Sunday, December 13, 2009

remembering

I am very much big on anniversaries, and dates, and memories. That being said, it's only appropriate to recognize that today marks the beautiful beginning of a journey that has only begun for me. One year ago, today, I said YES to God and boarded an airplane to Ecuador. Though leaving my job and the security I had in Lynchburg was never the plan I had for my life at the time, it was necessary, and beautiful, and everything I could have ever hoped for.

By God's grace alone, I am what I am today. God has healed so many broken places in my life over this past year, and it all began with a leap of faith into the unknown. I am beyond grateful for all of the precious things my God has done in my life thus far. This past year is only the tip of the iceberg, I'm sure.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of it all, is that I know that God is not finished moving in my life. The Old Testament words of Habakkuk 1:5 whisper a glimpse of anticipation and great hope for the future: Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.

How precious it is to belong to Him. My heart desires to be no other place.

love,
me

Sunday, December 6, 2009

what is beautiful?

seeing the hungry fed.


taking care of those who have little.


bringing the hope of Jesus to those who are poor in spirit.


the way the joy in a child's heart brings joy to your very own.


a young family who does everything to make it right.


a woman who fears the Lord.


an intimate conversation between friends.


the smile of a child who rarely does.


this journey of sharing life with others.


hope beyond what we can see.


We are blessed beyond measure by the beauty that is all around us.
Praising God,
me

Friday, December 4, 2009

donuts & leche.



The people of Casa del Monte have stolen my heart. That is all.

Friday, November 27, 2009

welcome to the battle.

I've never been much into Dunkin Donuts, though I love coffee and would drink it even if it squirted up out of a hole in the ground and I had to sift out the dirt with a drainer. You get the point... I really, really love the stuff.

But far beyond my love for coffee lies a greater love... a love that as I pen these very words, brings tears to my eyes. I love people. In particular, I love the people that the world rejects and glances over. I love people who are different than I am; people whose beauty far extends that which our world perceives as beautiful. Yes, these are the people that I love and want to spend my whole life serving.

This morning, I stumbled upon a Dunkin Donuts down the road from my house here in Baltimore. With nothing else to do, I decided I'd go in and see what all my West Palm friends find so wonderful about it. When I walked through the doors, my eyes were immediately drawn to the young, dark-skinned girl behind the counter; she may have been fifteen years old. Maybe. I stood at the counter and stared at the menu. I stared back at her. Then, I stared at the boy next to her, and then at the middle-aged man behind her. To the right of them, I saw an older woman with a young girl who looked about five years old. They were all family, a family from India, and to me, they were absolutely beautiful.

My eyes were fixed upon them, captivated by them, and though I was pretending like I was trying to choose which flavor of coffee I wanted, I was really thinking about them. I wanted to know their stories. I wanted to sit down at a table and listen to them, watch them, dwell in the fascination that their beauty had impressed upon my soul. I was so caught up in this moment that I didn't even notice the man who jumped in front of me in line. No, I just stood there and couldn't help but want to be friends with them, to spend time with them, to get to know what was going on in the heart and mind of this fifteen year old girl. Were they happy? Were they presently in need? Had they found what they were looking for when they left their home in Ghazibad, India to pursue a "better one" here in the States? Had anyone reached out to them? Loved them? Extended their hand to them?

I wanted the time it took for them to pour coffee into my cup to last forever. Maybe I should have ordered a more complicated drink, or perhaps fifty of them. And even after the young boy handed me my coffee, I tried to leave, but I simply could not. Eventually, they caught the glimpse in my eyes, and they all began to turn their heads in my direction. Each one of them, clearly intriguied by the fact that I had not taken my eyes off them since I walked into their store. I flashed them a smile, and I told them "thank you." Then, I left.

As I was leaving, I felt so torn. I began to wrestle with the concept of "what if." What if I had more time to spend here in Baltimore? My plane leaves at 8 AM tomorrow. What if I lived here? What if I had the opportunity to get to know this family? What if they trusted me? What if I started to come into their coffee shop and I taught them about God's love for them? What if listened? What if they believed? WHAT IF?

What if. What if. What if. What if we had more hours in our day? What if I could be seven different places at once? I would do anything for that to be true right now. A piece of me would be in West Palm Beach. A piece of me would be here in Baltimore. A piece of me would be in India, Germany, Pennsylvania, and Ecuador. The seventh piece of me would nomadically travel around the entire world, spending a few days in each city that exists, and I don't think it would ever settle down.

And so here lies my battle with the "what if's" in my life, the battle to know where I belong, with whom I belong, and when I belong there. Welcome to the battle. It's going to be a fun one.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

finnish giggles.

On my way out of downtown West Palm Beach the other night, I was awkwardly approached by a medium-height girl with bright blonde hair and Starbucks coffee in hand. We'll call her "Anni" for the purposes of this story.

Out of no where, Anni jumped in front of me. At first, I secretly wished that I was the 1,000th person to pass by the Starbucks store and was going to be handed her delectable cup'o'jo, but I soon realized this was not going to happen when Anni opened her mouth and with an accent I had never before heard said... "Can you... for us?"

I stared at the five giggling girls on the bench beside her, not really sure what she was asking. They just kept giggling, wide-eyes open, and giggling. They were adorable, these girls. There were six of them, all seemingly around my own age, and all crowded on a bench made for four. They did not care; they had each other, and their friendship, and of course, their uncontrollable giggles.

Anni then pulled her camera out of her pocket while repeating herself, "Can you...for us?" Duh, I thought. They wanted me to take their picture!

They probably had been giggling at me, or perhaps at Anni, whose attempts to communicate were quite flustering to witness. Or maybe they were giggling because my blonde hair and fair skin matched each one of theirs. Their smiles were contagious; so much so that I could not help but chuckle myself.

I grabbed the camera and waited patiently as each girl positioned herself on the bench. Anni tried to explain how her camera worked, pointing at the "POWER" button as the button I was supposed to press to snap the photograph. "Here," she said, followed by a motioning of her hands to demonstrate taking a picture. I nodded my head in agreement, feeling it would be a bit rude to correct her on how to use her own camera.

I went to snap the photograph, and called out the traditional "one...two...three," with my finger on the correct button of course. A photograph was taken, but the flash did not go off. With the girls all primply posed on the bench, I looked at the screen to find the button to turn the flash on, but all I could see were words in a language that I knew nothing of. Finnish. I stared at the screen, that is, until Anni grabbed the camera from my hands and clicked the POWER button herself to "take the photograph." When the camera turned off, there was both a hint of surprise and embarrassment in her eyes. Maybe that wasn't the right button, she realized.

I then grabbed the camera from her hands and motioned for her to sit down with her friends. I eventually found the flash button, and was able to successfully take their picture. Anni stood up from the bench, grabbed for her camera, and flashed me an awkward smile.

I could not help but wonder why these girls had come here to West Palm Beach, FL. After all, it isn't necessarily the most "touristic" place to visit. Had someone they knew been here before? Or had they simply closed their eyes, spun around, and in a moment of nomadic adventure promised to jump on an airplane to whichever place their finger landed? Finally, I decided I'd just ask them myself.

"Why are you here?" I asked Anni. All of the girls perked up on the bench, trying to incline their ears to our conversation. Anni looked at me with confusion in her eyes. Speaking more slowly, I began to motion with my hands... "Why" (with hands in the air) "are you" (pointing at them) "here" (fingers pointed to the ground). Anni stared for a moment, and then replied... "We have vacation. Three weeks. We just wanted to see the City Place!"

Her excitement was so adorable, but oh how desperately I wanted to know WHY they had chosen to come to West Palm Beach. Not like it mattered, but somewhere in my analytic mind, I just wanted to discover what makes people GO to the places that they eventually end up. What motive moves them? What motive led six Finnish girls to jump on an airplane to spend three weeks in our not-so-glamorous city? Perhaps deep down, I was hoping to find an answer for what my own heart was feeling, as I myself am prayerfully considering a nomadic, adventurous move of my own.

