Spring’s Bloom

I woke up before the sun today, leaving home before 6:00AM to travel to Memphis for a couple days of work (I find it hard to believe that anyone reading this hasn’t experienced me going on and on about my job, but if you have somehow evaded these conversations, I work as a university recruiter). First of all, hallelujah, I’m in Memphis. This city…God has such great plans for the people of this place. After five years of feeling led to this place, I’m in a season where my feet get to be on the ground with the assignment to talk with beloved, world changing students.

I arrive an hour early, find a Starbucks (praise Him) and drive around the community college I am scheduled to visit for a looooong time trying to figure out parking, where my building is, etc. Sometimes table visits at community colleges are very slow, producing little to no student conversations. My expectations for today are low, but my excitement is optimistically high!

I find my building, eventually find my table (in a lovely hallway made of windows that overlooks a courtyard, as an added bonus to my day), and get settled in. I’m giddy.  The familiarity of being surrounded by people with brown skin seeps into my soul, and I feel at home. My heart celebrates. Thank you, Jesus, for the precious presence of African Americans in this country, in this city, in this part of my day.

I sit at my table for an awkward 5-10 minutes as students walk by, ignoring me, which is very common. It is a bit awkward to just walk up to a stranger and start talking, especially about college, and I understand that. So, I sit at my laptop and glance up as people pass by. A young man walks through the hallway I’m seated it. He looks friendly, but doesn’t speak. He then turns around and comes back, and immediately begins to ask me about the university I’m representing. We talk for 20 minutes about the Tennessee Promise (I had been researching but needed help!), local universities, his dreams, his career goals and what his academic history has been like. He’d like to study Criminal Justice, which is one of my favorite programs, so we have fun discussing it. He calls me Ma’am, Miss, looks me in the eye, makes time for me to ask my questions and takes his time answering them. What a blessing this young gentleman is. After we’ve both had our questions satisfied, he shakes my hand. As he walks away he proclaims, “Welcome to Memphis!” I can’t help but respond with a squeal about how much I love this city.

As I bask in joy,  I accept the feeling that his welcome was actually a welcome from Jesus, using a precious one (one of his favorites, I’m sure) to bless me.

Be encouraged, the Lord created your dreams, desires, the things you’re drawn to. I never thought taking this job, in Illinois, would lead to the fulfillment of my heart’s desire to spend time (not a vacation, but a season) in Memphis. I have looked for jobs in this city over the years, applying and not hearing back, and I’ve wondered why I feel so drawn-where has my open door been? When will I arrive in the season that fulfills this hope? Then, as if from nowhere, my employer decides to expand recruitment into Memphis and I am the only volunteer. And so, I maintain my home in glorious Southern Illinois, my Eden, while beginning a wonderful adventure in Memphis.

God really loves our heart’s desires more than we do, and He really does love to surprise us. He works ALL things for the good of those who love Him, and is capable of (and happy to, I think)  fulfilling dreams that seem conflicting (live in So. IL/live in Memphis) in conjunction with one another. He weaves the most beautiful seasons together. More and more, I’m convinced that Papa loves the surprise elements.

Be blessed, your dreams are not forgotten. They’re going to be better in their fulfillment than you could have asked for or imagined and, in His perfect time, they will bloom beautifully.

Advertisements

Two Years Later…

It has been two years since I have quieted my heart and written something for the public eye to see. This was, at first, motivated by shame, but then by my own desire to wait until I believed I was ready. In my last two years, as I’m sure is also true for you, God has shown Himself powerfully. Seeds of deep pain marked the beginning of this season, but are now showing the sprouts of lovely, fruitful flowers of joy and peace.

In the last two years I’ve ended my “career” as a missionary, gotten engaged, planned a wedding, bought a dress and then become single. I’ve been unemployed, diagnosed with an awful disease, moved across state lines, worked multiple jobs that I’d dreamt of having, shared bedrooms and homes with some of my very best friends and been totally unraveled.

It has been ugly. It has been marvelous. It has been real.

And it all started with Holy Spirit’s fatherly voice informing me that I wasn’t ready to be married.

But marriage really wasn’t the root. At the root of my non-readiness was hurt. Deep, searing pain that I’d ignored, yet cultivated. Wounds that hadn’t even been allowed to scab over full of mess and foaming with anger, rejection, depression, anxiety and insecurity. Wounds from childhood that were not my fault, but that I alone had chosen to hold onto, foster, develop into a part of me like soggy, worm-filled drift wood grafted into a flowering lilac tree.

