Tuesday, May 31, 2016

It's Getting Real!

     I want to start by sending a big thank-you to everyone who was so very supportive and encouraging about the announcement in my last post. If you haven't read that one, you might want to so that this one makes sense. Many of you asked how you can support me, and this post is an answer to that question. One of the most important things you can do is pray for me. You can pray for my safety and that God will allow me to be used in whatever way necessary during my time in Togo. Another way you can support me is somewhat awkward to talk about, because it involves money.
     Please don't view this as a young adult asking other people to pay for her to go on vacation. This is a mission opportunity that I have put lots of thought and prayer into. I was raised with the idea that if you want something, you work for it and save up until you can afford it. I rarely if ever had things just handed to me for free unless it was my Birthday or Christmas. If I could pay for the whole thing by myself I certainly would, but that's just not possible right now, and I can't just ignore what I know God is telling me to do because it's too expensive. So, I have to swallow my pride and endure the awkwardness of fundraising and trust that it is part of the plan.
Obviously, a donation of any amount is welcomed and appreciated very much. A donation of $40 will allow you to "sponsor" me for a day by covering the cost of food, lodging and other daily expenses. My hope is that I can provide each daily sponsor with a personal E-mail update one day during the trip. I also need money for the cost of air travel, which makes up the bulk of my expenses, and for fun things like film for my instant print camera so I can give the children pictures of themselves, something that they don't usually get to have. I plan to have some other fundraising plans laid out in the near future, but for now I've set up a GoFundMe to hopefully make it quick and easy to donate.
Something I will never forget from my trip to Honduras is the way children would climb in my lap and sit there as long as they could. These weren't just little children, these were children that I think were probably as old as ten or eleven. Many times, a child would climb into my lap, lean their head against me, and sigh deeply. These children who seemed so resilient as I watched them play showed me the true definition of a sigh of relief as they let themselves simply be held and receive the affection that all children deserve. This was three years ago, but I can still vividly remember these sighs and they cross my mind almost every day. It may seem outlandish to say that this memory of holding children allows me to justify the cost of this trip, but it's true. Those children taught me that no amount of money, or any other obstacle I may face should prevent me from accepting an opportunity to demonstrate God's love. Thank you all for demonstrating that very same love to me in the support you are already showing.

The whole "mission team", including Baby Elijah who will be in charge of all of my financial decisions for this trip. (Just kidding, Elijah, that's just a lame attempt at comedic relief because I've been talking about money and that makes grown-ups uncomfortable!)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trusting the Foundation: A Special Announcement

     If you've noticed that my past few posts have been a little different, you are correct and there's a reason behind that. There's something that I've really been wanting to talk about, but I knew it would be best to make sure the details would work out before I said anything. So, I've been trying to think of other things to write about in the meantime, and it's been a stretch for me at times. I'm happy to say that those details have been worked out now, and I can finally share some exciting news.
       About a month and a half ago, I received an intriguing Facebook message that seemed almost too good to be true. It was from Samuel Lunsford, who I didn't really know personally but knew of because I know some of his family, and also because I've read e-mail updates in the past about he and his wife serving as missionaries in Africa. It turns out that he had been reading this blog and some of the things I said about my time in Honduras and my desire for another similar opportunity, and wanted to invite me to come visit them when they return to Togo this fall. Obviously I was very excited by this possibility, and honored that they would extend such an invitation to me. So, I began the process of learning about this opportunity and trying to discern if it was something God had planned for me.
Samuel and Lauren were kind enough to have me over for dinner one night, and during our conversation they told me about how they will be serving at Village of Light School for the Blind, a school that teaches students how to read a Braille Bible, and also helps them learn a trade. As soon as they started showing me pictures of some of the students, I knew this was the opportunity I had been praying for. I had the same feeling I did the first time I saw a slideshow of pictures from Honduras and knew I needed to pursue that trip that helped me discover my passion for the mission field. In spite of my excitement, I still had a nagging doubt, because my mission trip attempts in the past haven't always worked out the way I hoped they would. My foundation of faith helps me to know that this is what God is calling me to pursue right now, but my flawed humanity wants me to remember the times my feelings were hurt when I got excited about opportunities that didn't work out.  But the excitement started to eat away at the doubt, and I started searching for answers.
I talked to my pastor very honestly about my doubts and was encouraged. I talked to someone at my job about what would happen if I was gone for multiple weeks, and was reassured that I would still have that job upon returning. I wondered how I would avoid falling even farther behind in school if I was gone for so long during the fall semester until I realized (and by "I realized" I mean my mom pointed this out) that I could take classes during the summer and use the fall as my break instead. 
So after what feels like forever but was really only a few weeks, I can finally say that I plan to travel to Togo, Africa in October. It's going to be expensive, and parts of it will even be scary. I'll have to navigate several airports by myself and that's intimidating, but none of these things outweigh the fact that I believe this is something I'm supposed to do, and an opportunity that I've been praying and waiting for. I don't have all the answers, but I do have that foundation I talked about a few weeks ago. This is a bit out of character for me, but I would like to ask for your prayers as I continue to pursue this mission. I'm very thankful to the Lunsfords for providing this opportunity, and anxiously awaiting to see what God has in store for this new season. 

