The beans…

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So, I’ve been posting a lot here and over at Small Still about an upcoming adventure, but I haven’t said very much about what that adventure actually is… Well, today I want to spill the beans! I’ve been accepted for a year-long position teaching English as a foreign language to children in China starting this fall.

…Aahh!

You might’ve read previously on my blog that I was struggling to choose between teaching overseas in a new country or going to grad school in the country I already love…. Well, this had nothing to do with that. I mean, at the time I had been focusing on a different teaching experience… that I’ve since turned down.

In fact, I was right in the middle of my “saying no” season, turning down both grad school and the other options ahead of me because none of them seemed right, when this opportunity came along in such a God way. It’s crazy how it all happened, and so fast too, but I had been struggling for a long time to find either a grad program I’d love or something that was a paying job that allowed me to travel that I was already qualified for… Nothing I found seemed right (it wasn’t what I thought I wanted, applications expired, there were lots of extra costs), but I applied to this one and I got accepted. For a while I didn’t trust it because it seemed too good to be true, but God continued to encourage me through the mouths of friends and mentors and family, so I pursued it…

And now here I am, almost done with the preparation process and looking at flight prices… and still thinking, sometimes, what the heck did I just do? But you know all about that already. It’s comforting in a way, honestly, because I can see how this is a choice I never would’ve picked on my own. There must have been a nudge (or a shove) from the Spirit in there; God must have been working in my heart.

I’ve come to feel a lot more assured about this new adventure after reading Psalm 139 on a reflection retreat. As I read through the psalm, I was trying to find metaphors to relate to my experience going abroad, and I was seriously stretching the comparisons. But then God beautifully, graciously, and simply brought me to verses 9 and 10: “If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” My Daddy knows how I love poetry, I’m so grateful.

To add to that, I’ve been reading this week in A.W. Tozer’s the Pursuit of God that God’s universal presence is a fact. He is here, always. There is nowhere we can go where He will not be. Even when we are not aware of it, He is here. He is here with me now, and He is on the far side of the sea also. I’m so excited to see what He’s up to over there and to get to be a part of it for a season.

I welcome your prayers, and I’m blessed to get to share in this journey with you, one step at at time. Cheers. (I’m going to have to find the Chinese equivalent of that…)
<3

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What I Should’ve Been Saying

IMG_5454I wanted to write this post as an apology. If you’ve been following my blog at all for the past year, you’ve probably noticed that I talk about Scotland a lot, and mostly I talk about how hard it is for me to enjoy life here when I miss life there so much. I do miss it, that’s true.

However, last night, for the first time in a really long time, I spoke with a friend about my experiences in Edinburgh. I didn’t speak about myself, or how much I miss Scotland, or how much I want to go back for my own selfish reasons.

I talked about what God is doing in Edinburgh and how that excites me, whether or not I’m there physically to be a part of it.

That’s what it’s all about, and I’m sorry for not talking about that more. Because God is doing some crazy things in Edinburgh. He is drawing His children from the ends of the earth to the Scottish capital to reveal Himself to them and to raise them up and send them back to the nations. And that excites me.

And whether I get to be there to be a part of it in two years or twenty, or even if I have to remain a witness only through prayer on this side of the pond, God is still up to some crazy awesome things, and that is all that matters.

So today I rejoice over what God is doing on the other side of the Atlantic, and I pray that He leads me back there soon– but even more eagerly, I pray that He continues to establish His Kingdom in Edinburgh and that His glory would be revealed to the nations through the people that meet Him there. <3

thoughts on telling our God stories

I don’t blog very much, do I? Oops. I really want to be better at this, but I only like to blog when I have something personal or contemplative to say, and those things take time to work out. Well, anyway, here’s one for you.

I’ve been thinking… Maybe we’ve been telling our stories wrong.

I just read a blog post from Stuff Christians Like about that one lie the devil always tells, the one that says God is holding out on us, that if we give our lives to Him, He’ll make us give up what we want and do something we hate. I encourage you to read Jon’s post if you haven’t already.

