Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hope is Hard

Today I read a short passage from Henri Nouwen’s book, “Finding My Way Home.” I cannot do it justice in summary, so I will just write it out.

“I have found it very important to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. When I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God, something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me.
“To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God mold us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear.

I also read John 16. This is a section of the gospel where Jesus is speaking frankly with his disciples regarding what is about to happen to him and to them. He says, “You will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” (John 16:20) He also says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Hope is not something I grasp easily. Though I am often optimistic, cheerful and confident I easily turn to hopelessness. When I realized I had to leave San Diego all the hope I had came crashing down. It wasn’t hope in San Diego; it was hope that God has good plans for me. It seems like I would have learned by now good doesn’t mean easy and it certainly doesn’t mean I will get what I expect. Early on in the summer I wrote a blog talking about good not meaning easy. I didn’t expect San Diego to be easy, but I did expect it to work out and I expected God to have a plan for a job and a place to live and a people to love. When none of those expectations turned out to be true I felt like God had abandoned me and I felt like he never had a good plan for me in the first place. I also felt like Samwise Gamgee at the end of the Two Towers movie, “How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?” All the bad that has happened, all the hard stuff I have been through over the past several years was piled up in front of me and I could not see how anything could ever be good in the face of all the hard and bad I have suffered. I could not see hope at all.

This is still true, my friends. I still do not see hope. I would like to lie on the floor and kick and scream like a two year old having a tantrum because I am so frustrated at how life is going right now. When I read John 16:20 I felt like most people are rejoicing that I am going back to school. I often get responses of hope that I am choosing wisely and that finally I will stop wandering and drifting around the world. My soul, however, is in mourning. As hard as drifting and wandering is I find staying in the same place much harder. Surrendering myself back to school feels very much like death. I wish people would stop rejoicing over the choice I made and stop trying to convince me it was a good choice.

The Henri Nouwen passage reminded me that my future is not really mine, but it is God’s. It reminded me of the calling to surrender my whole life to him. Though I know I was following God to San Diego I see now that I filled it with my expectations and dreams and plans. God had asked me not to plan anything and to just go but I still planned, I couldn’t seem to help it. This might have been easier if I could have resisted the need to plan.

Giving up control, surrendering myself to wherever God leads me and choosing to hope that he does have good plans for me even when it appears that he doesn’t is one of the most frustrating things I have attempted. Right now I am doing it with my heart full of frustration and anger and confusion, yet I am still doing it, I think. God commands my future no matter what I do, it seems. I know it would be better to follow him with a cheerful and thankful heart and to rejoice in his provision, I just don’t the will in me to do that today. So I grumpily move towards his leading. Today I realize God didn’t ever say life would get easier or smoother or safer, instead he said our pain would become joy and though we suffer trials and tribulations in the world he had already overcome the world. Life won’t be easy, but it will be painful. I know God is able to turn that pain into joy but right now I am pissed that I cannot expect anything easy to come my way. Seems like a shitty deal to me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Year Ago

I was going through some writing I have done over the past year and I found this excerpt from my journal from one year ago. I wrote it during a day of fasting and silence on our debrief retreat.


Debrief, from your journal.

“Out of here! Out of here! Leave this place!

Don’t look back. Don’t contaminate yourselves with plunder.

Just leave, but leave clean. Purify yourselves

In the process of worship, carrying the holy vessels of God.

But you don’t have to be in a hurry.

You’re not running from anybody!

God is leading you out of here,

And the God of Israel is also your rear guard.”

Isaiah 52:11-12 (Message)

It is time to leave. It is time. I cannot stay here because it is time to leave. There is a time for everything. And now it is time to go. There is no use trying to hold on so tight to what is over. This semester is over. And with that the community I have been living in. and with that the friendships I have. Not over in the sense that I will never see or talk to them again. But now they must change. My friendship with BJ must change. We live in different states and cities and have very different lives. What it was, was good. So much healing of my heart happened as his brotherly care was lavished on me. I love his friendship and it has done for much in me.

But now that chapter is closing. But this is a good story, so the end of one good chapter means the beginning of another. And, as God and I are writing this book together, no chapter will be a waste. Each is full of beauty and brokenness and life and death, giving, taking, remaining, learning and loving.

This retreat, debrief weekend, is a process of worship. In that process I am being purified. I have taken on a slightly different appearance as my Maker is continually creating me. But the dust and the residue from the creation process, the particles of dirt that harden and blemish the sculpture, must be wiped off, blown away, washed off in a bath.

Worship is the holy bath and wind that remove what is not needed. As I worship my Maker I am purified for the journey home.

But there is no need to rush. I am not fleeing from danger. This is a beautiful process to be savored; chewed slowly and enjoyed fully. God, my Pappa, is leading me out and he has a slow pace. I can stop and rest here a while as I am purified. For my Pappa also comes behind, dusting off the picture to make the images clearer, and holding forces at bay that would seek to clutter the memories and harm the beauty that has been created. Pappa is watching out for me so I can rest here and take it slow, relishing this time even as it slips from me. Every passing moment brings me close to an inevitable departure. And I cannot control it, I have no mastery over the fourth dimension. But there is a time to let go, and this is it. This is the time. It is a horribly beautiful gift we have. We can let it go and move to the next phase of life.

“‘Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t, because they were holding onto something.’ ‘What are we holding onto, Sam?’ ‘That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.’”

I can hold onto my Pappa. He does let me hold his hand through life. I cannot hold into time, or these people, or anything except my Pappa. There is good in this world and it’s worth fighting for. But it cannot be fought for if I have both hands desperately clinging to a time they cannot hold. It can only be fought for by releasing what I cannot hold and grasping the hand that slowly leads me forward.~

A year later I am not sure I have let it go. How can four months have such a huge impact on a person? The impact is so huge that a year later I am still trying to figure out what happened and what I should do now. Everything has changed and then it changed again. It seems so simple in the words I wrote back then; just let go and follow God to the next chapter. I thought I did, but maybe it was a continuation of that chapter. I found myself thinking, a couple days ago, that maybe if I could go back to Uganda I would understand the past year a whole lot better and maybe I would even know what to do next. It feels like Uganda started it all, but I don't know what it is. Maybe in Uganda I can find it and understand it enough to know where I am going now. As I write that, however, I know I probably won't find it in Uganda. My task was to move forward. Have I done that? It doesn't really feel like it, especially as I prepare to go back to school in a couple weeks. It feels like I went in a circle. But hey, that's African time so maybe it was progress in a backwards sort of way?

I know you all were probably wanting more of an update on my life since I left San Diego. I tried to write one a couple of times today and I couldn't really begin to say how my life is right now. Instead I wrote about Uganda and what happened a year ago. Obviously I made it safely back to Yakima, WA. I will be returning to school the first week of January. Until then I am at my mom's house - home is what I call it, actually. I am grieving and it isn't pretty, therefore I didn't feel like I could post anything readable cause there were way to many F-words. Maybe in a year I will be able to look back at this time and tell people about it, but I still can't do that very well with Uganda so don't hold your breath.

Blessings, my friends.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When Africa Comes to Mind

Sometimes I get visions of Africa stuck in my brain. Tonight I saw a movie, The Last Three Days. A woman gets her face smashed with a fire extinguisher. It isn’t as gruesome as it sounds, at least it didn’t seem that way. As we drove home from the theatre, however, I couldn’t get pictures of Rwanda out of my head, specifically the church we visited where 10,000 people were slaughtered over three days. Our guide through that afternoon was a survivor of that event and he walked us through exactly what had happened those three days. My brain made pictures out of his words and I could see the church floor flooded with blood and bodies; broken, scattered bodies. That vision is stuck in my brain tonight.

All day I have been thinking about Africa. When I returned from my semester I thought I would never return, that I would never want to return. I left knowing living in Africa was not something I was made to do. I left knowing I was made for a quiet life back in the states: get married, raise kids, live on a farm in peace and quiet.

I seem to be made for bigger things, however. Not that being a wife and mother and running a farm is small, not by a long shot. What I mean is that I have an insatiable desire for adventure and risk. When I talk with God about where my life is going and what we are doing I tend to ask him where the next adventure is that he wants to take me on.

