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So, a year ago today, I loaded up my car and moved to a city I had been to for the first time only a few months before, with no job, to live in a house I had never even seen with people I had never met.  I knew no one. I had no connections.  I had nothing to hold on to, except that I knew it was my next step.

In those first few weeks I struggled with whether what I was embarking on was an act of bravery or stupidity.  I decided that it was a little of both, but most of all it was obedience that led me to Chattanooga.  More than anything I wanted what God wanted for me, and somehow I knew that meant being in Chattanooga.

Now, after being here a year, she has wooed my heart in many ways.  Not only is this city beautiful, full of history and amazing creation, it is changing me.

Throughout this year I have learned…

  • If I put myself into something and commit to it, I can accomplish it
  • God really does take care of me and orchestrate my steps (and He love me:))
  • I am worth taking care of myself
  • I can stand up for myself, not because no one else will, but because I can
  • True healing happens only in community
  • True community only happens when we are vulnerable
  • There are certain people who can be trusted
  • Not everyone in my present or future will act the way people did in my past
  • Stepping out of my comfort zone can be a really go things
  • There is power in saying “yes” to things I wouldn’t normally say yes to.
  • Nothing in this world is “black and white”, no matter how much we want it to be
  • Real friendship takes work
  • Isolation is dangerous
  • I can ask for what I need (and not feel bad about it)
  • A person’s true beauty is found in his/her stories on brokenness

I’m sure God could have taught me the same things in a different place or time in my life, but it wouldn’t have been with these amazing people who have influenced me so much this year.  I wouldn’t have been in this city that I have grown to love and cherish.  It wouldn’t have been in this community that has so much become my home.

Thank you Chattanooga!  I am looking forward to our next year, or two, or twenty…

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I found this on my computer today, and thought I would share it.  I haven’t written in a while, and this seems to sum up where I am in my life right now.  I am struggling to live more honestly in my story and take risks with the people God has placed in my life.  I wrote this a little over a year ago, and it was amazing to read, because it is still the journey I am on.  I think it will always be the journey that I am on….to LIVE my story well.

Ever since I was a child I loved writing.  When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to be a writer.  Actually, I wanted to be a song writer.  I was in a band and everything.

I have always been enamored with the way that music can reach a part of my soul that no other form of art can.  A great book can stir something deep inside me.  An amazing piece of art can lead me to a deeper understanding of beauty. But when I hear a great song, it doesn’t just stir me.  A great song can awaken a part of my soul that I didn’t even know needed to be awakened.  There is something about the marriage of words and music that brings life.  I wanted to bring that life to other people.

So, I wrote songs.  I even performed the songs I wrote throughout college and seminary.  But, they were never the songs that brought life.  They stirred little and awakened less.

After college I entered seminary to pursue a masters degree.  I knew that I was called to ministry, and in pursuit of that calling, I stopped writing.  I don’t mean that I stopped writing all together.  I wrote plenty of papers, essays, proposals, outlines, book reviews, and bible studies, but I pushed aside that desire I had to awaken people with words for a higher calling.  I left the joy music.  I left the rhythm of poetry.  I left the beauty of prose.  I pushed it aside for study.

I left my story for what I thought would be a greater story.  I abandoned my true calling to follow what I thought I could be passionate about.  I began to pursue ministry instead of pursuing my place in the greater story.  I pursued my calling instead of the One who had called me.

All of us have a desire inside of us to tell a story.  Some of us are better at it than others, but we all tell a story nonetheless.  All of us have a longing to be part of a greater story, and epic.  And, we are.  

One of my favorite works of literature is J.R.R Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  There is an epic battle scene in The Two Towers at the battle of Helm’s Deep.  The men of middle earth have fought all night long against an army of 10,000.  The battle is almost lost as they have been forced to retreat into the inner parts of the fortress.  As the day begins to break, Aragon and King Theoden decide that if they are going to lose the battle, they will lose it fighting to the death.  They decide to ride out and meet the enemy head on.  As they do, the sun begins to rise over the eastern hills, and at the top of the hill is Gandalf, the white wizard.  He and a great army of men descend the hill straight into the battle, and the battle turns.  Gandalf and the army of men turn the tide and defeat the enemy.

