Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Well, I survived my first year of graduate school.  All glory to God because there's no way I could have made it through so successfully without His strength and the support of those He's placed in my life for such a time as this.  I haven't had the desire to write in a long time; mainly because it seems like that's all I did between school and work from Thanksgiving until a month ago.  The amount of papers, research, reflecting, reading, sermon writing, etc. was unreal.  I'm finally starting to feel like I can breathe again, yet there's so much ahead.  

For those who are unaware, my senior pastor has had to take a medical leave and we will be getting a part-time interim senior pastor beginning July 1.  I continue to serve as interim pastor for the time being.  Once July 1 hits, my pastoral responsibilities will decrease a bit, but I will continue to preach at least once a month and serve work with the new interim pastor to help him transition in and out within the next year.  Lots of changes coming.  Some I'm looking forward to, others I'm totally dreading.  My heart is grieving many of those changes, but that's for another time, I suppose.  

This past month off of school has been jam packed so far.  I've traveled to Florida to spend time with my best friend, had a slew of doctors appointments that resulted in a minor surgery last week, my mom was in town for that, I took a weekend class, worked A LOT, and made some plans for the future.  One of the things I'm most excited about this summer is that my nieces are coming out here to spend a month with me!  I can't begin to express what a treat this is going to be, albeit stressful at times, I'm sure.  They are absolutely precious to me and I really miss being a part of their daily lives.  I'm so ready to share my life with them again... and the love of Jesus... and to get to know who they are for longer than a week.  Between living in Africa and moving out here, I've missed a significant part of their childhood which makes me so sad.  June and July are going to be an adventure, that's for sure.

So, that's the extreme abridged version of the last 5 months.  But the real reason I finally sat down to write is because I want to share a piece of my heart.  This makes me really vulnerable... but I've been learning through my graduate work that I tend to keep things very surface-level with most of the people in my life, so this is my attempt at slowly working on that.

I have always enjoyed infants... my whole life.  There's not much better than holding a tiny, precious life in your arms.  And babies love me.  I've not met a baby I couldn't soothe and care for peacefully.  It's always been a natural thing for me.  From the time I was in college until about 5 or 6 years ago, I tried to convince myself (and everyone around me) that I didn't want kids.  Watching so many of my friends and family get married and have children was extremely painful for me since that is my heart's deepest desire.  I always felt like there was something wrong with me because that just wasn't happening for me, so to make myself feel better, I talked about not wanting kids and being glad that I was so free.  Even within the last few years, I've talked over and over again about how little kids stress me out and how I can't stand the toddler phase.  Deep down I knew I was lying, but it eased the pain and lessened my embarrassment to suppress that desire, to deny it.

A few months ago I was in an unexpected meeting with someone (who doesn't know me at all, btw) and over and over again they highlighted and praised me for "choosing" to not have kids.  No joke.  Three or four times within an hour and fifteen minutes.  My first response, as is typical, was anger.  I thought, "how dare you assume that I've CHOSEN not to have kids.  You don't know anything about my life now or my past!  You don't know if I've miscarried or maybe even lost a child.  How dare you say something like that?!"  

After the initial anger died down and I chalked those comments up to ignorance, I started to really reflect (thank you, counseling program) on why the words of that person hurt me so deeply.  I really don't want to be one of those overly sensitive people who gets upset at something not meant to be harmful.  And yet, this felt personal to me.  It was presumptuous and arrogant.  More than that though, it brought up the deep hurt of not having children.  Let me be clear: I have not chosen to not have children.  

About 5 years ago I made the very difficult choice not to allow myself to move forward with looking into adoption while I was in Uganda.  In fact, you may or may not recall that there was a baby, Elijah, who I had spent about 9 months visiting and hanging out with at a baby home during my second year abroad.  He was my precious boy and I loved him.  He responded to me like I was his mother and the caregivers at the baby home asked me to adopt him.  Their request startled me and my immediate response was, "I can't do that."  I went and spent time with him a number of times right after they asked me that week and I thought and prayed about it.  Knowing that he had to be adopted along with his older, toddler sister, I decided that I just couldn't do it at that time.  I knew God was saying no, but walking away from him on that last day before coming back to the States was heartbreaking.  I knew that I would never see him again and that I needed to trust him to God's care.

