TALES, TRIALS, TESTIMONIES AND MORE FROM THIS GLORIOUS LIFE THAT GOD IS UNFOLDING IN AND THRU ME!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Not your Typical NYE post....

  I haven't written in a while.  Not because I haven't thought about it or haven't wanted to.  I just haven't been able to find the words...or to put them down on paper (or in a blog).  There's a lot that has happened, a lot that's going on, a lot that I am trying to work through.  And I guess in a way I'm now on a new journey....a journey of self discovery, a journey of deepening faith, a journey of realizing what's the point in all of this.  I don't know what's going to happen from here on out.  I don't know how pretty or messy things will get.  But this is life and, I guess that's how it goes.

 
Today is New Year's eve and usually about this time of the year I am coming up with goals and ideas for how I want the next year to go.  In some ways I feel like I kind of did that this year back in September.  I was in a place where I needed something to look forward to, something to carry me on, and so I started thinking about the future...coming back to the states, what I wanted to do, how it would all flow together.  My plan was pretty good...at least I thought so.  Of course, nothing has turned out as I expected and things pretty much began unraveling before I even got on a plane to come back, so here I am...December 31st, 2015.... on the brink of a new year....with no idea about what to do, how to do it, or what's going to happen.
 
It's hard to be excited about a new year at the moment.  Usually when you think new year, you think fresh start and new beginnings.  That just doesn't seem to be the case for me this time around.  Instead of a clean slate, I feel like I am heading into a new year with all this baggage and issues from the previous year that have to get worked through.  I look at my calendar and I already see at least the first three months of the new year being consumed by a problem that came to light for me almost two months ago.  I hate that I can't just forget about it, and push it all aside, that it's not possible to just pretend like it doesn't matter and has no effect on life.  It does and I can't.
 
Then there are things I need to figure out.... insurance, a job, school, etc. and the emotions that come not only with being back in the states, but also trying to process my past two years in Ecuador. I feel so overwhelmed...on top of the overwhelmedness I felt before moving home.  Everyone here is so excited to see me and have me home and that's so nice, but for me it's not the easiest place to be.  All I can say is, while I don't know what to expect in the new year (at least not completely), I guess I just need to hope things get better than how they start.
 
So....Happy New Year Ya'll.
Be safe tonight!
 
Jess 
 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Telephone Poles and Toothpicks...

  Last night I made the conscious decision not to blog.  In part I was exhausted from my day of travel and ministry, and partly I just felt like it wasn’t worth it to just put out a blog, to put out a blog.  Plus I kind of felt the freedom to just let it go for one day because of the blog post “Failing” by Micha Murray that I read a few days ago…so there’s that too.
  Anyway, something I have been noticing about myself lately is that I tend to be annoyed and frustrated with other people, and just get fixated on what I perceive they have done “wrong” instead of actually taking the time to look into my own heart and discover why this bothers me so much and what I can do to change my reaction.
  This morning I spent quite a bit of time journaling about it… about why I am like this and what’s really going on in my heart… and I realized that the reason why I fixate on other people’s “issues” is because it’s so much easier then looking at my own!
  The Bible talks about trying to take the speck out of other people’s eyes while we have planks in our own.  In my mind, I always picture myself trying to get a toothpick out of my friend’s eyes while I have a telephone pole protruding out of mine.  What always ends up happening in this mental picture of mine, is that I end up hurting the other person and myself…. Which is pretty much what happens in real life.
  So that begs the question… how do we get the telephone pole out?  And is it even possible to do so? And if by chance I am even capable of doing so, does that mean that I should then even go back and try and pick at that toothpick in my friends eye?
  Honestly, I don’t know that it’s possible, this side of heaven.  As much as I believe that we are new creations when we come to Christ and thus we have a new nature, in my day to day life I struggle to constantly live out of that “newness”.  In fact most times I struggle to believe that it’s possible for anyone (outside of Jesus) to live a sinless life.
  Maybe that makes me a bad Christian.  Maybe that shows the cracks in my own spiritual armor or at least my understanding of God and my relationship with him.  But… it’s also true, and maybe the best way to begin working that pole out is just to be honest…. To admit the truth and to be real.
  I also think that pulling a telephone pole out of your eye, or even having it removed “gently” by a surgeon, is going to cause some pain, it's also going to take some time to recover and it will even bring about some changes in lifestyle.  None of that is easy….it takes a conscious decision or decisions, it takes being willing to change, it even takes the ability to sit with the pain (at least for a bit).
  But I also think, like with any type of surgery a person would have, it’s necessary…and it’s worth it…. at least in this moment is sure seems like it would be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On Being Open and Vulnerable...

  Do you know what's really hard for me?  Opening up.... like really opening up.... like telling you things that are going on inside my head or my heart that I know might make you uncomfortable or that you might not agree with or that will make you look at me in a different light.  It's not like I am a completely closed off person.  I have friends, I get along with people.  I know how to share enough of myself to make it possible for me to have relationships.  What I am talking about here are the more deeper parts of myself, maybe the more real-er (yes I know that's not a word!) parts of myself.  That's what is hard for me to share.
  Lately I've tried to become more open in putting myself out there....whether on here or with strangers and sometimes with friends.  Yet what I am finding is that a lot of the reasons why I hold back in sharing are actually valid.  The fears I have about people's response and what comes next in many ways have come true and I can't help but wonder is it my fault... is this is a self fulfilling prophesy.
  The more I try to open up, the more I feel like the world is putting its big giant hand over my mouth and telling me to "shut up" and "sit down".  It makes me want to stop, to turn back, to close up and not really let myself be fully available to the world around me.  I can live that way... it is possible... I've done it for most of my life.  But, shouldn't the other way be possible to. I mean shouldn't we be able to live open and real with each other, and experience all of life, because we are giving all of ourselves to life?
  I don't know, maybe I am being to idealistic.  Maybe I am fantasizing the whole thing...considering the truth is, to experience all of life you have to experience both the good and the bad, and as a human I only want the good.  And maybe it's just a "Me" thing, as so many other people in the world don't have a problem putting their selves out there no matter what. 
  In my mind I wonder if this is how God created me or is this just how the world is because of sin?  And as I Christian sometimes I feel conflicted because I know my identity is in Christ and in nothing else on this earth, yet I clearly allow the things of this world to matter (I mean even the very fact that I feel the need to include something about faith in this post for no other reason than it's what people expect, proves that).
  I don't know.  Maybe really what it comes down to is that it doesn't matter how the world responds to us, but rather how we respond to the world.  Maybe it doesn't matter if people tell us to shut up because if we know what we are meant to say, we will say it anyway.  Maybe I just need to learn to plug my nose and close my eyes and jump into the deep end, to hell with the consequences (if only that was actually my personality).
  I'll figure it out....eventually.  In the mean time I am going to keep trying....to keep trying to open up a little more and a little more...and to not allow people and things to get to me so easily.  If everyone else has the right to be real and say their say, well then maybe so shouldn't I....although, I definitely don't feel the need to be as forceful about it as some, so I'm going to take my time.  Hopefully I don't regret this....
 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mysteriously Out of my Comfort Zone...

  I think over the past two years I have become more accustomed to stepping out of my comfort zone, then I ever had been before moving here to the missions field. I know it sounds funny for someone who literally jumped out of a plane to say I don't like to do crazy things, but it's truth! In fact I don't even like to do many normal things....they cause me more anxiety than I care to admit. But, like I said , these past two years have been full of moments where I have had to do things that I was not comfortable with (not bad things, just stretching things). And I guess the truth is that what it really comes down to is choosing what "voice" I am going to listen to.
  This past weekend I did something that was about as far out of my comfort zone as moving to ecuador was. It might not seem like much if I told you what it was but let's just say it's something I have been presented with the option of  doing before and completely turned it down cause I just wasn't ready to go there.  I was too scared in the past and the "voice" that told me I it wouldn't be worth it, and would only cause more problems than good, has always won out before.
  I am honestly am not sure how I over came that "voice" now.  I am not even sure that I am "ready" to "go there" now, but I am also not sure that I will ever be ready and... well... I'm not getting any younger. I guess it pretty much came down to if the fear of things staying the same was greater than the risk... and  in the moment it was, so I jumped in feet first and tried not to let my feelings talk me into turning around.
  I wish I could say doing so has not only been easy but also rewarding. So far neither has been true, but I am banking on the fact that in the end I will be singing a different tune. We shall see. I wish that I could tell you more, but not yet....hopefully someday. Until then, please be praying for me and trusting with me that God will and is directing this whole process. Thanks! Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2015

In Sickness and In Health....

