turning on the light.

I’ve always had a rule about my blog, and it’s that I’d keep it quiet when something happens in the world that sends the Internet into a commentary overload…no matter how I felt on the incident. I’ve never felt like my voice needed to be added to the countless others.

Something’s different this time.

I still don’t feel like my voice needs to be added to the countless voices speaking on the events in Orlando…but, I don’t know.

Maybe it’s in light of some of the responses I’ve seen to Orlando spewed across social media. Maybe it’s in light of the questions I’ve had to answer to precious Thai children who are trying to wrap their heads around evil as much as I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the past three years of my life seeing my worldview change and feeling more solidified in my faith and in the Jesus I follow, yet realizing that it’s led to more questions and conflicting views than true solid answers.

Whatever the reason, I’m breaking my own rules today and adding my voice to the Internet.

On Sunday, while a man was opening fire on innocent people in Orlando, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Bangkok, writing and blissfully unaware of the evil on the other side of the globe.

24 hours later, I was sitting in front of a group of teenagers who were asking me why people hate people. Why people can take guns into concerts and nightclubs and churches and hospitals and schools…places where you’re not supposed to worry about your safety. I was choking down emotions to try to offer some kind of answer to kids who shouldn’t have to ask these kinds of questions yet.

There’s a lot of darkness in the world, and I don’t deny it. I feel it deeply, maybe even more deeply than before because it dawns on me more every day that one day, it could be me caught in a crossfire of hatred and fear. Or worse, it could be someone I love.

The world may be dark, but every day we each have a choice to look at that darkness and turn on a light. We have the choice every day to live from a place of love or a place of fear. And hatred, hatred like we’ve seen recently, is an ugly byproduct of living from places of fear.

We can all turn on the light. We can all see fear and stress and pain and choose to sit down next to it with a simple “Hey, I’m here. This is evil. This hurts. I don’t know what to do or say, but I’m here and I’m with you and I support you.”

Hiding in the darkness, not saying something that matters because we’re scared of what happens when it’s finally out there – that does nothing but breed more fear. It perpetuates the darkness that’s already weighing heavy on the world.

So, this is me attempting to turn on a light, and hoping you’re doing the same.

To my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community:

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. My words may fall short and my attempts to show support may seem feeble. But I love you. I’m standing in solidarity with you today and every day. Because human is human. Love is love. And I love you. And regardless of what others may say, I believe the God I follow loves you. Your life matters. Your love matters. Your stories matter. You matter.

I don’t know how to answer the questions some of my students ask or the questions I’m asking myself, but I do know one thing:

Faith, hope and love endure. And the greatest of these is love.

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learning to swim.

Okay look, this week I’m cheating…a little bit, at least.

I’ve been going through my journals from the Race lately, which has been a really great process. I tend to fill journals really quickly and then shelve them for a few years before I ever go back to them, so it’s been nice to walk through some of my writing while it still seems fresh (even though it’s not exactly fresh).

I realized there were a lot of stories from the year, ones that made a serious impact on my heart, that I chose to confine to those pages. And that’s great for some things, but sometimes I don’t know, I think we need to share the way God uses people and situations and the silliest of metaphors to teach us. I learned a long time ago that lessons of God’s character aren’t meant to be hoarded, they’re meant to be shared.

And so for today’s edition of “Words for a Wednesday,” I’m sharing a lesson of God’s character (and also a gut check lesson of my own) that a precious angel named Cassandra helped to teach me in the Philippines. Congratulations, your very first unedited, unfiltered glimpse at my journals from around the world….

Day 10 – September 20, 2013
(part one of the day has been omitted, but I have a feeling it won’t stay hidden forever).

After lunch, we had some time to sit and just be, and it was so nice and so needed. My emotions exhausted me this morning and I was just not ready to jump directly back into something.

Lucky for us, jumping into ministry for the afternoon meant literally jumping in the pool with the Community Angel girls. I fall more and more in love with them every time I get to hang out with them, whether it’s actual “ministry time” or just outside in the streets after our day is over.

One of the leading causes of death among children in the Philippines is drowning. I was honestly surprised to hear it and I guess I shouldn’t have been considering how common flooding is here, but the blissfully ignorant American in me assumed that kids just knew how to swim, because I can’t remember NOT knowing how to swim. But that’s simply not the case here, where something like 8 people drown every day.

So yeah, swim lessons quickly became part of KIM’s ministry to the community. I’m pretty comfortable in the water, I guess, but knowing just how important these lessons were for these kids’ lives made me really not want to give swim lessons.