I came across this verse as I was praying about pursuing this trip, and it seems to me to contain an undeniable answer, in the form of a question. How can they believe if they have not heard?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Navigating Conflict : A Field Guide

     Conflict is essential to a writer, because without a conflict, there is no story. Without the big bad wolf, the three little pigs wouldn't have much going on. I appreciate conflict as a tool in writing, but when it comes to other aspects of my life, I tend to avoid it because it makes me so uncomfortable. I am by nature a conflict adverse person, and sometimes I lean on what I believe as a way to avoid being involved in situations where conflict is likely to be present. But there are some circumstances where conflict seems unavoidable, and I've encountered a lot of them recently and been unsure about what to do. As I was thinking about this, I thought of the story of Jesus turning over tables in the temple. I don't really know why I thought about this story, because it's not exactly on the greatest hits list for Sunday sermons. We like to talk about Jesus healing people and teaching about love, but it's sort of uncomfortable to think about him getting angry, so maybe that's why this particular story isn't one I've heard talked about very much.  Since I didn't know much about it, I did what any millennial with a question would do, I Googled it.I'm not a Bible scholar and I've never been to seminary, so maybe I'm completely off. But you probably already know that and you have decided to read this blog anyway, so here we go.
      After reading some commentary on this scripture and watching a few YouTube videos of sermons about it (there's a glimpse into the state of my social life and the amount of free time I have!), I came to the tentative conclusion that Jesus was angry because certain people were being mistreated and shortchanged, which limited their access to their place of worship. He must have believed that in order for this situation to be resolved, he needed to disturb the peace and stir up some unrest. As I said, there have been some situations in my life that have stirred up some feelings of unrest and maybe even conflict, so I have come up with some thoughts about what it might be good to do in these situations.

Pick your battles:  Tonight I saw a news story about the legislation of fantasy sports. I admit I wasn't paying full attention to the whole thing, but apparently some states are starting to regulate them because they could be classified as gambling in some cases. I couldn't help but laugh to myself about this "first world problem.", but I also felt a bit sad thinking about all of the other problems in the world that are being pushed aside in order to spend time on what I see as a very trivial issue. Clearly, this is not my battle to fight, but to someone else it's apparently very important, so I acknowledged that and moved on with my life.
I've been in several situations lately where I've been unsure whether to fight certain battles, and really the only thing I know to do about that is pray, and talk to people I trust. I'm still working on this one, but I

Stand your ground, but don't take root:  For conflict adverse people like me, it can be tempting to just drop a subject when things get tense. But when I do this, nothing gets solved and I
On the other hand, it's a terrible feeling to be neck deep in an argument, only to suddenly realize that what you are arguing about isn't even important. I sometimes have to remind myself that it's okay to drop an issue if I discover that dropping it would actually be more productive than resolving it. As a person who spends lots of time with children, I sometimes have to stop myself and say "You are arguing with a five year old about ketchup. Is this helping anything?" Sometimes, if no rules are being broken and no one is being disrespectful or endangering the people around them, it's best to walk away from the issue. It's fun to be right, but it's not worth hurting people or destroying relationships.

