who are you hiding from?

hiding

Who are you hiding from?

Friends, family, yourself, God, nobody, everybody?  I have a tendency to hide from everything and everybody. It’s a natural instinct but an unhealthy one.

My problem: I crave intimacy and lack trust.

It is an interesting place to be but I have a feeling I’m not alone. Both of these things are pretty natural human emotions – one is from God; the other is from the enemy.

We are designed to be intimate with God. We are created in his image and his image is relational.  However, we are also created to be intimate with one another.  This is not just physical intimacy.  We are designed to know one another deep enough that we can share not only our strengths but also our struggles.  Even the most independent, single person has weaknesses. We are all created to function in community; to build one another up and to fill the gaps in the people around us.  Unfortunately, this is pretty hard to do if we are hiding from the people around us.

We are all sinful and damaged humans built upon broken relationships and hurt.

We come into this world having to rely fully on other people to take care of us and there isn’t a question in a newborn’s mind that this will happen. It is expected and it is self-preservation – I cry, you answer.  As we grow, we learn distrust through hurt and disappointment, some much sooner than others, and the concept of self-preservation that is within us begins to define who we are and who we let in.

 

The result – walls

 

Some people hide behind a façade only showing parts of who they really are.  Some people hide behind a callous exterior pushing away anybody who gets too close.  Some people hide behind denial, blocking out what emotions are rising up.  Whatever it may be, we all hide behind some wall or another.  These walls are designed to protect ourselves and like any wall, it fulfills two purposes – it keeps others out but it also keeps us in, separated from the intimate community that can be found in the body of Christ.

So what is the answer?

How do we build trust not barriers?  How do we conquer the enemy and prevent him from robbing us of the deep, intimate relationships we were created to function in while not setting ourselves up to be utterly wrecked by a sinful world?  How do we protect ourselves from the hurt of this world while letting others in?  How do we guard our hearts without building walls?

I’ve heard this “guard your heart” warning many times within Christian community, mostly in the context of girl-guy relationships, but does anybody know what the heck it actually means?  If anything, the concept always encouraged me to build walls.  Don’t let people get too close – guard your heart.  Don’t let people see the real you – guard your heart.  For the love of God, never, ever let a guy in to the deep parts of your life who isn’t your husband – guard your heart.

However, I’m starting to think the whole concept is BS, so here are my two cents (and a slight detour) on the phrase “guard your heart” and some uses of it in Scripture…

Proverbs 4:23-27

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from your lips.  Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.  Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

I would like to argue that in this context, a believer is guarding his heart from Satan by not giving the enemy a foothold through sinful thoughts and actions.  We are to guard our hearts by protecting ourselves and abstaining from the things of this world.  Nowhere does this imply putting up walls to keep other people out or ourselves in.

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

While in Proverbs, Solomon instructs us to guard our own heart against things of this world in order to prevent sin and death, here, Paul teaches that in matters concerning the soul – the deep anxieties of life which trouble us and keep us up at night – in these times, we are to bring the concerns to God and let his peace guard our hearts.

I still struggle to find the balance between vulnerability and being shielded, intimacy and distrust, but I have realized that it isn’t necessarily my responsibility.  “The peace of God…will guard [my] heart…in Christ Jesus.”  When life is chaotic and people are getting to know me in ways that scare the bejeezus out of me, I am not responsible for guarding my heart.  Neither am I supposed to build walls and push people back out or run away screaming and hide behind the last fragments of a barricade that are still standing.  I am asked to give my heart to God and his peace will guard it.

 

The peace of God will guard your freaking heart.

Peace – this is the very opposite than hiding scared behind a wall.

 

I’m not saying I know how to do this or that it is easy.  Submitting my deepest fears and anxieties to God while letting other people into my life and trusting him to protect me is a lot easier said than done.

I like control.  I like to be the one who lets people in or forces them out but maybe surrendering my heart to God and allowing him to guard it will work better.  He designed us to function in intimate community, orchestrated and ordained by him (our heavenly Father) who will protect us in the midst of the hurt, discouragement and disappointment by giving us his peace.

By this truth, I think if relationships are built on honesty and trust, in Christ, and we take the anxieties that come with these relationships to him, he will guard our hearts with his peace.  This is not to say that there will no longer be hurt; we are, after all, still living in a broken world but these relationships, no matter how painful, are from God and he will use them to better us.

I have started to let more people in and sometimes I still get wrecked, but in the process I can claim the fact that these relationships are a gift from my Father and if my heart is truly in him, he will give me peace and protection through the discomfort.  I can live in the truth that these people who made it past the walls have helped me grow and have filled the gaps in my life.  I can live in the truth that this is a picture of the body of Christ and know that one day, we will function in intimate community without the hurt but until that day, there is peace in Christ.

