Questions to Live Into in 2019

 

In so many ways, New Years just isn’t my holiday.  I’m really not one for staying up late or going out on the town.  I never seem to have plans on New Years–everyone I’d spend it with always seems to be doing something else.  This year, I spent New Years Eve painting, taking a hot bath, rewatching Downton Abbey, drinking one too many glasses of wine, and going to bed before midnight.

However, I love the chance for introspective self-reflection.  For that, New Years is ideal.  Entering a new year offers an opportunity to pause and reflect.  While there really isn’t much difference between December 31 and January 1, the flipping of a calendar symbolizes new beginnings and fresh starts.

Resolutions aren’t my thing.  Obnoxious reading challenges aside (see previous post), I find goals restrictive, daunting, and unhelpful.  Instead, I take a big-picture approach, facing each year with hopes.  Each year, I hope for similar things.  I hope to be true to myself and grow in my faith.  I hope to pursue a healthy lifestyle.  I hope to put my best into my work, my studies, and my relationships.

Yes, I still hope all these things.  But, this year, I want to take a new slant on New Years.

A lot has happened in my life over the past year.  Many of the big, unanswered questions that have held sway since entering the workforce have been resolved.  Barring my unfinished master’s degree, I’ve achieved everything in my five-year plan.  So… what now?  This position is both comforting, terrifying, and liberating.  Aside from finishing grad school, I have no idea what comes next.

In 2019, I have the opportunity to ask new questions.  I’ve learned that it’s foolish to try and predict what a year has in store.  Instead of forming questions of direction or destination, I’m going to lean into questions of attitude.  Here are things I’m asking myself this year:

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Farewell, 2018

Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer”.

This quote was recently brought to my attention through On Being’s weekly newsletter. As I’ve been reflecting on the past year, it stuck with me.

I thought 2018 would be a year of questions. I thought it would be another waiting year. I thought everything in life would pause until I finished graduate school. If you had told me then where I would be now, I probably would have laughed in your face.

To my great surprise, 2018 was a year of answers.

I entered this year with a lot of questions. Primarily, I wondered, where am I going? Professionally? Personally? Spiritually? I was in a job that I loved, but was logistically unsustainable and unchallenging. Personally, I knew the time was coming to move out of my parent’s house, but lacked a job that allowed me to do so. Spiritually, my tendency to isolate myself from others was no longer serving me well. It was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and find true community again. But where does one even begin to find that? There were other questions, too. Will I ever find a place where I can flourish? Is flourishing even possible? Does a place exist within my sphere of daily life where I’ll be accepted and loved as I am?

Looking back, nearly every question has been answered in surprising, mysterious, painful, and wonderful ways.

At the end of 2018, I have a new job that I love that is close to home and closer to my friends. I have my own apartment. I have a supportive family that I love spending time with. I have best friends for the first time in years. I’m in a small group at church with women who encourage and inspire me. When I go to church, I not longer make a beeline for the door at the end of the service, too intimidated by the crowd of conversing strangers to engage. (#IntrovertProblems). Now, I linger because I always find people to catch up with.

In so many ways, this was a difficult, frustrating, and confusing year. Navigating change, especially when it happens all at once, is challenging. I don’t think I’ve ever been as squeezed as I was this fall, where I balanced managing two libraries, graduate school, orchard season, and moving. In the aftermath, I’m completely burned out and struggling to find rest.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. As I’ve pushed into uncharted territory, I have a better sense of how to care for myself, where to set boundaries, and where I need to be more brave.

As I look back and reflect on 2018, I am so grateful for all the change, all the challenges, and all the joys. I’ve truly come into my own this year. Through it all, God has been so faithful, always providing what I didn’t know I needed and always showing up when I need Him the most. My life is filled with so many blessings—far more than I could ever deserve. I’m grateful beyond words for all of it.

With 2018 ending, I turn my gaze to the future. With so many answers in my pocket, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and discover what questions need to be lived into next year. Stay tuned for more on that front.

In the meantime, I wish you a very happy New Year!

One of my favorite photos from 2018. Taken at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in August.

 

Hitting Pause at L’Abri

I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I arrived at L’Abri.  For the past six months, I’ve been going so hard that I didn’t even notice that I’ve been functioning on empty for weeks.  As I neared the end of my summer classes, when I thought about how I wanted to celebrate reaching the halfway point of my master’s degree, the only place I could think of was L’Abri.  I’m drawn to this place in times of weariness; when the world is heavy, frustrating, and confusing.  Here, in this little refuge overlooking the city of Rochester, I always find peace and rest.  This weekend was no exception.

It’s been months since I’ve done any kind of life-update on my blog, so let me catch you up to speed on what’s been happening in Amelia-land.  First, let me show you where I’m writing.  Imagine yourself with me at this table, a mug of tea in hand, enjoying the golden hour as I ramble on.

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Thoughts on Being Alone

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.

But being alone isn’t always bliss. Continue reading

Everyday Resistance: Saying NO in the Little Ways

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

Tear Ducts of Steel

I rarely cry.  Is that weird?

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.

And then, there’s me. Continue reading

The Drunkenness of Things Being Various

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

Black, White, & the Perils of Indifference

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

Urbana 15: Telling My Story

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?

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Taken right before one of the large group sessions.

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: 1425524_1044940998901836_7089898850993416208_n

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.

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Gateway Arch at sunrise.  Taken Friday, just before we headed for home.