He brought Africa to me.

I’m a little weary.

I actually just googled that word just to confirm I’m using it properly; I am.

At least, according to dictionary.com. I am “physically [and] mentally exhausted, by hard work, exertion, and strain.” I started to leave the “hard work” part out, because I would never begin to pretend that I work as hard as other people that I know or know of. However,  as I am writing this I am recalling what kept coming to mind last night around 7:30 pm after nearly two hours of torturing ESL.

“This is hard.” Over, and over, and over. “This is crazy hard.”

So yes, I am weary. In every aspect of the word.

The Lord is (graciously?) opening my eyes to help me see that I am stretching myself way to thin. Between work, babysitting, week night weekly obligations and traveling every weekend, for the past month I’ve been averaging about 37 hours at home each week, and that’s including sleep. (Yes, I just created an excel spreadsheet to calculate that number– what can I say? I’m an accountant. I value accuracy. :))

I woke up yesterday morning completely torn. A part of me couldn’t wait until 5:15 pm, when I would get to see Anna, Patrick, Julianne, Juliette, Debora and Amon– my new friends from Africa! (If you missed my post last week, I encourage you to pause, and go read that post first! You can find it here.) The other (slightly bigger if I’m being honest) part of me was not so excited. When I left my friends last Wednesday, I told them I would be there at 5:15 pm this Wednesday (instead of the normal time of 6:00 pm) so that I could tutor Amon (the father), before taking the kids to ESL tutoring (or “school,” as my friends so endearingly call it). This meant that I would leave my apartment at 6:00 am and not walk back into it until 10:00 pm, and knowing how tired I already was, and how crazy of a work day I had ahead of me, I wanted to cry.

The drive from work to their apartment felt like a small war within. I didn’t feel that I had anything to give to my friends, yet I told them I would be there, and the whole language barrier thing certainly makes it difficult to just changes plans last minute. Something tells me that wouldn’t translate too well. Actually, who am I kidding… it wouldn’t translate at all.

So I drove to their apartment, and I prayed all along the way. When I got there, they welcomed me to come inside. I came in and sat on the couch as they instructed.

Immediately, Anna presented me with her homework. Wait… what?

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I saw that the homework was Algebra, so my surprise immediately turned into excitement as I remembered how much I “love” and “miss” Algebra. (Yes, those are words that have actually come out of my mouth recently.) I took the papers that she was presenting me with, confidently accepting the challenge.

I read the first question.

Hmm.. I’m having trouble recalling the answer to that one– terminology has never really been my strong suit. Let me come back to that one. 

I read the second question.

Oh that’s easy. Got it. 

I read the third question.

The fourth… the fifth… and the sixth…

I’ve got nothing. 

Suddenly, my heart was filled with compassion for Anna and Patrick. I know English, and I do [oddly] love Algebra. But I was stumped. How in the world were these two students supposed to complete this homework assignment when they couldn’t even read the language in which the assignment was written?

As I stared blankly at the sheets of paper in my hand, much discussion was going on around me in Swahili. I know not one single Swahili word, so I truly had no idea what was being discussed. I began to look around, to see if I could pick up on anything that would help me to know what was being said. Everyone (literally, every person) made many attempts to communicate to me what they needed me to know, but we weren’t getting anywhere. Amon (the father) left the room and came back with paper in his hands. He studied the paper and then looked up at me and said “homework.” He then put the piece of paper on the table and used his pencil to point to an open spot, and then handed me the pencil. He wanted me to write the word “homework.” Once look at that paper and the last thing I wanted to do was write on it. What I really wanted to do was frame it, and hang it in my home to cherish forever.

It was gold. IMG_1989

What I held in my hands was one of the most beautiful things I had ever held. The African penmanship, the English words next to 2 other languages, the scribbled markings, and the tattered pages all begged to tell a story that I will never fully know.

The family took notice of the worth I had quickly assigned to this “notebook.” Their smiles told me that they understood.

After a few more attempts, I finally understood that Anna and Patrick would be staying home to work on their homework with a friend, and that Amon, Julienne and Juliette would be coming with me to “school.” I wish I could have snapped a picture of Amon, his pressed pants and his fedora-like hat! He was so proud and so excited to be going to school! We piled into my car and ventured on over, everyone ready for an evening of flashcards and ESL books!

The twins worked on flash cards together until another volunteer arrived to help them, while Amon and I immediately got down to business. I needed to gauge a little better where he was with his English, so we started with flash cards. Next thing I knew, his notebook was out, and with every flash card I presented to him, he would write in his notebook. First the English word, then 2 other languages. Then, sometimes, he would draw a picture to remember.

After a round of flash cards, we made our way into the ESL handbook. We reviewed the alphabet, and then moved into an exercise of identifying “what do you see” in the given image. I still can’t believe that we never made it past that page.

For nearly 2 hours, Amon would point to the tiniest detail on the page, waiting for me to tell him what it was, and then write it on the dry erase board for him to copy it into his notebook. It made my heart so happy to watch his face light up as he would remember body parts and quickly point to them, curious to know the English word for that particular part. We laughed EXTREMELY hard together when I presented him with the following image on my phone, just to confirm that he was wanting the word for skull:

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He took one look at it and jumped back, a huge smile on his face, shaking his head up and down saying “wi.” Probably wasn’t my brightest idea, but it worked. 🙂

Toward the end of our time together, Amon was saying aloud some of the words he had learned, and he kept trying to pronounce the (silent) “e” at the end of a word. I corrected him, trying to sound the word out for him and make it clear that the “e” is silent.