In the movie, this scene is amazing because as Gandalf and the army of men descend the hill, swords raised at the enemy, the camera pans out and all that can be seen is light coming down and clashing with the darkness of the enemy.  It is an epic battle.  It is an epic story of good and evil.  We are left on the edge of our seats until the very end, wondering if the evil will win, wondering if men can overcome such great darkness, wondering if Frodo will destroy the ring before it destroys him.

Stories like this resonate within us because we are part of an epic.  We live in the tension of good and evil.  We sit on the edge of our seats in our own life, wondering if evil will undo us, if men really can overcome.

Our story is different though.  Our story has an advantage over every other story told.  We don’t just have a wizard entering in to rescue us in the battle, we have God who chose to enter into the battle himself and rescue us from the enemy.  He is the light clashing with the darkness.  And, He turned the epic story into a sure victory.

All of us have a part to play in this story.  Right here.  Right now.  

I find that I am asking myself what my part is in the story, and am I living it?  Am I truly living out my part of the story, and am I doing it well?

I often wonder what the first thing God will say to me when I get to heaven.  I’m pretty sure that He will have to speak first, because I won’t be able to formulate words.  

I want him to say, “Amy, I’m so proud of you.  You did such a good job with what I gave you to do on earth.  You loved others and served well.  And, I think you are beautiful.”

But, I’m afraid it will play out a little more like this… “Amy, I had so much for you, and even though you were always obedient, you were never able to truly experience me because you were too busy trying to do things right.  All I ever really wanted was for you to know me.  Instead of living out what the passions and gifts I placed inside of you, you played the part you thought I would want you to play.  I just needed you to be yourself.”

Just writing that breaks my heart.

What story are you living?  What churns deep inside of you that no amount of civilization can numb?  This is the story we are called to live out.  This is the passion that has been given to us for a purpose.  A purpose in our story.  A purpose in His story.

I am praying that God will give me the strength to stop playing a part and start live my story…to love myself well so I can love others well…to stop doing so much, take a breath, and be still.

I am not big on New Year’s Resolutions, which is probably why it’s February and this post is just now making an appearance.  I don’t buy into the belief that at the beginning of the year we have to make a list of things we want to do more/less/better or change about our lives.  After all, most of those things never actually get done, and I really don’t like that.

However, I do believe that a new year gives us an opportunity to reflect on our life and make decisions to live healthier lives.  Usually I adamantly refuse to make New Year’s resolutions, but this year has been different for me.  2011 involved many changes in my life that were hard, but good, and I am ready for the changes 2012 will hold.

At the beginning of January, God began speaking one word into my life — “simple.”  And, for the past month I have been surrounded by the challenge to streamline my life and live simply.  I feel like God is telling me to remove the clutter from all the areas of my life, and realign myself.  Through this process, I feel like God has also been speaking some different challenges in my life and calling me to become more of the self I was created to be and to be satisfied in that.  It is the process of refinement.

This has sort of culminated for me over the past few days, and yesterday at work a list of things began to flow.  So, these are my life resolutions.  They aren’t just for 2012, but for a new life, a refined life, a simple life.

Streamline my life.

I have so much, and I want to give things away to people who need them.  I don’t want to be caught up in my physical or emotional attachments in such a way that I become greedy.  I want my heart to be rooted in loving and serving people, not my possessions.  I want to live simply so that others can simply live.

Be intentional about encouraging and thanking people.

I fail at this every day.  There are so many people in my life who impact and encourage me, and I want them to know how much they mean to me and how amazing they are.  I tend to be the person who needs encouragement and fails to tell people how much I love them.  I want people to know they have value and are loved.

Get outside of my comfort zone.

