Thursday, July 31, 2014

on new beginnings

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

-Isaiah 61:1-4

When I decided to become a teacher, I knew that I wanted to affect change in children's lives for years to come. Growing up, I greatly admired a number of my teachers and was so changed by their presence. I loved school, a nerd to the core, I wanted to do my best and please them. Books were some of my greatest friends (and still are), and on my third grade timeline project, I decided that I wanted to be a mom, a teacher, and an actress. Since teaching is pretty much a big show  a lot like acting, I'd say two out of three by age 26 isn't half bad.

In the last eleven years, I have had the privilege of working with various demographics in myriad settings- camp, preschool, Mother's Morning Out, Sunday school, private and public elementary schools. The Lord always places the exact kids in my care that I need to get to know for the time we have together. While I have worked with some challenging children and some wonderful little angels, I have loved the experiences the Lord has given me through the years.

One of my biggest challenges was as the Broadacres Children's Ministry Coordinator during my sophomore and junior years at UGA. Each Tuesday afternoon, a group of college students headed to the Broadacres government housing neighborhood here in Athens to love on some kids who just needed a friend. These kids were unlike any with whom I had worked with before. Their home lives were the polar opposite of my privileged East Cobb suburban upbringing. But I loved them. Oh, how I loved them. And when I left Athens in 2010, I knew I would miss them deeply.

Goofing off at Broadacres around 2009.

Free Cone Day at Ben and Jerry's!

Fast forward to spring of 2012. I received a job offer from Timothy Road Elementary while finishing my time in Chihuahua, Mexico at Colegio Binimea. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. I student taught at Timothy Road and thought I pretty well understood the demands placed on a classroom teacher. That thought was corrected on day one. In fact, it was probably corrected in pre-planning. I was in way over my head and knew that the only way my kids were going to learn anything was by the power of God Himself.

Kiddos ready for Winshape Camps for Communities, summer 2009.

Since my time with the kids at Broadacres, my heart has always been for the inner city kiddos. Those who need someone to invest in them and tell them that their story can be different. The kids who need people standing beside them and cheering them on in every day matters. They need people who show and stay. Just a few weeks ago, I saw one of our girls in Kroger, and she told me that she was going to college in the fall at Kennesaw State University. To say that I am proud would be an understatement. The graduation rate for Athens, while improving, still leaves much to be desired.

Business as usual with these kiddos.

So, my friends, imagine my excitement when the Lord drops a private Christian school for inner city kiddos in downtown Athens. Excitement doesn't even scratch the surface. Downtown Ministries is a well established ministry in Athens that decided to take it up a notch by starting a school. Because why not? Why not go the extra mile and transform a community for the Kingdom? Why. not?

I am so honored and grateful to be able to say that I am now a part of the Downtown Ministries family. This year, I will be teaching second grade at Downtown Academy. It is an immense honor and joy to be a part of what God does. I count it a privilege and cannot wait to share stories of His indelible grace through it all. It's all about Him anyways.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

on intentionality

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It is so easy to compare-to rob ourselves of the intrinsic joy that comes from knowing we are exactly where we are for a specific purpose. Our God does nothing on accident. In fact, everything He does is on purpose. He created us and placed us in our families and cities with a clear vision in mind. Psalm 139:15-16 says

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, in the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. 

We can try to reason our way through life, thinking about things and analyzing them to the nth degree. Or we can say thank you to the One who created us and gave us life. This morning, a man came to spray our house for ants. (I know, ew.) As he walked through the house, we made small talk, and he asked if my roommates and I were in school. I told him about all of our professions, and when I told him that I teach at Downtown Academy, he asked about the school. We began to talk about the education system and the need for kids to learn morals and how to treat others even more so than the need for academics. Together we discussed the brokenness of our education system, and he asked me if I was a Christian. For the next twenty minutes, we talked about God's grace, and he shared with me his story of how the Lord rescued him. He explained to me how he works with several young men of Athens that he and his son play basketball with, and when asked about his life, he always points them to Christ, saying that his whole life is because of Christ. 