Next thing I knew, Amon had my dry erase marker and was writing out the vowels, “a e i o u” on the board. I immediately knew where this was going, and I immediately wanted to run. He looked right in my eyes and said, “in Swahili…” and then he proceeded to tell me what the letters sounded like in Swahili. Then he pointed at me and said “In English…?” and threw his hands up.

I hear you loud and clear, Amon.

It was precisely at this point in the evening that the words were on repeat like a broken record going over and over in my head. “This is hard. This is crazy hard.”

How in the world could I explain to someone who does not speak English that sometimes an “o” sounded like “oh” (goat) and sometimes an “o” sounded like “ah” (body) and sometimes an “o” sounded like what a “u” sounds like (foot).

I was in WAY over my head.

And it was crazy hard. img_1990.jpg

I did the best I knew how, using lines and “u”‘s above letters to try to explain the sound it would make.

It was crazy hard.

One light in the midst of the chaos was when I looked down to see that he had written “God.” At this point, I had no idea the religious background of my new friends. We had never had a conversation before, let alone a conversation about the Lord, so I had no idea what to make of him writing “God,” but it certainly did stick with me.

We wrapped up our time at “school” and headed back to their apartment. I was hoping that since I spent a little time with them prior to going to “school” that it would be acceptable for me to simply drop them off and not come up. [I was so tired.] I pulled into the parking spot and looked around with a smile, saying “thank you” and “have a good night,” but my smile was met with complete confusion. Amon looked at me, he looked at his apartment, and he pointed up (they live on the second floor). I took the cue– I wasn’t going home.

When I got inside, it was clear that they had been cooking, because the temperature in the apartment had to be pushing 90. Most everyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand to be hot. I hate the heat. 72 in my apartment all day every day, please. I think it’s safe to say a handful of people were worried about me when they found out I was going to Haiti, knowing that I had a rude awakening ahead of me. I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Haiti and was able to handle the heat! It hardly bothered me at all! It was quite miraculous! The second I stepped back into the states again, however, that whole “melting” sensation returned. I think God gives grace for things like Haitian heat.

So here I was, in the states, melting. Couple that melting with the fact that I feel like I am going to pass out at any moment from sheer exhaustion, and you’ve got yourself a dangerous concoction. But there was no way I was leaving. I couldn’t. Nor did I want to, deep down.

Amon and I started saying some of the new words he had learned, pointing at the items in the room as we went.

Sofa.”

“Table.”

“Bible.”

Come again?

Bible? Did you say Bible? I was quite certain that he said Bible, but I didn’t see a Bible anywhere.

Amon picked up a notebook.

“Notebook.” I said.

Bible… where is a Bible? He definitely said Bible. 

So I decided I wasn’t going to let it go. I repeated, multiple times, softly, but loud enough for him to hear me.

“Bible.. bible.. bible?”

Next thing I knew, it seemed that Anna had told him to look in her book bag. For a Bible?

He pulled out a note book.

He pulled out an ESL book.

He pulled out something with a black binding and a zipper wrapped around it.

A Bible. 

My eyes lit up.

He handed it to me.

I immediately unzipped it and flipped it open.

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It looked like a Bible, but it was hard to tell, considering it was in a very foreign language (kinyarwanda, to be exact) . Nothing was in English. How could I confirm? I flipped to the table of contents.

Looks like the Old Testament to me.

Definitely New Testament.

A BIBLE. 

The reality of this potential truth began to sink in:

these are not just my friends– this is my family. 

I poured over that Bible, soaking in everything I could. I turned to John 3:16. I wanted to know what word was “God.” I found what I believed the word to be, then said it out loud. “God,” everyone said. Ah. Yes. “God.” “Yesu.” “Jesus.”

My heart was going to explode with joy.

Good thing it didn’t though, because then I would have missed what happened next.

Suddenly Amon is sitting next to me, phone out, pulled up on it, the Bible. In English. Genesis 1.

“In the beginning…”

Amon began to read aloud, in English. We read together, him reading aloud, my helping him along the way.

Who knows how long we would have read, if Patrick didn’t need my help with homework, and if dinner was not ready to be served. First came the large glass, ready to be filled to the brim with juice. Then came the overflowing plate of rice and beans. It has become a predictable affair, one that I look forward to. This time, Anna blessed the meal. A conversation took place among everyone, and I gathered that Patrick was leaving to go get more milk. We began to eat. Anna’s father shared his plate with Anna, and her mother shared her plate with one of her sisters. I picked up on what was going on, and immediately threw my hands in the air saying, “what about me?!” Everyone laughed, and soon my plate too was being shared.” So we sat there, eating off of one another’s plate… it was hard to not feel like family.

Patrick came back in with two gallons of milk, and gave one to Anna to pour. I was captivated by the way that Anna placed her hands on the milk as her and her father both prayed aloud over the milk before serving it. They had already prayed over the food. But this milk was not present at the time, so they prayed over it as well.

[Funny side note: I love dairy. But dairy does not love me. It hates me, in fact. This does not stop me from indulging in cheese every chance I get, however, it does stop me from indulging in a glass of milk. It’s too dangerous. And not worth it. Not worth it, that is, unless someone who speaks Swahili and no English pours you a 16 oz glass of it, and repeatedly insists that you drink it. Then you smile. And you drink it. And you pray that the blessing they prayed over it somehow removes the danger and hatred it has for your body.]

While we ate dinner, the kids pulled up YouTube videos of African worship– song and dance, in the church! We ate and listened to African music,  dancing in our seats to the catchy beats. There was SO.MUCH.JOY. in that room!

The girls got up to dance, and motioned for me to get up and dance too. No way was I going to turn down the opportunity to dance to African music with my friends from Africa! I hopped up without hesitation, and began to dance with them.

You would have thought I had just presented them with a million dollars!! 

SO.MUCH.JOY.