  So my friend was here last week and while she was here she was feeling pretty sick.  As much as I hate to admit it, I think I might have picked up a bit of her cold, as all day yesterday my throat was pretty scratchy and now today I've had a headache and not the happiest stomach for most of the afternoon.  I have seriously considered going to bed soon, but I am pretty sure that if I did I wouldn't make it through the whole night.
  I hate not feeling great (I am definitely not sick...just feeling off)....not that anyone really likes it... but I can be such a baby about it.  My friend traveled here and then worked for a few days even though she was feeling so much more crappier than me and here I am claiming I need to go to bed.  I am such a baby.
  The truth of the matter is I don't get sick very often and because of that, I think it's possible I never learned how to deal with being sick.  During my 12 years of schooling I was only sick 3 times...But I mean sick... and it lasted weeks!  And I worked over 5 years at a book store and only called out sick (because I was actually sick) 1 time!  Yet since moving here to Ecuador, I have gotten quite a few colds and 24-48 hour bugs.... not a whole lot, but more than I had in all the time before I moved here.  I think the germs may be different here.
  The thing is, that when I am sick, I want everyone to know.  I'm not super annoying about it... like I don't get whinny or have the poor me, I need attention attitude (at least I don't think I do), but I want people to know what's going on so that I kind of have an excuse if I need to go to bed early or I don't go do some activity. 
  What's weird though is that I am not like that in all the other parts of my life.  Obviously I share parts of myself with people.  I will tell you my opinions are if you ask and sometimes even when you don't.  I will tell you all about the good things that have happened in my day or even the embarrassing stories.  I will share about what God is teaching me or about how He is using me.  But if I am struggling, if there's something hard I am dealing with, if my "soul" is "sick" in any way.... I'm most likely not going to say anything. 
   I think we all have  things that we don't talk about though, and we all have our reasons for not doing so.  But isn't it funny that in our world it's so much easier to complain about being sick than to admit a struggle.  It's such a stigma, even though that's slightly starting to change, to say any of "those" things.  While people don't mind if you tell them you have the flu, it sure makes people feel uncomfortable if you say your dealing with such-in-such.  How do we change that?  How do we make it less uncomfortable?  Is that even possible?  Those are my thoughts for today....
 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Today I Remember...

  Last month I had a chance to Skype into a service at my home church and listen to the testimonies of the team that had come down to work with my team and I here in Ecuador during the summer.  It was so good for me to sit there and listen to them share what the trip was like and how God worked in and through them while they were here.  I needed that.
  During that service, I also had an opportunity to share.  In all honesty, I really didn't want to. I had hoped that the team would fill up all the time and I wouldn't have to say anything.  However, the night before the service, it had become quite obvious that I would have to say something and I felt like God placed something on my heart to share, so when the time came, I stepped up to the plate and did it.
  Six weeks (or something like that) later, I have come to believe that God had me share what I did on that Sunday not just to encourage/challenge others, but also so that it would be something that would stick with me and I could preach it back to myself when I needed to hear it.
  Today I went for a forever long walk.  I needed to get out of the house, enjoy some fresh air and get the endorphin rush.  As I was walking... and walking...I thought a lot about what I shared that day.  Mostly I quoted back to myself the verse, "The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deut 31:8).
  While this has been a year where I've been confronted again and again with the reality that God is always there for me... that He loves me unconditionally and that He will NEVER leave or forsake me...sometimes I still forget or struggle to believe it.
  God has never once given me a reason to doubt Him.  He has never not been there to catch me when I fall.  Even in the moments where I don't understand why He responded the way He did, He has still always responded.  He is faithful and strong and completely capable to handling my very best and my very worst.
  I can put up walls for the world and show them only the sides of me that are acceptable.  But I need to be real with God...I need to come clean about my messiness and meet him in the depths that I like to pretend don't exist for me.  And then, even when I push Him away or ignore Him... I need to remember that He's always there, waiting for me to come back, with arms outstretched.
   He's there like that for all of us....sometimes we just need to be reminded.  Today I remember...
 
 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Honesty and Blogging and Growing and Learning...

  This blogging thing is hard ya'll.  On the one hand, it gives me the space to open up and share a bit of myself with the world, which in a way brings healing and is very cathartic for me.  But on the other hand it can sometimes feel like I am in a cage; a dancing monkey trying to please the crowd.  I'm not saying that I write for attention (although maybe I do, because who writes a blog and hopes that nobody reads it), but I definitely struggle to walk the line between wanting to be true to myself and honestly share what's really going on with me, and not wanting to share too much because I know that people are actually reading this now and many of those people I see in my every day life (which is pretty uncomfortable and yet also really awesome at the same time... if that makes sense)!
 To be honest, there was a time when I blogged and nobody knew about it.  Because of that I could write anything and say anything because nobody knew I was sharing it.  In a way that was nice, but it was also kind of silly.  In fact I probably should have just had a journal that I left out on the table at my house for anyone to read, considering more people probably would have felt the desire to read that than were reading my blog.  But I made the choice to write  online... and I continue to do so because  I want people to connect with me and to be able to connect with people.  I want to know that I am not alone in the world and I long for the chance for someone else to read what I've written and see that they aren't alone either.  And the thing is, for that to  happen you need to be real....and sometimes being real on here ends up making life a little uncomfortable.
 In my real life, in my day to day comings and goings, I don't share the things I write on here with pretty much anybody I come in contact with.  It's not that I can't.....it's just that it's awkward and uncomfortable and...well... ain't nobody got time for that!   I think as we all grow up, we also all grow accustomed to believing that people don't really want to hear the nitty gritty, deeper stuff of our lives. It's kind of like when someone asks "how are you?" and you can tell right off if they really want to know or if they are just being polite.  Most people are just being polite.
  I also think the fact that I am a Christian and my faith plays a huge part in what I do and how I live, is in part why I find honestly blogging to be so hard sometimes.  Being a Christian automatically places certain standards on you.  People have an idea in their heads of what being a "Christian" is and they can't help but place expectations on your because of it (whether or not they themselves are a Christian!).  Then, I went a head and added an extra bulls eye to my back by choosing to follow a call to the missions field these two years, so there's a whole nother level to people's expectations of me (at least it feels like it).  And in a way, that makes me very cautious about being vulnerable and open. 
  But when it comes to this whole #Write31Days challenge though, for how hard it's been at times, it has also taught me a lot about myself and ways I still need/want to grow.  It's taught me to look more closely at myself and how I am feeling...not just glance over my feelings and then lock them away.  It's also made me ask some tough questions of my faith and my relationship with God...good questions, the kind of questions that make what I believe not just a statement but a reality.  And so, for has much as some days I "publish" a blog and think, "crap, why did I share that"...there's also a part of me that is excited to see where I go from here and to keep continuing on the journey of blogging honestly.  I am determined to see where this road takes me, what God teaches me through it, who I come because of it.  So that's what I am going to do....even when these 31 days come to and end...and I hope you'll continue on this journey with me.  May we grow together.

Friday, October 23, 2015

On Being an INFJ...

  In the past two or three years I have taken more personality tests than I can even count (okay, so that's not true, I actually could count them, but I'm going for emphasis here)!  Anyway, as many times as I have taken the Myers-Briggs test (and how many times I've tried to manipulate the answers so that I could come out as something different) I always end up being an INFJ (Introverted, Intuition, Feeling and Judging).  I guess in some ways I should feel privileged that I always come out in this group, as only 1-3% (depending on where you look) of the population are there... but honestly, it really just makes me feel like a paradox of a person.
  The best explanation I've read about what it feels like to be an INFJ, I actually found through a post on a Facebook group I am a part of.  The definition went like this...

"INFJ's are walking contradictions.  We want to be noticed and appreciated, yet we hate attention.  We want to make others feel happy and comfortable, yet doing so causes a great deal of stress for us sometimes.  We like to be  alone and are very independent, yet we yearn for companionship.  We are able to think very logically, yet we are willing to disregard logic if our intuition tells us something different. At times, being an INFJ can feel like being two people at once, and we regularly struggle with these two different personas"
 
 
  For me personally, this is so "right on" that I couldn't explain it better myself (although I guess in a way, I am about to try).  I am the type of person who can feel two exact opposite emotions at the exact same time...or at least it feels like it.  I can know what I "should" do and yet choose to do the exact opposite because that's the "better" option.  I am horrible with details, but I can be more organized than most people would ever expect!  I need my alone time, but I also can't go too long without interacting with other people or I start getting really down.  It really makes no sense to me why or how my personality works...and so I guess I can't really expect other people to get me either... but it's nice to know that there are other people out there who feel and act the same way as me...they get it...and even if we only are a slim part of the populations, us INFJ's are not alone!  And that, at least, is comforting!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Of Criticizms and Judgement....

