lessons

Dear Jacob: don't stop looking.

Dear Jacob,

This morning at 9:45, I stepped out of the prayer room and looked beyond the balcony. I am used to shuffling my feet from one place to the next, but this time I decided to stop. I took in as many sights and sounds as I could in my three minutes of spare time.

I really looked. 

Do you know what I saw? I saw plumeria trees with missing leaves, jet skiers in the ocean to my right, palm trees taller than any Lego tower ever created, and window panes reflecting the sun at the perfect angle.

And what did I hear? I heard birds warbling, a speaker passionately teaching a class of missionaries, and lawn mowers chomping up campus grass.

Getting to sort through the different scenes around me was a blast. 

While taking in my surroundings, I began to silently cry. I know you have seen Sissy shed tears many times so it probably does not come as a surprise to you.

I don't appreciate what God has created nearly enough. You and I have been given senses—the ones you learned all about in a homeschool science class—and they are a real gift. They allow us to enjoy people and food and nature and much more. I think we forget that many times.

I love getting to hunt for beauty around me and hold it closely. 

I am sure it is different for ten year old boys. But I know God cares so much about you that He has created things for you to enjoy, too. What are those things for you? 

On my walk to the coffee shop where I am writing this, I was thinking about the timeline of your life so far. You've already moved five times in your ten years here. Unlike some other kids your age, you've been exposed to a constant change of surroundings and surely have felt the impact of transition.

This has caused you to see a lot, and that is really special.

Jacob, you see things through God's special glasses. Think of them like hi-tech spy gadgets. You see the good all around youin people and in situations. For years now, you have been telling me how beautiful I am no matter how I feel or what I think I look like. My roommate April would call that "calling out the gold" — something you do really, really well. 

Don't stop looking, buddy. 

Whether you're detecting cumulonimbus clouds on a Tuesday or listening to Bible verses playing on my purple boombox, keep learning. Keep track of what catches your eye, what you want to know more about, what you hear and what means most to you.

At ten years old, go wild in your dreams with God.

Use those eyes to look around for the people who need a friend. Be the one who knows their favourite trading card and frozen yogurt topping from Menchie's because you're the one who pays attention. Believe the best about others and give them that high five when you sense they need one.  

Our surroundings change, but there is always something we can do, learn, say, see, or enjoy.

You know that I sometimes struggle to remember things. It is a symptom of the sickness I have. So I tell people I collect memories and I hold everything closely by writing and photographing. On the hard days, it helps me remember what I have seen and heard and been surrounded by. It reminds me that God is a good, generous Dad.

He gives us many opportunities to find His blessings. It's like a lifelong scavenger hunt that we've been invited into.

We will always find the good as long as we are seeking after Him. 

So keep looking, J. Look long and hard.

You have been given special eyes to see the way bugs crawl and Legos interlock and people need love. And in my opinion, they are some of the coolest eyes you can have.

I love you always,
Sissy

I know that I can trust You.

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Eleven hours before I was Hawaii-bound, I sat in the passenger seat of our Honda CRV, weeping. My dad and I drove to Target to pick up some travel items when I began doubting my departure altogether.

There in the parking lot, we talked through why I should or should not go.

I felt like I had very legitimate reasons for no longer returning and many would agree. With my financial situation and physical health having hardly budged in the direction I hoped, it seemed like I would be setting myself up for failure if I left. 

The confidence I had just days prior when hosting a missions event was gone. This missionary temporarily lost sight of the mission. Reality of circumstance suddenly took precedence over faith.

One of my biggest fearsthe fear of failurehad begun to consume me because of the lies I had given way to in my mind.

What happens if you cannot fully do what you feel so called to?

Consoling me with patience and grace, my dad said, "Remember, Erika. You are not a human-doing. You are a human-being." It caught me off guard.

This truth was the very truth I had wrestled with the last three months of ministry. And so the snot bubbles continued, no longer giving me a chance to maintain composure. Clearly, the deeper issue was now exposed. It was not really about whether I was healthy enough or had the money I needed.

The question really was, "Do I trust God with these areas of my life? In my health, my finances, my ministry?" 

I've wrapped my identity and worth around the good I am able to accomplish for God and for people. When you think about it, it is silly. I can do nothing apart from Him. Who am I to think I must please others or prove myself to be a heroine of sorts? 

That night, I remembered the yes I had given God.

There are two lines in David Brymer's "Wedding Song" that say, "And then I hear You call my name—it's the sweetest voice I know. I will leave it all behind, Lord—where You go I will go." Those words were my heart's cry; the words I read publicly at two missions events just days before.

But sometimes, I must tell God things and then I forget.

Or I tell Him in a swirl of excitement and emotion, unprepared to actually do what I just willingly said yes to. (like going wherever He leads.)

I didn't expect the "going" to feel so painful or risky that Tuesday night. Yet knowing God is worthy to be trusted, I packed up my suitcases and stuffed away my fears.
 

It's been two weeks since that Tuesday. I am back in Hawaii, and there is not much more that makes sense to me.

Daily, I am being challenged to place my trust in Him.

I am continuing to discover He is the One who understands my greatest fears, needs, and questions.

The other night, I knelt on the floor with my fists on the concrete, repeatedly shouting out, "I know that I can trust You! Even in my sickness! Even when I don't understand! I choose to believe You are good! I lean not on my own understanding!"

Over and over I sing to Him, "I know that I can trust You," and He gives me new strength for the day.

Something is shifting inside every time I close my eyes and thank God for His unending goodness. It does not matter whether my rent money is in sight or the doctor I need exists in the state. I said yes to a good God, not to a situation.

