As I drove home from work one evening this week, I got thinking about the variety of the experiences you can have being alone. I have a great deal of friends near and far, but I’ve spent a lot of time in my own company over the years–sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance.
For example, as an introvert, I spend a great deal of time in my own company and love times of peace and solitude. I work a job that is heavy on customer service, so at the end of the day, all I want is to curl up in my room and read my book. I’ve recently taken up hiking and, when I have the trail to myself, the world gets all quiet in a way that fills up my spirit. Being alone is restful–a haven away from the loudness of life.
The past few weeks have been hard to bear. With each each move the new presidential administration makes, my heart sinks deeper. I long to join the resistance, to blazingly declare NO, to do more than wring my hands and scroll through social media feeds.
At times like these, I am confronted with my own smallness. I am just one person with just one voice. I live far enough from the cities to make attending protests logistically challenging. My workplace is an hour from where I live, so it’s hard to get involved with local resistance efforts because I’m always in the car.
Where does that leave me? What can I possibly do to make a difference? Who am I to even complain? I live a life of incredible privilege. I’m not going to be deported or separated from my family. I’m not going to face discrimination for my skin color, sexuality, or religion. Yet, even though I will likely get through the next four years unscathed, my heart hurts for those who won’t. This spurs my longing to resist.
I’ve been thinking about these things a great deal over the past weeks and have come to the conclusion that, while I may not to make grand efforts, there are many small ways in which I can take a stand. Continue reading →
I know people who cry at everything from sad movies to diaper commercials (apparently, the babies are so cute they can’t emotionally handle it). Tears of devastation and rage are shed in the wake of global tragedies and tears of joy flow forth when reunited with loved ones. There are tears for everything–tears of frustration, of deep sadness, of the messiness of everyday life.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to camp in Northern Minnesota. A friend and I stayed in my uncle’s self-built rustic cabin in the woods a few miles from Lake Superior. We had a wonderful time going on hikes, sitting by the lakeshore, exploring waterfalls, discussing morality in Game of Thrones, and reading poetry aloud at the campfire.
It was a peaceful weekend. I felt all the clutter in my life fade away. The sounds of daily life fade in comparison to the rush of a waterfall. Alone time in nature, for me, is soul detox.
In my quiet moments, I reflected a great deal on how complex the human experience is–how beautifully multifaceted we all are. I wrote in the margins of my sketchbook: “Personhood is a complicated, beautiful thing–what an adventure it is to live inside myself. There are so many corners, so many contradictions–How can I be so many people at once?”Continue reading →
A month ago, 49 members of the GLBT community were shot in a night club in Orlando, Florida.
Four days ago, a black man named Alton Sterling was shot by the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Two days ago, Philando Castile, also black, was shot by the police in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Last night, five police officers were shot by a sniper in Dallas, Texas.
Every time I see a headline declaring another shooting, another death, my first response is exhaustion. I’m just so tired, so frustrated. I’m tired of hate, but even more, I’m tired of turning a blind eye on injustice.
It’s so easy to absolve ourselves of responsibility by casting blame on others. But the easy path is often not the right one. Continue reading →
I’ve been mulling over my time at L’Abri lately… and oh, I’m so close to writing about it. I’ll probably be doing so for a while. There’s so much to say… I’m not sure where to begin, so I’ll start with poetry. Continue reading →
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend InterVarsity’s trip annual Urbana Conference.For five days, St. Louis, Missouri, was invaded by 16,000 college students and adults seeking to learn about world missions.This year’s conference was themed around one very important question: What story will you tell?
As a writer and avid reader, stories fuel my everyday life.I breathe them in, soaking in the perspectives of others.I breathe them out, letting my own experiences take shape through words.Throughout the week, we heard countless stories from around the world.We heard from indigenous people in the Pacific Island, refugees in Jordan, college students in Mexico.We heard from the persecuted church in the Middle East–the stories of men and women imprisoned for their faith.We heard the stories of our black American brothers and sisters, whose voices have been long silenced by racism and inequality.
We didn’t just hear their stories.We entered into them.Multicultural worship is a challenging, humbling experience.It was uncomfortable at times.We fumbled our way through Arabic, Korean, Hawaiian, and Swahili, to name a few of the languages.My mouth stumbled over the strange words and sounds.Even though it was different and awkward at points, entering into the songs of brothers and sisters from around the world gave me a larger picture of the Kingdom of God.The Kingdom is for everyone, for every tribe, tongue, and nation.I got to experience what that looks like at Urbana.
As a writer attending a conference centered around stories, I can’t merely describe what went on.I need to take up the pen and join in, adding my words.