  So I started a new small discipleship group with a few kids from our Children's program in Onakapak today.  It went really well.  I am super impressed with those kids, in so many ways.  Anyway, in order to prepare for our time together, I actually did the lesson yesterday with my "amiga" whose helping me. I think that was one of the most beneficial decisions I have ever made.  Not only did it prepare our hearts, but it also gave the kids a way to connect with us, when they realized we are all pretty much doing this together.
  One of the things that came out of my study with my "amiga" was that I want to work on  being less critical of people and situations.  I don't do it on purpose but I tend to grab hold of the speck in other peoples eyes while ignoring the plank in my own eye.  And maybe that's just human nature, but in a lot of ways it's hard from me to move away from that train of thought once it's started.
  Today I kept being confronted with moments where I literally had to mentally stop myself and choose to not give into the attitude I wanted to have.  Not only that but as much as there were things I wanted to complain about, or at least voice because they bothered me, I kept trying to stop myself in my tracks and to make the conscious decision not to give into bellyaching.
  Can I be honest though?  It was/is hard and in some ways, while I think it's better not to complain and criticizes, I felt like stopping myself from doing so means that I can't voice how I'm feeling....and feeling like I can't voice what's going on inside of me, sends me down a very lonely (some what unhealthy) slippery slope.   So that leaves me to wonder, where's the line?  At what point do we cross over from complaining to venting?  From a critical spirit, to a spirit that just has to voice it's opinion in order to process things?  Does any of that honor God?  Is it sin to give into any of it?  These are the things running through my head tonight... but after my 12 hour work day, I'm too tired to figure out the answers.  So let me know what you think, and maybe we can learn and grow together!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My Prayer, even on the "Off" days...

  So yesterday was another "off" day for me (why do they seem to be coming more frequently all of a sudden).  I got up and out of bed, but I don't think I actually woke up until almost 3:30 in the afternoon (about the time I woke up from the nap I ended up taking because I just couldn't concentrate on anything).  I don't know why I was feeling so out of it all day...I slept great the night before.... and minus the abrupt awakening from our unannounced house-clearner, I had no reason to feel tired when I got up.  But I did.
  Tuesdays I always go to bible study, which as everything in life has it's great sides and some drawbacks, so I went there, left as quickly as possible and then came home to work on some lesson plans I wanted to get done before my "amiga" arrived.  Thankfully when she got here, she was in talkative mood and so we just reclined on the couches for over an hour sharing our hearts together (well more like she shared, and I listened).  I felt so privileged that she would share so much of herself with me,  especially when I was sitting there holding back things that I thought might not make me look so good (considering in this context I am the missionary).  After that we all (that is, all of us who live in the house) went to "gringo" night for dinner (basically it's a time for all the ex-pats to gather together once a week and eat food from home) and came home to play games.
  Yet in the midst of all that I did, I kept feeling this running thread of self-abusive thoughts that told me how ridiculous I am for feeling "off" on a day with so many blessings.  I know I am blessed.  I know the very fact that I get to spend my days on the missions field, sharing my relationship with God and hopefully leading people closer to him, is a privilege.  Most days I go to bed rejoicing in that fact.... yet some days I wonder if I am really doing anything, if I am actually making a difference or if I am only fooling myself in order to justify why I felt "called" here in the first spot.
  I think over the last two years, I have come to believe that "extranjeros" can set an example for the believers and unbelievers in a new culture, but it's really the "locals" who can make the difference.  I can talk until I am blue in the face about what God has done for me.  I can let the light shine out of me in all that I do, but I'm always going to be an "outsider" who doesn't fully understand where my friends and neighbors are coming from.  Because of that, in some ways, I feel like there is always going to be a limit to what I can do (although the Christian response here would be..."But thank God there is no limit to what He can do through me!").  Now I'm not saying that I can't do anything, please don't miss understand me. I am just saying it seems more powerful for the "locals" I know to connect and learn from someone who has been where they are and understands the life they have lived.  I think that's true of everyone in the world, no matter where they live. So that brings me back to wondering, what am I really doing here...what have my two years here been about (besides what God has done in me)? 
  I have been told that had I not been here it's possible the children's ministry we started in Onakapak would not have happened.  I guess in some ways that's true, but even in that I wonder what have we done other than teach these kids stories about God and verses from His word (as I'm not sure how many of them have moved from these lessons being stories to the reality that this is their God).  I am also getting ready to start a small discipleship group with about 11 of the kids there (with the help of my "amiga") but in many ways I wonder if this is all coming too little to late.
  Then there's the relationships I formed with so many of the youth back in Saraguro.  Of course I am fun and interesting to hang out with, because I am different and I can teach you English, but have I really made an impact on any of their lives for the kingdom?  Have I shown them the reality of God in a persons life, day after day?  I hope so.... but I don't know. Even when I think about the kids I worked with at the Compassion program, or the kids I work with here at both the Feria Libre and the church Bible Club, I can't help but wonder am I really showing them Jesus, am I really teaching them something beyond a story?
  And maybe these are just the questions you ask when you're coming to the end of something.  Maybe you always look back over your time somewhere and wonder if it was all worth it (again the Christian answer here would be, if I did it out of obedience to God then it will always be worth it).  I have less than two months here in Ecuador.  I plan to give all of myself to what I am doing...even on the "off" days or the days I have to fake it with the world.  Yet my prayer would be that God would take my meager offerings and transform them into something so much more life giving!  I pray that He would use my obedience in a way that really changes other peoples lives.  And I ask that even when I don't feel like I am making any difference, that He would make a difference thru me.  That's my hope and that's my prayer...Amen.
 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Long Hair, Old Memories, and Letting Go of the Need to Control...

  My hair is growing at an exceedingly rapid rate.  Truth be told, I haven't had a haircut since I went back to the states last Christmas and even though I got five inches off then, nobody could really tell, and apparently my hair never got the memo.  At this point, it's about a handprint away from my butt and the color I put in it almost two years ago has mostly blended in or disappeared.  So now, every time I look in the mirror I kind of get a bit freaked out because I look like 6th grade Jessica.
  In my mind I have very a vivid memory of my 6th grade class picture.  I had long, straight, dark black hair back then (kind of like Morticia from the old television show the Adams family), it was just a tad bit longer than it is now, and I wore a black dress for that class picture (which completed the vampire look, but I'm not sure that was intentional).  Anyway, seeing myself in the mirror now and flashing back to that year, brings up so many memories for me.
  In a way, 6th grade was the time before life got complicated, but also the start of the complications.  Growing up in elementary school, I was always well liked and so even though I was never in the "super popular" crowd, I always treaded just outside the "popular" group.  In fact, it was that year, 6th grade, that I grew even closer to the line of "popularity" when I started "dating" the cousin of one of the "super popular", both of whom were in my class.  I'm not really sure how the "relationship" ended, as I'm not really sure how much of a "relationship" a 6th grader really has with a member of the opposite sex... minus the staring into eat others eyes, holding hands and sitting next to each other.
  Anyway, I do remember though that after that "relationship" fizzled out, I immediately gravitated to another boy in class.  He was the class clown and always had people laughing.  I've never been all that funny when I try to be, but my life seems to just produce hilarity, and so there was some sort of connection there.  We hung out and did things together with our friends, but again it was only a "relationship" in the sense of our classmates thinking we were "together".
  One day at school, we were probably messing around (although I'm not completely sure, as the details are real fuzzy now) and he held me against the wall, against my will for maybe 30secs to a minute.  In my mind that less then a minute was an eternity and I had never felt so out of control in my life.  Every reactive cell on my body went into high alert and my mind raced wondering how I got into that moment and how was I suppose to get out.  Eventually the "joke" was over and we went our separate ways, but that moment has always stood with me.  In so many ways, I often wonder if that was when I became the control freak that I am.
  I'm not normally one who looks back on my life and thinks, "it's so and so's fault that I'm like this" or "had this person not done that I wouldn't be this way".  Actually even with this situation, I don't blame anyone but myself, and I don't really think it's just this one moment in time that shaped everything.  But it was my reaction to this situation that freaked me out and changed me in some ways.  I never felt so out of control as I did in that moment and I never wanted to feel that way again.  So I began learning how to protect myself and keep people at by and grip so tightly onto the world around me, that in some ways I actually felt like I could "make" life go how I wanted and "make" people act as I needed (it's not actually true, but at times it's how I have felt)!
  Now as an adult, I am trying to figure out how to unlearn this skill.  Or maybe it's more because now I'm really trying to figure out how to live out this Christian faith and surrender complete control of my life to God, that I realize how much of an issue "control" is for me.  It's not one of those things in my character that I like to pinpoint.  It's there, I know it's there, others see it sometimes, but I try to cover it up and pretend it's not an issue because for so long it's been my protection.
  Yet, here I stand today wondering if instead of actually being a form of protection, that maybe in fact this need for some kind of control has actually been more like a cage that's held me in and kept me back from experiencing so much in life.  I even think about love and how guarded I am in not only giving love, but mostly in receiving it.  If I can't control how you will respond to my love or I can't control how you love, I have a hard time accepting it.  And that's sad.
  I know it's time to let this go.  It's no accident that all of this came up just because I haven't been willing to get a haircut in a foreign country (which again probably shows my control issues), and I am seemingly reverting back to the looks I had in 6th grade (although...obviously..aged quite a bit).  It's something I need to look at, deal with and then move away from....but man it's not easy!  I guess growing never is though.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Day After...