Sweet Elijah
Thanks to some friends of mine in Uganda who continued to go to the baby home to volunteer, I found out that about six months or a year later, Elijah and his sister were being adopted to an American family and that he was going to be in really good hands.  Praise the Lord!

I have not chosen to not have children.  If it were up to me, I'd be married and have a family.  I have chosen (most of the time, though not always) to be obedient to God.  And up to this point, that obedience has left me single and without children.  If I'm being totally honest, there's a small part of me that is resentful... and I have to lay that part of me at the foot of the cross every single day.  Some days are easier than others.  I still don't understand the reasoning behind things and it's still really, really painful, but I will continue to trust God because He knows these deep hurts and longings I have and He is faithful.

Today I had the privilege of hanging out with a sweet, almost-4-month-old for most of the day.  He's such an easy going boy, which is always a plus, but my time with him was such a joy.  I loved formating my day around his needs.  When I needed to get something from the store, we went for a walk.  When he was hungry, I fed him while reading through sermons and commentaries and figuring out a direction for my sermon this week.  When he napped, I sent emails.  When he woke up 30 minutes later, we chatted and giggled while I changed him.  When the youth kids came over for Bible study, I rocked him to sleep and then laid him in their waiting arms while we watched our series and prayed together.  I'm not naive enough to think that every day would be a breeze, but I genuinely enjoy being a caregiver and loving others.

Sharing such an intimate desire is difficult for me, like I mentioned.  But it's also a great reminder of God's faithfulness in my life.  So when I'm sad or lonely, I can be reminded that God is aware and I can trust Him with my heart.  I don't have to carry the resentment around with me.  Snide comments about the "choices" I've made will impact me less.  I'll see days like today as opportunities to share the love that flows out of me as a gift from God.  He hasn't made a mistake in how He has designed my make-up, instincts, or the desires of my heart. 

Me and my friend in Uganda's baby

Psalm 56 (emphasis mine)

1 O God, have mercy on me,
    for people are hounding me.
    My foes attack me all day long.
2 I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
    and many are boldly attacking me.
3 But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
4 I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me?
5 They are always twisting what I say;
    they spend their days plotting to harm me.
6 They come together to spy on me—
    watching my every step, eager to kill me.
7 Don’t let them get away with their wickedness;
    in your anger, O God, bring them down.
8 You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.
9 My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
    This I know: God is on my side!
10 I praise God for what he has promised;
    yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
11 I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me?
12 I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,
    and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.
13 For you have rescued me from death;
    you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence, O God,
    in your life-giving light.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Level: Crazy

A year ago, a number of churches in my community gathered together to worship, to pray, to learn, and to celebrate the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..  Our goal in meeting together was to challenge both ourselves and our church communities to be united, to stand as one in purpose and mission.  It was a beautiful and reflective time.  Since then, we've met several times for various services from Good Friday and Thanksgiving to a community tent revival.  It's been an honor and joy to get to know the other church leaders and their congregations.

In December, the group of pastors met to start planning for this year's unity service.  Sitting around a table with a group of ordained men, as the only woman (unordained, at that) was a bit intimidating.  We talked about how each church would participate and who would lead what during the service.  Since my senior pastor is out right now, it was determined that I would speak, representing my church.  With that initial decision came nerves, but I didn't allow myself to think about it too much because I still had a lot to do and a lot to get through before I could start worrying about January.  