When I look at the pattern on my life I also see an astounding ability to step out in faith even when the risk great. In 4th grade I shared the gospel with my friend on a school bus; we prayed the prayer hastily, just before the bus got to her stop. In 7th grade I felt God calling me go to public school. My parents said no, but in 8th grade I felt the calling again. I was scared out of my mind cause I was such a shy kid, or I thought I was. I still did it, and I managed to make good friends and take even more risks in attempting to share the love of God with them. I messed up so many times doing it and hurt some of the deeply. I see, though, that I was doing what I felt God asking me to do.

I am bold in relationships with friends, perhaps too bold at times. If I feel strongly they need to hear something I will say it. Sometimes I don’t realize the risk of what I said until afterwards, when they are upset or shaken. I dropped out of school because I felt God give me the freedom to do it, and then I moved to San Diego because I heard God tell me that’s where he wanted me to go. Then, I didn’t plan a thing, or tried not to, because I felt like God didn’t want me to. All of these are bold moves, risky moves, foolish moves. All of these took a great deal of faith and trust and that same insatiable need for adventure. I fell hard when it didn’t work out as I thought it would and I didn’t want to ever follow God on an adventure again.

Today I thought about Africa; I thought about going there again, living there, even. I couldn’t help but desire another chance at something dangerous, risky, full of adventure and requiring of great faith and trust and hope. Yes, all of these require hope. I laughed at myself, wondering if I have a learning disability or something. Didn’t I just tell God last week I was done following him on these crazy adventures? Africa nearly killed me and San Diego broke my heart, yet I am already dreaming of the next big thing I get to do.

Friends, I don’t know if I am made for a quiet life on a farm in the country. I wish I were. I wish I could be content with a life of quiet, settled into a place and people, content to stay and allow people to find adventure at my house with goats and chickens and flowers. I wish I could avoid a life that took so much risk and so much trust I feel I may break at the strain. Look at what my life has been so far, though. Have I ever sought a quiet life? Have I ever been content to stay in one place for more than a couple months? Have I ever been able to tell God no when he opens a door or pulls my heartstrings towards an adventure?

In the movie Little Women the character Marmee tells her daughter, Jo, “You have so many extraordinary talents. How could you expect to lead a normal life?” How can I expect to lead a quiet, settled life when I rather crave unsettledness?

That life feels so scary, though. I fear loneliness and never having a place to belong. I fear if I surrendered to that life I would always be a wanderer and I would never know where I lived or whom I belonged with. I also desire deep roots and community I can count on. Would I be giving up on ever finding that by allowing my desire, and my talent, for going on risky adventures to take more of a lead?

I have found, however, that I grow deep roots so fast. It only took four months in Uganda to develop deep roots with those friends. I have friends all over the country from so many experiences that I somehow maintain contact with. Does one have to remain in one place in order to grow deep roots?

I still don’t know. I don’t know where I am going or what I am doing, except I leave next week to drive back to Seattle and to finish my college degree, the one I made up. Today my mom told me to stop planning, cause I was trying to plan my next summer already (including a possible trip to Uganda). She said I need to just give it a rest and let myself be settled for a moment before taking off again! I’m really bad at that. A few hours after talking with her I was looking at the Peace Corp website. Will I ever learn?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What Happened: Bring Joy Home

Hello Friends,

Those who make a habit of stalking me on Facebook already know, but for those who don’t, and those who do, I thought I would actually explain what happened as best as I can.

It has been a long week. It’s been a long 6 weeks, actually. Last week I had to face the hard question of what to do if nothing worked out down here. This week I answered that question.

I thought I was following God. I still think I was following God, actually. For whatever reason God brought to San Diego for just a short time, and that time is over. However, my heart feels quite broken about it all. God kept telling me not to plan, yet I see now I cannot help but plan, and I had so many plans for my life in San Diego. One by one those dreams died before my eyes. Things I thought were meant for me, places I thought I was supposed to go, people I thought God had given me to be with… all have been taken from me, or never given in the first place. I guess I cannot help but believe God’s hand is still in all of this and that he is working for my good, it just hurts like hell to have dreamed and hoped so much only to have those dreams and hopes killed as I stood on them. Maybe my hope should not be in good things, but in God?

I had to make fast decisions. I wanted to stay here, but I cannot make it work; the way is shut. Even as that door was slammed in my face, however, the door to go back to school in Seattle was flung wide open, though I barely tapped on it. The only door to walk through now is SPU, a college degree, living in Seattle. All the things I desired to be free of I am walking back into. For whatever reason, I am sure I do not understand it, school is where I have to be, and Seattle is where I have to do that. It’s too late to get in anywhere else, plus my degree only exists at SPU (that’s what I get for making it up).

I know I am returning a little wiser and a lot more patient, also quite humbled that the place I was s determined to leave is now where I am willingly going; pride could not follow me down that path. What else will come of this change in direction? I don’t know, and I don’t understand any of what has just happened to me. Really, I just don’t understand the past year of my life.

On a more practical note: I cannot actually get myself home cause I am out of money. It’s only $200-ish to get home in Jose, my van, so if you feel so inclined to send me $5 to pay for 1.5 gallons of gas (that gets me almost 40 miles!) I would so appreciate it. If just 40 people send me $5 I can make it home! You have two options for ways to donate, too! You can mail some money to this address:

Joy McCracken
231 Tibbling Rd
Selah, WA 98942

My mom will get the money to me from there.


You can donate through Paypal!

Seriously doesn't get easier... and I am amazed at my technological abilities on that one.

Note: I am not sure if the donate button worked... you can also go to your own paypal account and select the send money option (or something like that) and simply enter my e-mail address ( and my name (Joy McCracken).

I’ll keep you all updated on the next phase of my life: SPU Round 2


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One Month

I have been in San Diego a whole month now. When I was younger, like a month ago, one month seemed such a long time. So much can happen within a month. My whole life could be changed in one month. When first got here one month seemed like when I would finally find life settled again. I figured I would have a job, have some idea of their area I would live in and therefore be able to start building friendships and community, and that I would be able to support myself and not have to depend on other people for EVERYHING!

One month has passed. I am jobless, living even more on the graciousness of others, have no idea where to build community or friendships, and have no money. One month wasn’t a magical number. One month was just a series of weeks spent searching for jobs and aching for a place to call my own home.

I hit a wall yesterday. I know, I seem to hit a wall at least once a week. I guess this one looked much like the others, too. I asked God, again, what the Hell I am doing here, where the Hell he is, and if he really has any sort of plan for good things like he told me. I cried alone, cried to Deanna, cried to my mom, cried before I fell asleep. All day I was trying to figure out what plan B was. Then I realized, I didn’t have a plan B. I felt like God said don’t plan anything, so I didn’t, I just followed. Now I am realizing that I risked all I had, which wasn’t much compared to other people, for me it was all I had. I risked all the money I had and any sort of plan for myself I had had. I put everything on the line because my spirit heard God’s voice say, “San Diego.”

I don’t think I heard wrong. I don’t think God has left me here. I don’t think he forgot about me nor the good things he has for me. I just don’t know where he is or what he is doing. I don’t understand what the point is anymore.

Yesterday I had to ask myself the hard question. When do I have to call it quits, or at least time for a retreat? At some point I have to try something else, because I can’t continue like this for that much longer. I am not ready to call it quits today, though a part of me would love to be able to do that. Calling it quits doesn’t help much, though, because I no matter where I go I have the same problem.

Yesterday my mom told me she would pay for me to come home if I needed to. She also told me not to come home like a dog with my tail stuck between my legs. She said I have nothing to be ashamed of.

I feel ashamed though. I feel like everyone told me it wouldn’t work out, or that the job market was crappy and it would be really hard to find a job. This isn’t entirely true because I had lots of people encourage me and tell me to go for it. I think it is my own self telling me, “I told you so!” The ashamed part of me wants nothing to do with the brave and maybe foolish side, cause the ashamed part is super prideful.

I don’t need to feel ashamed about trying this, though. If I have to go home for a while and regroup that isn’t failing, right? I was being obedient to the Lord, giving him my whole life and doing my best to live it in surrender.

I have no neat conclusions, no fantastic revelations about the kind caring of God. I know he loves me, he cares deeply for me, he is kind and full of gentleness and that he loves my brave and willingly foolish spirit. I just don’t understand why it seems he has left me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Is not found in me, or in you, or in any magical remedy or spell or concoction. It is found in God. I forgot that.

