You are with me

Psalm 23 was the first scripture that I had memorized before I was even a follower of Christ because I sang it three times in chorus in high school. The psalm resonated differently with me then because it wasn’t the words that I was focused on. Instead, it was the music. It was the softness of the trumpet and calmness as we sang “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” It was the way the music built up to the most magnificent crescendo as we sang “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I didn’t know the power behind the words at the time, but I could feel the power behind the music. The composer, I know, felt those words. It took a few years before loving Psalm 23 was more about the words than the music for me.

I saw the movie The Insanity of God last week and it broke me the way I knew it would. Hearing stories of believers in other countries who are jailed, beaten, tortured, and murdered because of their faith in Jesus Christ breaks me. I am living in a place of nominal Christians who believe the only thing the Lord wants for us is a comfortable life, happy marriage, good kids, and to go to church on Sunday mornings. I know it isn’t all that way. I know we aren’t all that way. But something has happened in the western church that has made us forget that the gospel isn’t just about us. We go to God when we think we need something added to our lives. We give thanks to God when He gives us good things. And then we forget Him. We put Him on the backburner until we need Him again. And we only think He is good when He gives us what we ask for.

I’ve had this thought repeating in my head for a couple weeks now: God is still God and God is still good even when He’s not giving us good things. And by “good things” here, I mean things we in our human nature think are good. A job promotion, a new house, a significant other. We desperately want these things. We think they’ll give us a better life, a happier life, a more meaningful life. But when God doesn’t answer those prayers, He is still God. He is still sovereign. He is still worthy of praise. I remember the believers in other countries whose lives were wrecked because of their commitment to follow Jesus. But they did not care. They had nothing, but they had everything because they had Jesus. Oh how I yearn to live with that faith.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” When He is the ruler of my life, I have everything that I need. I wonder how many times God hasn’t given me something I wanted. I know it’s a lot, but I know it’s because He knows better. I wonder how many times I have been walking through the valley, alone, uncertain, desperate to know that He is ahead of me and working things out for me, only to realize He was with me the entire time. Walking alongside me. Being good to me because He is good regardless of my cirumstances. I wonder how many times I’m going to go through this cycle of battling to trust God with control. How many times am I going to have to unclench my fists and let God be God, how many times I’m going to have to tell anxiety to find another host because it can’t have me. It tries to swallow me whole, and sometimes it seems easier if I would just let it. I let it convince me I’m not good enough, not worthy enough. But somehow God is there through it all. Even the waves and the wind obey him. How can I let anxiety rule over that?  I’m learning, always learning, but it’s hard.

Because sometimes life will seem too good to be true and you’ll be so full of joy and thanking God that He is so good to you. And other times you’ll be crippled by anxiety, uncertain if you can take another breath, but somehow you’re still thanking God because He still is good to you. Even in the valley, even in the fear, even in the uncertainty. He is with me.

it’s not you

I have tried time and time again to come up with words to explain what last summer in Colombia meant to me, and what it means to me to this day. For the past year, I’ve searched for the words to express the joy and the pain that affected me more than I ever thought it could. How do you explain to someone how two months in a foreign country changes your life? How do you explain the depth of the relationships you form with new people? How do you convey everything the Lord does in you and make people understand? Outwardly I smiled and told people I loved my “trip,” but inwardly I screamed. I screamed that it wasn’t just a trip, I screamed that I was different, I screamed that I hated everything about our culture in the United States. But I returned home, wrote this little blog post, sulked for a couple weeks, and finally buried the feelings deep enough down where I only dig them out on occasion. I readjusted to life back in Georgia like I always do, but I still desperately search for the words to tell people about Colombia. I still haven’t found them.

This summer, I’ve had the opportunity to go on two mission trips through my church, one of those being back down to Colombia. This was my third trip to Colombia, and it was so nice to be back in my second home, with all my second families across Chinauta, introducing a new group of people to the place that ripped me to pieces and put me back together again. 10 days after getting home from that trip, I jumped back on a plane, this time to Costa Rica. We got back last night from one of my favorite mission trips I’ve ever been on, and I can’t wait to talk about it. But I also don’t know what to say, because I still don’t have the words.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned: the only way for people to understand the feeling of getting home from a mission trip is for them to get home from one themselves. And then they’re stuck with that same feeling you have and neither of you have any words for it; you just sit there and say you miss Costa Rica and eating rice every day. You laugh about the week you had together, you rehash every memory you can until you’ve run out of things to say. You look through your pictures until you have them memorized. You grasp at the last bits of the trip that you can until it’s slipped away and you realize you’re not holding on to anything anymore. And eventually, it’s just a memory. Eventually, the deep pit in your stomach of missing it goes away and you go back to your normal life. Eventually you stop looking for the words.