Fast forward a month.  I've been preaching each Sunday for a couple of months now.  I've gotten into a bit of a routine, but with school starting back up, my schedule has resumed level: crazy.  With the unity service fast approaching, my nervousness increased.  I made the decision to only write one sermon for the week and use it at both our normal 8:30am service and at the unity service at the other church.  I couldn't imagine what I could preach that would be up to par with the other preachers... who are amazing, by the way.  As I prayed and researched I was led to John 17 where Jesus prays for His disciples and all believers.  I read through some sermons and things I found in reference to that scripture and unity and I wrote, borrowing a couple of illustrations.  With the Spirit as my guide, the sermon came together (as it always does) nicely.  I ran through it and practiced a number of times throughout the week.  Though I had confidence in the working of the Holy Spirit, my nerves didn't cease.  

When I preached at the 8:30 service at our church, things went very well and I started to get more and more excited about sharing the Word at the unity service.  Then I got to the other church... and the nerves came back.  My palms starting sweating and I felt a little sick.  Those old thoughts of inadequacy came soaring back and I began to question the sermon, my abilities, my heart, and a whole variety of other things.  Not to mention that I was leading the main set of worship along with our worship leader... and doing a special song with him and another church during our allotted time later in the service.  My mind was racing and it was hard to stay focused, but after some prayer and encouraging words, I settled in at the beginning of the service.  Leading the music and worshipping is always helpful to me as I offer myself to God and stand in His presence.  When it came time to preach, I was a bit more settled.  The nerves were present and I neglected to say anything prior to jumping into the sermon, but it worked and it began to flow nicely.  

The following is a clip that my dear brother recorded about halfway through my sermon.  In my mind, I have a bunch of reasons not to share this with you... it makes me vulnerable, I am extremely insecure about my physical appearance, I forgot to take the gum out of my mouth, I stutter, etc., but as my best friend pointed out to me today, not sharing it is exactly what the enemy wants to have happen.  The message of unity from Jesus in John 17 is too important to keep to myself... and the brilliant words and thoughts of others are given by the Holy Spirit.  Glory to God.

It was a privilege to preach and share with my brothers and sisters and I'm so thankful that God is bigger than my insecurities... and gracious and loving... and that He is allowing me to minister in this way.  I'm also so thankful for this very hectic and difficult season and those who are supporting me through it.  Thank you all.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Becoming Pliable

This morning I find myself sitting in the stillness of the sanctuary.  It's a bit chilly, but ever so peaceful.  The only sounds I hear are coming from the traffic on the road and the steady deep breathing of my faithful companions, always by my side.  There's an air of excitement in this place... this holy dwelling place of the God most high.  There is so much to look forward to and many things to do, but today I just want to sit in His presence.  I want to rest.  Really rest.  Honestly, I've allowed myself time to be incredibly lazy lately, and yet I don't feel rested.  Perhaps it's because I'm always thinking about the next thing.

Last semester ended very well and I'm pleased with my near perfect GPA.  It's by God's grace and God's grace alone that I made it through the semester.  It was hard.  Like I mentioned in my last post, not only was it hard academically, but emotionally as well... much more so than I anticipated.  It was good though.  Self awareness is always good.  I want to be a really good counselor.  This program is helping to ensure that that desire will be fulfilled as I continue to work hard and as God continues to shape me.  

Being pliable is not always easy for me.  But as I reflect on God as the Potter and me as the clay... I am thankful that His hands never stop molding me- even when I become hardened and stubborn, He doesn't take His hand from me.  The story of the prodigal son has been running through my head these last couple of weeks.  Meditating on the role of the Father in that story has been so humbling and beautiful as the world swirls around me.  The picture in my head of God standing with His arms open, peacefully, yet eagerly waiting for His child's embrace is so powerful that I can't stop my eyes from leaking at the thought of it.  Constant.  Mighty.  Loving.  Graceful.  Merciful.  Perfect.  Enough.

Towards the end of last semester, right before Thanksgiving, my senior pastor was hospitalized and diagnosed with lymphoma.  It all happened rather quickly and before I knew it, I was being asked to fill in for him in his absence.  That first week was stressful.  I was informed on a Friday night that I would be preaching the following Sunday.  Saturday, I had a full 10 hour day of class and I still had 2 other papers to write for school.  But by the leading of the Holy Spirit, the message God had for His people became clear and the sermon was written that Friday night just before midnight.