We eventually went our separate ways, yet I could not get our awkward, gesture-driven encounter out of my mind. If I do ultimately take this leap of faith and head out for yet another adventure, I will more than likely spend several months of my life gesturing as these precious girls had done with me. Gesturing and motioning, and of course acting as if I have all the answers when in reality I am telling others to "press the power button" to take my photograph. Overwhelmed by confusion, I will stare as they try to explain their world to me. And when I finally get a glimpse of understanding that the POWER button actually turns my camera off, I, with a hint of embarrassment and surprise, will think of these dear girls from Finland and I will count my blessings. Then, of course, I will giggle uncontrollably. Oh, God help me! =P

Monday, October 19, 2009

something is better than nothing.


Would you believe me if I told you that this photograph was taken in West Palm Beach, Florida... just fifteen minutes from one of the wealthiest and most successful communities in all of South Florida?

I didn't think you would.

You see, the harvest is all around us. The needs in our midst are so great, and I pray that we do not fail to see that while our eyes and our efforts are focused on how the international world is suffering, there are those in our own cities who need us as well.

These are our neighbors, and I dare to say that we have not love if we fail to reach out to them.

Have you ever wanted to make a difference in the lives of others?

I encourage you to look around... find somewhere, like the trailer park where this photograph was taken, and pour out your life in service to them. Find a family who is hungry and bring them food. Find a child who is struggling in school and commit yourself to tutor him. Sacrifice twenty minutes of your day to simply listen to someone in your life who is heartbroken and needs a friend. Offer an art class to people whose talents may be entangled by a web of poverty and despair. Fill in the blank. The world is your oyster.

Do not be discouraged if your efforts are not large, in charge, and being broadcasted all around our media-frenzied world. No one has to see what you do, because you are not serving to be recognized, but instead to touch the lives of others in a real and practical way. Besides, God sees each and every thing that you do and He delights in your commitment, love, humility, and faithfulness -- no matter how "small" you think your acts of service are, and whether or not you ever get a "pat on the back" for what you've done.

So, I challenge you with the following question: What are YOU intentionally doing to serve those in your midst?

If your answer is "nothing," do not feel dismayed! Open your eyes today and look around for a neighbor in need. Get in the car and drive "downtown." Visit an elderly home and play checkers with someone who is all alone. Go for a walk, and ask God to show you how you can serve your neighbors.

You'll be surprised what He shows you, and when you see how big the harvest in your midst truly is, just jump in and do something... for something is better than nothing.

Be blessed as you serve...
-Me

Saturday, October 17, 2009

the faces of people I have never met.

I have never dreamed as much as I do now, nor have I ever so consistently woken from my slumber and had such a clear recollection of what had happened the night before while the world was quiet.

No, I have never been much of a dreamer, yet lately, the images I have seen in my sleep have so desperately stirred my heart that they have kept me awake throughout the night. There I remain, tossing and turning, staring at the clock, wondering why I cannot get the faces of people I have never even met out of my heart or my mind.

Some nights, I am confronted with images of brokenness; other nights, situations of desperation and poverty. Some nights, I wake up only to find that I had been holding an orphan in my arms and I loved how warm and comforting it felt. Some nights, I am walking the dirt-ridden streets of a village with nothing but the clothes on my back. There, I am paradoxically fulfilled and filled with joy; I wouldn't have it any other way.

When my alarm sounds at the glorious hour of 6' o-clock, I open my eyes and am overwhelmed with a sense of disappointment that I am comfortable, safe, and filled with hope when so many around the world are not. I get frustrated about the way that I am spending my days, all the while knowing that I am called to more than this. These feelings of frustration and disappointment are soon confronted with a flame of urgency in my heart that screams "What in the world am I doing here?"

I go to church and I hear stories about people all around the world whose lives are being completely transformed by the hope that God offers to all who will step out in faith to receive it. These people are so courageous in their faith. I hear about how God leads them to take the hope that they have received and in turn, offer it to others whose lives are broken. I so want to follow their example. They open their homes to children who have been abandoned, abused, and neglected when they cannot even provide for themselves. They live their lives, one day at a time, not knowing when they will eat or if they will be persecuted for the God they believe in. Most of them are.

I spend countless hours at a near-by trailer park here in West Palm Beach, and I see the impact that the mere concept of HOPE has on the inhabitants of the community. I watch as week after week, children run barefoot down the streets at exactly the hour we are expected to arrive to open the door to the club house. They come running with their arms wide open, because they know that in our midst, they have found a refuge, a safe haven, and most important, love.

My heart screams in urgency... "I want to do this forever."

I want to be there, wherever "there" is. If I told you what has been happening throughout these past few weeks in my heart and in my life, you would never believe me. God is moving, and more than ever in my life, I have no other response but to stand back in humility, awe, reverence, and peace. He knows what He is doing, much better than I. My position is to continue to learn how to live a life that is emptied of myself, yet completely filled with Him.

Until the beauty of His marvelous plan unfolds and leads me to that which is "next," I will continue to toss and turn, patiently awaiting the day when I will finally meet the people whose faces have kept me awake at night. I already love them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

love... as if I know how


I am dumbfounded at how such a perplexing subject has been so impressed upon my heart tonight, but it just has been. I cannot pretend as if I know the first thing about unfailing love or how to give advice about love. All I know is what I have come to believe. By the grace of God, the lenses of my heart operate not through what I have experienced, but rather through what I have chosen to believe: Love is piercingly deep, and it is unconditional.

I am wrestling with this concept. I truly am, however I know that as long as I wrestle with it, I am wrestling with an inevitable truth that will not change. Love cannot be anything but deep and unconditional; it cannot be selfish, it cannot be rude, and it cannot be based upon how the recipient of our love responds to our actions. It just can't be.

I wish this were easier, and sometimes, I wish that love was what the "world" says it is... passionate, feel good, convenient, lovey-dovey, where everyone is happy and no one ever has to make sacrifices. If it were that way, it would sure hurt a whole lot less, that's for sure.

But love is not this way. It is heart-wrenching and it is so deep. It breaks down barriers and it brings kingdoms to the ground. It always tells the truth, no matter what will come as a result. It is sacrificial. It is unfailing, It is giving.

Love goes past the surface and pierces the soul. Love does not allow rejection, ungratefulness, or disappointment to change what it is. Love is everlasting. Love is revolutionary, and love can melt even the hardest of hearts. I am desperately praying that in my present circumstances, it truly does.

I need love to break down the barriers in so many areas in my life. I just do. I need love to pour out of me and into the hearts and lives of so many people in my life who just need to believe that it exists. So many of us have given up, and even in my present state as my head is pounding full of aching thoughts and questions, I must hold on to the truth that we do not love to receive anything in return. We do not love to make ourselves feel good. We do not pour out our love upon others so that they will esteem us or give us praise. We do not serve to be served, but to give our lives for others. Plain and simple.

We love because God has first loved us. We love because the love we have experienced is the deepest, most sacrificial, and most life-transforming love we have ever known. We love because of who Christ is and how He lived. We love, well... because love is everything.

Knowing genuine, deep, and unconditional love may require that we get involved in the lives of others more, and at times, maybe even get hurt a bit more... but I am confident that it is worth it. I am "preaching" to myself here.

May we serve others with a love that never fails and a heart willing to endure everything for that which we love, and for those whom we love. Though it's not the easiest way, it is most assuredly the most valuable.

Friday, September 25, 2009

love Him.

I think I want to write this post, just for kicks. I have been here in Florida for a little over five months now, and for some reason, more than any other month... September has been the most difficult.

Why, you ask? I really wish I knew! This month has been filled with a whole lot of tears, lonely days, and yes, late night chocolate and ice cream binges. I'm not ashamed to admit that that's just what I do when "things go wrong." :)

But it's not really that anything has gone WRONG... it is more about my heart, and how I have chosen to respond to the circumstances that God has thrown my way. I have allowed myself to get frustrated, when I should have humbled myself and talked to God in prayer instead. I have placed my hope in people, and in dreams, and in potential... all to be reminded that it's not supposed to go there at all! People let us down. Our dreams may not be God's dreams. We must place our hope in Him and Him alone. Unfortunately, I had to (once again) be reminded of these things... and I confess to you that it did not feel all that great.

