Saturday, December 31, 2011

It Happened One Year...

     2011 was a year of lessons. It was a year that dreams came true, and I caught a glimpse of the heart of God that drove me deeper than ever before. I want to share with you some of the highlights of this past year, a testimony to the faithfulness of God and his ability to still use me despite my moments of stubbornness.

       I started off January at Atlanta Christmas Conference with Campus Crusade for Christ. On New Year's Day, we went out into the community, ministering to people and sharing Christ. I had the opportunity to lead a woman to Jesus named D. Her story broke my heart, yet it reminded me that God is bigger than our pain, and He sees us, even when we believe we are invisible. I then returned to school for my last semester of college at Uf, gearing up for the beginning of an end.

       I don't know why in the world I volunteered, but for some strange reason, I was put in charge of food for Women's Retreat... an event held every year for the women of Crusade to, well, retreat and learn more about Jesus. In order to plan food for the event, I had to ask various businesses for donations-- something I utterly despise-- as well as make sure I had enough for everyone. Little did I know this would be a lesson where He would stretch me, showing me that sometimes I am asked to do things that require more than I believe I can handle to remind me to lean on him. It's a lesson I needed for later.

     I learned to ask forgiveness. Sometimes, if you want to encourage others not to live in fear, you have to practice it yourself.

     Slightly a whirlwind... I finished my thesis (yay!), graduated from college (in red heels), packed my belongings and left my home of the past two years. I officially hate goodbyes.

     My best friend got married. I really could write a whole book on the things I learned about weddings and wedding planning from here, but I'll save that for later. Let's just say I officially hate steaming sheets, and jumping pictures never end well for me. More importantly, I was reminded that time goes by quickly. My relationship with my best friend is forever chnaged because she is now part of a new family with new responsibilities. Change will happen, but it doesn't always have to be painful. If I am willing, change can be beautiful.

     India. Mysterious. Beautiful. Crowded. Overwhelming. Wonderful, India. Really, I left for India at the end of May, but that time was spent trying to recover from jet lag, so my experiences began in June. I officially love Indian food--it's like a party in your mouth with so many flavors. Indian women also know how to dress... color, jewels, and elegance. Indian children are so beautiful with their black hair, dark eyes, brown skin.
     God broke my heart in a new way for the women and children of India... He did so through a group of boys I love. Those boys are the future of the red light districts, and lasting change will come when those boys seek Christ with all of their hearts and say no to the life around them. There is no darkness the light of Christ cannot overcome. He is light, and even in places where I believe there is total brokenness and despair, He is there.

     After India, I went back to Gentle Hands in Manila for three weeks. As much as I love India, there is just something about the Philippines. It's home. Familiar. I spent much of that time in the hospital with little ones as God revealed new facets of my future to me. I don't know how to explain it... I come to life there.

     I can't say I was the nicest person in August. I came home, and I informed my parents that I would not be going to grad school. I also sent two sisters away to college. Then I began three different jobs in an attempt to save money and figure out what in the world God was calling me to do. "Wait and Trust", was His response. Great... one thing I hate and the other I am not good at doing. At all.

     He did answer. He told me to go home... to Manila. After much prayer, Mom and Dad said yes. I turned 22 years old, and began to prepare for a journey unlike anything I could have ever planned or imagined.

     Once again, I was reminded by God that sometimes He will ask me to do things that are too much for me to handle in my own strength. Case in point: Treat Street, the Halloween extravagaanza that I planned for my church. There were definately several moments when I just had to shake my head and wonder, "What on earth am I doing?". Fortunately, God is good and Treat Street was a success. I now have a few premature grey hairs on my head.

     God is faithful, and not only is He faithful, but He cares about the details and every life is valuable to Him. I was reminded of this when I went with my mom to North Carolina and visit Angelica, my sweet little girl from the Philippines who was adopted in September. Two and a half years spent praying for the life of my little girl, and God fulfilled those hopes and dreams and so much more. My heart is full.

     Christmas. Magic. Getting ready to say good bye. I think one of the most important things I learned is that it is ok if I do not have lots of friends. Instead, I would rather have a small group of friends who walk with me through the good and the bad. As a result, I have been able to develop much more meaningful friendships, I have been blessed with people who will speak truth and grace into my life.

     2011 was a good year, a year that God used to help me fall deeper, dive deeper, trust more, heal. There were moments of pain, but for every one, there was grace, given by a very real and present God who is good. He is strong, and He is good.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

You could have left us on our own....

     It always makes me nervous... every year, Christmas Eve, being surrounded by people with candles... really it freaks me out.

     But that's not the point.

     We sat around the table, eating spaghetti in traditional Christmas Eve fashion, laughing and enjoying each other's company.

      But that's not the point.

     After opening our gifts to each other, we snuggled on the couch in our new pajamas watching "Charlie Brown's Christmas".

     But, then again, that's not the point.

     I stood in the church tonight, candle in hand, staring at the flame as the strains of "Silent Night" floated around me. Light... surrounded by darkness, eliminating darkness. It's warmth, erasing the chill from my fingers.

     This past year, God has been reminding me of His light. I have been in some very dark places this year, experienced very real darkness and fear. But He is light. Even in the places I think are hopeless, broken beyond all repair, black and cold, He is there. The darkness must flee. Light always beats the dark.

      The pastor urged us to take this light, the light in us that originated in a baby boy, and run to the darkness.

      I must run to the darkness. But before I do, what am I doing with my light? Has it really made a difference? Or am I simply letting it warm my fingers while the rest of me shivers?

     "You could have left us on our own, but you're here"-- words from my favorite Christmas song.

     The light makes all the difference, because the light is here. The light made a choice to lose His glory, His splendor, cloak Himself in broken flesh, and walk among us so we no longer had to dwell in the cold.

     The light surrounds, it floods, with a love and a warmth that are indescribable, that I am desperate for.

     In two short weeks, my life is going to change forever. I can't help but wonder what next Christmas will hold... where I will be, who I will be with, traditions and moments that I treasure that will be replaced by new ones.

     But if I dwell on that, then I miss out on the present... the gift of today.

     If I let myself dwell on the fear of the unknown, I am in essence choosing to walk in darkness instead of light.

     He is here, with us. His light remains with us... calling us just as it did shepherds, wise men, beggars, adulterers, cheaters, murderers, the wounded, the humble, the broken... to come and die, and in Him find light and life.

     I choose Him. And when I choose to dwell in the light, then I can run with the light to the darkness.

     "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him, yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all sin."

                                                                                                      ---1 John 1:5-7

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011: Learning to Believe in a Love that Chooses

     We had been dreaming of this day together for seventeen years. We played "Pretty, Pretty Princess" and wondered what he would look like, what dresses we would wear, the flowers, the guests, etc. We giggled, we stressed, and I perfected my skills as a steamer and therapist as the day drew closer and closer.

     On May 7, 2011, I stood by my best friend... the person who knows me better than pretty much anyone... and watched as she pledged her life to her new best friend, the man she and I had been praying for. Because, when you love someone, their dreams become yours as well. She was absolutely beautiful, he was handsome, and my dress wasn't too shabby either.

     That day could not have come smoothly without preparations... showers, fittings, appointments, and planning. Yet, more importantly, preparations were being made in my heart as He was drawing me to something deeper. I had been settling, and He was calling me to go further and come nearer to Him. These preparations have continued far past the day of my best friend's wedding.

    This year has been a year of lessons... some learned the hard way (ex: never let someone you don't know cut your hair), some learned through the mistakes of others, some finally realized after long periods of struggle.

     One of the most important lessons I learned this year is that it is ok to believe in love.

     Let me explain:

     It's a tricky thing living as a single woman in today's culture, especially when most of your friends are married, engaged, or seriously dating someone. On one hand, I am supposed to be fiercely independent, able to do whatever I please and leave a trail of broken hearts in my dust. Yet, the same culture that tells me I must be independent also tells me that I am incomplete without someone by my side. There is a fine line between being available and being desperate... a line every woman is terrified of crossing.

      But, how is a woman supposed to maneuver in this world if she has been hurt? broken? left with scars that leave her painfully afraid of being hurt again?

     My response to my pain has been to build walls.

