Thoughts on Arriving

I honestly have no idea what to feel right now.

Since two Fridays ago, I have driven over 33 hours, stopped in two hotels by myself, visited the west and the east ends of Tennessee, found out my cat was sick, and moved in to a new place.

Right now, I’m sitting on the floor in my new room, watching my kitty cat, every so often checking to see that her chest keeps moving up and down. My stuff lies around me in piles, and I’m overwhelmed by how much I still have, even though I had tried so hard to get rid of what I didn’t need. After spending two months with only what I could fit in my car with all my dad’s belongings, all this stuff I have now just seems…extra.

I’m lonely. My body aches. And I start school on Thursday. Between now and then I need to see a man about a job, make sure my kitty is okay, go get some more of my stuff, and actually remember to go to shcool, because it’s kind of one of the last things on my mind at the moment.

I miss my friends in Tennessee. It was weird this morning to wake up and drink my coffee without them. It’s weird waking up and not hearing the ramblings of a four-year-old and an eighteen-month-old. I’ve called my dad so many times because it’s weird not being able to go into the next room and find him there.

Even so, I’ve been blown away and moved to tears by the generosity and compassion shown to me by friends and strangers alike.

I’ve had lots of beautiful, deep thoughts while driving, but I forget it all when I’ve finally gotten to my destination.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom. About how it’s been nine years since she died, and I’m still not sure I’m over it. About how odd it is that my cat seems to be wrestling with the similar struggle my mom faced to hold on to life. About the day my mom brought me home when I was eleven to see a black kitten sitting on our couch, and about how that kitty has stayed with me through two cross-country moves, seven new houses, and my mom’s passing. And now I’m not sure how much longer she has.

But I’ve also been thinking about my God and how good, perfect, and sovereign He is.

I’ve been thinking about altitude-sickness, about the fact that it can hit you when you go up into the mountains, but also when you come down into the valley. I’ve been thinking about droughts and famines, and promises and inheritance. Miracles.

It’s wet here, in Maryland. There’s thunder rolling through the sky. The rain is here.

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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.

Brain Dump, February 2, 2012

My brain feels so fried,
I’m taking five classes this semester, all back to back on the same two days of the week. three of them are English classes, one is history, and one is [a breath of fresh air] geology.
I feel like I’m drowning in readings. Last night my dad tried to tell me some trivia, and I said to him, “I”m really sorry, but I just can’t take in any more information right now.”

Sometimes I think maybe it’s best that my friends are all scattered across the globe right now because I need to spend all my time reading, in class, or working, so I probably wouldn’t be able to hang out with them anyway.

my hair has random streaks of rust-orangey red in it after I dyed it last week, and I mean I coated the hole thing in henna mud and still only pieces of the color show. I really want to do it again with the rest of the mud and i contemplate putting it on in detail while bored in class, but now I’m too lazy to actually get around to doing it.

I’m supposed to be writing a blog for my friend Nick, and I’ve been working on a post for weeks and months but still have nothing to give to him. because I always have to sabotage any opportunity I get to get my voice out there and spread to a wider audience. I always sabotage any chance for future endeavors.

I wanted to write ‘endeavours’ just then because I got so used to the British spelling system and now I want to use it out of stubbornness.

because I wished I lived in the UK.

but there’s so much more of the world that I still want to see. so what do I do? do I try to get over to the UK for a while? or do I keep that in the back of my mind while I try to see the rest of the world? how do I even do that? teach overseas? go on the world race? hope I find someone who wants to give me an around-the-world tour as a present?

I want to find someone to travel the world with.

I want to be content with that someone being Jesus, because really He’s the best travel companion there is…

back to the writing thing — my Advanced fiction teacher told us that he would rather we not use elements of genre in our stories and practically dismissed Lord of the Rings as a piece of crap [he didn’t say that, but he said he’d weep in a bad way if we brought something like it to him], leaving me to assume that I must be a bad writer because I love using fantasy and sci-fi elements in my writing.

this is especially frustrating because I’ve been reading all about the power of myth in Waking the Dead and had desperately hoped this semester would be a time in which I could create a mythical story that spoke to the truths of our humanity.

maybe I still can, but I don’t know how yet.

today in class we learned that DaVinci said “Art dies in freedom but lives form constraint,” to which my teacher proclaimed that he compltely agrees, but he’s not putting any constraints on us this semester, except a slight length requirement and the no-genre rule. thanks, professor. I guess my art’s going to die now, like it’s been dying already. and I had been so excited about this class because I thought it would constrain me and force me through my writer’s block. now I’m just left with a vast open expanse of possibilities, no idea where to begin a story or how to even devise a conflict.

so I’m writing this blog post because I figure after all the information-intake over the past three days, I need to get something out.

lost at home

It’s strange to think that the last time I published a post I was caught in the middle of a whirlwind life in Edinburgh, Scotland and loving every twist and turn. Now I’m back in the United States, running back to my blog after over a month of absence, staring at the ‘edit post’ screen as I listen to the song ‘Between’ by Courrier over and over and over again. My time in Edinburgh came to a close last Tuesday, and I have cried every day since. I feel like I’m throwing a tantrum, clawing ferociously at my American life, kicking and screaming as I’m dragged away from all I became, from all I knew in Scotland.

Let me just stop right there and point out the dramatic lie. As I’ve been preparing to return ‘home,’ God has spoken numerous times to my friends in Edinburgh and has told them to tell me that I’m not going backwards. Literally, He has been very adamant about getting the message across to me that coming back to America is not a backwards slide, that I’m not going to lose what I gained. On the contrary, I’ve been given words like ‘Taking off’ and ‘Launching pad.’ I’m supposed to be going forward, so God says.

However, I’m beginning to notice that it’s easy to feel like you’re going backwards when you don’t know what going forward is supposed to look like. Because I don’t. I have no idea what’s supposed to happen in my life right now. I have no idea what the next step is; all I know is I want to finish school, but I’m dreading being stuck in this state for another year… and school doesn’t even start for another month anyway.

That’s why I think it’s so interesting that one of the songs I’ve gravitated towards while being back is titled ‘Between.’ Because that’s where I am right now. Between. Between what I really don’t know, but I have to trust God that what He says is true. I have to trust that I’m not going backwards, but forwards. It’s just so hard.

‘the day between the soil and the sky / the emptiness, a void, a heaviness, a sigh.’

‘and i don’t know, i don’t know, i don’t know how / to follow, to follow, to follow’

‘in the silence i am tricked into thinking you’ll forget / and i’ll be stranded like a man in a mine…’*

But God, You are so faithful. You won’t forget. I don’t want to be tricked.

You have been so faithful in Edinburgh:
speaking to me, leading me to friends, drawing us closer together and closer to You, providing the money for what i needed when i needed it, directing my steps, giving me two churches to call home, and filling me with strength and encouragement daily.

You were faithful there. You will be faithful here.

A way in the desert. Streams in the wasteland. See, I am doing a new thing!*

God, You are so good. I have to trust in Your promises; I can’t go backwards.

*Lyrics to ‘Between’ by Courrier
*See Isaiah 43:19

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.