Grace, Unending Grace

What a fitting last event for the summer – rock wall climbing. As I’m looking up at these daunting walls with very few things to cling on to and hoist myself up on…the only thing securing me from falling dramatically (and painfully) to my death a few measly ropes…walls that tilt and lurch forward and are angled all funny and oddly…it’s a trek and a puzzle just to scale halfway up one. It takes endurance, muscle, planning, and contemplation – every step and every move must be accurately judged and measure before physically acting on it, otherwise it could end tragically.

Dun, dun dun….*dramatic music * Anyways. I assure you that the ropes were VERY secure and that the walls were safe – no one went plummeting to their death during our 2.5 hour visit to Planet Rock. But the setting DID get me thinking about similes and metaphors – life struggles and the climb set before me.

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I’ve had so many “firsts” this summer.

First…

  • internship

  • non-music job (aside from working at Target, but I didn’t even last 6 weeks and it’s an experience I’ve tried desperately to block from my memory and therefore I do not count it in the grand scheme of life-things)

  • overseas missions trip

  • photo shoot with Rachi

  • rock-climbing experience

  • water tubing experience

  • kayaking (with and without Rachi!) experience

  • trip to the upper peninsula (Traverse City)

  • snorkeling adventure

  • cedar point trip (and two times, too!!)

  • goodbye to my first-ever car

  • time in a small group

  • time teaching Sunday school

  • time doing sip and splatter

  • time Rachi (almost) caught a River Rat

  • time Rachi saw the ocean (read: Traverse City Bay)

  • time I’ve made so many new and quality friends in such a short time period

  • time I taught a beginning student (someone who had zero foundation in violin).

  • time I’ve fallen in love with kids and who they are and all that they are.

  • time I’ve spoken up and shared my needs and my desires with another person, knowing that it will hurt them, but that ultimately, it’s what I truly need.

  • time I’ve cooked a meal for more than 20 people.

  • time I’ve played so many games…I honestly have probably played more games in the past 3 months than I have in the rest of my entire life combined.

  • time I did NOT attend a music festival (by my own choosing).

  • time I’ve ever played Big Buck Hunter (shout out to Bre, Alex, Abby, Scott, and Jake for that one!!)

  • time where I was faced with choosing the decision people expected of me or choosing to go where my heart was calling me, chose correctly, and had zero regrets.

There has been so much love crammed into these past few months. So much vulnerability, so much learning, lots of frustration, tons of exhaustion, but so much fulfillment and joy. As I climbed that rock wall today I thought about how far I’ve come, how making my own decisions about how I would spend my summer months was by far, one of the best things I could have ever done for myself; I thought about how, when I glanced down below me, I saw some of the most magnificent human beings spotting me, cheering me on, and offering me advice that would help me climb higher and higher. My heart felt so full, despite my concern for my arms falling off.

I’ve learned so much about myself this summer – I’ve learned that I thrive off of small groups of intimate connection – whether that’s one on one time….me cooking for 20 + people in the kitchen while one of my sweet kiddos sits at the island and chats with me about our lives, boys, girl stuff, and so much more. Or maybe it’s celebrating father’s day with a close friend, his wife, his daughter, and his beautiful grand kids – getting to listen in on their lives and getting to feel just a small portion of all the love they have to give away. Maybe it’s sitting on my own living room floor with 4 other girls crowded around as we share testimonies, struggles, victories, pray, and cheer each other on. Maybe it’s walks at Gallup Park in the evening at dusk with my little Rachi-Roo and her best friend, Moose. Maybe it’s teaching the kids at an orphanage in another country what a violin is and how you use it, all the things you can play. Or maybe it’s playing that same violin around a campfire while middle school kids pray with and for one another, eat smores, and talk about God. Maybe it’s spending the morning laying in hammocks at the park with my co-intern and 2 bosses. Maybe my “thrive” looks like so many more things than I realized that it could look like.

This summer has been one of new experiences, “firsts,” and so much learning. I’m grateful that I put the worlds expectations of me on pause for a few months and attended to the callings of my soul – the longings in my heart and the things that fuel my spirit.

In 2 weeks, school will start again and I know that, without a doubt, I’ll get pulled into the rush of classes, assignments, performances, expectations of those around me – the people I so desperately want to please because I love them (and whether I would admit it or not, I want them to love me). But I’m hoping I can hang on to all my “firsts” this summer – all my new friends, my new memories, all that new love that’s crowded its way into my teeny tiny, but ever-growing heart.

Thanks to the kids who crashed and barreled their way into my world this summer and made my heart a happier place to be – a more accepting, loving, joyful place. Thanks to the adults who continued to support me, love me, and guide me through all the ups and downs. Thanks to the Praying Pelican Belize team and to everyone who made my time there something that I will NEVER forget. Thanks to the friends who joined me on this rocky climb called life – and thanks to the relationships that shaped me and have taught me about myself.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Dr. Seuss

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To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
Brennan Manning

A summer full of Grace, Unending Grace.