Why did I leave school? Why did I say God could send me anywhere? What on earth was the original point? Obviously it wasn't farming.

When I was first back from Africa, after I had realized I was not suited to love African's very well, I asked God who I was suited to love. Who did he make me to love? My purpose was not in another country as I first thought, nor was it in school. I asked God to send me to the people he created me to love. He has given me a unique set of traits and gifts and weaknesses in order to bring him glory and to love him and to love a unique part of his creation. If that is the case, if I was sent here to love people, than why am I fighting so hard for my own security and success? Why am I so worried about making my life how I want it when that isn't what this is about?

My life will never be what I desire it to be until I am in the arms of my Lord, and until then what better way to spend my life than helping other people know what it is to be in the arms of God?

Today it was the love of Deanna that filled me just enough to be able to see the bigger picture. I still need love in this place, I still need people to care about how I am doing aside from jobs and housing. With the little bit I received today I could breathe again and see that I am fighting way to hard for this. I am trying way to hard to make this about what I want and what I need. Those are things God didn't ask me to carry, yet I have ripped them from his hands and insisted he wasn't doing a good enough job.

So what if I don't get a job or a place to live in the next month? That isn't the point. The point is love. That is the whole point of life, big picture and small picture. If all I learn from this is how to let God freaking love me no matter what the road looks like (even if it looks like there isn't a road) then it was worth it. Right?

Yesterday and today I think I lost it because I felt left in the lurch and as if no one loved me, not in a way that I wanted at least. I guess love doesn't always look how I want it to look. Sometimes it looks much different. The point isn't to get the love I want, it is to be open enough to receive all the love that is given to me. I am here for the continued romance between my Lord and I. I am also here because there are people all over this city God has created me with the special ability to love in a special way.

So fuck job searching. Obviously I will have to do some of that still, but that should not be all I do right now. My purpose is not job searching and making money, my purpose is love.

What It Means To Survive

After my freak out last weekend I have been better. I kicked my butt into gear and applied to nearly 40 jobs in about 4 days. My brain hurts just thinking about that: so many applications and hope going out with each one. I held it together for a while. Tonight I lost it again.

I guess reality is that I will lose it often. I think I did a really brave thing. I do those often, it seems, and I always wonder what has made me so brave and what drives me to make such big decisions and moves.

Being brave is usually praised and admired and celebrated. I am learning that bravery is a terrifying thing, though, and it gets me into situations I am not crazy about. Like being in San Diego searching frantically for a job and hoping I will be able to come up with enough money to cover my bills.

How do I survive this? How do I make it through such a huge leap when I cannot see if there is a bottom to land on?

Tonight I got frustrated and angry again. Not as much as I was last weekend, at least not yet. I realized that I had worked my butt off this week trying to find a job. Something may work out soon, or maybe nothing will work out. I hate knowing that I put in a whole week of nothing but job hunting and I may not get anything back from it.

Tonight I had no energy or desire to be with God. Every night since I was 12 I have spent time with the Lord. Well, most nights. On a night when I skip it I know there is something wrong. Tonight I avoided Him by talking with mom for an hour and then watching Grey’s Anatomy. Why? He gives me peace beyond understanding, joy that doesn’t depend on circumstances, and confidence that doesn’t make sense. Why avoid that?

I want to understand, I want to see why I have peace and I want material and monetary comforts. I am tired of living on faith and prayer tonight. I realized tonight that nothing I do makes things happen. Last week I waited, this week I made finding a job my full-time job. There haven’t been results from either of those strategies. There is nothing I can do to make this process easier, or faster, or even purposeful. Everything rests on God. He’s the one who came up with this crazy idea anyways, right? Tonight I hate that. I hate that I have no control. My whole life has been put into God’s hands and I wish so much I could take it back. I wish I could stop being brave and full of faith and confidence in God. I wish I could have chosen any one of the safe options presented to me over the spring and summer. They look so tempting from this vantage point.

I think I am frustrated with God and feel that there isn’t anything I can do to change anything. When he pleases a job will come my way. I know he is caring for me so well and I do not fear what will happen before then, not too much at least. I am just tired and bored and lonely. I long for something to do and people to do it with. I long for my life down here to really begin.

I keep hoping there is a cheat sheet or a short cut to take in this season. Maybe if I learn whatever lesson really quickly we can move on to the next part even faster. So I try and come up with lessons I should be learning: don’t listen to anyone but God, work really hard and God will meet you halfway, trust God even when you are upset and scared and it looks like he has abandoned you… what more do I need to learn?

This isn’t a strategy game; this is life with God and with humans and I just have to live it. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned, maybe there are many, or maybe this is just how it works. I really have no idea anymore. I do not know what I can do to make anything happen, and I do not know what the heck God is doing with me on this adventure. I don’t know anything. I have no power. I am completely dependant on God for everything and there are no tricks I can play on him to manipulate him into giving it to me early. So I don’t want to talk to him tonight. I don’t want to be with the God of the Universe even when I know he wants to be with me. I can control that one thing, it seems, and I am choosing to avoid him.

Truth is I don’t know how to survive this. I don’t know what my part is or how to make the process happen.

Being brave. Celebrate it, but don’t be naïve about its consequences. There is nothing easy about it nor does it come without sacrifice. I just hope there are also beautiful things on the horizon and that it is not far off.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Now What?

After waiting for a while the farm got back to me and wanted me to come for a visit. I leapt at the opportunity and my hopes soared high as I though, “This could be it!” I quickly made arrangements to spend a day and a night with them and then off I went in Jose towards the mountains east of San Diego, my heart all a flutter with excitement and hope and amazement at the adventure I am on.

When I got there it was beautiful; a secluded little town in the cracks of huge hills, the air smelling crisp and clean and fresh. The farm was small, the people welcoming and easy to talk with. It really felt perfect, until it didn’t. While it was perfect it was also not a place I could see myself living. The farm would be great; the people would be not so great. They are nice and kind, but they are who I would be with all the time, working and living and sleeping in all the same places. I sort of wish I could be ok with it, but I can’t. They aren’t people I would want to be my whole community. My friend Deanna helped me see that I need to be able to tell people my heart and talk about what God is doing in me all the time, and I don’t think I could with these people.

Crash. Explosion. Smoke and flames and ruins all around me. That’s what my heart felt as I realized I couldn’t do it. So much hope and excitement very suddenly smashed. I feel stupid you guys. I feel like I should be more flexible, or I should be able to make it work, or I should never have hoped so much in something that wasn’t guaranteed. Yesterday I got so made at God that I said the F-word to him. What the Hell is he doing with me anyways? How much more does he expect from me? Have I not already given Him all I have and more?

I so wanted to live away in the mountains and dig in the dirt and watch food grow out of the ground from a seed I stuck in there with my thumb. I wanted to never have to worry about what time it was or if I was being successful. I wanted the dreams I had as a girl to come true. The dreams of farming and loving people and working hard and being at peace with that… I wanted so badly to see them come to pass now, while I am so young, before I get stuck in a 9-5 job I don’t care about.

I know I said so many months ago that this journey would not be easy. Could it be my heart missed that memo? I want it to be easy. I wanted to arrive in San Diego and find a great job and place to live right away. I wanted to skip all this worry and stress and frantic job-hunting. I thought God would have it figured out for me. Now I feel stupid for having thought that.

I feel stupid and I feel foolish. Even in this period of waiting I applied to so many jobs and did my best to listen for the voice of God, but either I am deaf or He is silent. I keep thinking there is just one move I have to make, like in chess or any other strategy game, and if I make that move just right at just the right time I will magically win the game and own the whole board! I guess life isn’t a game, well, it sort of is, but I am not playing life, I am living it and it is hard. Why should I have expected anything different? It has never been easy, only different forms of hard. I just wish I could yell, “Uncle!” and God would run to my rescue and show me the right moves to make. Or even just tell me what I am doing is all I need to do. Today I feel like I should be doing a hundred other things in order to make this work, yet I have no idea what those hundred things would be.

This is my heart today, friends: messy, angry, fearful, sad, lost and very confused.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Waiting... again

I think I am due for an update. I apologize that it has taken me this long.

I arrived in San Diego almost a week ago. I rolled into town on Tuesday after a week of journeying down the west coast. I saw many good friends, lots of fields and mountains and pavement, figured out I should be required to drive with a speedometer (mine has been broken since august), cried a lot, laughed a lot, and tried to take in every moment. Now I am here.

