Like a bucket scooping water

After working in ministry for a few years, and traveling to a few places, and generally just getting to know other humans, I have come to wonder with deep curiosity about how some people can survive so much death and still live.

I meet people who have endured unfathomable depths of grief and sorrow and devastation, and I just do not quite understand the true strength of the human resiliency. How can it be so? How can someone survive that, I wonder.


Sometimes, I meet a person and learn of their burdens and I just wish I could absorb all of it for them. I wish I could scoop it out of them, like a bucket scooping water, until there was only a little left – only just enough for them to bear more easily.

Do you think this is how God feels? I suppose this is what he does, actually.

 

those 24 things

It’s that time of year again when I revisit my list of goals that I’ve been working on since my last birthday. I’ve been meaning to post this blog for a couple weeks now, so without further ado, those 24 things:

1. Run 10 miles
I did it! I ran it in Austin by Town Lake with Amber and it was miserable. Once I finished, I felt accomplished but also decided I didn’t really want to do long distance running.

2. Memorize the book of Philippians
I failed to do this. Memorizing scripture one book at a time is apparently not my sweet spot. I will say that this year I have become much more intentional with reading scripture regularly, which is something I slipped away from the year before.

3. Go camping
I went in Texas and Colorado. Both great trips with great friends.

Colorado, obviously


4. Cook a meal of at least 3 courses and serve it to a group/another person
I honestly forgot about this for most of the year. Looking back, I don’t think I ever did cook a three course meal (other than cooking I did for group events, which wasn’t the point). I guess I’ll have to put this on my goal list for the upcoming year because I really truly do suck at cooking actual meals and I need to do something about that.

5. Take the GRE
I took it in the spring last year. Turns out, I didn’t need it for the schools I ended up considering for grad school, but I’m proud of myself for going through with this goal.

6. Do a yoga handstand
I managed to learn a yoga headstand but could never master the handstand. I felt like I needed someone to properly teach me and spot me for the handstand. The headstand was fun to learn though.


7. Run in a race – 
probably a 5k, 10k, or 12k
LOL. I ran a marathon. Year 24 was one of my biggest years in running, considering how much I ran, what I learned about life through running, and who I met because of it.

 

8. Go to an outdoor concert
Never made it to an outdoor concert but, I went to more concerts in Year 24 than any other year (three total).

Josh Garrels in ATX

Bethel in San Antonio


9. Improve piano playing enough to play in public
I have played piano in public (at church), but I still wouldn’t say I am most confident on piano versus guitar.

10. Apply to grad school contingent on how things play out, but if I don’t apply this year I at least want to have picked a program and have a timeline for application
After I took the GRE, it seemed like God was changing the timeline for things I was considering about graduate school. I got a couple job opportunities that I decided to pursue and consequently, graduate school got put on the back burner for several months. But in the fall, it started coming back up again in my prayer time. Long story short: after over a year of researching and praying, I decided to apply in December. To one school. I got accepted in January.

11. Run a seven-minute mile
Couldn’t ever get down to a seven-minute, only about a 7:30. But I also didn’t really try to do this as much as I could have. When I was training for the marathon I kept saying that I’d wait until after the race to try a 7-minute mile (I wanted to avoid injury and burnout). But then after the marathon I gave up running for about two months. So, I never quite got to this goal.

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Another pic from my marathon; somewhere around mile 23-24

12. Write 2-3 songsI took a year-long hiatus from song writing after the WR. This happened for a few reasons, but I think it’s time to get after it again.
I wrote two complete songs. One I wrote with the worship team at Hope Arise during the Christmas season. Another, I wrote on my own as a way of singing through some grief.

13. Invest in a new wardrobe
I’ve done this pretty well both through bargain shopping and dominating the Thrift Game.

found that dress at a thrift store #holla

14. Take a one-month social media breakI do use social media for work very regularly, but other than that, I’d like to be completely off the grid.
I could never manage a complete month away from social media. But several times I was able to stay away for a couple weeks at a time (usually when I was traveling).

15. Pull an all-nighter; watch the sunrise
I never had a reason to really pull an all-nighter, but I did see more sunrises this year than I’ve seen in a long while. This was in part because of my schedule, and also because of my intentionality in waking up early enough to appreciate the dawn.

