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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.

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.”

So, today was our fourth day in Uganda, and it was absolutely amazing.  I am falling in love with this place.  Actually, I think I fell in love with Uganda before I even stepped off the plane.

I have heard so much about this place and the people here for so long, that actually being here is like returning to see old friends.  I feel like we picked up right where we left off, even though we have never really met.  I can’t really explain the connection with these people, but they are truly my brothers and sisters, and I love them deeply.

Today has been an amazing day, because it is the first day that we have really done work in Buloba.  We spent the entire day (except for the two hour torrential downpour) putting rainwater catches on houses.  We completed four houses, and while all the men worked, my job was to spend time talking with the families.   Becky, one of my team members, and I got to talk with the families, which actually turned out to be all women.  And, Betty, from the second home we worked on, actually became a Christian today!

It’s hard to put in a blog all the things we are doing and experiencing without giving a play by play, so for right now, let’s just say that this has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life.  I have been to many places and done many things, but I have never been to a place like Uganda or met people like the people here in Uganda.

All I know is that God is at work in here because God is at work in me here in Uganda.  Lives are being transformed, and one of those lives is mine.

Please continue to pray for us as we work alongside our partners and friends at Buloba Community Church to reach people and show them the love that Christ has given us.

Here’s some pictures from the trip so far…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking to the well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becky and I with Kevin (Pastor Isaac’s wife) and Betty after she accepted Christ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding on the boda boda headed to Bethany Village.

I’ve always wanted to be an adventurous person, but I have a problem…I don’t like change, and I have this fear of, well…failure.  Stepping out and doing something adventurous always requires change and always risks failure.

Yet, I always seem to find myself doing things that seem crazy.  This is what the last six months of my life have been….craziness.  But, in the midst of all of it, I have this peace that I am exactly where I need to be, even if it’s not where I want to be, or where I thought I would ever be at this point in my life.

Last month I was working two jobs.  One job that I was in the process of leaving, and another job that I was in the process of beginning.  The job I was leaving was my position as Youth Minister at Cornerstone.  When I started at Cornerstone two years ago, it was my dream job, and I never thought I would be leaving it so soon.  The job I was starting is my job at the hospital, a place I never thought I would work because I pretty much hate hospitals. But, I guess God had different plans than I did.

Proverbs 16:9 says “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

I clung to this verse while I was in seminary, and I find myself clinging to it now.

Things don’t make sense.  I try to plan, and God always changes those plans.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing to plan, but I do believe that God orders our steps, and He always knows what’s best.  I trust that…I have to trust that.  Because if I don’t, my fear of failing would cripple me.

But, worse than failing, I believe, is looking back at my life after 5 or 10 years and regretting.  I don’t want to regret sticking to my “plan” and not following God’s steps.

So, let’s just say that things are different.  I am in a place I never thought I would be.  It’s not fun, but it is an adventure.  It’s not forever, but it is a step that God has placed in front of me.  And, honestly, that’s all I can handle right now…one step at a time.

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.

Holy Week has begun.  The entire season of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, invites us to journey alongside Christ as He heads toward the cross, and now we have come to the end, where the cross in immanent.  This is actually one of my favorite times of the year, because it not only makes me look back at what Christ did on the cross, but it also makes me look at my own journey with Him and how He is moving in my life now.

I have been reminded of this several times over the past few months.  One way this has happened is through our Confirmation students.

Yesterday, at Cornerstone, 16 students stood before the church body and declared their faith in Christ and surrendered to Him.  Ten of these students were also baptized, and I had the amazing opportunity to stand beside them, watch their bodies go under the water, and help raise them out of the water.  Baptism is such a beautiful picture of new life.  And, it always reminds me that the new life we are raised in is Christ’s life.

But, before Sunday ever happened, I had a conversation with each of these students.  And, the one word that seemed to come up over and over was the word “journey.”  It was so amazing to see how God has had these students on a journey from the time they were little children to get them to where they are now.  He has been wooing them and drawing them to Himself, even when they didn’t realize it.  Their journey continues now as they follow after Him, and I am so humbled to be a tiny part of it.