So to all my friends dealing with post-mission trip depression: I’m here with you. It gets better, but there’s one thing I want you to hold on to: don’t forget what God has done in you. Don’t forget what He revealed to you during your time disconnected from the distractions of the States, and never forget the urgency of getting the gospel to people who haven’t heard it yet. And to all my friends who have no idea what we’re going through: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for how we only talk about the other country when we get back. I’m sorry that we don’t have the words to explain it, and we leave you confused and wondering if we even like you anymore. It’s not you, I promise.

the best yet

2015 is coming to a close, and I am in awe of how fast this year has gone. It’s such an overused saying, but last New Year’s Eve literally feels like it was yesterday to me — or at least, not an entire year ago. A lot has changed this year — a lot more than I ever thought would. I started out 2015 basically letting life happen to me and just following the plan that was always laid out for me. I didn’t realize for the longest time that I was living passively, but suddenly I knew a change had to come or I would be miserable forever. So I made a change, and one seemingly simple decision turned into the best decision I’ve ever made.

Do you ever wonder what life would be like if one teeny thing hadn’t happened to you? At first, I think life would have been almost the same if I hadn’t quit grad school in January — Kayla still would have gotten married in February, I still would have had a fun 23rd birthday, but then I remember… I wouldn’t have taken my old job back with the Bradstreets, I wouldn’t have had time to go out with that guy a few times, Michelle and I wouldn’t have had the freedom to go to the beach on a whim in March, I wouldn’t have gone to Colombia… Everything about my life would be almost entirely different right now because of one simple decision.

2015 has been the best year yet, and it all started when I decided to stop letting life happen to me. Over the course of this year, I have been trying as hard as I can to enjoy life to its fullest potential. Sometimes, that meant the Lord had to pull things from my hands, but as I was reminded by Matt Chandler the other day, “You have a loving Father, who loves you enough not to give you everything you think you need.” Instead, He gives us the things He knows we need. He gives us our best friends to get us through the hard times, the person that’s going to inspire us to get going back in the mission field, the friend who’s willing to drive to Florida at 7pm on a Saturday night. He provides us with the finances to spend two months in Colombia to serve Him and His people, the strength when we’re too weak to make it on our own, the words to say when we don’t have them ourselves. He knows what is going to happen and when it’s going to happen, which is why I ended up with a last-minute Jon Foreman ticket when one of my closest friends was going to need that show the most. It’s how I knew I’d need to be back to Colombia at the end of October to visit the greatest people I’ve ever met, in a rehab facility that holds my heart. It’s how I ended up with a job promotion right when I needed that money. He knows what we need so much better than we do. How often do I say that? I am so grateful for it.

I’m sad to see 2015 go, but I know that what’s ahead will be better. My friend Kelsey has been such an encouragement this winter in embracing the seasons as they come (these 75 degree December days have also helped). Rather than hating the pale, dreary days of fall and winter, I have continually chosen joy this whole year. I have chosen to plant my feet in faith in the Lord, and with that He has provided everything I will ever need. Joy in the Lord trumps happiness of the world any day.

So with that, I’m wishing everyone a very happy new year and pray that 2016 will be the best year yet (again).

 

 

coffee talk and advice for friends of missionaries

Yesterday I went for coffee with a new friend, Hannah. Through some mutual friends and a Facebook post, she and I met a few months ago as we were both preparing for summers in missions. All I knew about Hannah at first was that she was spending two months in India to work with a special needs orphanage, but that was enough for me to know I wanted to be friends with her. I arrived back in Georgia a week ago, so Hannah and I were finally able to meet in person. We spent two hours in Starbucks talking all about India, Colombia, what the Lord showed us over the summer, and how hard it is to transition back into regular life in the States, and it was so good to bond with someone over everything I’ve gone through and am going through. The more we talked, the more I think both of us realized what similar situations we were both in. We shared a lot of the same thoughts and experiences with both being abroad and trying to bridge the gap back home. We’ve struggled with some of the same problems with our friends, culture shock, and the conversations we’ve had since being back in the States.