From there on out, it was a waiting game.  Still unsure how the district would have the church proceed and if they would in fact allow me, an unordained, non-clergy member to fill in, I planned an advent sermon series.  As the diagnosis became clear and a treatment plan was laid out for the pastor, the district superintendent, the church leadership, and myself met a number of times to hammer out a plan.  It was officially decided that I would fill in for our pastor.

So here I am, a second semester grad student working full time as a youth pastor, assistant pastor, and now as a lead pastor.  The church is rallying around me and I don't think I've ever felt so supported in my life.  It is an honor and a blessing to serve with such amazing people of God.  This new role is intimidating and I don't always feel very equipped for it, but thankfully, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He's enabled me to step up.  

I think the reason I'm writing today is twofold.  First, to remind myself of the power of God and the strength of His hand.  Second, to ask for prayer.  The next few months are going to be extremely difficult.  Balancing preaching, planning, outreach, administrative tasks, youth ministry, school, health, and having a life is going to be hard.  I'm not so good at the time management.  Would you stand with me in prayer during this time?  And the church too?  He must increase, but I must decrease.

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever!  Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Put Through the Wringer

In the past month and a half I've written well over 80 pages for a number of papers and assignments, along with reading too many books and articles to count... not to mention the hours and hours of lectures I've listened to both online and in class.  Grad school is no joke.  I knew that going in and it's what I wanted, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier.  There doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to get it all done and if I'm being honest speed reading has become my best friend again.  I want so badly to grasp and retain the material.  I want to be a good counselor... no, that's a lie.  I want to be the best counselor.  More and more I'm finding my perfectionism to be both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that I'm determined, the curse is that anything less than perfect is stressful to me.  On some level I've always been this way and I wish it would manifest itself in other areas of my life that really need work as well.

But all of that isn't even the hard part.  I chose this specific counseling program for a couple of main reasons.  1. It's Biblical.  2. Practical hours are required from the beginning which means I've already been practicing the skills I've been learning.  We practice in lab.  Practicing the skills and theories we learn about in lecture is imperative if we're ever going to be effective practitioners, right?  Makes so much sense but, wow, lab is by far the hardest part of grad school.  

So what could be hard about practicing skills with a smallish group of your peers, especially since you're all on the same level?  First of all, when you're a perfectionist self awareness is sometimes difficult.  What's more difficult though is working through those faults with your lab mates.  Each week during lab we are all required to bring very real life, personal situations to use as examples.  At some point each week we act as both counselor and client... and it's hard.  I love that I'm learning so much about counseling and about myself (and really it all makes practical sense that we would work through some of our own stuff and also become aware of things that clients may bring to us in the future that could be triggers for us), but it's hard.  It's not a group therapy session and there are times when I walk out of lab feeling completely broken and like I've just been left hanging there.  That's how it's designed.  Perhaps that sounds cruel to some.  It did to me at first too.  

Now I understand the method behind the madness, though I don't always like it.  I'm almost always completely exhausted by the time lab is over... which is not good because I have a 3 hour lecture immediately following lab each week.  This past week was one of those weeks.  Something was revealed in me that caused our lab leaders to encourage the lab to "pursue me."  This means I became the "client" though I wasn't really prepared for that.  It was good, but it was hard.  I feel like I'm being put through the wringer... and so do the rest of my lab mates.  It helps to know we're in the same boat, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier.  Of course, because of the nature of the work we do in lab, it's all confidential, which is comforting since we're expected to bring real stuff to lab.

Writing here today feels good.  No, I don't have time and yes, I should be doing my 4th paper of the week, studying for my midterm, and putting the finishing touches on a presentation I have this weekend.  But it's nice to sit and mindlessly write for a few minutes.  I would love to say I'm back and committed to blogging again, but that's unlikely.  Honestly, I'm not even going to take the time to edit this for errors.  No time.

