Gratefulness

A caveat…

I am a chronic stop-in-the-middle-of-the-book kind of girl.

Give me a light-hearted love story and I’m in it for the long haul. But the moment I find any semblance of non-fiction, I stop halfway through, say, “Yeah, I get the gist of it,” and move to the next book in the pile that is increasingly taller and taller keeping company next to my bed. 

I will never admit I won’t finish, promising, “I’ll get back to it later,” but take a look at where each of my “in process” books is dog-eared and I’ll let you be the judge.

Anyway, all this to say, I’m writing this while half-way through Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts”, which for me feels like the most appropriate time to write the book report no one asked for and tell you what I’ve learned. So, here goes.  

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Dependence

“Hi daughter,” she answered, “Wait, are you ok?” she asked, realizing the rarity of a morning call from me.

“Yeah…” I replied out of instinct (mother’s have the tendency to worry, you know), “But I woke up and,” as I finished I began crying, “my back hurts so badly I can barely walk.”

My mom went into mom-mode, and told me all things a mom would- “Go to the doctor, no I mean it you’re going to the doctor, take some ibuprofen, & find someone to drive you. No seriously, Emily, you shouldn’t drive if your back hurts this badly.” I sat there and cried some more, and told her I’d finish getting ready, then I’d take some action.

It took me an hour to get dressed, brush my hair, and find ibuprofen, after sitting and crying for a while when the first bottle of ibuprofen I found was empty (sometimes I really set myself up for failure), and searching for another meant crawling all the way to the bathroom (20 feet, tops).

Moral of the morning: I was a helpless, semi-pathetic mess.

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Finishing Strong

Dear Friend,

If I could ask the Lord one question right now, I think I’d probably ask Him, “Is Spring really here to stay, or should I prepare myself for second winter?” Because as any mid-westerner can tell you, it’s not necessarily the never-ending cold of winter that really gets you… it’s the hope that it’s finally over.

I think spring is such a cool time. Some days, I could do without the mud that seems to get everywhere or the rain from absolutely nowhere. But after months of a frozen existence, there is nothing quite like the thaw of spring.

Spring always gives me hope. It reminds me of the promise given in Revelation 21:5… “ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

You see, spring has the tendency of getting me to look ahead and let my mind wander with possibility. I can picture a greener landscape, I’m dreaming of days spent on the terrace next to Lake Mendota, I can already feel the breeze of an open window.

As someone whose “What’s next” is unknown, it’s a peaceful thing to be able to think & dream big.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I am still in the right now, and I am needing and excited to finish “What’s now” in a strong way.

I only have about 2 months left interning at Blackhawk Church. In many ways, I can’t believe I’m so close to the end. In other ways, it really seems like I’ve been an intern forever.

I am so grateful that my first 2 years out of college were spent surrounded by people who care about who I am as a person as much as they care about what my talents are. I am grateful that I have worked alongside friends (they might try to pretend we’re just co-workers, but I know better!).  I am thankful for the chance to put so much time and energy into nurturing my relationships with high school students, as well as take intentional time to think about how I can help them in their walk with the Lord. I am thankful for the chance to lead teams of students and teams of adult volunteers. I’m grateful and humbled by the crazy amounts of encouragement, love, and support I’ve seen from my friends and family.

When I think about the last 2 years, a lot of it felt less than exciting. A lot of it felt like just asking questions to a group, or just being somewhere every Wednesday night. A lot of times it felt a lot like putting effort into things that no one would ever really read or really care about. A lot of times it was just showing up to a choir concert, or going to get $1 shakes at Culver’s. But there were so many times I said, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

It hasn’t always been rainbows and sunshine. I went through some periods of doubt in who I was and what I was doing. I went through (a LOT) of stress (& anger & bitterness…) about trying to raise support. I fell into the trap of thinking that what I had to offer wasn’t special, and that I was in this position as some form of pity.

But now, as my time interning winds down to 2 months, I feel so certain that the last two years I’ve found myself exactly where the Lord wanted me to be. My faith has changed and grown. My confidence in what I can do is so much greater than it was. In so many ways, I think I’ve found my voice.

And so with just 2 months left, and absolutely no guarantee that these 2 months will be anything significant to anyone but me, I’m asking you to help me finish strong. I need to support-raise the rest of my funds by April 10. Right now, that means about $3,600 to go, and that scares me out of my mind.