Hidden Blessings At A Traffic Light.

Dirt.

Grunge.

Smears of brown, gray, and black all over his shirts and pants which were both scattered with holes and tears. He held a piece of cardboard in one hand and gingerly reached his other hand up to his forehead to smear the beads of sweat away

He approached my car and, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I leaned over a locked all my doors. My parents always told me, “Don’t talk to strangers,” “Don’t make eye contact,” “Do NOT give money to homeless people or people who are begging.”

They only told me those things because that’s how they were raised; because they want me to stay safe; because I’m a young female and this is the 21st century (sad as it is to say it like that, but I think you get what I mean.) But as this man meandered closer and closer to my car which was waiting for the stoplight to turn green so I could get on with my life, something inside of me felt as though I needed to say something to him.

And with that, I impulsively rolled down my window and called him over to my car. I apologized that I couldn’t give him any money (because I truthfully had no cash on me at the time) and I also couldn’t give him any food (I normally have a few granola bars floating around I my backseat).

Hey man, how ya doing?”

Oh hi miss, I’m alright, Hanging in there, I suppose.”

What’s your name?”

I’m Gregory.”

It’s nice to meet you, Gregory. Listen, if it’s cool with you, I’d like to be praying for you.”

Oh, of course. That’s so kind of you!”

What do you need? What should I be praying about?”

Oh uhm, just health in general, I guess. And that I can get a job – anything. Anything at all.”

You got it man. I will be praying long and hard for you!”

Oh wow, thank you! Thank you so much! You have no idea how much that means to me. This is truly the greatest gift of all!”

It’s my pleasure, you’re very welcome!”

Miss, can I ask you what your name is?”

Me? I’m Sarah Catherine.”

What a beautiful name. How can I pray for you?”

Wait, what?”

Did a homeless man just stop and ask me how he could be praying for me? I was trying to stay composed in the moment and conceal the utter shock that must have been displayed by the drop of my jaw. I stuttered a bit, let out a few too many “uhms” and “hmms” and finally spit out, “Probably just for my heart – that I could continue loving on others and learning from them.”

Yes ma’am. Sarah Catherine – loving others. I got it! Thank you, again, miss. You have a blessed day!”

And with that, the longest red light in the history of the universe (which I’m convinced only remained red that long as a divine intervention by God) turned green and traffic began creeping forward.

It stayed with me all day and into the next couple of days – even still it pops up occasionally. It’s the reminder that, no matter who we are or what worldly possessions we do (or don’t) have, we all desperately need someone. We need someone who will stop us dead in our tracks, disrupt our routines in the best ways possible. We need someone who will catch us off guard and offer us love in the most unexpected places. The honest truth is that you and I need as much help and as much prayer as any homeless person or someone who is less fortunate. Our needs just present themselves a bit differently.

Prayer.

Love.

Community.

Worship.

Joy.

Mercy.

Forgiveness.

Grace.

Unending, never failing.

It’s the gentle reminder that we can look, act, and be a certain way – have certain possessions, but the real truth and the real love comes from what’s stamped across our hearts. If our mouths, money, actions, etc aren’t aligned with our hearts than we’re no better than the people who commit murder, have affairs, buy/sell drugs, abuse their families, and on and on.

I think it’s vital for us to stand up and take responsibility for our hearts – for our souls. We can show up for our 9-5, Monday through Friday job, but if we don’t show up and attend to the health and well being of our spirits, we won’t last long in any other areas of our existence.

One of the most vital lessons I find myself facing time after time is this: I can not pour from an empty cup. I can’t take care of others and meet their needs if I don’t periodically pause to address my own.

God sends us friends who can help keep us on track. God provides for all our physical needs. God makes a way when there seems to be no possible way. But one of my favorite things that God does is that He sends us the sweetest, most precious, most unexpected reminders of His love and His grace in ways we would never expect. Sometimes we have to reach out in an attempt to fill up other and we find that we actually end up getting poured into ourselves.

What a miracle these hidden interactions and surprise visits from God himself are – tucked into the folds of every moment and other times, they are blatantly obvious and impossible to miss. Regardless, God will fill our needs, fill our cups, and provide us with the propensity to pour into others if we allow others to pour into us.

Life always gives us
exactly the teacher we need
at every moment.
This includes every mosquito,
every misfortune,
every red light,
every traffic jam,
every obnoxious supervisor (or employee),
every illness, every loss,
every moment of joy or depression,
every addiction,
every piece of garbage,
every breath.
Every moment is the guru.”
Charlotte Joko Beck
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Empowered.

I am a lover of words. I think words are an amazing gift from God because they give us the capability to pray, to worship, to sing, to read, to learn, to communicate. I believe that God created language in order for us to share His good news – to worship Him more fully and to have a more vibrant use of connection with one another.

As my internship draws to a close and summer begins to fade away into school work, classes, late nights, rehearsal, meetings, etc. I am humbled in quiet reflection at the way my summer has shaped me. My word for the summer, in looking back, is EMPOWERED.