I know God has brought me to West Palm Beach for such a distinct purpose. It is so beautiful to see His plans unfolding, and though things do not always go the way I think they should, they are nonetheless "going." God is in control of my life today, just as much as He was around this time last year... just as much as He was when I was forced to pack up my wedding dress and empty an apartment just comfy enough for two. He is in control of my life today, just as much as He was when He called me to Ecuador, and just as much as He was when He opened up the doors and prepared the way for me to come to West Palm Beach. It is simply undeniable.

So, when things get "cloudy" or I start to feel lost, my mind wanders. My mind wanders, and it is so imperative that I remind myself of where God has brought me in this journey, and the simple fact that it is okay to not know what the future holds. It is okay to not have it all together. It is okay.

After all, who can comprehend the plans of the Lord? Who can direct His hand as He moves in our lives and in our world? Where were We when He laid the foundations of the earth? Can we command the morning? Can we bring the rain? Can we control death?

We are but dust... vessels in the hands of God, who will use us if only we allow Him to. That's up to us. We can choose to wallow in self-pity, or we can choose to trust that God is working everything together for good in our lives so long as we hold on to hope. When we begin to feel discouraged about the "what's next," let us be reminded that "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

These very words are a challenge to you, and to me... let us let go of OUR blueprints, focusing not on the circumstances before us, but rather on the very action that will bring all of His precious and glorious plans to pass: loving Him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

my ode to fall.


So, apparently today is the official first day of the "fall" season. It's time for Pumpkin Spice lattes, outdoor hikes, stopping to admire the bright orange and red hues luminating from the trees, and, of course my personal favorite, cuddling up on the sofa with a great book in hand and no where else to be but there. Ah, how sweet it is to enjoy the fall season!

I guess us local Floridians completely by-pass the beauty of fall, given that it has been a steady 91 degrees since I arrived here last April. I wouldn't even have thought about fall had about ninety-nine people on Facebook not reminded me of how much THEY were enjoying the cool weather of the coming season. I think it about broke my heart today when I realized that Floridians do not even experience a hint or a hue of fall... instead, they get a whole lot of summer, and a season they identify as "Winter," yet only because around that time, in comes the mad rush of tourists who flee from THEIR igloos up north. I suppose that now that I live here, I must incorporate myself into this category as well. Know that I will do it, kicking and screaming all the way.

That being said, here's my ode to fall. I will think about you every day while I am stuck inside a cool, air-conditioned home... dripping with sweat, bursting with envy that the thought of wearing a sweater or a scarf is just completely out of the question, all the while wishing I could feel you. See you. Experience you. Step on some crunchy, colored leaves. Something. Anything.

Maybe I'll see you next year. Until then...

Monday, September 7, 2009

by your side...

As I was heading home from publishing my previous blog post, something personal, I heard Tenth Avenue North's song on the radio, By Your Side. It is such a beautiful song, and I believe that it encompasses every word I wrote in my previous post. I encourage everyone to watch this video, and more importantly, listen to the lyrics of this song. They are so powerful, and so personal.

You can watch the video here:



Enjoy :)

something personal.


There is something about the moon that always speaks to me. At night when it is dark, I love to search the sky to find its bright light, and when I find it, I love to fix my eyes upon the masterpiece that it is; the vast array of details that gives it its beauty simply takes my breath away, for more often than not, it shines its light in such a way that it seems as if someone painted it in the sky just for me to enjoy. Perhaps it is naive or selfish to think that God has placed something so beautiful in the sky just for me, but some days that's exactly how I feel.

The other night, in particular, I saw the moon in a way that I had never seen it before. The week previous to this encounter, I had been wrestling with the idea of what it means to be in a personal relationship with the God of the universe. Since I became a follower of Jesus over four years ago, that's what I have always been told: God wants to be in a relationship with you, and for that reason, Jesus had to die. Don't you see it?

At first I did... I truly did. When I was seventeen years old, God spoke to my heart about the way I was living and how empty my life had become. I remember so vividly the night when I realized that all of this "God stuff" was really true, and that maybe, just maybe, I could find hope to step out of the shame and the depression that had somehow come to define me. Little did I realize, I was stepping into a relationship that would change everything about who I was and how I viewed the world around me.

When I first met God, I began to talk to Him as if we were sitting at Starbucks on a blind date, just trying to get to know each other or something. I couldn't wait to talk to Him about my day, and I would ask Him questions about my life, how to get over my past, and more importantly, I would ask Him to help me learn how He wanted me to live my life as a new believer. The more I talked to Him, the more I wanted to know Him... and the more I learned about Him through reading the amazing stories written about Him, the more I wanted to please Him and do what He wanted me to do.

I had been touched by His love, and it was absolutely captivating. I was like a newlywed, basking in the joy of getting to know someone who loved me; someone who thought I was the most beautiful person in the world, and someone who was always there, just waiting for the next opportunity that we could spend time together. Have you ever experienced God in this way?

This particular evening when I saw the moon, I stepped out of my car and towards the doors of my house, and as I always do, I lifted my eyes to the dark sky and searched for its bright light. When I found it, it silenced me, and in the quiet, I realized something that I had somehow forgotten along the way: God sees me, and He desires to be in a relationship with me.

I broke down in tears, because there I stood... eyes lifted to the heavens, and I felt so unveiled; so broken, and so exposed. It was in that moment that I realized what had happened to me along my personal faith journey: I had forgotten that I had been created to experience God in a personal way; that He desired me, and He wanted me, and He had chosen me. Instead, I had chosen ritual over relationship, and had traded my newly-wed love for God for the mere image of being seen as a "super Christian." I no longer talked to Him like I knew Him, or even desired to know Him. I simply prayed when it was was convenient, or when I told someone I would, or at the very least, when I desperately needed something; surely He would still answer me, right?!

As I have realized over these past few days, if we fail to experience what it means to know God in a personal way, we are missing out on the joy and purpose God has for us. This is the very relationship we were created to be in, and it is the very relationship that your heart may not even realize it is searching for. Are you broken? God desires to put your life back together. Do you feel alone? His love will fill the depths of your heart when the world walks out on you. Do you feel like no one really knows you, or that you are unlovable? You have a maker who knows everything about you; every thought you have, everything you have done, and everything that you need. And guess what, He still loves you.

Please, please... do not waste your life apart from truly experiencing what it means to KNOW God in a personal way. He loves you, and He will continue to pursue you until you realize that He is there. There will come a day when you see that He has always been there, and that He has never desired religion from you, but instead, that He has desired YOU. Just you. All of you.

So, what do you say? Are you ready to encounter something personal?

Write me. Leave a comment. Or better yet, next time you are faced with the darkness of the sky, search for the light of the moon, and maybe, just maybe, God will meet you there and He will show you these things for Himself.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous-and how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable!
I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up in the morning, you are still with me
!
psalm 139:13-18

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

august

I cannot believe that it is already September! These past four months here in West Palm have been such a stretching experience for me, yet overall I can say that August has by far been my greatest month here to date. Here's why.

My parents spoiled me by each coming down to visit me on separate trips. My dad came first, along with my step-mom Kelly and her niece and nephew, and we spent three days at a Resort Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. I didn't realize how much I missed and needed my family until reuniting with them after such a long time. My dad and I road-tripped down the coast, all the way from Ft. Lauderdale, past Miami Beach, and then finally to Key Largo, where we set sail on a glass bottom boat. It was simply amazing!


My mom came down two weeks later for my 22nd Birthday and her visit could not have come at a more perfect time! This was her first time in Florida, so we spent some time exploring West Palm, visiting City Place, seeing some of the beautiful beaches, and hanging out with the family and kids I live with. It was so great for her to get a feel of how my "everyday" life is here with the Apicella family, as sometimes, living with four kids can get a little chaotic :) She handled it well, and was so impressed by how much these kids cling to me. The entire experience was a simple reminder to me that I have been brought here for a purpose and should continue to love and cherish these precious little ones that God has placed in my path. It was also wonderful to have my mommy here in the house with me for three whole days.