      That way, when someone asks me who I am dating, I can roll my eyes or laugh about how I "don't have time for a man". I can go to weddings or listen to someone else's love story and not feel a thing. I also avoid listening to love stories and prefer to limit my contact with sappy songs or romantic comedies. Why? Because I don't need that stuff. Because love is great, but it's not for me.

     My response has been to shut down. I don't want to seem desperate, so I joke or make sarcastic comments about my lack of romantic prospects. And I don't want to seem too independent, because I've heard that pushes people away. So I shut down my emotions, that way, when I hear about anything romantic, I won't walk away wishing for something similar. I am very good at going through motions.

      But God has been ever so gently revealing something to me, taking me closer to Him. This mindset, this wall of cynicism has been blinding me to the beauty around me. It's like I've been in the middle of a beautiful garden, but all I can see is dead flowers and weeds around me. I am missing out on the beauty, the joy.

     In trying to protect myself, I have quit believing in love altogether.... the kind of love that says, "I choose you. I want you". I would rather shut down and never experience love than ever be rejected by someone.

     The only problem is, if I refuse to believe in this kind of love, then I am refusing to believe in the love God offers me. In my brokenness and my pain, He chose me. He looked at me and said "I want you. I know you are damaged, but my love is bigger". Do you know the freedom that comes when you realize this? No matter what dirt you are covered with, the Creator of the universe chooses you, wants you.

     When I began to accept this and really believe this, it's like the scales fell from my eyes. Suddenly I could see the beauty of life around me: the streams of crystal clear water, the rainbow, the flowers, the soft fields of grass. He began to show me reflections of His love around me, His love that chooses.

I saw it in the lives of my little ones... little ones chosen and placed in forever families, and some little ones He chose to bring home to Him.

I saw it reflected through friendships... friendships that have walked with me through heartache, fire, and joy.

I saw it reflected in family... those who have seen me at my worst and still remain here, by my side.

I saw it reflected in supporters... people God has given the grace to believe in me.

I saw it reflected in men and women... dear ones who are being drawn to Him and accepting His love.

I saw it reflected in love stories... dear friends choosing commitment and sacrfice for one another because of His love.

     His love has drawn me out of my walls, drawn me closer to a kind of love that chooses. His love is not easy and it involves pain, but doesn't everything beautiful come with risk? If I ever want to be chosen, then I must first be willing to choose to love others around me.

     Love is a verb. A decision. Not a fancy. Not a feeling. A choice.

     And it's ok. It's ok to believe in a love that chooses because I know such a love exists. I have seen it, and I can testify to it;s goodness.

     I saw this love in the eyes of my best friend... it was there as she gazed into the eyes of her husband. It has been there for the past seventeen years as we have walked through the good and the bad of life together.

      Believing in love does not make me desperate. It does not mean I am now dependent.

     Instead, it means that I am making a choice to embrace the love of the One who loved me when I was covered in the dirt of my failures.

     And I am never letting go.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Being "That Girl"

I don't want be this girl anymore...

I've been following the story of Katie Davis for a long time. For those of you who do not know of her, she is a girl from Tennessee who now lives in Uganda. After graduating from high school, she traveled there for the first time, fell in love with the people, and now lives there with her 13 adopted children and thriving ministry. She is my age.

I follow her blog ( and own her book. One of the things that keeps striking me about her story is the fact that she is my age, and I often wonder, "God, why didn't you ask me to do this?" I mean, after all, He knows my heart, and He knows the dreams I have held for so long.

The truth is, He wanted to do, and He probably did. But I wasn't listening. My high school years and the beginning of my college years were consumed with Me. It was all about my wants, my dreams, my popularity, my joy, my happiness. My heart hurt for people who had never heard of Him before, and sure, I felt compassion for them, but I was just so absorbed with me. I could barely hear Him.

And even if I had heard His voice, I probably wouldn't have said yes. Because that would require something radical.

"You mean, forego college education? Disappoint my parents? What about my stability? A secure future? My plans?"

I don't ever want to be that girl again... the girl with the fortress built around her heart... a fortress so deep that I won't even let myself try and hear the voice of God. I don't want to be the girl who confesses Christ with her lips but who does nothing in action. I don't ever want to be so wrapped up in pleasing others that it means breaking the heart of the One who loves me most. God, what grand adventures have I missed out on because of my own stupidity?

I don't ever want to be the girl who forgets to love...

I read a lot. I love research, too. Call me an English major, but if I get on a topic or culture, I will research the topic to death. I love looking at articles and online magazines that discuss poverty, sex trafficking, orphan care, disease, etc.... issues that weigh heavily on my heart. Unfortunately, one thing I have noticed about these articles is that we are so focused on issues and statistics that we forget people. Even in Christian circles, we have our charts and stats on unreached people groups, church growth, mortality rates, crime, literacy...

The tendency for me is to focus on the numbers, and I get overwhelmed.

God, how could I ever make any kind of difference in the face of this brokenness?

It's like Peter, walking on water until he takes his eyes away from Jesus, and then he begins to sink.

I don't ever want to be that girl who gets so focused on numbers thatI forget the people. I want to look into eyes, see faces, listen to stories, and weap with the hurting. Because, to Jesus, we aren't numbers. We aren't a percentage or a piece of a pie chart.

I want to see as He does. God, help me look and see as you do. I want to look past dirt, disease, damages, and just love.

I don't ever want to be the girl who is too great for grace.

Sometimes I find myself thinking that my sin is not big enough for God to bother with. After all, I didn't murder anyone. It was just one lie. One sarcastic comment. One slip of anger. One arrow of pride. It wasn't anything big, and God doesn't care.

Oh, He does... whether big or small He cares about the splatters of mud staining my clean heart... the heart he washed and repeatedly washes with his blood. There is nothing great about me that I should be glanced over. I will never be able to do enough good that will allow me "extra room" for a little selfishness. I stand before a holy God, who because of the grace He offers me, I am allowed to even approach. I am not too good to simply shake my head and refuse when He hands this grace to me. I take it and bow my head low in thanks, knowing it's this acceptance of grace that alone will save me.

I don't want to be the girl who considers outward beauty more important than the heart of another. Given the choice between my own beauty or sacrificing it for another, may I always choose the other.

I don't want to be the girl who chooses to live in fear verses freedom. May I choose truth over acceptance, His dreams over the fear of being alone.

I don't want to be the girl who finds her worth in the eyes of another. May He be it. Always.

I don't want to be the girl who selfishly thinks of her own pleasure. May I notice the little things and always praise others... speaking life over death, choosing to lift up rather than discourage, even if it means I don't get to have the joke making everyone laugh.

I don't want to be the girl who writes words and then goes her own merry little way. May I always live my convictions and be the first to hold to a higher standard.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Looking Forward

Today I took a walk on a path by my house. It was cool and crisp outside with an incredibly clear turquoise sky. It was calling me, begging me to come outside and feel the sunshine. And so I did :)

While walking, I began to pour my heart to Him, sharing my fears and worries about the next chapter in my life. After pouring out those fears, He began to gently remind me of everything that I have to look forward to about this journey.

Here are a few of those things:

*Rice and fish... comfort food.

*3 am feedings :)

*Learning a language... piecing together the puzzles that will allow me to communicate with the people around me.

*That moment late in the night when all the babies are asleep and, for a few minutes, everything is silent, peaceful.

*Learning from those around me how to blend, love, rescue, protect, shelter.

*Bath time, dinner time, play time, snuggle time

*Being dirty, uncomfortable, broken, exhausted... it's in those moments when I feel the most beautiful, alive, free, fulfilled, at peace.

*Taking the step from foreigner to friend.

*The heat... I don't think I was created for cold weather.

*Learning to pray

*Those beautiful moments when God takes my breath away

*Watching a child grow from broken to restored, and their light and laughter return.

*Loving a child into the arms of a forever family

*The honor of loving a child to the arms of Jesus.

*Loving little ones, opening my heart, being stretched, diving deeper into the heart of God.

*Endless questions about whether or not I am related to Michael Jordan (it's because of my name, not because I'm black)

* The enevitable question, "When are you leaving"? and the response I have been waiting for so long to give, "I'm not".

Monday, November 14, 2011

Overwhelmed by Joy

It's funny....

Funny how one little person can completely change your world.