We finished dancing, but the music continued. They began to play Gospel music, is what Patrick told me. The Gospel music played, and the girls softly began signing along. It was beautiful. I couldn’t help but thank God for this beautiful gift that he was giving me. But He was nowhere near done.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.: Ephesians 3:20-21

We continued to watch videos, until about 9:45 pm. I was visibly exhausted, and when Amon noticed this, he had Anna turn off the music. I prepared to begin my “goodbyes,” but I noticed that Amon had slipped out of the room. He returned with a little black book, slightly bigger than the Bible, similar in binding. He looked at me and motioned with his hands as if to say “just a little bit” and then opened the book. He held it up high…

And then he began to sing. 

Everyone joined in. 

And we worshiped. 

Mother clapped to give the beat, Father led, and everyone sang.

Beautifully.

Loudly.

And full of passion for the Lord. 

And in that moment, as I hummed along, and clapped my hands, this truth came clearly to my heart:

He brought Africa to me. 

The Lord, in all of His goodness, in all of His sovereignty, in all of His awareness of this desire HE has placed within my heart, for Africa

He brought Africa to me.

We finished singing, and I had the great privilege of participating in a devotion Amon led for his family. He spoke Truth (I didn’t have to have a translator to know that much) and he spoke with conviction, and he spoke with love. He spoke, and then he would pause to allow Patrick to try to translate for me.

God is good. Jesus is good. You work, you home, you school, you here. God is good. 

Yes. Yes. God is so good. Thank God he brought us together.

Amon finished his devotion, and then we bowed our heads to pray.

I anticipated hearing Amon’s voice, leading his family in prayer.

I did not anticipate hearing 6 voices.

But no sooner were our heads bowed did I begin to hear 7 beautiful voices, passionately calling out to God. 6 Swahili voices. 1 English voice. The Lord fully able to understand them all. We prayed. They cried out to God. I approached Him in awe.

I suddenly had a strong urge to sing.

Patrick began to sing. I sang.

The prayers began to fade, and I marveled at the words coming out of my mouth.

At the song He brought to my heart and through my lips…

“…Take joy, my King, in what you hear. 

May it be a sweet, sweet sound, in your ear.”

I trust it was the sweetest of sounds in His ear.

 

Takeaway:

The enemy will do anything he can to discourage you. He will do anything he can to keep you from experiencing the fullness of all that God has prepared for you. I mentioned that it felt like war within as I drove to their house. It’s true. It did. And the reality is, there was a mini war going on within. The enemy did NOT want me to be there last night. He presented me with a seemingly valid excuse to not go– I was tired. That’s a totally justifiable excuse, right? Maybe. But what did God tell me to do? I knew the Lord wanted me there. I knew going was the obedient thing to do. And I knew that He would provide.

Obey, and He will make a way. 

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Dare to Hope with Me!

I really suck at blogging. Big time suck. There are so many things that I have wanted to blog about in the last year. SO.MANY.THINGS. I moved. I went to the World Summit. I went to Haiti. The list goes on. But so does life. And I simply have a real hard time at peeling myself away from experiencing all of the exciting things in life in order to document life. But I desire to try. So here goes. Just a small portion of said life.

BACKGROUND BEGIN:

In January I moved to the East side of Charlotte. To most of you this probably doesn’t mean much, but for me, it was a big step of faith, and something I felt sure that the Lord was leading me to do! I had been volunteering and building relationships in East Charlotte for years, but each night I would return to my neighborhood that looked far different than the one I had just left. This didn’t exactly bother me, until last year. As many of you know, I have been longing to get to Africa for years now! Last year, I contacted a ministry in Africa to see if I could come visit. The man who answered the phone told me that their ministry was having some legal issues with land there in Uganda, so they weren’t able to have visitors currently, but before we got off the phone, he asked me if I had ever read the book, “When Helping Hurts.” I had not read the book, but I had just heard my hero Katie Davis talking about it in a video, so I knew it was something that I needed to get my hands on ASAP. I immediately downloaded the audio book and began listening. I know that “life-changing” gets used a little too liberally these days, but truly, the book was life-changing. The only other book I had ever read at that point that had altered my life in a similar way was “Kisses from Katie,” written by none other than, Katie Davis. After reading “When Helping Hurts,” my view on “helping” changed DRASTICALLY. The premise of the book is basically that often times our efforts at helping do more harm than good. It was a beautifully challenging, offensive, yet much needed read, and my life has honestly never been the same since. After reading “When Helping Hurts” I listened to the book, “Toxic Charity.” Similar premise– stop causing harm with “charity” and instead start building organic, authentic relationships that will restore instead of steal dignity.

These two books are basically what moved me to East Charlotte. I no longer wanted to drive in and out of an area of town to “do ministry” with the people. Instead, I wanted to simply build authentic relationships with my neighbors. 

So in January I moved to East Charlotte– the most international (and therefore beautiful) area of the city. I love it here. So very much.

A few months ago I was running at the park that is literally right across the street from my home (it’s WONDERFUL) and I met some men from Ethiopia. They invited me to play tennis with them, and as we finished up our game, I couldn’t help but to be in awe of how the Lord was fulfilling the desires of my heart! I have since ran and played tennis (and soccer) with these friends multiple times! It doesn’t get much more “organic” than that. 😉

At the beginning of the summer my church announced that we would be doing community outreach over the summer. I cringed at first, absolutely terrified that we would do the very things that I had just learned NOT to do in the books I had read. I was relieved when my group decided to do a community survey to ask the community what they would like, instead of just determining what they needed on our own. My group went to the park across the street from my home to conduct the survey, and wouldn’t you know that I ran into my friends from Ethiopia while there! I got to ask them our survey questions, and I couldn’t believe the needs they expressed! One friend said that there was  need for more ESL classes! The ministry that my church shares a space with is called Project 658, and I knew for sure that Project 658 taught ESL classes– so how could there be a need? I did a little investigating, and come to find out, there is a rather long waiting list for these ESL classes, and yes, there is an even greater need than I realized! Fortunately, everyone in my group agreed that instead of coming up with a new community outreach project, what was best for the community was for us to come along side of Project 658 and help them to do what they were already doing so well!