If there is one thing that has "awed" me throughout this past month is how God has so graciously given me some really amazing friends here in West Palm. They are such a blessing to me, and their compassion and kindness has made such an impact on my heart. For my birthday, a few of these AMAZING people threw me a "birthday dinner" at my favorite water-front restaurant, "Waterway Cafe." My friend, who does not bake mind you, baked me a Peruvian style cake covered in strawberries and peaches. People showed up and loved on me that I didn't even realize would! Here are some of my favorite snapshots from the night:


This is Marcela, the mastermind behind the whole evening and one of the sweetest people I know. Ella es mi hermana de Peru :)


To make this short and sweet, here's "everyone." These are my brothers and sisters from Grace Fellowship, including my precious mamá. They are so amazing!


And... this is Lindsey, the sister I never had. I love her so dearly!

I feel so humbled and undeserving to have had such a great few weeks. God is so wonderful to have placed me in such a place of love, and purpose, and joy, and continual ministry. What I thought was going to be a rather difficult month turned out to be one of great blessing and peace. Though I often times find myself restless and confused, I know God has great things for my life. I cannot even begin to tell you how broken that makes my heart feel, knowing that I fall so short of who I should be, yet God continues to keep His hand on me. I am most definitely a testimony that no matter how far you fall, or what you have been through, miracles can happen and God can most definitely transform lives. Even from this time last year, God has done an amazing work in my heart, and I am blessed beyond measure to say that I am slowly, but surely, on my way...

Thank you, my sweet and precious Jesus, for an amazing August.
love,
me

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

He has been so good to me.

I have once again picked up my "Streams in the Desert" daily devotional by L.B. Cowman. I bought it last July, yet in between leaving Lynchburg, Ecuador, and now settling in Florida, it somehow got shuffled underneath a pile of things that I promised myself I'd eventually "get around to."

I always find my way back to these things, especially books that have encouraged me or challenged me during a difficult time in my life. In fact, the last time I picked up this book was when I was praying about whether or not to pack up my life in Lynchburg and head to Ecuador. The pain was overbearing, yet there it was on October 27, telling me this... The strongest and greatest character is grown through hardship.

I want so desperately to tell you that the events of this past year have turned me into some type of spiritually-head strong superwoman. To be honest, they have shaken me in places I never realized needed "shaking." They have brought me back to the basics, a place where I must pray that God gives me hope for the future, or simply hope to make it through the day. I dare tell you that there are plenty of days, like today in particular, where I look in the mirror and wonder what in the world is going to become of my life, who is going to love me, and why I don't have a "five year plan." Truth be told, I don't even have a five month plan, or a five week plan; I just kind of "go with the flow," trusting that eventually I'll know more than I presently do.

With this in mind, imagine reading the following words: "Nothing that is not part of God's will is allowed to come into the life of someone who trusts and obeys Him. This truth should be enough to make our life one of ceaseless thanksgiving and joy, because God's will is the most hopeful, pleasant, and glorious thing in the world."

Ceaseless thanksgiving and joy... our lives must embody it even when we don't feel it; we must have an attitude of praise, even when we find our circumstances in shambles. Ceaseless joy is not condemning or selfish, but it accepts all things, both good and bad, as if they come from the same gracious hand.The more I learn about God as the days progress, the more I realize they truly do.

That being said, I can do nothing but thank God for this past year. My journey through grief and loneliness has surely not been an easy one, but I do trust that the One who holds my life does so with such tender hands of love. He is writing the story of my life and of my love, and though the tears come more often than I unveil to those around me, I wouldn't have it any other way. God's plan for my life is the most hopeful, pleasant, and glorious thing in the world. With clenched hands, I will cling to it, believe it, fight for it, and at the end of the day, I will rest in it.

I also want to thank so many of you who have gone to the trenches and bled with me throughout this past year; your compassion has meant the world to me. I am so thankful for the family and friends who have comforted me, prayed for me, encouraged me, listened to me, cried with me, dreamed with me, and even jumped on an airplane with me. I could have never done this alone, and I still can't. Your compassion and kindness has continually pointed me to hope in Jesus when I needed it the most. From the bottom of my heart, truly, I thank you.

My precious God is not finished with my heart, nor is He finished with yours.

Be encouraged by the following prayer... it has been the prayer of this season and has led me to a precious hope that I can never let go of. I pray it is the unceasing song of my life. He has been so good to me.

"O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the light to my eyes, or I will die.
Don't let my enemies gloat, saying, "We have defeated him!" Don't let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord because he has been so good to me
."
Psalm 13

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

the beautiful truth.

If I were to be honest with you, I would tell you that a picture does not always depict the entire story; a smile does not always indicate genuine and lasting joy. A label does not always encompass one's true identity, and personal convictions are not always so easy to stand upon.

Yes, if I were to be honest with you, I would admit to you that it is much easier to compromise, and it is harder to hold on when the storms surround you. Desires can be so crippling, and hearts do not always hold out for what is best.

It is not always easy to pray, and it is not always easy to believe in hope. Faith sometimes fades, and loneliness is too often all that remains.

If I were to be honest with you, I would admit to you that calling myself a "follower of Jesus" is perhaps the most difficult label I have ever chosen to bear. Too often the world looks at those who have faith as naive or weak, but I dare to say they are so much more. You see, Jesus asks us to die to ourselves for the sake of others; to empty ourselves of what we think we need, and what we have convinced ourselves we deserve. He does not leave us empty, no. We may experience seasons of emptiness or periods of loneliness, but He always fills us so that we can, in turn, pour out our lives to bring hope to those in our midst. What we fail to realize is that in order for Him to fill us with that which is good, and noble, and true... we must first empty ourselves of everything that is not.

Emptying ourselves hurts, because it requires genuine sacrifice. It means bringing our dreams, desires, convictions, hopes, and feelings into the light. It often times means admitting that our intentions have been wrong, or that we have not desired that which is beautiful and true. For many, it requires removing the mask we have been hiding behind in order to admit that we are standing alone and do not know which way to turn. It means stripping ourselves bare and telling someone, perhaps for the first time in our lives, that we do not have it all together.

Let's be honest, not many of us do.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
2 Corinthians 1:5

Sunday, July 12, 2009

embracing desperation

About a week ago, I was "confronted" face on with the question of how a "good God" could co-exist with the concept of poverty in our world for the first time since my trip to Ecuador. A friend of mine and I were at a restaurant enjoying a late night snack when Jerry approached us. Jerry was a middle-aged man with roots in Madrid and Italy who worked at a furniture store. At this point, Jerry was already drunk and had sung countless ballads at the karaoke station. Now, approaching us, he wanted to know if he could buy us a drink.

Kindly refusing, we decided to use this as an opportunity to talk to the guy. Right off the bat, he asked us if we had been "friends forever." You know, "BFF's" from the Ya-ya sisterhood, or something. He claimed he could sense something "spiritual" between us that seemed to indicate that was so. He stared in confusion when I told him we had only known each other for a little over two months, and even more so when I explained that it was our common love for God that bonded us together. His response was the response that most people give when they hear something like that: "Oh, so you are one of those religious types?"

I personally love this question, because I love to see peoples' reactions when I tell them "no." You see, I am not religious because "religion" is a man-made thing; religion is about do's and dont's and keeping up an image. God, on the other hand, is not.

This might baffle some of you who have been led to believe that Christians put aside their "intellect" in pursuit of a desire to "become perfect and holy" and "crutch" through life. I plead with you that this is by no means the case. Some who call themselves Christians are unfortunately "religious," but they, like the rest of the world, stand on the notion that they are "doing fine" without God; that they are perfectly content and fulfilled in their luxury, materialism, personal gain, and pride. Little do they know that none of these things are any kind of solid rock to stand on. They all, at some point, crumble to the ground. I know, because I've been there.

