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 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!
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.
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