Saturday, August 27, 2011

Repressed not so much anymore.

Though I missed most of it, since I had 2 church services of choir I'd committed to, I caught the end-of and just got back-from our student missionary re-entry retreat.  Food, talking, activities, SM-produced on-the-spot worship service (product of us being numbered off), etc.

Beforehand, I attended a social or two for those of us who were getting ready to leave, and I'd seen SMs on stage being involved, etc.  They all understood each other a certain way, they made it look like a good thing and like you'd definitely be changed, but the huge changes we were all about to go through just ... it wasn't gotten across.  It was mentioned, but I wasn't aware of the upcoming ... total & utter reconstruction.

These pre-trip & post-trip get-togethers are nice, they're fun, there's some light bonding & whatnot, but I honestly feel as though there's pressure for there to be a certain kind of experience.  Some things are easier to talk about than others; certain aspects are almost glamorized.  What about those of us who have tough things to talk about and who'd rather use factual anecdotes to fill in the gaps between the positive stories because the difficulties of our experience would make others uncomfortable, because there's a surplus of negative stories?  It's just as possible that a great good came from a great difficulty as it is possible that a great good came from a student missionary experience where you "didn't want to leave" at the end, which so many seem wont to say.  What about those of us who - as much as we bonded with where we traveled to and the people there - were eager to return home?  What about those of us who don't seem like poster children, necessarily?

What about the life of a student missionary without its makeup on?

It's not just that it's hard.

What if there are some things you went through or witnessed that you feel were wrong and need changing?  Not just forgiving?


I've refrained from full disclosure on this blog - both regarding events that transpired as well as my reactions - because I was quickly informed upon arrival to England that they get to know the student missionaries by reading their blogs.  There was hardly ever a place to let my guard down for the sake of being a good SM.  I don't even think I started venting fully to my own mother until several months after I'd been in England.

I will continue to refrain & use discretion, but this I will say (since it's started to eek out in skype conversation with understanding British friends).

I have and always will be committed to seeing the silver lining whenever possible.  God is good.  But people ask me about my experience in England - somehow thinking I was in London, not Watford - grinning at me and assuming it was kickass rockin' awesome, and I respond "It was good.  Really hard, but very good.  I'm glad I did it.  I don't regret it."

All that is true.


The "really hard" bit came from a huge spiritual allergic reaction I had to the atmosphere the entire time I was there.  It wasn't the culture shock; in certain homes and in the company of certain people, I felt more at peace, but I'd just like to say that churches are maintained by humans, no matter their degrees or titles. These humans can get as tired and worldly and insensitive as those merely attending or not even part of the church at all.  Now of course, that's a given (though I feel that some people need to be reminded, since they think they've got a free pass to holiness because they're in ministry), but there was a lack of energy & personal evidence to make sure they were all personally taking Jesus in and breathing Jesus out vs. making events happen.  And because my private relationship with God is a priority to me, the friction I regularly got made life extremely difficult; in a church of all places, you'd think spending time alone with God wouldn't be viewed as a frowned-upon luxury.  Jesus wasn't always with the masses.  He withdrew often to solitude.  He needed to replenish.  We all do.  That's one of the MOST needed ways we have to replicate Him, not one of the ways that was "uniquely Jesus."

There are some who might read the above paragraph and then hotly respond as though I spent too much time in my room and it's necessary to be available.  I was VERY available as the majority of people would say so.  I was polite through the times when certain people made me feel slow and stupid, which silently infuriated me since I'm not good with quick comebacks and since I never was unkind and since it's downright thoughtless and foolish to make judgments on a person because they're different, nevermind that they're just as capable; it's like a form of emotional racism and I hated it.  I had gifts that can't be replicated and I did things nobody would have stretched themselves to do, yet those things were taken for granted as part of me "being a nice person."  I was shocked at what got laughed at and what people shrugged their shoulders over.  Shocked.  I took care of the people who had greatly aggravated me.  I Took Care of them.  I made a point of doing so, because whatever misunderstanding they had, I didn't want to give it any credit whatsoever even though sometimes helping them unnecessarily (aside from my assigned responsibilities) felt galling.  The amount of affirmation I received still makes me blush when I remember.  Service is felt by those on the receiving end, not by the critics on the sideline and according to those who received what I had to give, I got an A+.  Nobody can possibly get along with everyone and even those who love each other can't get along perfectly 24/7.  Sometimes all it takes for some people is a small blip on the radar for them to lash out with paranoia rather than seeing the big picture, taking it in stride and - oh I dunno - nurturing & defending those they work with rather than turning on them.  Whatever happened to unity being important?  It's like asking someone to chop wood with a sprained wrist when "teams" function that way.  You may work through the pain, but how is that good for you?  The wood gets chopped, but your sprain just might be worse off and if this sort of thing keeps up, you just might wish it were as small a problem as a sprain.  When constructive criticism is necessary, it needs to be given with tact, not like a tractor otherwise it does more harm than good to someone with less fortitude and even though I've got a lot of fortitude I felt like there were plenty of moments when I did NOT need the extra dose of character development lab.  Thank you very much.

I did realize and say this to - again - try & diffuse the idea that I have a personal vendetta; I don't.  I made the connection that people in ministry are very tired because needs are 24/7 and personal and ministry is against the grain of sinful nature.  Of course we're going to rub each other the wrong way.  But I didn't see hardly any conviction that people realized they needed to take extra care of themselves, since they're in a position to so greatly influence others.  Church is a HUGE influence for life, for good or evil.  We don't take that seriously enough.  We're not humble enough to embrace our need and some of us won't come down off our high horses to remember that church is about Jesus, not about the location or style.  Issues of the heart transcend location & style of worship.  I'll be bold and say I think there's the existence of church politics at all because of how little we genuinely call upon the Holy Spirit's presence; I think we just say we're praying for Him and I think it's tantamount to taking His name in vain, except it's worse than someone swearing on a street in London.  People who are humble don't get their hearts hardened and if groups were praying like in Pentecost, with hearts truly open and ready to obey and ready to be changed if necessary, we'd have the unity and successes that Pentecost had as well.  The Holy Spirit hasn't left us yet; He's still close by to walk alongside us and hear & respond to our prayers.  And I'll be bolder still and say that my beefs with church politics are addressed to both Parallel & Main Service committees.  Y'all gotta work together and not talk smack about each other behind closed doors. "Whatever you say/do to the least of these," Jesus said, "you've said/done to Me."  By this standard, I AM guilty too.  God forbid I get on a high horse while I'm delivering criticism and venting honestly at last.  If I got on a high horse I'd deserve what would come to me, because I have bad luck with horses as it is.  It's an issue we all have, and if more of us aspired to better things, well then the majority just might become a good thing rather than a negative pun.

I made many good friendships, I left a lot of people behind whom I love greatly and miss.  But you can love people, and develop relationships while having huge issues with the regular choices & effects of said choices.  I think that helps explain the complexity of abandoning repression of these issues I have while still saying I don't regret the experience and I did come to love the place & its people.  It DID become my second home.  God set me free while I was in England.  Its geography will forever be precious to me.

But for most of the time I was there, I was shocked by the ugliness & hypocrisy that doesn't just exist but almost thrives in a religious institution.  By what is allowed.  By what is either not at all considered or what is glanced at and belittled.  By where priorities are.  They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  Please try and understand, I didn't feel personally shot at - nobody over there had personal vendettas against me, but I feel as though my heart and my faith struggled to stay alive like no other time in my life.  There was a time in March when I felt like I was losing my mind and I remember sobbing in a friend's lap that "I can't live like this anymore, but I don't know what to do!"

This year changed me to have far more respect for God giving you energy for the last little push - to reach a little farther for that vital grip - than I have for the sweeping emotion that makes you feel like skipping through a meadow with elation.  That last push, that last stretch is far more important, especially if you're rock-climbing and that inch or two involves your soul staying in one piece.