It is in moments like these that I am so grateful for God's sovereignty. On a typical summer morning, He brought this man to me to remind me of the importance of just giving glory to Him in all things at all times. God can use absolutely anyone for His glory. We are apt to think that if we are not a "professional Christian," such as a minister or preacher, our lives somehow count for less in the kingdom. But God will and can use anyone who is willing to be a bearer of light. And for that, I am oh so grateful.

God is building a movement-one of ordinary people, like you and me, who are starting right where we are to confront the injustice in our world...It is indeed incredible that God choose to accomplish the miraculous through the ordinary. Let's continue to charge the darkness-to take one step at a time, as we follow His holy and good call to us: Seek Justice.
-Gary Haugan, founder of International Justice Mission, for She Reads Truth

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday ten: Good Eats

Oh me, oh my. I sure do love to eat. It's really no secret if you know me well at all. I'm a five small meals a day kind of girl. Breakfast-snack-lunch-snack-dinner. And then sometimes another snack. :) Athens has some amazing local restaurants. One of the things I wanted to do this summer was try at least three new Athens restaurants. I was able to get to a few restaurants I hadn't yet visited, but after living here for six years, there are still so many places I'd love to try. If you're a local, be sure to check these out and offer any recommendations!

1. Two Story Coffeehouse
-No, I don't even drink coffee. But I love this place. It opened while I was still in school, and it quickly became my favorite spot in all of Athens for studying, reading, and meeting with friends for some good conversation. Love this place.

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2. Cali-N-Tito's
-Cuban deliciousness. BYOB. Great outdoor atmosphere. Mexican Cokes. What's not to love?

3. Mama's Boy
- I absolutely love taking people here when they come into town. It is by far one of the busiest spots in all of Athens on a Saturday morning, especially during the school year when students are in town. However, the wait is always worth it, as they have the most delicious Southern yumminess.

Breakfast with my mama at Mama's Boy. :)
Favorite breakfast at Mama's Boy.

Breakfast at The Grit.
4. The Grit
-While this is a vegetarian restaurant, they serve some throw down food. And they have Cecilia's cakes! Super yum.

5. Ike and Jane
- This one is a new favorite for me. The restaurant itself is super cute and is in Normaltown, an area of Athens that I don't know as well but would like to continue to discover. They only serve breakfast and lunch, and I love their creative donut flavor pairings.

6. Taqueria del Sol
- Cheap. Delicious. Mexican. I don't think I really need to say much else. Probably my favorite guacamole in all of Athens.

7. Marti's at Midday
-This restaurant is another Athens favorite. Their hours are a little tricky, as they only serve breakfast and lunch, and they are not open on weekends. It makes it a little difficult for a teacher to get over there. But. The food is the bomb. Their Big Salad was enough to last me for three meals.

With the sweet Johnson sisters. :)
8. Last Resort Grill
-No list of Athens restaurants is complete without this crowd favorite. This restaurant is known for being savory and scrumptious during all three meal times. I've enjoyed brunch, lunch, and dinner there, and I highly recommend it to all friends. It's a nicer restaurant that won't bust the wallet, but it is a nice change for when you want to get all dressed up and enjoy a good meal with friends.

9. Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods
-Another Athens staple, this restaurant has been featured on ESPN's "Todd's Taste of the Town" and HGTV's Front Door. For those who love some fried chicken, mac and cheese, and green beans with cornbread, you've found your spot.



10. The Grill
-A 24-hour restaurant in downtown Athens, this spot is perfect for a game-day meal or for satisfying a late night craving for their famous feta fries. Heart attack on a plate, and you can wash it down with a milkshake if you're feeling daring. :)

Did you catch a pattern here? It seems as though I love Mexican food and breakfast. :) What are some of your favorite restaurants around town?

Monday, July 28, 2014

grace upon grace



The Lord has been showing me just how good He is in the simplest of ways, so it was wonderful that I stumbled upon this fun link-up through She Who Fears. Here's a few ways I've seen Him in my life lately.