16. Establish a fully-funded Emergency Fund – three to six months of living expenses
I did this! I had about 3.5 months of living expenses saved away when I suddenly needed to purchase a new vehicle. Without that Emergency Fund, I would have had to take out car payments and/or could not have afforded to purchase a decent car. Though I had to start over with my Emergency Fund and that left me a bit vulnerable for a few months, I was so proud and relieved to have this tool in my pocket. Thank you, Jesus! (and Dave Ramsey)

17. Take a really stunning photo i.e. more photography in general!
I took a few decent pics, both with my iPhone and my DSLR camera. Here are some from my road trip to Los Angeles.

18. Frame my favorite photosI have so many awesome pictures from my travels, and I always said I would frame my favorites when I moved into a house/apartment. I just need to do it, even if I don’t move this year.
I did start framing pictures more, though most of them are not from my travels rather just pictures from this current season. I love having them spread out over my room though.

19. Go to a Longhorn football gamenever been as an alumna!
Did it, loved it, hook ’em forever

20. Make intentional phone calls to long distance friends I have so many really, really good friends and unfortunately, a lot of them live far away. I want to make sure I keep them in my life by calling and writing regularly, so I’ll probably set aside one day a week to make sure I do this.

Did it, loved it, still doing it

21. Go to the movies by myself The last time I did this was three years ago when HP8 came out and I was working in Houston for the summer. I enjoy doing things alone, so I want to do this again.

I was going to do this in January, but I didn’t get around to it. Maybe some time this spring…

22. Reduce soda consumption to 1-2 per week I know I should cut soda out entirely, but this is a realistic baby step in that direction. Hopefully by 2016 I can finally stop drinking soda altogether!
I kept trying to do this all year, but couldn’t manage to actually be consistent with it. So, I decided to give up soda for Lent. As I write this, Lent has been over for one day and I still haven’t had soda! My hope is that I can wane off of it completely.

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Though I’ve given up soda, I’m still very much a coffee drinker. This place is one of my favorites in San Antonio.

23. Get rid of road rage  – ya, I have road rage… I think it developed when I lived overseas (driving is so much more aggressive in many countries). I figured it would subside after I lived in the States longer, but oops… it didn’t. Time to re-learn some patience in driving.
I can honestly say that I have worked at becoming a more patient driver.

24. Open a Roth IRA – I have several other financial goals like this, but I probably can’t realistically achieve them unless my finances change (read: unless I get a raise). But if my finances do change somehow, one of my goals is to get started on things like opening an IRA and finishing off my student loan payments.
I haven’t been able to do this, but as I mentioned earlier, I have had other financial breakthroughs this year due to the things I learned in my FPU class. I’m not yet at the point where I can open up an IRA though.


 

My twenty-fourth year was a good one. It was super full of all the emotions. I grew up significantly. I traveled. I settled into my home a bit more. I made a lot of new friends. I got in the best shape of my life. I accomplished some significant things, and I failed as well. In many ways, I felt my age – a feeling that is super poignant and quite inexplicable, yet also undeniable. In general, I would say that 24 was a very good year for me.

 

a year in review

This blog is mostly for me I guess, but since you’re still reading it you might be interested as well. One of my favorite bloggers wrote a year-end blog in the form of lists, and I’ve decided to do the same.

Books:
A Path Appears – Kristof & WuDunn
Wild – Strayed
Mountains Beyond Mountains – Kidder
I Am Malala – Yousafzai
The God of Small Things – Roy
The Poisonwood Bible – Kingsolver
*Modern Romance: An Investigation – Ansari
A Prayer Journal – O’Conner
One More Thing – Novak
The Worst Loss: How Families Heal From the Death of a Child – Rosof
50 Great Short Stories – various authors (I’ve read about a dozen so far)

*This was an audio book. Does that count?

States Visited:
Colorado
New Mexico
California
Missouri

Countries Visited:
Haiti
Hungary

Plane Rides:
17

Weddings Attended:
Maija & Jake
Lindsay & Andres
Alex & Jake
Stephanie & Ross
(Was it really only four??)

