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On 2015 : Scattered Piles

At the end of each year, I like to choose a phrase to summarize the previous 52 weeks well. I couldn't think of one this year.

2015 has not been sorted through and folded like fresh laundry. You will not find it stacked one atop the other or put away in its appropriate drawers. In fact, much of 2015 is still strewn across its metaphorical floor - in scattered piles. Some parts clean, some parts messy. 

Today is January 1, 2016, and my day looks like it did last year (yesterday). I slept in late, curled up with a book, and spent most of my time in bed.

I love how the dawning of one day can bring so many people together in reflection and celebration. I love that this day is today.

But for me, the effects of 2015 still run deep.

I haven't finished up a journal and lined it on my shelf. I haven't thought of all I want to do or accomplish, and I still haven't found words to describe what the year I just walked out of was like.

Writing helps me process, so here's my best attempt.

- - - - -

the red leather couch.

While living in Kona, I spent a lot of time on the red leather couch in my apartment.

Naps, meetings, game nights, prayer times, and Netflix all happened around it. When I sat there the fourth Sunday of March, ranting to my dear friend and roommate, I didn't really expect anything out of the ordinary.

I shared with her about the Lyme Disease forums I found that afternoon. She patiently listened, as she is so good at doing. I went on, telling her about how unintelligent I had been feeling lately due to these cognitive symptoms, and how glad I was to now have something to justify my feelings of stupidity with.

My friend, in all of her love and wisdom, did not let me go on.

In no more than thirteen words, she called me up out of myself and into truth. She firmly believed it was time for me to stop caring what people thought.

Until then, I lived dictated by (what I assumed were) the opinions of others. I was mostly wrong in my assumptions, but I feared it nonetheless.

I believed I had to show people I was some inspiring missionary who braved sickness and ministered effortlessly through her pains. I felt that people had to know all the details upfront, before they had a moment to judge me. 

April's words changed my life that night. I don't know if she knows that, but they did.

If there is something I have been learning since then, it's that I don't have to prove myself to anyone. At the end of the day, what God says and thinks about me is what matters most.

over curry & ice cream.

"I wanted to see the hands of God, but I saw His face and everything was changed." Our new Nepali brother and sister gathered around our lopsided table in Kathmandu, encouraging three of us missionaries.

We came to Nepal to help provide relief after the recent earthquakes, but were each struggling with ministry. The seven weeks there looked nothing like I thought. I mean, nothing.

The bowl of rice made its way around once more. They continued to share about the importance of walking in faithfulness to God.

Ministry is not about impressive stories or a pressure for testimonies. It's not about "success." It's about seeking God, and Him alone. We do not love and serve Him only to gain something in return, to email a catchy newsletter back home, or to be seen as more righteous in the eyes of men.

I almost forgot that.

Then God graciously brought this couple into my life.

They are desperate for God's presence. They long to obey Him, no matter the cost. After lunch, they asked to pray and seek Him together. We cried out to our Father, as new friends who became family over coconut curry and little scoops of ice cream. 

Ministry will sometimes take an unexpected turn. You may be told you are no longer needed. Or, you may be told there's so much more you must do.

These two helped me remember it is God we are to follow—not a manmade dream or expectation. 

resignation letter, part II.

As written in my last post, after tiresome transitions and demanding decisions, I stayed in Florida. I was rehired to work in finance for an amazing company, and finally put away some money for my savings. Financial security and benefits sounded real nice.

But I resigned for the second time just as I passed my first 90 days. As I typed together that letter, it all felt like a joke.

The week of my last day, I flew up north to begin receiving treatment. My new doctor told me he expects me to get well—words I have never heard during an appointment before. 

I don't even like using the word sickness anymore. I don't like denying it, but I don't like paying it much attention either. Yet it's there. It's there, marked up on the six medical forms I had to fill out. It's there, even when I "don't look sick," and it's affecting my life.

I made the decision to quit my job, use my savings for treatment, and take time to recover.

I have no idea what this will look like or how long it will take.