In an earlier blog I described the differences between the UK & USA as a delicate hopscotch, because they're both so urban & modern yet so different.  It was tricky.  The mass of negativity I experienced is like that as well; it was here & there but not quite everywhere.  And repeating situations didn't mean the negativity got repeated.  This led to a lifestyle of feeling as though I always had to be on edge personally, not just on-call professionally.  Someone might say, "Trust God and you won't be on edge."  Not necessarily so.  Sometimes your circumstances don't allow you to not be on edge, but it's ONLY trusting God that keeps you sane and even successful.  You do not know how much it killed me that when I was struggling the most on the inside, when I was regularly asking what the point of my faith was, that the "public opinion" about me was the most positive; I was getting along well with nearly everyone (finally) and was having professional breakthroughs, my tasks were getting easier, etc.  It scared me.  That I could feel so disconnected from God yet have people telling me that I was so wonderful.  Now, I know it'd be disrespectful to God to be totally scared about that, since it's clearly an evidence of God's grace despite circumstances.  But it scared me nonetheless and I know it wasn't stupid fussing.  I know it was valid.  God was good and He is great about making sure the glory goes to Him no matter how His children are doing.  But I've never felt like such an empty shell.  Except the emptiness was because of so much that I'd repressed and shoved WAY down and put lots (way too much) unhealthy food on top of.

Praise be to God I haven't felt like that for months now; God led me out and has continued and is still leading me to better places.  This year broke my pendulum swing.  I can't possible think everything's either total hell or absolutely wonderful.  My eyes have been opened.

I RECOMMEND that people give a year of service.  I had a year that put my heart through hell, but it was paradoxically a great good.  There's a song lyric that says, "If I'm never broken, how can I be restored?"  We're born with a sinful nature and Oswald Chambers says that our spiritual journey isn't about God teaching us new things, but about helping us unlearn the bad things.

This year was hard and while I could go back to Stanborough Park Church and willingly, happily do another year there, I never want to go through the mental dissonance and emotional pain a second time.  But you know, there was a medical case of Grey's Anatomy Season 7.  Their theme was "Let the healing begin," because at the end of season 6, there was a mass shooting in the hospital.  This metaphorical medical case is as follows: a young man has a brain tumor in a very difficult place.  If he doesn't have the operation, he will most assuredly die.  But if he does have it, he has a chance at life though the risk is still quite high.  They have to split his entire face (skull included) open to access the tumor.  Recovery will be long and painful.  I found it ironic that the surgery split open his face; a personal place, crux to one's identity.  The man survived and when he became conscious, he was indeed in serious pain, but Dr. Shepherd (McDreamy as some of us know him & all the ladies go "Aww!") rushed to his side and said,

"Hang on.  This is victory pain.  This is healing pain."

Lately the working summary of my year (Dad suggested "Messy Church," which I thought was great) is as follows: all the key relational & atmospheric props for my faith were jerked away and I had to rough it with God.  You make it or you break.  Somehow, I got through.  I never would have made it without Jesus.  He was the one relationship I was able to take with me over to England; and over there we went way deeper.  You can't truly go deep with anyone unless you go through the ugly, depressing, angering, oppressive areas inside of YOU and in the world.  You may think you've had a bad year or the worst one yet, but it's the year when you nearly lost your faith, when you ate ripe disappointment with God; that's the worst year of anyone's life.  And when you go through it, you KNOW it.  All past, present & future difficulties pale in comparison.

As for me earlier saying that it scared me that one of my most successful seasons was when I felt like a shell, I just heard a song lyric that spoke to me while typing here:

"Glory is putting others before yourselves." (Jaeson Ma)

God took care of His glory, and even though I felt I didn't deserve praise I received because of my internal status, maybe it was His kindness that people thought I was so wonderful as a tender touch on my obedience.  A touch I'd one day receive as a comfort, even if at first it made me sick.

It is an overwhelming beauty when you slowly, daily experience God restoring your faith back to you, except this is a true faith; not your natural talents or aptitudes being mistaken as faith.  You've been broken so now you're unbreakable.  Faith isn't about what you have, it's about what God has.  It's not about your heart, it's about His.  And because of this, we have the most amazing assurance.

Praise God.

Monday, August 8, 2011

From Survey to Blog

I was filling out one of those surveys - mostly it's just us girls who do them - and it struck me when I was done that I should copy/paste one or two (or three?) of the questions & answers here since they are so strongly tied to my student missionary experience.


What is something you've learned about yourself recently?  Hmm... I'm gonna go for a big picture sort of analysis and define recently as this past year: I've learned to own my faith in God without the props and relationships that usually nurture and comfort it.  When I went away to England as a student missionary, it was one of the hardest years I've ever had, though I still call it one of the top 5 best things to ever happen to me.  Stuff was happening with loved ones outside England that gave my faith a run for its money and frankly, all the things that made me most comfortable in Michigan were lowest priority in England.  I suppose I've been learning the power and value of my own ability to choose and learning more to not care what other people think.  For too long I've been catering to the people who don't have my best in mind and not giving my best to those who love me so well.  There was something wrong with that picture - no wonder  I had painful growing experiences ahead.


What is one thing you've learned about life?  That we shouldn't expect life on this side of heaven to be LIKE heaven; that's just setting yourself up for perpetual disappointment.  Life one earth until Jesus comes is love during wartime.  God's love for us, ours for him and ours for each other.  And we all know how both overtly & subtly wartime expresses itself.  And I'm speaking in spiritual terms, not just literal terms.  If you accept that every once in awhile life is going to upset your apple card, you won't be so blind-sided and you'll actually be better able to protect who & what you love when the hits do come.


What's your worst experience?  When people you care about turn out to not be real friends at all and they play mind games to control you.  That is the worst manipulation & messing-up ever.  And what's worse is when the people doing it claim to be Christian examples.  Jesus once compared the pharisees to white-washed tombs filled with dead men's bones.  I think the bones were from those poor souls who got "eaten alive" and then put through the meat-grinder.  So often we only practice Christian values in doctrine but not in relationships.


How many things in your past do you regret?  I wish I'd tried to draw out the deep waters in people rather than talking as much as I have.  I also wish that I'd learned more of what I know now sooner.  But the experiences that were once so hard... they propelled me into the arms of Jesus in a way I never would have known if I were in a "peace time" bubble, so I'm actually thankful for how other people failed me.  I know it sounds weird...


If you could change anything about your past, what would you change?  I would have been more personally responsible/independent and thoughtful about the needs of others.


What are some of your biggest fears of your life?  Letting my lessons learned slip so that I have to go through another unthinkably hard year to get back on track.  Just because last year was a top-5 doesn't mean I ever want to experience the same pain & struggle a second time.  Never again, please.


What's the one thing you hope to accomplish in your life?  I want to do what God's called me to do.  Yes, it'll be high risk sometimes, but that's also where my conscience feels most safe, where my soul rests the most (not the same as numbing the angst with food), and where I feel most alive!  Like I'm doing what I was meant to do; what nobody else can do but me.  It's a challenge AND a pleasure.


Are looks important?  To a degree, but looks do fade and fluctuate.


Do you believe in love?   Ah, the real question is: what kind of love do you believe in?  But stepping aside from silly hair-splittings like that, yes I believe in love.  Love comes from God.  God IS love.  If the church has given you a bad taste, I don't blame you - been there, done that.  If life events make it seem impossible for a good & all-powerful God to exist, it's then that you either have to abandon God altogether or voyage into the tempest to find Him personally, because it's at that point where nobody can tell you what to do or answer your questions.  We're made for love and made in the image of Love.  It's a big deal, a lifelong commitment even if you're just trying to be a good single Christian friend & family member, aside from the bigger leagues of relationships & marriage.  Love is hard as well as good; people only want the good - they don't want to deal with the hard, and so they bail and then paint love in ugly colors.  The people who don't bail, even if they get left behind, actually don't stop believing in love even if they have wounds to recover from.  Those stories aren't told enough.  The way God sustains you through loss - if you ask Him to - is one of the most binding and strongly bonding experiences a person can have with God.  'Ever notice how God created the world primarily beautiful and secondarily functional and therein lies His divine genius?  We were made by love and for love.  People say that love isn't a fairy tale, but we forget that the fairy tales had some high stakes and epic challenges.  We always know the ending and so we yawn that all's well that ends well, but the characters (yes I know they're fictional) didn't know the ending.  And reaching back before the fairy tale we have BIBLE STORIES.  Full of miracles, the magical presence of our powerful God and impossibilities become hysterically funny realities and images so stunning that you can only bow and worship and obey.  God experiences emotions like we do - He gets us; He didn't just make us and walk away.  Even after we screwed up, He hunkered down to pursue a relationship with each of us if we'd only be willing.  Hopeless romantics are more noble and special and a class to be preserved than we know; I think that God loves to work with hopeless romantics, making them into passionate Christians just like He runs to the prodigal son but is sadly put off by "the good son."  God gets us, but He's not like us, which is EXACTLY WHY He's dependable.  He's wild and He does things we can't always understand, but He never fails to bring out a greater good if you never let Him go.  There are answers we'll never have here on earth, but I don't want a God I can explain with my finite mind.  To have the God you want, you have to embrace not having all the answers for yourself.  Do you want a genie in a bottle with limits - even if he is there at a simple rub - or the God who is mighty to save, forgiving, mysterious and loves you with an everlasting love?