This doesn't "click" for so many of us because we have lost any sense of what it feels like to be "desperate" or "broken." In fact, I would argue that many of us have absolutely no idea what it is like to be in genuine need. Maybe we "desperately" want a new flat screen or car, or we "desperately" want to be in a relationship with that guy or girl... but that is the extent of our knowledge of poverty and need. I am talking to myself here.

Better yet, we convince ourselves that "what goes around, comes around" and in doing so, we place all of our eggs in a basket that we "hope" will bring something good "back around" to us. Karma knows how to work itself, right? When we realize that it doesn't, we deposit one more "reason" into our bank of justifications for why God and the reality of the story of Christ simply cannot be real.

This is how Jerry felt about Jesus. He explained to me that "there was no way God would WANT us to experience poverty in our lives.'' In fact, Joel Olsteen had told him that if he followed God, he could become rich and prosperous (insert exclamation point here). Tears filled my eyes as I tried to reason with him that the poor of this world know something about genuine need that we never could. Before him and before God, I shared that I would do anything to understand what those who have experienced poverty grasp in their hearts and lives; I would do anything to know what it is like to have such a desperate need for God that my very survival depends on it. No pursuit of "get-rich-quick-in-Jesus" schemes; just a genuine need to experience and understand the love of God, and in turn, to share that love with others.

He said God "would never do that me," which I don't blame him for saying. This is what so many believe. We have somewhere along the way learned to pity those in poverty, all the while forgetting that God in all His greatness and love takes a particular liking towards the "least of these." Many of the people who sought out Jesus in the gospel stories were people in extremely desperate circumstances. Many of them had nothing. Their pursuit of Jesus was beautiful because it sprung from something within that was calling out that they really needed what He had to offer. As The Message explains in Matthew 5:3, they were people who were "at the end of [their] rope" and realized that with "less" of them, there could be "more of God and His rule." Less of us, and more of God. How simple, yet perplexingly beautiful.

Perhaps that is what is missing in our understanding of what differs a "religious person" from a genuine follower of Jesus. Religious people play a role, put a smile on their faces, and walk out of church feeling as if God was "proud" of them that they managed to get out of bed AND take notes during the sermon. Genuine followers of Jesus know they have no reason to brag; they know they cannot be perfect, nor do they strive to be. They weep before God on their knees and literally beg Him to show the world what it means to find joy and fulfillment in Him. They weep on their knees for you and for me, because they are a broken people who are moved by the difficulties in their own lives and in the lives of others. Genuine followers of Jesus move all across the world for the sake of others; they voluntarily take up residence in some of the most hostile places for the sake of love. Some die for this love, but regardless they hold onto the truth that it was worth the fight. They hold out their hands to those who reject them, yet they press on because they know God has done the very same for them. Genuine followers of Jesus are humble, they are persisent, and you all know that they simply will not leave you alone. They really do love people. Most importantly, genuine followers of Jesus are desperate and they know it. In fact, they embrace their desperation with joy and gladness.

God is not just a tee-shirt that we wear, or someone we call out to when someone is in the hospital and we think creating "Praying for _____" facebook groups are what is going to make the situation better. God isn't proud of us for attending church or wearing cross necklaces around our necks. Nor does He listen when we only cry out to Him when we "need something," as if we were children writing a letter to Santa at Christmas time. He just isn't.

What He wants is for us to be desperate for Him and to truly need Him. We cannot truly experience God until we realize this truth: WE NEED GOD, not just when we are in trouble, but every single day. Why? Because this world is all too complicated for us. Even our best efforts fail us. We cannot be "good" as much as we try. Our love is pretty selfish without knowing how God intended love and relationships to function. We would hold a whole lot of grudges without learning from God the beauty and freedom that forgiveness brings into our lives.

If we do find ourselves so blessed to be in a state of spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical poverty... I pray we are reminded of the poor, who have a great treasure that so many of us lack in our lives. They know what it is like to need, and when they find the very One who can meet their needs, they are desperate beyond reason. They give up everything, the little they have, to know God's story and His plan for their lives. Why? Because they have nothing else. End of story.

Some pity the poor, but I admire their desperation and can only pray that God would bring me to such a humble and broken place in my own heart and life.

In Him,
me

Friday, July 3, 2009

if tomorrow never comes...

Have you ever had one of those days that you look back upon and just know it was wasted? I began reflecting upon this idea as I was standing in the kitchen late this afternoon, watching as the sharp bright rays of sunshine were quickly replaced with dark clouds and pellets of rain that fell from the sky. It had been such a beautiful day, one I had been planning to take advantage of for weeks now. I had unexpectedly been given the day off from work, and as I watched any opportunity of being kissed by the sun be briskly snatched from my very hands, my stomach turned. It was too late; I had wasted the very day that had been given to me.

Ok, confession. I took a two hour nap today, when I could have gone to the beach or taken advantage of the spa and pool in our very own backyard. For one who says she is tired of having 'cabin fever,' I cannot fathom why I did not step outside once today. I worked on homework, all the while convincing myself that I "had" to get it done today, or else. I avoided making phone calls I knew I needed to make. I watched TV. I drank endless cups of coffee and about six twenty-four ounce bottles of water. I played around with templates for my blog. I made Ramen Noodles, something I am not very proud of.

And as I am typing these very words, there is a sunset outside of my window that is turning everything in our culdesac a precious shade of bubble-gum pink, mixed with a gorgeous hue of purple and orange. I am missing it.

You see, if I were to die tomorrow, I simply cannot stand knowing that I could look back upon today with regret that I did nothing with my time that had even the sheerest hint of significance or value. That is why my stomach is turning and the tears are swelling up in my eyes, for if tomorrow never comes, there remains a laundry list of things I would be disappointed that I never did. There would be phone calls I should have made, and people that need to hear from my heart that they have meant the world to me. There would be conversations I needed to have with Jesus about the way I have been living, and about the people in my life who are hurting or have not experienced the love of God. There would be places I wish I had gone, and people I wish I had taken a few more minutes to listen to. Yes, that is why the tears are streaming down my face. I have wasted this very day, and as far as I know, my very opportunity to fulfill those deep yearnings and desires of this heart God has given me.

If there is anything that has been embedded into my life from my experience in Ecuador, it is this very truth: we are never promised tomorrow. To be honest, I am not quite sure why we always live believing that tomorrow is something that inevitably will come for us, as if we deserve it or are entitled to it. For most, tomorrow does come... but for a select few, the very concept becomes merely something that consumed their yesterday; a brief wind of hope, that although was supposed to spur them on into the future, became the very thing that robbed them of finding value and meaning in their lives, or even worse, their opportunity to bring value and meaning into the lives of others.

As I did this afternoon, so many of us live our lives believing that with "today" comes no sense of urgency or beauty; we have convinced ourselves that it is simply a stepping stone that will lead us into the days that come. Perhaps we are holding out for a dream that our heart has hoped for since forever, it seems. Perhaps there is a phone number next to a name on our "to-do" list that we are waiting to "get around to." Maybe there is someone we need to tell we are sorry, or a grudge that we need to let go of in our heart. Perhaps we have convinced ourselves that we will "get right with God" when we are older, or when it is time to settle down; surely He won't mind that we "enjoyed" a few years without Him. As long as we "eventually" come, it's okay... right?.

But what if tomorrow never comes? Will you, as I did today, wish that you had spent "today" a little differently than you did?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

just 'Latinos?'


I recently read a journal article* by Ph.D. and educator Margaret Curwen concerning the rise of Latino students in U.S. classrooms and how teachers can single-handedly make a difference in ensuring their academic and personal success. While she offered many practical suggestions that aided in classroom management and curriculum choices, each suggestion was rooted in a solution that I believe can and should affect each and every one of us as U.S. citizens. Her solution in a nut-shell was this (paraphrased by me): We as a nation should be less quick to judge Latinos and should intentionally learn how to accept them as a unique culture that is comprised of endless individual, multi-faceted, and nethertheless interesting sub-cultures. Adapting such a mindset, Curwen argues, has the potential to transform not only Latino students’ success in the classroom, but also our world as we know it.