  Yesterday's blog post meant a lot.  It came out of me and I shared it and more people then ever before took the time to read it! It was/is amazing....and absolutely terrifying.  And now, opening up my computer to type today, I am feeling quite overwhelmed.  In yesterday's blog post, I shared my heart in a subtle yet very honest kind of way, which is great but also made getting out of bed and heading out of my room feel all sorts of uncomfortable this morning (I literally tiptoed from my room to the bathroom, hoping not to be heard or noticed). 
  In a way what I wrote was freeing...to be that vulnerable and to see other people respond to it, means something to me...it's special.  Yet on a whole different level, I kind of wish I could wear a bag over my head or have an invisibility cloke... at least for today.  I am not ashamed of what I wrote, but I will admit that every time someone has mentioned to me in the last 24 hours that they've read my latest post, I almost want to cringe.  It's like in the moment of writting I had all this confidence and gusto to just put myself out there, and then today reality hit... and I realize, I just put myself "out-there" (eek!  What was I thinking?!)!
  I'm not really a spot-light person.  I mean sometimes I can act silly and goofy and draw in a crowd, but I'm not one to go searching for said crowd.  I don't feel comfortable with all eyes on me.  And yet, I want to write and to share my story.  The two just don't want to go together!
   I love the art of writing...and having people appreciate what I share.  I just don't appreciate the idea that people are judging me for it.  Whether it's people critiquing what I've written or commenting on how I feel.  I'm just not good at handling that (Even when it's good feedback).  I don't know why, but I'm not!  And maybe it's because I can't help but take people's words to heart....to over analyze them... and to give them more power than they deserve.  Maybe it's just cause I'm too sensitive, or maybe it's because I just care too much about what other people think.
  Even now as I write this, I can't help but think how unbelievably disappointing this post must be for people.  Yesterday was so real and natural and flowing.  Today I am grasping for word, trying to come up with something to explain how I'm feeling, that makes you want to comeback and continue reading.  But that's how art gets ruined, when it becomes more about the audience then the art.  So who cares if this isn't one of those "best post of the year" writings.  It's real and it's where I am at...so here it is...this is what it's like the day after!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

That Vulnerable Connection...

  I woke up this morning in one of "those" moods...the kind of mood that I tend to not share with other people because it makes them uncomfortable (heck, it makes me uncomfortable) and causes life to get a bit too awkward.  So I put on my happy face, jumped out of bed, and put one foot in front of the other, just like I do every other day.  I do a great job at faking life when I need to...I always have.  Today was no different.  But it's tiring and draining and so when I got done with my church stuff, I figured I should take a nap.  There's just something about hiding out from the world, under the covers, that is always so inviting.  Of course, as happens on days like today, I couldn't fall asleep...there were just too many thoughts and feelings floating around in me...so I opened up my iPad and clicked on my kindle app to find a good book into which to escape. 
  I use to hate to read, well that's not exactly true. I hated to read what I was told I "had" to read (which is still true today), but I love other people stories and as soon as I discovered the world of non-fiction, I pretty much got hooked on books.   Anyway, that was the plan.... to sit in bed, curled up in a blanket reading a book that would allow me to get out of my head and lost in someone else's world.  I thought that's what I needed and I got it...that and the complete opposite (if that makes any sense)!
  In my backlog of books I've purchased in the last year (with the intent of reading at some point), I came across the title, "If you feel too much" by Jamie Tworkowski.  Now to be honest, I am apparently really behind the times.  While I remembering hearing about "To Write Love on Her Arms" in the sense of it being some sort of popular "campaign", I really knew nothing about it until today.  I don't even remember exactly why I decided to buy this book (although I think it had something to do with a recommendation the kindle app made after I finished "Scary Close" by Don Miller...but I could be wrong).  All I know is that as soon as I saw the title, it was like the book was screaming at me "Read ME!" and since I'm definitely in one of those I-Have-Feelings-About-My-Feelings kind of moods, it seemed only appropriate to do just that. 
  Now because I am me, I read the entire book in 2.5 hours.... I tend to do that when I really connect with something.  I get sucked into the story, into the lives and I don't want to leave until the end of the book makes me (and even then sometimes I hold onto the "new world").  There are so many things in this book I needed to read, things I could connect with, words I'm pretty sure I've thought, journaled or even dared to say.  While I decided to read to get out of my own head and lost in someone else's world, in a way I found myself back in my own thoughts and my own world with every word... And that's okay. 
  I'm not trying to say that I've lived the same life of any of the characters.  I've never tried drugs, I can't say I've ever intentionally cut myself, and I don't know a single famous person....But... I've felt those feelings, I've felt pain and lost, I've felt like a failure and alone, I've felt like nobody understands and nobody ever will.  Even writing this I feel scared of judgment, of not living up to other peoples expectations of who I am suppose to be.  But in this moment, I also feel like I've connected with someone...and like I just found out, once again, that I am not alone in the world... and there's a comfort and a peace in that.
  I won't deny, because I am who I am and because I have a hard time just letting things go, that after finishing this book, I immediately watched the movie, and started reading through the blog on the website (which I will continue reading when I am done writing this).  It's weird to admit to the world at large (okay, let's just be serious, to the friends and family that I know will be reading this), that I struggle and I put on brave faces for them...but I do.  I fake it sometimes with you guys.... mostly because I don't want to lose you and also because I fear your judgment.  But then I have nights like tonight, where I've found something, a way to connect with other people who feel the same ways that I do, and because for this brief moment I feel less alone and more understood, I am able to be honest... to take my mask off... and to admit I struggle.
  This isn't the first time I've admitted that, to some this may seem like old news, but you don't know the half of it. If you could read my journal from the last year you would realize just how much I never say, how much I keep to myself and how alone I have really felt.  However, there's a quote in this book that says, "The thing about the idea that you're not alone is that it doesn't do us much good if it's just an idea.  We have to do something with it.  It's like having no money and then someone hands you a check.  You have to take it to the bank".  So that's what I'm doing tonight...ever so slightly...I'm opening myself up... I'm being vulnerable... I'm admitting in front of everyone that I'm not as strong as I seem to be.  Sometimes I cry myself to sleep.  Sometimes I binge eat in order to cover up my feelings.  Sometimes I sit in the shower and contemplate if my life really matters.  I'm human.  I hurt.  I need to be able to admit that.
  And just so I don't getting any freaked out emails from concerned friends, I'm also fine.  I don't usually admit these things because then people start to get all worried and jump to conclusions that they don't need to jump to.  I need to be able to talk about these things.  I need to be able to be honest and take off the mask sometimes.  I think we all do.  This shouldn't be a bad thing.  Please don't make me feel bad for it.  I'm not breaking down.  I'm not falling apart.  I'm not even depressed at the moment.  I am just being real......and it scares the crap out of me!.... please don't make me regret it!
  Anyway, to finish off this blog post, I really just want to say thank you to Renee Yohe, Jamie Tworkowski and pretty much everyone whose opened up to share on the website or create the movement.... Like I said, I'm so late to the game, but what you guys have done by telling your story and reaching out is pretty astounding.  I'm so glad I came across your story, your book, your movie, your website, and your movement today!  Thank you!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh at Yourself....