I looked into her eyes Saturday morning... those big brown eyes I had traveled over eight hours to see. She taught me how to play games and hula hoop. We made popsicles, snuggled while watching a movie, and at one point fell to the floor in a pile while trying to roller skate. I watched her sing in the children's choir, met her friends, laughed with her mom and big sister.

And I am overwhelmed.

When I doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, I look at her.

When I question if God is good, if His purpose is sure, if He really cares about every intimate detail of our lives, I look at her.

When I need to be reminded that He makes all things new and transforms our ashes into beauty, I look at her.

It's funny how even now, He uses her to help the broken pieces of my heart heal. Her contagious laugh and big smile. The way she always says,"What?" just to be silly. My sweet little sister.

And He uses her to renew my heart with purpose. Because there are so many more just like her. Many more who are broken and need His healing. Many more who need to find freedom and hear the sound of their own laughter.

Many more... His precious little ones, His miracles... who deserve families, birthday parties, report cards, and bicylces. Little ones who deserve to know they are loved.

I am not sure what my life is going to entail and how He is going to use me. I do know that when He first brought this little girl into my life, I had a choice. I could love her with my whole heart, or I could keep her at a distance. By His grace, I loved.

There will be more choices, more that He will bring me with stories that will be more heartbreaking, and may not have happy endings. And once again, He will give me the option of loving completely or keeping a distance. I pray that I will always choose love, because even though it hurts, it is so worth it.

To see the life and joy in her eyes, to watch as she bonds with her mom, to pray over her as she falls asleep... is so worth it.

He is worth it. And my heart is overwhelmed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Embracing Fear

Sometimes the fear is good. I know that fear is classified as “sin” most of the time, unless it is the fear of God, but sometimes, I embrace my fear instead of running away from it.
Let me explain.
When I was little, I was terrified of thunderstorms. I had some scary experiences as a child, and for me, thunderstorms often meant at least a power outage and the threat of tornadoes. I also had a large window in my room that did nothing to block the bright streaks of lightning, which promptly woke me up.
Filled with fear, I would go downstairs to my parents’ room. If they didn’t let me in their bed, then I would make a pallet on the floor. And if they still said no, then I would move to the couch.
To me, my parents equaled safety. For some reason, as a child, I believed that if a storm or tornado was coming, it couldn’t touch me as long as I was close to my parents. I also believed that if a tornado was coming, then they would hear it and move my sisters and I to safety.
My fear of storms caused my faith and trust in my parents to grow stronger because I believed, no matter what, they could protect me. In their presence, I was safe.
Today, I have a lot of small fears such as clowns, mimes, roller coasters, people without clothing, snakes, free falling from thousands of feet in the air, possums, etc. These fears I believe are completely legitimate, and I have no intention of overcoming them, so don’t even try to help me.
Yet there are other fears, deep fears, which can be crippling if I let them… Telling someone I love how I really feel, the unknown, failure, rejection, disappointing others, facing new situations and circumstances.
The temptation is to run home, dive under my covers, and stay in bed away from the dangers of venturing into the world.
With every fiber of my being, I want to be safe. I don’t what to get hurt. I sure as heck don’t want to hurt others either.
But if I run away, then I miss out on life.
Instead, I embrace my fear. And in my fear, I run to Him.
I feel like I am standing at the beginning of a road. All around me is blackness except for a single light in the distance. I want Him to light the past for me, to make everything bright so I can see.
But He never promised to make everything bright. Instead, He promised to be my light, to hold my hand as I walk, very slowly, in the darkness.
Did I mention I am afraid of the dark?
I hate it. I kick and I scream, but I don’t want to let go. Because, even more so than my fear of the dark, I am afraid of being alone. So I cry and beg for Him not to leave me, to never let go.
And He puts His arm around my shoulders, and He pulls me closer, and He grabs my hand tighter, and He whispers, “I will never leave you or forsake you”.
In my fear, I run to Him, faster and faster. Because, I will face anything, as long as I am with Him.
I embrace my fear, and my faith and trust in Him grows stronger. Because, I believe, no matter what, He will protect me. In His presence, I am safe.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

He Doesn't Know

He doesn't know he's an orphan.

All he knows are the walls surrounding him. He was born inside these walls, has spent his life here.

He doesn't know she couldn't keep him. I believe in my heart she wanted to, but she had no options. She had offers... offers to send him elsewhere. But in the end, she kept him where he would be safe, loved.

He doesn't know his mother is gone. Or maybe, he does. Could one so young really understand? Or maybe there is just an awareness of something missing. We often like to think little ones are oblivious, but they know... deep down, they know.

He knows that when he is hungry, he is fed. When he is dirty, he is bathed. When he needs to sleep, there is a place for him to rest. But he doesn't now this isn't forever.

He doesn't know that I miss him, that sometimes, like now, it physically hurts because I can't hold him.

There are milestones missed... the crawling, babbling, first words, and first steps.

He doesn't know that I pray, consistently, for him... that he is held, protected, healing, loved.

He doesn't know I wait anxiously, dreaming of the day when I can finally be with him again to hold and snuggle. But it still hurts because he won't know me anymore. The trust I worked so hard to build will be gone, because I left.

There are things I have to give to God, trusting that He is bigger. For some reason, this little one was placed in my life... for a season, forever, I don't know. But I will pray and I will fight on his behalf until God says otherwise.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Art of Letting Go

      The water is cold. It stings a little, the shock of it's coolness against my bare skin. I wiggle my toes deeper into the sand, as if by burying myself I can be more firmly planted, more united with the water and its movement.

     The sun is gentle, high above my head, but not bearing down on me as Florida sunshine typically likes to do. That delicious wind, full of salt and promise, flows around me. I have been near the ocean in other countries, but the breeze does not carry the same feeling as this wind. I have grown up with this wind. It has been a prominent figure in many memories I have had throughout life, both good and bad. We are old friends.

     In my hand, two rocks, labeled with names. I clutch them close to me, scared of dropping them in the water, releasing them too soon....

     Over the past few weeks, I have been praying that God would teach me the art of letting go. You see, I like my plans, my issues, my baggage. I feel comfortable with them. I am used to them. They have become a part of me.

      Yet, ever so gently, the relentless Lover of my soul has been revealing things to me that are holding me back from Him. As I am about to embark on a new journey in life, one that will take me deeper than I can even imagine at this point, I have to remove the excess. I have to remove what is not drawing me closer to him.

      But, it's so hard. I know God wants what is best for me, and I know that he will be glorified. But I am afraid. You see, I have been trying.... oh so desperately trying.... to let go. Some baggage I have been holding onto for years.

     And you know what? As much as I try and sacrifice and lay everything down on the altar, I still can't. Because, on my own, I am not strong enough.

      He then led me to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is given his long awaited child, and then, he is asked to sacrifice him. God asks what is seemingly impossible to me, and Abraham says yes. How could he just say yes? How could he offer his son to you like that?

      He was able to do so because he "assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again." (Hebrews 11:19)

      God had already done these amazing miracles in Abraham's life... the latest bringing him a child in his old age. So, if God asked him to do this, then there must be a plan in there somewhere and God would work it out.

       But, here is my question: What if Isaac had died, and God didn't bring him back? What then?

       There in lies my question... the real reason why I can't let go: What if I release these names, these dreams, and these plans, and then, I don't get them back? What do I do?

       You trust.

      Are you kidding me? There is no way it's that simple. Do you not understand God? This is everything to me. Where do I go from here?

       You trust.

      I have to admit, I am tired. So tired. It's like I have been walking around with a huge weight on my back... a weight I was never meant to carry. I am tired of wrestling with God, compromising, and trying to figure things out on my own.

      The problem is, the water in Florida is not very clear. I could paint these rocks neon and still would not be able to find them once I throw them into the ocean. In the same way, He asks me to let go with no promise of returning.

      His ways are higher. His love is sure. He is strong, and he is good. He does not abandon.

      Do I really believe this?

      Do I really believe that God is who He says He is?

      Do I trust?

      One by one, I open my fingers that have been so desperately curled around my rocks. They lay flat on my palms. I speak their names. I speak my dreams, my hopes, my fears, everything I had so carefully planned. Then I breathe. And then, I throw.

       Two rocks, representing everything I am, everything I have been clinging to with bloody and exhausted fingers. Gone. Into the deep ocean.