Honestly, I’ve struggled with this idea a lot because many of the “missionary” stories I hear (or maybe just the ones I assume in my head) are told like this:

“I NEVER wanted to be a missionary — and what did God do? He sent me on the next plane to a third wold country and now here I am!”

And that’s great, and that’s wonderful, but what about me? I WANT to live on another continent and serve the people there…. That must mean I’ll be stuck in the USA forever, right?

That’s a lie. And it angers me so because the devil is now trying to incorporate that lie into our own personal stories!

I understand the purpose for telling stories in that way. It tells the before and after, it shows how God is all-powerful and can use anyone He wants in any way he wants… but it takes work for me to get there in a story like that. It takes work for me to have confidence in my own journey with God and the desires He’s given me when I hear a story like that. [I know, I need to work on my insecurities.]

See, I have a “missionary” story like that too, but I never tell it that way because I never think about it that way. I’ve wanted to travel God’s world so badly for the past six years or so.

However, I guess if you had told me when I was 15 that I’d gain this huge heart for the nations and desire to live across the ocean from my family and serve a people I never knew, I probably would have freaked out and started hyperventilating about my lonely scary future.

But God didn’t send me to a new continent at 15. He sent me to Los Angeles.
I didn’t even decide to go for the “mission trip.” Yes, I wanted to serve, but I went because I had just moved to the east coast from California, and I wanted to go back. I didn’t know that God was using that trip and my new church to begin cultivating the seeds He had already placed in me before I was born.

See– that’s my story. My heart for the nations had been there the whole time, I just didn’t know it until I began to experience it.

After Los Angeles came the opportunity to go to Hungary.
A new continent, a new country, a new language. In Hungary, I met missionaries who served all over Europe; I was exposed to a kind of “missions” I never even know existed. And I loved it. This living on a different continent thing… I could dig it. Maybe. For a little while.

After Hungary came Cameroon — What?

This girl, who only wanted to go back to her home in Los Angeles, went off to Hungary because she figured it was Europe, so it was “safe enough.” Now, she was going to go off, eagerly, to Africa? [God bless my poor father, who has supported me through all these opportunities.] Yes, Africa. I loved that too. I wanted to go back.

But after Cameroon came Belgium. And after Belgium came Israel. And I loved those places too. I loved the people who lived and worked there. I began to desire longer and longer trips…

 

And then came Scotland, and I loved it even more than all the rest. I loved it so much that I didn’t want to come home, even after four months away.

But sometimes I get stuck thinking that, because I love something like that so much, I’m not going to be able to get it. Because that’s the way it works.

How ridiculous!

God didn’t snap His fingers, throw me on a plane, and change me from a scared teenager into someone who wanted to travel the world for Him. He drew out the heart and the faith that was already in me by His goodness and grace. And yes, that changed me, gradually, and I’m so thankful. Does it count as a before and after story if it’s not drastic and dramatic? [That’s another issue I’ve struggled with too. I’ve been taught that when I talk about Jesus, I have to say, “Before I was this. Enter Jesus. Now I am this.” And that’s good, and that’s true, but it’s hard for me to simplify it like that.]

Anyway, my point is… perhaps we need to rethink the way we tell our stories. Perhaps we need to be more thoughtful about what we say and be more concerned about the story being true than about it being dramatic. God doesn’t need us to embellish His story.

Perhaps you did hate the idea of missions, of living in a different country, and then God changed your heart by putting you on the next plane to Cameroon. That’s wonderful, and please hear me when I say that I am not denying that that can happen and that your story is powerful. I would love to hear about what God has done in your life! God is in the business of transforming us into who He created us to be, and sometimes that requires rapid change. A lot of times that requires an awesome before and after story.

But we need to make sure that we teach that God is really drawing out what He put in you to begin with, and we need, need, need to remind each other that God is so good, and so loving, and that He gives us desires and gifts and experiences for a reason. He knows how to give good gifts to His children, and sometimes those gifts come in packages we never thought we’d want, but that doesn’t mean that when we want something so badly and we lay it before the Lord that He’s going to give us the complete opposite. What father, when his child asks for bread, would give her a stone?