Empower – verb –

1. to give power or authority to; to authorize

2. to enable or permit

Empowered, reassured, loved, accepted, humbled….the list of words that I could use to describe my feelings over the course of the summer could go on and on and on. But the one that is most unusual for me, the one that sticks out the most from the crowd of emotions and jumbled mess in my mind is…empowered.

I have felt empowered by my experiences. I have felt encouraged in the pursuits of my hopes and my dreams. My goals finally seem a LITTLE bit realistic. I have hope that my future can be bright, unique, and completely my own. I think that breaking the mold was crucial for me this summer. Instead of attending a music festival like I have for the past 15 years, I chose to follow my passions and explore new places and new things. For YEARS I had been dreaming of attending Aspen Music Festival and then all of the sudden this summer, I found myself turning down that offer in order to work at my church and in order to travel to Belize. If you had suggested I’d do something like that, even just a year ago I would have laughed in your face and muttered a very sassy, “HA, yeah right!”

I think that what made these past few months so empowering to me is that I stepped out in faith – I was fearful, nervous, and apprehensively excited, but I still took that leap of faith. I stepped out in the hopes that I was hearing and feeling God’s pull correctly and I have never been happier with the result of facing my own fears and insecurities. My choices didn’t look “right” to some of the people around me. My choices seemed “silly,” “trivial,” “immature,” and maybe even “reckless.” But I felt that tug on my heart and on my mind – I watched as opportunities unfolded right before me and as I prayed and asked God to lead me, the pathway before me led me in a direction I wasn’t sure I would be able to pursue. But I told the world around me to leave me alone and to let me decide. After all, this is MY life. No one can know what God puts in our hearts and our minds aside from us. We have a choice too. We can choose to ignore it and follow where the world tells us we SHOULD go, or we can lean in – lean in hard, pray, worship, ask for mentorship from trusted people in our lives, and we can take that leap and see where it leads us.

As this unique, exciting chapter comes to a close, I must admit – I’m not super excited about the upcoming one – it looks like routine, classes, deadlines, tests, assignments, rehearsals…monotony at its finest. But I know that God will provide ways to grow and learn. I know that God will lead me in the direction He needs me to go – so long as I open my ears, my heart, my mind, and am willing to take blind leaps of faith.

I have felt empowered because I have stepped outside of the mold the world had set me in. I have felt empowered by making my own individual and unique choices. I have felt empowered by the results of stepping out in faith and going where God has lead me – missions work, interning, new friends, new relationships, new knowledge, new experiences, new places, new loves, new passions. I have felt empowered because I have done things that no one thought I would – traveling to another country with people are barely know to do missions work in a place I’m unfamiliar with, giving up musical opportunities in order to pursue other loves and interests, etc. I have felt empowered by the new friendships I have made, the things I’ve learned from new people and new experiences interacting with them. I have felt empowered because I feel reassured in my dreams – my hopes for the future don’t seem SO RIDICULOUS anymore like they used too. I have felt empowered and rejuvenated by my time in the sun, with my pup, traveling the world, and by the opportunity to lean in and love others hard and with all I’ve got!

I have been empowered by the people I have met

the things I have learned

the places I’ve seen

the books I’ve read

the music I’ve played

the pictures I’ve taken

the fun that I’ve had

the laughter I’ve shared

the love I’ve given away

the affirmation I’ve received

and the hope for the future that I’ve been filled with.

God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Audre Lorde

 

To read is to empower,
To empower is to write,
To write is to influence,
To influence is to change,
To change is to live”.”
Jane Evershed

 

Blessed Despite The Mess

The truth is that some things fall apart just as quickly as they fall together. It’s no one’s fault really, it’s just the way life works sometimes. However, knowing that doesn’t make the breaking into pieces any less painful. We were created for community, created for love, friendships, partnerships, and laughter. We were created to be shoulders to cry on and to also have a place to lean over and rest our head when the tears won’t quit falling and life feels too difficult to keep going on.

I’ve learned so much this summer about love and trust and friendships – about community and the importance of having safe places to land when life feels overwhelming. I have met a hundred new souls who have helped shape me in more ways than I could ever count or name. I feel rejuvenated and at peace. There is joy in places that, 3 months ago, felt empty and lonely. There is peace in places where there was previously struggle. There is hope in places that were barren. This summer has been unlike any I’ve ever experienced before. I was scared and anxious walking head on into months of uncharted territory, unknown people, unfamiliar places, new things and so much that was out of my control. But in hindsight, I wouldn’t trade this summer for the world. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a second thought or even a slight pause.

I am tired, exhausted, and worn down. But I am also more full and more alive than ever before. This summer has felt so amazing and so different than any other summer. I have stepped out in faith multiple times and the reward has been better than I could have asked for. It has been scary and terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.

I’ve witnessed little moments here and there, tucked away in the every day folds of the fabric of my life. These little moments taste like freedom. I can literally taste them, smell them, see them, feel them—when I realize they’re happening I try to memorize them—the way they feel in my body, in my heart, in my spirit.

