Monday, December 15, 2014

Go Ahead, Call Me Ugly

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
Proverbs 31:25 

If it were up to me, I'd only wear makeup on special occasions. But it's not up to me. I'm in a business where being "put together" is part of my job. And I like my job, so I'll wear makeup every day. There's nothing wrong at all with wearing makeup, and there's nothing wrong with getting dressed up and feeling like a million bucks. But underneath all that - YOU are worth more than all the money in the world- more than all the gold, diamonds, and rubies. 

That doesn't mean that I feel any less pretty when I'm in makeup-less, sweat pants-donned state. Am I pretty? I don't know. That's completely subjective and based on other's opinions.  And frankly, I don't care what those opinions are. That's none of my business. 

But I feel pretty. And you should too. Not because of my hair, or my makeup, or my clothes- but I feel pretty because I was created by God, in his image, and I feel special because, just like every other human on this earth, I'm unique. That's something I wish every woman and every girl felt. I feel pretty because I try to be kind to others. I feel pretty when I make others feel special. I feel pretty when I set out to accomplish something that feels a little out of my comfort zone. I feel beautiful when I'm in nature, staring at a flowing waterfall or on top of a mountain. And I feel beautiful when I'm smack dab in the middle of helping others. 

But recently I've had hateful words spewed at me. I'm not alone in this. I can only imagine that every other girl and woman in America have, at one point or another, been subjected to cruel judgements based on an unnecessarily large focus on outward beauty. Recently I've been told my hair is "ugly, unfixed, out of style, out timey, outdated." I've been told my clothes are suited for someone older than me. I can only imagine the pain and hurt that comes from the same place inside the woman who said these comments to me. 

And that's not all. Last night, a friend of mine told me in my pictures where I am serving in Haiti, I look "haggard, tired." These are moments when I feel most beautiful, most alive. 

There comments don't cut me very deep.  But they are troublesome because I know there are other girls out there who haven't come to the realization yet that true beauty comes from within, that even the most beautiful person in the world will have detractors, that beauty fades, but character doesn't. 

And I think these comments also reflect a part of society that is very dark. A part that only sees value in women's looks, not in their heart. 

I don't want other women to face these comments. I don't want my sister, my mother or grandmothers, my cousins, my niece, my aunts, my friends to be subjected to this - let's call it like it is it - this bull crap. So it you read this post and are at all in agreement, maybe give a kind word to a friend. Compliment them on something that's within. Some beauty inside a person that doesn't fade with age. 

Last year I interviewed Jennifer Pharr Davis, who set the record for the fastest thru hike of the Appalachian Trail and these words have stuck with me ever since: 

"The trail made me feel very beautiful - and the reality was, I was very, very dirty. But I felt like I was a part of God's Creation and Creation was beautiful, and my interactions with other people - if I was kind, that made me feel pretty. Once you hike over 2,000 miles, your self worth is based on what you can do as opposed to how you look." 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Going Through the Motions

I feel like I've been just "going through the motions" lately in my life- and I don't like it. But let's face it- we all feel this way at some point or another, right?  

But that's not the point of life. We get one chance- one shot at life. And when you look at a lifespan of a human, it's really not that long. It goes by in a blink, in a flash. So why not thrive? 

So many times I feel like we're not thriving, we're simply struggling to survive. I'm guilty. Sometimes we take the easy way out, just do what it takes to "slide by" in work, in relationships, in activities and projects. Sometimes we're overwhelmed. We are overcome by grief, by guilt, by changing circumstances that cripple our very souls. As we learn to adapt to new realities, we stumble blindly in the darkness, grasping for any familiarity, anything that resembles joy. 

But it doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to compromise and settle for insignificant portions of comfort in exchange for overwhelming joy. We may go through tough seasons of growth, or of grief or pain, but we can't stay stagnant in these times. We learn, we grow, we realize that the dark times and thorns make us able to truly appreciate the times when happiness and blessings grow wild. 

What makes you happy? What are you passionate about? Hang onto that. What's on your bucket list? What's stopping you from marking something off it? What's a stumbling block- or what's something you need help with? Why not ask a friend for help? 