Yes, I believe in Love.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Further Ripples

Some randomly occurring bits for you...

A few weeks ago on Sabbath, I had a treat!  A visiting (married) couple at our church turned out to be ex-student missionaries.  When they heard I had just gotten back from my SM posting, they brightened up and told me they'd been SMs together in South America - 'twas where they met & fell in love.  I, in turn, brightened up at seeing two people who understood "what it's like."

We talked about the basics; where we'd been and what we were doing as SMs...  It was short and sweet, but it felt like taking the lid off my Pandora's Box of my struggles.  These days when I notice that I have trouble with reverse culture shock, it's not a constant awareness.  It surprises me.  I think it's been so important for me to get control over my emotions because when I got back to America, my life was so busy for a solid month (in many different places) that my emotional ups & downs were unwelcome complications for memorial & graveside services, weddings, graduation weekends and all the road trips & plane trips in between during which I had to be pleasant (preferably).

My encounter with the ex-SM couple gave me a quick preview of what a relief and pleasure it'll be to be reunited with all the other SMs when we go back to school.  Japhet put it very well: "Everyone is going to want to hear about your experience, but they're going to want to hear it in 2 minutes and then they quit listening."  Most people - with a few delightful exceptions - want what we've all gone through and how we've changed to be a pithy, quaint testimony in the form of a fortune cookie.

Even family, with whom it's wonderful to be back with, don't quite understand, and it does feel lonely sometimes.  A blessing, though, is that having introverted needs means I don't mind the solitude; I need it, actually.


Also, I wanted to share that while certain changes were inevitable and will always be, some of the better ones wear off if you don't deliberately nurture them.  Basically I mean tendencies towards service.  Those tendencies were very fresh when I first got back, but then I caught myself acting kinda ugly after about a month.  The instances were extremely minor and before I was an SM, I would have labeled them as "taking care of me" but not anymore.

Beforehand, the SM environment was the set of supportive stilts for being unselfish.  Now, we don't necessarily have supportive stilts, but we do have opportunities that are just as frequent to be loving and helpful.

I say that I caught myself acting ugly.  I use the word ugly, because it just wasn't appealing.  Not necessarily repellant, but unappealing, and you know what else?  I didn't feel like myself when I acted that way.  When we keep trying to live a life of loving kindness to others, the person God intended and designed us to be shines through.

This thing is bigger than the year of service we gave.

Let's not waste it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock

I'm starting to look up online links to help me with what I'm going through.  Reading that euphoria over returning home lasts a few weeks makes sense and that afterwards comes irritability, which also makes sense.

I'm looking up these things, because I want to be as informed as I can, so I can make the best choices I can.  Choices made without available knowledge send me to be swept away when I could be in a boat, though dealing with the exact same waves.

Thank goodness I have understanding parents who are thrilled that I'm back with them.

I don't find myself nearly so irritable (yet) as I do "limp noodle"-ish.  My old environment's challenges were motivators for me to spend time with God to stay sane and when I wasn't by myself, I was always doing something or with someone.  Now, it's like my props have fallen away and I'm a cooked macaroni noodle kinda boppin' in a dish...

BUT the good thing is that my time at Stanborough has given me inclinations towards keeping the house and kitchen tidy and preparing suppers for Daddy when he gets home from work.  I'm much more domestic than I used to be, and as for my devotional life, it's not that I have no focus, just that I balk at my reaction to the over-abundance of free time I once craved...

I'm not in pain or miserable, but limbo is not one of my talents, but I'm doing my best and I know this rest and waiting period is something that will be good for me just the way it is: it shouldn't be jazzed up or decorated, necessarily.  Oswald Chambers talks sometimes about (I'm not directly quoting; just paraphrasing from memory) how the real challenge of Christianity is being faithful in drudgery.  We can get through crises by the skin of our teeth and heaven knows mountaintop experiences are a high to ride, but the day-in, day-out drudgery?  Yeeeeah.  No glory, no glamor...  Not even all that gritty either...

It just is.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I've been home for more than a week now...

A more simple description of my returning-home-reaction that I think will be more widely helpful:

At first everything's as if you never said goodbye.
Because this home that you've returned to is where your roots are.

And then everything starts looking different, shaded by where you actually WERE for the last year.
Because where you were became the home where you grew and bloomed in new ways.

I find that while the pressures of being an SM are no longer on me, I don't want to kick up my feet - emotionally - and go back to the way I lived life before.  It's work to practice unselfishness and extra thoughtfulness, but the payoff of peace from trusting God is preferable to the endless and fruitless work of fending off anxiety that comes from being "justifiably" selfish and trying to once again take control.

I want to keep alive and keep tending what only began to bloom in England.  It may seem tricky to do since now I'm back in the states, but you know how it can happen for me ... and for whichever SM is reading this?

Because it's MY heart I brought back with me from England.  Not someone else's.
Everything changed, but it's my heart I brought back.


The same God who never left me while I was nauseous with nerves flying to England, who never left me while I was scared and stiff learning how to serve correctly, who never left me while I made mistakes, grew, fussed & flailed, was broken down and finally settled down - the same wonderful Jesus is still with me now.

When you eventually fly home, all the changes can be kept.
All the lessons learned preserved.

The pressure that reminded you to turn to God as often as you did isn't there anymore, but while you're still feeling phantom pain of your old restraints' absence, see now as a time to turn to God just as much out of love, not just need.  Out of desire for more, out of hunger for new, out of belief in the miracles God can do.  And how about out of gratitude???

Your journey is still with God, but the challenge ... the opportunity is what's new.

Did you tap into new riches of God while you were gone?  Are you still at your SM post and still in the midst (or last stretches) of this season of service?  When it's over and when you go home, it's not the end.  Not if you ask Jesus to show you how and follow His lead...
I promise.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Afterglow and Aftermath

This blog is for my fellow SMs and for people who've been following along from the States.  To my loved ones in England, take it in stride, please, though I know some of you will have an easier time with it.

While it was happening, my term as a student missionary felt like 10 minutes ... underwater.  Now that it's over and I'm back in Berrien Springs typing this blog from my favorite lounge in Lamson Hall, I cannot believe how fast the time has flown.  The speed at which SO much is now over is surreal to me.

I thought I'd be a mess the day I left.  I did cry a little bit about three times on my last Sabbath morning, but what took over was the gut-wrenching feeling of being locked into a roller coaster about to take off at warp speed = another huge change is coming, I'm locked into it and I'm scared because this is happening too fast.

I got good at swallowing tears this year.  I didn't not cry - heavens no! - but I learned to suppress and swallow emotions that weren't so pressing as to be necessary.  I had to.  And on my last day in England, emotions were definitely swirling, but they weren't willing to be near the surface for some reason.  And so I decided to not encourage them, since the "pre-roller-coaster" feeling was bad enough.

My VERY dear friend Lynette Allcock came with me to the airport; we held hands the whole drive to Heathrow rather than breaking down.  She'd been a student missionary before me and understood what I was going through.  The beginning of my term as an SM was actually right after she'd finally returned to England from her 2 year term in Laos.  She and I both quickly bonded over the feeling of being fish out of water, not to mention a delightfully huge amount of things in common via personalities and ongoing life events.  We hugged for a long time at the airport and decided to not give in to blubbing and to just let it hit us later.  As I began to walk away to exchange my pound bills for dollars and head through security, rather than a wrenching feeling, I began to feel an uncanny peace.  And it only increased...

My flight began at 5:15pm UK time and it landed a little before 8pm Chicago time.  The whole flight was light outside through the windows and it felt like 5 minutes when it was over.  By all means there are relationships tangibly left behind by my recent absence from England, but those relationships aren't over.  They still matter and they haven't died and there's no blockage in the future to bring them to a devastating stop.  What IS over is that "fish out of water" feeling.  As much as I'm adaptable and as much as I learned to love Stanborough Park Church and as much as there is NOTHING that will take its place in my affections, it feels good for this fish to be back in water again.

I thought that going home would feel crazy-different and that Berrien Springs would have new colors and affect me in a shocking way.  But you know what?  It didn't.  The shock was that I felt a way I never thought I'd feel again.  The surprise was that I didn't feel shocked.  Coming back to Berrien Springs felt easy and walking around Andrews University and interacting with familiar faces was effortless.  Unbelievably effortless.