We had no idea what to expect, and I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical that anyone would even show up, but on August 2, my small group met at church to offer our first ESL tutoring class. We had so many students show up that I started out working with 3 all on my own.

It was beautiful. I couldn’t wait for the next week.

BACKGROUND END.

Tonight was my 4th week tutoring ESL here in my neighborhood! On my second week tutoring, I had the great privilege of tutoring a brother and sister (Patrick and Anna) from the Democratic Republic of Congo! They knew very, very little English, which made tutoring quite difficult (considering I know ZERO Swahili) but we had a wonderful, joyful time together. At the end of our time together, I found out they were going to be walking home, so I offered to drive them home. As I arrived at their home, I stopped the car to let them out, but they motioned for me to park the car and come inside. Nearly an hour later and there I was laughing hysterically with 6 new friends (Patrick, Anna, Julianne, Juliet, Mother and Father) from the Congo. We couldn’t hold the slightest conversation, but we nailed the joy and laughter part! They welcomed me into their home like I was family, despite the fact that we had absolutely no way of communicating with one another. As the night was coming to an end, through many failed attempts at communication, I told them that I would pick them up the next week to take them to tutoring, and so I did!

Tonight when I got there to pick up Anna and Patrick, Patrick greeted me with the warmest greeting, proudly calling his name for me– “teacher!” As we were preparing to leave, their younger sisters asked if they could come too, so all 5 of us piled in my Ford Focus and we headed to “school.” Tonight was my favorite night so far– the Lord provided just the right volunteer to work with the younger girls, and He also provided enough volunteers so that Patrick and Anna were able to have one-on-one time! Anna and I worked together, and she did so well! As did Patrick and Julianne and Juliet! When I arrived at their home to drop them off, I once again stopped the car to let them out, this time remaining in the car, but waiting for their parents to open the door. I had been craving Taco’s from the local Taco spot, so I quickly called to place my order, and waited for the kids to go inside so that I could go pick up my al pastor! Next thing I know, the kids were standing outside their door, with their father, waving for me to come inside. Something told me I wasn’t going to be picking up those tacos after all. 😉 A very large cup of juice and a huge plate of rice and beans later– and much more than my belly was full! God continued to provide, this time by bringing a friend of theirs over, who spoke Swahili AND English!! (READ: A translator! :)) James was wonderful! He took no issue with translating the many questions that I had come up with over the last 3 weeks! I spent another hour in the living room of this family from the Congo, and the Father confirmed what I was already feeling when he had James translate to tell me: I was family. 

It’s impossible to NOT be in awe, when I take a step back to look at all the Lord has done. The way that he has truly given me (as in, placed within me AND fulfilled) the desires of my heart. My life is so much richer, so much fuller, so much more beautiful when it is spent in community.

My new friends are refugees from the Congo. They have been here for less than 4 months. Anna, Patrick, Julianne, and Juliette will start school next week. They will attend an American school for the first time in their lives. They are barely able to complete a sentence in English. It is SO HARD for them to live here without knowing English. They desperately want to learn. They are desperately trying. It is an honor to play a tiny role in helping them along the way.

After James told me once more that our friends had only been here for 4 months, and that they were refugees from the Congo, the words that immediately came out of my mouth were the truest words I could have spoken in that moment:

I’m so glad they are here.

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DARING TO HOPE:

When I got home tonight, I was already on cloud 9 (understandably so, right??). I couldn’t anticipate the night getting any better, but then I saw a package at the door, and I knew immediately what was inside that little brown package: gold.

Not real gold, of course. But something worth far more than gold.

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Katie Davis’s new book– “Daring to Hope.”

As I mentioned above, Katie Davis is truly one of my heroes. I want to give you a background on who she is, but if I tried to do so in this blog post, I would be up for another hour and I still wouldn’t have done justice to God’s story through her. Please, just look her up.

The point is, she wrote a book, and it changed my life. And the life of many others. And the reality is, tonight would not have happened if I did not read “Kisses from Katie” 2 years ago. This blog post would not have been written, because I wouldn’t have met Patrick and Anna, because I wouldn’t have moved to East Charlotte, because I wouldn’t have read When Helping Hurts.

Dramatic, I know. But true.

So true that I am sitting here WAY past my bedtime, writing this blog post. Because I want you to know all that the Lord has done with a tiny little seed that he planted two years ago. And as I prepare to read “Daring to Hope”, and anticipate all that the Lord will do through it, I want to invite you to join me on the journey. Your path may look very different than mine; it likely does! Fantastic! Let’s partner together! I would love to hear your story. Where you were before, where God has you today, and what your dreams are for the future! I would love to share with one another as we read this book together, having a friend to laugh and cry with as we go! (Trust me! There will be plenty of both!) Community is a beautiful thing, and I would love to build one together!

Daring to Hope officially releases on October 3, but you can pre-order your copy here: Daring to Hope

After it releases in October, I will be forming a book club! My vision is to have a  community of friends to journey along side of one another as we read her book and experience all that the Lord wants us to experience through it! Trust me when I say, this is NOT a book that you will be able to keep to yourself! You will be itching to share with others, and to process out-loud, which is exactly what I desire for the book club to be! If you are interested in journeying along side of us, please do not hesitate to let me know! Either comment below or send me an email, and I will be so very excited to welcome you into our community!!

