surviving or thriving?

Vulnerability: the state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

I find that our culture has taught us to be everything but vulnerable. We are encouraged to put forth this image of having it all together. Social media teaches us to value that perfect picturesque life. But does that really help us connect with one other or does it remind us of our sheer brokenness when compared to other’s perfectly presented lives?

I want to be vulnerable without being vulnerable at the same time. I’m not even entirely sure what vulnerability looks like? But I think that the Lord uses our vulnerable brokenness to bring us closer to each other and to Him.

So here is my attempt at vulnerability. Here’s where I’m at. Life is challenging and painful. I struggle a lot with figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain (as Ann Voskamp puts it). What’s worse is that sometimes I don’t struggle not to struggle, I give into the lie that this is where I belong. In pain, physical or emotional. It’s easy to feel invisible when hurting and to believe that no one sees it.

It sucks. I think we’ve done a shitty job, as a culture, of accepting each other’s pain. Instead there’s this idea that everything has to be good. Everything has to be fine. If life is not fine, you’re not doing it right. You’re not a good Christian. You don’t trust the Lord enough (which is true at times).

But the truth is, I haven’t been fine.

“Are you surviving or thriving?” is a question I like because it can be pretty telling. Surviving as in just barely making it. Trying to keep your head above water. Living day to day. Thriving to me is like growth and joy and peace. Its what comes after the surviving. You toil and fight and struggle, and then you see the growth. The truth is I’ve been surviving for awhile. Trying to figure out who I am and where I belong. Trying to figure out how to do life and what I truly believe and value. Trying to make it look like I’m great to the rest of the world because Heaven forbid we actually worry (and thus pray?) for one another. Sometimes I pray that the Lord would open my eyes to other’s pain. Maybe it’s just where I’m at right now and what I am learning and going through, but it seems like we’re not good at seeing each other’s pain and being there for each other. Out of sight out of mind, right? If we aren’t aware of it then we don’t have to worry about it. We don’t have to recognize it. We don’t have to talk about it. Here’s what I’m learning though, He is sovereign and faithful.

He is sovereign over my pain.

He is sovereign over my anger.

He is sovereign over my brokenness.

What a reassuring thought. There is so much hope in that. He sees me. He sees it all. I want him to be glorified in my pain, struggle, whatever it is. Yes we will struggle. I will have pain and sorrow and heart break, but there is a wonderful Savior and in that fact I rest. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Sometimes I just sit and dwell on that thought and am filled with peace. The Lord is so faithful in times of need. Sometimes we need to see our own brokenness to realize how much the Lord is redeeming our life to look more like His.

“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

He sees the pain of running that last mile of a race and he’s there at every turn. Not taking the challenge away, but silently whispering encouragement. He is present amidst our struggle. He’s teaching me to thrive while surviving. To find rest and contentment in Him amidst the chaos of life. He is sovereign.

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Wandering

wandering-1-waterfall

I’m currently transitioning between two totally opposite cultures and it’s hard. There are positives and negatives to both cultures, but they are very very different from each other.

It’s funny cause I still find myself trying to control things and the Lord just being like-do you trust me?

I wrote in an earlier blog about how I was learning to trust God. –

“He created me. Doesn’t that make him worthy and capable to fulfill my needs? To be my friend when I’m lonely?”

But the funny thing is, I never felt that lonely in the Dominican. God gave me people that became family to me. It’s actually been the transition back that I have felt alone in. Disconnected to everything here in America and back in the Dominican. It’s like my minds trying to decide where I’m going/ where I’m headed/ where is my home? What is my purpose here? The foreignness makes me feel lost in my own culture. I’m in this awkward middle ground that I honestly don’t understand. Everything still feels weird. I get frustrated easily with people around me and the excessiveness and high maintenance requests that some have. Sometimes I pridefully think to myself – ‘oh wow you could never live in the Dominican.’ As if I was perfect and not excessive before I went. As if I am not guilty of the exact same thing even now. Maybe not anymore, not to the extent I was prior to the Dominican. It really has changed me.

Everything feels foreign. Things that use to feel normal, that I expected to feel normal feel weird in a way that’s hard to put into words. I knew it would feel weird coming back. I lived there for 10 weeks. Life there became my new normal. But I never expected being “home” to feel this foreign. Sleeping in my bed at home feels weird, the quietness is weird. It made it hard to sleep at first. Hanging out with my family is weird. Even being with my friends is hard sometimes. I miss the community I had in the Dominican.

I don’t know what to do with all I learned. Honestly I don’t even know what all I learned. I’ve never gone through so much and seen so many things and met so many people in a span of 10 weeks before. It’s like I just had a life time of experiences packed into that 10 weeks and how do I process that in just a couple days? Weeks even? I’ll probably be processing that for the rest of my life.

I came home so drained in every way, and I still feel that way. More needy then I’ve ever felt in my life. I just feel like I have nothing to give. Like I’m so poured out that I need to recharge. I’m not sure what that looks like as I continue to remember to depend on Him through it all. I’ve never been so spent in my life.