Here. The place I have been talking about moving to for months, or maybe years. I had plans in my head on the drive down of looking for jobs, churches, a community to join, a home to make my own etc. I had plans. What have learned thus far, however? God told me to stop planning. Over and over he tells me to stop planning, to let go of plans and surrender to his care. Over and over I make plans, though.

When I got to LA I found two paths I would love to take: a farm to work at and a camp to cook at. It isn’t possible to do both. It seemed like God said, “Take action!” So I did. One week later I have heard nothing back. When I got to San Diego I asked God, “What do I do now?” “Wait,” he said. Seriously?

Wait. Again. At this point I feel all I do is wait. I feel antsy and I long for something to come that will make me feel I succeeded. I long for people to think I am making good choices and doing my part to take care of myself. It seems this isn’t God’s desire. He said to wait. In my waiting he has provided for me so well. When I got to San Diego I had less than $50 to my name. This week the Lord gave me the opportunity to earn $40 and then he sent a friend to fill up my gas tank and make sure my car was still running well (which it is!). God has not forsaken me; he is caring so well for me.

I am waiting. I sort of look around for jobs, but I realize this is to please people. I am looking for jobs in order to please others and make them think I am doing my part. Today a good friend helped me understand the enormous amount of pressure I am under. All around me is a pressure to appear successful and wise to the world. I have well-meaning adults giving me advice left and right on what I should do and how I should do it and when I should do it. I know most of them do it out of love and concern and I so wish I could take their advice and do it. I hate having to appear foolish right now. My heart, however, knows what the Lord said: wait.

So in spite of the pressures and demands I feel I will keep waiting. This journey was not meant to take me from one pressure filled place and send me to another. This journey was meant to free me from pressures so I may love God and he may love me. What else matters? My Lord has given me one responsibility alone: keep me heart open to his love. It seems so simple, but it may be the hardest task I have ever been given. Whenever I am scared or frustrated I close it up and hide from God. I avoid him like the plague because I want to feel justified in my anger or sadness or fear. I know as soon as I open it up to him he will wipe those feelings away and replace them with joy. Why would I hide from that? Because I want to be in control. I want to call the shots for once and command God. This is foolishness, however, because God is joyfully taking me on an adventure and when I call the shots I get shot down. Of this I am certain: His plans are way better than mine.

Here’s to waiting in the love of God.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The End

Yes, it has come. It feels more like a beginning, though. Here are my thoughts from here at the end.

In the morning I am leaving camp, heading to my homeland. Not yet the place of my birth, but the site of my growing, or at least some of it: Mom’s house. Sometimes the knowledge of going back there makes me cringe, or brings a fear of all the hurt I have felt around the things that happened there. Tonight, however, I know I am going to a place I loved and still love. Mom’s house is where I learned to play guitar, watched countless animal babies take their first breaths, learned to cook, perfected the art of fire building, dreamed up wood forts, hay forts and couch forts and then worked with my siblings to make them real. It’s a place that holds memories so thick I sometimes think I might drown in them. I guess that’s what happens when you live in the same place for all but 2 years of your life.

I have been reflected the past few days on what I have learned and how I have grown this summer. A friend of mine posted this video on Facebook and it captures the essence of my growth over the past several months.

I have learned to be alone.

My whole life I have been lonely. As a teenager I thought this loneliness would kill me, or maybe I just wished it could. The past several years at school or wherever else I have traveled I have grown more comfortable with being alone, but I see know this was always because I knew there were numerous people I could see at a moments notice. Sometimes I couldn’t even find a place to be alone because people were everywhere. I was never really alone except for moments here and there.

In Uganda (yes, Uganda again), we were given four days of debrief experience. One day was set aside as a solitary fasting day. It was completely optional, but only a few people didn’t take the option. Even if you didn’t participate you were still alone. I didn’t shy away from it, but it was the longest day of my life it seemed. The hours dragged on and on cause there’s only so much I could do to entertain myself. I went for a walk, journaled, read, napped, and still had no idea how to fill the time, I just wanted to be with people and here their voices, feel their presence. I was so lonely and uncomfortable being alone there. I was panicked about leaving Uganda and going back to life and I wanted to draw all the life out of people I could before it seemed I would be lifeless.

This summer I had no idea I would be alone so much. Most of the time, though, I have been alone. The past month has been the culmination as I have lived entirely alone. This terrified me, I panicked the first week and, again, thought the loneliness would kill me. Maybe it did, though. Not literally, but maybe a part needed to die in order for another part to live.

As the summer went on I felt the need for solitude more and more. The last two months I have needed to be alone every day. When I am alone I feel so free. A girlishness returns to me and I feel my own beauty. It’s kind of surreal, yet so liberating. One day I put on my flowy orange skirt and went for a long walk in the waves. The water would catch the edged of my skirt, the wind would dance with it and attempt areal lifts. I skipped, I laughed, I watched people sitting together and did not feel envy or desire to have what they had. I was so content in my aloneness, so free in just being me, that I didn’t feel that desperate need have another person with me like an accessory. I didn’t even want someone else there because I didn’t want my carefree-ness to be hindered. Maybe one day I will be able to be so carefree with someone else, but this summer was about being comfortable with my own skin.

Part of the beauty of being alone is that I was able to grow quiet enough in my soul to let God speak and hear it. It used to sound crazy to me when people told me they talked with God like it was a regular conversation or just that he spoke to them was crazy. This summer I was alone, though, and being so alone gave me the space to let God so close I could feel him next to me at sunset and hear his answers to my questions. I would ask a question, and he would answer. I know, it’s a weird concept. I didn’t hear a booming voice from the clouds; it was the soft, still voice Elijah hears after 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19). Not so much heard and felt, or understood. God skips the ears and goes straight to the heart. Which makes sense, right?

Being alone is something to be sought after and treasured. Not isolated, not desperately lonely. I guess solitude has the right connotations: intentional time alone to be with yourself, with God, with the ants and beetles, or even sitting alone in your car. Choosing to quiet your heart and mind and just be aware of what is around you and what is within you. It takes practice and discipline and moxie. Moxie is a great word for what it takes to be intentionally alone. It means force of character, determination, or nerve.

The beginning is tomorrow, my friends. We are closing this chapter and opening another. Get excited! Who knows what is around the bend or beyond the trees.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Joy

Earlier this summer I came to the conclusion that life doesn’t get easier, just different. How much I wish that was wrong now, but how much I am sure it is not.

Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to see a friend from Africa. We got to spend the morning hiking and being together. It was beautiful. He lives in San Diego and has been involved in my decision making all along the way. As we talked about it some more on our descent he shared with me his fear for me in what I am about to do. This is something no one has shared with me. The general response is, “Go for it! How bad could it be?” In my heart it could be really bad. This friend was kind enough to share a similar fear with me, and that made it seem not so bad.

What it did make me realize, however, is that I have chosen something hard and that it will hurt. There isn’t a way around it hurting. My friend is scared for me because he doesn’t want me to hurt and he knows as well as I do that it will.

Yesterday I talked with a friend on the phone. She and I only catch up every once in a while and there is always too much to tell in so short a time. When I told her what I have done the past several months her response was something like, “This will make you much happier because school wasn’t making you happy.” Throughout our conversation it seemed to me that this friend is searching for happiness in life, that is her ultimate goal. To her it looks like I am seeking the same thing. I guess to lots of people it might seem that way. I was unhappy in school, and I hope I will be happier in San Diego. However, that hasn’t been my motivation (I hope) through this process. It seemed odd to me for that to be a goal when said so blatantly.

Later, I was reading Henri Nouwen’s "Here and Now." There is a whole section in it devoted to joy. I am always looking for a good way to explain what joy is because, as you can imagine, I want people to understand it, to understand me. Nouwen defines joy as, “The experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing… can take that love away.” (26). Later, he says what I have always believed, “Joy is not the same as happiness.” He goes on to say joy is a choice; we can choose to know we are unconditionally loved. When we choose joy we find true freedom, “The freedom to love.” (28). Joy brings freedom.