I suppose my Urbana story starts with answering a question: Why missions?
My whole life, I’ve felt very drawn to Europe.Growing up, I remember reading about far-away places and having this sense of urgency.I couldn’t explain it, but I needed to go there.I needed to see these places with my own eyes.I needed to walk the streets and see the faces of the people who lived there.In 2013, I spent a semester studying abroad in London, England.During my three and a half months there, I traveled a great deal.Finally, I could see and experience the places I’ve been dreaming about my whole life.Along the way, I learned a great deal.I learned that the world is a dark, empty place, and that even though Europe is largely comprised of first-world nations, there are people who desperately need the light and love of Jesus.
Upon returning to school in the United States, it was a matter of months before I felt the need rise up in me again.I had been thinking and praying about going into ministry for a while, but my thoughts and prayers began to turn overseas.“What if,” I asked myself, “feeling drawn to Europe isn’t just me wanting to travel?What if God wired me with this desire, growing it with time, into a calling?”
Eager to dedicate my life to God, I embraced the calling.He wants me to go to Europe?I’m all in.But so much remained uncertain.Where would I go?What would I do there?Who would I serve?How would I find the money?What does the missions field even look like?
Attending the largest student missions conference in the world seemed like the logical place to answer these questions.Last week, I arrived in St. Louis, willing to go, wanting to serve, ready for God to point the way.What I didn’t realize was that, although I was intellectually ready to take the plunge, my heart had a long way to go.
Let me pause here for a moment.You should know that, although I feel very deeply, I’m not what one would call an emotional person.I rarely cry.I’m not very touchy-feely.Emotional things don’t seem to impact me like they do others.It’s as if my heart is sealed behind a series of walls and gates.Within these walls, I feel very deeply and these feelings guide the majority of the large decisions I make.But my heart and mind don’t often connect.It takes time for the right keys to get into the right doors.
When one enters into service for the Kingdom of God, it is important for their heart and mind to align.
Going into Urbana, mine did not.My brain was ready.But, frankly, my heart didn’t actually care about the people I was supposed to be going out into the world to serve.Of course,I didn’t realize any of this until after the fact.More on that later.
The first half of the conference was extremely affirming.To share a bit of my testimony, I grew up in a highly politicized church where one was treated differently if they held a different perspective.My experience with the American Evangelical church is that it places certain values over others.College was a wonderful time of exploring other worldview and perspectives.However, I’ve been living at home for the past nine months.Being back in this highly Republican community has me wondering if my family is crazy for caring about things like racial equality, LGBTQ rights, showing kindness to refugees, affirming women as leaders in the church, etc.Through speakers and seminars at Urbana, God affirmed that we are not crazy and that we are not the only ones thinking about these issues.He cares about them too.
As awesome as this affirmation was, I felt like something was missing.“I’m at the largest student missions conference in the world”, I thought.“Surely God brought me here to do more than affirm my perspective.”
I was right.
On Tuesday night, the large group session was dedicated to the persecuted church.Individuals, often unnamed and unseen, told their stories of being imprisoned and tortured for their faith.They talked about God empowering them to love their captors even in the darkest hours of their lives.We then were given time and space to pray for the church.Banners with different countries were raised and we could gather beneath them, praying for each nation.
It was a powerful night–16,000 people lifting their voices in prayer.As I knelt on the hard concrete praying for Kenya, I felt God’s Spirit rising in me.As I prayed, my words intangible even to me, I felt the keys to my heart unlock–The layers pulled back.Finally, the deep desires of my heart were accessible and in the open.
“Lord, I want to go,” I prayed.“I want to go.I want to go.I want to go.”It was a prayer of frustration.I came to Urbana hoping to find direction from God that would empower me to take the next step.Where was my direction?Where were my answers?As the dust from my prayer settled, I felt God’s voice: Not yet, Amelia.Wait.
I was confused.“What do you mean I have to wait?” I asked God.“I’m ready!” But, up until that point, I was ready with my mind.But my heart was sorely lacking.That night, God opened the floodgates to my heart and prepared me to not only hear His voice in my mind, but in my spirit.
If I had to describe Wednesday in one word, I would say it was humbling.With my newly opened heart, I came repeatedly before the Lord and listened to the words He had for me… These words were not comforting.
That morning, our passage in Bible study was the end of Matthew 25, where Jesus divides the sheep from the goats and says, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me”.As a large group, we studied the intricacies and implications of the passage deeply.I emerged with the sense that, despite my readiness to go abroad, I hadn’t given much thought to the people I’d actually be serving.I realized that when it came to serving others, I didn’t know how.