Because, God — if You’re going to do that, You’re going to need to lead my heart to find joy and happiness in that stone, and You will. If a stone is what I’ll get, I know You are going to make it so much better than bread. I know You will draw out that part of my heart that I don’t know about yet.

Some jumbled thoughts for you.

Well, folks, we’ve gone from three posts in a week to almost four weeks with no posting at all. I apologize for my inconsistency. I really want to try and keep this blog updated regularly, especially for those of you that have been supporting me in this journey and deserve more than a few sporadic updates. That being said, this post is going to consist of a few random thoughts and details for you, in no particular order. :)

Fall is almost over in Edinburgh and winter has already begun to set in; the smell of frost is in the air and Christmas preparations are well under way. I love it!

I’m currently working on my last three papers for the semester, and they’re all going to relate to Scotland in some way. (I know, I’m super clever and deserve extra credit.) Anyway, once they’re done, I’ll have two and a half weeks to enjoy Edinburgh without having to worry about school work, and then I’ll be on my plane back to America… It feels so surreal.

As I’ve mentioned before, I feel pretty peaceful about my short amount of time here. I’m not freaking out about seeing the rest of the country or going away every weekend, and I’m not completely sure why, but I think it might be God telling me that I’ll be back here some day, that I shouldn’t feel rushed in Scotland because my time here isn’t over in December… That’s just a thought, but we’ll see where He leads.

One important thing I wanted to mention: The other day, someone from back in the States told me they hoped I was enjoying my ‘vacation.’ Now, they were joking, but it struck me and I haven’t been able to put that word aside. I’m sure most of you don’t believe that I’m in Edinburgh for vacation, but I just need to state it for my own sake — this is not a vacation. I’m not here to relax by a beach. (Although I imagine most Edinburgh tourists aren’t here to do that either.) This is not an escape, or a getaway, or a holiday, where I just go away for bit and then return to my normal life. This IS my life. I live in Edinburgh right now, I study in Edinburgh, I go to church in Edinburgh, and I’m here to learn what God wants to teach me. I’m grateful that I get to live out this season of my life in an amazing city that I get to explore every day, but please don’t call my life a vacation.

Anyway, putting all that aside, I just wanted to thank you. Thank you for reading this blog, for liking my facebook statuses and photos, for replying to my tweets, for praying for me and encouraging me.

Lastly, I just wanted to leave you with some words the speaker said at church today:
“God deems this fallen humanity as something worth fighting for.”
Amen. Our God is so good, may you see His glory on this wonderful Sunday.

A mad god’s dream

I’m two months in to my life in Scotland and two months away from leaving this place to go back to my home in America. My mind’s already starting to wander towards the things I’m looking forward to when I return. (Among the unimportant things on that list: my own washer and dryer, a garbage disposal, pumpkin spice, buying in bulk…etc.)

HOWEVER. I live in Scotland, man! I don’t want to be rushing my time here just because I’m missing the little comforts and conveniences of home. So with that in mind, I’ve been compiling a little list, a list of the things I love about Edinburgh. Here is an excerpt, in no particular order:

1. Looking out my window and seeing this every day:  

2. The fact that ‘tea’ never means just tea, and that biscuits/cookies are almost certainly included whenever you have a hot beverage (even if it’s after a three course meal).

3.Seagulls. Now, most people think this is weird, as I don’t know too many people who think seagulls are cool, but to me, seagulls represent the seaside of my childhood. I grew up on the beach, but I’ve been living away from the ocean since I turned 12, and it’s nice to just hop on the bus now and be at the beach within a half hour (althought it’s freezing!). I can see the water when I walk around the city, and it’s nice to hear the cry of gulls as I do my homework.

4. Accents. I know it sounds silly, but I really do love just listening to people speak around me. I think it’s going to be quite a blow to come back to university in the states and have to listen to professors speak in an American way.