And on that note, I think I’ll let you stop reading now, and I will go to sleep. 🙂

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is giving your gift away.”

 

 

 

 

 

Heartbroken – Purpose in the Pain

My eyes are heavy. Very, very heavy. They have that burning feeling, the one that reminds me that there have been many tears shed from them in the last 11 hours.

I have been wanting to write my next blog post for a while now. I feel like The Lord gave me the vision for it within days of my first post, but for reasons that I didn’t quite understand until perhaps tonight, I just didn’t feel like it was the right time to write.

So I didn’t.

But now I understand. Now I understand why The Lord didn’t give me the peace to write until tonight. Now I understand that I needed to experience today before I was fully capable of putting into words what He wanted me to share.

See, my post today is on suffering. My very first blog post was “supposed” to be about suffering in my mind, but it didn’t end up that way, so I knew that the next would contain all that I wanted the first one to say.

For those of you who walk through life with me on a regular basis, the following information won’t be news to you. But since I know that many of you who are reading this don’t know the intimate details of my life, I wanted to share a few, in hopes that it will help you understand why this topic was weighing on me, even prior to the devastation of the last few days.

I have been “wrestling” in 2 battles for quite some time now. One is physical, and one is spiritual. The physical battle has been going on much longer than the spiritual, but then again, as I write that I realize that’s not true at all– after all, my spiritual battle started the day The Lord knit me together in my mothers womb. I guess what I mean is, I’ve been actively fighting in the physical battle longer than I have been the spiritual battle.

Physically speaking, I have what doctors would describe as Irritable Bowel Syndrome aka “IBS” as well as “interstitial cystitis” aka “IC.” Most of you have probably heard of IBS, but just to be sure, IBS is essentially a catch-all for lots of digestive issues, but no known reason for it. (However, I now know this is not completely accurate– more on that in a later post.) It’s painful, it’s frustrating, it sometimes feels debilitating, it’s hard to figure out, and it’s unfortunately just one of those things that everyone who walks through life with me knows about, because, well… it affects every area of my life. IC you may not be as familiar with. Mayo Clinic describes IC as follows: “also called painful bladder syndrome — is a chronic condition in which you experience bladder pressure, bladder pain and sometimes pelvic pain, ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain.” IC is basically inflammation of the bladder with no infection. My IC presents itself with a constant urge to urinate, and really nothing, including urinating, can make that urge go away. That feeling you get when you’ve been “holding it” in the car for HOURS and it’s super uncomfortable and distracting– that’s how I feel, about 90%+ of the time.

And it’s frustrating.

But even more frustrating is the unbelievably exhausting journey it has been to find answers about my, what I now know are called, “chronic conditions” or more accurately “autoimmune diseases.” I saw more “-ologists” last year than I care to admit. I reached my out-of-pocket maximum on doctors bills and tests run to determine what all was going on inside my body. Sure, a few of the tests were revealing and put a (potential) name to some of my problems, but I ended the year with still no idea how I was to get better.

A friend of mine (actually– same friend that sent me the text of the bracelet in the last post…) tried desperately to convince me to go see her “traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor”/Chiropractor, Dr. Song.

I was NOT having it.

I’ll spare you the details, but eventually I gave in and realized it was worth a shot.

And it was. In more ways that I will be able to convey in this post.

But let me try.

Back before I started seeing Dr. Song, I was at work and began to have a REALLY bad IBS attack. I was truly crippled over in pain, unable to stand up straight to walk out of the building. I was out front, waiting for Jeremy to take me to the urgent care, and Tim, a VP at work, noticed my pain and checked to make sure I was okay. That was thoughtful.

Fast forward to the next week, and Tim made his way up to my cube to come check on me and make sure I was okay from the distress he previously saw me in. That alone was extremely thoughtful, but Tim didn’t stop there. You see, Tim himself deals with some chronic health issues, and Tim had already learned a lesson that I was soon to learn myself. Through his own journey, Tim has developed a unique ability to empathize with people who are struggling, in any capacity really, but especially health. As dramatic as this may sound, I will never forget the words Tim said to me that day as he hung over my cube–

I know what it’s like to have someone look at you and tell you there is nothing wrong with you. I know what it’s like to leave a Doctors office and it take everything in you to make it to your car before you break down. 

Tim, if you’re reading this, I’m not sure if I ever actually thanked you for the transparency that you showed that day, but if I didn’t, please allow me the opportunity to now: thank you. So much.

You see, Tim’s transparency that day opened up for me a new “safe-place” of trust where I knew I could not only be transparent (like I previously mentioned, transparency is kind of a must when you deal with IBS and IC) but more importantly, where I would be understood, and my suffering would be met with not compassion, but empathy. It was a blessing in more ways than either of us realized at that time.

Fast forward a few months. I’m now seeing Dr. Song, and I’m feeling great! I run into Tim in the parking lot, and we have that moment that has become all too common, where I ask Tim how he’s feeling, and he joyfully declares that he’s not feeling so great, but it’ll be alright. My heart hurt, and I honestly felt guilty. I felt guilty that I was finally experiencing some sort of relief, and here Tim was, still feeling terrible, but humble enough to not actually tell me just how bad it was. I immediately called a friend of mine who also cares for Tim, and we both agreed, we HAD to start praying. We had to pray that Tim would go see Dr. Song too.

Now seems like a good time to mention that this same friend also has IC, only MUCH more severe than I. Words can’t express just how bad her IC is– or actually, maybe the words on her list of medications and doctors reports can, but I certainly can’t. So naturally, I was also praying that this friend would go see Dr. Song. For many reasons, it didn’t look like it was going to happen, but I was relentless in the pursuit.