Why this issue has “struck” such a chord in my heart, I do not know. All I can say is that I wholeheartedly believe that we as a nation have failed our world by rejecting and judging those in our midst who are different than we are. In our minds, we have formulated a stereotypical mold of Latin culture through which we have learned to place each and every Latino that crosses our path. As Curwen emphasizes, we are quick to label all Latinos living in the United States as “illegal immigrants” or “migrant workers,” all the while ignoring the fact that in 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that as much as sixty-percent of the forty-seven million Latinos living in the United States are in fact considered native-born. The Bureau also depicted that the percentage of Latinos in the U.S. holding “professional jobs” precisely mirrored the percentage of Latinos in the typical “service” job that we generally view them in. It does not faze us to assume that all Latinos in our midst are “Mexicans,” when in reality there are hundreds of Central American, South American, and European countries represented within the Latino culture as a whole. This concept is one that I saw very clearly during my four-month stay in Ecuador this past December of 2008. When asked what the “typical” Ecuadorian was like, I struggled to portray an image that embodied the diversity and beauty that existed throughout Ecuador’s many different sub-cultures and people groups. For example, farmers make their living in the mountains, while businessmen roam the capital of Guayaquil in search of success. Indigenous women wear hand-woven, bright colored skirts and wrap their hair in long belt-like sashes; women in the capital city dress as if they have just stepped out of a Miami fashion magazine. Spanish is the majority language in Ecuador, however many diverse dialects exist inside its borders. Each person I encountered had a story of his or her own; each inspired me in a way no one else I encountered before had. For me to label every Ecuadorian as if he or she fit some type of mold would have single-handedly robbed each individual sub-culture of the beauty and the influence that it brings to the country of Ecuador as a whole.

What is my point? The Latino culture cannot break the mold and rise above the statistics that label them “at-risk” and “out of place” without our help. I firmly believe that if someone communicates to a person long enough that he is undesirable, unwanted, or not worthy of success, it will eventually become a part of him and he will have no choice but to model his life after what the world tells him he is. Have we forgotten that he is a child of the living God and has been created for a distinct purpose, just as we have? Instead of scurrying to protect a United States “culture” that I cannot say I believe even exists, let us focus our efforts on cultivating open and nurturing hearts towards a people group that will inevitably rise to a projected 102 million people and will encompass nearly ¼ of those residing within our borders by the year 2050. We must learn to love them. May this be a challenge to you and to me to not settle for simply viewing all Latinos as “the same.” May our eyes be opened to the unique, multi-faceted, and beautiful diversity that exists within their culture, and more so as each day passes, in ours as well.

*If you are interested in reading Margaret Curwen's article in full, it can be accessed from the following reference: Curwen, M. (2009, June). Visiting Room 501. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(10), 756-761. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

when tragedy strikes.

As I am typing these very words, there is a family at Grace Fellowship Church grieving the tragic loss of their three-month old baby boy. Such tragedies are not things we particularly like to reflect upon, however the reality of this specific story has taught be a valuable lesson I am hoping to never forget.

I remember the evening that I first heard about the loss of Brooke and Rick McDonald's precious little boy, Gavin. Before worship last Wednesday evening, one of the leaders at Grace asked us to break up into small groups to pray for the hearts of those affected by this tragedy. Though I did not know the McDonald family personally, I could tell by the grief-stricken faces of those around me that this was a deep and desperate situation. I bowed my head along with the others and said the only thing I could think of: Lord, do something glorious through this. We know that you will.

Others in my group prayed for this situation and soon-after, we concluded with an "amen." Several other groups around me continued to pray, and though I could not hear the words that they were saying, I could sense their feelings of urgency, the tears in their eyes, and the unwavering hope resonating from their hearts. They were pleading with God with a sweet and genuine belief that this family could somehow be restored in spite of what has rocked their world. They were confident, somehow, that the beauty of Christ would be miraculously displayed through their sorrow and their tears.

As my eyes surveyed the room, I could not help but recognize something about followers of Jesus that I had never seen so clearly before: When tragedy strikes, they lift their eyes towards heaven and their hearts cling to a very real hope that has been promised to them; even if they do not see such hope in the moment, their feet can remain on the path because their know that it is coming. Even in the most impossible of circumstances, they continue believing that reconciliation will come.

I began to reflect upon my life before hope, and while I have not experienced anything close to what the McDonald family has now experienced, one tragic circumstance stands out to me thus far in my life. I first heard the news when I was in Charleston, South Carolina visiting the campus I would soon call my own after my high school graduation in the months that followed. I did not always want to go to the College of Charleston, but the way I was living my life at the time convinced me otherwise. When I got the phone call, I was doing what I knew how to do best: partying, getting drunk, and convincing myself that I was "living the life." That is, until I heard the news: Alex Everhart, one of my best friends from middle school, had been tragically killed in a car accident. Just like that, she was gone, forever.

And then "that feeling" shot throughout my entire body; you know, that feeling you get when you are driving and you nearly hit the car in front of you? Or that feeling you get when someone looks into your eyes and tells you that it's over? Yea, that feeling, that tingly feeling that rushes through every limb in your body and does not go away until you do one of two things: you accept that tragedy has struck you and you begin the process of handling it, or you choose to deny the reality of the situation and fix your eyes elsewhere. In this particular situation, I very intentionally chose the latter.

Screw this, I screamed. Let's drink up, because life is short, I proclaimed. My depression worsened. My desire to control something about this situation poured gasoline on the already lit fire of an eating disorder whose flames had spread all over my life. I intentionally used this tragedy as an excuse to go deeper, to be a little more reckless, and to continue to hide behind the masks of destruction I thought were keeping my heart protected from pain. I continued to "stuff" my life with these things because I didn't want to admit that I was hurting. I didn't want to admit that I had no hope to move forward.

The picture of hope that God painted before my eyes amidst the McDonald tragedy is one that has opened them in a very real way. To see followers of Jesus rise up and believe that God is still good despite what happened to Gavin screams to my heart that hope is a choice that we make. When tragedy strikes in our lives, we are met with a fork in the road. We can choose to cling to hope in Jesus or we can continue to hide behind the things we have somehow made ourselves believe are what can save us. As we live our lives in a world ridden with pain, where does our help come from? We lift our eyes to the Lord, the One who has created us and the very world that we live in [Psalm 121:1-2]. We believe in the steadfast love of a God who never changes; a God who can make all things new, if only we let Him. When our world crashes down around us, we hope in Him. We lift up our eyes and we choose to cling to a promise that God has made to those who believe. These trials cannot consume us; they can only make us stronger. Sometimes we don't feel hopeful, but nethertheless we make the choice to hold on because we trust in the One who is in control of all things. I can't explain it, but we just do.

What about you? When you encounter difficult times in your life, can you truly say that you possess hope to get through them? If your answer to this question is 'no,' I admit to you that I know how it feels to live each day in hopelessness; I have felt the deep, wrenching pain of feeling as if death would be easier than processing through the difficult realities you are facing. I have spent years of my life in search for something to make the pain go away. A drink here. A relationship there. A new wardrobe. Anorexia. Bulimia. Even engulfing my life in my studies. Trust me, you are not alone; you are not alone when after everything you have attempted, you lay your head on your pillow and in the lonely silence of the night realize that your heart is still hurting. The pain is still there, yet you rise up the next morning and do it all over again, because, well, that's just what you know how to do best.

This is the very reality that brought me to Jesus. I didn't want to search anymore. I was tired of coming up short and feeling empty. I was tired of hoping in my own ability to make the pain go away by performing. I wanted hope so desperately, up until the point that I realized that I needed hope to survive. That is when I chose to give my life to the only hope that I have ever been able to truly rely on, the One who promises that there is more to life than the tragedies that attempt to swallow us up here on earth, and the One who has yet to fail me and make me feel as if I have hoped in vain: Jesus Christ.

