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.