Most of the girls gathered in the kiddie pool because they could stand with their heads well above the water, and when they practiced their floating and swimming, finding safety meant only having to reach their foot down to solid ground.

A girl named Cassandra swam/walked over to me and said “Tita, Tita help.”

Tita means aunt, a term of endearment, and it’s absolutely the best thing to hear a precious Filipino kid call you.

 

I held Cassandra as she practiced floating, but every time I moved my hands away she got scared and put her feet back down. We worked slowly, but eventually she realized how easily she could float on her own if she didn’t let her fear get in the way. In her words –

I am scared, it is no good. I am not scared, it is good.

She watched her friends who were in the big pool next to us and told me of her dream to one day swim with them. I smiled and simply said,

How about today?

I told her I’d be right beside her and she didn’t have to worry or be scared of the big pool, because I was here to help. I switched pools and she stood on the edge unsure. Jump! I told her, Jump and I will catch you!

After lots of cheering, Cassandra finally jumped. And she freaked out, until she realized that I really did catch her and that I was still holding her.

She practiced her swimming across the width of the pool with me in front of her, holding out my arms. She’d swim a little way and get scared, grabbing for my arms. Each time I’d walk backwards a little more, making her swim a little bit further and each time she’d reach out for my arms in fear.

Once I kept my arms at a distance she couldn’t quite reach, and she kept swimming for them. When I finally did lift her, she looked at me in disbelief – “Titat you did not help! I was scared! I couldn’t find your arms – why did you help me?”

All I could do was smile when I said “Cassandra, look where you are. You made it to the other side of the pool!”

She grabbed the side of the pool and laughed, thrilled that she had done it.

Truth is, Cassandra could swim all along. I watched her kick and paddle in the kiddie pool and she could definitely swim – it was her fear of deeper water that got in the way.

We celebrated and played for the rest of the afternoon and the little girl scared to leave the kiddie pool became the little girl who loved the deep pool.

A lot of times we go on mission trips thinking about all the things we’re bring to a place, all that we’re doing for them…but we forget that they’re bringing things to us, too. It would have been really easy to walk away from Cassandra patting myself on the back for giving her successful swimming lessons, thinking what a gift I had given her.

In reality though, Cassandra had given me something much greater: she had given me a picture of myself, a deep reality check as to where I was with the Lord and how I interact with him.

There’s a lot of times when I remain content in the kiddie pool of my faith – it’s safe there, no point in taking a risk when I’m totally fine being here, right? But God calls us to risk, to put our lives, our reputations and our security on the line for him and His name. Being able to stand up in a kiddie pool isn’t going to do me any good when the water rises. And so he calls me into the deeper pool, the one that exposes my fears and insecurities and my desperate need of him to keep me afloat…and He teaches me to swim there.

Every time he pushes he a little bit further, teaches me a little bit more, draws me a little bit deeper out. When I get overwhelmed with fear or insecurity, he is quick to open his arms to me, to show me there is nothing to fear. And when I respond in anger or doubt, blaming him for letting me fail, falter or for not being there for me, he gently smiles and with patience and joy says “yes, but look where you are now.. look where it has drawn you. Look at the fear you’ve pushed through. Look at how I came this way with you. Look at what you have now learned.”

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(Lindy Hickman Photography)

 

on remembering to jump

Writing every week is hard.

I mean, I guess it’s not the writing that’s hard because once I just make myself do it, it gets done. It’s the coming up with something to write. The decision of “what do I want to talk about” and “how do I want to write about it” and the tempting thought of “how much does this not matter to everyone but me” gets a little overwhelming when a new week shows up.

I’m always in conflict when it comes to this blog because I want it to be real. So in some senses, I want to just hand over a journal page to you and say “here’s some words that happened to spill out of my heart this morning.” But in a lot of senses, that feels wrong, because I should edit and then there’s the whole idea of “boundaries” that I’m continually learning about and exactly where does blogging fall into the range of boundaries? Because some of you reading this are my closest friends and some of you, well some of you may be sitting across from me in a coffee shop and I’d never know it.

I want to tell stories, but lately it’s hard to find a story that’s worth getting excited about. I wake up, work, come home and sleep. Nowadays there’s some homework thrown in there (the horror) because I’m getting my TESOL certification (more on that to come).