There is someone out there who believes in you, and who sees the potential for you to thrive. Why not believe in yourself?  Do what makes you happy. Make a positive change in the world. Shrug off things that upset you... After all, we only get one chance at this crazy life. 

"The ghosts that we knew will flicker from view and we'll live a long life." 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hope in the Darkness

"So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light, cuz oh it gave me such a fright. And I will hold as long as you like- just promise me we'll be alright." 

Stripping away the excess... Haiti takes things from you. It takes your cell phone reception, your internet access, your pillow top mattress, your drive thru restaurants, your Starbucks Venti Triple Latte with skim milk. It takes away your material comforts.

But Haiti gives you so much more. In the space of no distractions- there's room for   unlimited smiles, indescribable joy, happiness from simple pleasures like a coconut fresh from the tree and a luxury like a cup of ice. Stripping away the excess leaves you with the raw essence of what it means to be human. Relationships and connections are so much stronger. 

Sometimes when I look around Haiti I wonder what in the world we're doing there. We - being Americans. A country full of so much joy, of so much laughter and happiness and songs, and communities coming together to play soccer. People may be living in the darkness in mud huts but their lives are so much brighter.  Poor in material wealth but rich in spirituality. We've crippled their economy by exporting rice to a country full of rice farmers. Our rice can be sold much cheaper at market and local farmers are left with a crop and no customers. We send t-shirts and shorts when women at the markets sell fabric and local tailors make beautiful Haitian suits... And for the school kids- beautiful dresses and dress shirts. What are we doing? Why do we think our way is better? 

It's important to help without hurting. I love the organization I volunteer with (Grace so Amazing) because they work in community with Haitians. The four Americans in our guest house was outnumbered by the 8 Haitians (including two little babies!) and I wouldn't have it any other way. There is a need for a school to serve the neediest in Mirebalais and GSA is meeting that need. The KORE program they are partnering with is helping area families start their own businesses by providing micro loans and building chicken coups behind houses. It's a hand up rather than a hand out. 

I always come to Haiti to help. But I'm the one helped. I come to shine a light in the darkness, but I always find that I'm the one in the dark. Haiti is a light cutting through the excess of my American life, bringing joy I never thought possible. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

This isn't National Geographic

This isn't National Geographic. 

I'm not looking at these images from a tv screen or the pages of a magazine. 

These are real people in front of me, with lives and dreams and hopes and fears. Just like me. Who are reaching out to me and grabbing my hand, asking to take pictures with my phone, and smiling at me like we're old friends. 

Their faded, ripped American t-shirts and my dusty pale feet, standing together in community. 

Brooke Fraser sings, "Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead. Now that I have held you- with my own arms- I cannot let go." 

My first trip to Haiti haunted me. Kept me up at night, brought me to tears on the way to work as I read notes from my friends in Haiti, realizing that the only thing separating us is the country where we were born. I'm no different than the friends I made in Haiti. We're similar- we have goals for our lives, we get our feelings hurt, we go through trials. But the trials for my Haitian friends are greater. In turn, they're stronger, more resilient, more likely to laugh in the midst of turmoil in their lives. They teach me much about true religion. They teach me how much more I have to learn about the important things in life. They live in poverty outwardly but are much richer spiritually, because their circumstances forced them to be. I may have won the lottery geographically, but having all the things that are important in America sometimes misses the mark. 

Last time I went to Haiti, I worried about the clothes I wore, I worried about financially being able to afford the trip, I worried about everything. This time I'm not concerned about clothes or what I pack, and my faith has strengthened through trials and I now know to never worry about finances on a mission trip. I now say don't worry about fundraising- if God is calling you to a mission trip, He'll provide the means for you to go. My friends and family have been so incredibly generous- and I've gotten donations when I least expected it. For that, I'm incredibly grateful. 