      I stand there, staring for a moment. The familiar feeling of peace washes over me. The feeling that He is with me, He is pleased, and I am walkign towards Him. I am free. I am letting go.

      I love this mental imageof throwing rocks into the ocean, because it is so final. Only God could find those rocks... just as letting go is supposed to be final, and those dreams will only resurface if he lets them.

      But I will not wait around and hope for those dreams to resurface. Instead, I will live, and I will trust.

     And what do you do when a giant weight has been lifted off your weary shoulders for the first time?

     You run. Deep into the sunset. Into the heart of God.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Promises Meant to be Kept

I feel like such an idiot sometimes.

I have seen it over and over again. His faithfulness, His goodness, His complete fulfillment of promises and dreams. I have seen, heard, and testified.

And yet, I still doubt.

Thank God his plans are not completely dependent upon the strength of my faith, or else, we wouldn't get anywhere.

"You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said." Luke 1:45

"God, who calls you is faithful; he will do this." 1 Thesselonians 5:24

I sat in church tonight, listening as my grandmother shared the story of God's faithfulness to a man in their congregation. Long story short, God had completely provided for this man to have extensive oral surgery and orthodontics. The cost of his medical care was well over fifty thousand dollars, and little by little, God met every need for this man.

Am I not this same God? He whispers gently. I, the one who provided, am the same one who has called you. I have set you apart. Stand aside and watch as I amaze you. I see you. I do not call you, only to abandon you.

It is so easy to be filled with doubt and fear. That's what the enemy loves to throw at me... fears and worries.

I had begun to notice in my life that since saying "Yes" to God about a few things that I felt so tired. I was tired emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I blamed my workload. I blamed my inability to make myself sleep at a decent hour. I blamed a lack of coffee. As tired as I was, I was also feeling very numb and apathetic to everything around me.

I lost my joy...

Realizing this, I sat down with the Lord and began to ask what was going on. He led me to Psalm 51:

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean.
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...
Restore to me again the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
(Verses 6 and 12)

And so, I then began to confess sins, asking Him to bring to mind what was holding me back.

Fear. Worry. Lack of trust. Doubts.

I was taking my eyes off of my Jesus, and as a result, I began to sink. I have this problem with wanting the approval of others. I crave it. Yet, in seeking the approval of others, I have been missing out on the approval of the one who matters most.

No matter how good the intentions of the ones who give advice are, they are not God. They do not know the promises He has spoken to me. They only know what they can see from the surface, looking through the eyes of man, and not the eyes of God.

And so I wait, quieting the voices around me. Choosing to believe in a God who's patience with me is never ending. His faithfulness is proven, tested. And when I am tempted to doubt and fear, I reflect on His promises and I find peace.

I am still not perfect at this. I feel very much like Thomas: Lord, I want to believe. Help my unbelief.
Faith: the yearning for things hoped for, believing in what is not yet seen.

And in these moments of peace and rest, I have rediscovered my joy. 

I am waiting expectantly for Him to step in as my faithful provider. I am waiting for him to step in and say, "Watch what I am going to do in this."

I know He will.I want to be blown away, and God, I give you complete permission to do so. And when He does, you will definately know.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Beautiful Wait

"Does the fact that I do not forget Jim indicate that God does not want me to, or is it my own unwillingness to forget that has kept God from answering my prayer to that end? Or does He want me to remember-- to 'suffer me to hunger' so that I might fully learn to find all my satisfaction in Him?... Can it be that by a show of what Paul calls 'will worship' I should crush the bud of a flower of God's creation? I know no prayer other than Thy will be done."

                                                              --Elisabeth Elliot, written while waiting for her future husband, Jim

I have a habit of reading certain books over and over again. One book, Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, I like to read about every three months.

Maybe it's because I am now the same age as Elisabeth was when she details her courtship and marriage to Jim. Maybe it's because circumstances in life have led me to identify with her in a deeper way than when I first began reading this book years ago. Maybe, like Elisabeth, I am finding myself in a season of waiting, a season of uncertainty and longing for something beautiful.

When the will of God crosses that of a man, someone has to die. I don't remember who said those words, but they have always stuck with me, reminding me that I cannot serve both God and myself. I want so badly to make things happen... I want to pick up my phone and dial numbers to hear the sound of his voice. I want to spring things into action, fast forward time, and I want everything now. I want so badly for the things weighing on my heart and mind to go away. I want answers. I want peace.

Yet, one thing I have realized is that if I speed everything up, have everything answered quickly, then I lose a precious gift... the gift of waiting.

Normally, this is a gift I despise and wish God would return for something in a prettier package. After all, with the waiting comes the questions, hours of struggle, a waging battle by my flesh against my spirit, loneliness, humbling, and brokenness. Eventually, after a long period of pain, my exhausted body falls down in defeat and full surrender. I hate it.

But what if waiting is not intended to be a bitter pill to swallow, a wrestling match where the stronger man wins? What if this time of waiting is instead intended to be a time of molding and shaping? What if instead of a struggle that brings exhaustion, it is intended to be a peaceful surrender from the beginning?

What if, instead of waiting on the Lord's timing, I had picked up the phone and taken matters into my own hands? Then, even if things might have turned out the way I wanted them to, I would have missed out on the blessing of realizing I am defined by no one else other than Christ. I would have missed out on a beautiful full moon while driving home tonight and talking to my Creater because I would have instead been spending that time with someone else. I would have exchanged the sacred for the cheap. There is pain in both waiting and rushing... yet one is earned by sacrifice and soothed by joy. The other robs the sacrifice of its rewards and steals the joy. One brings a polished beauty, as by fire. The other wears away the soul into a crumbling sand.

There is so much He wants to teach me. So much He wants to show me, and all these beautiful little ways He is captivating my heart. Beautiful moments, just He and I, time I would not trade for the world. Like tonight... when I desperately wanted the sound of another and He instead gave me His full attention, and words with which to glorify Him.

In all honesty, I feel so much like Elisabeth... I am waiting for answers. What is the purpsoe behind my dreams and my hopes? Are they promises of things to come, or are they to serve as a fire to drive me closer to Him, to seek Him for answers, and cling to the only thing that is steadfast in this life?

I am finding the beauty in waiting, in trusting. And my heart is finding peace, sweet peace.

I know no other response, no other answer or words to utter than Thy will be done. And for now, that is enough.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Feeble Words to Express His Goodness

     I am unsure how to write this. How do I convey in words everything she means to me.... this little person who snuggled into my heart and never let go?

     My first day in Malabon while doing outreach with Gentle Hands, I met this tiny seven year old girl. She sat on my lap, told me her name, and then walked away. I thought I would never see her again.

     A few minutes later as we were walking to the basketball court where our cars were located, Ate turned around and said, "We're taking this one". I don't know why, but for some reason, I reached down and picked her up, carrying her tiny body the rest of the way to the car.

      She was so sick with tuverculosis and other problems. Her mother didn't want her anymore, so she came to live with us. And from that moment, she has been my heart. In the past two years, I have watched her heal not only physically but also emotionally. Her once dull hair is now long and shiny. She is always playing jokes, always laughing, and so very ticklish. Her once lifeless eyes sparkle with joy and mischief.

      This little girl, the bravest little girl I know, changed my life forever. I think God knew we were both hurting when He brought us together. As I held her in my arms and learned to love her, my own heart healed. It's funny because I prayed so much for her healing, all the while God was using her to heal me.

      I learned how to love someone completely and with everything I have. I learned how to serve with no thought to my own comfort or happiness. I learned how to trust. And this sweet little girl became my little sister.

       Today, she met her new Mommy and her forever family for the first time. As I sat in church yesterday, reflecting on this, tears filled my eyes. He is so good. Dear friends do you know? Have you tasted and seen? This beautiful little girl now has a family. She has been restored to life and has an incredible future ahead of her. She deserves everything beautiful in this world. And God, in His love and faithfulness has led her to a family where she will fit perfectly.

      There will be challenges, and her journey is far from over. I will not stop praying because she has a mom now. Rather, it's only the beginning.

       But my sweet baby girl has a home. She is safe where she belongs, in a beautiful life story that could only be perfectly orchestrated by the Creator of the Universe.

       And my dear little sister, because you are in my life, my story is so much sweeter. You're my heart.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

God rescues His gifts...