I work with an autistic boy all day who is completely nonverbal so we don’t even have funny conversations I can tell you about. He’s only just recently decided that I’m a person to interact with instead of just someone to give him food & water when he’s hungry and change the TV channel when he’s bored, which is really nice. So we do a lot of jumping together. Yeah, jumping, the kid just loves it. Jumping on the couch, jumping on the floor, jumping on the bed, jumping on a mini trampoline, jumping up and down the stairs – we jump a lot. He’ll also pretty much jump off of anything if you let him. I set him on the counter to try and put his shoes on and he jumped right down. He’ll stand up on the arm of the couch like he just stepped foot on the moon and then jump right off without caring that he’s about to land in a pile of Legos. He recently learned how to jump out of his crib, so that’s been fun too, especially at nap time.

Today while we jumped and jumped and laughed and screamed, the fact that it was Wednesday weighed heavy on my mind. Wednesdays mean writing now, and this being the first Wednesday of a new month, I’m supposed to have some new word to be inspired by. Mostly I just wondered why I thought this was such a good idea in the first place. My inner dialogue grew louder and louder until my sweet kiddo stopped jumping and put his hands on my face. He looked at me (eye contact is a big, big deal), laughed and then started jumping again like nothing had happened.

Something did happen though, because somehow that autistic three year old knew I needed to refocus. And he knew that sometimes refocusing looks like learning how to jump again. That little nugget was right.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: sometimes we just have to remember how to jump. We have to silence the voices inside telling us why we shouldn’t, why we can’t, why we’re not good enough, and we just have to jump. And we just have to keep jumping. 

I used to think that the more I just jumped, the more I took risks, the more I shed my comfort zone, the easier it’d all become. I was wrong. Jumping is hard, every single time. No matter how exciting it is. No matter how much promise there is on the other side of jumping. No matter how many people are jumping with you. It’s hard.
The point is not the fear we may feel.
The point is that we jump anyway.
Because where we end up is far, far greater than we could ever imagine.

the thing about not blogging

For three months, every time I have opened up Chrome on my computer, WordPress has automatically launched and stared me in the face, laughing and pointing at how long it had been since I’d written anything.

Blogging’s not my favorite. Okay, I take that one back – I really love the concept of blogging – sharing a story, a struggle, whatever – it’s grand. I love writing and have for as long as I can remember…but there’s just something about telling a story and not knowing where or how they land – it keeps me writing without hitting the “publish” button.

It wasn’t until college that I realized the value of the stories we keep: the kindess of strangers, the provisions & protections of God, the meals shared and the heartbreaks endured. Even the tiniest stories of my life became something significant as they were shared – that’s when I realized that my stories are telling a much bigger story about a much better Storyteller.

So this past year of my life – it’s a pretty cool story. I got to call 50 different hostels, houses, apartments, concrete floors, buses and airports home...and I learned what family looks like in all of those places. I’ve spent time everyday since I’ve been home reading through the journals I kept throughout the Race, and I’ve laughed and cried at the stories that the pages held.

The past six months at home have been a drastically different story. I live in one home with my family in a cozy suburban neighborhood in North Carolina. I’m a nanny for a three year old who can’t talk yet. I joined a “multi-generational” Bible study full of women who I now cherish and have struggled to find a church (or to even find motivation to find a church). I’ve taken road trips and have cancelled road trips. I’ve had a lot of coffee. I’ve had even more tea.

And nothing seems worthy of writing. It all seems insignificant in comparison to what I got used to doing. A couple of months ago my squadmate Johnna wrote a really wonderful blog about this lie of insignificance that I find myself unable to shake away completely. One thing Johnna writes that I find myself constantly needing to be reminded of is this:

“Insignificance never applies as followers of Christ. Everything we are and do is seen from above as extraordinary because we are purposed by an extraordinary God, A God who has favorable and exciting plans for his children.”

For the past six months, I’ve found the same question popping up: Will my life ever again look like these stories I am sharing? Because right now, I’m not really doing anything “epic.” I’m not leaving giant footprints in the world, and right now my world is considerably smaller than it used to be. But I am leaving valuable footprints nonetheless, because they are footprints accompanied by an extraordinary God, and that’s what I have to remember.

Adventure may not always look like carrying my possessions on my back and jumping on another flight every few weeks, and that’s okay. I’m thankful that it’s what my adventure looked like at one point, and I’m thankful that God is giving me new eyes to see what adventure looks like now.

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Thanks for sticking with me in my lack of stories and musings about life and other things like that. There are new things ahead, including more blog posts and a variety of fun things, and hopefully some really exciting life updates to share. 

forty thousand miles later

So, here’s my question.