5. Pretty money. Sorry, America, but Scotland’s money is just prettier than yours.

6. This city is a literary goldmine: Dark winding spires, stall pointy steeples, imposing themselves against the vast black sky… Deserted ancient graveyards illuminated in the rays of the afternoon sun, raindrops twinkling on the stones… It’s impossible not to feel inspired in this city. Granted, most of my blog posts, as you’ve seen, have been about having writers’ block here, but I think I’m just still letting the city sink in, and even though I probably won’t produce a great literary work while here, I just enjoy walking and observing this city steeped in history and beauty.

7. Occassionaly seeing this guy around every now and then:

8. Feeling like family at the churches I attend. I don’t mean this as a slight to American churches, I’m just saying that I will miss the families I’ve grown to be a part of while here in Edinburgh.

9. That being said, when most Scottish people say farewell, it’s never a final goodbye, only, ‘Bye just now.’

But hey, I’m not leaving yet! I’ve still got loads of Edinburgh and Scotland to enjoy, experience, and explore. I don’t need to be itching to get home just yet.
I’ll end this post with the poet Hugh MacDiarmid’s description of the city that reminds me of how blessed I am to get to live here ‘just now.’ <3

But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream
Fitful and dark,
Unseizable in Leith
And wildered by the Forth,
But irresistibly at last
Cleaving to sombre heights
Of passionate imagining
Till stonily,
From soaring battlements,
Earth eyes Eternity.

When in Scotland…

Do as the Scots do.

I just got back from having “tea” with a delightful elderly woman and some of the Chinese girls I met at church. And when I say “tea,” I mean a three course meal with tea and more dessert at the end, followed by a second round of tea with toast and biscuits. The starter was a fruit salad, the main course was baked chicken, and the dessert was cream-puffs and ice cream. This woman, Rita, spoiled me severely. I’m pretty sure I had at least six cups of tea, copious amounts of chocolate and sweets, and I left completely satisfied and a wee bit sleepy! We talked a lot about Rita’s life, faith, America, and China… Rita has been following the Lord “for a hundred years,” she says, but really since she was twenty-two. Her house is decorated with multiple Bible verses, and she started our tea with a prayer of thanksgiving. It was wonderful to be in her house, to be invited in to share the afternoon with her. God is good.

Tomorrow, I’m taking part in another Scottish ritual of sorts: watching the Scotland verses England Rugby match! I’ve never seen Rugby before (except on that one episode of friends where Ross gets totally destroyed…), so I’m really excited to watch the game with some committed fans — Let’s go Scotland!

Have I mentioned yet how much I love living here? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about traveling, about getting out to sight-see and explore the different touristy areas of Scotland… I would still like to do these things, but they just don’t feel like a priority to me right now. Is that bad? For the first month I was here, I would stress out about all the places I needed to go, the things I needed to see, and all the fun trips my peers were planning and how I wouldn’t have enough money or time to join them… But these past few days, I’ve just begun to not care so much about that.. Because it seems that every time I think about trying to go away, I realize there’s something going on here in Edinburgh that I don’t want to miss, like a church event or a hang-out with friends (or tea with Rita). I think — and I’m still in conversation with God about this, but — I think that I’m here to do things like that. I’m here to hang out with people, to build relationships, to encourage and be encouraged… I would much rather be doing that then seeing something once, taking a picture, and checking it off my to-see list.

Don’t get me wrong, I love exploring God’s glorious land, and I really do want to visit the Highlands and see more of Scotland’s beauty… but I think I’m getting better at not worrying about it so much. I want to leave it in God’s hands, and if I make it to these amazing sights, then so be it, but if I don’t, I know my time in Scotland will have still been worth something. I don’t need to see Loch Ness to feel I’ve made the most of my semester abroad. Although I’d love to spot Nessie some time, I know that God has me here for greater purposes than just seeing. He’s led me into relationships that are full of His light, and He’s shown me areas where that light needs to be just a little bit brighter… and that is why I’m here.

God, I’d love to see more of this beautiful country you’ve placed me in, but I’ll trust in Your timing and Your plan. No matter what happens, You won’t let this time go to waste. Thank You for reforming my desires, easing my stress, and helping me to see that there is more to Scotland than seeing the sights — there are people to love, and they are just as beautiful as misty lochs and vast landscapes. Amen.

Good, pleasing, and perfect.