     I am not sure if I am allowed to mourn you.
     I knew you briefly, held you in my arms, gazed at you through a hospital window, but did I really know you?

      I tried not to connect with you, knowing that I would be leaving soon. I say that it's because I wanted to protect your heart. I really just wanted to protect mine.

      It must have worked because now you are gone and I feel nothing. I wish tears could fall, that I could feel something, but my heart just carries on in a continual state of numbness.

     I don't want to be here. I want to be there. I wanted to bond with you and watch you grow. But, I am on the other side of the world. Removed physically, and I am afraid emotionally too.

     Is it wrong that I heard your name and quietly breathed a sigh of relief it wasn't someone else? Yeah, probably.

     It's also wrong that you were left to fight in cruel world. It's wrong your mother couldn't love you, that you were left to fight illness from the day you arrived. It's also wrong the apathy that will wash over me once the shock of your death subsides. Life will carry on as usual, and that sucks.

     Because you are a miracle. The time you spent on this earth was not a mistake, and your precious little life was worth the blood of my Jesus. My Jesus who holds you in His arms now.

     God Rescues.... from this cold world, He rescued you to one of joy. Not the rescuing I had planned, but He knows better than I.

      Gift of God.... a treasure I failed to recognize as I looked at you through human eyes and not His. I am so sorry. I should have held you more. Loved you more. I won't do that again. You are a gift.

      I pray for the loved ones I have who held you as you went home. May they see His joy. May they feel His comfort and the freedom to mourn.

      One thing you have spoken, two things I have heard: You, O God, are strong, and You, O Lord, are loving. Psalm 62:11

      You mattered, and I will remember You... because everyone needs to be remembered. Tell Lucy I miss her and love her, please.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And suddenly it changes

     I'm not ready for this...

     I feel like I've said this a lot to God in the last three years.

     Steeping into a plane and traveling over the ocean...
     Moving into a new home with strangers...

     My first day of classes at Florida...

     Holding my daughter's hand as she died...

     Walking across the stage at graduation...

     Saying goodbye to the strangers who became family...

     This is one of those moments. Before this summer, I thought I knew what I was going to do when I returned. I would either be in Tallahassee or Gainesville, getting a Master's degree, and once again be the one leaving. But just because my plan sounds good and has parental approval, does not mean that plan is God's best. Listening to His heart, I decided stay home for the semester and work, saving money as He shows me the next step.

     Tomorrow morning, we are moving my sister Joy into her new apartment. She's leaving for college to make her own memories and create new adventures. One week later, we will be moving Jenna into her apartment as she is also leaving for college.

     I am excited for them, proud of them, and worried at the same time because they are my sisters. And I'm sad. Two of my best friends in the entire world are leaving. And tonight is the last time we will be together for a long time.

     This is a new feeling for me... this sense of sadness and loss. I am used to leaving. I'm good at that. I know how to casually say goodbye, make a joke out of it to lighten the mood, and adapt to a new situation. I am used to life going on without me and not being needed any more.

     But I don't know how to let go and deal with the emptiness. I don't know how to walk into a house and not hear people yelling, singing, and generally speaking in loud voices. How do you move on in a home when the people who made that place home are no longer there. Home for me always meant five people. Now, that's not the case.

      And I think it's that loss that hurts more than anything. Because now my definition of home must change. I know it's only a matter of time before I am gone to a place where my cell phone won't work for good.

     So tonight, it's the four of us, The Belser Girls, as we are collectively known. Tomorrow, everything changes. But tonight, it's ok.

     I'm not ready for this, but I do what I have always done. Breathe deeply. Trust. Find a safe place to let tears flow. Treasure the moments I am given that I will miss so much. And I rest, believing in a God who loves them more than I ever could.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I'm not very good at being sick, or injured, or even with a stuffy nose for that matter.

The doctor calls it an abcess. I call it annoying. My mom calls it "another item to add to my list of worries about you going overseas".

Whatever it's called, this wound on my leg makes me angry. It required a doctor's visit and minor surgery, lots of medication, and gauze... lots of gauze.

I didn't want to mention this because I don't want it to seem like I am complaining. But I'm just angry.

I'm angry this thing showed up in the first place.

I'm angry because it won't go away.

I'm angry that I can get care, when other people I know can't.

I'm angry that I can't control this and I have to depend on other people.

But being angry doesn't change anything. It doesn't wipe away the guilt that I feel because people are making a fuss over me. For every hurt that I might be facing, I can give you atleast fifty people who's lives are worse than mine. And when I think of them as I take my medicine, I feel guilty. And then I get angry.

However, I don't want this to be a wasted experience. I told mom today that I think God is making me more compassionate. My bedside manner will certainly be much better now. And I think He likes to give me scars to keep me humble.

Unfortunately, this is just something I might have to face for the rest of my life. My skin is just really prone to weird stuff. It may be my "thorn" that I must suffer through and always be ready to combat.

Sin is kind of like an abcess (leave it to the English major to find the metaphor, or maybe in this case simile... whatever). I can ignore it for a while. Carry on with life as usual, stick a band aid on it, and take a few pain killers, hoping it will just go away on its own.

But it doesn't, and it won't. Instead, untreated sin festers and infects, and it wounds. And it leaves deep scars. Like the scars of unforgiveness I've been carrying around with me. Like my stupid pride that refuses to let people in.

Some sins can't just be treated with a band aid and neosporin. They require being cut and drained. And it hurts, because God never said healing was easy and painless. And sometimes it takes forever for the wound to heal and the scars to form.

Yet, as sin increases, so does grace. As I allow the wounds to be healed, the grace increases. Scars are left to remind me to be more compassionate, humble, slower to anger. The infection leaves as He continues to apply His balm. And all things are made new.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Discovering My New Normal

     I am home... or at least officially back in the States. The jet lag has finally disappeared. The craving for rice has not. Neither has the ache in my heart.

     I am not sure how to fit anymore. As I write this, I am in a beautifully painted room with air conditioning and sipping a cherry limeade. Just a week ago, I was holding hands with a precious little girl in the midst of garbage.

     I said my goodbyes. I held Benjamin in my arms and spent a few minutes with my sweet Angelica. More than anything, I just wanted to slip away quietly. No hoopla. No fanfare. No tears. Just hugs and kisses. I don't let myself make promises to return because I can't do that to my little ones. I can't hurt them anymore than I have to. I hate goodbyes. I'm not good at them. I would prefer to leave unnoticed, out the back door.

     Yet, as bad as I am at saying goodbye, I'm even worse at saying hello. Once again, I would like to slip in unnoticed, through the back door.

     Because I know there will be questions.... How was the trip? Did you have fun?

     To be honest, I love those questions, and I love sharing what God has done and all the funny/crazy stories. But I am not ready to go beyond surface level yet. I don't know how to accurately articulate just what God did in my life. I think I am still in shock just a little it. How do I make you understand what it was like to be in the Red Light District? How do I express the pain I felt while holding Benjamin before I had to let him go? How do I show you pictures and help you focus on the beauty rather than the pain? Most importantly, how do I speak in a way that inspires you, rather than makes you say "Oh, that was a good story".

     I don't know. I have no answers, and I wish I did. I haven't really processed anything yet. I have been giving myself the week to sleep, spend time with my family, and listen to rap music before sitting down and doing some soul searching.

      Then there is always the inevitable.... So what are you doing now?

      To be honest, I think I know, but I am still praying and waiting on the Lord. The decisions I make may not be conventional or make sense, but please trust that I am following the heart of God. It may not be the option in the prettiest package, but as my dear friend Brittany says, "Sometimes God doesn't call us to what we think is the best option". Sometimes, He goes outside of the box.

     That being said, I will keep you all posted :)

     For now, I am trying to reconcile my past... the things I have seen, heard, and felt with my present. It's become a familiar feeling these days, the dull ache of having your heart separated from the rest of your body. My arms are once again empty. I once read a book in which the character delivered a stillborn child. Her arms began to hurt because her body had been preparing to hold the baby, so someone gave her the advice to carry around a sack of flour until the pain stopped coming back. I always thought it was a little weird, but now it makes sense to me. Not that I'm going to be carrying around sacks of flour, but I know the pain of holding someone so dear and then being forced to let him go. To put it plainly, it sucks.