I’m not sure how much time went by before Tim and I ended up in conversation again about Dr. Song, but praise God, we did. When Tim started asking me questions, I got excited, thinking maybe our prayers were being answered after all. I soon realized he was actually asking for his wife, Hettie, who has been suffering from debilitating migraines for YEARS now. I’m talking, can’t get out of bed for days– needs injections to manage them, migraines. Tim knew that Hettie had already had her fair share of suggestions from others about what she should do and who she should see, so he told me that he would carefully broach the topic and for me to just be aware that she would likely show some reservation.

So what did I do? I prayed.

I prayed that Hettie would take a step of faith and go see Dr. Song, and I prayed that my other friend would take a step of faith and go see Dr. Song.

I kept praying.

And do you know what? They did. They both did. And do you know what else? Our great, GREAT Lord is HEALING THEM. Friends, I wish I could put into words how big of a deal this is, but you’ll just have to trust me; it’s HUGE.

Maybe this will tell you how huge.

The other day Tim and I were talking about pain in life. I shared with him some about my spiritual wrestling, and he encouraged me by saying something that I had literally JUST said to Jeremy two days prior. And basically, it was this:

If all of this pain enables me to help just ONE person in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to had I not experienced this, then it is worth it. 

I am not kidding you. Those words came out of my mouth as I spoke through tears to Jeremy two days prior, regarding my spiritual wrestling, and Tim sat there in my cube repeating them out loud to me, the same revelation that God had given him too, with regard to his pain in life.

And then he said these words that I truly will never forget:

You gave me my wife back. You gave me my wife back. We go for walks, we are going on vacation… you gave me my wife back. 

Wow.

Thank you, Jesus. 

That’s all I knew to say. Thank you, Jesus. Tim and I both know, I actually didn’t give him his wife back; The Lord did. But what Tim meant by that was that God USED me to give him his wife back.

God USED the physical pain I have dealt with for nearly 20 years now. He literally used the pain I experienced that day outside of work as I was crippled over– if you recall, THAT pain was the trigger for the transparency between Tim and I and our health journeys. That pain, the one that was so bad Jeremy took me to the urgent care, that pain was the pain that the Lord used to get Tim’s wife in to see Dr. Song. The pain that The Lord used to start healing Hettie.

What a privilege. What a privilege, Lord, that you ALLOWED me to be used by you. That you ALLOWED me to suffer through this so that I would be BLESSED to be used by you in this way. Thank you, Jesus. 

Friend, my heart is shattered tonight. Absolutely shattered. I cannot begin to fathom the darkness in this world. I cannot begin to fathom the evil and suffering that takes place. And if I’m being honest, that is part of my spiritual wrestling. It’s tough.

I am a rather emotional person. Most people who know me would say that’s a rather large understatement. I experience emotion deeply. It’s who I am, and I’m beginning to see the Lord has a purpose for it.

I, like many of you, no longer watch the news. “It’s too depressing,” I say. So in full disclosure, I want to admit to you, it took me until about 1 pm today to finally build up the courage to go to the news website and see what all the fuss was about regarding Alton Sterling. I was confused when the headline read something to the effect of “2nd shooting.”

Wait. What? I haven’t even had a chance to read about the first…

So there in my cube, I watched 2 videos that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

And I wept. 

Uncontrollably. I wept. And then I did the only thing I knew to do.

I called my best friend.

And I wept some more.

I couldn’t even form words. My sweet love just sat on the other end of that phone in the middle of his lunch break, asking repeatedly, “what happened?” I couldn’t form any words, so I just sobbed.

Finally I was able to tell him I watched the videos. We both knew that was a mistake. Not necessarily a mistake to watch them, but to do so at work, when I was expected to work, not sit in my cube and sob for the next 3 hours.

Fortunately, after talking and praying with a Rapid Response Team employee, an hour later I was finally able to pull myself together enough to finish out the day, but I never was able to get back to “normal.”

And I still haven’t. Because how do I?

How do I just go about my merry way and pretend like the injustices of this world aren’t taking place? How do I just continue to live in my little bubble while people are being killed moment by moment for MANY different unjust reasons?

And can I be honest?

I was angry. I am angry. I’m angry and I’m frustrated at the church, myself included. I’m angry that so many of us are completely OBLIVIOUS to what is going on around us. We are completely indifferent to the pain and suffering that we read about in the headlines. To us, it’s just another headline. It’s just another thing that we are completely detached from, because it’s not our life that is being affected.

But do you know what? Jesus didn’t call us to live in little bubbles and seek a life of pleasure, pain-free and smooth sailing, while the world around us is suffering.

No, you know what He told us? He told us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And I don’t know about you, but if that was my dad, or my boyfriend, or my brother in that car, I would not be continuing on my merry way as if nothing happened.

I would be grieved. I would be broken. I would be devastated. And I would want to do something about it. 

And that’s how all of this ties together. That’s what I feel like The Lord is speaking to me today. I am called to love others like I love myself. I am called to give to the poor and feed the hungry.

And I also believe I am called to use my PAIN for a PURPOSE. 

I believed that before I woke up this morning, and I believe it now more than ever as my heart breaks and my eyes are heavy from tears after watching those videos.

What is God calling you to do with your pain? What greater purpose does he have for it? Nothing is wasted. Nothing at all.  Do you believe that? We have an enemy, a real enemy. Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that the enemy “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” But that’s not where the verse ends, my friend. Keep reading. Jesus then tells us, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

It’s true, friends. It’s so very true. I know. I have lived most of my life in darkness. I didn’t come to see the light and know Jesus as my Savior until just a few years ago. And I am here to tell you, life with Him and living for Him is SO much better.