One of Wednesday’s speakers was David Platt, pastor and author of the books Radical and Follow Me.His books were the catalysts of my decision to go into ministry.I read them during a very spiritually challenging season and they pushed my desire to serve God with my life.It was incredible hearing Platt speak.The power, authority, and incredible love of God is so present in his voice and words.He talked about the woman in Matthew 26 who pours a very expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ head as an act of love and submission.
Platt’s words cut me like knives.One statement hit my spirit like a ton of bricks:
I see myself in that statement.Here I was, trying to figure out how to get going when my heart and spirit had completely forgotten why I’m called to go in the first place.In my ambitions to go abroad, I lost my heart for Christ.Platt went on to say, “Missions is not meant to be your life.Christ is your life.Jesus is worth losing everything for.”
These words are so simple and straightforward, but my heart forgot.I forgot what it feels like, what it means to love Jesus unconditionally.My spirit churned and I felt God’s voice rising again, with words that were not comfortable:“Amelia, how can you go into the world and represent My Kingdom if you love yourself more than you love Me?You want to serve me, but don’t know how.The answer is simple: love My children.Care for them.Give yourself for them.What you do for them, you do for Me.Go, Amelia.Feed My sheep.”
I left large group that day feeling burdened with God’s Spirit, wondering what living out this command looks like in a practical manner.What does it look like?How am I to care for others?What skills and abilities do I have to contribute?Where do I fit in the grand scheme of things?How can I serve others with the gifts I have?As I meditated on my questions, God slowly revealed answers.I attended more seminars and large group sessions and began to receive smile answers.I could go into what those answers were, but that would end in lots of tangents.So I’ll start wrapping this up…
I went into Urbana feeling confident and ready.I left feeling the opposite–small, weak, and inadequate.There is so much to process.There’s so much I don’t know.Amid a big, dark world… I’m so small.So unsure.I’m leaving for England in less than a week and I don’t feel ready.I’m stepping into the vast unknown with a one-way ticket and have no idea what is in store.
The most terrifying thing is that I honestly don’t know if I’m ever coming back.At least, not permanently.
But maybe that’s the point.God isn’t looking for people who are ready.He’s not interested in how prepared I feel.He cares about my heart.He wants me in a position of weakness and humility, for it is then that I need Him most.At Urbana, He showed me that my prayers need to shift from “Where will I go?” to “Show me how to love others the way You love me”.
I don’t need to have all the answers.What I need is a heart for Christ.Like the woman in Matthew with her alabaster jar, I need to place myself under God’s authority.I need to relinquish control and let my story align with the beautiful story God is writing all across the globe, trusting that God knows what He is doing and that He will provide the next step.
I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading.Yes, this is the story of how my life was impacted by attending Urbana.Additionally, it’s also the beginning of a new story–a story I don’t know the end to–a story in which I don’t hold the pen.There is still so far to go in the journey of cultivating a heart for others.But this is a start.
There are so many things I don’t know about you. But, then again, there are so many things I don’t know about me either.
Up until this point, my life has been predictable. Go to school, get good grades, go home for breaks, work in the summer, and so on. I’ve always known what the next year will bring.
When I look at you, New Year, I see a vast unknown. I see the path beneath my feet stretching into a fog. All I really see is what is directly before me. In a way, I see you, but I don’t know what you will bring.
Where will I go? What will I do? They seem like such simple questions, but the answers are blank.
I’m excited to see you, New Year. I’m ready to take the leap into the unknown. I’ve been waiting and wondering about where I fit into this big, beautiful world. I’m ready to find out.
I have never been one for resolutions. I don’t like empty promises. I avoid concrete vows that never actually happen. But I’m all for having hopes.
This year, I hope to grow in my relationship with God.
I hope to get closer to figuring out my place in the world.
I hope to know myself better.
I hope to be a good daughter, sister, and friend.
I hope to take care of my health–physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I hope that I will be better at giving of my money, time, and love.
I hope to better at empathizing and seeing things from the perspectives of others.
I hope that, wherever I go, I will make the world a little brighter.
New Year, even though I don’t know what you have in store, I welcome you with open arms.
My Facebook newsfeed today was filled with opinions this morning. This isn’t unusual, as I have friends on both sides of the political divide. I usually don’t like to engage in such things on social media. I don’t like to associate with a political party. Such things breed division and strife–so I keep my opinions to myself.
But in lieu of current events and the hate that has risen in their wake, I’m finding it hard to remain silent.
As I’ve been following the debates regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, I have been absolutely appalled by the response from Christians. My Facebook feed is filled with messages along the lines of “Close the boarders because we don’t want terrorists to get in”. I saw a comment that said, “I’m all for helping the refugees, I just don’t want to let them in.”