How about you... when tragedy strikes, what do YOU cling to?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

thunderstorms.

I woke up this morning to a loud and thunderous boom that felt like it shook the entire house. This boom led me to jump out of my bed and pull back the blinds of my second story window. Outside, I saw heavy winds swaying our palm trees in each and every direction. I glanced to the west to see if there were any cars flying in the air like I had seen storms like this do in movies like the Wizard of Oz. No, no cars flying. Even so, I was certain I was standing in the middle of a hurricane, and let me just say that I was terrified.

I ran downstairs to see if anyone else in the house had heard the thunder crack open the sky like I did. I run up to the parents in the house and ask, "What in the world is going on! Is this a hurricane?!?"

They stood silent for a moment and then chuckled amongst themselves. "Really, Shelly? You think this is a hurricane? Sweetie, this is only a thunderstorm!"

How was I supposed to know? I've never lived in Florida before. I've never experienced what a "normal" Florida storm is like, and this one seemed so powerful and reckless. The winds were taking over our outside surroundings, knocking over the plants in our garden and our trash cans left and right. While nothing was being uprooted or flying in the air around me, I was fearful of the storm, for it was like none that I had ever experienced before. My frame of reference limited me to view my present surroundings as much more terrifying than they actually were. What I viewed in my mind as a hurricane, was in reality a mere thunderstorm.

I stood by the screen glass door for a few minutes, reflecting upon the concept of this "storm." I couldn't help but think that my perceptions of this thunderstorm were a lot like our perceptions towards the "storms" we face in this life. We lose a loved one. We get a bad report from the doctor. We are heartbroken over a failed relationship. We lose our jobs. We struggle to find meaning and significance. We experience loneliness, but do not know how to escape it. All of these are "storms" that more often then not break us from the inside out; they indefinitely cause us deep pain and heartache. The inevitable truth, however, is that everyone in this life will experience these storms regardless of who they are or what they believe. The key to finding victory amidst the storms has everything to do with how we react and respond to the impact of their winds.

Do we remain faithful by taking a step back from our heartache to cling to the truth that we have a God who never abandons us? If we do, we are somehow able to find the peace to survive them. When we realize that the winds cannot destroy us and that the very hands that allowed their existence cares about our innermost being, we somehow find victory; we somehow find hope, no matter what faces us. Why, you may ask, would a "good God" bring storms into our lives? Because we all know that we stand much taller and stronger after we have victoriously conquered something that at one point seemed impossible. The storms of this life sharpen us, they change us, they reveal our purpose more clearly, and they make us who we are. More importantly, they bring us closer to God.

Or, perhaps you are like me... you are faced with a storm that seems so big that you are certain you are going to be swallowed by it. The heartache seems unbearable. You just cannot let go of "what was." You have forgotten how to dream. You do not know where to go "next." I'll admit, I often times live my day-to-day life as if the thunderstorms that come my way are hurricanes. I get scared. I get anxious. I run for cover. I forget that there is a God who promises to protect me through them. I forget that there is a purpose for the trials I face; they can only make me stronger. Sometimes, all I can hear are the thunderous booms that crack open the dreams of my heart and the plans I thought would carry me into the future. Sometimes, all I can see are the winds, chaotically pulling the circumstances of my life in each and every direction until they finally fall to the ground in defeat.

I am comforted to know that even followers of Jesus in the New Testament felt like I do today. It is written in Matthew 8:23-27 that they encountered a storm, and when the winds and the waves swamped over their boat, their reaction went a little something like this: "Um, excuse me Jesus? Why are you sleeping? We're about to get swallowed up if you don't do something! Don't you even care about us? Hello?!" Man, have I been caught saying this more times than I'd like to admit!

Stated clearly, it is easy to view the thunderstorms in our lives as hurricanes if we refuse to trust and believe the God behind them. We do have a God who loves us and who will never allow anything to swallow up His children in defeat. Though the winds may sway the circumstances of our lives, we will never fall. Just as Jesus responded to His followers who became fearful in the storm, so He responds to us: "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" We must trust Him as the solid rock we stand upon; a God who never changes. A God who calms the storms, no matter how fierce they may seem.

May we trust Him always, regardless.

-me

Thursday, June 18, 2009

reflections of a servant.

"Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:27-28

First thoughts: this is a revolutionary concept that has the ability to turn our world upside down if we actually applied it to our lives. Think about it. If we learned to place our own desires, thoughts, and satisfaction second to the well-being of others, without demanding a thing in return, I am fully confident that our world would never be the same. More hungry would be fed. Less children would be aborted. Genuine joy would become the norm, rather than the exception. Less hearts would be broken. More lives would be healed. Less suffering people would lose hope and take their own lives. Yes, I am fully convinced that if we placed others before ourselves, not only would those we encounter be transformed, but our very own hearts would be changed for the better as well.

Dare I say that this is an easy thing to do, because it's not. If it were easy, we would do it... but truth be told, we don't. Instead, we talk about serving others, loving others, changing the world, and bringing joy to the hopeless. At least I do. Our hearts melt at photographs of orphans and we find joy in associating ourselves with organizations that are doing something positive to change our world, not because we have done much to truly serve the broken ourselves, but because it makes us look and feel good. We care more about our image than we do people, and that's a pretty frightening reality. We forget that the majority of our world is living in a very REAL state of physical, spiritual, and emotional poverty as we sit comfortably with roofs over our heads and an abundance of food on our plates, complaining about the weather, the new model of the iphone, or the symbolism behind Obama's infamous swatting of a fly. My goodness, are we so incredibly vain.

Truth be told, we have no idea what it's like to give our lives for the sake of other people the way that God asks us to. The more I pen these words, the more I realize I am pointing the finger at myself. I have no idea what it's like to serve others and expect nothing in return. I serve in a "checks and balances" kind of way: I serve you so I can get a thank you, or so I can "feel good" and brag about it to others. When I often times feel let down for getting nothing in return, I grumble in my spirit and serve with a bitter and sometimes demanding attitude, for surely my 'gracious works' should be praised. I bleed with passion over so many things, but I admit that sometimes my passion can be pretty empty and unaccompanied with works to back it up. Empty passion, Donald Miller argues, "is like pouring gasoline into a car without wheels... it isn't going to lead anybody anywhere." In modern slang, it's all talk, no game. A bunch of BS. I don't know about you, but I surely don't want to lead others to a place like that in their own lives. Ever. I fear that too often I do.

So where do we go from here? I believe the answer is pretty simple, yet extremely difficult at the same time. We believe, and in turn, we act upon our belief. If we believe that it is unjust for the world to be dying of hunger when so many are drowning their sorrows in boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and double Whoppers, then we do something about it. We get involved, practically. If we truly believe that a child becomes a living being at conception, then we plead our case, not to win an argument, but to win over the hearts of others. If we believe that those who do not believe in Christ will suffer in hell for eternity, then we share the love that we have experienced with everyone that we can. We love them to Jesus, just as they are. I have heard so many people outside of the Christian world say that their main problem with Christianity is that they don't even know if Christians believe what they are saying... as in, "if those Christians actually thought I was going to burn in hell without their Christ, why wouldn't they try harder, love more passionately, and do what their Jesus tells them to do?" I am so guilty, because I don't live like this. People can tell when we are pleading with empty passion and words because genuine passion is contagious; it touches the heart in a way that even if people do not fully agree with where we stand, they will see that we genuinely believe.They just may get a glimpse of a heart that has learned how to empty itself for the sake of others; a heart that loves, and is willing to own up to the responsibility that true belief demands. This, more than any argument or word that can come from our mouths, will make all the difference in the world around us.