But does better mean there won’t be pain and suffering? Or does “better” mean something even greater than we thought?

As John Piper put it in his message “The Inexplicable Life: Humility, Hope, and Love in Suffering”:

Yes, Satan roars in our suffering. And his roar is all the louder because he knows he cannot act on his own. He can do no more harm to God’s people than God designs for the refining of the gold of their faith. He roars with anger and frustration that his evil aim to punish God’s elect ends up purifying their faith — the very thing he wants to destroy!

So there it is. There is the purpose in our pain.

1 Peter 1:6-7 says:  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

and Romans 5:3-5 says: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I praise God for allowing me to see a glimpse of what He is doing with the suffering I have endured so far with regard to my health. I praise God for the Hope I have that in the same way, He is going to use the suffering I have endured spiritually.

And I praise God that even though my heart is shattered at the evil that is taking place moment by moment, and that even though my eyes are so stinkin’ heavy from the tears shed at today’s devastation, even in this, I can see, there is purpose in the pain.

My world was rocked today as I watched the life slip out of two men. And honestly, I don’t ever want it to go away. I don’t want to forget the heartbreak I felt today as I watched those two men be shot. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, it’s heartbreaking. But instead of asking the Lord to take that heartbreak from me, I am instead asking Him to reveal to me the same thing I pray you ask Him to reveal to you:

Lord, what would you have me do?

And as He faithfully reveals that to me, I pray that I am found faithful in doing whatever it is that He asks me to do.

Friends, prayer is critical. We all know this. I am convicted that I need to be on my face praying for our world more than ever before. But we also know that we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It is not enough for us to sit comfortably in our bubbles and watch the world around us fall to pieces. Maybe we can’t solve the problem of evil and suffering, but we know The One who can, and who ultimately already has, and He has given us each a unique set of gifts that He intends for us to use for His glory and His Kingdom, for such a time as this.

So again, I ask,

Lord, what would you have me do?

Will you prayerfully ask Him the same?

 

 

 

 

For His glory and my good

This last weekend on my way home to Hope Mills, the oddest things were happening. There were multiple moments where I truly felt like I was in Spain with Jeremy (where he currently is for work). I can’t really explain it, but it was like a peace that came over me, and I was there with him, and it was wonderful. I truly FELT like I was in Spain. Again, hard to explain. Also, at the same time, there were moments where I truly felt like I was in Africa. Weird, because I have never been to either place, but all I can say is it was as if I were there. And there was such peace. Multiple times throughout my Saturday morning preparing to go home and on the way home, this happened.

At some point on the way home, I began praying and asking the Lord, “how will I know when it’s you telling me it’s time to pursue Africa, versus me just trying to make it happen myself?” Right in the midst of this, I get a text from a friend of mine. I open it and it is a picture of her wrist, wearing the bracelet I gave her; the bracelet was made in Africa, and I got it when my sweetheart took me to see the Sozo Children’s choir. All the text had was the picture and a smiley face:

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I nearly cried. What does that mean, you ask? I don’t know. But it definitely got me thinking.

And that was just the start. There were many moments throughout the weekend that I kept having this longing within me for more. Not more as in more tangible things, but more as in, more of Jesus. More of what HE wants for me. It felt like He was saying, “I have created you for more.”

It should also be noted that while at a cookout Saturday night with my family, there was A LOT of food that I could not have. Basically, there was nothing I could have. And I remember the moment when I tried to reason with myself, “weeeeelllll… you JUST started implementing your new dietary restrictions a couple of days ago… what’s the big deal if you just eat what you want today and start tomorrow?” (Aka, why don’t you procrastinate a little??) And then it hit me like a ton of bricks… every single day that you decide to eat something you shouldn’t, you are literally delaying your healing. You are setting yourself back, and starting again at square one. Don’t do it. So by God’s grace, I made it out of there without “cheating.” (More on why this is relevant in a later post!)

Okay so now it’s Sunday, and it’s time for service at my parent’s church. The message was on procrastination, and boy did it hit home in more ways than I can count. I am THE definition of procrastination. I know I’m a procrastinator, I defend my procrastinating, I even pride myself on my ability to procrastinate… It’s just not good. I actually never really think of procrastination as that big of a deal. As long as I get it done, I’m good, right? Well, sure, I can swing that for some things, but the harsh reality is that when I procrastinate on things the Lord is leading me to do, I’m only delaying the good He has planned for me, and the glory that He will get from it.

Allow me to elaborate as I backup and tell you about my car-ride epiphany. Two weekends ago Jeremy and I were driving back from the beach with Ashley and Jon passed out in the back seats of the car. (Days at the beach do that to you!) We decided that it was a great time to read Dave Ramsey’s book that we had just started reading together. So while Jeremy drove, I read the book out-loud. (We love reading out-loud together!) As I was reading the book, I was nearly moved to tears (okay maybe I did shed some tears) when I read the following staggering statistics:

“Over 80 percent of graduating college seniors have credit-card debt before they even have a job!”

“The American Bankruptcy institute reveals that 19 percent of the people who filed for bankruptcy last year were college students.”

heart.wrenching.

During that car ride and in the midst of reading out loud to Jeremy, something hit me. But before I tell you what it was, allow me to give you some background information. I graduated college with my Masters Degree in June of 2012. I graduated with over $40k in student loans, a nice car loan, and probably some credit card debt. When I started work at Billy Graham in 2014, the Lord provided an opportunity for me to go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University with a colleague from work who was leading the course with her husband. I went through the course and came out on FIRE for gaining control of my finances and getting out of debt! I made a plan, built a budget, and was ready to go! I was going to be paying extra on my student loans so that I could accelerate payoff and get out of debt ASAP.

