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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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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.

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)

In Uganda when crazy things happen, they say “TIA: This is Africa.”  That pretty much sums up yesterday and today.

Yesterday, we planned to go to Bethany Village in the morning then to Buloba for the afternoon.  We left for Bethany a little later than planned, but that is pretty normal here.  We took the boat across Lake Victoria to Bethany Village and stayed there for a little bit longer than we had planned.

Bethany Village is a very unique ministry of Gaba Church.  It is a place where orphaned or homeless children live and go to school.  There are 198 children currently living in Bethany Village, and there are only 11 house mothers/parents for those children.  Most homes have between 10-15 children living in them.  The school is also open to the surrounding villages, and over 400 of those students attending the school are part of the ARM sponsorship program.  The vision of Bethany Village is to raise up the future leaders of Uganda by providing a Christian education, a home, and skills for these children.

Bethany Village is one of the most amazing places on the earth.  It makes me stop and question what I am doing to help raise the next generation of American leaders.  It stops me in my tracks when I look at the dedication these administrators and house mothers have to these children.

When we left Bethany, we were about an hour behind schedule, and our boat ride back across Lake Victoria hit a few snags when the engine stop working.  For a while there we thought we might have to paddle back to shore.

By the time we made it back to the house, it was too late to travel out to Buloba.  So, unfortunately I did not get to meet with the women.  I was a little upset about it, but I realized that God knows what is meant to happen, and maybe the most important thing was my willingness to share and be vulnerable.  And, I’m sure I will have the opportunity before I leave here.

Since we didn’t go to Buloba, we decided to walk up to the Loving Hearts Baby Home and play with the children.  The Loving Hearts Baby Home is a place for children up to 3 years old who are up for adoption or in the process of being adopted.  I didn’t get the chance to go there in October, so it was a nice treat to get to see it.  We played with the kids for hours, and I got to hold the most beautiful baby girl.  She was only 4 wks old and couldn’t have weighed more than six pounds.  It was great to just sit with an innocent child and simply love her.  It was the way the afternoon should have been.

Today, we spent the whole day in Buloba, since we missed being there yesterday afternoon.  We hung rain catches all day.  It was hot.  I was sweaty and a little sunburned, but, it was great.  We had many great conversations and experiences.  I love going to someone’s home and giving them something that not only will impact their physical life, but will be a constant reminder of God.

The Living Water is the one who not only provides drinking water but Living Water.

I think that is beautiful.

For the final TIA moment…On the way home from Buloba we stopped at this store in the  not far from the house because several people on the team wanted to buy machetes.  So there we are, a van full of white people, sitting on the side of a busy street with people and goats walking all around us.  And, at one point David and Eddie (or drivers and guides) were not even in the van.  Then, someone says “You know there is something suspicious about a van full of white people buying 20 machetes.”  The moment was priceless, and the scary thing was that it is true.

**I had planned to add pictures to this post, but the power is out, and my computer is about to die….so, the pictures will have to come later.

I don’t know why I’m always amazed that God is always about 20 steps ahead of me.  I should expect it by now.

Yesterday our itinerary read something like this: eat breakfast, get adjusted to things, eat lunch, go to Buloba, return to Kampala, eat dinner, sleep.

My first trip pretty well adjusted me, but everyone else only got a few hours to adjust to this

Yesterday afternoon, we went to Buloba Community Church.  It was great to see so many familiar faces and be swarmed by kids.  We walked down to the old well, which I didn’t do on my last trip.  It was really interesting to see, and puts things into perspective when I turn on my faucet and water flows freely out of it.

On the way back to the church, I got to stop at Sylia’s house.  She has grown up so much, and she is such a beautiful girl, and I am so grateful to be a part of her life.

Then, Pastor Isaac showed me the schedule for the week, and I was scheduled to speak with the ladies at the church on Thursday.  I had no idea and was pretty taken off guard when he asked me what I had prepared.  So, I sat down with Mary who leads the women’s ministry, and we began to talk about what the women there at BCC struggle with.

First, she asked me to talk about parenting, but I let her know that probably wouldn’t be the best idea, since I’m not a parent.  Then, she turned to me and said that these women really struggle with anger and forgiveness, and it would be great if I could talk about that.  I could have fell off of my bench.

The subject of forgiveness has been coming up in my life consistently in different places for the past 4 years.  I struggle with forgiving people from my past for deep wounds that I still carry with me.  I have been working through the process of forgiveness in my own life for years and it is a day to day decision that never seems to end.  For someone who has a hard time forgiving, I know a lot about it.  It is the place in my life that is most vulnerable, and today I will be sharing that with these beautiful Ugandan women.

The idea of opening up about my struggle with forgiveness with these women honestly scared me to death, and God knows that.  He likes to stretch me and challenge me.  He always seems to put me in situations where He asks, “Amy, do you trust me?” And, I have to answer yes.

Going to Africa isn’t hard.  Sharing my story is hard.  Being transparent is hard.

Please pray for me today as I share my heart with these women.  Pray that God would break down our cultural barriers and speak truth into these women’s lives.  Pray that God would speak truth into my life through these women.

I’m not sure if today is day 1, 2, or 3 of our trip, but it is our first full day in Uganda. It always amazes me how traveling can completely mess up our sense of time and location.  Our trip was longer than normal because we had to make a little stop in Rwanda.  But, on the bright side, now I can say I’ve been to Rwanda (can I still say that even though I’ve only been on the tarmac?)

It was comforting to step out of the airport into the smells and sounds of Africa.  It was like coming home.  I have missed this place and the people here more than I realized.

This morning my eyes are tired, my legs are tired, and my mind is hazy, but, I am ready for the day.  I am excited about planting my feet on African soil.  I am excited about seeing my friends in Buloba and holding the hands of 20 little children at the same time.

I am exhausted, but I am expectant for what today has in store.