My very own words convict my heart, for I realize that I have no idea what it means to lay down my life for others, nor do I believe that given the opportunity, I truly would. I find myself frustrated, because though I desire to serve selflessly, all too often I find that I cannot take my eyes off of myself and the bubble that I live in. I weep over the reality of poverty and brokenness, yet do nothing to serve the broken around me. I talk the talk, but a lot of times, I don't walk the walk because the walk demands that I own up to what I believe no matter what consequences or sacrifices it brings to my life. Sacrifice is hard, because it demands that I be selfless; it demands that I give of myself even if that means I stand in last place. I forget that Matthew 20:27 says that those who are last will be first, a verse that is easier to read than it is to apply, let's be honest.

This is why I am so thankful for the power of God in my life. I cannot truly love and serve others in my own strength; no one can. No matter how hard we try to do good, we fall incredibly short because we are a broken people, completely and utterly in need of God to be, as so many quote, "the change we wish to see in the world." Can we change the world? Yes. Can we do it in our own strength? No. This is why I strive to follow the example of Christ, because He came not to be served, but to serve to the point of deepest rejection and eventually His own death. I want to love that way; I want to serve others sacrificially. I want to actually care about the issues in our world and be bold enough to do something about them. I want to believe with my whole heart, because as I mentioned before, if we truly believe in the things we say we stand for, we whould be willing to follow such an amazing example like Christ. If not, then we shouldn't say anything at all, my own self-seeking heart included.

-me

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

twenty-something.

It amazes me how much truth can be found in the well-known cliche that twenty-somethings are in the process of "finding themselves." I experienced this first hand tonight as I was enjoying "Shelly time" during a sunset walk around the neighborhood.

Here's a little of how this went... Wow, it's beautiful here. And so quiet. I love the silence. I can't believe I'm here. I wonder how long I'll be here. Man I miss Ecuador. Why did I have a dream about Ecuador last night? I love it overseas. I don't feel like I belong in the States. I wonder where I do belong. I wonder where I will eventually end up. I sure do miss my jeans with the holes in them... Yea, I'm known for being quite the scatter brain lately.

I used to get defensive when people classified me as one of those people who was flighty and didn't know what they were going to do with their lives, even though they had just graduated from college and were supposed to "have it all together." I used to be quite the planner... that is, until God uprooted my blueprint and dreams and told me to start over again. Today, ask me what I want to do with my life and I'll belt out a handful of different things that are spread out across the board. People with Palm Pilots, life plans, and schedules cannot stand this new Shelly. Trust me, I know... I used to be one of them.

I'd pay someone to let me be involved with orphans somewhere in the world. I'd love to get down on my hands and knees and love them with the love of God in a way that changes them and restores their hope. I'd love to be their voice in the world, educating others about what is really happening outside of the American bubble. I'd love to write a book and fill it with photographs that capture the sweetest moments of my journey. I'd love to teach little ones and could absolutely see myself with my own classroom someday. I would love to counsel women who have been battered, abused, neglected, shamed, rejected, or forgotten. Put me in front of a group of teenage girls and I'd share my testimony of God's work in my life until I cannot speak any longer. I'd love to educate people around the world about the effects of eating disorders and the media's detrimental influence in the lives of young girls today. Yes, I guess you could say I'd love to do it all.

The neat thing is that I see a common thread in what makes my heart beat... at the end of the day, I want to know that I am involved in something that truly matters. Don't we all? For me personally, I do not want to simply be known as a "social activist," but rather someone who loves sacrificially in a way that honors God and brings the blessing of "true life" to those I encounter on a daily basis through what I do. I pray that God brings this dream to life wherever I find myself -- both in my present life, and in the future.

I guess it's not so bad to be in the process of "finding yourself." In fact, it seems to be quite a gift. I don't have to have it all figured out and neither do you. Live a little! My life is an open book and I have no agenda, no plan, and no blueprint to follow. I am free to live each day, explore my passions, get involved with what I love, and intentionally explore what that "next step" may be in my life... whenever it may be. Let's just say... for the first time in my life, I am proud to be a twenty-something, and if you are, you should be too!

thirst.

I have been reflecting quite a bit lately on the concept of thirst and what it means to experience thirst in one's soul. It is an aching feeling, really, when we find ourselves so sun-scorched by the rays of life that we feel weak, tired, and unable to function as we are supposed to. Have you ever felt like this? As if the difficulties of life were too much, and that with each beat and blow, you find yourself feeling even more defeated? Better yet, where do we go when we find ourselves in such a place? Who or what can rejuvenate us?

My story begins in Psalm 36:7-9... a passage of Scripture that says that God's children feast in the abundance of the house of God, and are given drink from the river of His delights. It also says that with God is the fountain of life, the place from which all life begins and is said to flow. He is the ultimate source of joy, peace, love, and satisfaction. He is the source we are supposed to run to when we are thirsty.

I read these verses a few mornings ago and found myself feeling a bit "stuck." In fact, what I realized through reading them was that I was experiencing a drought in my heart and really needed a little bit of this rejuvenation I was reading about. You can only go for so long before the reality of disappointments, unfulfilled desires, broken dreams, and failed relationships zap the very soul out of you and leave you feeling dry. I'm sure we've all been there more often than we'd like to admit.

I closed my Bible because I wasn't "feeling anything." Shame on me; no matter how hard I try, it's usually all about me anyhow. What I surprisingly found, however, was that in going about my day, I was reminded quite often of the concept of thirst and more specifically, what it meant that I felt thirsty in my heart. I knew the drought was heavy and that I needed to experience love anew... I just wasn't sure how to let God be that provider in my life who could bring me to life again. At this point, these were just sayings on a page that I couldn't wrap my mind around.

And then it happened... right before my eyes. I had taken our Jack-Russell Terrier out for an afternoon walk and upon my return, found myself face to face with two of the construction workers who had been slaving for the past week to perfect the outside patio where we live. I knew two things about these men: they were immigrants from Cuba and they were very hard workers. When I encountered them outside by the patio, they were lying on the ground with faces a shade of red so deep it looked like it hurt. I could tell they were absolutely drained.

Naturally, I strike up a conversation with them in Spanish. We talk about how miserable the sun is amongst other random, insignificant topics before I make my way towards the air-conditioned, million dollar home that awaits me behind one small door. I glance back to say Adios, and something catches my eye... their water jugs were empty. They were exhausted of thirst.

Shelly... my sweet child, be My hands and feet and fill them. Without saying a word, I grab the workers' water jugs and take them inside. I fill them both with water and supplement the jugs with ice. Cold water. I take them outside and the men glare into my eyes as if I had just completed the entire work on the patio myself. No, solamente agua... just water. I know you must be tired and thirsty, and I'm sure this will help. They could not believe it. Water. Who knows how long they had been sitting on the ground, waiting for the moment in which they could find enough strength to stand up again. They grab the jugs out of my hands and they thank me over and over again. Muchas gracias... de verdad, muchas gracias. I suppose I had no idea how much such a gesture would mean to them.

I cried after this encounter, only because I watched God bring a verse of Scripture to life right before my very eyes. That very morning, I had been awakened to the concept of thirst and to the person of God as the very One who fulfills that necessity in our lives. Even so, I still felt "stuck" because of the condition I was experiencing in my heart and wasn't sure how to approach God as the fountain of life. That same afternoon, God used two construction workers to teach me how simple this truth really is. We need water to survive, so when we find ourselves thirsty, we find the water and we drink it. When the water is not accessible, God brings it to us... often times in the most unexpected and unlikely places. Even when we do not have the strength to ask, God fills our jugs with all we need to get through the tasks He has placed before us. He will never leave us thirsty.

These men thought I was simply filling their water jugs, while simultaneously, God was beginning to fill mine. He was breaking through a season of drought that had taken up residence in my heart for way too long. Splashes and sprinkles brought rejuvenation and a sweetly renewed sense of hope to my soul. God was affirming His promises in my life that He would never leave my soul to dry out. He would never leave me thirsty. He was the fountain of life... the very joy I needed to find satisfaction and passion in my soul once again. If I struggled to find what I needed to replenish my soul in Him, He would bring it to me in His own precious way and timing. He would fill my water jug once again... only this time, I knew with confidence that He would bring it to overflow in a way I had never experienced before.