Concerts:
Josh  Garrels
(I average about one concert a year)

Road Trips: (more than 3 hrs in a vehicle)
SA to Houston
SA to Laredo
SA to Dallas
SA to Los Angeles
SA to Lubbock
St. Louis to Kansas City

Netflix Series Watched:
Friends
The Office (again)
Prison Break
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt [one season]
Dance Moms (no shame) [one season]

Favorite Things from 2015: (in order of occurrence but not importance)
Maija and Jake’s wedding (what a privilege it was to be in their wedding)
Raising $1,000 for Charity:Water
Going to a Longhorn basketball game on my 24th birthday and going completely insane for free pizza
Running 10 miles on Town Lake with Amber
Hope Helps Day with Hope Arise UMC
Camping trip for Maija’s birthday
Haiti mission trip
Laredo mission trip
Colorado backpacking trip
Tubing the Comal River with friends
Alex & Jake’s wedding (getting to lead worship was so, so special)
The Chris Scott Road Trip
Running 10 miles on Hermosa Beach in California
Getting to teach a small class at a Christian school
Getting some crazy job opportunities
RUNNING A MARATHON and raising over $2,000 for WORLD VISION WATER PROJECTS!
Serving in a refugee camp in Hungary
Going to the One Thing Conference with Chaney and Emily
Making new friends at coffee shops and concerts and parks


 

2015 came with a promise of abundance, and that turned out to be very true. It was abundant professionally, financially, relationally, and emotionally. I experienced personal breakthroughs and developed new friendships and got to travel to some amazing places. I also got my heart bruised up and was faced with some really difficult decisions and experienced deep, nearly devastating grief.

2015 was in different ways a great year and an extremely difficult year. I’m walking away feeling worn out and weathered, but grateful. I can see – and could, for the most part, see all along – that God has been at work. I have a deeper fear and reverence for him. I have a more tender love. I trust his provision more fully. I am humbled. I am grateful. And I look with hope towards 2016.

crossing the river

I contemplated leaving a large gap in these pages, omitting the months after October until things got easier. I did not know where to begin. What words would I write? It seemed far easier to say nothing.

But as I sit here in the St. Louis airport on January 1, 2016, it now seems necessary to acknowledge all that has happened in the last three months. It seems helpful now, not unbearably painful.

Three months ago, I got a call in the middle of the night that there had been a car accident. They both died. I literally could not formulate a thought more than three words long.

The next morning, I got out of bed at 6 AM and ran sixteen miles. I wanted to vomit and scream and slap God in the face, but instead I just ran: one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. I didn’t know what else to do.

In the weeks that followed, I was swept up in a storm of phone calls and funeral arrangements and meeting with family members and friends. I wrote a eulogy. I edited an obituary. I went to work.

I bought books on grieving and stayed up late reading them so that I could feel somewhat qualified to counsel others in a subject I knew little about. I kept running even though I hated it. I drove around town in a daze. Most of the time I was unable to feel anything at all, but a small fraction of the time I would be hit with an onslaught of sobbing and shaking and misery.

I’d come home late at night and lay in my bed by myself. The silence around me was crippling. I’d close my eyes and hear the words of the phone call over and over and over again. I had nightmares for weeks.

Eventually, I got angry. Everything and everyone annoyed me. I was constantly irritable, usually about insignificant things, and people who were undeserving got the worst of it.

One night, I slept in her bed. Boxes of her things were stacked around the room, making me feel suffocated and sick. I laid still for hours, completely exhausted but unable to sleep. I thought about the last time I saw her. I closed my eyes and heard her laugh. I wept into her pillow and said into the silence, “I am so sorry this happened.” 

In the past few months, I have experienced a strong concoction of emotions, many of which I had never previously felt. The potency of all these feelings has really worn me thin. And yet, I know that I am not feeling the worst of it. I imagine the parents and siblings, and the lifetime of sadness they will navigate, and I become so heavy at that thought.

But, this week I experienced some healing that I’d been desperately needing. I had a profound moment with Jesus during a worship service in which he told me some things that, for now, I’ll keep to myself. Though the moment seemed incomplete – I didn’t get all the healing and all the answers that I wanted – it seems sufficient for now.

While I know that I have not cried all the tears and processed all the emotions and closed the chapter completely, I know that I have at least crossed to the other side of the river. There is still a long way yet to go, but I feel that I am no longer wading through choppy waters just trying to catch my breath.

 

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Romania

 

 

why i’m running a marathon

For as long as I live, I will never forget the experience I had when I lived in the Guatemalan jungle in the spring of 2013.

My team and I were serving in a small village in the mountains, located in the very center of the country. It was the early springtime in the jungle, which mostly meant it was perpetually chilly and the rain was unrelenting. The paths that swirled up the mountain were slippery and quite dangerous for the untrained foot. The altitude was surprisingly exhausting.