Or, in other words, “I’m all for helping people as long as it doesn’t impact my life.” “I’m all for taking care of the poor and needy, as long as my comfort isn’t threatened.”
This makes my blood boil.
What, then, is more valuable? Comfort or human life? The ease of the rich or the despair of the poor?
To make things clear, I understand the fear. The refugees are people who are very different from us. They look different, sound different, and follow a different religion. Differences are unknowns and unknowns are scary. And yes, there is a risk that the wrong people can get in. Is this a risk we are willing to take?
A couple of my friends posted links to a short piece on Relevant Magazine titled “What the Bible Says About How to Treat Refugees“. I recommend giving it a read, for it is very good. It is a list of verses with little commentary, letting the Bible speak for itself. These verses speak of loving the poor, caring for the needy, and putting the needs of others before your own. They talk about setting aside what is comfortable in favor of preserving human life.
I’d like to add a verse to the list. 1 John 4:18:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (ESV)
Is allowing refugees into America worth it, despite the risk of letting terrorists in? Absolutely. Because perfect love, God’s love, casts out fear.
We, as Christians, are called to love the needy and care for the broken. It’s not an option. Loving one’s neighbor as ones self is not only a command, it’s the GREATEST command. So are we going to obey? Are we going to trust that, even though there are unknowns and even though we are afraid, God is in control?
I realize that I am addressing this from a Christian perspective and you may not share my worldview. This is okay. Biblical rhetoric aside, I think my questions are still valid because this is, ultimately, not only a Christian issue. It is a human issue. These refugees aren’t faceless, soulless drones. They may be different, but they are human beings with just as much right to life as I. They have the same capacity to love, to feel, to dream as you and I do.
Are we, Christians and non Christians alike, going to set aside our comfort, riches, and fears, and care for the refugees?
I honestly don’t know what this looks like in my life. As an American, I live a life of incredible privilege. There aren’t poor and homeless people lining up at my door. The refugees are on the other side of the world. But with privilege comes responsibility. If and when the time comes to take action, I hope that I am able to do what is RIGHT and not settle for what is EASY.
It’s a complicated issue. There are a thousand arguments and counterarguments that can be made. It can be discussed for hours on end. Your opinion and worldview may be different than mine, and that’s okay. I don’t mind. Differences are not something to be afraid of. They are our greatest strength.
But I’m tired of remaining silent. I’ve been given a voice and am choosing to use it. So this is me, adding my thoughts to the universe.
Some days, this fact about myself makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. In a consumer society where the movies we watch and books we read tell us the most desirable thing a woman can strive for is romance, not having it sometimes makes me feel weak. Open. Insecure.
Singleness is often portrayed as a dreadful thing that women need to get rid of. I love romantic comedies, but how many center on women who are dissatisfied with their relationship status? To be single is to be a failure. If you’re not in a relationship, you’re not desirable enough. You’re not beautiful enough. You’re not smart enough. You are not enough.
What a bunch of crap.
Most days, romantic inexperience doesn’t bother me much. I’ve never felt the desire to date for the sake of dating. When I enter a relationship someday, I want it to be something that lasts. I don’t want to be with someone for the sake of not being alone. I want to be with someone because they fascinate and inspire me. I want to be with someone who loves me for who I am. In reality, I’ve never actually met anyone I seriously wanted to date. Oh I’ve had crushes. Lots of them. But only one person has ever seriously caught my eye and that didn’t even start to go anywhere. That, however, is a story for another day.
When it comes down to it, I love being single. I love making life decisions without needing someone else’s input, worrying about distance, or providing for children. For me, there is a whole world of possibilities. I could move anywhere, do any job, and pursue whatever adventures come my way. Singleness is a unique time in life and I don’t want to spend it moping around.
I do hope to find love eventually, but why detract from the joys of life by buying into lies that I need a man to make me happy? Everyone says it comes when you least expect it. I figure that if I live without expectations of romance, I can enjoy all the wonderful things in my life now. When love comes, it will take me by surprise and will be so much more exciting.
My philosophy on love and dating may not resonate with everyone. Most of my views stream from my deeply rooted faith and security in God. But to go into all the spiritual aspects of my reasoning would be crossing into waters I tend to avoid in the blogosphere. (Maybe I’ll write about why I don’t talk about my faith much someday. I’ll add that to the list of post ideas.) Anyway, if my words don’t fit your perspective or worldview, that is okay. We’re all different. As the phrase goes, “You do you.”
The truth is, though, culture is wrong. You don’t need romance, dates, or sex to live a fulfilling life.
Falling in love? Maybe someday. Until then, I am enough.
This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.