I have a new community, new friends, new life experiences to cherish forever. I have so many new memories in new places and I feel more comfortable in my own skin – no doubt about it. I feel more loved and more valued than I can remember feeling in a long, long while. I have a safe place where I feel seen and heard and to me, that is priceless. And what’s even better is this: I’ve realized that, although sometimes it’s difficult, I have the power to help others feel that exact same way – seen, heard, known, loved. That’s all I really want to do with my life and this summer has been such a huge affirmation that it’s possible and that it’s a true passion of mine.

Thank you, to the ones who lead me here. Thank you to those who encouraged me and allowed me to pursue my dreams and passions. I have so much gratitude for this summer – for healing, for empowerment, for growth and change. I have never felt so full in my life. I have had such a unique experience and it has shaped me in a million different ways. I will walk into the next phase of my life feeling courageous and brave because of the wonderful people and blessings that these past few months have been filled to the brim with. I have loved every moment – the passion, the traveling, the learning, the growth, the friendships, the romance, the new places and new things, and yes – I’ve even come to appreciate the heartache that comes from the breaking and the falling apart. I have a larger tribe than ever before – so many new beautiful souls to do life alongside. My heart is quite literally bursting at the seams and my cup is overflowing. Thanks be to God!

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
Elbert Hubbard

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Reaching for others is often the way we find new life.

Sidewalk Chalk

The air is unusually crisp for a morning in early August. I shiver slightly as I tug on the sleeves of my hoodie – willing them to magically stretch out and cover the entirety of my hands and fingers which feel chilled to the bone. The world is still fast asleep. It’s just after 5am and I couldn’t seem to fall back asleep after a night filled with random, strange dreams so I figured I might as well get up and begin my day. The beauty of waking up so early is that you get more done (in theory, that is) but the burden is that the days feel endlessly long.

The world is quiet, gray, motionless, aside from myself and my curious, happy pup. She weaves her way down the sidewalk, pausing every 10 feet or so to turn back and check on me – she probably feels as if she is the adult in the situation more times than I care to know. I smile at her, reassure her that I’m still behind her and I’m still following her and she turns to continue trotting on.

Then I freeze. My heart skips a beat. Or two, or three. About 5 feet ahead of where I stopped is the entrance to a driveway in the neighborhood. And on the sidewalk in front of the driveway are some of the most colorful chalk drawings that I’ve seen in awhile. There’s nothing particularly stunning or unique about these drawings – they are your stereotypical elementary aged child drawings and doodles, but they consume the entire sidewalk, making it impossible to walk past without trampling on top of them at some point or another.

I can’t step on them. It seems sacrilegious to step on these works of art, so I step into the grass and tug Rachi alongside me until she hesitantly follows in my footsteps. I pause for a moment in order to stare at the pictures head on. I am standing in the grass between the sidewalk and the road in a neighborhood in Ann Arbor Michigan, but my heart is in Belize.

All I can hear are the sounds of childrens laughter; their squeals of delight and giggles that bubble over with uncontainable joy. All I can feel is the intensity of the humidity pulsing against my skin and the uneven, cracked concrete beneath the soles of my shoes. All I can smell is the sweat from my own body and the stench of manure wafting its way into my nostrils from the cow pasture out back. All I can see is the peaceful tiredness in the eyes of the older kids and the joy and innocence plastered across the beautiful faces of the little ones.

My heart aches for those moments – the ones that often times we find so insignificant here in America, the ones that come so easily and without any effort, planning, or second thought. My soul needs to hear that laughter, the unabashed joy of children overwhelmed by the littlest blessings in their lives. Oh how I long to feel the simplicity of living in the moment – the amazing feeling that the present is the only time that exists.

I want to sing and dance with the children. I want to draw, color, and create with them. I want to teach them, instruct them, mentor them. I want to learn about Jesus alongside them. I want to love them. I want to be back in the heat of Belize – the days felt so inexplicably long, but they were bursting full at the seams with love, laughter, delight, innocence, and joy.

It was easy there. Easy for me to be myself. Easy for me to love without restraint and easy for me to allow myself to be loved.

It’s not like that here. At least, not exactly. I have deadlines to meet, expectations to fulfill, rent to pay, and so many other meaningless things that consume my time and energy. But these drawings here on the sidewalk, in the ever growing light of the early morning – they take me back. They remind me of what truly matters, what fills my heart. I look down at them and inhale deeply, fighting back tears. What magnificent memories I’ve made this summer! What unforgettable, life changing experiences I’ve been blessed to endure! As I turn and keep walking, my head down towards the floor of God’s great earth, I’m overwhelmed with immense gratitude for all the people, all the places, all the laughter, joy, and peace, and I am most overwhelmed by the overflowing love of my Savior who gifted me all these magnificent blessings – tucked away in the hidden seams of each and every day, folded in between the smiles, tears, laughter, and words spoken (and even unspoken) by the ones who I was blessed to do life with these past 3 months.