  It's getting late and I am tired and thus my creative juices aren't flowing as freely as they do, say when I first wake up and have just finished my second cup of coffee.  However, I committed to this 31 days of writing thing, and in some ways I think I've become a bit of a better writer because of it already (or maybe at least a more consistent writer), so I am not going to quit now.  With that being said, I don't really have anything all that in-depth to share tonight....no ponderings about my Christian faith, no worries or concerns about my day.  So instead....tonight I bring you...tales from my life of clumsiness (or at least the hilarity that ensued from me being me in Oñakapak this week)!
  So every week, we (me and my bosses and usually at least one friend) travel from Cuenca to Saraguro in order to help run a weekly children's program that my teammates and I started over a year ago in one of the local villages.  This week my boss had other meetings to attend to, so me, his wife our Cuenca neighbor and my friend from Saraguro travelled by bus over the mountains down to the village.  After the program ended, we had to leave pretty quickly in order to catch a van back to central Saraguro, in time to buy tickets for our bus back to Cuenca (because apparently you can't buy them any earlier than an hour before whatever bus you want leaves).
  Well as we are walking to the "van stop", we see the van pull up and it's quite obvious that this driver is in quite a bit of a hurry.  So being the person that I am, I run over to the bus to get in, in order to notify the driver that there were three of us.  Of course, as I am trying to get into the van, I noticed that the sliding door was only half open and considering that I am not a skinny girl, I knew I needed to open it a bit more.  Unfortunately, when I put my hand on the door, something happened where instead of pushing the door, I pulled it and the whole thing came right off the hinges!
  I literally stood there  frozen for one minute, half in the van and half out, with one hand on each side of the door frame...and for a brief second I thought to myself, "Maybe nobody noticed!".  Of course, they did, and I discovered that pretty quickly when out of the corner of my eye I could see the horrified look of the van drivers face.... not to mention the cackling laughter of my friends traveling with me that I could hear!
  Pretty quickly after that I forced myself into the van and into a seat, praying to God that the bus driver could fix the door, all the while wondering to myself, "How much does a new van door cost?!".  Thankfully the driver was able to get the door back on it's hinges, and I think as he drove us back to Central Saraguro I even saw him crack a smile over my red face and the laughter of those all around me!
  I am sure this story is probably funnier to those of us who were there and I was told over and over again that my face made the story (if only I could carry a mirror around to see these faces that I apparently make all the time), but if you could have been there you would have laughed!  The thing is, this is totally normal for me!  I am the queen of doing stupid things!  Maybe it's God's way of keeping me humble...or maybe it's just my subconscious way of breaking the ice, when it needs to be!  Who knows!  All I know, is I have probably experienced more embarrassing moments in the past two years than anyone else on this team, but I also probably have the most funniest stories, so I'll take it!  If you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?!?!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Point of it All...

  Sometimes I feel like I've become the worlds most cynical Christian.  I can no longer just look at how things appear and automatically assume the amazing grace of God is upon it.  And maybe that's just the curse of my personality (I tend to be more of a pessimist than an optimist about many things), but it sure seems that "working" in "ministry" has definitely played a factor in this mentality. 
  I remember the first medical brigade I was a part of here in Ecuador.  Every night the whole team would gather together and share testimonies about the day and we would get a count of how many people gave their lives to Christ that day!  I remember being so excited at the rising number of conversions and thinking how amazing it was that we were having such a huge impact on the Kingdom of God!  Then I moved to that community  three months after the fact and was confronted with the truth that many of those in our "numbers" didn't actually make a commitment to Christ, they just did what they thought was the polite thing to do, which was to tell us what we wanted to hear! And of those whose commitment was actually "genuine", we offered no follow up for them and thus, many just fell to the wayside like the seeds the birds come to eat off the stone path.
  It's situations like this and many others that make me question, "What are we really doing?".  I mean in so many ways the "outcome" of what we do as Christians is all for show, to point people to how great we are!  We would never say it (let alone admit it), but we've turned "serving God" into a stepping stone of self-promotion and helping others into an opportunity to have someone tell us how great we are!  But does that really help anyone?  Does that really change anyone's lives?! Does it just do more harm than good?!? It all makes me wonder, have we completely missed the gospel?!?!
  And, just to reign this rant back in and take the focus off the "Church" at large, when I think about my own life and my own ministry and the things I do in the name of "Christ", I really have to wonder, "What has been the real point?"!  If I am doing something to make myself feel good or to promote myself or really for any other "self" reason, then I've lost focus and I have to go back to the drawing board.  Anything built on the foundation of me will fail...and even if it were by some means  to "succeed", we would all be screwed because of the eventual collapse of it all when the true motives of my heart and my sin were exposed!
  So that brings me back to the question...."What is the point of all this?" or better yet, "Who is this all about?".... we've already established what happens when the answer is ME, but what about the truth of matter being that it's actually about God!  If our lives and all that we do are about bringing glory to God and pointing people to Him, then doesn't that make a real difference?!  When it's no longer about me looking good or getting to tell a bunch of people about what I did, but rather about God moving and testifying to that (without the message of self), isn't that when we will start to see the world change?!?  I say it all the time, "I can't save anyone; All I can do, is point them to the one who can"!  If my life really did that...not just in the theological sense, but in the practical, every day, moment to moment choices and activities", God would be able to allow His will to be done and His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven!  And that's the point of it all right?!?!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

When the Abnormal Becomes Normal...

  I am a pretty light sleeper and so it doesn't take much to arouse me from my slumber (unless of course I've indulged in some night-quil before heading into said slumber).  This morning about 5am, I was nice and soundly asleep when a nice sized earthquake occurred in the providence above us and caused my bed (and our house to) shake, rattle and roll for a bit.  Maybe I am just growing accustomed to earthquakes since I lived in California for a number of years and have felt plenty of earthquakes since moving here to Ecuador, but this was the first time ever that the quake didn't scare me in the least (is that bad?).  I literally was sitting in bed thinking, "wow, this is a long one.  I wonder where it occurred.  My bed is really shaking and I just realized I need the bathroom!".  It was just a normal conversation with myself, without an concern.
  It's funny how we grow accustomed to things in life.  Whether it's earthquakes that no longer send you into the door frame fearing for your life, or having to get up in the wee hours of the morning for work and that no longer making you cry like a little baby.  Some things, no matter how hard or uncomfortable, just become normal after a while, and they lose their effect.
  This makes me wonder what other things in life have lost their effect on me.  What things use to really set me off and now don't even make me bat an eye?  I can look at the world around me and see plenty of things that no longer have effects (or at least the effects they use to)...cussing, kissing in public, breast-feeding.  I'm not saying all those things are bad, just that they use to have an effect on people and now they don't so much (and maybe I am wrong).  Anyway, my point is I can see plenty of things that effected the world at large and have now become just a normal way of life....but when I look at myself, I have trouble thinking of very much, if anything (besides earthquakes) that have become normal for me.  Maybe I'm just not thinking hard enough.  I'm sure there's got to be more.  But what about you?  What use to cause "after-shocks" in your life and now seems to not even cause a blip your system?  What use to be "uncomfortable" but now is normal for you?  Please tell!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Whose a Better Judge?!...

