Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lessons (From The Summer of Stinky Socks and Smirky-Smiles)

Once in a while you meet a person who changes your life. For me this summer that was a chubby, freckle-faced little boy who I will call S. P. Sue (since he used that code name one day to solve a camp 'crime'). 

People often question why I choose to work with certain children. It’s exhausting – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s also frustrating and patience-draining. I found that even moreso this year. It’s actually been a pretty difficult summer. Ryan and I are in the beginning stages of a together-forever life, and it’s not the easiest transition. Exciting, but also really hard. For me it has been overwhelming to realize that we won’t be able to afford the things I have always been so familiar with. As a lover of Jesus and servant of Him, I’m called to be content in every situation. But how is that possible? I know that the only way I can be okay is with His strength, but what does that look like practically? 

Among all of my worried thoughts and overwhelming emotions, there was S.P.  So, picture the cutest, chubbiest, most freckle-faced, spikey-haired, smirky-smiling ten-year-old boy with a lasting sparkle in his eye. As cute and charming as he is, he doesn’t make things easy. He wants what he wants when he wants it, no sooner and no later. He wants my permanent presence (within close enough distance that I can come running if he calls) but often doesn’t want to actually know I’m there.  He wants people and attention, but it usually becomes too much for him. And when things become too much, he takes it out on the person closest to him. For the summer, that was me. There is a lot that I lost as a result of S. P., including my diamond necklace, some skin from my neck and nose, and a lot of my patience. 

Somebody recently asked me, again, why I would continue to spend my summer with someone so challenging. My first thought was “besides the fact that he completely stole my heart and wouldn’t let go?”

This guy is seriously the most empathetic ten-year-old I have ever met. He is always the first to notice any sign of worry or sadness. And if he ever is the cause of the worry or sadness, he will be the first to give you a hug and apologize (with as much sincerity as his sneaky-smirky-smile will allow), and he'll say "Get those tears out of your eyes. They make me sad."

He also lives by the motto of “When In Doubt, Tell A Joke … or Dance” How could a normal person not enjoy this? Nobody has ever made me laugh as much in one sitting as S.P.  His jokes are super clever (usually consisting of a pun related to his ability to make a ‘move’ on a lady) and his dance moves are 100% original (please just imagine Elvis’s hips crossed with a barn-yard folk dance and a touch of screamo).

He provided me with a new vocabulary as well. When no other word can express what you're feeling, why not create one yourself, right? For example, when a space is too small for you to stretch your legs out, just scream "SMOOKIE!" 3 times. Or 8 times. Whatever makes you feel the best. And when someone says something you don't like? You can smush their lips together and yell "SHOOKIE" until they get the point.

Seriously, I don't know how a person could not love this boy. Despite his brutally honest comments, his habit of wiping his snot on my sleeve, his stinky-blackened-white socks, and his death grip, he’s really the same as you or me. I truly believe that our earthly view of these atypical children is the way God sees us. Difficult, a little dirty, often rude and entirely scattered. 

S.P. knew he needed me. I’m confident of this because of the many times he would pull my arms around himself or lean heavily on my shoulder or look back to make sure I was behind him when he was walking. But sometimes he didn’t want me. Sometimes he wanted to keep his distance and he wanted his independence (don't we all?). In these moments, it wasn’t until he was totally lost that he would cry out my name. He knew he could call me because he knew I wouldn’t leave him. You know how you take out your feelings on the people closest to you, because you know they won't go anywhere? Well, S.P. is a perfect example of that. 

I don't think we are any different than him. We know we need our Saviour, but we don’t always want Him. We avoid, we make excuses, we go our own directions. Until we’re in a crisis. We know He doesn’t leave us so we justify our bad choices. With this in mind, how can we not love the difficult ones around us? Jesus so unconditionally loves us. Even when we don't want him. 

Now back to the question that has been ringing in my head all summer. How am I supposed to be content in every situation? How am I supposed to rely on Jesus’ strength? What does that look like?
Through a little freckle-faced blessing, I got my answer.

It looks like unconditional love given by the best of our ability. 

When our hearts doubt, we can reassure our hearts by loving through our actions and in truth.
For whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. 1 John 3:18-24

It looks like having wisdom, and keeping our lives focused on His grace. 

When our minds are set fully on Jesus, we can't go wrong.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13-15
Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. For he has said "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

It looks like taking a little snot on our sweaters, smiling through hurtful comments, carrying around stinky white socks, and bearing scratches on our necks. After all, Jesus bared nails through His hands.