It has been a year since things exploded. A year since my once fiancé did the kindest thing he has ever done for me in letting me go for my good. A year.

And now I’m ready to share.

I’m not sharing because I think I’m such a big deal (I hope!) or because I have all kinds of wisdom that everyone needs. I want to share because I’ve seen and become the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living…specifically, in my heart. I want to share how dry bones I didn’t even know existed inside of me have been given new life, how the Lord prepared a table for me in the presence of my deepest, darkest season and scariest enemies. I want to shout from the tippy-tops of the mountains that my valley has been filled to overflowing with goodness, grace, forgiveness and mercy and as happy as I am to have been carried out, I am no longer as afraid of the valleys.

I want to share because I want you, the one who stumbled upon this because you googled “broken heart” or “broken Christian engagement” or “hopelessness”, to know that the moment you’re convinced your life has taken a tragic turn that will end you is actually the most exciting moment of your life. For when you finally realize your weakness, your complete inability to keep it all together, you also realize your need for the love of your Savior, Jesus, to guide you into the healing of your heart.

He’s worth it.

And so are you.

You’re Free!

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…Galatians 5:1

Try to imagine your life without expectations. Not just financial expectations, like what your projected salary in five years will be. Bigger than that. Much bigger. Like the expectations placed on “productive members of society”. Or the expectations you have for yourself as a good spouse. Or the expectations your parents have for you in order to be proud of who you are. Now, remove them. It may seem nearly impossible, but imagine yourself living in the pure, unadulterated identity of Christ, with His expectation only: “Be Free.”

I’m not suggesting we should drop out of high school and sit on the couch our whole lives, nor am I suggesting sin. Being free is not an excuse to sin, for you will only place yourself in bondage again. My conviction flows from a place of desiring to hear God’s voice more loudly than the others. What if His expectations for you are more important than the expectations of those around you? Would you be working the job you’re in? Would you have gotten your degree in something else? Would you have gotten a degree at all? Would you be more joyful? Would you be more confident? Would you be so stressed? Where would you be living? Who would you be noticing? What would you be praying for?

You were crucified with Christ. You no longer live, Christ lives in you. Galatians 2:20 blows my mind. It seems there are many Christians walking around, already crucified and full of Christ, but trying to get back on the cross and reincarnate their old identity as a man or woman of the world. The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs, yet they feel anxiety about disappointing the world. The crucified Christ lives in their shell, yet they must make a life for themselves. They have an opportunity to store up loads and loads of riches in Heaven, but the riches of this Earth are their focus and concern. We are set free, yet we turn off our love from 9-5 and turn on a “me first” mentality. We have been given the greatest commission ever: “Go! Love People! Showcase my power! Tell them how much I love them! Share the greatest love story and don’t forget the ending! I’m coming soon! Can’t wait to spend eternity with you, My Bride!” We have been told we will always be provided for, always be loved, always be clothed, and never have to worry. Wow, that sounds like a dream! But, it’s our reality, as Believers. Yet, we choose the world. Unreal.

Don’t wait another minute. Is the Lord inviting you overseas to love someone you haven’t met yet? Go! Quit your job tomorrow, I dare you. Whatever He’s invited you to, consider how amazing saying yes would be, rather than worrying about the unknowns.  Ask Him what His best is. Decide to find out for yourself if it’s really He who has been providing for you all along, or if you’re actually responsible for yourself. Return to your First Love, obey Him. Realize that you’re dead and start really living. Smile at the wise of the world and pray for their salvation, rather than requesting their opinion; it will never be more important than the opinion of the God of the universe. Trust Him.

Aside

My Name is Not “Emotional Wreck”

I’ll admit, I’m a bit emotional. If I were to be very honest, I’d have to say there are many days I’m much more emotional than the average woman. And yes, sometimes my emotions don’t seem controllable and often play into decisions I make. I believe experiencing lots of or intense emotions can sometimes be the negative side of a gift of compassion, but God doesn’t give us gifts to burden us. His gifts are good and the fruit of them should be also. So, when I experience emotions that seem overwhelming or uncontrollable, I’ve started to learn that that usually means somewhere, even in the tiniest place in my heart, I’m not trusting that God is in control.  Is God mad about it? Nope, I’m still swimming in an ocean of grace. However, that’s no excuse to sin by doubting Him.

