Family

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The world just outside the mission house.

I don’t think my experience in Belize is something I will “process”, and then move on with my life. Instead, I think this this trip, the people I met, the work I did, will become more and more meaningful as I continue to grow.

I cannot fully describe what this trip means to me, how it has affected me, because I’m not even sure yet. What I can do, is share with you how grateful I am that it happened and how God used me and blessed me while I was there.

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My Team 

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Team Belize 2015

 

I’ve known 10/11 other members of my team for many years, but going to school and playing sports with people is hardly living with them.  Being with them nearly 24/7 helped me get to know them better and love them more. Truly, I learned so much from each of teammate.

In addition to working at the school together, we also enjoyed going on several adventures, some as simple as star-gazing in the back of a pick-up truck and jumping fences, and others as jaw-dropping as snorkeling in the Caribbean.

We have an endless list of inside jokes that will live on for years to come.  The influence of late-night conversations, when we challenged and encouraged one another in our faith, will always be with us. I got to know each of them on a more personal level, and I look forward to developing those relationships now that we are home.

The Kids 

In the weeks leading up to our trip, my team members who had previously been to TCA, told me that the kids would love me instantly. I figured they were exaggerating; but on Monday morning, when I walked into the cafeteria to greet the  kids for the first time, I was quickly swarmed by smiling kids. By lunch time I had a small gang of little girls who followed me around requesting piggyback rides.  I could not refuse.

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My faithful buddy from day one.

Each school day I led devotionals in the Standard 3 (5th grade) classroom. The first day was a bit rough. I couldn’t tell what the kids thought of me, and I was pretty sure they thought I was completely nuts; but after that first day, things got progressively better. I enjoyed getting to them a little better each day.

I also had the opportunity to get to know their teacher, Louisa, and am hoping to keep in touch with her through e-mail and social media. She’s a special young woman and I learned from her as she interacted with her students. It was neat seeing someone only a few years older than me, taking on something as challenging as teaching 5th grade. I was inspired.

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Four of the five girls in 5th Grade.

My last morning with the class, I talked to them about gratitude. I shared what it means to be thankful, and how to show others love. I had them shout out things, people, and experiences they were grateful for and wrote them up on the white board. Their activity was to write a note to their teacher, telling her why they were grateful for her.

Before they hopped on the bus that afternoon, they all ran up to me with notes they wrote for me. It meant a lot to know I had touched them, even if my impact was small.

New Family 

Yesterday I was texting with a friend who asked me to summarize my trip in one word. Several descriptive adjectives flashed through my mind—incredible, amazing, life-changing, fantastic, stupendous. None of them would suffice. I came very near to simply giving up, telling my friend it couldn’t be done, and writing a summary sentence. Then I found my word: Family.

My whole life God’s been telling me about my brothers and sisters in different countries around the world. I’ve met many who have visited my church and enjoyed dinner in my home. Some family have even stayed with us for a time.

Last week I met some of my Belizean brothers and sisters for the first time. I worshiped with them, I heard their testimonies over meals and in classrooms, and I heard their life stories while doing dishes and riding down dirt roads. I enjoyed playing volleyball with them and sitting down over coffee sharing our prayer requests. 

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The team and the teachers playing volleyball.

Then I had to leave. 

I had to leave family I had just met. I don’t know the next time our paths will cross.  It could very likely be Heaven, and it just felt wrong to leave so soon. This isn’t a foreign feeling to anyone who has had to leave church family. Connecting with people through the bond of Christ creates strong, powerful relationships. It’s no wonder leaving fellowship is painful; yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s hard … because it was good.

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I’m not done writing about Belize. There are individual tales and lessons I am sure to write about very soon.

All Good Things

I hate endings but I like beginnings. Do you see the dilemma that I have with New Year’s celebrations?

Writing the date 2014 instead of 2013 somehow feels like a betrayal to everything that I experienced in the last 12 months. In some ways I just want to hold on to those 365 days—both the beautiful memories and tears—because during those days I grew. I don’t want to leave 2013 behind. Evidently I have no choice in the matter: it is January 1, 2014.