How does one sum up a year of life? I mean, really, when you think about all the possibility a year holds – all the lessons & beauty that leak out of everyday, all the smiles & laughter that were made stronger by tears & heartbreak- how do you put it all into words?

And even more, when all of those things play out on a backdrop of 11+ vastly different countries & cultures, how does one begin to explain it all in a way that does it justice?

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I’ve realized in the past six weeks of reunions & storytelling that you really can’t.

Because no matter how many times you ask me what my favorite country is, I’ll want to say a different one every time for different reasons. I’ll eventually settle for Vietnam, but it’s only a piece of the story. And the things that truly made Vietnam (and every other country) beautiful are things that I fear don’t quite make sense to anyone else.

How do you explain the feeling of true, deep freedom coursing through your veins as you speed through the city on the back of a motorbike? How do you detail the childlike joy on a Buddhist’s face as she hears of the unconditional love of Jesus for the first time?

You can’t. I mean, you can try, but there’s a certain depth of beauty in the small moments that can only be experienced by the ones seeing it. That whole “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing seems to hold some weight.

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For six weeks, I’ve tried to think up these incredibly poetic answers to the questions I expected my friends & family to ask. I tried to prepare myself with the stories that I wanted to tell and the precious friends I wanted to share, the hilarious unfortunate situations I found myself in all year, the insane ways I saw the Lord… but when questions get asked, I end up replying with an overwhelmed, “I have no idea.”

I’ve tried to figure out a way to sum it all up in writing and offer it back to you, and I’ve found myself having a hard time believing the story that I lived this year. And since being home, my heart has found it hard to adjust from a familiar state of wandering. I’ve spent no more than 5 days in the same place. I’ve jumped from apartment to restaurant to coffee shop to house to fill in the blanks left by only knowing each other through social media this year. I’ve wandered from city to city these past six weeks, and the place that I’ve found home hasn’t changed from where I found it this past year – it’s always been in the person sitting across the table from me.

So in a coffee shop – whether in Vietnam or Alabama, or wandering the streets of Dublin or hanging out in Atlanta, home is there because of who is there, even though I know now my heart will never fully be at home because she’s a forever wanderer.

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Because this world & all of its sunrises and cups of coffee, all of its dirt roads and markets of fresh fruits and veggies, – it was never meant to be home.

It took my feet touching 20 different countries on a 40,000+ mile journey to realize the beauty in that. Once you discover that this world is not our home, but rather a stopping point on our way home to Jesus, it’s a lot easier to see the blanket of stars above you as just that – a blanket, folded up nicely and waiting to welcome you home as you arrive. It’s easy to see the sunsets as the artwork decorating a forever home & the mountains and oceans serving as a backdrop to our favorite moments together.

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My heart (and yours too, Jesus-followers) will search for home until our lives end & we’re welcomed into our eternal homes. Lucky for us though, we get a glimmer of that home in each other’s hearts as we share life together here on earth. Basing it on that alone, I think there’s a lot of beauty to look forward to.

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out of the dust.

So, it’s been a while. I’m gonna apologize now for the scattered nature of what’s to come and for however long it gets. Eventually I’ll get to the typical “end of sophomore year!” post with all the crazy pictures, but for now – this post is more important. The storm has passed, but the work has only begun.

I’m still not quite sure what to say. It’s been over a week, so you’d think I’d have words and thoughts about the tornado that came through and wrecked my city…but I really don’t. 

It feels like it’s been forever, but it’s also such a blur. 

Wednesday, it was all a joke. I think I’m safe in saying that none of us believed that this was going to be a serious storm. We were all huddled in Alex’s dorm together, hanging out, having a good time. Even after it hit, we had no way of knowing how bad it was since we had no power or internet, so we were having fun with our “tornado-survivor-party.”

Thursday morning, reality hit. I didn’t believe I was still in Tuscaloosa when I was walking through the rubble. I was completely disoriented and had no idea where I was for most of the day, because there were no landmarks or street signs left to figure it out. We helped clean up some houses, and afterwards I remember telling Morgan that I felt like this wasn’t real. That we were all on a mission trip together…that there was no way this was really Tuscaloosa. That afternoon, we all decided we needed to get away to let it sink in and to regroup before jumping into relief efforts. We headed to Alex’s place in Birmingham and had a beautiful weekend relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. It was really weird, to go back to normal life…and there were a couple of breakdown moments while we reflected on what was going on at home in Tuscaloosa…so by Sunday, I was extremely ready to get back to town.

