Lost and seeking

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I came back from the Dominican more drained and spent than ever before. I had no energy to do anything, let alone serve or be intentional with others. The continual overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and isolation felt so foreign that I didn’t recognize myself. I felt alone and confused and lost in a way that I have never felt in my life.

I’ve always wanted to be the more generous person in a friendship. I want to give more, buy more, do more. But being so overwhelmed made that nearly impossible. I did, I tried. I tried to continue, but it was wearing me out. I was already so spent.

I felt like God was trying to teach me that my friends would be faithful. That they would love me even when I had nothing to give. But I’m stubborn and I didn’t want to learn it. I couldn’t imagine letting my friends be there for me when I couldn’t reciprocate the support and intentionality they were offering.

I had fallen into believing this lie that I needed to love my friends more. [Don’t get me wrong, we are called to love people deeply, but it shouldn’t be a comparison] I felt like if I didn’t love them well enough that they would not value my friendship any more. That it wouldn’t be worth it and that they would stop being friends with me. Prior to the Dominican, I continually gave and gave and gave and I was fine with that. The fear of being a burden somewhat fueled my desire to serve. But coming back from the Dominican I was tired and lonely and at a lower point in my life than I had ever been. I had nothing to give. No energy to give much physically or emotionally. And I felt valueless because of that. I felt worthless without the ability to love and serve like I wanted to.

Serving had become something I found my identity and value from. My identity had been found in the quality of my friendships and my ability to love and serve well. When I couldn’t do that, I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know how to ask for help knowing I couldn’t give it. I didn’t know how to receive knowing I was incapable of reciprocation.

I was talking to my cousin about this and what all I was going through and he reminded me of my aunt’s sister, Holly, who has severe MS. He reminded me how her husband, Brad has selflessly served and loved her throughout their marriage. How it’s such a beautiful picture of unconditional love. My cousin and I talked about how we both aspire to be the Brad, to serve others in their brokenness. And I shared with him how I wanted so badly to be the Brad, but I felt like the Holly right now. So drained I didn’t even have enough energy to take care of myself, and how I felt so valueless in that. But as we talked, I thought about Holly’s situation and how her MS does not define who she is as a person. She is a beautiful person, inside and out, and her value has nothing to do with her physical capabilities. She is still an incredibly joyful and loving person.

God has been teaching me that my identity is not found in what I do, (praise the Lamb), but my identity is found in who I am in relation to Christ. I am His BELOVED child. I got caught up in my service that when I no longer had the energy to serve, I didn’t know who I was. It was like I lost a part of myself, when in reality my identity has never changed. I am, still, and will always remain His child.

I think God has been challenging me to stop idolizing my service. Finding my identity and value in how much I give will never satisfy. I’m learning to be vulnerable and ask for help. It’s hard and humbling. And I continually feel like I’m fighting the feeling of depression and oppression right now. An ever-present feeling of being burdened and weighed down. But it’s in this time that I feel like God is teaching me so much. And it’s a process. I’m still learning, that just like my friends will love me through my neediness, so will God. His love is not conditional and is not based on my ability to seek him out and be intentional. I had no energy to do anything, including read my Bible sometimes. I’ve been so overwhelmed with processing stuff from the Dominican, yet God continually shows me his steadfast faithfulness. He shows me who he is again and again and again in answering my prayers and continually blessing me. With all the instability in my life, I’ve learned that He is my rock. He is my anchor in the storm.

Sometimes we go through rough times in life. Sometimes we feel like we’re drowning and fighting to stay afloat in the storm. Sometimes we need people and can’t give much in return. And that’s okay. All I have to say is keep fighting. Keep your head up. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Others have been there too. It’s okay to ask for help. That’s what I’m learning. Friendships that glorify Christ are give and take. My value is not found in how much I can give, but the fact that as a Christian, I am a part of Christ’s family. That’s what I’m holding onto. The earth was never meant to be my home. So, I feel a little lost and life feels a little foreign, but you know what my consolation is? My citizenship is in Heaven. We were never meant to feel 100% at home here because this isn’t our eternal destination. We have hope in a future with no suffering.

How do I explain it?