I grew up my whole life in an atmosphere so different from England that my 9 month term there stripped away most of what usually made me feel comfortable.  My retrospect is only beginning to bubble up, let alone be fully processed, but I am clear that life has been strenuous.  Getting used to it and building up emotional muscle didn't make it less so.  It's like having an operation that nearly kills you but if you don't have it you WILL die anyway, for sure.  I know that's drastic, but this year was a personally taxing time and that's not just the best metaphor I have; it's the one I choose.

This year was personally taxing because I also see more clearly now that my job wasn't just to do a job.  It was to have a new life.  To live in a small flat with 3 other people very different from myself, to adapt to them and to embrace it that our flat was smack dab in the middle of where we worked.  I lived with the people I worked with (one of whom = one of my many bosses) every day and I lived in my 24-7 work environment.  It was nifty & efficient at first, but that wore off eventually.  I'll be blunt: the weekends weren't just reversed.  Friday night through Saturday night went from being the most relaxed time of the week to being the time with the most work.  Such is ministry in the 21st century.  That was a hard adjustment.  Going from being a student who was ministered to by worship services, I became a non-student who was supposed to make worship services for teens, several of whom couldn't care less.  There are other cultures to serve in where it's "worldly" but who would have thought that working in a church and being DUNKED in a nasty struggle with secular comforts would go hand in hand!  Who would have thought that my greatest struggle to hold onto my faith would happen in a church, and a productive one at that!  Because a godly-looking cynicism was the easiest and most effective coping mechanism for the busyness required and the brokenness unavoidable...  But like cocaine, feeling the powerful effects of something (like cynicism) doesn't mean you should adopt it in your vitamin regimen.  No, no, no...  Satan's ways don't satisfy in the end but that doesn't mean they can't distract and it also doesn't mean they can't look like the sensible choice on the outset.  When I first started in Watford, few things were more disheartening than the weekend, but by the time I left, small flickers of interest and response from the teens who attended were golden.  Full genuine sentences made me feel alive!

When I first came, I hated Toddler Club.  There, I said it.  I didn't try to "look pretty" or inviting.  Thursdays were about survival and for awhile I used my earphones and iPod to cope with how much I couldn't stand Toddler Club.  For awhile I know my presence was like a dark cloud on the edge of a "cute festival."  By the time I left, I no longer was afraid of my Thursdays.  They were a breeze and I actually enjoyed working alone.  And Toddler Club?  It was a happy, smiling time.  No angst whatsoever; no earphones or iPod either.  A woman I worked with encouraged me to take them off and ask God into my feelings and in the end, I wound up sharing my music with my co-workers during tidy-up time.  We got done in half the time and wished we'd started playing music sooner!  I smile at the memory and feel regretful, too.  But I can't change the past.  While joy might have been known sooner in that situation, at least God made it work for the joy to be heightened in the end to make up for lost time.  Yesterday, my best friend Kayleen said that she could tell I'd been spending lots of time with little kids, and she's an awesome mother & parent, so I was pretty stoked by her off-hand compliment.

Teens & Toddler Club = just 2 examples with a decent dose of vague out of respect.  I know I'm supposed to write a student missionary blog, but I can't bring myself to truly dissect and divulge everything, because I had a life in England and it wasn't some project.  I lived and worked and loved with people.  It was a personal time and the whole experience - unrated - would make one heck of an unbelievable read.  I would have to be very full of myself or sure of myself to make a statement like that.  Since this year has brought me to the end of myself, you can be sure I'm telling you the truth that I've been holding back for good reasons.  

As the afterglow is winding down, the aftermath kicks in and I realize there's an overwhelming amount of things to process.  So much that I just want to shut down and so much that I wish life was simpler.  But this morning I journaled & prayed to God about it and He showed me something like this:

"For so long you've eaten from the fruit of knowledge.  Eat from life instead.  Rest in My love.  Let go.  Remember how I've led you in the past and remember how your human ways have let you down.  You know those roads and where they end.  Just trust that I've got you and I will make sure you know what you need at the right time.  You will be safe in My arms.  You weren't made to know and control everything.  You were made for life and love.  Let Me worry about power and control.  Rest in My love.  For now, it's all over."

At first, this seems like the hardest thing for me to do.  But not really anymore...  The past year - not just this 9 month SM term - has intimately acquainted me with how short my best efforts & ideas fall without Jesus.  Without my Savior God whom I've become desperately needy for.  Some of those ideas and beliefs frankly had no business existing.  It's embarrassing how much I need God.  It's not poetic.  But it's become such a relief to be broken into the reality of my sinful human condition and not just in acknowledgment of one sinful, human mistake.  There's an ocean of difference between the two and it's a life-changing experience...

I don't know what all you, my fellow SMs, have been learning about yourselves and about God as your terms wind down, but I hope this helps.  I know it's more of a personal vs. principle angle, so parts of it might be hard to apply but this year has been deep-tissue personal and since we're all SMs I know all of it's not lost on you as you read.

I think, as we all come back home in our own time, that we need to let God do the leading as we rebuild our lives yet again.

He's got this.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pre-flight (reprise)

This time around, it's not so flowing & thoughtful as my first blog.

Packing 9 months worth of a life for a flight the next day is like cramming for a test that's gonna happen in a few hours.


Energy drinks.

Some progress.

More stress.

Somehow I will make this happen...!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Am I the only one or...

does anyone else preparing to leave their SM post soon feel nervous about flying back?  Is it on record that ex-SMs felt nervous about the return journey and its aftermath?

I guess some of why I'm scared is because how I've imagined things "at home" from what I've heard is unlikely to be what it actually looks like.

It's just such a big leap...  And the time has come to do it again...

It is absolutely surreal to me that I have less than a week left.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Emotions BAH!!!

Last night the most epic going away SURPRISE part was thrown for meeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wanted SO BADLY to have all the emotions that I KNOW were moved come to the SURFACE right THEN so that the day I leave I won't be sick to my stomach and crying like a baby right after church.

Guess what?  Aww shucks, you know what or else I wouldn't be ranting.

Last night there was no crying, just an awareness underneath one of the most amazing nights EVER that I'm going to be a perfect mess the day I leave.

I love everyone here so much!!!!!!!

Coming to Stanborough Park Church was like beginning a whole new life.  It was a job, but that was one small facet.  It's not just a job.  Oh man...  I've begun a whole new life here and my heart has been stretched - genuinely - for tons of new friends who are my age, younger, older, elderly and so young that they're barely using real sentences yet.

But I guess emotions are out of my control - out of everyone's control - because God designed us to work a certain way that would tell us the truth rather than having the messy glory controlled away by our foolish notions.

Still, I'm gonna be a mess on May 21.  I'm going to get rid of all my mascara ahead of time.  Seriously.

Oh dear...


Oh dear...

Thursday, May 12, 2011


I don't know how to start something like this.  I don't know how to sound how I should sound.

My Grammie died this morning.  I found out a little over an hour ago.  It seems it happened in her sleep and she looked peaceful.

When something hurts, people say let the tears come, but I think when someone dies, you have to let the waves come.  It's not about your head, eyes and tears.  It's everywhere.  But it makes you curl up into a ball and just when you think you're done crying is when you need to lay still because the next wave is about to start out of nowhere.

My room is a mess the way a room looks when you're moving out of a place you've lived in for 9 months.  I've pulled my suitcases out in the hallway (small as it is) outside my room and I'm slowly transferring my stuff out of the furniture and onto the floor.  Then I'm going to move my furniture into the hallway and bring my suitcases into my little room.

Earlier I mentioned Grammie was on hospice and wouldn't be with us for very long and I thought that would be one of the many "tears" I was describing.  To say I feel torn is a disrespectful understatement.  I don't know what this is.  The death of someone close to me is a completely new experience.

While I know that I technically had 4 grandparents, my Grammie is the only one I feel I ever knew.

My first memory of meeting her was when my father, 2 sisters and aunt flew to Kenya to where she was working (Mom stayed home) and the first words out of my mouth to her (since she'd been there for 7 years - her husband, my mother's father, had died I don't know how many years before she went to Kenya) were a message from my Mom:

"We're here to bring you home!"  She laughed and got a big kick out of it.  I don't remember her first words to me, though...  I was 6 years old - about to turn 7.