Another way God has been revealing this to me is in my own personal life. God has been reminding me of the journey He has had me on for the past 26 years and the journey He still has ahead of me.  It doesn’t end here.  He has been renewing my heart to the core of what He has called me to.  He has been drawing me into Himself and revealing things to me about myself that I didn’t even know.  He is preparing me and pruning me.

Lent has definitely been a journey for me.  I had all of these grand ideas of how I what I was going to do for Lent, and how I was going to give up sin and replace it with Him (read this post about my Lent goals).  But,  the truth is that I failed.  I did not succeed.  As I was driving to work this morning and thinking about the fact that I failed at Lent this year, I realized that maybe that’s the point.  As hard as I try, I can’t do it.  I can’t not sin.  I can’t be perfect.  I will fail.

And, that’s where the Lamb takes over…

The past few weeks, I have been living in Ephesians 4:17-5:7.  This passage isn’t new to me, but it’s amazing how a passage of Scripture comes alive when I have to teach it to teenagers.  I have been wrestling with this passage, not because of the bad things in my life, but because of the good things that aren’t in my life.

Sure, I haven’t killed anyone lately, but have I haven’t shared life with anyone either.  I haven’t cussed anyone out lately, but I wouldn’t say that my life, or my speech, has been pure either.

Ephesians 4:22-24 says

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

I read a quote one time from Aaron Weiss (of Mewithoutyou) where he said, “Jesus Christ came to bring an entirely new way of life that we are not living.”  The truth is that we have been given a “new self” that is created to BE LIKE GOD.  We have to opportunity to be like God, not because we deserve it or have passed the test, but because of what Ephesians 2:4-5 says

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

I was wallowing in the mud of my lust and desires that I thought would make me happy.  I was dead.  Then, Jesus Christ came to make me alive.  He gave me a new life, and not just any life, but a life that is created to be like God.  I have been rescued from death to be like God!

But, so often I find myself returning to my old life, not because it’s good, but because sin makes me feel good in the moment, and to be honest, it’s easier and more comfortable.  I go right back to what I’ve been rescued from.

It makes me angry that I have been so deceived over the years into thinking that the things I desire outside of God will make me happy.  It makes me so angry that Satan is in the business of deceiving teenagers from the very beginning so they are held captive to their sin, thinking it’s what will bring them life.

In this life and death fight we have been deceived to believe that what brings death actually brings life.  I am tired of falling for this lie.  And, I’m tired of watching the people around me fall for this lie.

If that’s not a reason to share LIFE, I don’t know what is.

So, I’m going to preface this blog with two things:
1. This is not an attempt to make anyone feel bad about anything, but to help us assess the relationships in our own life.
2. This is not an attempt to make anyone feel sorry for me.  Don’t.  After all, I’m going to be okay.

This past week, in the face of a very difficult situation, someone said to me, “Amy, you’re going to be okay.”

I know she probably thought this was true, and it made her feel better to say it, but I began to think, when did it become okay to be okay? One day things will be okay, but is that what we really want for the people we claim to love?

People bump into each other at the grocery store, work, the gym, school, even church and the conversation goes a little like this:

Person 1: “Hi! It’s so good to see you.  How are you?” (smiling)

Person 2: “I’m doing okay.”

Person 1: “Great!  Well, have a great day.” (smiling)

I am guilty of this.  We are all guilty of this.  Because somehow we’ve gotten it into our heads that 1) when people tell us they are okay, they are telling the truth, and 2) being okay is a good thing.

Now, we have no control over whether people are telling us the truth or not, but if we took just a few more seconds to stop and really talk to that person, maybe we could make a positive impact in their day.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s messy to care about people.  But, if you are person 2, wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you?

It’s easy for us to dismiss people who say they are “okay” because life is busy and difficult (and maybe we don’t want to admit that we really aren’t okay either).  So, we let ourselves believe that being okay is a good thing, when it’s not, and shouldn’t be.

The word “okay” actually means “adequate but unexceptional.”

Personally, I want more for myself and the people I love.

Now, I’m not some idealist who thinks life is always going to be perfect and happy.  But, I do think that if we are more intentional about truly caring for people, then when someone responds to the question, “how are you?” with “I’m okay,” we will not be satisfied to just smile and walk away.