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I could tell you all I did this summer. All that happened and it would sound like a terribly hard summer. You would hear about times of sheer joy and laughter, times I laid on the ground from sheer exhaustion, and times I wanted to punch something from sheer frustration (once I even did punch things, but that’s a story for a different time.) I’ve never been more physically, emotionally, and mentally drained in my life.

But how do I explain to you how much it meant to me? How much the people in the Dominican touched my heart. How much this summer changed my life.

Yeah, Dominicans can be overwhelmingly aggressive at times, but they’re the most passionate and welcoming culture I’ve ever experienced. Going to IBQ -Iglesia Bautista Quisqeyana- was like going to my home church. Every week I went I knew more and more people and it felt more and more at home there. Even the weeks with no translation, just solely Spanish, I loved it. Spanish is really a beautiful language. It was such a blessing worshipping with them every Sunday. During the welcoming time, I’d be hugged by strangers and friends alike. I even got to help in the nursery a couple times. They welcomed us into their church like the body of Christ should – with open arms.

Dominicans are genuine. They’re not caught up in what they look like – although they know how to look sharp- but they care about the person. They’ll tell you how you really are, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I learned a lot about myself this summer just from the random honest comments my Dominican friends made to me about myself. Sometimes it was a little harsher then what I’m used to in America, but it opened my eyes to a lot. Then when I’d receive a compliment, I knew they weren’t just saying it, they meant what they said. One of my Dominican guy friends told me that I worked like a Dominican, and I’ve never been more honored to receive a compliment. I have never met a group of people that work harder.

This summer was life changing. I saw God work in so many cool ways. I learned to trust Him even when it seemed impossible. I learned to give up control over myself and those around me in a way that I had never done before(it’s still a learning process). At one point my best friend in the Dominican got extremely sick, like more sick then I’ve ever seen a person in my life, and that was the hardest part for me. To see her that sick was so terribly hard, but that was also where God taught me the most. I so strongly wanted to help her, but I was doing all I could and she wasn’t getting better. I couldn’t control it or help the situation and that was terrifying. I didn’t even have the power to get her gatorade when she needed it because I couldn’t drive or leave the place we stayed by myself. Seeing her get sicker and sicker was stressing me out so much and I felt so powerless to help that I was overwhelmed by anxiety. At one point I just had to be like ‘Okay God. I can’t control this and I’m going to stop trying.’ And I just felt like God was saying “HEY. Trust me. If you can trust me with Your life, you can trust me with Hanneh’s too.” And I had to release that. To recognize that God is in control and remember that He has shown me again and again how faithful and good he is. Of course He is qualified to take care of my dear friend.

I learned that even with 2 opposite cultures with different people, the Gospel unites us. Those few times we were able to worship in both English and Spanish were such a beautiful glimpse of the body of Christ. Worshipping our creator together. A first world country and a third world country, a country born from freedom and a country born from seeking freedom from slavery, an excessive and materialistic country and a humble and simple country. To witness these two groups of people coming together and singing reminded me of the verse that says ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord,’ because that’s what it was – such a joyful noise. Words can’t even describe what it felt like standing there in awe of God’s power to unite such diversified cultures in glorifying Him.

I learned what it’s like to sacrifice everything for Jesus. My time, my comfort, my choice of what to eat and when to work out, the ability to purchase what I want and when I want it, my comfort, my relationships back home- I missed two of my friends weddings. But because of those sacrifices I got to see how good my God is. He is SO faithful. How he gives such good blessings. I made some lifelong friendships in the Dominican that would have never happened had I given in to my fear and not gone.

I learned how he uses us even when we feel like we’re giving nothing. He taught me that’s it’s not about me or how much effort I put into it, He is in control. Any and ALL growth comes from Him.

I was afraid I would be lonely this summer, but God blessed me with amazing friends who became like family to me. He gave me friends I could joke around and laugh with, sit down and cry with, and friends that encouraged me to follow and pursue God’s calling for my life, whatever that is.

He opened my eyes to the materialistic nature of Americans. We have so much and yet we continually desire more. I saw what it looked like to live in poverty and be completely content with it. I saw how easily Americans pity the Dominicans and what they have materially, when in reality the Dominicans are so much more content. The believers that I met and interacted with there recognize how blessed they are, regardless of their circumstances. I saw how easy it can be for Americans to see the Dominican as this culture that needs us so much, they need us to come do VBS for them, they need us to raise money for them, they need us to build chapels for them, they need us to evangelize to them, when honestly I think Americans are more impacted by the mission trips then the Dominicans. We need them to remind us how to live simply and joyfully. We need them to show us what true gratitude is like. We need them to teach us how to be content in whatever circumstances there are. We need them to remind us it’s not all about what we have, but who we have in our life.