After Grammie's heart surgery on February 5, 2010, everything about her changed.  She'd make some of the same expressions, which delighted me, but I received a huge shock when I saw her after the surgery over my spring break that semester.  I had to leave the room so I could cry.  Then I got my act together and went about adjusting to the new version of Grammie, which was monosyllabic at best and disinterested.

I don't remember my last words to Grammie; they were most likely along the lines of "Goodbye Grammie I love you!" before I flew to England.  But I remember the last real sentence she said to me before her heart surgery.  It was Christmas break 2009.  I had to go back to school.  Before we hired caregivers, I was Grammie's main caregiver as soon as fall semester 2009 was over.  But even before the semester finished, I drove to the hospital to see her whenever I could, to play Scrabble with her, read to her and pray with her.  When I first learned - in November 2009 - that Grammie was going downhill, it nearly ruined me for the rest of my classes.  I described grief back then like a bowling ball inside of me that - if it went off-balance just a little bit - would make me cry uncontrollably.  At the time, I had a close friend who'd recently lost a grandfather and I clung to what he told me: "To cope, I made sure he knew I loved him."  And so I threw myself into it.  In retrospect I'm more grateful than ever for those words of wisdom given to me, because they weren't an unreachable sermon, neither were they emotionless and scientific.  They were the real thing and just what I needed.  While I'd played Scrabble with Grammie a lot since she came to live in our house back in 2008, I'd almost never read to her and I'd definitely never prayed with her.  I didn't have time to feel bad that it took her declining health for me to reach out in these more personal ways.  She loved it when I read to her.  I'd hold the book with one hand and we'd hold hands with my free one.  When I offered to pray with her, she lit up and we held both of our hands.  When we flew to California to complete our move from Michigan, Grammie had an oxygen mask and got around on a wheelchair pushed by another person.  Whenever her mask slipped off, a beeping noise would start and I'd fix it for her.  And whenever she needed to use the restroom, I'd take her and help her.  It wasn't long before I was sleeping in her room at night.  She didn't like the hospital bed, but instead preferred her long-time favorite Lazy-Boy chair, so I slept in her hospital bed to be near her for whatever she needed.  While it was hard and made me want to cry a lot at first - seeing my independent and spunky Grammie that way - I know God helped me and the whole experience stretched me to embrace this part of human life.  It killed me to be so close to Grammie during that time, but it would have been the worst thing ever to not be close to her.  When I left - right before New Year's 2010 - to return to school, she grabbed my hand, pulled me close and said her last full sentences to me:

"What am I going to do when you go away?  Love you Babe."

My Grammie was never one to use the word "love" and she never did kisses.  But in the last 2 months of 2009, she gave both to me frequently.

Fonda Chaffee - my Grammie - hung on for a good year and a half after the crisis began and is now sleeping in Jesus.  The next thing she'll know is Jesus Himself coming to take her the rest of the way home.

As for me, I know Jesus is nearby - especially now that this has happened - but I really don't know what I am.  I loved Grammie so much.  She was far more conservative than I ever have been, but she always loved me, was proud of me, showed me off to her friends at Community Services (and elsewhere) by grabbing my hand, pulling me forward and saying, "This one's my youngest," and she was the go-to lady for spaghettios, ramen noodles and avocado sandwiches with lemon pepper seasoning.  She could never see too far past our differences, but I loved teasing her regardless that we were similar ever since I heard someone say at the dinner table, "Grammie's just like Chloe!"  It made me feel so cool to hear someone (Daddy?) say we were similar since she was so awesome to me.  She was my rockstar.  I never really realized she was "old" until November 2009.  And even then, it seemed like age and illness were foreign invaders.  She always has been and always will be my beloved Grammie and I have no idea how much I'll miss her.  I couldn't have asked for a better Grammie in the whole world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bahahaha... oh bookends.

Shortly after I first got here, in one of my first showers taken in our bathroom, the plug decided to plug up while I was the occupant and I was responsible for a small flood in the flat.

This morning, the same thing almost happened again LOL but I caught it in time before it reached as far as the bathroom door & carpet where it would flood Dejan & Deana's room all over again.

Just enough to be a bookend of my stay here, but not so much to make the same mess again, hehe :-)

Monday, May 9, 2011

A short(er) thought about our true home.

On one of my playlists, I have 8 songs in a row about home.

Going Home - Dvorak
Come Home - OneRepublic & Sara Bareilles
Comin' Home - City and Colour
Home - Michael Buble
Coming Home - Diddy
Feels Like Home - Chantal Kreviazuk
Finally Home - Natalie Grant
This Is Home - Switchfoot

Funny how these never came together until the past week or so; I really didn't know that I had all these with the same shared word.  The last song by Switchfoot I knew the least at first when I was clumping all these home songs together.

There's a bit from the lyrics that caught my attention in light of my "light bulb switched on" dilemma:

"I've got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can't go back
Back to how it was
I believe you now
I've come too far
No I can't go back
Back to how it was
Created for a place
I've never known
This is home
Now I'm finally
Where I belong
Yeah, this is home
I've been searching
For a place of my own
Now I've found it..."


I think God's been on my case for awhile now to make me get my eyes on where my true home is.  First we uprooted from Berrien Springs, Michigan to Lakeport.  And from Lakeport I went to Watford.  Now I'm returning to a summer in both places AND others.  I'm returning to complex situations.  It's not the same.  And I'm leaving the scene of the United Kingdom where God loosed me from bondage I didn't know I'd been under for years.  I'm praying that I won't be foolish with this gift...  England is my home now, too.

Well, pray tell, if my home is in so many places then where is my one home?!

In Jesus.

I think that God has been trying to get me to see something for awhile now, and not merely as a rite of passage into adulthood.  While we can rest in oases along the narrow way, if we're really going to follow hard after Jesus, we must embrace that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head, though foxes have holes and birds have nests.  Jesus hasn't come to take us Home to Heaven yet.  Trying to bond or put stock in just one place as home isn't the wisest thing to do these days.  And by the way, foxes' holes can be filled up, forcing them to relocate.  Birds' nests can be destroyed, forcing them to relocate as well.  Our treasures can't be stored on this earth where thieves break in and steal and where moths do their thing.  It's not just a material issue.  It's a heart matter as well.  Just as crime is getting more & more refined these days, Satan is the father of lies and his demons have a deck full of old and new tricks to play on the human race.

In order to win, in order to finally go Home someday, we have to give our hand over to God.  Satan is smarter than we are.  Just because some of us may not put our stock in material things doesn't mean there's no way for Satan to mess with us and diminish or destroy our testimony for Jesus.  Not at all.  We can't fight Satan on our own.  And when we try to boss God around, thinking we're righteous for "involving God" in the struggle, we still can't fight Satan on our own.  We have to give our hand over to God.  We have to maintain a flexibility on earth.  We have to keep fit and keep our lamps lit.

In more simple talk, it's given me peace to realize that while I'm returning to the United States where I was born and raised, it's not the same as going home after a trip.  It's just not.

And that's okay!


It feels like home
In a lot of places on this earth
Because Jesus is everywhere
And we can open our hearts
Anywhere to receive His
Love, truth, forgiveness and grace.

When you feel loved,
When you see truth,
When you've been forgiven,
When grace has rained and washed it all away,
You feel out of this world, but in a kind of limbo.
Because it feels unnatural, we wish it could be forever...

We don't get to feel like that perpetually, but one of the reasons we have those moments is to remind us we're not yet where we belong.  All is not right, but all shall be well.

I take comfort in embracing - though I sometimes tremble - how changeable life will always be before Jesus comes.  I think I'm seeing that it's the only way to be.

Home on this side of heaven is in Jesus.
In Him is the home you can have wherever you are, no matter what happens to you.

I hope if you've read this that it helps you in whatever you're facing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Light Switched On. Uhoh.

Wednesday night, my DEAR friend Lynette said she was going to come to the airport with me to say a proper goodbye and that Messy Church could do without her.  'See, Messy Church is happening the Sabbath afternoon I leave - I kinda like the thought that while I'm heading out, life will be continuing on.  It's picturesque and desirable to be the center of attention in a goodbye, but somehow I like this just as much: it takes the edge off...

Anyways.  Lynette said she was coming with me.

And then the light switched on, and I saw things clearly.

I'm a creature of delayed reactions - 'don't know why - I just am.
When the light went on, a delayed reaction finally happened.  'See, I've been so thrilled about leaving, because I miss home.  It hadn't occurred to my heart personally - just in principle - that to be reunited with my former home, I'd have to LEAVE my current one.