One thing one of my camp leaders used to say is to be spent for the Kingdom. And that’s how I feel. Completely and utterly 100% spent and it kind of feels terrible. Like I gave and gave and gave and I have nothing left to give. Maybe I didn’t depend on God as much as I should have? He definitely sustained me but I have scars from this summer. I came home dehydrated and malnourished (it was difficult being GF in the Dominican) and exhausted in every way shape and form. I came home with a lot of anxiety and a continual feeling of burden in attempting to process it all and re-adapt to the fast-paced and overly materialistic American culture.

The more I connect here, the more I long for the relationships I had in the Dominican.

Wrestling.

Wrestling.

Last week I was wrestling with a decision I had to make. I was recently accepted to be an intern to serve in the Dominican Republic this upcoming summer. (So exciting right?) Well I found out through an email during a really stressful week so I never quite had time to process or commit to it. I got the email and the next step was to sign some forms and get them sent to the ministry I will be serving with. Before I did that, I wanted to know if I could come back for this wedding of one of my good friends. The wedding fell about halfway through the summer and also happened to be during a really busy time in the Dominican. I found out that I couldn’t go to it and I was disappointed.

I was still wrestling with feeling uneasy and not feeling peace about going to the Dominican. It was partly because of not being able to come back for the wedding, but mostly because I hadn’t sat down and prayed and sought the Lord in my decision to go. I had made a decision to go, but I hadn’t fully committed. When I found out I couldn’t come back for the wedding, that was the tipping point for me. I just felt really uneasy about the whole thing. I ended up talking to my brother about it and he suggested I ask again if I could come back for the wedding, explaining how much it meant to me. [side note- I’m a really loyal person and weddings are a big deal to me] He helped me write out an email to send. I sent the request to go to the wedding again and got a reply that baffled me. The response was about what I considered sacrificing for the Lord meant and what I thought Luke 14:25-30 meant. At first I was taken aback by the in-depth questions, but then I realized that I did need to answer these questions. If this was what the Lord was calling me to, I should be willing to dive into this and study what the Lord says.

Sacrificing is an interesting subject. I think sacrificing for the Lord is giving up what I value in order to serve the Lord and to value what He values. Reading about the Biblical definition of sacrifice, certain articles talk about sacrifice being more all encompassing, meaning that sacrificing requires complete surrender to God’s will.

Concerning Luke 14:25:30 – I’ve read these verses before, but never really intently looked to see what Jesus meant when he said that. At first, I was confused that Jesus would ask his disciples to hate his father and mother, brother and sister because in other places in the Bible like Ephesians, it mentions honoring your father and mother and a verse in 1 John that talks about loving your brother. I did some research and found that what Jesus was saying, was not exactly to hate your family, but only to love them less then you love the Lord. So basically, our love for God should be greater then our love for others. Jesus isn’t demanding just our physical service, but he demands our hearts and our minds. Most of the time, I think that we can love both God and family and friends, but we should always be first loyal to the Lord. When deciding whether or not to commit to something, we should first decide if we are willing to sacrifice what it is going to take.

As I realized this, it sunk in. This means living in surrender to God’s will. It’s when we are asked to sacrifice that we can truly see where our value lies. I should be willing to sacrifice everything to serve the Lord. So I continually prayed “God I surrender. I surrender. I surrender.” And I meant it. I didn’t know what it looked like, but I was surrendering.

Okay, so I figured it out right? No, this is when the real wrestling started. How do I know what God’s will is for my life? When I first applied to go to the Dominican, I was incredibly excited. But when I found out I got to go, my excitement faded and fear took hold of me. It was like the devil was attacking me. Reminding me of how hard it would be and all the things I was giving up to go. I prayed and prayed that God would show me His will. I was willing, but I wanted to know for a fact that going to the DR was God’s plan for me.

The time came and I had to send my reply to the staff in the DR. But the time had also come for me to decide, was I willing to give up my own plans for the summer (such as going to this wedding) for the Lord? Would I submit to His will even if it wasn’t clear exactly what that was?

But still I wrestled. I was willing to do what the Lord had, but how was I supposed to know God’s will. I talked to my sister, Meagan, and said one of the reasons I didn’t feel peace was because I didn’t know if this is what the Lord wanted me to do. And she asked me “Well why wouldn’t He want you to go?”

Wow. Okay. I couldn’t think of one reason God wouldn’t want me to go. Every door had been opened for me to go. I had spent so much time in prayer asking that God would give me peace instead of seeking out an answer in His word. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that God gives peace, but it’s definitely in His timing. My heart wasn’t in it, but Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” We shouldn’t always trust what our heart is telling us.

After Meagan asked me why God wouldn’t want me to go, I found these verses – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” “and the gospel must first be preached to all nations,” and “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Over and over again he says go and tell others the good news. That’s what I will be doing this summer. Evangelizing in the Dominican.