For this trip though, I feel overwhelmed. For those who know me (and let's face it- you probably wouldn't have made it this far on this blog if you didn't!) - you probably know that I recently started a new job in a new city. All great, wonderful changes. But I'm still trying to get my "sea-legs." I'm still trying to develop a routine. And going on a mission trip three weeks after I start a new job- although I feel incredibly happy and blessed to have the opportunity- is a little overwhelming. 

I think of the apostle Peter a lot- especially the story of him getting out of the boat and walking on water. To be totally overwhelmed. To feel like the crashing water around may drown you. Such a familiar feeling for me lately- completely overwhelmed. To be right on the cusp of sinking and - on the other side - something totally awesome. Because Jesus lets us get in over our heads- so He can be the one to reach out a hand and let us walk on water. We just have to get out of the boat. 

As Mumford and Sons sang- "I know my call despite my faults and despite my growing fears.... I'll find strength in pain, and I will change my ways. I'll know my name as it's called again." 

Thank you for supporting me on this journey. Thanks for your well-wishes, your prayers, giving of your time and your finances. This isn't just my trip- it's our trip. Only through the community of friends and family am I able to go. Please keep my dad and me (and more importantly, our friends in Haiti) in your thoughts and prayers next week. Can't wait to see the surprises God has in store! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

There is Sunshine in My Soul Today

A light heart and a happy soul... Sometimes we just need to let our souls breathe.  I do that best with wide open spaces, fresh air, and a song in my heart. This past weekend, I added bluegrass music, hammocks, bubbles, and stars to the mix. 

I'm not going to lie, I've had a heck of a few months. Overall, I really have no room to complain- I have so many things to be thankful for. But work and other stressors have really been wearing on me lately as they tend to do from time to time, and I've just felt really weighed down from some things I probably shouldn't be letting get to me. 

So this past weekend was JUST what I needed! It was a magical weekend filled with my favorite things and surprises and just so many fun things that make me happy! 

I moved to Evansville last year and heard about ROMP but was out of town and didn't get to go... so for a whole year, I've been excited about this Bluegrass festival held in Owensboro. 

I had no plans... Just showed up with plans to hang out with a co-worker and good friend of mine and his daughter.  We ended up making good friends with the guys camping next to us who were so nice and laid back, and I ended up just chilling with them the whole weekend, just hanging out and listening to amazing music.  

Sometimes my life gets too wrapped up in the unimportant. The daily routine of putting on makeup, the consuming thoughts of how other people perceive me, the small work dramas that take away from what's truly important in life.  It was great to put all that behind me for a weekend and just relax and have fun!

I forgot my shoes. It was an accident, but it turned out to be a blessing. I just went barefoot! It was great to walk around shoeless in the soft grass... and I didn't worry about putting on makeup or blowdrying my hair either. True beauty is about more than clothing and makeup and I'm so glad I had a chance to just let my true self, my soul, breathe. 

I hope you have the chance to find rest for your soul soon too! 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The "List of Rules" and God's Awesome Adventure for Our Lives

"God only presents two paths in this life- the straight and narrow and the path straight to Hell."

The bicycle "evangelist" had staked us out, following us down the winding sidewalk that led under the bridge. He continued to berate us, telling us how if we didn't turn from sin and pray with him right then and there, that we faced eternal damnation.

I didn't tell him the sack I was holding in my hand was full of hamburgers. I didn't tell him the reason I was walking under the bridge was to look for homeless people, to sit with them and bring them lunch. I didn't tell him I attend church every Sunday. The only thing I wanted to do was to run away from this red faced fear monger.

I was reminded of the time in South Padre Island.  We piled into a bus, the bus full of young Christians across the United States, spending their spring break to spread the gospel. I wasn't one of them.  I was just a college student, ready to spend a rowdy week at a college spring break destination and maybe catch a few rays at the beach while there. I didn't mind the missionaries on the bus because I am a Christian, and besides, it was a free ride. All they requested in return was to pray with them- so of course, I was down with that. Until I met The Girl.  The hateful Girl who turned me away from mission work and even certain churches for years.  I know I shouldn't have given her that kind of power, but the kind of "Christianity" she preached scared the crap out of me. She asked if I was a Christian. I replied 'yes.'  She asked me what kind of church I went to- I replied "Methodist." She asked me if we had windows in my church- I replied "yes." She then proceeded to tell me that she'd never heard of Methodistism, and that she was pretty sure I was going to Hell if I didn't convert to her denomination.