I know that there are even greater things to come and every time I see a chalk drawing, I am reminded of the little souls who made the summer of 2017 one of the best of my life.

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“She tugged on my sleeve, “Look I drew us because we’re best friends!” and she didn’t even know that with those words and that slight tug of my shoulder, she had wrapped herself around my heart forever.” -Belize 2017

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“Love is not an equation, it is not a contract, and it is not a happy ending. Love is the slate under the chalk, the ground that buildings rise, and the oxygen in the air. It is the place you come back to, no matter where your headed”
Jodi Picoult

 

 

When The Silence Gets Too Loud.

The damage is clear—suitcases and clothes strewn all over the bedroom floor. Instruments, fresh groceries, bag upon bag of needless items piled up in the living room. Silence. For the first time in….a long time all I can hear is silence.

And the silence is deafening.

It occurs to me that this is the very first moment I have been truly alone since my trip to Belize. No one else is in my apartment, no music is playing, no TV is rumbling on in the background providing political distaste and white noise. Nobody is moving. Because it’s just me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been awake since 2am, tossing and turning under my covers, unable to allow my mind to rest. Maybe it’s because I just sang and wiggled around for almost 11 hours straight while I drove from VA to MI. Maybe it’s just that my heart is actually as heavy as it feels right now. I want to be okay with that heaviness. I want to embrace it, welcome it, explore it. But right now, if I’m being honest, I’m tempted to turn and run from it. No one wants to feel empty, as if they can’t possibly ever do enough, be enough, or leave a positive mark on the world.

I’m looking around at all my belongs, everything I OWN, everything my parents have given me, everything people have endowed to me over the years. I used to think all this stuff was just symbols of love. But right now, for today, my love is in Belize. My love is with those orphans who don’t have the privilege of going out in their own car to purchase their own groceries just so they can go home and sit on their own couch in their own apartment while staring at their melting pint of ice cream on their living room carpet.

I try to tug and pull, to somehow make my limbs move from their place on the couch. My body feels like jello—wobbly and unsure, like a baby deer trying to walk for the first time. I feel like I am being forced to relearn some of the ways I live, some of the ways I’ve survived. Because my reality is so vastly different than that of the majority of the world, and for right now, there is an element of guilt involved with that realization.

The gratitude and relief I feel at where God placed me on this earth is immense. But the accompanying confusion is overwhelming.

But then I pause. I pause and remind myself – this is Grace. Grace doesn’t need to be earned. I don’t need to wonder what I DID to get so lucky because I didn’t do a single thing. God’s grace covered me and placed me in my personal “here and now.” But that very same grace that covered me and lead me to this very space is the exact same grace that He placed over those orphans in Belize. There’s no “better” or “right” place to be in life. Of course, we all have our preferences, but what do we know?

God sees the whole picture. God knows the ENTIRE plan because HE and He alone, is the author of our stories. There’s no time to waste feeling guilty about my blessings that I did nothing to earn. There’s no extra time in life to waste wishing we were different or that things outside of our control could be different.

Life is now. The sacred, quiet, divine moments are happening all around us constantly – whether we are present enough to absorb them and notice them or not, they are occurring. And the choice is ours – what are we going to choose? Are we going to choose to be complacent, going through life as life comes?

Or are we going to choose to be rebellious – to feel all our feelings but then get up and brush ourselves off and push forward? To take a stand and create beauty in the world around us – be it through forms of service, art, education, volunteer work, or just straight up LOVE? Shauna Neiquist said, “I think that’s what we’re here for, not for a passive, peaceful life, but to stand up in the face of all that lacks peace and demand more.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Feel the feelings. Ask the questions. Be present. Be bold. Be brave. Scream at God if you need too, but then always lift your hands in praise. Worship, not just on Sundays, but when you wake up, in the shower, as you cook for your family, as you walk the dog. Open your eyes. Look around and feel the air touching your skin, the sunlight, reflections. Listen to the sounds of nature around you, of children laughing.

But also listen to the sound of silence.

It can be deafening, but it is there to teach us a lesson.

Grace can be found tucked away in every little crevice of our daily lives. Sometimes it is blatantly obvious as if it had smacked us right in the face. But mostly, we must WANT to find it, seek it out, go after it with all our energy, all our minds, and all of our hearts.

Choose joy.

Choose love.

Choose forgiveness.

Choose GRACE.

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“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
Brennan Manning

Short Essays From A Week On A Mission ~ Belize 2017.

Sunday July 23, 2017

I step off of the exit ramp and look down as my Sperry shoes make contact with the white sparkly floor. My feet feel heavy and my stomach is suddenly tied up in knots. I remember so vividly the last time I set foot here. Memories come flooding back and it feels as though my vision goes blurry and my legs threaten to crumble beneath the weight of my body.

My body.
My body.

My body is here. My body exists. My body is alive and breathing, walking, moving, talking….a beating heart and a functioning (sometimes more than others) brain.