I left school because I was given freedom. The experiences of my life, from my childhood to young adult years when my parents split up to my semester in Uganda, have brought me to a place of freedom. Freedom to know I am loved unconditionally by so many people in my life, and also by God. It is God who led me through the wilderness to birth me into freedom. It is joy that brings freedom, and joy is a choice. Does this mean I have chosen joy? I kind of think it does. In every hard thing I have faced, be it feeling abandoned, divorce, or meeting death face to face, I have chosen to believe God is a God of love not war, hope not despair, freedom and not bondage. I had no idea how to believe those at the time. I just chose to be open to believing them and I asked God to show me he was a God to be trusted, and he did.

I didn’t leave school to find happiness or leave unhappiness. I was willing to go through the next year of school and be miserable if that was where God wanted me to stay. When I asked him if he did he answered, “You are free.” I was no longer bound to the belief that I had to earn love through performance, or be successful in order to fit in. I was free in the knowledge that I am loved no matter what. Joy indeed set me free.

The choice I made to leave school isn’t leading me to a zenith of happiness, nor has it given me a grand revelation of how to be perfectly content in life. It is leading me toward pain, hurt and fear. It is leading me away from my family, my friends, the beautiful Northwest, to a place I have only visited and dreamed of. I am going into a great unknown time where I will be fumbling around, guessing a lot on how to do stuff and praying I was not crazy. This doesn’t really sound like happiness.

It was not happiness I chose, though. I chose joy. I choose to know I am unconditionally loved and I am free to give my love away. Joy and freedom are the names of this chapter, neither of which lead to ultimate happiness because there isn’t any. Life doesn’t get easier and good has never meant easy. Life gets different, I grow freer, good and hard go hand in hand.

In the meantime I am here for another month. Working away, breathing in salt water flavored air, doing my best to not be in San Diego already, because that only brings about fear and worry: two things not included in joy.

Shalom, my friends.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What I Have Learned About Patience

Has not come easy. The only way to learn about patience is to practice it, and mess up a lot, and then get back on your feet and try it again. Patience is learned through trials, through opportunities to be patient. I am not naturally patient; I want things quickly. Yet this is not life. Life is a long journey, though perhaps at the end I will not say that.

One thing that has tried my patience again and again has been my body. Since I was 12 I have had a digestive system that demands attention, quality everything, and refuses to accept thoughtless gifts. It will only accept the best, and even then it won’t always enjoy it. For 11 years I have been learning to work with it. On occasion I have sought out the advice of doctors, hoping they will have the answer that will fix everything, but none ever have. This spring I was the closest to getting an answer, yet the answer came with no magic fix-it pill or potion. It came with a long-term diet, medication to take for life, and lots of ideas to try out: nothing quick, nothing to fix it and move on to careless eating. In fact, I am more careful than ever.

This has tried my patience again and again. At times I try and ignore what I know about my stomach and just eat what everyone else does; yet this always brings about a swift dose of remorse. Lately even the healthy foods I eat bring that about. After 11 years of searching for a quick fix and an easy out I have come to a place today where I am able to accept I will be working this out my whole life. I am not giving up and I hope to one day find a way of living that brings peace to my body, I have just recognized this will take a long time. It will take lots of trial and error and patience as I give the trials more than a day or two to work themselves out. It will also take patience to sit through the pain and discomfort at times as I work this out. My body is teaching me patience.

This spring I learned to be patient in school. First day of spring quarter I wanted to run away, be free of everything I hated about school, and mostly be free of the panic that welled up in my chest every time I stepped foot in a classroom or sat down to write a paper. I would have run had it not been for a few wise people in my life encouraging me to sit in it and see what it was. One of them said, with knowledge that can only come from experience, whatever was causing me to panic would probably come up again no matter what I did so I would have to face it sooner or later. I decided to face it sooner. I sat in it. It took half the quarter to be willing to sit through a class and stare it in the face, but I got there because I stayed. I was patient in the panic and now I do not fear it half as much as I did before. I know if I face it I will not implode or explode. The root of panic is not panic, it is sadness, or yearning for something different, or a part of myself screaming for recognition. The end result was the same, I dropped out of school, but it wasn’t running away out of fear. It was calmly walking away, knowing it was time to leave, not panicking or carelessly leaving, it was moving forward to the next thing. Patience was learned again.

Patience was something I learned a lot about in Uganda. It was a necessary thing to have there, as many things took longer than I wanted them to: like dinner or laundry or relationships. Often I was in awkward situations that I wished to get out of, they weren’t bad or harmful, just awkward, uncomfortable. Sometimes I did run, and now I wish I could have a second chance. I learned that sitting in an awkward situation and resisting the desire to run could bring about surprises I would never have seen if I had run. Like hearing my Uganda Dad call me his daughter and realizing he meant it. If I had fled that awkward situation my heart would not have received that gift of healing. Patience brought about healing.

Today I wrote an e-mail to my older sister. She and I love each other so much, but we do not often get to talk or hang out because of the way our lives have gone thus far. It just has not been possible. Today, as wrote the e-mail, I recognized the opportunity to be patient. We are sisters, we always will be, there is nothing we can do to change that for good or bad. With the knowledge that our relationship is secure and sort of unchangeable I found a new depth of patience for the chance to really know each other. I am not afraid of losing her if we don’t act quickly and with that fear absent I found within my heart the patience to trust that one day the time will be ripe for us to be in better contact. That day is not today, it might be years before it comes; yet I know she loves me and I love her, so I am patient. It does not take away the yearning. It does reduce the twitching need for action and subdue the panic and fear, however.

I have much more to learn about patience, my friends, but I have learned enough about it to recognize it will take much more patience to learn the art of patience. For patience is an art, a skill that can be learned and practiced, it is not a virtue only few are blessed with. We are all capable of patience; it just takes patience to realize it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Hello Everyone,

It has finally happened. I made a choice and am now taking action towards this fall and where I will live. I decided to do all I can do to move to San Diego in the fall. Crazy? Probably. Will I mess up and fall on my face? Very likely so. Is it a good decision? I have no doubt about it.

Now that I have that over with, I can move on with writing. I will let y’all know as I know what it is I will be doing there; right now I have no idea.

I realized that a theme of this summer so far has been that good and easy do not mean the same things. This summer has been good, but certainly not easy. I have also been caught with the image of an Ebenezer. We often sing about an Ebenezer in the song, “Come Thou Fount.” “Here I raise my Ebenezer hither by thy help I’m come.” In 1 Samuel 7:12 you can find out what this actually is, The verse says, “Then Samuel took a stone it set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer (which means stone of help), for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’” This was during a battle between the Israelites and Philistines and in the next verse it is simply stated that the Philistines were subdued.

This summer has been a great test of my faith as I have put myself in a position where I am completely dependant on God for many things. In the spring when I decided to drop out of school I began making all these great plans to go places and do things I always wanted. One day, however, I clearly understood God telling me to stop planning because good things were coming. I stopped planning; I waited and hoped for good things. In my mind this meant life was going to be easier and happier. It hasn’t been that way, though. Life has not been easier, just different; I have no been happier, only more content and able to find joy in the struggle. Good doesn’t mean easy.

Many times this summer I have been in a place where I could either make my own plans and take charge of my life, or wait on God a little bit longer. Every time I have wanted to take control and do what I thought best. Every time I have also remembered Samuel raising his Ebenezer and saying, “Till how God has helped us.” I have said that to myself as a pep talk, and I have looked back on my life, on the past four years, in order to raise my own Ebenezer and say, “Till now God has not led me astray. Till now God has led me good places.” Good doesn’t mean easy. God has led me to some of the most painful places in the world. God led me to Rwanda and Uganda; God led me to look at what really happened to my family. These were good places, but certainly not easy. I have raised my Ebenezer knowing God is not leading me to an easy place; he is leading me to a good place.

Then God said, “San Diego.” I cried, I mourned the loss of my family and friends in Seattle. Then I set my sights to the south and am now doing all I can to actively prepare for that move, for the next part of my adventure. As I take this next step I again raise an Ebenezer, knowing that till now God has helped me at every point and with that knowledge I am able to take the next step forward. I also raise this knowing God is leading me to a good place, so I can know with complete confidence that it will be anything but easy. Yet I still choose to jump.

Plug my nose, assume the cannon-ball position, and fall into the next chapter of my life. I hope I know how to swim!