And so, with all the love in the world (because I don’t want this to come across as critical at all), here are some of my own tips on interacting with friends who have just returned home from missions. The conversation Hannah and I had yesterday made me realize that maybe something like this could be useful for friends, family, and even acquaintances of people who have been serving abroad.

  1. Ask us more than “How was your trip?” When someone asks me “How was your trip?,” the only answer I can really give is, “It was good!” It doesn’t allow me to talk about the ways the Lord worked, it doesn’t allow me to tell you about what I did, or who I met, or how much I loved every second, even the difficult ones. And maybe you don’t want all that information, which is why you’re asking the obligatory “How was your trip?” just to get it out of the way. But if you really want to know, ask me more. Ask me what I did, where I lived, who I worked with, if it was hard, and I will love to tell you.

2. Forgive us for talking about it too much. I’ve found myself more often than not this week saying, “In Colombia…” and I have a hunch that it gets annoying. But try to understand: I just spent two entire months living in a completely different place, so this summer, it’s all I’ve known. It’s natural for me to relate everything back to it. I’m working on not talking only about Colombia, but I apologize if I do it in excess occasionally.

3. Don’t say, “Doesn’t it make you realize how blessed we are here?” I have two issues with this statement, and I want to lovingly educate you on why this is just wrong. Number 1: Just because I was in a foreign country on a mission trip doesn’t mean I was in a ridiculously impoverished area. Sometimes missionaries are, sometimes they’re not. Number 2: This statement implies that you view the wealth of the United States as one giant blessing from God, and everyone else–what? Isn’t faithful enough? God doesn’t deem as worthy enough? No. And I know that’s not what you meant, either. But hear me: we are not blessed because we have money. As Scott Dannemiller says in my favorite blog post of all time, “when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.” He gets into it in a lot more detail on his blog, and I urge you to read it because I don’t want to spend more time on it here, but I’ll end with this: Jesus defines blessing in Matthew 5:1-12, and what he says? Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who are persecuted. Not “blessed are those with air conditioning, easy access to healthcare, and comfortable lives.” Number 3: By saying this, you just (probably inadvertently) boiled down an entire trip to me learning that the USA is wealthy. I learned much, much more than about the material fortune of the States this summer; I learned how God’s power overcomes all of our weaknesses, that we are all uniquely talented to glorify His name, that He can bring someone from even the darkest shadows into His light, and that He always, always, always knows better. Those realizations are much greater than anything else.

4. Forgive us for not being glad to be back. Readjusting to life in the United States is hard, and post mission trip depression is a very real thing. I don’t want to lie to you and tell you I’m glad to be home when you ask me, but I also don’t want to make you feel bad when I tell you I’m not. For the most part, I missed you. If you’re my friend or my family, then of course being away from you for a long time made me sad…but: I loved it where I was. I had a different life for a while, and with that came new friends. Leaving that all behind is really hard in a way that’s impossible to explain. I don’t want to offend you by not being happy to be in Georgia, so please don’t take it personally.

5. Ask us to hang out. One of the hardest things about being gone for a long period of time and then coming home is feeling as if you don’t have a ton of friends left. Life moves on without you when you’re away, and understandably so. But when a friend returns from a trip abroad: reach out! Tell them you’re excited that they’re back and make real plans to see them, not the noncommittal “let’s get together soon” text we all send so we can feel like we played our part. Text us and let us know you’re thinking of us. (PS that goes for while we’re away, too, even if you’re not sure that we’ll see it).

6.  Tell us about what you’ve been doing while we were gone. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had where people say, “oh just the same old here. Nothing happening.” I was gone for eight weeks, surely there’s something you can fill me in on?! Even if it’s seemingly insignificant, we want to know what’s been going on in our hometown and in your life.

And a piece of advice to all, regardless of whether you have a friend who just returned from a mission trip: Be intentional in your relationships. Hannah thanked me for being intentional by reaching out to get together once we were both home. What I thought was a creepy Facebook message about how I’d been stalking her pictures from India ended up being a coffee date that both of us needed. I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful it is to have intentional friends, and the best place to start is by being one.