  I am my own worst enemy, always have been and probably always will be.  Partly it's because I am a perfectionist and I want everything to be just right, which it never can be, and thus I beat myself up for failing. And partly it's because I am so stinking self-centered that I constantly need reassurance from others that I am great, and the only way to get that is to actually be great...which I'm not...at least not all the time and certainly not at everything!  So what ends up happening is that I have this idea in my head of what I think I am suppose to be...or what I think others think I am suppose to be (cause that's not confusing at all)...and then because I can never live up to those expectations, I start getting really down on myself and beat myself up and basically become the things I fear being the most...a failure, a loser, a life-waster.
  As I was thinking about this earlier today, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my boss's wife last night.  We were talking about life and how frustrating things can be sometimes, and I jokingly shared with her how I am going to make myself a t-shirt that says, "God's a better judge than I am!" (or just have the quote "I judge better" ~ God, written on it), because I constantly need the reminder that I am a horrible judge and thus should leave the judgment up to God, the one whose perfect at it (and who can be perfect at it because He has all the information)! 
  Now the thing is, admitting that I am a terrible judge, means that I must admit that not only do I judge situations and people unfairly, BUT  I also judge myself unfairly!  I am so hard on myself....I have people constantly tell me this in my life and I always brush it off with a "yeah I know" (with a silent "but who cares" afterwards) because in a way I think I deserve the "punishment" of my own judgment.  I know who I am... at least I think I do.  I know how I screw up and fail and the 9,000 unholy thoughts that go thru my head each day.  And thus I assume that this is what determines who I am.  I judge myself on this behavior because that seems like the only appropriate thing to do.  But...then I think of my faith and the cross and my God and I wonder, "Wait.  Is this really how God sees me?!?!"
  One of the key points of this life of faith is the acknowledgement that I am a sinner and there is nothing, no amount of good I can do to save myself, and yet while I was in my deepest darkest place of sin, God still loved me and sent His son to die to save me.  It's on the basis of the blood of Christ that covers all my sin and transposes the perfection of Jesus unto me, that God now judges me.  Does that mean I can live however I want?  NO, obviously!  But it also means that all those things I get wrong and screw up, don't define me anymore!  I am a child of God.  I am His spotless bride!  I have been justified by faith in Him!  My judgment is no longer based on what I do or even what I think...it's based on God...and thankfully, He judges better!  So it's time to stop beating myself up!  It's time to stop trying to take God's seat on the judgment chair.  It's time to let Him do what He does best, and learn to just trust what He says about me!  My identity is in Him and that is all I need to know! Amen! 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

All of Me...

  Yesterday I read the first chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "The Cost of Discipleship".  I've read this book before, but since a group of people from my home church are reading/studying it together over the next few weeks, I decided that I would read it again and follow along in the conversation.  The nice thing about "doing" this study 3000 miles away from the people I'm working thru it with though, is that I can come to terms with my feelings on the book, long before I have to share any real feelings about it with anyone in the study. I like that...a lot!  There's something about "heady" Christian books... you know, those books that you have to read and re-read paragraphs over and over again in order to try and grasp the main point... that makes me feel super uneasy about talking and sharing about it in a group setting.  So this living in Ecuador while the rest of the group is in Connecticut, is pretty much a happy medium in this whole book study endeavor!
  Anyway, I finished up the first chapter thinking about how over the past several years my Christian walk as clearly moved from being "I try to live for God so that He will love and save me" to "I am completely and fully loved and saved by God and because of all He's done for me, I want to live for Him".  And yet I still feel in a sense there's still so much more to this God-Me relationship that I've yet to discover.  For instance, one of the points I seem to be gleaming from Bonhoeffer is that it's not that we just WANT to live for Christ, it's not that we just DESIRE to follow Him, it's that in light of who God is, we MUST live for Him...we are OBLIGATED to if we are truly His disciples.  It's like what Paul says in the book of Romans, we are no longer our own, we are Slaves to Christ, and a slave can't just do whatever he wants, he must do what his master says!
  As I consider that and then look over my own life, I must admit that there are still so many ways I live for Jessica and not for Jesus.  There are so many times that my decisions are based on my comfort and my attitudes and my desires, as opposed to what God wants and what He's calling me to.  And, if I can just be really honest for a moment, there are even times when I don't even think about God, let alone consider what He would do or what He is saying!  I'm not a slave to Christ...I am more like a employee who has sick days and goes on vacation from time to time.
  That's a hard thing to admit....especially as a "missionary" and especially as someone who is an "example" to others.  I'm not proud that I still so easily fall back into the patterns of this world and I honestly don't think it's okay that I do that!  It's so easy to try and justify myself and I certainly enjoy the feeling of comfort I get thru the idea that "I'm only human". However, I know God is calling us to so much more....He's calling me to more...and I know I can give more...and what I think it comes down to is Trust!
  Now I know I just shared in one of my post the other day about how much I trust God.  That's not a lie, I trust God so much more today than I did a month ago, a year, even two years ago...and like I said in that previous post, I wouldn't be at this level of trust with God, if I hadn't left the USA and come here to Ecuador these past few years.  But there's so much more room for growth in that area in my relationship with God....so much.  God's given His all to Me, there's no reason not to trust Him fully and Give my all to Him!  It's like the John Legend lyrics... "Give your all to me, I'll give my all to you, You're my end and my beginning, Even when I lose I'm winning, Cause I give you all of me and you give me all of you"... obviously the context of the song isn't the same as what I am talking about here, but the concept is still there.  That's what my relationship with God should look like...My all for His all because He gave His all for Me. 
 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mixed Emotions...

  I leave the missions field and return home in 2 months (incase you've missed the constant reminders in my past several post).  Anyway, to do the math, that's 8 weeks... or more specifically, in 63 days.  In one sense, I feel like I can't even begin to explain how emotionally mixed up that makes me.  Yet on the other hand, it's something I want to talk about...I need to talk about it... so I am going to try to explain how I feel here....
  There are some days when the thought of packing up and moving home completely excites me.  I miss my friends, my family, my culture, and the new England way of life.  I miss having four seasons and getting to enjoy the different foods that come from each.  I miss being able to get in the car and drive to a coffee shop, or getting to chat face to face with friends who've known me longer than a year.  I miss all that and so much more.
  But there's also things here in Ecuador that I am now going to miss when I go back home.  I am going to miss my teammates, and the kids I work with, and the good friends I've made.  I am going to miss being forced to talk Spanish and realizing I actually know more than I think.  I am going to miss having a "job" that consists in many ways of building relationships and hanging out with people.  I am even going to miss being able to eat a two course meal with a drink for less than $2.50!
   It's funny, thinking back to the when I was just preparing to come to Ecuador, I remember being so afraid.  I knew God was calling me here, but that didn't lessen the struggle of not knowing what to expect and feeling so completely out of control about it all. I was of course excited as well though, I was preparing to head out on an adventure of a lifetime and in some ways that was just the dissolvent I needed to see beyond my nervousness and step out in coming.
  Who would have guessed that two years later I would be dealing with the exact same emotions when I think about heading home.  On the one hand I am so excited.  I have all these dreams and ideas as to where God is leading next and I can't wait to get a jump start on it all.  In my minds eye I can envision what my life could turn out to be and I long to be there, forgetting all the work that goes into "getting there".  The on the other hand, I'm so nervous.  Although, I know once again that this is where God is leading and He will make a way, I can't help but be afraid of the unknown....of the hard roads and the pain ahead.  Of course it's going to awesome and life changing....just like these past two years were...but it's also going to have it's own valley's and pit...like these two years did.  And I'm just not ready to deal with all of that!
  Plus you add on top of these emotions, the thought of trying to savor every last moment here in this country...not wasting a single second I have left...with the longing for home I've had for so much of this year, and it's even harder to make sense of it all.  Then there's thinking about reverse culture shock and my own personal insecurities that always rare their ugly heads around changing times...and well, yeah, I become one big bag of mixed emotions!
  I guess that's the choice I made though when I jumped into this whole surrendering my life thing.  Saying "Yes" to whatever God calls me to do is always going to cause a war in my soul between what my flesh and my spirit want, between what is safe and what scares me and between the pull of the world and the hold of my heavenly father.   But, if I've learned anything in my time here it's that the "yes" is always worth it!  So here's to whatever comes next!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

More than Just One Kind of Family...

  It's Sunday, so this morning I went to church.  At the church I attend, they began a new series today on "What is the church?" and today's lesson is that the church is a family.  I have to be honest, I found this to be a little ironic considering I have kind of been feeling like a little boat lost at sea, these past few weeks going to this church.  It's not that there is anything wrong with the church, in fact I keep going back because the worship is amazing and I find the preachers to be both God honoring and engaging, but it's also HUGE, with it's 4 services, and thus hard to really get to know people (that could also be because I'm one of the very few "gringos" who attend). 
  In the two months that I have attended services at this church I have only "gotten to know"...and I say that in brackets for a purpose... two families, both of who I met before I started attending the church and both of whom I almost never see in service.  Because of that, it's kind of hard to get the sense that this particular church is my family.  Add to that the fact that in 8 weeks I'll be leaving the country to head back home to life in the states, and well, yeah it's hard to view the people I sit in this church with as more than "distant cousins", as opposed to my "brothers and sisters".
  With that in mind, on my walk home from church, I started thinking about my home church...about the people I know pretty well and consider my friends there and even those people who have joined the church since I left.  Somehow my home church feels like my family, even across all these miles.  Sure there have been times that members of my church have annoyed/ frustrated me and times I found it hard to continually meet up with them...but truth be told this is also exactly how I feel about my real family at times, so that only seems to confirm the point!
  My home church has been pretty amazing in their support of me financially and spiritually, on this missions field.  I never have to worry about whether or not they are praying for me, or whether or not my support checks will come in, I just have confidence that they are and they will, and I've never been disappointed.  This adventure has been so different from what I expected, but I've also grown in ways that I never would have expected.   And had my home church not "sent me out" and let me go, I wouldn't be able to return to them in two months, with the deeper sense of connection and faith I have now!  In a way, they are like my parents and my siblings who had to release me and trust that God would not only use me, but that he would also take care of me.  Like I feel about my real family, I hope that during this time away I've made my church family proud!
 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gifts and Dreams and a Few Other Things...