1. I have been blessed with some amazing mentors and sweet families who have been so kind to me through the years. Last week I was able to spend time with two of my favorite families and enjoy a home-cooked meal as well as some good conversation.

2. This weekend, my sister came into town on a little impromptu visit. We were able to go spend the day with my roommate at her family's more than 100-year-old home in Elberton. It was wonderful to just enjoy simple things like garden-grown tomatoes and reruns of 7th Heaven. :)

3. Last night, I enjoyed two hours of laughter at a Tim Hawkins show with a group of friends. We laughed and laughed. Here's one of my favorite Tim Hawkins songs for those of you who haven't enjoyed his hilarity.

4.  My friend Judit and her husband Ray will be coming to Jefferson, Georgia today to visit with her brother and sister-in-law. Judit was one of my best friends in Mexico, and she will be coming with her six-month-old daughter (who I have yet to meet) and I could not be more excited! :)

5. My pastor's message yesterday was just so good. Learning about how to pray and ask Him to show me more of Himself instead of just what to do next. Good stuff.

What are some little (or big) ways you've seen His grace lately?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

on plans

I'm convinced more and more that I should just never make plans. Or at least when I do make plans, I need to write in pencil. Because it seems as though my plans almost never match the reality of what God executes in my life. Or there are some pretty major differences. But you know what? It's ok. It's more than ok, because His ways are higher than mine, and He knows what He's doing. After all, He's got the whole world in His hands. I think He can handle my little life. And the best part is, His plans, no matter how similar or different than mine, are always better. Always. 




"Everything is interim. Everything is a path or a preparation for the next thing, and we never know what the next thing is. Life is like that, of course, twisty and surprising. But life with God is like that exponentially. We can dig in, make plans, write in stone, pretend we're not listening, but the voice of God has a way of being heard. It seeps in like smoke or vapor even when we've barred the door against any last-minute changes, and it moves us to different countries and different emotional territories and different ways of living. It keeps us moving and dancing and watching, and never lets us drop down into a life set on cruise control or a life ruled by remote control. Life with God is a daring dream, full of flashes and last-minute exits and generally all the things we've said we'll never do. And with the surprises comes great hope."
Shauna NiequistCold Tangerines





Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Favorites

Who can believe that it is already Friday again? This is my last Friday of freedom, as next week I will be sitting in pre-planning with my new friends and coworkers at Downtown Academy. Where did the summer go? Here's what I've been enjoying this week.

Inspiration

#SheReadsTruth Justice Bible study
Y'all. This is so good. I've loved learning about the justice and mercy of our God and how He uses both to draw us unto Himself that we may draw others unto Him.



About Time soundtrack
Love love love this movie, and the soundtrack is so good. Perfect music to listen to while reading, writing, relaxing, etc.





Creation

The Daily 5 Literacy Curriculum 
Funfetti Cake Cheese Ball 
Greek Marinated Chicken
Creamy Kale and Pistachio Pesto

Imagination

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Today is Christmas in July, so obviously I'm in my pajamas watching The Family Stone. Merry Christmas!



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

on grief

This summer has been a whirlwind of travel and adventure, and I am oh so grateful. I would not change any of it for the world. One thing, or person, rather, that I wish I could share all of these adventures with is my grandmother. I hate the fact that she's no longer here with us. While I am so glad that she is no longer in pain, I hate that she isn't here with us. For years, we lost her slowly to a cruel disease. Dementia sucks. And so does cancer.

The thing about grief is that it comes in waves. One minute you're dancing in the kitchen and singing along to your favorite song, the next, your heart is so heavy that it physically hurts. Images of the person you lost flood your mind as you try to remember just what it was you were thinking of before that memory came. Death is cruel. It is not what we were created for. And so it is hard on us when it comes. It has no mercy, and it comes swiftly.

My grandmother loved to travel. She lived a life of adventure and made the most of her time here. I so wish I had taken more time to listen to her stories. To learn from a woman who had traveled the world and seen so many places and people. But for now, I just keep on adventuring on my own, carrying her spirit with me, waiting for the day we will see each other again and laugh and talk about these adventures together as we marvel at the greatness of our God.