Somehow, in my odd little mind, I have tricked myself into thinking that looking towards the future and beginning something new means denying and trampling upon the past—it doesn’t—it means building upon it. It is possible for me to reflect on 2013, remember, and still live onwards.

So, moving forward…

Image 1My dear friend gave me a glass jar and a note for Christmas. I have dubbed this gift my “All Good Things” jar.  As you can read in her note, every day of 2014 I am going to write one good thing that happened to me and drop it into the jar. On December 31st I will open up the jar and read all 365 of the little good things that happened to me.

Eventually 2014 will end too, though, and then I will have to begin a 2015 jar. Never take your life, and all that it holds, for granted. Focus on the blessings in your life, find the good, and know that He loves you.

Me and My Roommate

Photo on 10-20-13 at 2.59 PMThe adorable one on the right is my little sister (the picture is in black and white because  the lighting in our room is horrible). Both of us are holding a ball of yarn and crochet hooks. A rather normal state for two girls to be in, I suppose. Only, not the girl on the left—I don’t crochet. In addition, I cannot knit, sew, mend, or do needlepoint. My creativity is best applied elsewhere….I also just have no patience to learn or finish those kind of projects.

So why am I holding a ball of yarn and a crochet hook? Because this afternoon I asked my sister to teach me how to crochet a specific (a.k.a easy) kind of scarf. Did I have any wild desire to learn? No. Will I ever make a scarf again? Eh, probably not.

The reason I asked my sister to teach me is because I recently recommitted to being a better sister. Let me rewind and give some background here.

I mentioned that I am learning a lot right now. The neat thing is that all of these lessons are reinforcing each other. It can be rather overwhelming sometimes, but I am getting used to it.

About two weeks ago I talked with one of my mentors who helped me formulate a life mission statement—a few sentences that describe my heart, my passion and my desire as I seek to live for the Lord. Within that statement I describe my heart to invest in other people and help them dig deeper into their relationship with the Lord. My mentor challenged me to start thinking of ways that I want to apply that desire.

That night, I felt convicted that the person I needed to start with was my little sister, Judy. I love Judy very much. She is a perky little bundle of smiles, laughter, joy and beauty that I have always enjoyed being around. But in the 13 years I have known her I have not truly invested in a real, solid relationship with her.

As I prayed over that mission statement I began to realize the powerful influence that I have on my sister’s life—negative and positive. God showed me that the words I say and the actions I take do affect the young woman she is becoming. To think that I have that kind of influence on a person’s life is simultaneously terrifying and humbling.

I resolved to start—that night—being a better sister to Judy. I actually went and gave her a hug, told her I loved her and said I was going to start making a better effort. She looked up at me and I wondered how many times I had said this to her and then never followed through. Too many. This time had to be different.

The next day, I listened to a sermon in which the pastor challenged Christians to stop feeling convicted or resolving to change and actually take action. TAKE_ACTION_SIGN_movivational_and_inspirational_signs__54610.1337457936.1280.1280

BE a better sister.

Over the next week, along with just loving on Judy by talking with her about her devotionals, asking her about her day, lots of hugs, helping her with her hair and put together an outfit, I wrote out a few principles for myself to follow:

  • make an effort to talk with and listen to her
  • create time to be with just her
  • follow through on my commitments and plans

Photo on 10-20-13 at 2.58 PM #3So that is how I ended up crocheting with Judy this afternoon. I found something that she is good at and enjoys doing, I told her I wanted her to teach me, I created time to learn from her, and I followed through on our plan to do it.

Woohoo. One afternoon. I know, I have no room to boast (I never do). I am going to fail time and again.  But I am praying for strength—I’m not going to quit on her or on God.

Older siblings, I we need to understand that our words and actions do have an affect on our younger siblings. No matter the nature of the relationship, it will touch the younger person in some way. We have the God-given opportunity to be the strongest force of encouragement and support in our younger siblings’ lives, second only to our parents.

We cannot waste our power simply because they are difficult to get a long with or we don’t connect well. I ask you to think and pray about renewing your commitment to be a loving presence in your siblings’ lives…then go do it. Throw up a prayer or two for me while you’re at it, please!