  When I was in Elementary school, one of my teacher's had us write a letter to our future selves that she would send to us when we were about to graduate high school.  I remember getting my letter at 18 years old and laughing at my pipe dreams of wanting to go to "Harvard, Yale or Princeton" and thinking I would be famous!  As a senior in high school, I had already come to a point where I doubted who I could be and the very abilities that God had given me.  Even at that young age, I had already allowed the world to beat the dreamer out of me and I had completely lost the ability to believe that I could be and do anything I wanted!
  My first few years in the "real world" didn't help on that front either.  I very quickly learned that in the great big ocean of the world, there were so many people who could do so many things better than me, and I pretty quickly started downing by trying to swim in the direction that I saw other people going.  I tried to step in the business world cause that's where the money is, I tried to step in the academic world cause that's where the world changers are, and I even tried to step into the athletic world cause that's where people push the limits, but I never seemed to truly fit in any of those worlds and always felt like I was putting on a show or trying to be something I am not.
  I can't honestly say that I've found what "world" I belong to yet....even in the Christian sect I don't always feel like I fit all that comfortably... but in the past few years I've discovered some pretty important things about myself.  For one, I am an organizer.  I love organizing things and having to figure out how to put ideas together into a system that will work.  And I love planning how things should go and what they should look like in reality.  I truly enjoy putting effort into those type of  things and I am honestly pretty good at it.
  I also am pretty great at working with kids!  This is a skill it took me forever to be able to see in myself.  People use to tell me that I have a knack of connecting with children and youth and I use to want to laugh in their face because the truth of the matter was that I thought I sucked at it.  Over the past few years though, I've realized that when I stop "trying" to be someone who is good with kids and just "BE" myself, it's something that just comes natural and I truly enjoy these connections.
   I am also very empathetic.  Sometimes it actually drives me crazy, but I truly have this weird ability to take on the feelings of people around me and really put myself in their shoes.  This allows me to connect with people and engage with them in ways that I personally really value.  I don't always know what to say and I don't always know what to do in those situations, but I have defiantely learned over the years that sometimes just sitting there with someone in the midst of their heartache is the greatest gift I can give and I'm learning to give it more freely.
  All these things lead me to believe that my current "pipe" dream, could actually become more than just that...a dream!  Not only in my minds eye can I imagine what this dream could turn out to be, for the first time since I was a little kid, I'm not afraid to dream big with it, because I don't fear that stepping out into my dream will only end in disappointment.  God has given me gifts and abilities to carry out this dream...and while it may not turn out exactly how I expect, it's totally possible, and that excites me (even though I know it won't be easy).
   I honestly don't know how I climbed out of the place of broken dreams and fear, back into the world of possibilities again... If I had to guess I would say these past two years, living completely out of my comfort zone and forcing myself to try new things and take chances, is probably where it was cultivated... but what I do know is, I like this new place...I like believing in myself again and seeing the gifts and abilities I have, and not being afraid to give life a try! I am sure life will try to knock me down again and put me back in my place, but for some reason I feel ready for the fight and I am so looking forward to proving all the nay-sayers wrong!  So here's to dreams and stepping out and going against the gain!  And here's to being myself again!  Amen! 
 
 


 

Friday, October 9, 2015

In Him do I Trust...

  I have been living on the missions field for almost 22 months now!  How crazy is that!  I still remember the day I was sitting in Panera's restaurant debating about whether or not missions was really something I felt like God was calling me to or if it was just a pipe dream that I'd romanticized by reading too many missionary biographies!  Even during my application process, I recall dreaming about what life on this missions field would look like and the kind of person I would become serving God with all that I am.  And let me tell, as great as my imagination is, I was no where close to picturing what this life style would be like.  I don't think I could have prepared myself for all that has happened in my time here in Ecuador, and I don't think I could have predicted how it all would turn out.  It certainly hasn't been easy, but it's also been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my entire life, and while I wonder sometimes, knowing what I know now, if I would still have signed up to come, I know if I hadn't made that leap of faith, I wouldn't be the person I am today!  Living in Ecuador as a missionary has changed me...it's changed my faith... it's changed what I believe about myself and about others... and it's opened my eyes to a deeper truth about the world around me.  And while I will always fundamentally be me, I know when I return home in a few months, I will not be the same girl who stepped on the plane at the start of this journey...and I must admit I am kind of proud of that.
  One thing that living on the missions field has taught me, is that no matter how hard and how lonely things get, God is always there!  I know that sounds so Christian Cliché.  I can almost hear the choir singing "what a friend we have in Jesus" in the background as I stay that, but it's so true! I love my friends.  I am lucky to have the friends I have, even when we go thru rough patches, but they are all 3000 miles away and while I have the permission to call them at any hour of the day or night, if I need them, the only person I 've ever felt comfortable enough to call out to in the wee hours of the night when the tears are flowing and I just need someone to listen...is my God.  And what I've found in those moments is that He is always there!
  Now that is not to say that God's always there making me feel all warm and cozy and like I am always in the right!  No, in fact God sometimes is the one calling me out on my crap and reminding me that I am the reason why things are the way that they are!  But you know what?  Sometimes I need that.  Sometimes I need a shoulder to cry on and a God whose going to wipe my tears and tell me everything's going to be okay...and other times I need a God whose going to pull me up by boot straps and tell me to get out there and do my part to make things right!  I might not always like it, but God always knows what I need, when I need it and exactly how to push me, encourage me or comfort me.  I can honestly say, living in the comforts of the USA I never would have learned to have the kind of dependence on Him that can trust His approach, no matter what it is.  In fact I've never really needed God like I have on this missions field.  But what I know for sure now...having willingly put myself in this place, patiently enduring all that has come my way...is that God is faithful and He will never turn His back on me.  In Him I completely trust!  Amen.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

So Much More Than Basic Instructions...

  I started a new devotional last week, which actually isn't anything new for me considering I tend to start a new devotional every few weeks (not that I actually finish any I start, but the attempt is still there).  Anyway, in today's "lesson" the author lists 77 passages of scripture that address different situations/feelings that we might find ourselves in... like depression, stress, fear, failure, etc.  As I looked up each scripture and wrote them in my journal, I had to laugh a little at the author's side note that this was not an exhaustive list.  I thought " well obviously it's not an exhaustive list, otherwise we would probably have to write out the whole Bible for the activity"!  And that's when it dawned on me...again... that the Bible really is the go to book for life!
  I don't know if you've ever heard the acronym for the Bible.. Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth... but I think the Bible is so much more than that!  That's so just the beginning of what the Bible can be for us!  And I'll be honest, there are some days when I read God's word just to say that I've read it and thus don't really get anything out of it, but when I read it really seeking out God's truth or help with some issue, I always find the encouragement or direction I need!
  For example, something that I often struggle with is the urge to overeat.  I don't even have to be hungry!  I just love food...the flavors, the textures, the way it sets off alarms in the pleasure centers of my brain... and there are moments in time when I just have to have it all, now, and I loose all control (it's totally something I am working on).  Now normally when I share this struggle with people, they give me the oh so common verse of "you can do all things thru Christ who strengthens you" (Philippians 4:19), meaning that I don't have to give in to this desire to over-indulge, I can just rely on the strength of God and get thru it without diving into the deep end of shame and regret that always comes after such episodes.  The truth is, that verse works for a lot of people in the very same situation, but it doesn't really work for me.  What verse does work though (when I actually think about it) is Hebrew 10:36, "Patient endurance is what you need now...then you will receive all that God has promised"!  I'm pretty sure that verse isn't talking about food, but for me, it reminds me that if I wait out my momentary desire then in the end I will have what I really want...a healthier body/lifestyle.
  Or here's another example, I am a pretty anxious person.  I don't want to be, I want to learn to Fully Rely On God (F.R.O.G... what is it with me and these acronyms today!) but my mind can go from 0 to 960 in less then a second and things that would never concern any other normal person, can send me into a tailspin of worst case scenarios.  Many people have quoted Philippians 4:4-7 to me, which is all about not worrying about anything, but instead praying and trusting God, but some how that always makes me feel worse... like now, on top of all my other worry, I have to worry that I'm not doing this Christian thing right cause clearly I am not turning everything over to God.  I am actually much more easily talked off the edge by verses like "The Lord will work out His plans for my life" (Psalms 138:7-8), that remind me that I am not the one in control He is!
  That's the great thing about the Bible too though, God speaks to His children through it on an individual level!  What works for me, might not work for you, and what works for you, might not work for me, but either way, there's so much in their that something will always fit exactly what we as individuals need in every specific circumstance we need it in.  So you see, the Bible is so much more than an instruction manual, it's an encourager, a comforter, a director, and the very voice of God!  If you find yourself in this moment needing to hear from God, open His book, He's already said so much to us in it, we just have to take the time to listen!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency...