 

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do you trust me?

Three years ago I started listening to God regularly.

Before that time, I had always (like most believers) gone about my days reading my Bible and praying, not expecting God to speak into the mundane but usually relying on his direction for big decisions or problems or things that I thought I couldn’t handle. What I figured out in a state park in East Texas three years ago was there is never a time God is not going to speak if we are willing and expectant to listen. Plus, I can’t handle life – period – so why am I not listening to God’s voice every day?

That day, I started listening to God speak to me as much as I speak to him, or at least trying to. I gave his voice its own color in my journal so now I can flip through the pages of my life and see what God has been telling me…

 

Trust me

Big bold letters.

Almost every time he speaks, it’s repeated over and over and over because apparently I don’t trust him. I followed him to a tin box in Africa, how can I not trust him? That was comparably easy. That was the plan. That was something I wanted. In fact, it’s the only “long term goal” I have ever set for myself.

So now, as I sit and hear God ask, ” Do you trust me?” I am ashamed to answer no, but he already knows that so there is no point in lying or trying to hide it.

I don’t trust God because I still think I know what is best for me. I see a future that looks easy and I try to make it happen. I see what I want, not necessarily what I need. I don’t let him put the pieces of my life together so instead I’m falling apart or perhaps in this mess I am falling together but if that’s true, I have yet to see what the picture is.

Have you ever met anyone who tries to put a puzzle together without looking at the box? I feel like I’ve met these people before – they claim to “like the challenge.”  Personally, I think it is complete idiocy.  How can you put together a picture if you don’t know what the picture is?  I guess that’s life though, isn’t it?

We don’t get to see the box. We know the artist, but if we try to put the pieces together on our own we could end up with Picasso instead of Rockwell.

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We are asked to trust that the artist of our life knows what he is doing and to listen when he directs the pieces.

In these moments I am humbled by the patience and love and grace and mercy that I can come before the Sovereign God and act like the stubborn child that I am. I can be angry before him. I can yell and curse and tell him I don’t trust him to be good because what I want he hasn’t given me.  I can be broken and messy. I can be ignorant of my life up until this point and claim he has done nothing for me in the past.

I can be weak. I can be unreasonable. I can be human.  Because he is God and he is always good.

And when I’ve calmed down enough to once again listen and hear his still voice whispering in my ear “Trust me” I can remember and testify to his faithfulness in every step up until now

So maybe right now I’m not trusting or believing it, but I can rest assured that God has written my future and it is a good one.

 

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you; You hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you take me into glory

Psalm 73:21-24

 

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when leaving is harder

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I never doubted that God was calling me to leave the ship.  I knew if I stayed it would only be out of fear of what was next.   The ship was comfortable and known.   The ship was family.   The ship was home.   But I knew I had to choose faith, not fear, in response to the unknown and leave even though I had no idea what I was heading into.

I am almost 30 and for the first time I do not know what is next.   In the past, even if the path was a little uncertain, I always had a plan or goal or something that I was moving towards but not this time.  For the last few months I’ve been mostly excited for the unknown; the adventure of open possibilities that were going to be in front of me.

Who am I freaking kidding?

I am almost 30, unemployed and essentially just moved in with my parents.  I’m still in denial on that last one.  If I don’t unpack my bags am I really living here? No, right?  So instead I’m continuing to live out of a heap of wrinkled clothing strewn about my brothers old room so I don’t have to see it in mine – that is if I can muster enough motivation to even get dressed in the morning.

It’s hard to not just stay in pj’s when there is nothing I need to get dressed for.  It’s hard to get out of bed when there is nothing to get up for.  It is hard to get out of the darkness when I can’t see the light.

For the first time home doesn’t feel like home.  It feels like a prison reminding me that I have no idea what is next, how long I’ll be here, and that I’m alone and apart from community.  For the first time I was not excited to be flying into Boston because I didn’t know when I’d be flying back out again.

I’ve always known I was meant to live and serve overseas.   So why am I back in the US, God?

That is a question only he can answer and only in his time.   I know all I can do is trust.  He has gotten me this far and he won’t fail now.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to stay on the AFM.  God called me into the next stage of life, whatever that stage is.  My heart was completely sown into community and life there but it was time to go.  There is nothing drawing me to this home.  Nowhere feels like home.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” C.S.  Lewis

I am made for another world but I am here, now.   So I will sit and wait and pray myself into truth and light.   I will get up in the morning.   I will get dressed.  I may even unpack one of these days.   And I will trust.  Trust that God has already written my future.   Trust there is a reason I’m back in Maine.  Trust there is community here even if it doesn’t look like what I think it should.   Trust that no matter where I end up, it is temporary, for my home is in heaven.   And trust that all he wants from me is an obedient heart.