Love to all,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Uganda Changed My Life

Lately every time I try and sleep, either at bedtime or to take a nap, my brain goes wild because it finally has a quiet moment to speak. My brain is loud and has a lot to say.

Today I wanted to take a nap. I got up at 5:15, was at work by 5:40, and then worked until 1:30. I was so tired. I got home, changed into comfy clothes, sat down on the couch and my brain took off.

Thoughts about what my life is like right now at camp. I cook, am around people a lot of the time, yet I feel lonely. Yesterday I got to talk to Deanna. She is with people all the time, yet she is also lonely. In our conversation it seemed like everything that felt wrong in our lives went back to Uganda. Everything always goes back to Uganda. Always.

When we got to Uganda our direction told us the Uganda Studies Program was not about Life-Changing experiences, but was instead about 1 degree changes, like on a compass. At the time this was relieving because my life had been noting but change the past 4 years. While talking with Deanna, however, it became apparent that Uganda had changed my life.

Before I got to Uganda I was excited about school, about the major I had just designed for myself, about doing Young Life the rest of life, about my church in Seattle and about my life in Seattle. I felt I had finally crossed enough bridges and processed enough family shit to move into some normalcy. Finally!

When I looked at my life yesterday with Deanna with the hindsight knowledge if what it used to be my life is completely changed. I dropped out of school, I am working at Young Life camp and questioning this ministry I have loved for the first time ever and finding it coming up short, and I am seriously thinking about moving to San Diego. My life is not just 1 degree changed, it’s 720 degree changed. I have been spun around and around and ended up in a very different direction then when I started 11 months ago.

Young Life was my life’s path before Uganda. Every summer since I was 12 or 13 I have done something with Young Life. Young Life camping is where I have found my niche; I love working hard and being with people while working, I like the background of camp and don’t often enjoy the spotlight. I fit well into Young Life camping and I loved it. Until Uganda. In Uganda I saw so many other ministries. I was also taught to question EVERYTHING in Uganda (Thanks for that Mark Bartells). Now I am questioning Young Life. Young Life camps especially. It is always the same thing over and over again. I know Young Life camp structure better than the back of my own hand. No matter what property you go to or what age group is there the same sequence of activities and club talks are given. I used to love this. Now I question it on so many different levels. Young Life’s slogan or motto or whatever is, “You were made for this.” It’s a recent development, but if that’s what Young Life has come to… if Young Life believes every kid was made for this way of presenting the gospel, sharing the good news, do I also believe that?

I looked at my own Young Life experience a little closer and saw a different picture than I often present people. I saw that if I hadn’t been the daughter of a staff person I would have fallen through the cracks of Young Life. I do not fit the formula, I am not a typical Young Life kid, and I was not made for this! Because of my staff connections I was able to connect with a leader from a different school (a staff person, in fact) and therefore felt like I was a Young Life kid. At my school, though, Young Life leaders never pursued me and I even felt like they didn’t want me at club because my parents are my parents. It was awkward, as ministry politics always are. I do not fit Young Life camping as well as I thought; the same formula for every kid, the same pristine grounds and high quality program at every camp. It all looks great at first, but then I went to Uganda and not I wonder if it really does make a difference. In my life Young Life was what made me fit in somewhere, or at least feel like I did, but I had to conform to Young Life, I had to become someone who could fit in Young Life. Young Life was not made for me; I was made for Young Life, right?

When it comes down to it, I don’t fit Young Life. I was not made for it as they claim. I was made for something different. It took Uganda to break that idea in me. It took being shown a different world and asking where I could love people best in the world to realize Young Life is not where that will happen. I am uniquely made to love people in a way no one else can, I just don’t know where or who or how.

Uganda changed my life. I hate saying that, but I have to say it because when I see the direction I was heading before Uganda and the direction I am heading in now, they are drastically different and I know Uganda, and the work God did in me while I was in Uganda have directly impacted me every day since.

Now that my life has been turned upside down and inside out where do I go? What do I do? Do I have to do anything or is it enough to just be? Where are the people I was created to love? In San Diego? Or in some other city? Or in the middle of nowhere?

September is coming soon. I will say goodbye to Young Life, goodbye to being a student as my friends return to school and I don’t, and to what will I say hello? Where will I call home?

God, please show me soon.

*This was not written with the intention of bad-mouthing Young Life or giving a one-sided view of it. It has also done good things for me… I just didn’t see the hard things until now.*

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mirrors and Clothes (pronounced cloth-es)

I had a strange experience today. I was in Astoria with Kelsey (roommate and fellow intern), had just finished the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had (not kidding) and I had to pee (naturally). While washing my hands I happened to look at the mirror. I looked at the mirror, the image in the mirror, and I smiled. The image in the mirror was a beautiful woman; she had a kind face with soft green eyes. She wore black glasses with artistic pink accents and just a few spots of bedazzlement. Her hair was a feisty short cut, blonde but almost light brown. Her nose spotted with freckles, her mouth curved in an alive and open smile. I looked in the mirror and I smiled because I love the woman who was in the mirror.

Why is this is a strange experience? Why did I pause today and see myself when I see myself in the mirror every day of my life? Why today of all days? I don’t know. Today I actually saw myself, though. I paused and I saw me.

The past week has been full of new people and tasks and challenges. I have felt uncomfortable and somewhat awkward. In that space of being I didn’t notice me, I noticed everyone else and wondered if I was performing correctly or being friendly enough. I wondered how everyone else was doing and if I was being the right way to get along well with him or her. I didn’t see me. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t really look. I popped a few zits, I plucked some stray hairs, but I was seeing flaws to take care of so people wouldn’t find me weird or awkward or find it painfully obvious that I was homeschooled. I was trying to fit in, to be cool, to be normal… whatever that is.

Today I saw me. I saw that I am lovely and full of life. What a beautiful thing it is to pause and see the woman in the mirror and love her.

In Uganda we didn’t have mirrors. The most I saw of my face was my nose or the top of my head; just a piece here and there but never my whole self. There was one trip we took and the rooms we stayed in had body length mirrors. I stood in front of the mirror for several minutes then, just remembering what I looked like. It’s funny I forgot after just a couple months. It isn’t that I didn’t know what I looked like anymore; I just lost the awareness of my appearance for a time. I didn’t care because I never saw it. In Uganda, however, I felt more beautiful and graceful than I have ever felt. A big deal for me because I often feel clumsy and awkward, or simply not put together because I have never wanted to care about that. I want to care about other things.

Yet I do care. I care a great deal. The rebel in me refuses too show that, but deep down I care about my appearance and I often feel less than others because I don’t want to actually show that I care. In my mind, caring about ones appearance is a waste of time. Except that the other part of believes it isn’t.

I was looking at photos of Uganda, and photos of Kelsey’s trip to Honduras, thinking about the clothes people were wearing. I love the clothes people wear when they travel to do missions projects or go on camping trips. What I love is that suddenly the competition to fit in with clothing is gone. People wear their grubbiest clothes, or what the culture they visit expects them to wear, because they don’t care. The competition to fit in and appear put together, beautiful, "normal," is gone.

In the pictures of us going rafting on the Nile there is one of Hanna in a brown shirt with words on it, I don’t think I ever read those words. I don’t think I ever read her shirt. I read everyone’s shirt in the US, and I remember the words, or recognize them at least. I never read Hanna’s shirt. Her face, however, I had seen over and over because I have looked at that picture before. Her face was as familiar as my own sister’s face. In her face is the same aliveness and beauty I found in my own today.

When people travel like that they don’t worry about their appearance. No makeup, no blow-drying or straightening hair, sometimes not even shaving. A person is stripped down to the basics of their body. They simply are a body and a soul. The beauty in that is something I cannot capture in words from my language, and I am not sure any other language could. The beauty of person just as they are, well, it reduces me to speechlessness. For a person who uses words to understand life and understand herself, being silenced by beauty is more powerful than volumes of descriptions.

Today, my own beauty silenced me. I did a double take and paused and saw me and was speechless. It was as though I were back in Uganda, seeing myself in the mirror after two months of not seeing myself, and finding myself stunning.

What a mysterious and surprising place to find myself; caught in the spell of my own beauty.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fighting to Live, Learning to Die

Wendell Berry, a farmer and a poet, seems to understand life and death at a depth I have no yet conceived of. I was reading some of his poems today while sitting in my car, José, near the woods outside of Astoria. One of his poems, "A Wish to be Generous," says:

“All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man’s evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may known
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.”