Dude, I knew that before, but I just never knew it this way until the last 24 hours.

I'm going to cry like a baby.
It is going to break my heart.

I love it here so much...!!!  And I miss home so much!!!  This place has become home and it's been the scene of God breaking me out of a longtime cage.  God introduced me to a relationship with Him and fresh relationships with other people that were UNLIKE anything I'd known before.  At first, everything being so unknown frightened me so much it almost paralyzed me, but eventually it wound up setting me free...

At first, serving was no big deal, because I could get it done and then crash in my room.
Then, serving was an area I started to put my heart into a little more but it was very awkward.
And then, serving sometimes felt like a drag when I finally got comfortable here...
And lately, every sense has been heightened so that nothing feels like a drag at all!  It's all beautiful!
I know, and I praise God that the relationships won't end just because I'm leaving, but parting is such sweet sorrow!!  Sweet, because it draws out love expressed in newer & deeper ways; in the ways only goodbyes can accomplish.  Sorrowful, because - duh! - I won't be able to hug everyone here anymore, talk in person and share experiences and be around as life continues on.

It's true that the heart and soul are so important, but sometimes we minimize the more external realm.  I think God created it and gave it to us to inform us through imagery and feeling about the ways of our hearts.  "Not cut off" isn't bad, but being "close" is SO MUCH BETTER!!  There's got to be a balance of course, and if it's 100% one thing, that thing loses its meaning even if you binge on it in greater amounts.  Just like music loses its meaning without silences and changes in dynamic.

Goodbyes were never meant to happen.

"Every time we say goodbye, I die a little ... I wonder why a little." (Ray Charles)

We were meant to live all together.  In heaven we will.  (Thoughts of heaven are so hard to get your mind turned to, but once you get in the habit, they're comforting and encouraging for the journey)

Goodbyes were never meant to happen.  The pain of going away reminds us of that.  The fact that goodbyes STILL hurt after all these centuries ALSO reminds us that goodbyes STILL are not meant to be and they WILL be abolished one day, when Jesus comes.

Until then, my heart has a big tear coming up.  Luckily, I'm going from one precious environment to another.  It's a blessing that my heart will not be torn to go to one more place that's foreign to me.  It's like a grace that this heart-tear will be touched by the love of family and friends I had to part from for the last year...  But still...

The light switched on.  "Uhoh" is an understatement.

Leaving places and people of EVERY age that you love - especially a place where everything in your life changed forever - is just...  It's serious and it's going to hurt.  It's like heartstrings in every area are going to be seriously yanked.  I see it now.

Stanborough Park Church in Watford, England - I love you all so much!!!!!!!!!!!

I came here to be a student missionary, but God used this place on me and turned the tables...  There is no place like Stanborough Park Church, there never will be, and there is a guarded and special place in my heart for ONLY Stanborough Park Church.

Words fail me.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Slow Burn...

There once was a low.
Then there was a high.
Now there is a slow burn.

To my readers in the UK, proceed with caution, because talk of leaving for home is involved in this blog.

You know, I always saw student missionaries in a cookie-cutter way, no offense.  They seemed to go off to serve like they were the pick of the spiritual litter and then returned home even more amazing, ready to blaze some more trails.  Any drama that didn't have to do with the stereotypical mission field had a tight lid on it, because it always seemed that life's mess got put on hold so the only struggles they'd have would be in their new posting.  The whole thing looked so clean cut.  Sure, it changes you, but there's an orientation class to prep you and a re-entry retreat to prep you some more.  Case closed.


Thanks to life experience, which never waits - let alone for when you're ready - I'll bet every student missionary who's ever left home was grateful for their orientation class but still felt scared to death and not ready to leave home as they numbly went through the airport red tape.  I'll bet every student missionary had at least one or two either unresolved or ongoing situations back home when they left.

You see... I wonder if I'm a bad student missionary for being thrilled out of my mind to return to my beloved Berrien Springs on May 21, 2011.  Because I hear that "the awesome ones" didn't want to leave when it was time to go.

Do NOT get me wrong.

I don't even want to say that I'm leaving a piece of my heart in England.  That doesn't do the past 9 months justice.  A piece?  Just a piece?  Are you kidding?  "Well how about half?"  Oh pleeeeeeease, let's not get anatomical and mathematical.  Metaphors can get a person into so much trouble...  Too bad they're so handy so often...

They did tell us beforehand that where we were headed for 9 months would become a part of us.  But that still sounds so clinical...

Something torn takes longer to heal than something cut or broken.  It's not something easy to analyze.  You just have to give it lots of TLC, do whatever else you can & pray.  As it heals, start rehabilitating what got torn.

My junior year at Andrews University (2009-2010) ended and many beloved, true friends left.  Tear.
I stayed in Berrien Springs - my hometown.  Problem is, I couldn't "go home" in my hometown now that school was over, because my parents have moved to California.  But I stayed there 'til the end of June to be with the friends who lived there and hadn't left.  I sang in the choir at GC and was temporarily reunited with some friends I'd shared goodbyes with 2 months prior.  And we said goodbye again.  Tear.

Then came time to leave my two best friends (Kayleen & Christie), close family friends, mentors - and overall the most familiar geography I'd ever known - to go to "my house" in California.  Tear.

My time in California was only a lonely stepping stone before completely leaving the country.  Lonely because while I love my parents and soaked up the quality time with them, you can't help but struggle with loss when you go from a year full of friends all around you to not being able to see or touch any of them, though I was grateful to still talk on the phone with a few of them.  And there was the undertow of burnout; being free of class pressures but not knowing how to still my soul, since my restlessness wasn't a physical problem, though it certainly affected me that way.  I could not have worked a job very well during that time, (though I couldn't get one anyway) but I was going nuts feeling I had nothing to do except pack when my visa came through...  Asleep or awake, bad mood or fair, I always had a feeling - right behind my temples - that everything I thought I knew was falling apart and any control I'd ever had was slipping through my fingers though I was trying to cup them together...  That was a bad slow burn.

Then my visa came through, I got everything packed (which meant transporting all my stuff to the living room + my 4 suitcases [I'm determined to go home with only 3] and sleeping on the couch 'til the deed was done; I watched nearly every film in the house, packing to leave took so long), almost threw up on the way to the airport and after taking "send-off" pictures with my parents, I made myself put one foot in front of the other through security & customs.  My face felt so hot...  Maybe all the blood rushing to the area because of all the self-control I was calling on...  I waited for the flight to board, eventually got on the airplane and FINALLY it left ground.  Tear.

I don't recall feeling torn about adjusting here.  I felt like part of me could finally collapse, though that was not something to be showy about.  Being a student missionary calls on every energy reserve you've got, but it's not about you - it's about the menagerie of people you're serving.  A menagerie is certainly what I got, since my post was a church.  Apparently, my main title is youth worker, but heavens I didn't feel that way at first.  There's a club for most age groups in the lifespan (neatly bookended by Toddler Club and Senior Club), a committee for most of the clubs, Main Service for traditional Sabbath worship and Parallel for alternative Sabbath worship - Parallel is a reclamation ministry.  Sara and I have been involved in the committees, the clubs and the clean-up.

You get quite the inside look at a church when you don't just work in one but you live there, too.  As student missionaries, while we're encouraged and reminded by some personalities to take care of ourselves, other more intense types are worried about appearances because of the judgments people make from the outside and the internal results that follow.  We're instructed to make sure our tanks get refilled with fuel, except that we're human beings dealing with other human beings who all have mismatched clocks, clashing schedules and emotional needs, which sometimes seem like land mines.

On the flip side, it's working with PEOPLE that makes this all work.  I believe we can each find at least one thing lovable about someone we don't know or don't get along with very well.  And as you work with people whom you know even better and have a better mesh with, the lovable traits rack up.  When you live to see what's lovable about a person - not just what drives you crazy or makes you furious - like this, it then makes those you know you love such a pleasure...!

There's been a LOT to love about Watford and the people I've lived & worked with here at Stanborough Park Church SINCE MY FIRST DAY HERE.

I started to fall in love with this place and its people in October.  I don't remember the date but I remember it was a Tuesday night when we were cleaning up in the kitchen after Pastor Boyle's Tuesday Talk.  I like it that I can't remember every single detail.  It makes the one thing I vividly remember more magical.  The one thing was that someone made me laugh (not the first time), but a scale got tipped somewhere inside and more laughter started to come - I bent in half and came back up still laughing.  I was no longer laughing just at the joke - I was laughing for the feeling of joy bubbling up inside of me again.  Not all laughter is the same...  Something began to change for me that night.  That is one memory that did not get lost in the rush.  Afterwards I started loosening up, hugs and conversation once more seemed natural to me a little at a time.  I wondered what had been my problem for so long...