I learned full dependence on the Lord in a way I had never experienced before. Honestly I think it’s much easier to depend on Him when you’re forced to that point. I realized that nothing else could sustain me other then the Lord. He continually gave me strength when I sought Him for it. I could not have survived this summer without Him and the friends He put in my life this summer.

I knew that the Dominican would become my relative home for the summer, but I never realized how much it would feel like home. How normal life would become there. Those random daily occurrences that became normal to me – like car alarms going off after it thunders, living in the city and hearing the city life and the disco all night, like the people and the culture and hearing Spanish, even how normal speaking the little Spanish I know was, not drinking out of the tap (it still kind of freaks me out back in America sometimes), taking the bus everywhere, constructing things, getting jugo de Cana at La Sirena every week, going to church in Spanish… It was all normal. It was home to me.

How do I explain it all?

Seek my face.

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Coming into this summer I expected it to be hard. I expected it to be lonely and difficult to adapt. I expected to miss home like crazy and be homesick. I expected to be counting the days to when I would come home.

I mean a part of me also feared that when coming here, I would never want to go back.

I expected to learn a lot about Jesus. To be continually poured into by the people I’m working with. But what I found challenging was not what I expected and vice versa. I got here and immediately connected with the other interns. I fell in love with the culture and within the first week knew that I would be heart broken to leave. God has been so faithful to make this place my home.

What I found difficult was focusing on Jesus. Do you know how easy it is for me to get caught up in the physical work of building chapels and doing construction and easily forget to be in the word pursuing my relationship with Christ? I can often be very work focused and that’s where I’ve been at the past couple weeks. So incredibly physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, I had less then enough energy to function. I neglected the one relationship that reenergizes me. I neglected the one book that offers more truth and encouragement then I could need in a thousand life times.

On top of that, I’ve been trying to figure out God’s calling for me. I love it here. I love being a missionary in the Dominican. The cultural differences make life a little more difficult sometimes, but I still love it. Spanish is a beautiful language and I desire so deeply to learn it in order to connect better with the people here. I feel called to missions, but the where is hard to discern.

I’ve been letting my exhaustion take over. I’ve been so busy that finding a moment to be still with the Lord is tough. The only consistent time I’ve found to be successful is in the mornings. Free time is sparse; if i want to read my Bible I have to be more proactive here then I am at home. And the past couple weeks, I’ve done that poorly.

But yesterday I got up early. One of the other interns, Hanneh, and I decided to get up yesterday and start studying the book of Proverbs. It’s evident just in the first chapters that He promises wisdom to those who seek it earnestly.

Proverbs 2:4-6 “if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

My prayer that morning was that God would teach me and show me Himself and His will for my life.

You know what’s cool? I probably felt God speak to me more yesterday then I have any other day here. Hanneh and I got the chance to talk to the founder of the ministry we’re working for after church. I asked her if she had any advice for someone considering going into missions full time and she had three tidbits of wisdom:

1) Yes come. We need more young people that are passionate about overseas missions.

2) To determine God’s calling you have to continually be in the word and in prayer.

3) There’s no coincidences.

Then last night another leader of a ministry in the Dominican came and talked to our group about her journey of becoming a missionary. She felt called to do missions overseas but couldn’t figure out where. She kept praying and praying about it and telling God – “I’m willing. Show me your will. I’m willing.” One night when she was praying she felt God telling her “Stop seeking my will and seek my face instead.” And she knew exactly what He meant. She had gotten so caught up in seeking His will for her life that she had neglected pursuing her relationship with Him.

What I learned was that sometimes (or maybe all the time?) God doesn’t show you His whole plan for your life. Just little steps you can take to continue following his will for your life. If you’re pursuing your relationship with God and seeking Him out, then you can’t really be outside of His will. He will show you in His timing.

What a good check to be reminded three times yesterday to seek God and be in the word daily. 

Philippians 4: 6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”