I don't operate on scare tactics.  People like the man and the girl above scare the living heck out of me, and I feel like probably the majority of people they comes across.  I don't believe in that type of evangelism, the whacking people over the head with the Bible until they submit (or pass out) type.

These types of experiences make me think maybe we've gotten it all wrong. Maybe our God isn't the kind of God who is angry, detached, sitting on a throne and waiting to catch us in sin so that He can punish us.

I used to think of Christianity as a set of rules almost.  As a list of "don't dos" rather than "dos."  Don't drink, don't smoke, don't swear, don't get upset, don't show emotions, don't be anything other than perfect.  I even was a member of a small group that perpetuated these thoughts. Once the young ladies in the group were told not to wear black pants to church, because it was a "stumbling block" for the young men.   I was laughed at when I shared with the group that I felt God was leading me in a certain direction in my life.

The major thing absent in that way of thinking is the importance of an actual relationship with God.  I know this isn't the life that God wants for us, because now I know God a lot better.  He doesn't want to trap us in a little box, with a list of rules for us to memorize.  He wants to show us freedom and true happiness! Over the past year He's shown me, little by little, His true character. Not that it isn't a good thing to have guidelines as to how we maybe should live our lives.... but that kind of narrow minded thinking really misses the mark. Our God can't, and shouldn't be placed in a box. He created creativity! He knows how we tick, He knows the things that make us smile, He delights in surprising us.  He also delights in challenging us, and allowing us to step out in faith to reach a freedom that can only be known in Him.

So I think the "straight and narrow" isn't referring to a boring, outdated lifestyle devoid of all smiles and happiness.  "Enter through the narrow gate, For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14) I think there's a sadder meaning behind this.  I think this verse refers to the few people who have an intimate relationship with God- the lucky ones who walk close by Him, who walk down the narrow road that leads to freedom. The road that's full of surprises and adventures, birds singing, fragrant flowers- lush, green grass, and incredible, awe-inspiring, breath-taking views.... The path that leads to the destiny God's created for each of us.  The path that each of us can take- if we just take the time to let God into our lives.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"You Call Me Out Upon the Waters...."

"How do you prepare for an experience you know will change you?"
Journal entry- 12/21/13

I left for Haiti the Saturday after Christmas... the day of my 31st birthday, December 28th.  I was exhausted before I stepped foot on the plane- but the best kind of exhausted, the running 100 miles an hour and feeling very productive kind. I was as prepared as I could be- in fact, more prepared and packed than I'd ever been for any trip in my entire life. Yet, I knew there were some things you just can't prepare yourself for. So in ways, I felt the most prepared and the least prepared as I'd ever been. 

Christmas had been great but very short and I'd spent the week before traveling back and forth between Evansville, Bowling Green, and now Nashville.  I love seeing my family for Christmas.

I was worried though- my sister was pregnant with her second child and was sick.  My dad had taken her to the emergency room Christmas morning but they had a hard time getting in to see a doctor.  She was progressively getting worse as the week went on, and I found myself nervous about being in another country with limited cell phone service and not being able to check on her.  The day before I left, I panicked, thinking I might, too, have the flu- my sister and I had both gotten flu shots but this strand somehow still got her sick. I worried that I might be "carrying" the flu to a third world country where healthcare is scarce, and I scrambled to get a prescription to Tamiflu.

On Friday, December 27th, my dad met me at work.  My backpack and my carry on bag were both packed in my car, and we loaded up into his car and headed for Nashville.  I hated that the rest of my family was sick or taking care of the sick and couldn't join in the festivities.  We ran around and made copies of a crown craft I was bringing to Haiti and then (quickly) checked out the Christmas lights at Opryland Hotel, then ate there as well.  I opened my birthday presents in the hotel then we stayed up late- my dad running last minute errands and I was working on getting my donations together.  Tonight's project consisted of emptying out vitamin bottles and putting all the vitamins into a ziplock baggie to save room. I was so fortunate to receive so many donations! From items to monetary support, I was seriously overwhelmed with the help my friends and family were giving me.