And now I'm leaving in 3 weeks.

While I've been content to let life at Andrews University continue without me and to know the dramas through Facebook, I never didn't miss my people from back home and I never didn't wish I could be there for both their struggles and shining moments, of which there's been a lot this year...

I'll get to see them again soon in a slow trickle through the summer and then BOOM school starts at the end of August - woohoo!  I'm ready to face classes again at last.  But while I'm biting the bit to return to what's familiar, I know it will never be the same as it was.  It's one thing to hear about the drama through the internet, but it's another thing to return and BE in the effects of said drama.  Tear.

When I leave here, the lives of more people I love and the events of a place I don't yet know how badly I'll miss (it WILL be badly) will be going on without me and once more, Facebook/Skype will be all I've got to stay in touch and share love with.  Tear.

And then Sabbath morning (April 30) I received an email letting me know my Grammie - who has been on hospice since February - is likely to pass away in the next 2 weeks.  Max.  Mom and I set a time for me to get on skype so I could say, "I love you," but for a yet-unexplained reason, that fell through and I still haven't seen her since I got the news.  Tear.  Promise of a future tear.

Right now is another slow burn, but unlike last summer, I don't feel lonely, mistrustful or miserable.  I think I feel right now what Paul wrote about:

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair..."
2 Corinthians 4:8.

I feel perfectly capable about my responsibilities.  When I do them, these days, they seem to fly right past me.  Yet life is not easy.  But life isn't horrible at all.  Right now, life feels 6-7 months pregnant with mysteries that will later be solved and promises I know will come true but aren't true yet.  Life feels like a heavy backpack, but I know there's nothing in there I don't need, so I don't mind the weight.  I'm surrounded by people who love me and I'm returning home to more people who love me and who are anxious to see me.

Word has gotten around here that I'm leaving soon (not everyone has Facebook) and nearly everyone has commented on how I must be feeling mixed emotions.

Mixed emotions?

Understatement of the year.

I can only really call it a slow burn.
It's a good burn, but a slow one all the same, and I'm feeling all of it.

It fills me with gratitude for all that's been.
And it pours in a hunger to spend lingering evenings saying goodbye to people but without the pressure of me actually leaving the day after.
You know those memories that feel like a little piece of heaven...
You just forget the world for awhile and enjoy each other...

This slow burn makes me cry with relief when I think of going home soon.
And as I cry, a warm feeling spreads over at the thought that reunion is coming very soon.
Reunion with the people and the places that I just KNOW a part of me somehow feared I'd never see again, since I'd never left them that way before...


ALL OF THIS makes me think how unspeakably wonderful it will be to go to heaven someday.  We'll all have each other.  No more goodbyes, no more pain, tears, slow burns or distance.  No more "it's complicated," no more danger or risk...  We'll get to enjoy adventure and know we're safe at the same time.  We can rest without shame, because the spirit of frantic busyness has been sent to the abyss.  We can shriek and sing for joy and revel in what and who we love - all without shame or worry of how it'll affect one another, because in heaven, all will be as it should be.  As it was meant to be.  As it will always be at last.


Coming down from those glorious thoughts - which are sometimes just heartbreaking on earth - I'm not in pain.  I feel it on the fringes sometimes, I know there'll be crying to do and growing pains and all that, but God has done a new saving work in my hear this year.  I'm still a bit tender from some parts of the process, but the dragon scales are gone.  A whole big "new leaf" adventure is ahead of me!  I'm excited about it :-)  God has definitely been a shepherd to me this year.  I've been silly and stupid plenty of times.  I've needed a lot of leading.  I'm grateful He gave me the grace to see my errors so I could try to make it right with people here in England I messed up with and others who aren't in England.  I think God has been able to use me this year, because I've been stunned and humbled by how people have responded to my service performance - particularly on certain occasions when I felt very out of shape to do my job.  To God be the glory for my successes and second chances.  And soon I'll be flying home.

Until then, bring on this slow burn!  I know I'll never have these 3 weeks back again...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

News Flash! :D

Your year of service will strip away all your masks and false selves AT LEAST between you & God, AT MAX for everyone to see.  Yes you'll go back home changed, but some will return home feeling reborn.

Service is against sinful nature.  A year of it will lay open who you really have been all this time.  Your familiar atmosphere that is SO MUCH of your identity's push & pull is GONE.  You have to show 'em what you got, because it's ALL you got when you leave home.  For all of us, it's not a pretty sight at first and for some, their fear of such nakedness makes the necessary stripping almost traumatic at heart.  It's unnecessarily so, but they'd spent so long in bondage to lies rather than believing in the life God has to impart.  Terror vs. trust...  Oh the tyranny we choose to live in sometimes because of the fear of risk.

The beginning of this process is like when a medicine does exactly what it's supposed to: there's a notable reaction.  And as is the case with much medicine, it's a highly unpleasant experience initially.  It's the pain of healing from something that's recently been done to save your life.  Like a surgical scar, and the more invasive or messy the operation was, the more painful the healing.  But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, because it's the pain of HEALING.  We get distracted by the word "pain."

I think God gets us to give a year of service not just because of the effect we'll bring about but also for our own salvation that we're too blind to see we desperately need, since our self-reliant efforts and reinforcing environments make us think we've either got it made or that we're doing okay.

By God's grace, I pray that you'll be able to experience what I've been blessed to recently come into: I don't care about being right or clinging to pride.  I'm over the humiliation of being humbled and I wish I could stay in this valley of humility where it isn't so world-ending to find out you're wrong, where being shown your mistakes can be rejoiced over because your desire for God's truth & love is so strong in comparison to anything else that the burn of confession, repentance and asking for forgiveness is eclipsed by God's grace and presence.  I know what I'm feeling now is God's grace.  It's not a plateau of my own, not a formula I've worked out.  It's a gift, so while I'm living this gift, hear my praise!


This year I've been very weak at times.  No, not like I've felt weak - I mean I made poor choices in my job here and in my life.  In this year of service, I've felt the least spiritual and the temptation of the secular has never felt so strong and seductive even while I knew it would be my soul's swan song.  There have been times this year when I felt incredibly alone.  Mostly alone.

And I don't think God's ever been closer to me...!

Like when you can only see one set of footprints in the sand, you complain and then God explains, "That was when I was carrying you."


I think being a student missionary should, can, and will take you to the end of yourself.  Everything that can be will be shaken.  And if you'll let your walls fall to the ground - so your need of God isn't just an awareness you procrastinate on - healing can begin.

We're so used to being the walking wounded.  Our deep desires scare us; we're so used to the shallows and the clutter that keeps it from feeling like a swim at all...  Imagine what life being healed by God's grace, mercy & love could be!!  Most definitely it would be more abundant!!  But it seems too good to be true...  No, beloved.  Could anyone be more generous than God?  It seems risky, wrong, or both to try trusting in a way that feels like spiritual hedonism, but I invite you - if you know while reading my story is yours too - to embrace what may feel like painful physical therapy at first, but the more you recuperate, the closer you are to re-entering TRUE life again!  Maybe for the first, spine-tingling time :-)

There's a lot about my future that I don't have control over.
There's a lot about my future that I can't predict or plan for.

But right now, I'm living God's gift of grace that's helping me see again and get my muscles back.  I'm getting my heart back at least between me & God, though who knows what's in my personal future.  I have more joy each day.  It's not like a drug, but like a currency from plugging into God deliberately after awhile even though I didn't feel like trying at first.

God's goodness is bigger than pain or pleasure; it pervades both... I read something like that earlier today.  But if life keeps having these cycles of storm vs. springtime & summer, then why open my heart for God to do His thing if a storm is inevitable in my future?

I've got 2 answers - one of heart & one of logic (since the heart has reasons that reason knows not of):

1. Logically, each storm God has brought me through meant many LESS opportunities for storms in the future because of how He helped me grow, taught me & sustained me.  Storms are part of the journey home.  Each storm is different and harder than the one before, but that's because Satan has to fight dirtier to figure out how to hit you where it hurts because God keeps making His children stronger for the REAL fight of our lives right before He comes again.

