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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…

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.

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.

When I get stressed out I tend to make hypothetical plans… “What if I had a job making $X, then I could save $X and afford maybe one semester of school in $X if I start is the spring? or summer? or fall?…or if I move to X….or if I….”  The planning usually stresses me out more because it’s all in the realm of “what if’s.”  So, then I do one of two things: I completely shut down or I clean.  These days it’s been the later.

You might think that cleaning is a good thing, but really it’s not, because I tend to make a bigger mess than I had before.  But, at least it makes me feel better for a little while.

Sometimes I even get in these moods where I want to get rid of everything I haven’t touched in last six months…clothes, shoes, dvd’s, books, kitchen stuff, whatever…. I have been in one of those moods for the past few days.  I like to call it purging.  Cleaning out the old and bringing in the new.

I feel like for the past six months God has been doing this in my life.  He has been purging me of all the old thoughts and ideas I had about myself and bringing in a new understanding of who I am and what I am created to do.  It’s not fun.  It feels like He is taking a piece of me that I treasured and staked my identity in and throwing it in the bottom of a trash bag with a pair of my old shoes to give to the Salvation Army.  But, I know in the long run, it’s what is best for me, and I will be better because of it.

Last night I had a great conversation with my best friend, and we talked about how it’s a scary thing to be starting over.  We are both going through life changes, returning to school, and wondering if we will ever be married.  Now, we are in our late twenties and are nowhere near where we thought we would be at this age.  When we graduated from college, we had these high aspirations for life, and now we are finding ourselves back at the drawing board.

It seems like there’s this unspoken expectation that tells us we have to know who we are, have everything figured out, and have at least started to build our family and financial stability by this time in our life.  I don’t know if it’s something our parents passed down, or culture, or the church, or if it’s just my biological clock telling me I’m running behind, but it makes me feel like a failure.  I feel like I have missed the mark because I’m almost 30 and still trying to figure things out.

Starting over is scary.  I think at this stage of my life, I know too much to start over.  I am scared and unsure.  And, am finding myself a little less daring and willing to step out in faith, like I was when I was 18.  Life is different now.  I am different now.

But, I guess it all comes back to the fact that we never stop growing and changing.  I never really understood that until it happened to me.  I have outgrown the girl I was at 15, or 18, or 23, or even 25.  I am not her anymore, and I can’t go back to being her.  I am who I am now.

I feel like God is peeling away the layers I have masked myself in for the past 26 years and getting me down to my core, so I can live out of the core of myself.  He is growing me and changing me.  He is molding me and shaping me.

So, maybe, I’m not starting over.  Maybe I’m just starting new.

As a youth minister, I work alongside college students a lot, and some of them have become my closest friends.  It seems in our conversations lately a theme has arisen.  They feel trapped somewhere in between where they’ve been and where they want to be.  I think we’ve all felt this tug at some time in our lives.  Maybe you’re feeling that restlessness right now, knowing that God is calling you to something else, but also knowing you must stay right where you are until He tells you to move.  And, it is mighty difficult to seize the present when you are reaching for the future.

As much as I want to say that I find myself in that place right now, it’s not the case.  In fact, it’s almost the opposite.  I’m glad that I’m not where I’ve been and right now the future is down right overwhelming.  I am happy in my present, or at least I was.

Because three months ago, life was difficult (isn’t it always?), but life was also going great.  My job was stressful, but I loved what I was doing.  I was building great friendships, enjoying being a “grown-up,” and finally planting some roots.  But, while all of that was great, God was reminding me constantly that it wasn’t what He called me to.   He didn’t call me to build a stable and “happy” life for myself, He called me to follow Him.

Life was going great for me, just in the wrong direction.

So what do we do when life is going great, but it’s just going great in the wrong direction?

Over the past 3 months I have been bombarded by this question.  It has shaken me to my absolute core, and for a long time, the only answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”

As I began to talk through this with some people in my life, I was confused and frustrated and at times angry.  But, then I began to realize that, if I were on a road trip and found myself going in the wrong direction, I would turn around and go back to the last place I knew was right.  So, that’s what I did.  I went back to the last direction God gave me.