I wanted to take a moment to say hello to everyone out their reading this/following my blog. Thank you so much for your support, I hope you enjoy what you read. As you may or may not know, I’m currently studying in Scotland, taking each day as it comes, and seeing what the Lord has for me here. I apologize for not writing more posts about this exciting journey! Sometimes, I feel like I have so much to say, but I just don’t know how to say it…

Overall, though, I just can’t get over God’s grace, goodness, and His perfect plan — and that He chooses to work in and through flawed human beings like me.

In breaking down His blessings bit by bit, I want to tell you about an extraordinary occurrence:

I’ve been church searching for a few weeks, but last Sunday I was going to stay home, since I’d already found a church I loved that meets on Wednesday nights, and I wasn’t particularly feeling the Sunday services I had attended recently. However, a little while after I woke up Sunday morning, I just felt the desire to go to a particular church near my flat. It was the Spirit leading me, so I followed. I quickly got dressed and hurried over. Surprised and a bit put off, I got there to realize that most of the people I had met the week before weren’t even in attendance… I wasn’t alone for long, though, as I got swept into a group of Chinese students who’d never actually been to church before and were jut interseted in what this Christianity thing was all about. –What? What?

Okay, so, for a while, now God and I have had this ongoing conversation where I think about the story Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8, how the Ethiopian just happened to be reading the part of Isaiah that foretold about Christ just as Philip was passing along… and I often tell God it would be pretty super awesome if I could ever have an experience like that.

Well, I think this Sunday was one of those moments. After the service, I got to talking to one of the girls — and what a Spirit-led conversation it was! I didn’t do anything but make myself available; God and this remarkable woman did the rest. She was bold, asking me all sorts of questions about Christianity, what it means to pray, why we read the Bible, and my own personal faith; and she really wanted to hear the answers, to learn, to process it all. I didn’t go over to her to preach Christ to her; she came over to me, seeking. It was so beautiful.

By the end of Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian, the Ethiopian puts his faith in Christ. That didn’t happen at the end of our conversation, but it didn’t need too. God is doing a mighty work, and I trust His timing. I praise Him for letting me be a part of the beginnings, and for reminding me (in more ways than one) that this is where I am supposed to be at this particular point in time. He has led me here, and He hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Cheers. <3

City of Wonders

I just got back from watching a fireworks concert — if I wasn’t already in love with Edinburgh, I’m pretty sure tonight would’ve cemented that love for me. It was magical.

First of all, I’m blessed to have a park just outside my window. I noticed that people were setting up blankets and sitting out on the green, so I decided to join them. The fireworks were being set off up at the castle, but this park offers a great view — and it’s where the locals go.

Blessing number two, the people behind me brought their radio, so they were broadcasting the orchestra concert as the fireworks were going off. It was so much better that way, given that the music and the fireworks were made to go together, and it just synced up perfectly.

I loved sitting out on the lawn with the people of Edinburgh enjoying one of their famous summer events. Although, the word “summer” is debatable, because my feet almost froze… Either way, it was still wonderful. I loved the cheering, the laughter, the applause… It reminded me of the fourth of July, and I’m just a sucker for those times everyone comes together to celebrate and enjoy life. I sat among seasoned veterans and new international students just figuring out that the event was happening. I applauded with old Scottish couples and families with young children. It was a great night.

I know I can get nights like that everywhere, I mean I just mentioned that the same thing happens in America on the fourth of July… But you must understand that in Edinburgh, everything seems different. It literally feels magical, the magic of centuries of history we’ve never known…

There’s magic in listening to classical music as you watch fireworks dance over the top of a stone castle. Where can you find that in America except at Disney?

I was starting to feel very homesick tonight, and yet all I can do is write about how wonderful Edinburgh is… I think God is reminding me that I’m going to be okay here, that He’s already here and working, and I’m going to love experiencing new facets of Him and of His beauty in this place.

I invite you to come with me on the journey. Thank you for tuning in as I explore this city of wonders.