The One That Could Have Been

In ten days I have to say goodbye to the greatest place I’ve ever been. I can’t stop thinking about the inevitable ache in my heart that is coming the second I land in Atlanta. The past two months have been some of the most wonderful, difficult, anxiety-ridden, happiest days I’ve ever had, all in one. I’ve learned to depend on God more fully and He is truly all we need to get through anything.

One morning last week on my bus ride to Fusa, I was thinking about how weird life is and how different things are from what I expected several months ago. If life was solely up to me, I wouldn’t be in Colombia right now. I would be in graduate school, getting my masters, on my way to becoming a speech pathologist. It makes me think of the episode of Friends: “The One That Could Have Been.” All of the characters imagine what life would be like if one major life event hadn’t happened to each of them. In the end, even in the alternate reality, they all end up in almost the exact same place they are in real life. I imagine my “One That Could Have Been” would star me in 2018 as a speech pathologist, hating life and looking into moving to another country. Thank the Lord He knows better and made me miserable enough + gave me enough courage to quit in January. 

Even in February, I didn’t see myself in Colombia this summer. Back in February I was celebrating my 23rd birthday and basically the happiest I’d been in months. I was constantly surrounded by friends and love and honestly just really enjoying life. But things change and I spent weeks seeking and craving God’s will, which led me to a meeting with Dustin, which led me to Colombia. Even in the months leading up to this trip, I had no idea what to expect. I knew what I didn’t want it to be — I’ve talked enough about what I don’t like about some American mission trips, and I knew I didn’t want to spend two months going against that. But aside from that, I was literally just like, welp goin to Colombia, let’s see what happens.

And what happened was I fell in love with a place and a group of people that I will never be able to forget. What happened was that I was reminded what love looks like, what serving God looks like, and what giving up your own comfort looks like. What happened was that I became so fully dependent on God’s strength, and through that He was able to use me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. In the book of Judges in the Bible is the story of Gideon, a weak, doubtful wheat thresher used by God. Gideon isn’t confident in his own abilities, but it’s in precisely his weakness that God’s strength is shown. And here, in Colombia, my own weaknesses are so, so evident. But God’s power has been even more evident the entire time.

This might be my last post before heading back to the States at the end of next week. Continue to pray for the people in Colombia and especially my students at Sueños de Vivir. They have such a special place in my heart now and all I want is for all of them to know and love Jesus. You can also be praying for my transition back into the USA as I’m already anticipating it being a rough one. I know eventually Georgia will become home again, because it always does, but right now Colombia is home and I can’t imagine anything else.

  

quiero enamorarme más de Ti

I briefly mentioned at the end of my last post that I’ve been having a difficult week here. While I have gotten accustomed to a lot of things, not everything is fun and games down here and I hope I’m not painting it like it is. I always want to be authentic, and there are things here that I hate. I’m being eaten alive by mosquitos, I get woken up every day at 4 am by roosters, and I’ve had to embrace cold showers. But more than those little things that I can deal with, the beginning of this week I was filled with this overwhelming amount of dread and anxiety that I could not shake. It started when I found out I’d be starting teaching in a new school this week and just kind of escalated into my feeling ill-equipped and underprepared to do anything all week. Pretty much in every moment of the past four days, I’ve had a giant pit in my stomach and all I could think about was, “Only three more weeks and then I’ll be going home anyway.” Today changed all of that.

I’ve been praying and praying this week for the Lord to relieve me of this crazy anxiety that I’ve had. In little ways, I could see Him providing for me, or at least getting me through my daily tasks, but I was still so focused on the dread that I couldn’t see Him fully. Yesterday I found out that Tierra Alta and Sueños de Vivir were doing an event at the high school I’m teaching at. It was supposed to be on Friday, but last night they had to move it to today — so in about the span of an hour, I found out I’d be sharing my testimony in Spanish with a high school in a couple days to, “oh, you’ll be doing it tomorrow instead.” Yikes. God, I thought I was praying for you to relieve my stress, not add more?

This morning I arrived at Bethesda (the school) at 7 to teach for a couple hours. The past few days of teaching there have been really hard for me, so I was pleasantly surprised when this morning went well and time passed quickly. After my class, the people from Tierra Alta and Sueños de Vivir showed up to get ready for our program, and I spent the next hour practicing my testimony with anyone who would listen to me (which thankfully was everyone I asked haha). When the time finally came for me to share, it wasn’t perfect (aka I forgot a chunk of what I intended to share), but I did it and it was through the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m so thankful for a Lord who provides in every situation.