Sphere of Influence

My junior year in high school I sat at my computer kicking myself for picking such a difficult essay topic—the definition of love. I had many thoughts and ideas to try and fit into a short paper, but I couldn’t seem to get past my thesis.

All I could do was to keep typing out whatever came to mind and then hit backspace until the right words came out on the screen. The quote by Isaac Singer, “The waste basket is the writer’s best friend” never felt truer to me.

As I struggled to get over my writer’s block, my friend encouraged me with these seven words: All writing should come from the heart.” This friend was seeking to help unlock whatever it was that I really wanted to say, how I really wanted to say it and what I really thought—to make it personal.

Those words have stuck with me for the last 1 1/2 years of writing. Every time I write a blog post, a letter or a journal entry, that phrase pops to the front of my consciousness, reminding me to be honest about who I am and what I think. This is the internet—it would be easy to put up a screen in order to skew peoples’ view of who I really am. But that phrase has kept me transparent and real.

A month or two ago I mentioned all of this in a “matter-of-fact” way to the friend who had helped me with that essay and I got a “really?! I don’t think I even remember that!” He had no idea that his words had made that much of an impact on me…or that those words were even capable of having such an impact on me.

The fact that I chose to listen to my friend’s encouragement has led to some rather open posts about my own spiritual struggles and life-battles. As a result, I have had the blessing of giving back to the people who have invested in me, and who have spoken into my life by writing about how they’ve blessed me. I have touched a few friends, family members and random people on the internet who I will probably never meet. All by being open, by writing from my heart, by sharing my story.

You will never know the profound effect that your words can have on a person’s life. Your sphere of influence might be doubling without you even knowing it…

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An quick endnote:

My last three posts (Me? An Artist?, Not Drowning, Girl at the Beach) make the list of my favorites, but they were spread out over a long period of time. It’s time for me to get focused and a little more regular with my writing.

As of now, September 2013, I am going to be doing a bi-weekly publication. It’s not as often as I’d like, but due to school, work and another writing project, it’s really all I can give. They’ll make a writer of me yet…

Girl on the Beach

Friday night I stood with my back to a fire pit, keeping warm in the cool breeze coming off of the ocean. The crackle of burning wood and the powerful waves hitting the shore provided a calming soundtrack. As the sun left the realm of sight people began to empty the beach. Light from the lampposts along the wooden pier reflected off the dark water.

That night, as I stared at all of the beauty around me, I had no intention but to think through the thoughts of my heart and try and get my worries “sorted.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young woman standing alone on the wet sand, clutching a cup of coffee and letting the water wash over her feet. Almost instantly after noticing her presence I felt the Spirit give me the urge to go talk to her. contentment-praying-woman-ocean-465x300

Not now, Lord, please?! You know I’ve got so much on my heart right now. 

Exactly. Get over yourself and focus on someone else. Go. Now. 

My legs started moving away from the comfortable, warm fire and towards the ocean. Instead of approaching the girl directly, however, I ended up about 10-15 feet away from her––up to my calves in sea water trying to come up with a good conversation starter.

I tried about 20, but my personal favorite was, “Hey! I noticed You’re drinking coffee! Funny thing because I drink coffee too! So have you ever heard of Jesus?” Yeah, no.

Eventually I decided to wing it, and stepped towards with my hands shoved nervously in my hoodie pocket. “Hi! So, um, I know this a awkward [nervous smile], but I noticed you were standing by yourself and looked a little lonely. I just felt like I should come over and say, um…something. Are you okay?”

The girl laughed and replied with a, “Oh, do I really look lonely? No, I was just looking. It’s all so beautiful. I love to simply stare and pray.”

She prays, God…she prays! 

Yes, I know. 

The girl had a lovely smile and an even lovelier heart––full of praise and worship for our mutual Lord and Savior. Our conversation led us to share our (condensed) life stories, our dreams for the future and how the Lord was moving in our lives. We discovered that we were in the same relative period of life––discerning how God would use our gifts to bring him glory.

Not 5 minutes into our talk she pulled her well-worn Bible from her purse in order to share a passage of scripture to encourage me as I wait for the Lord. I could not stop smiling and I struggled to keep down tears of joy at what a blessing the whole meeting was becoming.