Note: I’d like to post more photos, but it takes forever to upload at the moment… Hopefully I can get more up over time. <3

The Rhythm of the World

Hi friends! As you may or may not know, I am currently studying in Edinburgh. My friend and I have been exploring the United Kingdom for the past couple of weeks — Don’t worry, I’ll blog about that soon! However, while I’m still in the process of getting settled, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote a few months ago for my literary essay class. In the spirit of globe-trotting, it encompasses some of the moments I’ve been blessed to experience around the world. I’m excited to add Edinburgh moments to this story when the time comes.  I hope you enjoy.

I feel it on a rain-stained rooftop in Central West Africa. The sound of clapping and dancing rising from the schoolroom below as I stare out at the endless purple sky. Drumbeats. Stomping. Cries of joy. The air is thick and lightning flashes in the distance. I clasp hands with friends beside me and we begin to sing, harmonizing our own tune that echoes into the night. — No, the song is not our own. We are just joining in the music below, offering our voices to the one great song.

I feel it in an abandoned building just outside of the Brussels Red Light District. A caramel-colored Moroccan woman grabs my arm and pulls me into a dance circle. The music from her home country blares from the stereo, echoing in the barren white room and seeping out the open window into the streets below. Joyful and carefree, we kick out our feet, shake our hips, we loose our tongues to the music. I am not myself anymore, I am part of them. A refugee. We may not have much, but we have celebration, we have the dance, we have our part in the song.

I feel it in the voice of a tired Sudanese woman in the Judean Desert as her long dark fingers cradle a sleeping child. Rocking back and forth on the dusty floor, she sings in a language I don’t understand, her voice laid bare, vulnerable in the quiet room. She rocks, she lifts her arms, she sways, and she mesmerizes. Far from home, in an unfamiliar land, this victim of genocide heaves her soul into her voice and takes her place in the song. Tired, weary, and far from home myself, I listen, eyes half-closed, and let the music flow through me, bringing fire to my bones.

I feel it in me, I feel it in them, I feel it in the rain, the wind, the lightning that illuminates the darkness. I feel it in us as we come together, hearts beating to the rhythm of the song.

Beyond the Blue

Lately, the road ahead has looked something like this:

It’s blurry and out of focus. I can see glimpses of pretty lights and fun colors ahead, but I don’t know exactly how to get there and I can’t see the end. All I can walk towards is darkness, the unknown, as the world shifts around me.

However, in the midst of all this swirling chaos, I’ve come across the music of Josh Garrels, and his lyrics pierce my heart. His words are Spirit-filled, and they hit me right where I’m at:

Hide your spirit in the Vine
Where all things will work by a good design
For those who will believe
And let go of all we cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue.
Said I let go of all I could not hold onto
For the hope I have in You.

I am about to go beyond the blue, quite literally. I’m crossing a real, tangible, physical ocean, and I don’t really know what I’ll find on the other side, but I have hope that God has something in store for me there. I have to let go of all that I try to hold so close, of all that I’m not really supposed to hold anyway. I have to let go, and give it all to Him, and let Him lead me beyond the blue.

I will arise and follow You over
Savior, please, pilot me.
Over the waves and through every sorrow,
Savior please, pilot me.
When I have no more strength left to follow,
Fall on my knees, pilot me.
May your sun rise and lead me on,
Over the seas, Savior, pilot me.

That is the cry of my heart. Lord, pilot me. And as you do, I hear these words:

Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love
And carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow-
Every hollow in the dark of night, waiting for the light,
Take the flame tonight.
Because child, time has come for you to go
You will never be alone.

Every dream that you have been shown
Will be like a living stone
Building you into a home,
A shelter from the storm.

I do not know what lies ahead, but I know that God will never leave me, and He will use this path to change me, and to change others too. This last verse of the song above speaks to the dreams of my heart:

Like the wolf at midnight howls,
You use your voice in darkest hour
To break the silence and the power
Holding back the others from their glory.
Every story will be written soon.

Because child, time has come for you to go
You will never be alone.

Every dream that you have been shown
Will be like a living stone
Building you into a home,
A shelter from the storm.

[Josh Garrels is giving away his latest album for FREE. Get it here and enjoy <3]