The question was how was this not God’s will?? I wanted Him to give me this feeling that it was right. But I didn’t need that; all I needed was my Bible because it’s literally HIS word.

As I read the verses about what we are commanded to do, I felt more peace. I sent the email stating that I was committed regardless of whether I could come back for the wedding. Immediately after sending it, I got excited again. It was at that moment that I fully committed. I had prayed and thought a lot about what the summer was going to take, and I decided that I could do it, but only with the Lord’s help. I would trust and abide in Him. I surrender.

It’s easy to get caught up in what we’re feeling, whether that’s fear, uneasiness, or maybe just feeling unequipped. All I needed to do was focus on His word and his instruction. He doesn’t say “Go and make disciples of all nations  if you feel led to” or “If you feel qualified then go preach to the nations.” He just says “Be my witnesses. Go and make disciples. Preach the gospel.” He is all-powerful, he doesn’t need us to be too. I heard a saying once- God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called – and I couldn’t agree more.

I would never be able to do this on my own. I’m moving to the Dominican for two and a half months. I’m not typically an adventurous person. Nor do I enjoy doing things out of my comfort zone. But it is in my weakness that HIS power is made strong! He is glorified through my weakness and fears, because that is where he shines! I’m no longer scared because God’s got me.

Flashbacks

I’ve never had a lot of pain in my life. That is, pain from someone leaving.In the past year and a half, two people I love passed away, but one was especially dear to my heart. The pain I went through the week my Papaw passed was insurmountable. It compares to no pain I’ve ever felt in my life. It was horrific and terrible. I cried more that week then I ever have in my life. I didn’t just cry, I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably.

No. Life’s not fair. And no, I didn’t think I could get through that week. But I did. With the help of Jesus, family, and my dear friends. But you never really “get over” these things. They stay with you. You carry them forever. I will never forget Papaw and the tremendous impact he had on my life. I made it through that week and thought that the worst was far behind me. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been worse. But there have been some really tough times since then. Times I miss him so much it hurts. I wish I could just call him. Talk to him. Hear his voice. Give him a hug one last time. Tell him how much I love him and miss him. But last week I experienced something worse than just missing him. I experienced a flashback. A flashback that felt like it was all happening over again.

My other granddad was in a horrible motorcycle accident a week ago, Wednesday. After sustaining life-threatening injuries, he was resuscitated and care flighted to the hospital in Tyler. This hospital also happened to be the exact same hospital that we found out Papaw had cancer in. A “good” cancer to have they told us. A “bump in the road” they told us. “Totally manageable” they told us. He was gone within 2 months of that diagnosis. And now my other granddad was there, injured and hurting. And I had to go back. Go back to that dreadful place that started everything. Go past that room we spent thanksgiving in. The last thanksgiving with Papaw. The room that we took our very last family picture he will ever be in. The place that I headed to after I found out about his cancer. As I drove to Tyler Wednesday, I sobbed. I cried out. My vision was blurry as I was driving. I couldn’t stop. I was having a mini panic attack. All I could think was I CANT DO THIS. This CANNOT be happening again. It brought back all of the fears and emotions of that night with a renewed vigor. The night I knew he was dying. The night my mom said come home now. Come see him. The night I said goodbye to him. It all came rushing back. And I couldn’t go back. The memories and pain flooded in. I couldn’t stop it.

Pain. Life is pain. If we had no joy, we would have no pain. It’s those we love, that will hurt us the most. Because when you love someone, they become a part of you, you give them a little piece of your heart. And when they leave it feels like they’re ripping your heart right out. Your very breath. I couldn’t do it again that night. But the good news is that I didn’t have to. And neither do you. Jesus sustains us.

As I drove, sobbing, back to Tyler, I called one of my best friends. She lives out her love for Jesus more than anyone I know. As I talked to her she listened. And then she prayed for me. That I would have the strength to go for my granddad and family who needed me. Immediately I felt calmer. I felt peace. A part of me wanted to live in that pain. Because it reminded me of the life my Papaw lived, and the impact he had on my own life. It’s easier to remember it all when I feel the pain. I feel guilty when I’m not hurting for him. But we can’t live in that pain. Yes, when bad things happen, grieve. Let. It. Out. But let Jesus be with you in your pain. He doesn’t take it away. He sits with you in it. He feels it. And He brings peace. As soon as my friend prayed, I calmed down. Because I knew I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t do it, but there was someone who could.

We aren’t meant to live in that pain. Jesus blessed me that night. With that peace and strength to go back, but also because of what ended up happening when I got to the hospital. When I arrived, I was still nervous of reliving those memories. Thinking about walking on that skywalk from the parking garage to the hospital, to my granddad, still scared me. Seeing the room Papaw was in would be so incredibly hard. Why did the circumstances have to feel so similar. But because I got there after midnight, all the normal entrances were closed, even the skywalk I had walked so many times to go see Papaw. The only entrance open was one I had never entered, the ER entrance. It felt like a totally different hospital.