So much has gone on since the last time I updated that I can't even begin to catch you up in detail.  I miss my family A LOT.  I miss my sister- my best friend, Stacy and her family.  It's been lonely.  Everyone here has their own stuff and their own friends and family.  Relationships are hard.  Work is good... up and down like most jobs.  Though, I don't like to look at what I do as just a job... I love the ministry God has given me.  I definitely miss preaching regularly.  I still say I have the coolest youth kids around.  

God is moving me forward and He continues to reassure the call He's placed on my life.  I'm so excited to see how all of this plays out.  He's been reminding me lately that my view is limited... His is not.  How awesomely reassuring is that?  I've been immersing myself in His Word and resting in the knowledge that no small detail goes unnoticed.  God is so good and I love Him deeply.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reflections of an Imperfect Perfectionist

Sometimes you cancel plans and decide to stay in.  Best decision I've made all day, let me tell you.  I needed a break.  And I realized I needed a break when I couldn't keep the tears from falling over something silly.  Let me make myself uncomfortably vulnerable and explain...

I play tennis with a dear friend of mine a couple of times a week.  I've played with him for a while now and just recently I've begun to see improvement in my game which is so exciting.  Tennis isn't anything I've ever taken seriously... in fact, I'm sure I've watched tennis and thought, "Come on, even I could do that."  How wrong I've been.  Sure, I've played around once in a great while- the neighborhood I grew up in had courts (though, I'm pretty sure I rollerbladed on those courts more than I played tennis)- but I never really played competitively.  Come to think of it, I've never done anything really competitively other than music and even then, I was the low man on the totem pole.  And that's partially where the tears came from.

I am extremely uncomfortable when I'm not good at something.  I am a perfectionist so I usually just don't do the thing I'm not good at.  Unfortunately, it takes a lot for me to step outside my comfort zone these days with certain things.  Fear of rejection and fear of foolishness, ugh.  It's got to be the right people asking me to do something.  For example, the past winter I was invited to go iceskating.  I said no.  The last time I had gone iceskating, I had to hold onto the wall the entire time for fear of falling and/or making a fool of myself some other way.  So this time, when I was invited the answer was easy.  No.  No way.  Well I eventually agreed to go, but not before making those I was going with agree to no laughing when I had to hold onto the wall the whole time.  Did I get off the wall?  Yes.  Someone took my hand and taught me and I felt comfortable with those I was with.  Am I the best skater ever?  No, but I now know there's at least some potential there.  I don't have to fear it as much now.  It was the same way with skiing.  I had never gone... my family didn't do much other then sledding in the winter. :)  So when I finally got up the courage to go skiing, I went with people I trust completely, with the understanding that I would be on the bunny hill all day.  I'm so not good at letting myself fall down... literally or figuratively.

There are plenty of other non-physical examples too, I'm sure.  In fact, one of the reasons I'm not a music teacher right now is because I was uncomfortable with not being great.  Everyone else in the music ed program at college seemed to have it all together and were very naturally talented.  I had to work really hard for my A's.  When it came time to perform, I wanted to die.  I didn't want to stand up in front of all of those people who were so much more talented (in my eyes) and sing.  I was ashamed that I wasn't as good as them.  I was ashamed that I wasn't as pretty and put together as them.  To be in front of an audience at my level seemed silly.  So I quit.  My perfectionism won again.

So, back to the tennis thing.  When I started getting better at tennis, the crazy, perfectionist, competitive Christina came out.  In my mind, there's no reason I shouldn't be good.  But then when the reasons become glaringly obvious, I shut down.  As is natural to any person with insecurities, when something/someone points out something I struggle with, I can't focus on anything else for a time.