I don’t like change.  In fact, change kind of freaks me out.  I get stuck in ruts and so comfortable with what I know that I will never move.  I want to start being intentional about stepping into things that make me uncomfortable.  I often wonder how many amazing things I have missed in my life because I was staying comfortable.

Always say “yes” to spending time with people and building community.

I am naturally a very strong introvert.  I not only find energy in being alone, I enjoy being by myself.  My natural tendency is not to gravitate toward people, but to retreat (which goes back to the comfort zone thing).  Lately, I have always been saying “yes” when someone invites me to do something, even if I had something else to do or it would be easier to stay at home.  By doing this, I have been so blessed to begin building some amazing relationships with some amazing friends.  I never want to refuse this blessing again.

Do important things NOW, because there won’t be a better time.

I have spent the majority of my life living in my future.  I think “well when _________ happens, then I’ll do ____________.”  This is living in a fantasy, and I don’t want to trade my real life for a fantasy.

Be myself instead of who I think I should be or who I think people will like.

It’s only been in the past few years that I have become closer to being comfortable in my own skin.  I have spent the better part of my 20’s trying to be someone I thought I was supposed to be or that I thought people would like, and I failed to be myself.  I want to be myself and be unashamed of who I am, nose ring, gray hair, 72 inches, quirkiness, and all.

Embrace the moments I’m given.

I want to live more presently, instead of in the past or the future.  I posted about this a few months ago, and I have been trying to live this way for a while — living where I am, at this time in my life.

Trust that God will fulfill the desires of my heart.

This is probably the hardest thing for me.  It’s not that I don’t believe my desires align with God’s, I just tend to live in the reality of pain and struggle.  I have a hard time trusting that God will fulfill the desires of my heart, because I have seen so many people not have their deepest desires fulfilled.  I want to rid myself of the doubt that is so pervasive in my heart and believe even when it seems impossible.  I want to live in hope, because without hope, life is empty.

Beauty and the Beast is by far my favorite Disney movie.  I love the romance and fantasy, but most of all, I love that in the end the unlovable becomes the beloved.

When I watch it, I always put myself in the role of Belle.  Maybe it’s because I’m a girl, or the fact that I want to be like her, after all, she is the heroine in the film.  I have always thought that it was my job to love the most unlovable guy, and when I did he would become my prince.  I had to be the one to sacrifice and find beauty in what seemed hideous.

Last night, I realized that I have had it wrong the whole time.  I am not Belle.  I have been trying so hard to be the lover, when I have been the beloved all along.  I am the Beast.

I am the one living in a prison of my own unloveableness, waiting for someone to see who I really am and love me anyway.  I am the one waiting to the last petal of the rose to fall, believing that my true love will never come.  I am the Beast.

At every human being’s core is the same desire: to be intimately known and loved anyway.  It seems impossible that someone could see all of me and still love me.  That desire grows inside of me everyday.  It is what every fight that I have with God comes down to.  I want to be intimately known and loved anyway, and the truth is that everyday I feel more and more unlovable.

But, here’s the clencher…there is a Belle for me.  There has been a Belle all along.  God is Belle.  He is the one who sees my sharp teeth, my claws, my hairiness, and my rough edges.  He sees the beast on the outside, but He also sees the beauty on the inside.  He loves me.  He is my true love that breaks the spell.

I struggle with this every day of my life, and I wonder if God is trying to teach me something about our relationship.  He is the one that has come to break my spell.  He is loves me beyond what I look like and what I do.  He loves me know matter what.  And, the hardest part about all of that is believing it.

So, I have successfully (or at least I think successfully) navigated my first month in Chattanooga and at Richmont.

It’s been an interesting month, and honestly I have been able to embrace more of who I really am than at any other time in my life.  I am learning so much about being present in this place God has put me at this time in my life and also allowing myself to hope in the future before me.

I am allowing myself to live in the present and not get lost in my past or caught up in what may happen in the future.  And, because of that I have been reminded constantly that God is in control of all of my days and is always ahead of me.  I have been able to make some great connections with people and start to build community in my life.