I remember it so clearly.  I was sitting in the back of the chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in March 2008, listening to Francis Chan speak.  Francis is an amazing speaker, but I don’t remember a single word he said that night.  All I remember is God speaking inside my soul, awakening me to this calling to work with teenagers who had been abused.

In that moment, I didn’t really know what that looked like.  I thought God was calling me to start my own ministry (aka speaking, writing books, etc).  In the weeks that followed God confirmed over and over that He was calling me to this, and my ministry began to explode at the church where I was serving.

A few months later, I graduated from seminary and returned to my home town, to begin the job search and embark on my ministry calling.  But, in the craziness of my job search, I pushed aside my passion.  In that time I fought with God…a lot and questioned His faithfulness to me.  I felt like He had brought me out into the wilderness and left me to die.  I began to understand how Israel felt after they had be rescued from Egypt, witnessing God’s amazing power and provision, only to be brought out into the desert without food or water.

Then, in His perfect timing, He led me to Cornerstone and blessed me with, not just a job, but a family.

The past 18 months that I have been on staff at Cornerstone have been some of the hardest and most joyous days of my life.  I love the staff team here and my heart is rooted here in Cornerstone’s mission and vision for this community and the world.  I can’t imagine a better body of believers to be a part of.

So, this question of direction has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to face.  It has cut straight to the core of who I thought I was, revealing who I really am.  Because, as much as I love being on staff here at Cornerstone, my calling is not to be a youth minister. (For more details on that check out this blog)

I know that God led me to Cornerstone and has allowed me to be a part of this family, not only for these students and this ministry, but also to refine me.  I have grown to have a deeper understanding of who I am, my gifts, talents and passions, and, in understanding that I believe God is calling me into professional counseling.

I’m learning that sometimes it’s when we make a wrong turn that we find the greatest treasures.  Maybe it’s the detours in our life that God uses to show us Himself in ways we never would have seen before.  Maybe it’s how He gives us the opportunity to experience beauty we wouldn’t have if He had led us on a straight path.

Like He did with Israel.

God could have easily led them into the desert on dry land, but instead chose to lead them through the Red Sea.  He could have led them straight across the desert to Canaan, but instead let them wander around for 40 years before He led them into His promise.  He could have just teleported them straight into the Promised Land (come on He is God) and totally bypasses all the suffering and death.

But, He didn’t.

God could have made their journey easy, but then they never would have seen God’s power as He parted not only an entire sea, but a river, too.  They never would have experienced God’s continual presence leading them by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day.  They never would have experienced His unending care and provision through manna, water from a rock, and quail.  They never would have experienced His justice through the Law.  They never would have come to know His abundant love and forgiveness over them in such a real way.

So, as my journey moves me on to the next step, I’m learning to embrace the twists and turns God has in my path.  They are leading me to know Him.  They are drawing me closer and closer to His heart.  And, even though it’s scary, because each turn holds a new set of unknowns, I’m growing to I prefer it over the easy way.  After all, what joy is there in the destination if I can’t celebrate the journey.

I have always considered myself and introvert. I actually like being by myself. But, I am beginning to truly understand the difference between being by myself and being alone.  I definitely don’t like being alone, but it is how I have spent many hours of my life.  Not anymore.

Things in my life are changing…for the good.  And, I don’t quite know what to do with it.  I am not used to things going well.  I am used to tradgedy and pain, grief and struggling, questions and doubt.  But, now I have sparks of hope and happiness, love and laughter, faith and friendship.  I like it.

And, the one thing that I can see surrounding me, the biggest change in my life all boils down to people.  Four months ago, I was alone.  Now, I am surrounded by growing relationships with amazing people.  People who actually want to get to know me, who listen to me, encourage me.  People who sharpen me and make me want to be a better person.  People who believe in me and support me.  They are transforming my life.

I’m not used to this.  I’m used to toughing it out on my own, not having a community of support.  But, I like it.  I don’t want to live my life any other way.  God created us to do life with other people, not to seclude ourselves and only be with our self.  I understand this now, because I am living it.

God knew what He was doing when He created Eve.  He knew Adam would wither away if he didn’t have someone to be with.  It’s about so much more than marriage…we were meant to be in relationship.  It’s vital to the fabric of our being.  It’s what is good.  No…it’s what is best.

Thank you.