Mr. and Mrs. William McMorris, my maternal grandparents

You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you will never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly-- that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. 
-Anne Lamott

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday ten: summer reading list

A couple months ago, I made a list of summer goals. One of those goals was to read five books. Well, friends, I have read almost twice that! This week's Tuesday ten is a list of the books I've read so far this summer. Let me know if you've read any of them or have suggestions for a few I should try to squeeze in before school begins!



1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

2. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

3. Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith Is No Longer Enough by Kristen Welch

4. Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey

5. Forever With You (Christy & Todd, The Married Years) by Robin Jones Gunn

6. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

7. Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

9. Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth
(currently reading)

10. True Identity: Do You Know WHO and WHOSE You Really Are? by Jennifer Brommet
(what's up next)

Monday, July 21, 2014

on becoming the student

There's this feeling I cannot shake since returning from Kenya. The feeling that life here has to be different based on all that I have seen and experienced this summer. That understanding that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. That knowledge that God does not orchestrate big life events without a specific purpose in mind. And so with all my might I'm leaning in, pressing hard into Him and asking Him to help me know how to not waste these experiences. 

Fear is something that paralyzes. It can draw us in and make us slaves to the lies of the enemy. We can mask it by saying that we are concerned about something or just really trying to think about all aspects of a decision before saying yes or no, but the fact is that fear is fear. We have to call it like we see it and know the truth of God's word well enough to be able to stand on it when we are bombarded by lies from every other direction. And that discipline is hard. To walk in truth when we have believed lies for so long is incredibly difficult. 



Elissa and our wonderful friend, Samuel, who works at Camp Chemi Chemi.

James, the groundsman at Camp Chemi Chemi, and his beautiful daughter. 

All that I knew of Africa before I traveled there was rooted in the media, various blogs I follow, and books I have read. None of what I knew of Africa was from firsthand experience, because I did not have the opportunity to meet the beautiful people who dwell within a country just brimming with hope in the midst of immense pain and need. 

Jennifer and I were talking one night in our tent about the way we each responded when we got the call to come to Kenya four days before the trip. We both had similar reactions-shock and bewilderment, and then just a complete sense of calm and joy at the prospect of such a wonderful opportunity. You see, friends, life with God is an adventure. So going to Kenya (and Uganda for that matter, since I had several months to prepare) was not some huge sacrifice. God orchestrated every little detail and made a way because He knew about the whole journey before the beginning of time. In fact, His word says that He planned these good works for me in order that I should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

So how does a teacher become the student, you ask? By listening. By not talking and feeling like everything I have to say is the right way to do it. By asking the Lord to reveal areas of my heart where I have not allowed Him to come in and take over. And while it is hard, it is so worth it. 

During our time in Kenya, we spent a weekend with some of the most precious children. These children live at Strong Tower Children's Home in Naivasha, Kenya. They are under the care of a most wonderful couple named Paul and Martha, who have literally taken thirty children off of the streets and given them a home. They have a place to live that is safe and full of grace. These children now go to school and are no longer addicted to glue or petrol. And they have been given opportunities they never would have been afforded without one couple's "yes" to God. 


Meet Charles, a leader among his brothers and sisters at Strong Tower, and a young man pursuing an education.

Children's love of the Rainbow Loom, much like a smile, is universal.

The enemy wants us to believe that we've got it good here in America. And trust me, friends, we do. We have much to be thankful for, and there are so many things we take for granted. But the enemy also wants us to think that our way is the best way. He wants us to believe that we 

Friends, the power of our "yes" cannot be underestimated. When we say one "yes" to Him, doors are opened and routes are created within our lives that we could never have imagined for ourselves. Lives, families, and communities are transformed. Because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And the truth sets people free. Freed people free others. And the cycle continues. Why wouldn't you want to be a part of that? What is holding you back from the "yes" that you need to say to God? 