     On the outside, I am still the same. I still remember how to use a flat iron and apply eyeliner. The bottoms of my feet are (thankfully) no longer black. And I still love sweet tea and Chauncey Belser's scrambled eggs.

     But on the inside, I am different... changed. Numb. My life has basically been wrecked by the God who brought me on this journey. I want these changes to last, and that I never return to the person I used to be.

     In case you were wondering, I will still be maintaining this blog, sharing thoughts and stories, and maybe even pictures if I can figure that out. Feel free to stop by anytime.

     For now, I am resting in the present, and resting in Jesus. his grace is enough for today. And I rest in the truth that He who formed my little ones will continue to hold them, even if I can't.   

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

He sleeps beside me....

It's 10:12 pm on a Wednesday night, and I am exhausted.

I wish that I had a catchier way of introducing this blog post, but after racking my brain, this is all I've got. I could start off with something like the following:

     I've been at the hospital for the past three days!
     Cocooning: The art of complete seclusion from society for a period of a few weeks; practiced by families who have just recently adopted a child in order to establish a bond with that child.

Or the ever popular....
     There's a baby sleeping beside my bed.

     As catchy as the above starters may be (please feel free to cast votes or add a few recommendations of your own), there really is no better way to describe my current state than sheer exhaustion.


     Well, because I have been in the hospital for the past three days, feeling a little like I am cocooning with the four month old baby boy who now sleeps beside my bed.

      Sunday morning, it was too wet to go to Malabon, the poor community where we do ministry and outreach. So Brittany and a few others went to church, and I stayed behind, promising to go to church with the boys that night. At about ten that morning, Ate Cher (Ah-tay Chair) pulled me aside and informed me that one of our babies was in distress and needed to go to the hospital. I would be the one to stay with him.

     Gentle Hands is a little bit like a miniature hospital. We treat tb patients, pull teeth, deliver babies, have oxygen machines, nebulizers, an ICU, small pharmacy, and will soon be the proud owners of an x-ray machine. We are prepared to handle almost anything. When Ate said the baby needed to go to the hospital, my heart immediately began to quicken because I knew this was serious. Hospitals are a last resort here.

     I ran upstairs to pack a few things, unsure of how many days I would be spending in the hospital (and all the while thanking God I had showered that morning). I tried to send an email to my mom, but my computer died... fairly typical. And no mom, I was not intentionally ignoring you. Please forgive me.

     I immediately went in to what I call my "crisis mode"... basically where I shut down emotionally in order to deal with the situation at hand. I worked quickly gathering my Bible, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.,  counting the minutes, and shoving away images of a dying Lucy that flooded my mind. Could I handle the death of another child?

     The hospital is only two minutes away. I could walk if necessary. We went into the ER, and immediately my sweet boy was hooked up to an iv, his little hand punctured over and over as they tried to find a vein. They drew blood, took x-rays, put him on oxygen, and then led us to our room.

     And there I waited.
                                  ... waited to see the doctor who prescribed medication for pneaumonia.

                                  ... waited as endless interns and nurses walked through the door
                                to take his temperature, ask questions, and simply stare at him.

                                  ... waited for someone to bring me food and clothes.

                                   ... waited for God to answer my prayers so we could go home.
     I wish I could say it was an easy time, and really, I can't complain. I had a television and a room to myself. But it was scary. And lonely. And he was scared, and at one point we were almost crying at the same time. Sick children are not easy... especially when they could take a wrong turn at any moment.

     Because what if I make a mistake and something happens and he gets worse? Even now, as he sleeps beside my bed, my mind still runs with anxious thoughts.

     I am more aware than ever of my lack of strength... my lack of control.  I am at the end of me, and more and more I realize just how little I have to give. Really, I have nothing to offer this child... I can't heal him, save him, even properly love him, because I am nothing.

     I need God. Not just want Him, or like saying the words because I sound more spiritual. No, my dry and blistered soul desperately needs the grace of a sovereign God to walk woth me through every moment. On my own, I simply cannot do this. It's too hard.

     It's now Wednesday, and we are finally home. I ask for prayers for my sweet boy who is getting better, but still very sick. I won't go into details,but he has some kind of respiratory infection (maybe or maybe not pneaumonia) and a few other issues that must be dealt with in order for him to be fully healed.

     I told Ate by the end of our hospital visit, Benjamin and I would either hate each other or I would have to adopt him (his name is Benjamin by the way). I really tried to fight it, but I'm leaning more towards the adoption side :) He even smiled at me today... something I have been praying to see, and it's just adorable.

     Please pray for my sweet Benjamin... my fighter with one very tired little body. Pray for wisdom and healing. Pray for strength.

      And even though I am tired and it's hard, I close my eyes and thank God for the blessing of loving this sweet boy. For the past few days, I have had the privilege of being his mom. And now I get one more night.

     Lack of sleep. Rambling thoughts that don't make sense. An extreme craving for French fries.

     All worth it for the little boy beside my bed. Praying Happy Thoughts over him. Praying for healing. Praying for life.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sweet Shalom

     I sit and I watch you, study you. I try and memorize every feature... your soft, sweet cheeks, your perfectly formed lips, dark eyes, tiny nose, and a forehead that wrinkles with each facial expression.

      You yawn. You cry. Today you laughed.... a soft little giggle that brought a smile to my face. You look into my eyes as I look into yours, and you wonder who I am. No, we have not been attached these last nine months, but I have been given the grace of knowing you in your first few days.

     I snuggle you. Hold you close, even after you have fallen asleep, because you need to be held. Or maybe I need you more.

     I knew you were coming, and looking back, I can see so clearly how God has been preparing me for you. I still didn't expect you. But you snuggled into my arms and into my heart.

     The future is so uncertain. Soon, too soon, I will have to let you go. Another good bye... more painful than the last. And I give you to God, prepare my heart to miss more milestones, more moments, more laughs, smiles, hugs, and kisses.

      I can't focus on the future though. If I do, then I will miss out on the blessing of now. I will miss out on the joy of holding you in my arms, treasuring you now.

     Because, in this moment, it doesn't matter that I will be leaving soon. It doesn't matter that you may one day belong to someone else. Today, in this moment, in my arms and in my heart, you my mine. My sweet baby girl.

     How could it be that He is using one so small to heal me? To fix the broken pieces and pour a soothing balm on wounds both new and old.

     I have to trust the One who brought you this far to continue holding you the rest of the way, and I pray our paths will cross again. I pray permanently, and then I release it to Him.

     But for now, you are mine... my peace to an aching heart. My Shalom.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pop Tarts and Cinnamon Rolls

     One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Elijah. After being threatened by the evil queen Jezebel, Elijah runs away, and he settles into a cave on Mount Horeb. While in this cave, God told Him to walk outside because His presence was about to pass by.

     Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a gentle whisper... (1 Kings 19:11-12)

    I want to hear from God. In fact, while I have been in India, there have been several things that I have been praying for guidance and clarity. I want desperately to make the right decisions. Often, I come to the point where I am so frustrated that I simply cry out, "God, I'll do anything. Just tell me!"

     And so often, I expect God's voice to come in the form of a grand gesture... like a loud booming voice or writing on a wall. But I love this story of Elijah because it reminds me that God speaks in gentle whispers, through a quiet voice that I must tune my ear to hear.

     Two weeks ago, I was really craving cinnamon rolls. I rarely eat them in the U.S. but for some reason, I couldn't wait to go to Manila so I could have a cinnamon roll (being in a foreign country makes you do weird things). Long story short, the next morning, Beth came to our morning devotions with a box of warm cinnamon rolls from a local bakery.

     Another weird craving I have been having is for pop tarts. I hate eating breakfast, but I love pop tarts, and they were nowhere to be found in Kolkata. Yet, lo and behold, there they were at a grocery store in Dehli.

      You see, sometimes God uses really grand gestures to speak to us, but often, He uses the small things like cinnamon rolls and pop tarts. Sure, I may not have the answers to my questions, but He uses the simple beauty of every day moments to remind me that He loves me, He sees me, and I matter to Him.

     The Author of romance loves doing these things to surprise and delight us (and he knows that the way to my heart is through food). Yet, so many times, I dismiss these things as mere coincidences and forget that He orchestrates the moments of simple beauty and joy.