So a couple of things happened all at once the night the tears came.  It was warm and humid.  I sweat.  A LOT.  I've always been really insecure about sweating.  Girls shouldn't sweat as much as I do.  Gross.  It's definitely a gift from my dad- dude sweats constantly.  And when I sweat, my head sweats the most.  I have thin hair (another insecurity).  When thin hair gets wet, you can see scalp.  Again, gross.  So I started to sweat as we got going.  Then my friend graciously took the time to stop, give me pointers, and give me time to practice the proper techniques.  I was so grateful, but all I could think about was how gross I must look.  As soon as the stress of being visibly sweaty hit, I was done.  My mind took off and started running in a million different directions.  I went from having a fun time playing tennis, to panicking about the way I looked which, in turn, caused me to drop like 6 games in a row, which then caused me to get frustrated because I was losing, and why couldn't I just be thin and in shape so I could be less sweaty and better at tennis and not gross looking... and why couldn't I do the thing he just taught me already... and why couldn't I love myself in that moment and see myself like Christ does... don't I trust Him... isn't he enough?

You see the craziness?  In the 5th game I dropped, the tears started.  One good thing about tennis is that your opponent is far enough away not to see the tears when they flow.  I kept myself calm, but the tears silently fell.  So many things had come crashing down as a result of my insecurities.  The devil knows the things that I'm most sensitive about and he's great at bringing them to my attention.  The last 2 games of that 3rd set were lost because I couldn't see through my tears.  How ridiculous is that?  Satan had gotten ahold of my thoughts and he ran with them.  All of my imperfections, those things that eat away at me, were at the front of my mind in those few minutes.  As I walked over to my water bottle, I said a little prayer asking God to overcome those evil thoughts.

When my friend asked if I wanted to keep playing I said 'yes' without hesitation.  In saying yes, I was risking further embarrassment, but I didn't care anymore.  This time, the perfectionist in me wasn't going to quit.  All my life, I've let myself be hindered and ruled by my insecurities.  So many times when I have to work really hard and if I don't see results right away, I quit.  What vicious cycle, right?  My biggest insecurity is my physical appearance.  I've spent more time hating myself and how I look than I care to admit.  And while that's not uncommon amongst women, sadly, it's a reality.  It's one of those things I've tried to fix on and off throughout much of my adult life.  And as soon as I slip up or when I don't see the results I want to see when I want to see them, I quit.  I give up.  What's the point?  Which then triggers thoughts of being alone forever because who is going to love me and so on...

I am an imperfect perfectionist.  I demand the best and yet when I don't quite make it, I shut down.  But Christ is perfect.  I spent a lot of time in prayer this morning telling Him how much I'm disappointed in me.  He doesn't agree.  Christ in me is perfect.  Even on my ugliest most imperfect day, Christ in me is perfect.  That's not always something I remember... (obviously, or I wouldn't have shed any tears the other night), but it's true.  When I am ashamed of myself because of how I look, when I hate myself, when I limit myself in order to protect me, I limit Christ in me.  Just like when I lay down in defeat, I limit Christ in me.

The Holy Spirit reminded me tonight of Peter's vision in the book of Acts, chapter 10.  God said to Peter in his vision, "Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean."  Here God is revealing to Peter that His Word and His Holy Spirit is for both the Jews and Gentiles.  What I call unlovely, God has made lovely.  How dare I?  None of us is good enough... that's the point.  Neither the Jew nor the Gentiles deserved salvation, but it is a free gift given to all.

My insecurities hold me back... just like everyone else's hold them back.  I am an imperfect perfectionist.  I need to stop letting my imperfections bring up insecurities that in turn keep my imperfections imperfect.  Make sense?  Somehow...

Incase you were wondering... we did play another set of tennis that night.  I lost the set 7-5.  I consider that a win.  :)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Original Plan

Piper and I were on a little 5 mile jaunt this morning as I reflected on my life and on my next steps.

