Seen. Known. Loved

A few months ago I was a mess.  My world was being turned upside down, I felt like I was losing my friends, family, home, job and purpose in life.  I was allowing myself to live in darkness instead of light.  I saw truth but chose not to believe it.  I wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning.

I – Was – A – Mess!!

I say this all in past tense because in the last few weeks God has shattered the darkness, as only he can do, and has delivered me into freedom from the chains that kept me in this horrible depression.

This is my journey into joy…

I guess it starts with hitting absolute bottom in the worse spiral of depression I have ever experienced and making some very difficult choices to begin the process of healing.  In doing so, without realizing, I also made a choice to allow God to begin his work of healing.  For many weeks, I was running to him and clinging to him and yelling at him and begging him to bring healing, but despite this all, I hadn’t actually let go and surrender my heart to him.  I was still holding on and I was still trying to make sense of the mess and I was still trying to put the pieces back together.  It was not until I surrendered and gave up trying to heal myself that God was finally able to heal me.

In these early stages of restoration, I read Ann Voskamp’s newest book, The Broken Way, and a transformation slowly began in my heart.  The book dives into the beauty of good brokenness and the danger of bad brokenness.  Voskamp proposes the idea that “all the bad brokenness in the world begins with forgetting…forgetting God is enough,” while good brokenness is demonstrated by Jesus, our ultimate example, who broke himself to bring us into community with the Father.  She makes the point that true community, what we are designed and created for, is only possible when we not only break ourselves for others but when we expose our wounds and share our brokenness, allowing others right into the middle of our broken.

Apparently, when it comes right down to it, we are all a mess but more often than not, are trying so desperately to look put together that we lose out on the joy of shared life.

This was God’s ground work, preparing my heart to share my brokenness so he could put me back together in community.

A few days after finishing the book and realizing the importance of being broken (isn’t God’s timing amazing), I was heading to Colorado for an “Internissionary” retreat – a time to pause; an intermission in life to refocus on Christ and who I am in him and what I am doing with it.  A time to process with other overseas workers what “transition” really looks like.

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I mean, if this location didn’t springboard me into joy, I’m not sure if anything would have.   But more so than the beautiful location were the beautiful people and their stories and a week that was about sharing our broken lives and common pain and supporting one another in true, intimate, broken community.

Being in this environment, surrounded and supported by other broken, healing people, I began to realize that the root of the pain was in believing lies from the enemy about who I am; or rather, who I’m not.  While at Worship on the Rocks, Todd White said, “Don’t let Satan tell you who you’re not.”  There is so much wisdom in these words.

For too long I was trying to fight only by listening to who Jesus said I was but the father of lies is loud and if he is drowning out my Savior, then he is still winning.  It is a conscious choice to not believe what the enemy is saying about me.  It is a fight to not only believe truth but also to stop believing lies.  And yes, these are two separate things.

Before I left Colorado, I made the decision to let go of the darkness and to stop letting Satan’s accusations overpower my status as a daughter of the Most High King.

I literary burnt them up, in a crockpot.

photo credit: Lisa Long

For the first time in months when I asked God to take the pain, I believed he would.  I wasn’t sure how long it would take but I knew restoration was on the way because I was fighting to take away Satan’s power.  I also knew that the freedom from pain was going to be found in joy.

Fast forward past a few days of crazy adventuring

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and roadtripping through the entire corn crop of the United States (yes, there is more to Indiana than corn.  Soybeans), and I found myself on a farm, in Tennessee, alone with God and surrounded by wonderful people to complete the restoration God was orchestrating in my life.

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And just like that, JOY.

 

I’d like to say a miracle took place on this farm.  I did not think joy was possible, at least not this quick, but in those days on the farm God spoke to me in very special words and very specific verses:

  • Joy (Hebrews 2:10-11; James 1:2)
  • Peace (Psalm 29:11)
  • Glory (Psalm 73:21-28)
  • Love (Psalm 23)
  • Rest (Psalm 72:18-19; 1 Kings 8:56)
  • Fullness (Revelation 4:8,11)

Suffering does not negate joy, in fact, we are to consider trials as joy ∗ Peace is a blessing that God has chosen to give to his children.  I need to choose to live in the peace God blesses me with ∗ God has taken me into his glory. Amen and Amen ∗ Everything in life displays God’s love for me – everyday, all day ∗ Rest is from God and in God, only ∗ Restoration comes when my fullness is made complete in Christ.

 

Over the past year, I have been in a fight to make God’s affirmation of my identity enough and to stop seeking it from people while still desiring intimate community and trying to figure out how this all balances out.  And all of a sudden on this farm, I not only heard God confirming my identity as loved and worthy, I felt it by everyone around me.  How was this possible?  Why did this happen?

It was more than seeking my identity and value and worth in Christ alone (which is important above all else); it was choosing to no longer allow Satan’s voice to drudge up insecurities.  In listening only to Jesus, I silenced the voice that was telling me those around me didn’t love me long enough to realize and believe and see they did.  On that farm I felt seen.  I felt known.  I felt loved.   Not only by God, which ironically was finally enough, but also by people.  For the first time, in a long time, I felt unhindered joy and it was beautiful.

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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 afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…

But as for me, it is good to be near God.

I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;

I will tell of all your deeds.

Psalm 73:25-28

 

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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.

 

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!