     How is God romancing you today? How is He speaking to you? You may not be getting the answers you desire just yet, but I promise you that they will come. In the meantime, He is still wooing you and drawing you to Himself, reminding you that He is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is joy.

     Because sometimes He speaks through gentle whispers... softly beckoning us to come and rest... to come and fall in love. And sometimes he uses cinnamon rolls and pop tarts.

**Flying into Malaysia today I saw the most beautiful sunrise with fierce oranges and reds against a nearly black sky... just another way He romances me :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jishu Naam Ki Jai

Jesus's Name is Victory....

     This is one of my favorite songs I have learned while in Kolkata. It's just a simple phrase, repeated over and over, but oh, the power behind that statement.

     I've said good bye to Kolkata, my internship time drawing to a close. Yesterday (Monday), we boarded a plane to Dehli where we will be until Friday when we leave India (for now).

     This has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life so far. Mom asked me once if I felt like it was worth it. At the time, I was still adjusting and unable to give a good answer. However, I can now confidantly reply, "Absolutely". So there you go Mom.

     I have met some amazing people since I have been here... some white and some Indian... who are battling on the front lines for the souls of the people here. They are counting the cost and believing in God for big things and big miracles. Having the wisdom of men and women like Beth, who has served her entire life in various parts of Southeast Asia, A. an Indian woman who is devoting her life to the people of the red light district, and Pastor I., one of the most godly men I have ever met, has been incredible. I feel like a sponge because I want to soak up everything they say.

     Before I came, human trafficking was an abstract concept to me. I knew that it was a problem, men and women were suffering, and it needed to be stopped. Yet, up until this point it was just a passion... it wasn't personal.

     And now it is. Now, I have seen the faces. I have watched as men negotiated prices for women. I have been inside their homes. I know a little girl whose mother is dying of an incurable disease because of her years spent inside the district. It's no longer just human trafficking.... Now, it's L., S., R., and P. (names).

     And I fell in love with the children of Kolkata. Really, the children of India in general. They are beyond beautiful, and are currently distributing the pieces of my heart that have been broken before them.

     I have also gained a greater awareness of God's heart for me and how He has shaped my passions. I really love street children, and I am just drawn to them for some reason. I am not sure yet how God is going to use that, or where, but I just really love working with the most vulnerable, and I can't wait to see how He uses this.

     More than anything, I have gained a greater understanding of the power of Jesus's name. He is the only hope for complete and total restoration. I can take a woman out of a brothel, give her a job, money, an education, a home, but I cannot change her heart. There are broken pieces and walls that only He can see, wounds so deep that only He can restore to glory. He is a big God... so great and powerful.

     His name means Victory... Victory over sexual sin, addictions, abuse, heart ache, loneliness, shame, guilt, rebellion... over the darkness of this world. My prayer is that more and more from the red light district will come to know Him and that He will have victory over all.

     His adventures are always the best. His dreams are the greatest. Taste and see that the Lord is good, because even in the midst of the rock and the pain, He is sweet.

     Has India been everything I hoped it would be?

    No... it's been more.

    I have been hot, tired, uncomfortable, unsure, and very much outside of myself. I have been on my knees, covered in dirt, sick to my stomach, and heart broken. I have kissed their cheeks, looked into their eyes, shared their smiles, opened my arms wide, opened my heart even wider, held them close, and shared countless moments of songs, laughter, prayer, and joy. I have seen darkness, and I have seen light.

   And I have come to life.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A New Communion

    The wine and the bread... two objects I have seen all my life. The body and the blood, broken and poured for us. We take and do likewise as he did on the night before he was crucified. We take and we remember.

     Throughout this internship, we have been reading a book entitled One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, which is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Throughout the book, Ann speaks of communion, of the bread and the wine. She speaks of learning to be continuously grateful... for every moment... the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, because these moments make up our life stories.

     It is in these moments when we are grateful, thankful from the inside out, that we are truly able to experience communion with God. Communion... fellowship... a relationship where I know my Beloved deeply, intimately, and He knows me. I can love Him because I know Him. I can trust Him because I know Him. Because I know that every moment where I am acknowledging His hand, His touch, His love... in this present moment, I am drawing closer, falling more deeply in love.

     While in Kolkata, I have been trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have a greater awareness of my passions, but I am still very unsure about the next step. I have been trying to figure out the next year, five years, ten years. Is India home? Where is home?

     And God stopped me from my anxious wanderings, and whispered gently, "Today, India is home. Let me worry about tomorrow. Today, it is home." Today. This moment. The present. I am alive in this moment. I am engaged in the present. I am grateful for this moment.

     There is so much rest and peace that comes to an anxious soul when I simply stop and wait. I stop straining to see the future, and instead I focus on the present, and my world is brighter. Colors are vibrant. People are noticed, appreciated. The air is cooler. Loved ones are cherished, instead of cast aside because I am too busy. My sense heightened. I feel. I touch. I can hear his whisper, instead of trying to tune my ear to a cry from the distance. There will be no greater purpose than the present, no greater grace than in this moment... becuase that's what He gives... grace for the moment, strength for today.

     I am grateful for so many experiences, people, and moments from my time here. And because I love lists, here are a few things that deserve special attention:

1. The Godly wisdom I have had poured into me by Beth, Janelle, Emily, and A. They lead by example, and they speak truth into my life, pushing me to give more, serve more, love more, and allow me the freedom to let God move in my heart.
2. Jessica, our Indian intern, who I swear is my twin. She has also led by example and taught me so much about how to pray continuously and worship every moment. She is a gift and a blessing to me.
3. Chelsea and Carolina... my partners in crime. Three different personalities, three different sets of gifts, but God knew what He was doing when He brought us together. I am a better person because of them.
4. The children of the ECC who have completely stolen my heart. I don't know if I have ever been so attached to a group of children and so burdened. They are so precious. Miracles-- every single one.
5. My ice cream girls... the ones who call me Auntie Joy, and make my heart light up every time I see them. Beautiful.
6. The amazing church in Kolkata with a pastorial staff that longs to see God transform their city. This church is going to change the world.

     I am learning the art of gratefulness. When I am overwhelmed, I stop and I look for things in that moment, and I thank God... coconut water, that woman's smile, a cool breeze, my shoes, feet that can move, cool water...

     Tonight at Beth's house, we took the bread and wine. We circled around the elements, prayed, and sang.

     Intimate, quiet communion. Fellowship with the God who has brought us together and captivated our hearts. Moments of reflection. This do in remembrance of Me.

      He is sweet. He is good. He is a God of communion, relationship, knowing... and I want to know Him more. A Holy Experience. The present.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

And I know that there are angels all around...

     She is a tiny little thing with dark brown skin, big brown-almost black- eyes, and a smile that lights up her entire face. Five years old, and one of the cutest little girls I have ever seen.

     We caught up with her and her older brothers as we were leaving the Evening Care Center and walking to get a taxi. She held my hand.So small... she doesn't even come up to my waist yet. We walked through the mass of men, vendors, smokers, and women headed home... or atleast, I think they were headed home. I tried to lead her as best as I could, wanting to shield her from everything... from hands that may reach out and grab her. From the dog bigger than she is. From the open flames of street food.

     She waved goodbye,  and grabbed the hands of her older brothers. She blew us a kiss, and with a smile, turned down the dark alley towards home.

      I pray harder.

     I have seen those alleyways.

     It feels almost surreal, as if you are walking through a portal into another universe, where suddenly, these women are standing in doorways, some in miniskirts, some in saris, some with lots of makeup, some with little. Some smile, some stare, some just look away. The brothels are separated by language groups... Bengalis over here, Telagus there, Nepali just in front of you, etc.

     I followed an Indian woman into her home, up the stairs into the darkest hallway I have ever seen. Steep staircases. She unlocks the door to her room. We remove our shoes. This is home... one bed that feels more like a cloth covered bench, cobwebs on the wall, clothes folded on shelves, dead garland underneath her picture of Cali. Smaller than my bathroom at home. She talks, we listen, we pray... my feet are bare... standing on holy ground.

     We walk more, and I can feel their stares. The men, look me over, and despite the fact that I am in complete Indian garb, they still notice me. Ugh. It's at these moments when I envy Muslim women. I want a burqa.