I have definitely had my doubts over the past 33 days, but there is also so much hope being birthed every day.  I feel like each day holds some confirmation that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be and counseling is what I am wired for.  I can’t remember a time in my life where I have felt more inadequate, overwhelmed, in awe, or excited to be where I am and doing what I am doing.  I love it, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

There are still so many unknowns….a permanent place to live, a job(s), how I will continue to pay for school…but I am trusting that God already has those unknowns taken care of, and my job is to trust Him in the uncertainty.  Please continue to pray for me as I navigate these uncertainties and trust God in them.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9

When I was in college, one of my professors told a story about a professor who decided to challenge his class on their final exam with one question, “What is bravery?”  All the students had to do was write an essay to answer that one question.

The students began frantically writing when they got their test question, except for one student who sat at his desk for a few minutes staring at his paper before he got up, walked to the front and turned in his final examination.  The professor looked at the him and asked, “Are you sure you want to turn this in?”  He said yes and walked out.

The student’s paper was completely blank.

I think about this story often, because when I first heard it I thought what that student did really was bravery.  All the other students were working their little fingers to the bone, writing about what they thought bravery was, while this guy took a chance and acted out bravery.

But, was he really brave?

Or, was he stupid?

I had breakfast with a great friend the day before I left for Chattanooga.  She was asking me about my plans, and I told her that my plan was to pack everything in my car that I would need and drive to a house I had never seen to live with two girls I had never met, sometime the next day.  (I know, well thought out right?)

Her response was, “Well, that is very brave of you.”

I didn’t know what to say because in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.  I felt scared and stupid.

During my entire drive to Chattanooga on Wednesday I wrestled with myself, because I wanted to feel brave, but the only thing I could think was how stupid I was being.  I left my family and friends behind to go to a place where I don’t know anyone and don’t have a job.

All the questions that have been racing through my mind for the past year began beating down on me…What if I don’t find a job?  What if I don’t make any friends?  What if I can’t handle going back to school?  What if I fail miserably at this, too?

Frankly, I am terrified of the journey I am embarking on.

Today, I have still been thinking about this question of bravery or stupidity, and the conclusion I have come to is that at any point I can choose either path.  I have this amazing opportunity in front of me, and I can choose to approach it with bravery or stupidity.

You see…

Stupidity is reckless and self-centered.  Stupidity is wastes our gifts and talents on things that aren’t important.  Stupidity is lacks thought and intention.

But…

Bravery moves in the face of fear.  Bravery takes a chance on something better.  Bravery invests in something beyond ourselves and our little world.  Bravery protects and defends what is good and right.

Bravery is expectant.

I choose bravery.

Since I’ve been back from Uganda, I have tried to write another blog post about what is going on in my life post-Africa, but the words are having a hard time emerging.  The truth is…I’m not sure what to say.

It’s hard to believe that in two days I will be moving to a new city.  It’s hard to believe that I will be sitting in a classroom once again.  It’s hard to believe that I will actually have to start all over…again.

I should be excited about the adventure awaiting me in Chattanooga, but instead I’m afraid of everything that can go wrong.  I have gotten so caught up in what the world tells me I need to have, do, and be over the past few years that I seem to have lost that girl who was fearless and had unwavering faith in her God.

What has happened to me?  I find myself wanting to be somebody people know and love instead of being someone who is secure because she is already known and loved.  I have become lost in myself and what I think I need instead of knowing that everything I could ever need I already have.

Maybe it’s because I’m older.  Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy.  But, I am so ready to just be somebody.  I am ready to put down some roots, have a family, and just have some stability.  It is my struggle, because even though I am at the age that the world says I should have all of those things, I am not at that place in my life.

I am not married, and I have to embrace that.
I do not have children, and I have to embrace that.
My roots are being uprooted, and I have to embrace that.
I have no stability, and I have to embrace that.
I am still figuring out who I am, and I have to embrace that.

The hardest thing is that I have to learn how to live in the midst of all the uncertainty.    I feel like I have spent the majority of my life living for what I want to happen in the future, and I have missed living in the stage of life I am in right now.