Okay, so, for example: My employment is transitioning (as in, I’ll be unemployed at the end of this month),  I do not currently have a vehicle, the house I live in is for sale, I’m recently engaged and also praying about a church home. Is this a lot of change? Mmm, yep. Do I typically handle change in a way that shows I love being fully dependent on God (i.e. I trust Him)? Nope. So, recently I found myself truly unable to handle my emotions. I hinted to a friend about coming to spend the night so I would feel comforted (she did, I have amazingly supportive community). The next day I began to fear I was on the brink of a panic attack while mopping the floor. These are not signs of trust in God. I know the world says this kind of thing happens, but I find it hard to believe that anxiety and a desire to control exists in the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s just not our portion as believers. So, my boss/spiritual mom/mentor had a very blatant, encouraging talk with me. In short, she led me to question why I wasn’t trusting God to provide for me. She encouraged me to understand that there is something He’d like to speak to me in the midst of this transition, if I would listen. She helped me to remember that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and is perfectly capable of providing for all of my needs, emotional needs included. She led me to consider that all of this change was probably happening at the same time according to God’s will, and probably there was some fruit that could be produced in this season, some freedom from anxiety and fear that is not my portion. 

So, since this is such a life altering revelation for me, I could not possibly keep from sharing it. I found myself crying and laughing on my knees, repenting for my lack of trust and giggling over how silly I was to distrust that I was in the midst of God’s will for my life. It was beautiful to have that time with the Lord, to feel free, to see my life as His and not my own. I have, once again, been transformed by the renewing of my mind and I am so grateful for a God who loves to free me from deeply rooted bondage, like anxiety and fear. He’s awesome.

Before I wrap it up, I would like to give God one more loud trumpet. He truly is loving, so full of grace. In the midst of my distrust, He has begun to heal a tooth of mine which has caused me pain and problems for years. Truly, this is an amazing miracle. One of my front teeth has seemed to have some kind of fracture in it for years, which half the dentists I visit seem to acknowledge and the other half do not. This tooth has been extremely sensitive to hot and cold, aching all the time and is slightly loose when I try to move it. I recently got an NTI for my grinding issues (sort of like a night guard), which has caused continued pain. Also, the tooth is set farther back than my other front tooth and discolored, according to my most recent dentist, along with the tooth next to it. So, I’m afraid of having a “snaggle tooth” in the future or needing to take this tooth out and replace it (told you I have a tendency to worry/control/be emotional!). A couple days ago I was reading in Matthew with a young lady I mentor and read Matthew 7:7-8, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (NLT) I was so super encouraged to continue to pray for my tooth and no joke I woke up the next day with no pain, my tooth noticeably physically strengthened, no aching and almost no sensitivity at all when I tap on it and none that I’ve noticed while eating or drinking. WHOAAAAAAAAAAA!!! I have had no pain after wearing my NTI each night since, and the tooth even seems to be more even with my other front tooth. Yes, the Lord chose to encourage and begin to heal me in the midst of my disbelief because He loves me. It’s not about what I do, He’s not mad or disappointed, that’s what grace is all about and He’s wonderful and such a great encourager. 

***Update: I wrote this blog last week and since then I have had minimal to no pain in my tooth. The Lord continues to strengthen it and I will be fully healed!

So, I declare healing and freedom over you as you read this. God loves you. If there is something you’re not trusting God with,  I ask that He would reveal it to you so you can receive amazing peace and dependence on God that is your portion in every single area of your life. I declare physical healing over your body. No matter how large or small the physical ailment is you may be experiencing, Jesus’ blood covers it and as a child of God it’s not your portion. Let Your Kingdom come, Father God! 

An Honest Day’s Rest

Summers in Cairo are populated with high school youth serving, hugging and loving our little community. YouthWorks, a short-term missions organization, has a site here which hosts hundreds of teens each summer for week-long missions trips. I enjoy this two month treat, as most of my time is spent listening to teens share their process of coming to Christ, why they desire to serve and what they’re learning as they exist in Cairo, as well as just having fun with the children I love. This season tends to expose raw parts of hearts, though, especially the part of our heart which so enjoys harboring a “doing” mentality.

As I walk with Christ, He teaches me much about abiding in Him, resting and trusting that His grace is sufficient for me. He teaches me that He sends me places or gives me things to put my hands to as an invitation to learn more about Him and who I am, not first and foremost to bless others, though that is often a byproduct. As I walk through life I am being shown how refined I truly am by His grace, how completely I am healed. I’m learning that’s what life on this Earth is most about, getting to know Christ and getting to know who I really am in Him. So often, though, we’re taught that our relationship with Christ is based on what we do for him, not what He has already done for us.