When we stop pretending like we know everything and that we are self-sufficient, we find that our spiritual poverty may closely match the material poverty we have come to pity. But in Christ, we are made strong and rich, because the blood of Jesus transforms lives and changes us in ways we could never change ourselves. So let's do a little more leaning in and listening before speaking. We may find we have more to learn than we thought.

“I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred schoolchildren and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year old. And if one persons sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.” 
― Katie J. DavisKisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption


*All images from this post are from team members' shared photos.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Favorites

Since it's summertime and I have nothing to do much more freedom in my schedule, I have been able to voraciously read and follow my favorite blogs well. Here's a few of my favorites from this week:

Inspiration

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#StyleforJustice stories from Rwanda
Y'all, I have loved reading these stories. One amazing business and another amazing organization have come together in the name of empowerment and freedom, and since I just got back from Kenya, it has been wonderful to read the powerful stories they're weaving.

You Make Me Brave album by Bethel Music: I absolutely cannot get enough of this album. I've had it on repeat all week. Female vocalist driven. Powerful lyrics. Life giving. Anointed. All the feelings.

Creation

I've bookmarked quite a few yummy recipes and fun crafts to try as I've been perusing the web this week. Here's a few that I just can't wait to whip up:


Imagination

I've been praying and dreaming big this week; my wheels are turning constantly and I'm feeling all the feelings  as I try to process through all that I saw and experienced this summer. More on that as I sort through it all. For right now, I'm imagining and dreaming about my new classroom, too! :)

and just for fun...


I "literally" can't stop watching this video. As a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, I absolutely and wholeheartedly approve its message. :)



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

why today was my favorite




Today was one of those days where my agenda just consisted of "Ok. What now, Lord?" It began with a trip to the mechanic (boo). But even that was pleasant, because I thought I would have to pay around $100 and ended up paying $13.02. Thank you, Jesus. Since the time at the mechanic was only about twenty minutes, and I had anticipated it being at least an hour, I was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Enter 2 Story Coffeehouse, one of my favorite places in all of Athens. I sat on the porch and just had some good time writing and reading. I ran into a dear friend and was so very encouraged by that divine interruption. And from there, the day just got better and better. Lunch with a couple friends. Meeting at Downtown Academy to see my classroom and catch up with my boss. A King of Pops popsicle to beat the heat. I'm trying my very hardest to hold on to the little bit of summer I have left, and this evening I've got a grateful heart. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

taking stock

Making | lots and lots of lists
Cooking |yumminess from the 1 bag/3 meals feature from my Rachael Ray Every Day magazine
Drinking |Kenyan tea :)
Reading |True Identity by Jennifer Brommet, my new ministry partner in crime :)
Wanting |more summer
Looking |at how to squeeze a $1.50 from $1 ;)
Playing |Jesus Culture Pandora station
Deciding |how to make the most of the rest of my summer
Wishing |I could be in two or three places at once
Enjoying |down time
Waiting |for school to start
Liking |not setting an alarm
Wondering |when the first day of school is
Loving |Weird Al's grammar-loving parody of "Blurred Lines"
Pondering |on how to love my neighbors (like the literal ones on my block)
Considering |buying a MacBook Pro (when I win the lottery)
Watching | Friday Night Lights
Hoping |for an amazing school year
Marveling |at God's goodness and faithfulness in my life
Needing |to stay near the vine
Smelling |my hand cream :)
Wearing |my dad's old Polo tee and pj shorts
Following |the Noonday Collection #StyleforJustice team in Rwanda
Noticing |glimpses of His grace
Knowing |that He is good
Thinking |about school and how busy I'm about to be
Admiring |my mom
Sorting |papers on papers on papers in my room
Buying |too many beauty products 
Getting |lots of rest
Bookmarking |blog posts 
Disliking |the end of summer
Opening |mail from my Compassion child in Uganda
Giggling |at funny texts from my best friends
Feeling |contented

Stole this from Our Yellow Door

Tuesday ten: African summer

So I guess you could call this the African summer. I know I sound like a broken record, but I am just so in awe of all that the Lord did in and through these safaris to Uganda and Kenya. It was a genuine joy and privilege to be a part of His work for His kingdom. I write these words and look at these pictures with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat as I think about God's faithfulness. Here are my top ten moments and memories from these amazing journeys.