And then I didn’t.

The budgeting took way too much time each month for me to keep up with, life got extremely busy, and I decided that at some point in life I hope to get married and have a family, and how was I going to do either if I was spending all of my money on student loans and not saving. SO, against everything I had just learned, I started saving (and spending) and lost sight of my goal to gain financial freedom ASAP.

Lately, I have been feeling the conviction that I need to get back to the original plan, and pay off my loans.

I felt the conviction, but I didn’t do much about it.

Okay now, back to the car ride. All of a sudden, it hit me. What if it’s not about you? What if the Lord blessed you with the opportunity to go through that Financial Peace University class two years ago for a purpose much greater than you? What if He is leading you to follow the plan, tackle the debt, and reach financial freedom because He has something even greater planned, for His glory, and He wants to use you and this journey in order to accomplish it? What if He wants to change other lives through yours? What if you accelerating your debt payoff and reaching financial freedom sooner than you ever thought possible would benefit many more than just you? What if God wants to use your passion for helping others, combined with your financial background, and your personal journey with debt, to help others?

I shared these thoughts with Jeremy, who beamed and agreed; likely the answer was, God did.

Okay so now we return to this past Sunday at church, and the topic of procrastination. I imagine that you can already see where I’m going with this, but I’ll go anyways just to make sure I haven’t lost you.

During Sunday’s message, my innocent character trait, “procrastinator” no longer felt so innocent. Like I said before, it’s one thing if I procrastinate in something “small” like taking the trash out. (Which, let’s be real– NOT a good thing to procrastinate with trash– been there, done that, smelled the reward.) It’s another thing if I procrastinate in doing what The Lord is leading me to do, and therefore delay or, even worse, miss out on the blessings that will come from doing it. It hit me hard, and I praise God that it did!

So how does all of this tie together? How do my weird moments this past Saturday tie in with my car-ride epiphany the Saturday before, and the message this past Sunday?

I shall tell you.

Anyone who knows me knows that it has been my hearts desire for quite some time to go to Africa. And it is also my hearts desire to prayerfully marry my best friend and serve our Lord together, traveling wherever He may lead. My hearts desire is also to work with children and families, and I am excited to see how The Lord ties all of the above together. That being said, none of these circumstances are my current reality, and I believe that this past Saturday the Lord gave me peace to say, “and that’s okay.” It’s okay that these things are not my current reality, because my God is sovereign, He is good, He knows EXACTLY what He is doing, and He wastes absolutely nothing. Instead, my current reality is that I have a truly incredible job using the skills that He has blessed me with, working at an organization that is changing lives by the minute, and growing in ways that I never imagined possible, all while having the most supportive and encouraging best friend and group of friends by my side.

And do you know what having an incredible job makes possible?

Aggressively paying off student loans. That’s what.

I truly believe that those moments on Saturday were meant to give me peace. Peace to stop trying to figure out the future and how everything will work out, peace to trust Him with what lies ahead, and peace to use THIS moment as on opportunity to be obedient, stop procrastinating, and to allow Him to free me from being a slave to the lender. So that when He does call me to my next assignment, whatever that may be, I am free from that financial bondage that debt has kept me in for so long. Oh what a glorious day that will be!

And do you want to know how I know this is what He was telling me? Because I have been praying so much lately the He would speak specifically to me during my time in His Word; that I would get up from reading and know what it was that He had intended for me to take from the reading that day. And tonight He answered my prayer.

Part of tonight’s reading was Matthew 25, which includes the Parable of the Talents. If you aren’t familiar with the passage, I encourage you to read it, because my summary certainly won’t do it justice. But in the parable, The man gave his servants talents, each servant a different number of talents, and then he went away for some time. The first servant, whom he gave 5 talents to, took the talents and traded with them, making 5 talents more. The one with 2 talents did the same thing, making 2 talents more. The one with 1 talent went and hid his talent, because he was afraid. When the man came back and found out that the man with 5 talents made 5 talents more, verse 21 tells us:

“His Master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'”

Do you see it? Do you see what I saw when I read that? The Lord has me exactly where He wants me right now. He gave me my “talent” (pun intended ;)) for accounting, He enabled me to get my degrees, He provided a way for me to get through school, and now He has provided a way for me to pay off said school, while using this “waiting period” to prepare me for whatever it is that He has planned. And I can either be faithful in the waiting, using the talents that he has given me for His glory right NOW, or I can be afraid of the uncertainty of the future, like that last servant, and I can keep to myself the talents that He has given me, not allowing them to grow and bear fruit.

God is so good. And if I am being honest, I have to daily remind myself of this. I have to daily ask Him to soften my heart. To chisel away at the hardness. To give me eyes to see what He sees, and ears to hear what He hears. Because this world desperately wants me to believe that he isn’t good. It desperately wants me to believe that He isn’t real, or if He is, He is distant, and has no real control.

And that, my friends, is why I wrote this blog. Because this last week I have been in awe of the many things He is currently doing in my life. Truly in awe. There are so many more things that I want to share with you, and I will, with time, but I knew today when I read that verse that I absolutely HAD to write this down. I HAD to document His faithfulness. Because the day will come, history says probably pretty soon, where my vision will get clouded and I won’t be able to see Him clearly. The static of the world will get loud and I won’t be able to hear Him as clearly. And then the enemy, seeing my vulnerable state with my vision clouded and my ears muffled, will jump on the opportunity to fill my head and heart with lies. But this time, I’m prepared. I’m prepared to battle those lies with Truth.

Because this, my friends, is Truth:

He hears us. He listens to us. He speaks to us. He loves us. He is good. He is faithful.

And He works all things together for His glory and our good.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (emphasis mine)