In a missions lifestyle, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in what I’m doing. In the summers especially, when I’m joined by people who have come to do good works, there are times when I have to step back and make sure I’m not promoting a “doers” mentality, encouraging people to work for Christ instead of know Christ. Because, there is a difference between the two. One summer I worked for Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic as a customer service representative. I received paychecks and was devoted to Mr. Banana Boat, but I sure never did meet him and definitely couldn’t call him a friend. He provided for my earthly needs and thus I worked for him, but a heart relationship was non-existent. So it can be with God, if we feel our worth is equivalent to our works, or if we believe the most important part of our relationship with Christ is working instead of being in relationship.

So here’s what God showed me yesterday: My day was pretty strange, as my schedule was more relaxed than it should have been (my fault) and I wasn’t getting much done. In the middle of the day I decided to call our bug guy, Lynn, because I had woken up to spiders near my head at least two mornings in the last several days and couldn’t take it anymore. Lynn said he could come that same day. He showed up in town and called me during the middle of my work day, so I had to leave my “missions work” to come home and be with him as he sprayed the house. I felt defeated, like a failure. I was disappointed with myself for missing work. I made conversation with Lynn as he walked around the house and on his way out I asked him about his wife (if she was also still working, as they’re both in their 70’s). He shared with me that she was walking through cancer. Hello! I was healed of cancer and  love, love, love to watch God heal people of cancer. All of a sudden I was no longer a missionary doing my job, I was God’s child. I naturally jumped into action, praying with Lynn for his wife and ministering to him. I didn’t do this because it was my job or because I knew God would really like me if I did it, I prayed with Lynn because it was a natural overflow of my communication with the Lord, my identity as His beloved child and I knew He would answer out of His own desire to heal her.

At the end of my work day I was spending time with the Lord (as a “prayer missionary” this is built into my daily work schedule) and was having a hard time focusing. Again, I felt like a lazy failure because I was not putting enough effort into focusing and really communicating with God. I decided to get on my bike and listen to a podcast from Bethel Church as I peddled around Cairo. I asked God to lead me to anyone He wanted to. As I biked down a road near the river, several students I know were walking by. I had just biked past and ignored some students yelling my name (yes, I’m being very forthright here to show how effortless partnering with the Lord is and how kind He is, even when I ignore His babies), but these children were right in front of my face. So, I stopped and talked with them for a while, catching up on their summer and sharing mine. Eventually I asked if anyone would like prayer for anything and told them I had asked God to lead me to people. One of the students asked me to pray for his family, so we did on the spot. Another student had a scraped hand so I prayed for healing for him and shared how much Jesus loves him. I gave lots of hugs (not out of obligation) and was so blessed by the encounter.

As my bike ride continued I found myself passing a dear friend of mine in her minivan who has recently moved out of Cairo because of a terrible turn of events she couldn’t control. Time and again the Lord has laid her on my heart and she and her beautiful daughters are precious. She stopped her van and I turned around. I found she was back in Cairo for a church service (didn’t know she attended church or was considering communication with God) and was caught up on her life. The Lord is truly bringing healing to her heart, which was such a gift for me to see. I was able to hug her and her daughters and was very encouraged by our run in.

I wasn’t “doing ministry” when the Lord led me to these people, I was just existing. I wasn’t “working”, I was biking around Cairo because I was having a hard time focusing on God. Because He’s awesome, He showed me grace and gave me gifts. My identity is in Christ and we know each other intimately, even on days the enemy tries to convince me that I am worthless and have no connection to God if I fail at my works. He will always bless people through me because it’s a natural part of our relationship, not because I’ve earned it (worked for it). I don’t have to do anything. My role is to receive His love and grace and be blessed as I watch Him transform other lives the way He’s transformed mine.

Prayer for Teens, Please!

For the last couple of months I’ve been having a small Bible study with three seventh (soon to be eighth) grade girls. This has gone extraordinarily well, despite my firm belief that it would be a train wreck. I enjoy one on one Bible study (sort of) but leading a Bible study with multiple people kind of makes me want to throw up. What if I don’t present the Word of God the right way? What if I choose the wrong thing to study? What if I say something that brings offense? What if I don’t speak out boldly for the Lord when He asks me to? And, the most  important concern: what if the girls involved don’t like me? This may just be a sign that I really believe the lie that Bible study is all about me and not at all about God. Despite my obvious battle with pride, the Lord has done incredible things. I  know the only reason this Bible study has flourished is because the Lord is speaking to these girls;  I sit at their feet each week in amazement as I listen to what He’s speaking.