1. In the course of ten days, I gained two brothers. Our team to Uganda was small and mighty, as my mom says. And now I have two brothers- one older and one younger- in Antonio and Robbie.

The boys and I with a special gift at one of the churches we visited.
2. I had the privilege of being able to travel with one of my dearest friends and see her come alive in a place she calls home. Elissa lived in Kenya for six months, and seeing her come home to Kenya this past week was such a blessing.

Elissa with Paul's daughter Olivia, her best friend. :)

3. In Uganda and Kenya, I made new friends and partners in ministry.

My new BFF Jennifer, founder of True Identity Ministries.


4. The beauty of Africa- the Nile River in Uganda, the bush villages, the Great Rift Valley and Lake Naivasha in Kenya- our God is an amazing creator.

Great Rift Valley

Mountains of Uganda
5. Elissa nominated me to share with a church fellowship on our last day, and I have now been deemed a preacher. I use the term loosely, but was so honored and humbled- it was a huge step of faith and obedience to me as I shared my story with my Kenyan brothers and sisters. More on that to come. :)

6. Through this summer, I discovered new passions. I absolutely loved working with the women in both Uganda and Kenya, and the Lord made it so clear to me that we all need the same message of His hope and grace in the midst of our darkness.

Thirty women set free by the truth of their True Identity in Christ

7. Simplicity- in Uganda I had the privilege of seeing the tidiest of huts, and in Kenya, we lived in tents for a week at camp. And it was good.

Children at a church in Uganda
8. God literally weaves together everything for His good beyond my understanding. It is not up to me to understand and know everything, but to simply say "yes" when He calls.

9. I learned about the faith of others and how God shows up in big ways by watching how Pastor George loves and shepherds so many in Uganda, while Paul and Martha are parents to thirty orphans at Strong Tower Children's Home.

With the children from Strong Tower after church on Sunday. Photo cred: Elissa Ewald

10. I have found joy and contentment in knowing that God has me right where I am for a purpose, and the people with whom I am surrounded are my village and those whom I need to love. The coolest part is that I also get to be a part of a bigger story in Africa. And I count that as a privilege, joy, and honor.

Monday, July 14, 2014

on people > projects

"Oh my goodness, you're going on a mission trip to ___________? What are you going to do? What's y'all's purpose over there?"

There is a stigma associated with short term mission trips. That stigma is based on goals of accomplishment and to-do lists, projects and work sessions. But the truth is that short term missions (and missions in general) must not ever be limited to construction and gardening projects. These things are good. Nothing is wrong with going to another country to help others with ventures that have been long forgotten. But this cannot be our only focus.

I've been going through a study on abiding this summer with thousands of other women using the Naptime Diaries Abide journal. It is no coincidence that the week before I left for Kenya (before I even knew I was going), the theme was to stay near the vine. In John 15, Jesus tells the disciples that He is the vine. When we stay near the vine, we know His heart. And His heart is for His children. The phrase "People > Project- every single time" is something I've been turning over in my mind for the last few weeks.

When we go to another country with the mindset that we are the Americans who have come to save the day and help the poor people who have no other means of helping themselves, we have lost sight of the real purpose for missions. The purpose for missions is to spread the light of Christ and meet people where they are. We go to see others' lives and learn from them. As mere humans, we cannot "bring God" anywhere. News flash: God is omnipresent. He is in all places at all times. For years, I have been a part of Mocha Club, a non-profit that is committed to several on the ground projects within Africa. After spending time in Africa this summer, this perfectly sums up my sentiments:



So what, if not projects, are short term mission trips for, you ask? People. As Christine Caine says, "What, if not people, is most important in this life?" We were created for God and for others. And when we travel to another place, taking in its sights, sounds, smells, and stories, we learn to walk alongside people in a way unlike our norm. While in both Uganda and Kenya, there were various things to do on the list. We had places to go and things that we wanted to get done. But at the end of the day, it came down to people. As one of my team members simply stated, "Everything is relational." 