Here’s to the next step in this journey.

 

Dark Days/Light Days

 

dark days

  • Tired
  • Exhausted
  • Drained
  • Overwhelmed
  • Stressed
  • Pager
  • Missed laundry slots
  • Sick of a tiny bed and an 8 week menu
  • Can’t sleep

Bad Days

  • Shawarmas
  • Move nights
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Depth
  • New songs
  • Ice cream
  • Community
  • Laughter
  • Good conversation with good people at any hour of the day or night

Good days

  • New friends
  • Goodbyes
  • Joy
  • Heartache
  • Don’t want to leave
  • Ready to go home
  • Being supported by community
  • Being trapped by community

Confusion

I don’t know where to begin to process these emotions.  All of these things can be felt and experienced at any time on any given day.  In less than five weeks I will be back in the US with a completely blank future staring me in the face.  I truly am in love with this ship and this community but I know I cannot stay.  I know God is telling me to leave.  I know it is time to “go home” but where is home?   What is home?

I have spent the last three years calling this pressure cooker of an environment home.  Here we experience emotions to the max and sheer proximity accelerates how often and why we interact with one another.  All that is to say, especially now as I am trying to exit gracefully which I’m beginning to think is impossible, that a good day can turn into a bad day with one brief encounter or vice versa.  Patience is running low, emotions are high and we are all messy, complicated human beings (or in the words of Van Halen – humans being.  Shine on).

However, I have started to look at my days in terms of light and dark instead of good and bad.


A dark day is one lived apart from the light of truth.

A light day is one lived in truth in the midst of hardship and struggles. 


There can be good things in the midst of darkness just like there sometimes has to be bad circumstances in the light.  But more importantly, light is the cure for darkness.  Light shining, truth exposed and gloried in, this is the antidote for the darkness in my life.

Looking back on life, there were plenty of instances when I had a smile on my face, was enjoying life but was secretly enveloped by darkness on the inside.  Now, as I’m nearing the end of what has become “normal life” and am preparing to leave a home which I dearly love, I am being run over with more feelings than I have ever experienced and am desperately trying to stay above the emotionally stable surface.  I’m not going to lie, there have been a lot of dark days recently, but I have to stop and ask myself, why am I not living in the light of truth? 

What is making my dark day dark?

Is it people?  Circumstances?  My perception?  All of the above?  Whatever it is, why am I letting these things shadow my life in darkness when I can run to the source of light?

God never promised this life would be easy.  In fact, more often than not in scripture the opposite is true, but Jesus commands the weary and heavy-laden to go to him for rest.  I am to find shelter in him.  I am to cast my anxiety on him.  I am to trust him.  I am not to be afraid or terrified.  He is my friend.  He is my Father.  He will comfort me.  He will protect me.  He will provide for me.  He will trudge with me through the mess of this life, shining light into the darkest corners of my soul…if I let him.

I am not saying that the goodbyes and the grief and the confusing bits of this transition should not be felt and experienced or that any of it is easy.  I am saying that the difference between my light days and my dark days should be how much I’m living in Christ and not the good or bad events surrounding me.  We will all have bad days, that is the reality of this life, but bad days do not have to be defined by darkness.

 

I guess the hard part now is actually living in that truth.

 

 

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

Great Are You Lord – All Sons & Daughters

 

 

(Matthew 11:28-30; Psalm 91; Philippians 4:6-7; Joshua 1:9; John 15:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5; Philippians 4:19; Hebrews 10:23)

 

 

 

 

the journey

The Africa Mercy is in Benin.

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This statement means so much more than just a ship arriving in a country.

We have now been in Cotonou, Benin for almost four full months but this blog has been in the works for much longer than that.

Two years ago, when I re-joined the ship as Sr. lab tech, we were supposed to leave the Canary Islands for a quick seven-day sail and arrive in Benin in late August.  Perhaps you remember that things didn’t go as planned.  Nearly two months of collective sail time, multiple trips to South Africa, two years in Madagascar, and one Ebola epidemic later and we are finally in Benin.

As I made the trip back around the tip of Africa, into Cape Town and on to West Africa I was overwhelmed with feelings of nostalgia.  In some ways, it felt as though we had never left.  I still knew Cape Town better than my home cities.  I visited my favorite restaurants, hiked my favorite trails and enjoyed time in a city which captured a piece of my heart in 2014.

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But as much as these things all remained unchanged, I am not the same person I was two years ago, and for that, I thank God.

So why has it taken me four months to sit down and write this blog post?  I could say it is because I have been too busy, which in some regard, I have been.  However, the honest-truth is that I haven’t wanted to face it.  I haven’t wanted to process who I am and what I have experienced.  I haven’t wanted to think about what it means to finally be in Benin.