You can do that here.

With no plan other than to pray to a big God and send this letter to the world, I am going to trust that my Father will provide how He sees fit. Maybe that seems like a foolish thing to say, but after 2 years, I’ve come to realize that I have no reason to doubt His provision.

I can’t promise a big number of students coming to know the Lord. I can’t promise huge events that go off without a hitch. I can’t promise that I’m actually the right girl for the job.

But I promise to keep listening. I promise to answer the questions my girls ask me. I promise to love the crap out of my students. I promise to keep showing up, and in the end, I’m pretty sure showing up is the only thing that’s really going to matter.

All my love & gratitude,

Emily

 

A Farewell to 2015

As the end of December seeks to close out 2015, I, like many, find myself reflecting on this past year.

So much has happened. I’m sure so much has happened for you too. I think if I could go back to chat with “end of 2014” Emily, she would hardly believe it when I told her all that 2015 would hold.

It was the year I chose to stay and the year I finally felt content doing so. Praise God!

It was the year I got to fall in love with the Spanish language all over again. The year I left a few pieces of my heart in Costa Rica.

It was the year I sadly watched some friendships fade as more friends moved away, and the year I watched new friendships unexpectedly blossom.

It was a year of blessings I didn’t ask for, heartache I didn’t hope for, and adventure I didn’t deserve.

It was a really good, hard, weird, messy, beautiful year.

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Unlearn

So much of life, and so much of my time here has been learning a series of new habits. It was fun and cold and weird at first to bathe in the river, but now it’s a daiy ritual. It was annoying having to walk 3 minutes to the bathroom first thing in the morning (let’s be real it still is), but now it’s a habit. Now I wash my clothes on a rock, I cover myself in bug spray multiple times a day, I’m more used to hearing Spanish than English, I get surprised when I hear the sound of a car engine, I worry about getting things done before darkness falls, and I don’t go a day without being muddy, wet, or most likely a combination of the two. 

Honestly, these won’t be hard habits for me to break. I have learned to love and live with the simplicity of life here, but the strength of the culture and comforts I have grown up with will make adjusting back to some aspects of life in the US so simple. I will sink back into life with running water and indoor plumbing all too easily. I’ll get used to having cars around again, and I think I’ll love being able to drive! I’ll love feeling clean, having lights at night, and being able to fully communicate my thoughts. I have cherished this life this summer, but I’m excited for the familiar comforts of home. 

But then, whenever I get too excited, I start thinking of the things from this summer I won’t be able to let go of. 

How am I supposed to unlearn the sound of my host family’s laughter breaking through the darkness of the night? How can I forget the sound of the neighborhood kids calling out my name as I walk down the street? Or the joy I get from watching my team pour themselves out for this community? How can I let go of the faces of the high school students striving to learn English? How do I unlearn the peace I feel when walking down the quiet road after a long day? Or the calmness that overwhelms me riding in the banana boats? Or the way our 2 year sister both cracks me up and melts my heart on a daily basis? Or the way I’m learning to lean on The Lord for guidance in everything? Or quiet times in the hammock looking out at yet flowers and trees in our yard? 
The thing I’ve learned from experiences like this is that to some extent, there are habits you can’t break, there are things you don’t unlearn. There will be times I forget what life here sounded like, looked like, felt like. I’ll have to fight for joy and peace. I’ll forget to follow Jesus’s voice in my daily life. 

But my heart won’t forget this summer: it can’t unlearn Coroma. Although in a few weeks everything will look different and I’ll have to learn and adjust all over again, my heart will always be what it is because of what I have lived here. Praise The Lord for that. 

Our time left here is so short and that is unbelievable. I will keep looking forward to seeing who God is here. 

“Oh taste and see that The Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” -Psalm 34:8

Desperate

Go hang out in the middle of the jungle for a week and I promise you’ll be desperate for 2 things: ice cream and a cold Coke. You might think you don’t like one or both of these things… But you’re wrong. And then, in a moment of wonderfulness, you’ll walk to the local pulperia and they’ll have a cold Coke. Or you’ll hike 30 minutes, take a 45 minute boat ride, and walk another 45 minutes to get a little ice cream. The skies will open, the angels will sing, and a mediocre ice cream bar will be the best thing you’ve ever consumed. Try it. I promise it will happen like this. 