We came back Sunday in time for Calvary’s only service that morning, all of us in our shorts and tshirts. It was a really cool and encouraging thing to see so many people there, dressed for work. I honestly wondered why it takes a natural disaster for us to come to church ready to go out and be the church, if that makes any sense. 

Being back has been beautiful. Amidst so much brokenness, I’ve seen so much beauty. God is making things new and He is making beautiful things out of the dust. It’s incredible to look back over the year, over the things that we have talked about at Calvary, over the things that have happened in my life – and realize just how much God has been preparing all of us for this. When I came back on Sunday, I honestly thought I would only last until Wednesday before I was dying to get home. Yeah, I hit a wall and had a mini-breakdown, but that only made me want to work more. God has provided so much peace, comfort and strength in all of the chaos. 

And so, I’ve spent my week packing toiletries for strangers…and the past two days I’ve spent watching precious kids in the church’s emergency childcare. I’ve met some incredible people and heard some incredible stories. My heart has been so humbled by complete strangers and I am loving every bit of the breaking-down-Chelsey process.

If there’s one thing I feel like I need to reiterate to people not here in Tuscaloosa – the church is alive and well. We are here. And we are here for the long run…because it’s definitely gonna be a long one.  

I have been so blessed by the people in my life this week. For the first couple of nights I was here, I stayed with Kenz, who is one of my best friends and my roommate for next year. It goes without saying that we’re expecting big, crazy, awesome God things for next year. And then for the second half of this week, I’ve crashed on Alex and Cary’s couch with Blevs. The nights I’ve spent in Riverside with them have been some of the most interesting nights, ever. I’ve had some wonderful conversations and some crazy laughs. I’m so thankful for how God has blessed me through the people I’ve been around and the community I have found in Calvary and in Tuscaloosa. It has been amazing to see how quickly this city has bonded together and worked to rebuild. It’s so encouraging and inspiring, and my heart is just overwhelmed to see how God is working in all of this. 

I’m still working on gathering thoughts about all of this, and I’ll probably annoy you with all the posts about it, but this storm has changed my heart and the heart of Tuscaloosa forever. 

And now, story time with Chelsey, if you care to read. This is just an added bonus.

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About, eh, 4 months ago, I walked into the Annex at Calvary and stopped at the door and just looked at the youth filling the room. I’ve spent this year investing and loving on the youth of Calvary, and I have been so blessed in return. 

Anyways, I walked in and sat down near the back, watching them and reflecting on how much I just love them and God whispered – “You’re not leaving.” I was a little confused, but I just kinda went with it. the whole night, He kept telling me I wasn’t leaving this…and it finally hit me that we were talking about this summer. Over Christmas break I had started filling out an application to head to Africa for 2 months and God made it obvious that night that he had other plans. Sometimes God calls us to go, and other times He calls us to stay. God was clearly calling me to stay, and I had no idea why. 

Fast forward a few months, and here I am. Sitting in a Riverside dorm room all over again, reflecting on the events that unfolded eight, (or I guess nine, now) and seeing a bit of God’s plan in telling me to stay in Tuscaloosa this summer. It’s incredible how much He has been preparing my Calvary family for this without us having the slightest idea. It is crazy to see how He works and how He continues to work. My mind is blown. My heart is full. I am completely exhausted in every way possible, but He is the rock upon which I stand, and that is more than enough. 

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us. 

surrender your pen.

Hebrews 12:2.
“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”

I love those 10 words. so much.

When an author sits down to write, he has a plan. He knows where a story is headed before a pen ever touches a piece of paper. Every detail has a meaning. Stories find themselves woven in and out of other stories, and an author delights in making his story beautiful.

See where I’m headed yet? Those verses tell us that Jesus is our Author. He is lovingly scripting the stories of our lives, developing our character and our faith as we go along. He delights in making it beautiful. He knows when a character is ready to shine, and he sees to it. He writes our story, right up until our last breath.

Sounds wonderful and easy right? There’s a catch. God requires willingness. If there’s anything I’m learning intensely right now, it is that. He needs the pens of our lives. We have to surrender those “pens” and let Him write.

Like any story, it’s not one of constant happiness and ease. There will be pain and sorrow, but weirdly enough – through sorrow comes blessing. Security isn’t promised. Significance is. And we can only find that significance in our sacrifice…starting with sacrificing the pens of our lives.

God is faithful. And He’ll allow us to take back our pens whenever we want to, if we so choose. But I’ve learned that I can take the pen back only to leave a smudge on the page or accidentally rip a corner. Or, I will add something that seems good and yet, when I hand the pen back over, He shows me something better.

Surrender your pen. Let Him write the story.