I believe that the two of us probably would have talked for hours, but it grew late and my family called me away to leave. The girl and I exchanged contact information and left each other with a hug and the promise of meeting again––if not in this life, then in the next.

I had expected it to be a short and awkward interaction where I would try and pass along a few words of truth to a lonely girl and then leave not knowing whether or not I had touched her. Instead, I received much more than I gave. I had the blessing of meeting a sister, the encouragement of her insight, and the knowledge that the Lord knew that I needed that meeting.

Earlier on that evening, around the fire pit, I prayed that God would reveal himself to me in multiple ways, that he would show me how much he loved me and give me something to smile about and hold on to.

He did just that, but first, I had to trust and obey.

Big Little Brother

photo (9)The picture on the left is of me and my little brother** in our little toddler years of 2 and 4 1/2. I made a Christmas ornament out of it (tacky gold paint with noodles and a paper plate…oh yeah!) when I was about 5, and every year since the two of us have fought over who gets to put it on the tree.

My little brother knows me better than anyone (besides my parents) in the world. My dearest and closest friends know my heart, my desires, my dreams, my fears, my aspirations, my feelings and my thoughts–but they have not seen my worst, or even my most normal days. They have not seen me in a temper, when I’m angry, when I’m irritable, when I am overly emotional , when I am a brat, when I am stressed, when I am so goofy that all of my friends would think I’ve snapped–my brother has seen me at every point, and he still loves me and is a best friend to me. He doesn’t get me all the time (I don’t get him either, so we’re good) but he knows me and makes an effort to be the best brother that he can possibly be by being a man of God first, and then loving his two sisters in the best way that he can.

Well, after having 15 years of having a little brother I now have a younger brother–he is now taller than me. I knew it would happen some day, and I really don’t mind. 😉 photo (8)There is still debate as to whether or not the picture truly shows that he’s taller, but the point is he’s not shorter than me anymore.

Brother, it’s February 4th so Happy 15th Birthday! I am grateful for your friendship. Neither of us have been perfect during our 15 year friendship, I know that we have clashed dozens and dozens of times, but we’ve learned how to reconcile with each other. You’re the best younger brother ever. I know I’ve probably embarrassed you by writing all of this, but just be grateful that I didn’t post those music videos we made…

Happy 15th Birthday!

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**His name has been purposefully excluded to protect me and my family. It’s frustrating, but in this world it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you comment (and know his name) please…don’t use it! 🙂 Sorry!

Hope in Faithful Love

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” – Lamentations 3:21-24

Relationship is one of the greatest gifts we humans have been given by God. A relationship with another soul is invaluable. People to laugh with, to cry with and to worship with. People who encourage, uplift us as well as hold us accountable are priceless gifts. Yet these people do not sustain us. People will betray and hurt us, leave us behind and toss us aside. Friendships will fade…and life will go on. It is a painful realization, but true nonetheless. Think about it; how many people have come into our lives and ministered to us and helped us grow. But how long will it last? When they leave us, it hurts. Life is rough. Our time on this earth will not always go our way.

But, there is hope because God has given us a better gift that never will change: Jesus Christ.  Even when people let us down and we are hurt by people we love and are close to, Jesus is always there with open arms. His love will never change. There is no love that can ever compare with dying a horrific, cruel, torturous, bloody and unfair death on behalf of an ungrateful and treacherous human race.  Even after Christ died, was buried and came alive after three days, people still rejected Him. The love that he has given us can never be matched or replaced.

That is the greatest comfort anybody could ever be given. He will hold you up when you feel like giving up. He will love you when you feel hated and despised by everyone around you, including yourself. He will hug you when the world is coming at you from all sides. He died so that you might live.

As I said earlier, relationships are priceless given to us. God said in Genesis 2:18 after creating Adam that “it is not good that man should be alone,” and then went on to create another being that their might be relationship. Relationship is part of God’s perfect design and I thank God daily for the people he has brought into my life. Through these relationships he has revealed his deep love for me. But I now realize that it is only in the hope of Jesus Christ’s faithful love that I should live.

Side note: Not done with superheroes yet…just taking a break.