From my adventures, I’ve leaned I am easily overcome by this desperation. Hello, trying every flavor of magnum bar in South Africa (not the jungle but whatever) , and all the ice cream I’ve had this weekend! I let my mind and body want it, and I am quick to give in the moment I can. 

This year has put the idea of desperate prayer onto my radar. I love the concept, honestly. These words bring such a beautiful picture of reliance and dependence on The Lord. I really, really wanted to be desperate in prayer. I wanted to be a woman who longed for the Lord’s guidance with my whole being, who couldn’t function in anything without going first to the Father… But life got busy, my job paid sufficiently, I had family and friends who poured into me, I had a church  powerfully speaking truth. Save for a few moments of stress, I didn’t feel desperate. I felt secure in myself, my stuff, my people. I prayed, but not with everything. I felt ok so I thought I was. 

But grace and circumstance got a hold of me and messed me up. 

I never thought I had a problem accepting grace , until I actually thought about it. But really, I keep trying to be perfect in my faith. I try to do the right things, say the right things. I try to justify the free gift that has already been justified. If I serve a little more, love a little better, pray a little longer, then maybe I can make Christ’s death make sense. 

While trying to trick myself into thinking I had it all together, I forgot that grace was forever mine.  I forgot that I’m broken. I forgot that His power is made perfect in my weakness. 

Our first Sunday of church in Coroma, I expected to understand maybe half of what happened in a long service. But then, they started with prayer. Instead of sitting in a pew, with bowed heads and 30 seconds from a pastor, the people went up front and stood shouting out prayers to our Father. I was in awe. 

I’m not sure I felt “called”, but feeling like I needed to be a “good leader” I went up there to prove it wouldn’t be too awkward. 

And then, in the midst of shouts I couldn’t understand, it started pouring out of me… Desperate prayer. It was no longer logical, it was no longer planned out, I was no longer secure.  Suddenly, I realized I was never going to make it on my own strength. And the team wouldn’t benefit at all from me trying to do good, but not falling more in love with Jesus. Suddenly, I felt certain of what I’ve known this whole time: it’s not about me doing the right things here or being a perfect leader, it’s all about our gracious, merciful, majestic, powerful, bold, mighty, loving, constant, good God. How can I keep from shouting to that God?!

My team is incredible. The Father is working well through them. But I will desperately continue to pray this: that we would fall down before our God in everything. That we would seek His face before all else. That we would love ourselves, each other, and our neighbors in grace. That we wouldn’t feel held outside of His arms. And that in moments of desperation in the coming weeks, we would not hesitate to respond in prayer. 

The Walk Home

From June 26:

It feels like rain is in the air. If I’m being honest, it always feels that way, but tonight I feel certain: we are minutes away from the downpour. After 4 days here, I’ve become all too accustomed to the muddy path I’m about to walk, so before leaving the high school, I slip on my rain boots. It already feels like a habit, walking through the gate, turning right to get to the bridge that will take me home. I weave and jump to avoid the mud even though I know my efforts will be futile and I will find my legs covered in mud in a matter of minutes. 

I stayed late today, and find myself cherishing 10 minutes of time alone. There’s a group standing just past the bridge, and for a second I hope I look as at home as I feel. One glance at the whiteness shining between my boots and my shorts confirms what I hate accepting: I’m an outsider here. I mumble “Buenas” anyway, hoping I at least make it seem like I know what I’m doing. 

Crossing the bridge feels a bit like being in Jurassic Park, complete with a section that’s been warped over the years (I assume it was the velociraptors). After the bridge is a perpetually muddy zone. I turn left onto the main road, strolling past the houses where my friends are now living. The air is filled with their family’s laughter, their broken Spanish, and the sheer newness of it all. I want to call out to say goodnight, but feel too content being a fly on the wall. The world feels happy. 

So I keep walking, smiling, excited to get home to my family. To get to Flor and Fran’s, my new parents, you go past the pulperia, past Anselmo’s house, and turn left. I always read the words written on Anselmo’s walls: “You will always be welcome here.” I know it’s been 4 days, but I feel that. I’m getting closer to my home, my parents, and my 8 brothers and sisters (including the two white girls with me) and I feel it: contentness. 

I’m excited for what is to come in my life. I’m excited about my job, my roommates, and more exploring in the beautiful city of Madison come August.  But right now, I don’t need to be looking forward to home, because slipping off my boots, and climbing up into this chaotic house, I can already feel it. Home is here.