But I cannot run from it any longer so here it goes, my top three lessons learned from the last two plus years…

God calls to this ship who he wants, when he wants, for whatever purpose he wants and I may never see or understand his reasoning but sometimes he shows us a glimpse of his plan and that is a beautiful privilege.

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God has called me to this ship to be Snr. Lab tech whether I want the responsibility or not, and with that calling he has equipped me.  It is only by his strength that I survive day to day.  It is only by his equipping that I have managed to lead my team.  However, in all this, he has taught me that being a leader doesn’t mean being the loudest voice or the strongest opinion.  He has taught me that leading is listening and learning.  And leading is confidence in his abilities and plan, not my own.

In that, God has given me confidence.  Confidence in who I am in him.  Confidence in who I am in the hospital.  Confidence in who I am in this community and confidence in my relationships and interactions with others.  This has manifested itself in many ways, the least of which was a drastic hair cut (maybe I’ll share more on that one day).

That seemed easy enough, right?  Well unfortunately, it’s the lesson that has still not sunk in after two years onboard that I don’t want to face.  It is the fact that God is in control of this ship and the patient’s and her crew.  It is not until I relinquish control that he can show me just how powerful he is.  He supplies all that I need to run the lab and he never fails me.  It is not until I can trust him that I can let myself take a break from the stress that is the Africa Mercy and truly live in the grace, mercy and perfect peace that he offers.

I know that without the first three lessons I would not even be close to learning the last and I am thankful for the experiences that shaped those first few years of my time here.  It seems strange to think that it has been years.  It seems strange to think of the transformation I have experienced when I feel like it was just a few weeks ago that I was leaving the States for an unknown adventure.  But I know I am not the same person.

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Now that I am finally in Benin, I hope and pray that I am ready to be here.  I pray that I am ready to face the spiritual battle that is so heavily raging in this country.  I pray that I have trust enough to let God be in control.  I pray that I have confidence, not in my ability but his, to lead and lead well.  I pray that when I leave this ship, whenever that may be, that these lessons will stay with me.

It has been a whirlwind.  Let’s keep going.

Welcome to Benin. Mikwabo!

Systemic Sorrow

There is a sorrow welling up in this community that has placed us all on the edge of an emotional cliff and we might just be one goodbye away from becoming an inconsolable puddle of emotions.

In a community where every friendship has an expiration date and every home a lease agreement, we have managed to hold on to Madagascar longer than expected.  God’s provision led us to this country in October of 2014 after months of waiting and delays due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  His grace let us stay here an extra year.

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The result of this extra year means we are that much more invested into the lives of our patients, our day crew and Tamatave as our home. One can never get used to the aching that occurs when over and over pieces are torn away from the heart.

In the last few weeks we have said goodbye to patients and family members, some of whom spent a good portion of both field services on this ship.

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©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; Dyllan with Grandmother

We are saying goodbye to our local day crew who are some of the hardest workers I have ever seen and who have become cherished friends.  We are saying goodbye to crew members who are finished serving onboard the Africa Mercy after years of service.

We are saying goodbye to home – a place that has our favorite restaurants and hidden beaches to escape the stress of life. It’s a place that has memories both good and bad of two challenging yet rewarding years of life.  It’s a place full of exquisite beauty in nature

country

and in people.  And it’s a place where God is working and moving even though our time here is done.

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©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; New OBF ladies waiting for surgery at the HOPE Center

Tonight we are also saying goodbye to three rock stars.  We are honoring and saying goodbye to our Mercy Ships Academy graduating Class of 2016. This is a class of three individuals who are going to take this life by storm.  It’s a class that has a vision and perspective of this world far beyond the eighteen years they’ve seen – a class of true world changers.

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Photo Credit: Walter Pretorius; Mercy Ships Academy Class of 2016

©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest;

In a community where friends, families, coworkers and counties are constantly circulating around a revolving door I’m not sure I even know how to begin to convey the exhaustion that is brought on by not only an incredibly long and trying field service but also the emotional drain of so much sorrow. In the book “Call of the Wild,” Jack London writes

There was nothing the matter with them except that they were dead tired.  It was not the dead-tiredness that comes through brief and excessive effort, from which recovery is a matter of hours; but it was the dead-tiredness that comes through the slow and prolonged strength drainage of months of toil.  There was no power of recuperation left, no reserve strength to call upon.  It had been all used, the last least bit of it. Every muscle, every fiber, every cell, was tired, dead tired.  And there was reason for it.

“And there was reason for it.”

These words could not be more true. So I ask you to take a minute to pray for our crew that we will find rest and comfort in our Sovereign God who holds all things in his hands and in all things works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest – Matt 11:28

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