The last phrase, “my life a patient willing descent into the grass” nestled into my soul as I read it.

I have struggled for life. Life has been a fight for me. Not in terms of my physical health, thought that has also been a tricky thing, but in terms of my spirit and mind. Keeping the desire to live alive within me has been a fight. I have fought for it. I fought fiercely, and I still fight. I love living, but sometimes giving up feels so tempting because I fight hard to live. My emotions overwhelm me so quickly and so often because it seems I feel everything deeply. Feeling so deeply hurts and is hard, sometimes I would like to give up and rest without feeling. Yet I keep fighting day after day, and I find joy day after day, or I don’t and I try again the next day. Living is a war for me.

Then I read, “my life a patient willing descent into the grass,” and I realized I will die. My body will shut down at some point and I will die. I am fighting so hard for life and at some point I will die no matter how hard I fight.

One of my favorite Jon Foreman songs is “Learning How to Die.” The chorus says:

“All along, thought I was learning how to take,
How to bend not how to break,
How to laugh not how to cry,
Really I’ve been learning how to die.”

I keep thinking I am fighting for life and learning to live, but if I am heading towards death with every breath I take in, maybe what I am learning is actually how to die.

I have learned patience in this fight. When I am overwhelmed with emotion and feeling I have learned to be patient with myself and give myself time to feel it until it passes. I thought this was learning to live, maybe it is learning to die, though. Rather than clinging tightly to what is happening right now I am learning to patiently, and sometimes willingly, let things pass through me or away from me. Rather than insist I stay at school I recognized it was time to leave, and rather than fight that surrendered to the reality within me and let school slip away from me. That sounds more like I am learning to die than learning to live.

If that is what I am learning, than why am I fighting so hard to desire life? I will die, and my life, it seems, will be spent learning how to die. Maybe I am fighting for the wrong thing. Could it be that fighting for a desire to live is the wrong thing to fight for? It could indeed if Wendell and Jon are correct. What do I fight for, then? Do I fight at all? Or is life a surrendering, a slow and painful surrendering to death?

I don’t know.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


As I write I am sitting on a very comfy couch in my apartment in Gearhart, OR. By apartment I mean the basement of a house close to the Young Life camp I now work at. I got here on Monday. The last week has been a whirlwind of people and packing and crying and praying desperately for God to make my car work and unpacking and repacking and driving and more people… a whirlwind indeed. I am tired.

I left school. It’s official now: all finals done and just waiting for my final grades to be posted. I left my apartment on Friday and drove away, my car so full I couldn’t see out of any of the windows except the front ones. I drove away from school. I want to say for the last time, but it seems as often as I make it sound like dropping out is official there are people who insist I will go back and finish. I want to say for the last time. There is nothing in me that wants to go back to school to get a degree. I would love to go back just to be with my friends. I do not want to be in school, though.

Leaving was hard. Transitions are hard for me all the time. Naturally that makes leaving school hard. Transitions make me cry and puke, or at least feel sick to my stomach. They make me irritated and lonely, wanting people yet unable to let people near. Transitions suck, and the suck the life out of me. Packing last week and trying to say goodbye to people felt like leaving Uganda all over again. It was the same panicked racing of my heart, the same random bouts of sobbing over small things, like needing to jump my car a couple times. It was the same heaviness in my heart and tiredness in my bones. All-to-familiar emotions that scared me and caused a great desire to sit down, like a donkey, and refuse to move any further.

I had little time during the last week to actually understand what was happening and recognize what my soul was screaming for. It needed rest and writing and good tea. I couldn’t give it that because there were not enough hours in a day. If only Africa time existed here. I could then have stopped and done just that because who needs to be on time and stick to plans anyways? Obviously there is something innately bred into me that does, because another part of me was screaming the importance of sticking with the plan and not resting until it was over.

I also had moved to a place of caring for other people. I know, that doesn’t sound like a bad place to be in. It actually can be for me, however. In that space others are much more important than I am and I give and give, and give nothing to myself because I am giving all of me to other people. This also sounds like a good thing to me, like what Christians are supposed to do, but it isn’t how it works, at least not for me. I need care, I need to be recognized by myself and paid attention to by myself. If all my attention is going to others I forget that I exist in it all, I forget me. I am important too, though, and I need to not be forgotten. This weekend at home I sort of forgot about me. It seemed like a good thing at the time, and it wasn’t all bad, because I had fun and played with my siblings and friends. It just wasn’t what I needed at the time. At the time I needed rest and space and time alone to understand the aching of my heart and the grieving of my soul.

I left a season of life. It was a hard, dark and shitty season, but it was also full of learning and growth and wonderful people. It isn’t that I am not learning or growing or surrounded by wonderful people now, but it is all new and unfamiliar and unknown. I miss the people who knew me and knew the growth that had taken place. I miss the people who understanding that part of me, because it is most of me I think. The growth and learning that happened took place near the core of who I am, a depth that cannot be seen in a snapshot or a sentence or even a chapter of a book. This takes years of storytelling and observing and spirits communing with each other.

I also know this can be done in a matter of months because of Uganda. I know it won’t be long before I once again find those wonderful deep friendships here as well.

Love you all :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pep Talk: A reminder to stay

Hello Lovely People,

I should be studying for my last final right now, but I have a cold and am very tired in many ways, so I decided the final is not as important as drinking some mint tea and writing about my life today.

I have said a lot of goodbyes over this week, and there are more to come. Yesterday I said goodbye to my advisor, Dr. Drovdahl. He helped me plan my totally awesome major and has been with me through all the decision making stuff this year. Next, today, I said goodbye to a woman whom has been my counselor the past year. I have had a lot of counselors over the past 4 years, but she has been the one to witness the most growth in me. She also entered my life at a time I was finally able to connect with people in a real sort of way, thus I have connected with her a lot more than other people. All that is to say she is important and I hated saying goodbye. Finally, this evening I bid farewell to my small group leader and her husband, Eric and Carina Long. I have been in Carina’s small group for three years and it has grown to feel like a sort of home. It’s been a place I could drink good tea, eat gourmet baking, and talk about life, the bible, and whatever other random topics girls get distracted by. It’s been a special place, and it’s only been in the last 6 months I have realized how special it is. Now I am leaving it. I know I will be back to visit but it won’t be the same as before. I will be in a new phase of life, and I am not even sure what that phase will be.

The tiredness I feel today is party due to my illness, but also due to saying goodbye. It’s tough work, it’s tiring work, but it is necessary. I learned in Uganda that value of staying for the goodbye. In the past I have tended to “leave” early, and be checked out before the goodbyes began. In Uganda, however, I somehow knew it was important to let myself feel the full weight of goodbye, and engage with people in that goodbye until the end. It hurt like hell, made me feel like shit for weeks after, and wrecked my guts because it made me physically sick. That’s what emotions often do to me, though. However, 6 months after that heart wrenching experience I am still connected to all those people. I am still in constant communicating with them and I still feel very close to them all. This is party due to the experience we had together, but I think also due to the effort I made to stay connected with them the whole way through.
The tiredness tonight is familiar. It’s the tiredness that leads to tears once you are safely under your covers, snuggled up with your pillows or stuffed Moose. It’s a good tired, but also shitty: not at all conducive for taking finals or do anything more than playing guitar, sleeping and writing.

Today my counselor and I reflected on the work I have done the past year. It was good to recognize how hard I have worked and the hope there is for me, the hope she has for me and the hope I have for myself. My future is filled with hope, just as my present is. Maybe I am just filled with hope. In our reflecting, though, I got to see the rewards I experience now because I have worked through a shitload of stuff; lies, burdens and insecurities I was not meant to carry but somehow got stuck on me. There is a lot of determination and fight in me that hasn’t let me stop for the past several years. Now I am seeing the other side of the shit pile, and it is beautiful and smells great!

It is this hard work that helps me stay during this really hard week. It was easier in the past to let my mind leave, and it didn’t hurt for weeks afterward because I didn’t let it. I know now that pain isn’t something to run from, because it means you are alive, and being alive means being loved and loving people. Pain is part of the deal (I think that’s from Shadowlands – a movie about C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy). Because I was open to the pain of leaving my Uganda friends I have also been open to their continued presence in my life. Openness does leave you open to being hurt more and feeling pain deeper, but without it how can one experience the fullness of love, joy and hope? It seems one cannot. The question that remains is: is it worth it? Is the pain now worth the joy and love and hope later?