I stayed up a little late and wrote in my journal.  With all the preparation, the lack of sleep, and the sheer amount of work involved, I briefly thought about the contrast of what I typically would be doing on a Friday night- in bed relatively early, catching up on sleep from my brutal work schedule, looking forward to a weekend of rest and unwinding.  But as I faced this daunting, unknown task before me, I realized that I was just going to have to close my eyes and take a gut-wrenching leap.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find you in the mystery in oceans deep
My faith will stand

I Carry You in Me

"I am on a plane, across a distant sea... but I carry you in me."

It's been almost 7 weeks since I returned from Haiti.  I've been putting off blogging about my experience, mainly because it's taken me a long time to process everything, and partly because I have this nagging feeling that I need to "step back" and focus on other things in my life for a while.  But that doesn't happen.  I'm too involved now.  Each time I think to myself that I will take a "Haiti break," I'm pulled back in by this project or that, each one as important as the other.  I'm so intertwined now by the projects I started when I got back. And the truth is, I don't want to stop.  There's so much that can be done to help, and I'm only one person... but when I know there's *something* I can do, no matter how small, I want to do it.

I had no idea the hardest part of going to Haiti would be the "coming back" part.  My teammates and I have stayed in touch, and we've all experienced varying degrees of "Haiti hangovers." From almost reverse culture shock, to having a hard time of explaining what we experienced in Haiti, to trying to reconcile our 'old lives' with our new, changed selves... it's been, at times, a difficult experience.

How do you put into words an experience this life changing?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lorenz is Missing

I am 1,593 miles away and hiking in snow. I always come to the woods when something's on my mind. Today, it's Lorenz, a teenager in Haiti. I'm freezing and my hands are numb, but I am angry and I keep walking.

Lorenz is missing.

I met Lorenz and his brother, Lorenzo, last month in Haiti. I'm not sure about all of the specifics of their story, but they spent most of the week in the guest house where we were staying in Mirebalais. Lorenz and his brother Lorenzo felt like instant friends to my teammates and me. It didn't matter that we spoke different languages, communication was easy with them. It would be hard to find two brighter smiles than that of Lorenzo and Lorenz. It's hard to describe these two boys and how special they are, but their eyes twinkled and lit up when we spoke to them.  It's also hard not to imagine a Haiti with a brighter future when around these two. Smart and extremely polite, someone did a great job helping raising them.

One of them would always find us. One of our first days in the market in downtown Mirebalais, Lorenz popped up almost out of nowhere, grinning from ear to ear, so excited to run into us. Another day, he went with us as we worked around Mirebalais and bought food for the street children. We learned more of his story, and how his father had died and that he had several (6 I think?) other siblings. He invited us to go to his house to meet the rest of his family.

What we didn't know about was the turmoil inside his home.  His mother has a new man in her life, and he is into vodou. Apparently there is some tension between Lorenz's "step-father" and the children in the house. On Friday, something happened between Lorenz and his "step-father" (we don't know what) and now Lorenz is gone. The fear is that his disappearance is linked to vodou.

It is a helpless feeling, worrying about something that is happening 1,593 miles away. Lorenz probably doesn't even know it, but he has a whole host of Americans and Haitians covering him in prayer right now.  I can only imagine the army of angels surrounding him, wherever he is.  A group of Christian men who support our mission in Haiti (Grace So Amazing Ministries) are banding together to search for him and will be working with the local authorities.  They will decide the necessary steps to try and get Lorenz back when they find him. I am nervous because these men are my friends, and we are all worried and hope they stay safe throughout this.  I hope that wherever Lorenzo is and whoever he is with, he feels the love and support of the countless Americans whose life he has blessed and who are covering him in prayer right now.