10 years ago I was finishing up college with high hopes of doing something huge.  I assumed that a college degree would mean that I could do anything I wanted to do.  That's what we had always been told, growing up.  Yet the first couple of years after college weren't spent living out some big dream with the perfect job, husband, and family.  They were spent substitute teaching in a town that seemed so hopeless, never changing or moving forward.  I felt like a failure... like I wasn't moving on because I didn't feel like I was meant for anything more.  I was disappointed that my degree hadn't opened up more doors, although looking back, I didn't pursue any one thing in particular.  I was somehow stuck, held down by what I had assumed was the right thing.  I thought I had to get married and have kids before I could move on to something bigger.  But those things wouldn't have allowed me to do what was next.

Going to Africa was such an easy act of obedience, if I'm being honest.  God was leading me there, but I wasn't going kicking and screaming, like I assumed I would when He asked me to do something huge.  I like adventure.  I don't like leaving my family and friends, but it was the excitement of the unknown that drew me in.  I knew that God was going to have to be my sustainer because I knew I would be terrified and alone at times.  How quickly Uganda became home!  God made a way.  If my original plan- to get married and have kids- had happened, I'm not sure I would have been so quick to jump in with both feet.

The second year was even easier to say yes to because my original plan had fallen apart around me.  Though, it was always in the back of my mind, as evidenced by the fact that I seriously considered adopting a sweet baby I had fallen in love with at a local baby home.  I knew it wasn't the time, but I didn't know why.  I was still stuck, trying to be who society wanted me to be.  I was still striving to be a better version of me- thinner and not alone.

Oh how quickly things change.  Fast forward three and a half years to today.  Here I am, once again living away from my family and friends, trying to walk in obedience, and so uncertain about what the future holds.  Over the years I've learned a little more about trusting God with what's next... it's still not always easy.

The dog and I took a little excursion into a neighborhood we've never gone through.  The purpose of the excursion was simply to add some distance to our jaunt, but it's done more than that.  We passed by these cute little houses with their perfectly manicured yards and freshly washed cars in the driveways.  We stopped and let a 2, maybe 3 year old girl pet the dog and then run off to continue playing in her yard.  It was seriously picture perfect.  That old longing crept back up for a minute, but this time it was different.

The longing to have kids is gone at this point... not that it's outside of the realm of possibility, but as I've grown, I've come to realize that I'm not as tolerant of the toddler stage/early years as I once was.  I know, I know... "it's different when it's your own," and all that.  And maybe it is, but for now, I'm content to not have my own kids.  The me from 10 years ago must be shaking her head in disappointment.  Things haven't gone the way I'd planned or even the way society says they should.  My longing for my original plan to succeed has changed so much.  Yes, I long to be thin, to be settled, to have a husband to partner and walk through life with, but I'm seeing more and more just how little of the plan I actually get to see.  All of MY plans have gone out the window.  I have been realizing more and more that I am my Beloved's and He is mine.  The part of my life that I can see and that I think I have control over is just a pin-point compared to the vast panorama that God sees.

My reflections have me looking ahead.  I don't know how long I intended to be in this area, but God intends it for at LEAST 3 more years.  I've been accepted into a masters program and starting this fall, I'll begin a new journey!  I'm so excited... and so nervous.  Of course any time you walk into the unknown lots of insecurities creep up (at least for me, they do)- am I smart enough to get through a masters program?  Am I cut out for this line of work?  How can I work full time, ministering effectively while earning a masters degree?  All of these things have been laid on the alter and they're in God's hands now.  I trust Him as He whispers to me, "Beloved, I AM the Lord your God."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Praise God for Missing Pieces

Oh how I wish I had the gumption to sit down and write out the details of my time in Uganda to give you a better picture of what my day to day looked like.  I don't.  And in all reality, I'm not sure you'd want every detail of every day.  (and if you do, let's just go out to coffee :)  My time there was very sweet.  I hadn't really sat down and reflected on it much until today as I met with a dear friend.  Through her questions, I was able to process and see things much differently.