Today, my body got up at 2am to catch a flight from Washington DC to Denver Colorado. I am here for a 3 hour layover, waiting to board a flight to Belize. I am in the same place I was 3.5 years ago, but my mind, my body, and my soul are completely changed.

I fight back tears and try to catch my breath as I marvel at the wondrous miracles our God can really do. It’s a miracle that I’m alive. It’s a miracle that I am here – I am pursuing God’s plans and His calling for my life. I am not sick, not starving, my hair isn’t falling out, I can stand for normal periods of time, and I am learning to be flexible.

I don’t really know how I got here. I mean, it’s remarkable to me that I am headed to Belize to do missions work with a church family that is not my own. I was connected with them through a friend who I met while in treatment in Denver. So to be here again feels like we’ve come full circle. But yet we haven’t.

I am in Denver living my life, not fighting for it. I am wandering around the airport for 3 hours and trying new restaurants, reading books, writing, and people watching. I am in the same place but I am not the same person. To God be the glory!

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Sunday July 23, 2017

A bus pulls up….a yellow school bus that, in America, you would see in a junk yard. It had patches painted ten times over, a cracked windshield, and most of the windows wont open. The air is stifling hot – as soon as it touches your skin you feel moisture gather and your mouth feels dry.

We load our suitcases and board the bus. As we ride slowly through the streets of Belize City the shoulders are littered with trash, wild dogs roam around, and citizens wander…occasionally engaging in lazy, slow, but heartfelt conversations. Most of the houses are single rooms without a foundation – propped up on cinder blocks, with boarded up windows (or just square openings in the walls). Cars older than I am periodically pass us on the street, however most of the people we see are walking by foot, the rare mo-ped can be seen too.

But people are happy. We are happy. Our Belizean leaders are happy. Hugs are exchanged and conversation floats through air filled with laughter and warmth that, unlike the atmosphere temperature, feels comforting and sweet.

Our team is exhausted. After a canceled flight yesterday and an impromptu tour around d.c. we have been traveling since 2am this morning.

We are here.
I am here.
My heart is somehow both heavy but also very full. I’m trying to understand how that can be and I’m trying to sit with it and absorb it all.
After months of anticipation, I am here.

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Monday July 24, 2017

“What’s that?” A hundred little voices asked. “What are you doing?”

Pleading eyes  – some the brightest blue and some so dark that they appear to not have pupils, stare up at me.

I can feel the vibrations beneath my dripping wet neck as I share hymn after hymn with these sweet, innocent, little souls. They sing and clap along to the sound of the violin, their smiles literally lighting up my soul. I am somehow able to feel completely broken open and completely whole all at the same time. This is new. This is different.

I hear wisdom in the voices of the older kids – teens who have goals, aspirations, and dreams to pursue and fulfill. I hear innocence in the laughter and the giggles of the little ones – they long for nothing more than for you to hold them, to lift them up, to tell them that Jesus loves them, to play alongside them. They all – regardless of age – just want and need to know that they aren’t alone.

My body is tired. Helplessly and hopelessly tired by noon. The humidity and the heat are numbing. But somehow and some way God funds the mercy to extend to me the grace that I so badly want and so desperately need. I am renewed by these children’s love, renewed by their laughter, renewed by their joy.

When I think about the $30,000.00 my parents pay for my college education, the rent, the car, the medical bills, the upkeep of my violin, and a whole slew of other things that they so graciously provide for me,I almost find myself feeling disgusted. To think, I complain about things that I need, things I want, things I find to be “unfair.” Yet, in a way I feel as though I have already witnessed everything I need to see in order to survive – sharing the Lord our God through music making.

Monday July 24, 2017

There aren’t even walls. Unless plywood counts as a suitable covering. And most places don’t even have much of that.

I walked up to three young girls who were playing with wet clay and introduced myself. They looked confused but then as soon as I presented them with the dolls that were made for them they squealed with joy.

I told them the story behind the doll with 2 faces – the side with the frown representing our hearts before salvation and the side with a wide grin representing our lives once Jesus has saved us. I asked them if they knew who Jesus is and they nodded their heads, suddenly struck by a somber mood. The three of them were friends and neighbors and the one who lived at the house we were visiting ran inside to get her mother. When the team and I presented her with a bag stocked full of food and cooking supplies she told us that her husband was sick – he has had awful back issues and hasn’t been able to work for awhile. He came out of their house (if you could even call it that) and we laid our hands on him to pray. Everything spoken between the adults was in Spanish. I couldn’t understand the words they were speaking but I could FEEL them. I could feel that they were heavy with need and loaded with the power of God – it says in the bible, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20.

At the end of the prayer when we all opened our eyes and removed our hands from the shoulders of the man we had been praying for, he had tears running down his face. His wife was crying also and all three girls were watching from a distance. As we walked across their front yard to get back on our bus the little girl who lived at that particular home came up to me. I took her hand and said,”God Bless You!” And she giggled with glee and gave me a hug.