So for months now I have been trying to get back into some sort of consistency when it comes to exercise.  I did wonderful with this the whole first part of the year, but then summer hit and everything went out the window.  I've been trying to pick up the pieces of my exercise routine ever since.  The thing is, exercise is hard ya'll (anyone who tells you it isn't is LYING to you!).  Sure it has it's benefits and of course, when it's over, I am so glad that I did it.  But in general, in the moment I really don't want to do it.  I think about my sore muscles and I think about how tired I am...and then the lazy voice inside of me tells me I can do it tomorrow (which incase you didn't know, tomorrow NEVER comes) and I back out of it for one more day.
  I know exercising is one of the healthiest things I can do for my body.  I know all the benefits that come from it...not only a healthier body but also a much healthier mind... but, man, it's so hard some days to actually move beyond the idea of doing something good for myself, and to actually just do it (I feel like I need to say, "Copyright Nike" there, for that one!).  Why is it that it's so easy for us as people to know what's best for us and yet do the complete opposite?!  Whether it's knowing we should go to bed because we have a long day tomorrow, but choosing to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to watch Netflix, or knowing we should stay up to work on a project, but decide to go to bed early...doing the "responsible thing" never is the easy choice.
   Truth be told, I think like muscles that grow stronger the more we work them out, self-discipline is also something we can also build up in ourselves.  The more we say yes to doing hard things, the easier it becomes to just do them!  Consistency is where it's at people!  So that's my goal.... to be consistent.  Instead of beating myself up for not working out hours a day, every day of the week, I'm just shooting for being consistent with doing 30 minutes of movement (whether a workout video, a walk, basketball, dancing, etc.) every day.  Today was day one....I'll try to check back in next week to let you all know how it's going.  But in the mean time, why don't you pick something that's hard for you to do...whether it's reading your bible, talking with your parents/siblings/kids, or working on some other kind of hustle...and make a commitment to be consistent to it this week!  Then check back in next week and let me know how you did!  There's strength in numbers right?!?!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Washing the Feet of Judas...

 For the past several weeks, maybe even months, I have been reading thru the book of John.  I honestly have never read a book of the Bible so slow in my life, but it's been good for me!  Instead of just rushing through stories and skimming over parts that seem a little to common for me to pay total attention to, I've been reading slowly, section by section, and really thinking about what each story, each verse is saying and what God is speaking to me through what it says.   To be honest, some days this feels pretty tedious. I read and reflect and seem to walk away with understandings that I've had for some time now.  Other times though, I come up with questions I have never had before or a realization that I've always missed in the past.
  This morning was more like the latter.  I was reading in John 13 where Jesus and His disciples are at the last supper and Peter convinces John to lean back upon Jesus and get the details about who it is that is about to betray Him.  Surprisingly Jesus is pretty forthright with this information.  He tells John, "look, watch.  The person who is going to betray me is the one I hand this piece of dipped bread to" and then He hands the bread to Judas!  In my mind I'm thinking, how can John just sit there after this?!?!  Jesus has just blatantly told Him exactly who is going to betray Him, and yet the Bible says, "none of the disciples knew what this meant", so John seemly is part of that group and does nothing.
  Yet that's not the thing that actually stood out to me the most though.  The following verses talk about how it's when Jesus hands the bread to Judas and he eats it, that Satan enters him.  I don't know why, but I've always kind of viewed Judas as the black sheep of the disciples...the one who somehow got in but kind of does his own thing and nobody really gets him.  I've pretty much always assumed that since he stole money from the disciples change purse, that he had also pretty much decided to betray Jesus long before this dinner meal.  But the reality is though, if this had been his plan all along then he would have agreed to the Pharisees plan right from the beginning.  He didn't do that though.  In fact it wasn't until this night...when Satan entered Him... that He went out and agreed to the Pharisees scheme.
  As I was reading this I realized that I have always made Judas out to be a much more horrible person than he was!  That's not to say that what he became wasn't horrible but he didn't start off that way.  In fact, his biggest sin (cause let's face it, as much as we all try to act like we don't stack rate sin, we do!) was betraying Jesus, but there had to have been some good in him otherwise all the other disciples would have questioned Jesus over and over again as to why He allowed Him into their selective group.
  As I thought about that, I couldn't help but think about all the people in my own life that I have a tendency to look down upon.  I hate to admit it, but I can be such a critical person and I tend to view the specks in peoples eyes much quicker than the potential and the God given abilities they have!  Instead of seeing people as innocent until proven guilty, I tend to view people as guilty and assume the worst from them until they prove me wrong.  I would never say this to people, of course, cause that would make me look bad, but I show it by my constant need to protect myself from others!
  Anyway, as I thought about the people in my own life that I have labeled like Judas, I realized that just one story above this one, Jesus washes His disciples feet... all his disciple's feet...including Judas's!  Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him, He knew that He was going to be hurt by this guy, and yet he washes His feet anyway!  He humbles Himself before Judas and becomes his servant!  Then He tells them (and us!) to do likewise!  What a lesson!  Jesus was saying, "look, it really doesn't matter what other people do.  I am calling you to humble yourself and love and serve others no matter what!  Your job isn't to judge, your job is to love"!  That last part has been the one constant lesson the God has been trying to teach me all year.... I am called to love, not to judge!
  This is hard to admit... that I have taken on the role of judge and hurt people in the process... but it's true.  And so in this moment I ask for forgiveness.  Forgive me for how judgmental I have been, for seeing your specks and not the plank in my own eye!  Forgive me for thinking that I am a good judge and that you should have to prove anything to me.  And forgive me for loving you with a false love that has been dependent upon how I think you're acting and not just because of who you are (God's creation/child!).  Forgive me...and Lord Jesus, help me to change!  Amen!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Challenge Accepted...

  So one of my friends challenged me to do the #31DaysOfWritting challenge during the month of October (although technically I was a day late in beginning).  I like to write and she sees potential in my writing, so it seemed like a good idea.  It still does actually... even though I have to admit that it's quite hard for me to think of things to write about every day.  The funny thing is, I write about three blog post a day in my mind...they just never actually make it to paper.  I guess it's just going to take me being a bit more intentional and vulnerable, but none-the-less the challenge has (obviously) been accepted!
  The thing is, one of the hardest things about blogging for me is knowing that people I know are actually reading it....which sounds totally ridiculous considering I advertise what I write on my facebook and twitter accounts whenever I post a new entry.  And the truth is, I write a blog because I actually do want people to read what I write...that's kind of the point, otherwise I would just privately journal (which I also do, but nobody is allowed to read that), but it's much easier to write when I think that it's only strangers out there reading my words... like a shy girl in England or some Christian in Africa (it does not however help that sometimes I worry that terrorist groups out in the middle east are reading this and now have me on their hit list...but that' a whole nother issue!).
  I guess what I am realizing once again is that I'm not as comfortable sharing the inner-workings of Jessica with MY world.  When it comes to the whole world....sure, okay, why not.... because there's still some sort of ambiguity in writing online.  But when it comes to friends and relatives reading what I write, I realize that it opens up a whole new level of "real" into our relationships and I'm still learning to get comfortable with that.
  But maybe that's what this month will be about for me... maybe more than just being some writing challenge that helps me grow more in my skill, it will be a chance for me to grow more as a person and in my relationships.  Growth is never easy...in fact in most ways it usually has some pain associated with it... but it's always worth it in the end.  So I accept that challenge as well!  Here's to learning and growing and becoming more intimate with the world around me!  Wish me luck...and pray for me!