Several weeks ago we crowded into my room and got comfy with pillows and girl talk. I wanted to introduce the girls to the supernatural, but of course I was nervous. Holy Spirit reminded me that He’s always faithful, so I explained to the girls that we were going to take some time to listen to Jesus. We talked about how the Lord gave us an imagination, so He probably loves to use it to communicate with us. I told them about how the Lord can speak through pictures in our imagination (like visions) and shared things He has shown me. I turned on a couple of worship songs and asked the girls to just close their eyes and wait for the Lord to speak. They had journals in hand in case they wanted to write anything down and all picked a place on the floor to lay back and wait. After maybe 10 minutes we shared what the Lord had shown us and oh my goodness was I blown away!

One student had been shown a picture that is basically directly out of the book of Revelation, which she’s neither heard of nor read. One student was shown something in a dream (she actually fell asleep during that time) that was such a blessing and another student was given an incredible picture of the Lord’s love for her. They all thought it was fun to sit with Jesus and I glimpsed the childlike faith that they still possess as children. The Holy Spirit was so faithful, of course. My world was pretty shaken up.

 

The following week at Bible study one of the girls said to me, as we were standing around my kitchen, “Hey Miss Amanda, remember when we spent time visualizing (I think she used that word) with Jesus last week for five or ten minutes?” I said yes and she said, “Well, now I do that every day. But not for five or ten minutes. For an hour.” HA! Praise the Lord! The Lord is always having fun, always being intentional, always growing in relationship with those that love Him.

We’ve sort of dispersed for the summer, though my hope is to continue to meet with the girls, at least one on one, several times before school begins again. Two of them may be moving out of the school district and hearing this news solidified for me that God was really timely with the Bible study. I’m thrilled to see what the Lord desires to do in the hearts of young people-this and so much more! Please pray for these three girls. Each of them have unique strengths and struggles. Each of them have grown up in the midst of broken homes, broken relationships, poverty and a culture of religion. Each of them will have to learn to truly set their eyes on Christ and for this they need much prayer. Your willingness to pray could affect the course of each of these girl’s lives, and the Lord would love to partner with you for these young ones. Please pray.

 

To My Supporters

Dear Supporters,

Thank you for your amazing contributions of prayer, time, encouragement, finances and smiles these last three years. My life has truly been changed through my focus being directed towards the Lord’s faithfulness. Thank you for saying yes to the Lord when He’s invited you to pray for me, visit, pray for Cairo, send money, take me out to dinner, love me well, etc. etc. etc. The multitude of blessings I’ve received have been unexpected and life giving. Thank you.

As of the end of August, I will no longer be on staff with Two Rivers Ministries, retiring my title of “Missionary” for the time being. Titles sometimes lend a hand to pride,  right? 🙂 The Lord is up to something and as of right now Two Rivers Ministries may be retiring, in the sense of an organization, anyway. Of course that will only happen if God says it is. Either way, the Lord is not going to stop pursuing the people of Cairo and all of us (supporters, readers, past and present staff, believers in Cairo) will likely never stop praying for or loving the people of Cairo. May He receive His glory!

I will continue to live in Cairo, at least that’s my plan. God knows I love this place and these children and I’m grateful I don’t feel prompted to move at this time. It looks as though I will either be on an unemployed vacation as of September 1st, selling my jewelry full time (voicedesigns.etsy.com) or back in the marketplace, where I haven’t stepped foot for years. Whatever the Lord chooses, I am not career focused. That’s been the change that’s happened since I’ve moved here: I’ve watched the Lord provide for my every need, transform my ambitions and teach me to rest. I no longer desire a career or feel driven to accomplish anything. I simply desire to rest in the presence of the Lord and follow Him in whatever adventure He has for us daily. It’s a beautiful thing. He has shared with me that this next season of my life is not so much about what I do, but is about walking into my identity as a spiritual mother. Whew, new unknowns! If the Lord says the same, I will continue to update what the Lord is up to in Cairo on this blog.

I also have some other wonderful news: I’ve got a boyfriend! 🙂 About six months ago I was matched with Jordan on EHarmony (yeah, I know, I didn’t see it coming either). He’s a wonderful man, truly a blessing. He made the move from the Chicago burbs to Cairo three weeks ago and we’ve gone from living 6 hours apart to 19 blocks apart. 🙂 He’s a big part of this new season with the Lord and a very fun, joy filled addition to my life. If you’d like more details, please feel free to laugh your way through our blog: happilyunexpected.wordpress.com

So, thank you. Thank you for walking with Jesus and me on the most enjoyable adventure of my life. Thank you for serving Him by serving me. Thank you for teaching me about humility. Thank you for praying, as the fruit of your prayers are eternal change in my life and the lives of the people of Cairo. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20

Previous Older Entries