching this side of the Mississippi :)

Pastor Greg. He has recruited for our Kid’s Club all year. He and some of his congregation have formed a healthy meal plan for the kid’s of Kid’s Club, so that we are able to give them healthy, abundant lunch items each day they come. Good man. Funny man. He never fails to crack us up.

The list goes on and on. Joe the Barber. Pierce Witt. Virginia. Iris. Pastor Ferd and his family. Sam from across the street. Pastor Mike and his congregation of Parsely Bottom Church that welcomed us in the most overwhelmingly loving way we have ever experienced. The ladies from the women’s shelter. The elderly folks at the nursing home. Rawl Freewill Baptist Church. The homeowners of the work project’s we’re doing. Debbie, Jackie and Nora, William and Ida, WC and Charlie, and Verna. And all of them, every single one of them, have shown us the upmost hospitality. Hospitality I have never been able to fathom.

We have all had to go outside of who we are comfortable with being. We have all been challenged to love deeper. To love when it’s the last thing we want to do, when it hurts too much, and when we aren’t getting anything back in return. We have been forced to give grace and receive grace.

Our pride has shown.

So has our humility.

So have our scars and wounds that were put on our hearts long ago but are re-surfacing this summer. Healing is happening for all of us individually.

This is still hard. I think it will continue to be hard. But we are learning to be a community. And we are learning to be a family.

I work on a staff of good people. With hearts so full and focused on Jesus. And even though there are days when all 4 of us question the reason of why we’re here, working for YouthWorks, with these people on our staff, doing the job we were hired for and so often feel so inadequate in, we are here together. And we don’t understand it. And that means something.

What is going on here in Williamson is what I think of when I think of the Kingdom of God. People walking hand in hand, side by side, with one another, and loving without bounds. Who are WE to get to be witness of lives being transformed each week? Who are WE to have a job in which we are required to stop each day and focus on the Lord and His goodness and faithfulness? Who are WE to be in relationship with these community members, most who have led lives so far from what we know, and yet we’re able to find a common ground of Jesus. We’re able to seek unity together. Why does He allow us to be a part of something this spectacular?

I really can only think of one reason.

Because in Mingo County, in the little 112 year old brick church on the corner, it’s making us love Him more.

And if my entire summer in Williamson was dedicated to make me love Him more, then this morning I fall on my knees in gratefulness.


West Virginia...Mountain Mama...Country roads...Take me Home.

NEXT STOP: Mingo County, West Virginia

i'm looking forward to being this kind of woman. but only for a summer. :)

i'm looking forward to the sunsets.

i'm looking forward to this being my backyard.

there are many other things i'm excited about. a new place. new people. the east coast..which..lets face it..is a new culture. new job. new new new. and i'm learning to like change. and i'm learning to let go of the things i have grown so accustomed to.

yesterday as i packed up my santa cruz life and said the last tearful goodbyes i felt a type of anxiety i haven't felt in a long time. i couldn't string words together properly. i couldn't stop shaking. a friend told me that you can tell yourself over and over that you're ok and that the transition isn't affecting you that much, but the truth is that your body knows when you are in a state of change. and the physical effects of that anxiety sometimes cannot be ignored. and i've been thinking about how wonderful it would be to just have one week to tie up loose ends and rest and spend time with the people i love in that place. but would i really be ready to go then? i don't think we're ever fully ready to make a transition. because transitions mean you're leaving something or someone behind.

i miss them all already.

i'm sure i'll blog later about the wonderful memories of santa cruz, but for now my mind is on what is ahead of me. 3 teammates waiting for someone to guide them through this crazy summer, an empty church waiting to be filled up with laughter and life and love and conversation and brokenness and growth, 9 weeks of different churches coming to mingo county to serve and be served by my team, there are prayers to be prayed, stories to be heard and stories to tell. the list goes on and on. and even though i have an idea of what my summer might look like...i have no idea at all.

get excited. west virginia stories to come.