Above All, Love: My interpretation of this has changed as I've gotten older and gained more life experiences. While it would be wonderful if we could reach a point where we can find a compromise for every issue, we live in a broken world where evil does have an influence, so there will always be someone arguing about something.  I'm going to encounter conflict, and burying my head in the sand won't make it go away, but neither will compromising on every issue
     Sometimes you have to love people from a distance because they have become a toxic presence in your life, and sometimes you have to walk away from situations and environments that aren't aligned with what you believe. In some cases, you will need to speak up when you see that something is wrong, instead of hoping someone else will do something about it. Loving everyone does not mean being a doormat, and you can even love people while disagreeing with them. Love is by definition the opposite of hate, and no situation in the history of the world, at least not that I'm aware of, has been improved or resolved because of hate.
     So even though I still have doubts and questions, I think maybe the point is to know when to overturn the tables and when to leave them alone. In my flawed humanity, I know that sometimes I will overturn the wrong tables, so I'm thankful for the gift of grace that covers every mistake.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

One For the Children

     As a person who is lucky enough to be around lots of children on a regular basis, I feel the weight of my responsibility very deeply. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by how different most of your childhoods are from my own ,and how short they seem because many of you are exposed to adult problems so soon. Childhood is supposed to be a unique experience distinctly separate from adulthood, a time when you have fun and learn how to follow rules, and leave most of the worrying to the adults. Somewhere along the way, some adults got that mixed up.You're really cool people, and sometimes we want you to be our friends. I know that sounds fun, but sometimes, it means that we dump our big grown up problems into your still growing brains, and then we wonder why you're not acting the way we want you to. That's a really silly thing to do, and I'm sorry that so many of you have to deal with the ignorance of people who are supposed to take care of you. I've taken enough psychology classes to know that the vast majority of your negative behaviors are triggered by circumstances in your life that are outside of your control, and yet I am still so quick to lose my patience. I'm trying so hard to work on that, I hope you can forgive me in the meantime.
     I'm sorry that I can't fix all of your problems, but even more importantly, I'm sorry that I've wasted so much time being overwhelmed by what I can't do,and forgetting to do the things I can. So, from now on, I promise to try to do my best to spend less time focusing on all of the negative things I see, and more time appreciating all of the positivity you create  I'll spend less time being sad when I see people coming to eat with you and never putting their phones down, and more time listening to your stories about your little league games and dance classes. I will spend less of my moments of free time scrolling through social media reading arguments between adults about bathrooms and politics,and more of that time listening to both sides of your Baseball vs. Soccer debates,and detailed explanations of who your favorite superhero is.
    I'm still going to correct you when you're not following the rules, and I'm still not going to let you put Ketchup on every single food you eat, because I promise you that there are some things it just doesn't go with. It's my job to make sure your're following the rules and doing what you're supposed to do, and I know that makes me look mean sometimes. I can remember being a child and not enjoying being disciplined, but I am old enough now to understand that it taught me how to respect authority and take responsibility for my actions, and those are two very important things to know in this world.
     I hope you know that you're important to me, even when I'm tired, overwhelmed, and frustrated because I don't always know if I'm doing anything that's really helping you. I wish I could fix all of your problems for you, but maybe it's better for you in the long run that I can only be there to help you as much as I can while you learn to face them on your own. I'm so lucky to be someone who gets to work with children, and you have taught me more that I could ever teach you. If there's one thing I could say to you that I never want you to forget, it's something best said in the words of one of my childhood heroes. You see, when all of the chaos dies down, and summer comes, and the cycle starts again until you wake up one day and discover that you aren't a child anymore, there's one thing that I hope you'll always know, and this is it: I like you just the way you are.