We served at a church that month, attending services several times a week and doing some minor construction work near the building. On other days we worked at the village school in the valley.

One of the classrooms at the village school

One of the classrooms at the village school

For drinking and cooking, our team collected rain water in big barrels by the roof and then used a water purifying system to clean it. Occasionally, we needed more water than the rain could supply so when the barrels emptied out, we’d have to hike down into the valleys where there were natural springs.

We’d carry 5-gallon jugs down the slick paths, balancing carefully on the wet rocks and pausing occasionally to catch our breath. When we reached the springs, we filled up two jugs with the fresh water and then started the hike back up to the church.

I remember lifting the jug between my arms, then hoisting it over my shoulder, trying to find the right balance. With five gallons of water in it, the jug must have weighed over forty pounds.

The hike back up the mountain probably took over an hour. I kept having to stop and readjust the cumbersome jug, which seemed to have no easy way of being carried. My lungs burned from the thin air, my legs seared under the strain of the climb, and my arms shook in exhaustion.

When I’d reached the final peak and I knew the church was within a few hundred yards, I set the jug down in the dirt and collapsed next to it. I was completely depleted.

The pastor's kids standing in front of the church building on a foggy morning - Photo by my teammate Jonathan Garner

Some of the pastor’s kids standing in front of the church building on a foggy morning – Photo by my teammate Jonathan Garner

I looked out at the valley to my left, thick with green, lush trees; glowing with a sort of mystery that only the jungle seems to have. I caught my breath. I looked back at the jug of water.

In my exhaustion and near defeat, I sighed and prayed, “Lord, don’t let me ever, ever forget this feeling.”

I lived in Guatemala for a month – that’s barely a drop in the ocean. But after I left that jungle, I continued on a journey to other countries where I continued to haul water from wells and bathe in rivers. More than once I became acquainted with that intense and distinct stomach pain that comes after drinking contaminated water. But again, my exposure to these things was so fleeting. A year of my life is nothing compared to those who live their whole lives hauling water.

Taken at the water well near our home in Kenya - Photo from Jonathan Garner

Taken at the water well near our home in Kenya – Photo from Jonathan Garner

But, ever since that month in the jungle, I don’t view water in the same way. When I flick on a faucet or stand in the shower or fill up my water bottle at the sink, I can’t help but feel the weight of that 5-gallon jug on my shoulders again. I can’t help but remember how laborious, how demanding, how complicated it was to acquire water for a few days worth of drinking and cooking.

And so when I came back to the States, a place where we collectively spend almost 12 billion dollars annually on bottled water, I knew that I needed to do something to advocate for a more universal access to clean water.

This spring, my friends and I raised $1,000 for Charity:Water. We helped fund a well in Uganda, which will be completed in the spring of 2017.

A few months after that project, I got word about another opportunity through a group called Team World Vision (TWV). World Vision is a giant organization that does a lot of things, one of which is providing more clean water globally than any other NGO. They use innovative, holistic approaches to alleviate poverty and address the root issues.

The basic premise of Team World Vision is: run a marathon, raise $50/mile, and bring clean water to communities in Africa for a lifetime.

Before I heard of TWV, I had no desire to run a marathon. I enjoyed running, but never that far. There was no compelling reason to complete a 26.2 mile run – until now.

The global water crisis is a really big deal. Thousands of kids are dying every single day because they drank dirty water. That is outrageous. And yet, we know a solution to the problem. Even crazier: we can be a part of that solution without ever even leaving our chair!

I pray that you will consider joining me in bringing the fullness of life to kids in Africa through the gift of clean water. Will you consider contributing $50 to change a kid’s life? Maybe you can’t give $50, but I assure you that every dollar matters and any amount you can give is so appreciated.

My goal is to raise (at least) $2,000 to give 40 people clean water. Will you partner with me?