I walked away both humbled and confused. Angry, sad, hopeful, thankful, and reflective. Over the course of the next few hours one woman we visited got saved, one woman we visited had just lost her husband, one woman was trying desperately to adopt kids, one family had 4 children and had just run out of food to feed them. The stories go on and on.

I didn’t know I could feel so many things within such a short time. I knew this trip would leave me speechless more times than I could count, but I didn’t know that it would change my heart. I don’t know if I will ever be able to find the words to accurately describe just what this experience has meant to me and how much it has impacted me.

Tuesday July 25, 2017

Laughter, sweet like ripe honeysuckle, trickles up into the atmosphere as I swing her round and round, her thin body like tissue paper in my arms – one squeeze too tight and her bones break beneath my grip.

A team member walks by and grins and says, “I wanna see you as a mom some day.”

Me, instantly defensive, “What do you mean? Is that an insult or a compliment?”

Him, a low chuckle, “No, of course it’s not an insult. You’re gonna be a great mom!!”

As another young girl comes and begins to climb her way up my legs the words of my team mate echo through my head. For the longest time I couldn’t even imagine having kids. Now, I can’t imagine NOT having kids. Rather, I can’t imagine not adopting kids.

I feel like a 5’8″ jungle gym because I have an additional 2 girls hanging off me and although it seems that the sweat is literally pouring out of my skin and my hair has turned into more of an afro than 2 neat and tidy braids, my heart could not be more content.

I haven’t worn makeup a single time this week. I haven’t worried about the clothes I wear or the food I eat. I haven’t felt the need to hide or manipulate my body and I haven’t felt ashamed for my size or what others think of me. These kids love us because we are here spending time on them and loving on them. They don’t care what we weigh, what color our hair is, how much sweat is rolling off our backs and foreheads – they just love that we’re loving on them. Witnessing their responses to the love we give out is literally priceless and I would not trade this experience for the world.

Wednesday July 26, 2017

I can’t even cry. The tears won’t come. As I hug some of the kids goodbye they squeeze me so tight I think my ribs will crack. But even if my ribs cracked, they could never break as much as my heart breaks for these kids. I can’t cry though. Maybe it’s because reality hasn’t hit me that we’re actually leaving. Maybe it will hit me as we board the plan on Friday. Maybe it will hit me in the middle of the night tonight.

Goodbyes and gifts are exchanged in a flurry as we pack up our belongings and leave the orphanage. It’s impossible not to look back as we drive away. As much as it hurts to see the building shrink into the background, I still can’t cry. I can’t cry because I know I’ll be back. I don’t know when, but I know I’ll return sometime in the future. And I know that until I do, a piece of my heart will remain here with these sweet kiddos who have quickly stolen my heart.

I didn’t have to think twice about looking those kids in the eyes and telling them I love them. I do love them. And for all the “I love yous” And “thank yous” I got in response, I feel like I need to say both an “I love you” And a “thank you” to the One who made this trip possible, the One who guards my heart, who directs my steps, who forgives me when I don’t deserve it, shows me grace when I haven’t earned it, and loves me unconditionally. So, thank you Jesus, for an opportunity to love on these kids! Thank you for an opportunity to travel, to see the world, to build another church family, to form friendships, to be challenged in so many ways, to grow, to reach out, to not only BE the hands and feet of Christ but to WITNESS the hands and feet of Christ at work.

To God be the Glory. Now and for forever.

Thursday July 27, 2017

I close my eyes. Partially to try to memorize the feeling of the moment and partially to protect them from the sea salt mist and the spray that comes from riding on the side of a boat.
My team surrounds me.
The waves surround me.
The blue sky surrounds me.
Laughter. Sunshine. Friends. Nature.
God surrounds me.

Time passes and laughter and smiles are exchanged all around. I’m trying to remember these feelings and this moment. I will never be in this exact place with these exact people again and all I want it for the moment to last as long as it possibly can.

I never thought I was a nature person. I’m a nature person. I love the waves, the wind, the sunshine, the mountains. Sweating doesn’t bother me, dirt doesn’t bother me. I am learning that I am resilient. As the boat rocks back and forth amongst the waves and the sun beats down I am realizing that I am resilient. My body. My mind. My spirit. I am growing. I am becoming who God intends for me to be.

Thursday July 27, 2017

“Jump, jump!! Go, go go!!” I leap into the water, not knowing what to expect. I have flippers on my feet and snorkeling gear wrapped around my forehead. Diving into uncharted territory feels like an appropriate thing after the week we’ve had here in Belize.

Comfort zones don’t exist anymore. Or at least, they didn’t this week. I hear the call of our group leader, beckoning us to swim towards him – towards the coral reefs as he explains the scientific hoop-la behind everything we’re seeing.  I slowly follow at the back of the group, staring into the vast abyss that is God’s ocean.