But, I am learning to embrace where I am and who I am at this time in my life.  And as much as I just want to be that somebody I hope to be in the future, I have to be who I am right here and right now, even if I’m still not really sure who that is.

Today is our last day in Uganda.  Leaving is different this time.  When I left in October, I knew I would be coming back.  This time, as I leave an even bigger piece of my heart in Uganda, I’m not sure when I will be reunited with it.  I know I will be back, but it may be a long time.  That is hard.

Leaving Buloba yesterday was just as difficult.  As I said goodbye, I told my friends that it wasn’t “goodbye” but “until next time,” but even as I said it, I wasn’t sure when “next time” would be.

I should be an expert at leaving.  I have done it a lot.  I have moved from city to city.  I have been on many mission trips, some where I was ready to go home and some where it was a struggle to get on the plane.  This time I am struggling to get on the plane.

It’s hard, because I know God has so much in store for me back home, but I love Uganda.  I think it’s harder for me know because my life has been in such a transition for the past year, and it would be easy to stay here.  It would be easier to be in this place instead of going back to the unknown.  It would be easier to be here where my heart is alive than to go back to the uncertainty.

I know in my heart that it is not time for me to stay here, but I want to, and that doesn’t make it any easier.  And, no matter where I go, my heart will always be tied to Uganda.

So, I won’t say “goodbye” but “until next time.”

Tonight we had Chick-fil-A for dinner.  Meet Chick-fil-A

Before

After

On Sunday, Pastor Isaac got a phone call from Sylvia’s family letting him know that Sylvia had a chicken for me.  When he told me, I was so taken off guard, all I could do was laugh.  I didn’t want to be rude, but I have never had anyone give me a chicken.  I didn’t know how to respond.  I asked Pastor Isaac what I was supposed to do with a chicken, and he looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Eat it.”  I definitely felt like a stupid American.

Pastor Isaac told me that when someone gives you a chicken, they are giving you the most important thing they have.  Chickens are how people make money and feed their families.  It is the best gift I have ever been given.  So, we decided that we would receive the chicken on Monday.

Monday afternoon, Sylvia’s dad and little sister showed up at the church with a chicken and pictures of the family.  They told me that Sylvia had raised the chicken and she was the one who took care of it.  She gave me the most important thing she owned.  I was so humbled by their gift that all I could do was say thank you, thank you, thank you.

I was reminded just how much our hearts are tied together.  This family is my family.  Matthew 6:21 says that where our treasure is, that is where our heart is.  My heart is here in Uganda.  My heart is with Sylvia and her family.  I may give them $35 a month, but they have given me the best gift ever–LOVE.

Today was Center Day!  It is by far one of my favorite days of the trip.  Center Day is when all of the kids in the sponsorship program come to the church and have a Bible lesson, worship and play games. I sat in on the P1 and P2 classes.  Today the memory verse was 1 Peter 2:24 “By His stripes we were healed.”  It’s a beautiful thing to watch 40 Ugandan children recite that verse over and over.  I needed that verse today.  I needed that reminder of grace this morning. After lunch we played like crazy.  I got caught up in some crazy Ugandan “Duck, Duck, Goose” game and face planted in front of about 100 children.  Luckily, I wasn’t too embarrassed when they all pointed and laughed at me.  After the kids had a good laugh, they helped dust all the dirt and grass off of me, and the teacher quickly changed the game. I learned two things… Ugandan kids will always outrun you. Always look where your feet are going, because there might just be a hole there. Tomorrow we will be going to Gaba Church for worship then heading to Buloba for church and the rest of the day.  Hopefully we will have an opportunity to sit in on a youth service and visit some of our sponsored children’s homes. Here are some photos from the past few days for you enjoyment

Getting water at the old well

Getting water at the new well On Lake Victoria headed to Bethany Village Students in Social Studies class at Bethany Village Learning the memory verse at Center Day Lunch time at Center Day (yes, that is a whole fish minus the head)