I don’t know if it sounds stupid, but sometimes I think the Lord makes His presence known to me through familiarity. For example, my second day in Colombia I was at a morning devotional meeting with the Tierra Alta staff and feeling super out of place. The first song we sang, though, was How Great Is Our God, which I know in Spanish from my summer in the Dominican Republic. Having something so familiar for me right then was like God saying to me, hey I’m here. Just like I was in the DR and always am. Again this morning it happened. In the midst of my jumble of emotions, a couple of the girls from Sueños de Vivir were singing none other than Perfume a Tus Pies, a song I’m in love with that I learned in the Dominican. Having that familiarity yet again made the Lord so present to me. The rest of the day was so, so good. The performance by my students from Sueños was awesome and I was filled with immense joy watching them. My heart is happy and I am so grateful that the Lord calms me when I need it, even in unexpected ways.

Today, I’ve teared up a few times thinking about saying goodbye to Colombia in three weeks. The time spent with my Sueños students this morning reminded me once again how much I love them. I don’t mean to gush here, but they are truly some of the most wonderful people I’ve met, and thinking about saying bye to them soon…it’s going to be hard. Luckily I have three more weeks with them, and tomorrow our class is learning about animals. Still laughing that when I met these people, I was so intimidated by them, and now our times together are my favorite parts of the week. I see you, God :)

  

 

life unexpected

One of the weirdest things in life for me is the transition from doing something entirely unfamiliar to it suddenly being a part of your everyday, normal life. I remember last March when I had my interview for grad school at Georgia State — I couldn’t find the building I was supposed to be at, was intimidated by the professors I met, and felt like a fish out of water. Fast forward to September, where I was driving to and from and around Atlanta every day, talking to professors who knew my name, and could walk through at least part of campus with my eyes shut. It’s so weird how magically one day, without realizing that it happened, you’re suddenly familiar with something that was once brand new and scary.

When I got to Colombia a month ago, one of my first thoughts was, “wow I am never going to learn my way around this place even if I try.” Every intersection looked the same, and the view of the mountains everywhere you turn, while pretty, makes it hard to differentiate between places. On top of thinking I wouldn’t learn my way around directionally (which let’s face it, I’m directionally challenged in the U.S. too, so that’s not anything new), I really just thought I wouldn’t get used to everyday life here either. Living back in Spanish 24/7 was exhausting, I was riding on the back of a motorcycle every day and trying not to think about whether anybody’s ever fallen off of one on the highway… The day I got introduced at Sueños de Vivir, I doubted I would ever really grow into that place. I thought I was going to be a fish out of water for two months.

But now, here I am, realizing once again how strange it is that a place once entirely foreign is now normal. I can literally tell you when you should brace yourself on the moto because you’re about to go over a bump in the road. I can tell you that if someone says you’re leaving at 7:00, you can expect to leave at 7:25. I had to tell my students at Sueños de Vivir on Monday that I only have three weeks left with them, and I think those people — that group of teenagers that I never thought I would enjoy or fit in with — are going to be my hardest goodbye. They have taught me most of all how possible it is to grow familiar with a place and how important relationships are in helping that along.

Spanish almost 24/7 is still difficult. Code switching is difficult. I still get frustrated sometimes with differences in life here. Life is by no means perfect. But it’s familiar, and for that, I’m thankful.

Basically, the “too long, didn’t read” version of this is that life is weird and unexpected and God is good. Hebron arrives here two weeks from yesterday and I am stoked that included in the trip is one of my most favorite friends from back home. It’s occasionally lonely here, so it’ll be nice to have a Georgia friend here in the flesh for a week. You can be praying for that trip as it approaches — the goal of the group is to, as Dustin says, “be a shot in the arm to the local ministry.” We want relationships to be formed between the locals here and the church here, not with us. Hebron is here for a week, Aby and his people are here for the long haul, and they’re the ones with the ability to invest in the lives of others. As for me, I’ve been struggling a lot this week with anxiety and feeling hopelessly overwhelmed. Pray that I can feel restored and stop feeling so ridiculously anxious because honestly, I’m over it and the pit in my stomach that won’t go away. As always, feel free to fb message me, tweet me, iMessage me, etc. about life in Georgia. I love staying in the loop and hearing what others have been up to.