I was not provoked to give Him my yes because it meant a life of riches, perfected health, or a blossoming ministry carved out for me. I simply said yes to trusting and following Him because this life is about obedience and a love response to the One who has given me everything. 

I know that I can trust Him.

O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired, 
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

Blessings in sickness.

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Since Friday afternoon, I have been thinking a great deal about living with health challenges. 

I had just returned from an appointment with a new endocrinologist and had a nicely bruised left antecubital space to prove it. (I learned that word seventeen seconds ago when Googling "opposite side of elbow.")

This visit was vastly different than most. It was the first in a long, long time where I felt the doctor was not only willing to work with me, but desired to. As she listened to me recount my symptoms in the most drawn out fashion, I saw tenderness in her eyes.

Unlike the doctors who told me last fall there was nothing they could do for me, she carried herself in a way that proved her desire to help.

"This is my problem to fix," she whispered gently. 

Immediately after her exit, I sat in the waiting chair with little happy tears dotting my cheeks. In my struggle for good health, there are two things I have consistently appreciated: someone who listens and someone who seeks to understand.

She had done both. Suddenly, I did not feel so alone in this. 

On the drive home, I thought about people who endure sicknesses of all kinds.

I thought about the selfish and devious twists self pity adds to life. I thought about how I no longer want to be a part of it regardless of my physical state. I thought about a lot of things, much of which is irrelevant to what I am trying to say.

That same day, the day of many thoughts and moments of rejoicing, I purchased an eBook, "Believing is Seeing," written by Laura Lawson Visconti. I think, perhaps, she is the reason I write this post tonight.

Laura is a remarkable creative (artist, writer, speaker) who is losing her eyesight due to a rare degenerative condition of the eye.

As I read through the fifty-five pages in one sitting, all that once seemed so mysterious actually made some sense. Although our journeys differ in magnitude, she spoke a language I could relate to. Again, I did not feel so alone.

She writes:  

Here is the difficult truth I have come to believe with every ounce of my being: He is not concerned with my comfort as much as He is concerned with my heart. This took a very long time to understand, but now that I get it, I can laugh at the negative implications this disease has on my life and instead be grateful for the blessings it has fostered, for the voice I am blessed to have.

"Grateful for the blessings it has fostered." 
The blessings. Because in all things and in all seasons, there are blessings. 

SOME BLESSINGS:

  • Being able to take life much more slowly, enjoying the drawn out moments.
  • Returning home for 1+ year with my family and growing together.
  • Challenging myself in creative pursuits thanks to beautiful, online friendships.
  • Waking up every morning knowing that God's strength will sustain me.
  • Beginning to identify with those who are broken, sick, and pained.
  • Questioning and seeking – because it has only brought me closer to Truth.
  • Learning to cook food that is healthy and nurturing.

These "blessings" used to have negative connotations to them. (i.e. returning home was once so bittersweet because I believed it meant I was too weak to be involved on the mission field). But slowly, my perspective is transforming.    

I see pieces from Laura's life now  and can't help but be encouraged at the way she continues to live with grace, humility, and freedom.

This struggle with sickness is not to withhold me from living fully. No, it is the stepping stone to bring me into the fullness.

Through it, I am becoming more aware of my constant need for my Savior. It's okay to be a little bit weak and a little bit broken.

In fact, I think it's the best place to start.

What wildflowers teach me.

As I write this, five hours remain until my day off comes to a close. The weekend will then be brought in by a 6 o'clock morning shift and a few thousand marriage conference attendees needing their coffee.

Life has sped on by, leaving me with hardly a breath to catch.

All the busyness has further proved my lack of talent in multitasking or handling schedules. Perhaps it is an art I have not yet learned. In the past year, many others besides myself have expressed how our days seem to be flying, which got me wondering...     

What happened to the quieter and slower side of life?

I love the calmness I experience when chirps and warbles are the only sounds to be heard. I love walking around my neighborhood before most people step out their doors or carry trashcans to the curb in the morning. I love watching clouds and pointing out their unique formations. I love sitting in the dirt to smell flowers. I love taking the time to know someone's heart beyond a plastered smile. I love writing without interruption. I love elongating the length of a meal preparation. I love sitting in silence, whether alone or amongst others who are comforted by the same. I love being able to hear God's voice unhurriedly. I love the memories of my Hawaiian days and cherishing all that holds a special place in my heart. I love setting down my phone and penning a letter to a far-off friend.

And I have not done those kinds of things lately. At least not enough.

I am notorious for picking weeds out of grassy areas and bundling them together. Nearly every time, I am instructed, "Those are just weeds, Erika." "Oh I know!" I would chime in, thinking there must be something wrong because I find them to be so enchanting – weeds or not. Similarly, while what I mentioned above could seem like just silly ways to waste my time, I know the value it means to me. 

Last Monday, I read from a book that I highly recommend called "Hinds' Feet On High Places" by Hannah Hurnard and felt moved when I saw this paragraph:

Nothing my Father and I have made is ever wasted,” he said quietly, “and the little wild flowers have a wonderful lesson to teach. They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no one to appreciate them. Just as though they sang a joyous little song to themselves, that it is so happy to love, even though one is not loved in return.

A smile stretched across my face when I realized there was a reason I loved wild flowers so much.

It is quite okay to soak in these treasures and meet with the Creator in them. As I slow down, I begin to notice the details of life that God Himself is behind.

To me, the quieter and slower side of life does not necessarily require a drastic change in schedule, but a renewed heart that views life with vibrance and appreciation.

While it isn't wise to stay yes to everything like I have been, I can say yes to doing a few things that really bring life. And I can say yes to slowing my heart and mind down to praise God for the simplest things.

Like the wild flowers and His still, small voice.