2. Here's the answer logic would cynically sneer at:

When love and life and healing are being poured back into your heart a little more each day in ways that make you feel your most recent hell hole was nothing, in ways that make you not care about the upcoming storm, why wouldn't you bathe in it while it's there?  Drink it in!  Nothing made by the hands of man can do that.  No human hands can make you feel that much out of this world.  It's something only God can do.

Since these moments are God giving us more than the bread crumbs that puppies snap at, the least we can do is have that puppy mentality and gladly, heartily watch for what falls to us and grab it!  God smiles when we do this.  He didn't create us to be His robots or puppets.  He created us for life, love & joy.  So I invite you to pray that God reveals His heart to yours.  It's a less practical and more personal prayer, but if you mean it and keep it up, not only will you not be sorry, not only will the soreness go away, but you'll one day soar again.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Mission of Loving

Oh the bliss...

Right now we're experiencing a 2-week Easter Holiday, so while it's next week that my personal holiday from SM life begins, this week has been incredibly light, praise God.  This Sabbath is the Messy Church (Easter Theme) that I volunteered to coordinate, but with the help of more experienced women, it hasn't been as scary as I thought it would be.

I don't have all the pieces put together yet, and there's so much that my godless perfectionism could pick a fight with about life, but I feel God leading me out of my black hole and it makes me SO HAPPY.  This isn't a pendulum swing, but like a springtime walk.  Slow but beautiful and ... not too slow, for the record.  This morning I read a quote from Oswald Chambers I thought was wonderful:

"'Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost' - not power as a gift from the Holy Ghost; the power IS the Holy Ghost, not something which He imparts." (My Utmost For His Highest, April 12)

I've learned these last 2 years more than ever how risky it is to hand me a "full cup" as Ellen White calls it. I'm glad that God doesn't just hand us power in all its potency - that He never leaves us and never ceases to be our tenderly teaching & loving Abba.

You know something else that's nice?  Like really nice?
The English spring is blooming here at Stanborough.  The trees are getting leafy and some of them have white & pink blossoms.  We also have lots more sunshine than we've ever had.  The weather isn't consistently warm yet, but it all produces the lovely heartache that we love about spring after so much winter...  There's a calm smile inside of me these days.  And it's there most of the time.  Like God's giving me a gift and patiently teaching me how to take care of this gift, since what I'm best at is pendulum swings - oh the glorious highs and the dastardly falls...  But this is different.

Francesca Battistelli - awesome Christian artist - sings this song called "Worth It" and it's about love.
There's a line of it that goes like this:

"Love can steal your pride
But love won't let you hide
It takes everything you've got
Love's not easy
But it's worth it."

It's bondage to cling to pride.  Sometimes you have far more peace in the risk of trust & vulnerability than you ever EVER will in hiding & licking your wounds in silence.  Humility after so much pride & "toughness" is initially uncomfortable, but afterwards it feels so nice to just let go and let God's correcting love come in.  He also comforts and counsels...

Here's the link for the whole song:

I thought I'd share this poem I wrote almost a year ago.  It was a gift to newlyweds, but there's so much in it that isn't exclusive to marriage that I'm taking the suggestion of a friend and posting it here on my SM blog.  I hope you're blessed by it.  It's inspired - I could never have written it on my own with my cloudy brain by itself...  I think that if you ask God to help you re-interpret parts of it, it fits being a student missionary - it fits BEING A CHRISTIAN - like a glove...


To marry is to meet, mesh and meld together
Two separate beings becoming a new one
To marry is to embark on the best and worst of times
The worst for the work and war of loving each other uphill
The best for the blessing of your beloved being finally, completely yours.

We live in a world at war against love
But we are a people made in Love’s image
We were made for the mission of loving:
God first, His people next…

For the greatest commandment, and the second one like it,
Were molded to make the Great Commission:
Showing Jesus to others:

For to know Jesus is to love Him
And to love the Lord Our God
Is to be turned over and over
Back to your beloved
With a heart made new to love another day.

Love is not a feeling
But it is something you can feel
Love is a choice; God’s very character to cultivate
It’s a choice you’ll often have to make
Despite the road your sense would have you take.

There’s a surplus of the world’s view on love
So, here is the eternal supply of God’s Truth on love:
Patience over haste
Kindness over callous
Being sincere and hating evil
Clinging to good and keep up your spiritual zeal
Sharing with the needy
Practicing hospitality
Rejoicing with who is joyful
Mourning with who is mourning
Living at peace with – not in power over – others
As far as it depends on you.

Perseverance in the opportunity of opposition
Because failure isn’t the falling
It’s the choice to not return.
Don’t take revenge; vengeance is God’s
He will repay the measure of abuse
Do not ever pass it on.
Forgive and keep no record of wrongs
Difficult?  Yes.
But better to climb to life
Rather than to slide to death…
Don’t delight in evil – not even at a distance.
Always protect each other
Always choose to trust each other
Always hope against hell’s say
Always persevere.
If you do all of these things,
You cannot lose, for love never fails
And this great summation
Is what it means to love.

God Himself loves you both like this
And His love is everlasting, captivating…
His love is who He is.
It is safe in His arms,
So trust in the LORD
Don’t lean on your own understanding
But forever consult the One
With your whole horizon encompassed in His gaze.
If in doubt, wait on Him.
If in pain, be still and know both that and who He IS.

If you put God at the center of your union
As your cornerstone and lodestar
The closer you grow to God
The closer you’ll grow into each other.

The more white space you give Him
The more of His image can be painted
The more of Your love story He can write
It’s His love abounding from you both…
Binding you together.

Saying “I do” was just the beginning
Your courtship was the easy prologue
For marriage is fabulously hard.
The real adventure has just begun!
And now Christ is sitting in Your married hearts
Waiting for choices to paint his portrait
With the colors of the fruit of His Spirit.

More white space means more story
And more story means more opportunity
To receive and redistribute His gifts
For a good thing kept covered inside
Soon becomes rank and bitter
So receive God’s love
And keep giving it to one another
Then share it to others to return it to God
For whatever you do to the least of these
God counts it as done unto Jesus.

The more you practice love
The more loving you will become
The more like Jesus as you keep becoming one
God’s glorious, beautiful genius be praised!
For the more like Jesus you become
The more you resemble who He made you to be
You become who you really are…
Never alone, but together!

For the blessing of God on your marriage
Remember and revisit the Beatitudes
For the sermon Jesus preached on a mountain
Is the map for the steps of your journey in marriage.

Blessed are the poor in spirit
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit know their lack
They are unashamed to ask and to beckon.
By maintaining this mutually sweet spirit of poverty
You’ll always both beckon and be there for each other.
Remember that the kingdom of heaven
Was once compared to a mustard seed:
Though starting small, it grows up huge
And provides shade against a future scorch.

Being poor in spirit is key to the others.

Being poor means you will mourn at times
But you are blessed by the promise of comfort.
Being poor means you must be meek
For you’ve nothing of your own to boast about
All good things come from the Father above
But you are blessed that your poverty is the vacancy
Into which you’ll inherit the earth.

Being poor in spirit means you hunger and thirst
But you are blessed by the promise of sustenance. 

Being poor means you won’t hoard mercy, hence your poverty
It was heralded and returned back to Jesus
So you are blessed by mercy continuously cycled back to you.

Being poor makes you pure in heart, not puffed up or packed tight.
There’s no clutter keeping the eyes of your heart
From the blessing of seeing who God IS.

Being poor makes you a peacemaker, not a power-seeker.
You have no possessions to want power to protect,
For your treasures are stored in heaven.
Making peace takes steps to Christ;
You are blessed and known as God’s own.

Being poor means you’ll be persecuted
For the righteousness God gifted you.
Persecuted because you chose to not grab power
Through earth’s gritty riches.

Being poor makes you easy to persecute:
You have no high walls against ridicule from the world
But you are blessed, for being poor in spirit
Is the fruit of belief in God,
Which makes perishing impossible!
Instead, the kingdom of heaven – eternal life –
Knowing the heart of God is yours!

Outwardly you will age, wrinkle, and waste away
But inwardly you can be renewed day by day
In being poor in spirit, you will fix your eyes
On the unseen eternal, rather than the tactile temporal
And therefore you will not lose heart.

You just have to choose
Over and over.
And by doing this together,
So much the better!

You may be in love in a world at war
And the blows against you will likely be unfair
But with God, you freely have the LOVE
The one thing that is never stagnant, but ever steadfast
The one thing that makes all things new:
The one thing unlike all else…
The only thing that never fails.

May God bless you both
As you build a home and haven
Of faith, hope, and love,
While remembering: the greatest of these is love.