It occurs to me that the kids we worked with at the orphanage will never ever get to see these things. An eel swims right up to our group and wiggles his way through the crowd, taunting us and teasing us as he swishes by. Those sweet orphans won’t ever get to witness these magical moments of God’s great glory. It breaks my heart to think of all they are missing. But at the same time, I am so inspired by how happy and joyful they are able to be even in the most unfortunate scenarios. I wish my heart could be like that. I want to have peace and joy but I get so distracted by the world around me and I allow things to break me so easily. I want to have the joy of those orphans.

The next stop for our snorkeling group means swimming with sharks and sting rays. My hear races a bit as I leap into the clearest, most beautiful, teal water I have ever seen in my life. Even from the boat you can see the white sand on the floor of the ocean. The shells, the algae. The fish that swim by – they are beautiful and it just amazes me that I am here and witnessing all of this. A sting ray swims literally inches beneath me, swishing his tail as my breath catches in my throat. I am honestly more afraid of the sting rays than I am of the sharks.

I can’t believe the week is over. As I climb back up into the boat, breathless and in awe of God’s depth and love and goodness – that he created all of this earth just for our enjoyment, I look around me and try to picture the life of the people in this culture. But I cant.

At home, starbucks is up the street
My family owns 3 cars. Everywhere has air conditioning. Credit cards are easily accessible and people just swipe and go as they please. My parents fork out $30,000.00 each year for my out of state tuition when some of the people working here make $20.00 a day and still have to pay for food, their homes, their families needs.

It all seems like excess now. It all feels strange and unnecessary. I’ve NEVER felt rich before in my life – not even for a minute. But swimming in God’s ocean, sitting on this boat, experiencing this country, and all of this knowing that I will arrive home to 2 parents, 2 dogs, my own car, my own apartment, and heading into my 3rd year of music school out of state…I don’t know. My eyes are watering just thinking about all these blessings.

I didn’t choose to be born in America, to my specific family, in our specific situation. And if I’m being honest, I’ve spent a LOT of time being angry with God for all of those things. But, if one thing is for sure, I appreciate my parents and all they do, all the sacrifices, and all the love they provide more than I ever have in the past! God is good and I just want to spend my life living for Him and worshiping Him!

As the boat pulls up to the dock and people start unloading, I feel strong in my belief that God wants to use me for the good of His Kingdom. I want to allow Him to use me and to lead me. I want to be His hands and feet. This trip has affirmed to me that I’m hearing Him and His calling for me correctly. To God be the glory for ever and ever!

Saturday July 29, 2017

I’m laying flat on my back. Staring up at the white ceiling above me. I am surrounded by 4 walls painted a sea blue color. I try to stay present, try to notice the feeling of the mattress and duvet beneath me, the way the pillow supports my neck, the whoosh of the ceiling fan as it flies around and around. I have goose bumps on my arms but make no effort to move to slow the fan down or turn it off. It’s as if I am comatose, in a trance, hypnotized, or something of the like.

If it weren’t for the pictures I have on my phone, it would be hard to believe that the past week had actually happened. Here I am, laying in my 2 story brick house, both my parents just downstairs, my dog perched by my fee with a bone, and my violin on the floor next to my bed. My suitcase is spilling open with shoes and dirty laundry that only needs to be taken downstairs to be washed and dried. I have a kitchen full of appliances that work, clean dishes and counter tops, and a fridge and cabinets full of food.

It all feels excessive. I’m staring around, trying to ground myself by taking in my surroundings while simultaneously finding myself infuriated by them.

My mom said something on the ride home this morning that really resonated with me: Our realities are all we ever know.

And I agree! Those sweet children in Belize can’t fathom what it would be like to have been born in America to my parents or to anyone in my city’s family. They can’t comprehend what it would mean to go to public school, to always have food, air conditioning, and clothes to choose from each morning.

I can’t wrap my mind around why God chose to place me in my family, in my home, in my financial, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, etc situation and why some others don’t get so lucky. And what blows my mind even more is that, despite all of that, these kids are still able to be happy, joyful, and have peace. They laugh easily and they love easily and those are traits that I so desperately want to have. I want to trust easily, forgive easily, and shower others in grace at every possible opportunity! I admire these kids I spent the past week with. At times, I even found myself slightly envious of their attitudes, their spirits, and their joy!

To say that I am blessed is a gross understatement! I now have, not two, but THREE church families, 2 wonderful parents, a tribe of the greatest human beings standing behind me and cheering me on, a wonderful city full of friends and snowy winters and music and learning, and I have been affirmed in this past weeks journey in many ways. I now believe, more than ever before, that I am meant to pursue music and missions work – I don’t know what exactly that will look like, but thankfully, I know that I don’t NEED to know what that will look like at this time in my life. I need to let go and trust that the Lord will have me in the perfect places at the perfect times in order to do His will through my life! I am honored and thankful for everything I got to witness and be a part of this past week and I pray that I will use this experience to further the Kingdom of God, to continue witnessing to others, and to change the world for Christ!

“Missionary work is a priesthood duty – an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much.”
Thomas S. Monson