I have been launched straight into a word that aggravates my people-pleasing, perfectionist, performer penchant: rest.

There is no specific revelation I have arrived at here.

I have not mastered the art of handing burdens over to God, or not worrying about anything. There is still so much I do not pray about, or do not give thanks for. He is still weeding out the selfishness in me, the fear of being honest, the deceiving suspicion He might change His mind about me.

- - - - -

2015 holds piles here and there of stories, lessons, and memories. Many of them.

It was the year a lot was taken away. I still grieve the losses at times. I can't help but think, the removal of something gives way for something else.

My hope and prayer for this year is not for more achievements or doings. Those may happen. But I don't want to hold to the comforts of relationships, ministry, financial security, or anything else. 

I want my life to be so open to God.

I look forward to seeing how He meets people like you and me in the midst of our chaos. God, who brings order to the scattered piles. God, our peace in the storm. God, to whom deserves all the glory. He is always kind.
 

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self his being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

To stay, not go.

I was hardly released from jet-lag's hands when I traded the heat of Nepal and its unpredictable streets for the cold A/C and an organized cubicle in Florida.

I went from blistered bare heels to gold glitter heels. Hardly making cash to making hard cash. Seeing numbers of people to seeing people's numbers.

Only four weeks separated these extremes.

A quick visit with my precious family back in August was meant to be just that—a quick visit. I had plans to catch up, raise support, eat my mom's cooking, and sleep on my childhood bed. Maybe even play a few rounds of Monopoly Deal with my siblings.

It was going to be great. Then God placed a decision down before me, and even though I was tempted to pull a "Just Say No!" on Him, I had to stop myself and consider. I am defiant at times. I am human and I like to pretend I know what I need. I really have no clue. 

The plans had been set for me to return to Hawaii and staff a Discipleship Training School. That opportunity was drenched in the good things I had desired and yearned for. But what I felt God prodding me to consider was to stay. To stay in Florida, to gather finances, to further the relationships there, and to find a mentor, church, and place to serve.

I have left Florida twice now, and I think both times I declared it would be my last. With some irritation at the constant change, I took the decision to prayer. I laid it before my leaders and those whom I respect. I sought God's heart and voice through the Scriptures. And He gave me an unexplainable peace.

A peace to stay.

I made the decision on a Monday. Tuesday, my previous employer called me for an interview. Since my belongings were tucked into a suitcase at a house 4,724 miles away, I scrambled to Goodwill. I purchased formal work attire, changed in the store bathroom, lost my keys, found them in said bathroom, and showed up to my interview with maybe 30 seconds to spare. I got the job.

Staying here is not what I wanted or expected, and it surely was not the route I had planned for.

I have had many friends transition from being support-based missionaries to returning to their lives at home again. Some have been launched into ministry, missional living within their cities, or started their own businesses. Others have fought purposelessness, depression, and have even turned their backs on God. The move is often frazzled from emotions.

A sweet friend who has experienced the transition herself reminds me to take it "moment by moment, day by day". I am thankful for her encouragement, as I want to rush through figuring out why it is even good for me to be here once again.

The level of self-criticism, anxiety, fear, judgment, perfectionism, and oppression I now battle has rocked me. I get on my knees and thank God He is the Rock that won't move—because remember?

I am only human and I know not what I need.

Life has swept me up and I am looking for a piece of comfort to still me from my failing performance.

"This, too, is good," He whispers.

Those four words hug my heart.

Friends, maybe you need to hear that as well. Maybe you need reminding that God is even good at all. I am holding to the belief that He has plans to redeem us and grow life from areas which previously brought ache.

You may discover the city which you've been placed in is hungry for the presence of the living God, too. Hungrier than either of us may have thought. Let us repent for the ways we have compared or cast judgment towards others and ourselves.

It matters not if we are far from our birth countries or tucked away in its very corner—because as the Church we have been called to live on mission, and that's not going to change.

We are not our achievements or adventures. We are frail and small. We need to be bent and broken, so the Maker can shape us and heal us. There is work to be done here and there. 

Be in Him, and let Him prune you for His glory.

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.