The first thing that hit me today was that God ordained every moment... each interaction, each breath, each tiny moment of eye contact as I cruised by on the back of a boda.  He ordained the joyful reunions and laughter, and the heart-wrenching tears as goodbyes were said.  He walked with me every step of the journey, just as He does every moment of every day here.

It's always so validating and humbling to be greeted with so much love and enthusiasm... The big hugs, the tears of joy, the feel of someone relaxing into your hug, relieved that you're finally there.  Unconditional love and the feeling of being wanted and needed... just what every woman desires.  And if I'm being completely honest, that's how most women find their identity... in how they're loved, wanted, and needed.  There were times when I felt like royalty because of the way I was being treated.  It was easy to start thinking that my worth was based on how I was being treated... because in those moments it was SO good.  But then, what would happen if I wasn't as warmly welcomed by someone? (not that that happened.)  Would how I view myself diminish somehow?  And the answer was YES.  That's a scary reality, but it's not uncommon and it's so easy to slip into.

The exciting thing is that God was in each of those moments reminding me of where my identity lies... "Beloved, I love you.  No matter what.  My love has no end, no conditions.  It doesn't depend on the number of sweet reunions or how many people love you.  It doesn't depend on how frizzy your hair is today.  You are mine and I Am more than enough.  I love you."  Over and over again, God told me and showed me that He loves me.  Who I am in Christ is who I am... that's my identity.  Looking back and looking ahead, it's so refreshing to know that God is my All in All.

Anyway, one of my favorite parts of the two weeks was spending time with the youth at the Center.  I had kids from 3 or 4 different countries, both Muslim and Christian, all new to the program.  Many of them had just arrived in Uganda.  Their English levels were extremely low, but with God's help, communication wasn't really an issue.  We spent time learning English, playing games, and doing a Bible lesson each day.  By Wednesday their participation in the games was extremely low.  Finally, one of the older boys communicated to me that they just wanted to learn... they didn't care so much about the games.  Really?!  Awesome!  So I adjusted, and I taught.  There was much laughter even in the lessons because they included a lot of me drawing... which isn't really helpful to anyone.  They also took turns drawing.  My favorite was reading the creation story from Genesis, knowing that they didn't understand most of the words coming out of my mouth, and yet seeing understanding come to them as I fumbled through drawing.  We made it through the story of the fall by the end of the week... but it was an amazing end as the Lord prompted that the emphasis be on the fact that He still pursued Adam and Eve after they had sinned.  Praise be to God.
Silly games
It was also amazing to learn a little bit of each of their stories about where they had come from and what brought them to Uganda.  Many of them are carrying the weight of the world on their young shoulders.  War, disease, death, hopelessness, anger.  The Center of Hope is indeed just that: a place of hope.  I'm so thankful for the ministries provided and that it truly serves an an oasis to refugees without hope.  It's incredible to see how it has grown over the last 3 years.  When I left, there were probably under 100 students.  Now, they are bursting at the seams with over 600.  It's so evident that Kingdom work is being done there... God is at the center and He is moving in ways that I don't think any of us could have imagined.

My African family is as sweet as ever.  To be called and introduced as "my daughter" by two of the women is so humbling.  I cherished my time with the family... even though it wasn't as long I as I would have liked.  Relationships are very much intact and growing.  It's always so cool to me that time doesn't matter to God.  In the grand scheme of things, I've spent very little time with my African family, but that doesn't seem to matter one bit.  The amount of love present is evidence of that.
Mom and Dad A
My sweet sisters
Just from school... so proud!!
Mama V
My dear friend, Suadi :)
I'm SO thankful for the time I was allowed to be in there.  Each time I leave it seems like I leave more of my heart behind.  I don't mourn for those missing pieces... I rejoice, very grateful and privileged to have so many places (and people) to call home.

There's much more to share and God continues to reveal more of Himself as I sift through the days in my memory.  Please join me in praying for the work and the workers at the Center.  Pray for the refugees.  Pray for my African family.  Pray for the work and ministries here and my family here in the U.S..  Thank you all for the love and support.