When people ask about what I "did" in Uganda and Kenya, it is easy for me to come up tongue-tied and grasping for words. I didn't "do" much in the sense that the purpose for traveling there was not to get things done. We were able to help out around the grounds of Camp Chemi Chemi in Kenya, and through that, we learned just how special those gestures are. Planting grass, staining furniture, and moving garden plants seem like mundane manual labor tasks, but they mean so much to the people there who will forever remember us as they take care of the tasks we began. 

So what did I "do" in Kenya? I met some amazing people. I listened to some amazing stories. I made some new friends. I connected and worshiped with brothers and sisters in Christ. And my hope and prayer is that I will be able to return and continue to build upon those relationships. Because while an agenda with a neatly checked off to-do list feels good to the type A who needs some boxes to be filled in, Christ has people in mind. And His heart is that we connect with our fellow sojourners in the faith and find community in places where we least expected it. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

on surprises

It is absolutely insane to me that a couple weeks ago, I sat in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport awaiting a departure for a second Africa trip within one summer. I was in such a daze and cannot believe that God led me to this place. What is life?!

Imagine my surprise when my friend Elissa called me on a Thursday afternoon and asked if I would like to join her on a trip to Kenya that left on the following Monday. I was shocked, bewildered, taken aback-and yet I had complete peace, and I was so grateful for the opportunity. Elissa and I have known each other for years. We attended the same middle school, high school, and college. She is an amazing woman. We share so many of the same interests, but what has brought us closer together in the last few years is our love for Jesus and His people-near and far. She lived in Kenya for six months a year ago and worked with the Divine Providence Training Center at Camp Chemi Chemi, a pastoral school for Kenyan men and women.

While in Uganda, I had the privilege of meeting some amazing men and women. We visited with and encouraged several different village churches and beheld faces full of the joy of the Lord. And it was good. So good. The journey to Uganda was so clearly marked by the Lord, and even though I knew I was supposed to go, I wasn't sure why I went. On one of our last days in Gulu, the Lord gave me the opportunity to share with a group of women who call themselves the Daughters of Destiny. This group is comprised of adult women who are there to mentor and be mentored. As I sat and shared with these women what the Lord had given me to bring them that day-the importance of a woman of God knowing and understanding her identity in Christ- my heart burned within me. I knew that I had come to Uganda for that purpose.

Sunset in Uganda

After reluctantly leaving the women due to a tight schedule for that afternoon, I told Robbie, our trip leader, that we needed to chat. I wanted to come back to Uganda and do a retreat for these women. He was super excited, and I just began to pray and ask that God would show me how to plan through the next year, trusting that He would raise up the right people and resources for this dream.

When Elissa called me that afternoon as I wandered aimlessly around Target, contemplating how I was going to pay for another international trip, she shared with me the one fact that made me say yes. Upon my return from Uganda, Elissa was one of the first people I connected with. We sat down to lunch at The Fickle Pickle, and when I told her about my desire to return to Uganda, she told me all about her friend Jennifer, who is the founder and director of True Identity Ministries- a ministry dedicated to helping men and women find their identity in Christ. Jennifer has done several retreats in the United States and also in Kenya, and she, too, was going on this trip and would host a day for women at Camp Chemi Chemi. I knew I had to be a part of it.

Within hours, I reworked my budget, dipped into my savings, and received gifts from generous friends and family. I ordered more malaria medicine and packed my bags. I was going to Africa. Again. Life with the Lord is a great adventure. I've been called a nomad, Dora the Explorer, and have been given looks of disbelief as I recount to others the Lord's faithfulness in my life and the ways He has brought me to the places He has known about before the beginning of time. And I'm grateful. So very grateful. Within the coming days, I will share more about our experience in Kenya and what the Lord showed me there. Right now, I'm going to attempt to get over my jet lag and lay down for a nap. :)

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