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.
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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!

Three Days Later

Jesus identifies with our human weakness. He understands, fully, our temptations because he lived battling against them. In Jesus’ humanity, he also endured physical pain and emotional/spiritual turmoil, just as I do. When I mentally apply that part of his human nature to the days leading up to his death I feel a heavy weight land squarely on my heart. Think about it. Think about everything Jesus endured.

He was mocked mercilessly about his identity, spit on as a liar and a maniac, convicted and killed like a criminal. Those whom he taught and healed testified falsely against him. Every soul who claimed love and loyalty for him and his message abandoned him without thinking twice. He was beaten within an inch of his life and then forced to carry a heavy wooden beam miles to the site of his murder. There, at ‘The Place of the Skull’, his feet and his hands were nailed to the cross while he was fully conscious. Yet again, as he hung there slowly dying, a crowd of people who had days before been lauding his praise as “Lord” now shouted at him to “save himself” if he was so mighty.

Jesus bore the ridicule and rejection without retaliation, as only God could. Then, “he cried out with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” He died with the world’s back turned to him.

Before his betrayal Jesus took care to warn the disciples of his coming death. He taught and prophesied in depth as to what would happen to him. They still did not understand. He even told them that their pain and sorrow would be great at his death…

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.

The world did rejoice. And for three days Satan thought that he had victory over righteousness. But Jesus’ prophesy did not end there…

You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…….So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. – John 16: 20, 22

Three days after his death Jesus fulfilled his promise. He rose miraculously from the dead. His work of salvation on behalf of a broken world was finished. I live in Christ’s resurrection—my joy cannot be stolen.

Go watch this video and then listen to this song.

I know I’m jumping ahead here, but he’s alive NOW, and I am not waiting until Sunday to celebrate!

He is Risen!

The Heart

Jeremiah 17:9 says that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” My heart is black. The thoughts, feelings and desires that flow from it are sick and disgusting in nature. On my own I am miserable and helpless. I can try to climb my way out of the darkness, but I end up just crawling back into the hole I came from. The only way out is perfection, and I tried that, so I just sit there–wallowing in and gorging on my sin.

But one day a man–perfect–crawled into my black heart. He lived, cleaning my heart with his own perfection. He died, rinsing my heart with his blood. He rose from the dead, giving me permanent hope. Because of him, God now looks at my heart and says, “clean.”

The man is Jesus. He knows me, and he loves me anyway. 

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!

Don’t Stifle

I sat outside of In-N-Out with a small group of friends, just hanging out after basketball games earlier that night. It was late (by most standards) and we were all pretty tired, so the silliness was on high. Of the four tables available our group took over three, while at the other table a lone girl sat hunched over with her hands shoved into her pockets, a hoodie covered her head and I could barely see the girl’s eyes from behind her hair, but I could see enough to know that she was not okay. She just sat there staring at her phone lying on the table. I saw a depressed and lonely girl needing someone to love her.

I looked at her and felt that I needed to say something. My mind asked, PAlease Emily, what are you going to do? Walk up to her awkwardly and say, “hey, are you okay?” What’s she gonna do? Tell you her life story?! Right. Of course. Stupid thought.

lonely-girlBut the Spirit wouldn’t let me ignore his promptings so easily. I decided that I could not let this go. I went inside to refill my cup (and get up the courage to go say something to her), when I came back outside I just asked, “hey, are you okay? You look kinda down.”

“Oh, yea, I’m fine.”

“You sure? Do you need anything? Prayer?”

*Small smile* “Thanks for asking, but I’m okay.”

What else did I expect her to say? I would not tell some random girl at In-N-Out about my pain. I didn’t want to push the issue so I just smiled sympathetically and sat back down next to my friend. I still had little ache inside my heart. I turned around a few minutes later to see if the girl was still there—she was gone.

I cannot shake the feeling that I should have done something more. I just pray that by simply asking her if she was okay meant something to her. I pray that God brings someone in to her life who will speak truth to her, tell her of the love that He has for her and tell her that she does not have to be alone.

Paul encourages us in 1 Thess. 5:19, “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.Obey His promptings. He lives in us that we might change lives—bringing others closer to Him.

Love Come Down

I cannot fully grasp how much God loves me.

He knew me before I physically existed. He formed me into who I am as a person. He designed me to serve him in a unique way. He gave me life…and I chose death. I broke his heart. I spit on his gift. I wandered off and tangled myself in all the sin that the world offers; and with it I inherited suffering, pain and heartache. I went the way of permanent separation from the God who loved me.

But God’s love for me did not decrease in any way. No, in his compassion for my suffering he gave me yet another gift of life—a way out of ultimate destruction. He gave me the birth, the life, of his perfect son Jesus Christ.

God sent Jesus into this wretched world to live a painful life and die an awful death so that I could live with Him in eternity. Jesus endured ridicule, insult, physical pain, and rejection voluntarily on my behalf.

Joy. Joy in the everlasting and intense love that the Father has for me, for the world.