     We follow another woman into her home... her room is on the roof. Steep brick steps shrowded in darkness. I am surprised no one has broken their necks on these things. The middle is worn from years of walking up and down. Smaller than the last room... just enough for a bed. This is where she lives, she cooks, she does business with customers, she sleeps.

     I learn that children sleep underneath the bed. While the mothers work, they are often chained to the beds and drugged so they will sleep.
     Two more women come, one is an alcoholic. Their eyes are dead. We pray with them. Shoes once again removed. Holy ground...

     I will forever associate tobacco with the men buying and selling women on the streets. It is spit everywhere, with that ridiculous hacking sound. Disgusting. Some of it is red, and you think someone has a bloddy mouth, but really it's just tobacco. Could you imagine having to service a customer with that crap dripping down his chin? There are no words...

      We walk through a narrow alleyway, only able to walk single file. I catch glimpses of women in the dark shadows and corners of their rooms, waiting to be looked over and chosen. There are women standing outside, but many more waiting in doors. It's a buffet for the sexual appetite. Take your pick and feast.

     We make our way back to the ECC, the edge of the district, shoes once again removed before we enter the room.

     I have been given a group of about twelve 9 and 10 year olds, and I adore them. We are creating stories... writing thoughts and feelings, using imaginations, and learning English in the process. I want them to find their voices.

     It is chaotic... so many people in one small room. Yelling for markers to color our pictures. Trying to translate from Bengali to English and back to Bengali. Singing loudly at the top of our lungs. Cookies flying. It is chaos. Sweat on my forehead. Bare feet. Holy ground.

     There is a small group of boys I just love. Nine and 10 years old. Sweetest hearts, and biggest smiles. I watch them protect their younger siblings. I watch them pray and sing. Too cool for hugs, not too cool for secret handshakes. I just love them.

     And I am afraid... because I watched the men around them. I know of brothers who have sold their sisters. Men who were once sweet boys that become pimps, buyers, and abusers. I know the men they have as role models and examples. Good God. I could be a better example of manhood than these clowns gambling and stumbling on the side of the road.

     My heart hurts, breaking for my boys. My heart that is growing attached and will soon be ripped away. Oh God please... raise them to be a new generation of men. Men who follow you no matter the cost. Men who stand for purity and justice. Men who protect their mothers and sisters, who love their wives and children. Men who will not stand for laziness or take the easy way out.

     Jesus. Jeshu. Yeshua. Yahwah.

     He walks here. In the red light district, among the garbage and waste, the idols and the sex. He knows the corners of every brothel room. He created the men and women here... formed them, fashioned them, designed them and knows them by name. This is his home... the places he chooses.

     I am beginning to realize that maybe God isn't very impressed with our clean walls and pristine sanctuaries. He rarely visited the temples. Instead, he walked among the people. He touched their sores. He called them from their sin to a better life. He got dirty, bloody, disgusting for the sake of his people. He demands we do the same.

     I can't help but think that this is where he dwells. He is here, when all hope seems lost. He is working, bringing light to the darkness. I want to be here, where he is. Do you? Are you willing to be dirty and uncomfortable, just so you could catch a glimpse of his face? Or are you content to live life safe inside the padded pew, and wait until heaven to see him. Yes, heaven will be amazing. But why wait when you could have the unspeakable joy of seeing him now? Touching him now? Walking with him now?

     Oh dear friends, I have seen glimpses, and it is beautiful... glimpses in the midst of hell.

     So I take off my shoes... because it is holy ground.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Finding the Beautiful...

       Acne. Mosquito bites. Dirty finger nails. Frizzy hair. Chapped lips. Dry skin. Sweat. Added cellulite do to an excess of rice, potatoes, and oreos.

      I can neither confirm nor deny that I have been suffering from the above conditions since I have been in India.

      And I have a confession to make: It bothers me. I don't like the added bumps, the dry skin, and the fact that I can't really wear make up because I will sweat it off within five minutes. Even though monsoon season is now upon us, it is still very hot. My clothes are less than fashionable, my hair is in a pony tail, and I've been wearing the same shoes every day. Please understand, I am not saying all this to complain. Rather, I am sharing with you my struggles. I am being honest. I am sharing my heart (and please, no emails telling me how beautiful I am and God made me special... that is not what this is about).

     I have always struggled with self esteem issues. Maybe you can relate to the feeling of never really being comfortable in your own skin. The fuzzy hair and stained teeth didn't really help me growing up. I always wanted to be my older cousins... beautiful, loved by everyone, straight hair. I couldn't wait until I was older and I could finally wear better clothes, and um, mature. Of course, I had friends and family tell me I was beautiful, but you know it doesn't matter how many people tell you. Knowing and believing are two very different things. I devoured fashion magazines that told me to mix prints, avoid prints, wear bright colors, black is now in, pink is now the new black, avoid carbs, eat carbs, embrace the natural look, wear more eyeliner, blah, blah, blah.

     For me, beauty has been a process... actually more like a roller coaster, but nevertheless a process. I had braces in middle school and my stained teeth were bleached. I finally stopped wearing these awful green overalls when I entered high school. In college, I discovered the diffuser, so my frizzy hair could now be managed. Now, post college, I am awaiting my next beauty break through... but I just might have it.

     I think it takes being pulled from my comfort zone to truly realize just how dependent I am on things to make myself feel beautiful. In America, I am able to seek solace in eyeliner, and I have foundation to cover the blemishes. My hair is decent. My clothes match, and I have jewelry to accessorize. When I scratch my skin, my nails are not black underneath. I am presentable. I can hide my insecurities behind lipgloss and mascara.

     I can't do that here. I think what bothers me more than anything is the fact that I have nothing to hide behind. My face is bare (and sometimes looks a little dehydrated). My feet are dirty. My pants are big enough for three people and do little to enhance my figure (Pants here are not One size fits all... instead, they are One size fits everyone you can possibly put in them).

    Today, I sat on the concrete floor of the Evening Care Center in my Indian clothes, muddy from the monsoon rains and hot. My hair is disheveled and has not been brushed all day. My acne... let's just not even go there. I am removed from my comfort zone in every possible way.

     And yet, I have never felt more beautiful. In fact, these are the times, as crazy as it seems, when I actually feel like my skin and I fit perfectly together.

     When my little five year old is genuinely excited to see me.
     When another little girl showers my cheeks with kisses.

      When I am covered in spit up and in desperate need of a shower, yet she is still in my arms letting me rock her to sleep.

      When my group of boys can't wait to sing the Coconut Song ("The fruit of the Spirit's not a coconut...")
      When my baby boy puts his forehead against mine and squeals.

      When the former pr*stituted woman opens the door of her home to me.

      When I share oreos after church with my ice cream kids.

      When I hold my daughter as she is released from my arms into the arms of Jesus.
      When I am walking through hell and seeing glimpses of heaven.

      When I am dirty, tired, feeling a little nauseous, and have been in the sun too long, but I am still singing and dancing with all my smiling brown faces....

      When it's not about me.

      Because following Christ means taking everything I hold on to... all my material possessions that define who I am... and throwing them away. Because when I, as a fallen human being, am completely emptied of myself and allow Him to shine through me, then I become everything I was meant to be... a reflection of Him.

     One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Little Women, in which Marmee is speaking to her oldest daughter Meg. She says, "My dear, if you feel that your value lies in being merely decorative, then someday that may be all you really are."

     I don't know about you, but I don't want to be remembered as someone who is "merely decorative", focused only on my outward appearance, so much to the point that I neglect those I am purposed to love.

     But I think I beginning to discover a precious secret... something counter cultural. Beauty is not found when I am looking at myself. Instead, it is found when my heart is turned towards Him, and He then turns it towards others. It will never be found standing up straight... rather, on my knees, bathing the feet of the little girl who lives in garbage.

     Beauty... real and lasting beauty... is only found when my heart is being poured out for my King, and in those precious moments, it's not about me. Because really, in my broken and sinful heart, there is nothing genuinely beautiful about me. The only good in me comes from Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate definition of beauty, and my prayer is to be His reflection.

     My advice to you: You don't have to come to India (although it really is fabulous and you should be here). You don't have to forego all make up completely and walk around in baggy clothes, although God likes to use those situations to get my attention.

     Instead, let your arms wrap around the shoulders of those around you in need. And get dirty.