Click here to make an online, tax-deductible donation.

love those who

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)

Sometimes I read this verse and I think, “But I wouldn’t consider anyone my enemy.” Then I think that what Jesus is saying here is not only “love your enemies”, but also:

love those who annoy you;
love those who are different from you;
love those who’ve hurt you;
love those who have a different political ideology than you;
love those whose skin color is different than yours;
love those who offend you;
love those who disappoint you;
love those to whom you are related;
love those whom you’ve never met;
love those who are Muslim;
love those who are from a different generation;
love those who are single, married, divorced, or separated;
love those who are gay, lesbian, straight, bi, or questioning;
love those whose body types are different than yours;
love those who are poor;
love those who are profoundly wealthy;
love those who broke your heart;
love those who are successful;
love those who have failed or fallen;
love those who are imprisoned;
love those who disagree with you;
love those who are immigrants;
love those with whom you have “nothing in common”;
love those who are in leadership and authority;
love those who are your “inferiors”;
love those who are racist;
love those who are sexist;
love those who have any kind of prejudice;
love those are easy to love;
love those who are difficult to love;
love those who ___________

And not only should we love them, but also pray for them.

Wow, can you imagine what the world would look like if Christians actually did just this one thing Jesus told us to do?

africa: i have not managed a full recovery

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It took me about two weeks to devour this 500-page book and it’s still haunting me in a way I can’t seem to shake.

The Poisonwood Bible is a fictional story of an American missionary family that served in the Congo during the early 1960s, shortly after the end of Belgian colonialism. Though the characters and plot are fictitious, the story is framed within the context of completely historical things such as: European colonization, American political intervention in Africa (motivated, always, by money), and the monstrous mistakes of Western missionaries proselytizing in pre-and-post colonized kingdoms. I could talk about each of these topics for days.

Early in the pages of the book, one of the characters is writing retrospectively about her time in Africa. She says,

“…I was afflicted with Africa like a bout of a rare disease,
from which I have not managed a full recovery.”
(p. 9)

It sounds insulting, I’d imagine, to describe Africa as a disease that inflicts and never fully goes away. But if you’ve been there, if you’ve breathed in that distinct African air and walked down the red dirt roads and stood in the crowded African marketplace and listened to the drums of an African church service, you’d understand perfectly well that Africa won’t let you forget her.

Africa demands to be felt.

Perhaps it’s because she’s a kingdom full of extremes: extreme, unabating despair – so intense it’s disabling and disheartening and can ruin the person who’s not expecting it; but simultaneously she’s so full of extreme, unabating joy and color and triumph – relentlessly hopeful, doggedly determined to continue with courage, unmatched in beauty and grandeur.

Africa, bursting with pain and glory, demands to be felt.

After spending just three months in East Africa, I spent my final night on the continent in a quiet little hostel somewhere near Entebbe, Uganda. In my journal that night, I penned the words: “I’m leaving Africa tonight, but I guess Africa isn’t really leaving me. And I suppose I should’ve guessed that would happen.”  

To this day, I can very much still feel Africa taking her toll on me. When I least expect it, she comes rushing back. I catch a fleeting whiff of her smell, I find a smear of red African dirt on a page in my Bible, when I listen intently in the dead of the night I can hear the faint booms of African drums.

The Poisonwood Bible transported me straight back to the that continent of extremities. I suddenly, so vividly, remembered the village I served in in Kenya. I remembered the dirt-floored hut and the fire pit over which our meals were cooked and the long walks across bumpy red roads. I remembered hauling water on my head and playing soccer at the school and climbing trees to sit in and read.

I remembered the time I sat on a stool in the yard and cried, more deeply than I ever have in my life. I remembered sitting in homes with women who’d tell me they couldn’t feed their kids that night. I remembered  talking to teenagers whose parents had been massacred in the genocide.

I remembered the freedom I felt in church services as I jumped and clapped and danced on dirt floors to songs that still ring in my head. I remembered the profound humility of women who smiled bigger and worked harder and loved deeper than I ever thought possible. I remembered the joy and kindness of kids who giggled at my blonde hair and hugged me like I was a sister and made sure I never got lost when I went running through the village roads.

I remembered the little girl in Rwanda who would sit on my lap in church: she smelled as if she’d never showered, her eyes were yellow with Malaria, and her little body was withering away with malnutrition. I remembered that everywhere I looked those days I saw so much pain and poverty, it wore me thin.

Oh, Africa. You affected me in a way I cannot escape. I have not, I will not, manage a full recovery.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to that Continent of Extremities, and up until recently, I never really felt a consuming desire to do so.

But now, tonight at least, Africa is all around me. I owe her so much for teaching me how to pray and sing and dance and worship and trust the Lord deeply. And some day, I’d like to return to that red soil and tell her so.

“The power is in the balance:
we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.”
(p. 496)


P.S. you really should read The Poisonwood Bible, especially if you’ve been to Africa and especially if you have not