I was tempted to say no before Uganda, but before Uganda I hadn’t experienced the other side. Before Uganda I hadn’t known the beautiful smells and colors that come with the love and joy and hope. Now that I am living in the colors and smells I have no hesitation in shouting YES! Yes, the pain is worth it, the tearing that happens when you rip out lies, the horror you feel when you see the truth, the unbearable longing that comes when parting is inevitable is all worth the colors and sounds and smells of a life lived in openness. Even when the pain seems unbearable, the tearing as if it will kill you, I still find the colors of my heart brighter because I am also able to receive love. In fact, it just might be the pain that makes me able to experience the love. Without chiseling or sanding or molding one cannot be who they are.

It is worth it.

This is my pep talk for the evening to get me through the goodbye’s the rest of the week.

Love you all!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Today I am a student, writing a research paper about suicide. Tomorrow I will still be a student, but in two weeks I will no longer be a student. In two weeks my time at SPU will be finished. In two weeks I will be leaving this place, this season. Turning a page to write the next chapter. Closing the covers of this book and opening the empty pages of another. Today I am a student but that identity is quickly slipping away from me.

This doesn’t mean I am regretting my decision or that I made a wrong choice. This choice isn’t about right or wrong, it’s just something I have to do. I am not sure why but there is an unquenchable desire in me, a driving force, that won’t let me stay here. It doesn’t matter how hard leaving is, what drives me tells me the adventure ahead is going to be worth it.

There is also a sense within my heart that the purpose of my time at SPU is over. What was to be learned and accomplished here has been learned and accomplished. Yes, I could stay another year just to get the paper that officiates these accomplishments, but that would be staying to long in a place I don’t need to stay at. It would be lingering to long in a chapter that can already be summed up.

I do not want to turn back. I do not want to change my mind. Though I am sad and grieving the loss of this time I do want to forge ahead and see what new adventures are out there. The force driving me isn’t abusive or dragging me somewhere I don’t want to go, it is beckoning me and gently urging me; nothing harsh or deceptive about it. More like a simple invitation to go into the unknown waters and test their current. The bay I have been in is great and has helped me learn to swim. If I stay to long in it’s calm waters, though, I fear I will grow lazy. It is time to grow new muscles and past new tests. The time is ripe. Jumping in now is good and sweet.

I cannot help but long for a celebration, though. I am leaving early and without a diploma. To some this appears to be giving up or failing at a task. In my heart I know this is a lie. I have graduated from a season of life so it is time to move to another; winter can’t last forever, even in Narnia. I can’t help but wish that could be celebration of spring coming. No congratulations or graduation gifts are going to happen, though. There is no letter to send out to friends and family to ask them to celebrate something I accomplished. What would I say? Congratulate me because I realized I don’t have to be here any more. For some reason I don’t think most people would get it.

Today I want someone to say they are proud of me. I want someone to say “way to go, you accomplished something great!” Not because I doubt that I did something great, but because I want someone to recognize the hard work I have put in and validate a celebration.

I miss my dad, today and I wish he could tell me this. I am scared to tell him I am dropping out because I fear his response. I fear he would tell me that I lack commitment and I gave up to quickly. I fear he would not be proud of me at all but would instead be disappointed and angry. So I haven’t told him. I don’t want him to crush the celebration and pride I feel for myself. I don’t want to risk that. He is the one I want to hear those words from, though.

Today I am a student, writing a research paper. In two weeks I am graduating from a chapter of life. In two weeks I begin a new chapter. In two weeks I will celebrate for myself the woman I have grown into; I have become more myself than I have ever been before. I am more fully alive, more fully Joy, than I was three years ago. The places I have been, people who have graced my life, books I have read, and lessons I have learned have each shaped me. They shaped me by chipping away lies and burdens stuck on me to reveal a beautiful and truthful woman: Joy. I am more Joy than ever and that is something to celebrate. In two weeks I won’t be flipping a tassel or getting a diploma, but I will be graduating from a phase of education that is much harder than an undergraduate degree. The School of Life will be awarding Joy a diploma worth more than a BA, MA or PhD: a degree in living, because that’s what I have learned. I have learned how to be alive. The beauty of this is that I will always be learning how to live. Or am I learning how to die?

Love to you all,

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Adventures

Good Morning Everyone!

Don’t hold your breath for brilliant thoughts in this blog, as I just woke up 20 minutes ago and am now at work, with not much to do.

The purpose of the posting is basically to let y’all know what’s been going on in my life. Big things are coming!!

It is now official that this is my last quarter at SPU. I am in my junior year here, about 4 quarters away from getting my degree, and I am withdrawing! My plan is to take a year away from formal education and go into the world and learn. My classroom with be a farm somewhere in the Northwest, or California perhaps. There are lots of farms I found through a website ( that trade room and board for 4-6 hours of work a day. So I am gonna go try it out. If I love it (as I suspect I will) then hopefully I can just keep doing it. If I don’t, then I have a few other possibilities in my brain of things to try out.

Hopefully this doesn’t catch to many of you by surprise as I have had a tough time at school since I got here my freshman year and am always talking about dropping out. I do not at all regret the past three years and I know they were needed. Though I am leaving without a degree, I really sense that this season is over and it is time to go to the next one. Where I will be and what I will do is yet to be discovered, and I am really excited (though slightly terrified) about the unknowns that are ahead of me.

This summer I will still be working at a YoungLife camp in Oregon called Breakaway, so I won’t be going to my farm until September or October.

Of course, I will be writing all along the way so y’all can read about my adventures.

And if anyone has a dependable car they want to sell for cheap let me know!

Peace be the journey,


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Freedom Exists?

The first week of the new quarter has been hard. It took a small miracle to keep me from dropping out on Monday and running away to California. The feelings of panic, being trapped, and hating what I study were all too familiar. It isn’t a new thing for me to want to drop out of school, or for me to wonder if there is a point to getting a degree.
Freshman year of college I actually did drop out for a quarter. I panicked and couldn’t handle sitting through classes, so I ran away to California for most of winter quarter. It was a time when running away might have been the best choice to make. I found myself surrounded by a community of family friends that loved me without conditions and wanted to support me in life. That community has helped keep me going through the last 3 years of college.
Most quarters I begin with a sense of excitement until the first lecture starts. Once I actually have to pay attention and learn and be interested I freak out and can only dream of gardening, hiking, writing stories or playing with dogs. I feel stuck and trapped in a classroom. The voice of a professor seems to drone without end. Though I usually have great professors who genuinely care about my learning, and me, they become the enemy during a lecture and I want to dash out of the room and scream at the top of my lungs just to remember I am alive.
This quarter began the same way. Panic, my legs twitching in preparation of running, and my heart speeding up, pumping blood everywhere in case I do run and need to scream. This quarter, however, I realized that I could leave. I am not bound to school; I do not have to study. I could do something else. With this newfound freedom I wanted to run even more. The running felt like skipping away in victory however, so I didn’t immediately recognize it as the same desire to run away.
What kept me from dropping out and going back to my California family? I have no idea what else I would do besides school. I have no idea what I want to do in life. I have whiffs of dreams, like my hands covered in dirt or working hard in a field, other times I dream of getting to write all the time and actually being able to make a living out of it. However, I don’t know what to do to make these a reality. I have loans up the wazoo that would have to be paid off if I dropped out.
So I stayed in school. However, the freedom I found is still there. This quarter I will do school because I am settled here and don’t have a good plan for anything else to do. Next year… the doors feel wide open.
I don’t think traditional education is for me. Anyone who has spent anytime with me in classes or doing homework knows I play with my nose and don’t read a thing. I think about lots of things and am smart and interested in lots of subjects, I just get bored in a classroom and hate reading things I don’t find interesting or relevant to my life. I could be a really great student who gets straight A’s and blows peoples minds with my wisdom and insight (ok, maybe not that good)!
Yet, I am a mediocre student who doesn’t really read or participate in classes and only do the assignments I have to do to get a decent grade. I don’t care because it feels useless. Why on earth do I need to know what John Wesley thought about communion? Or what Freud thinks my deepest darkest secrets are?
What is important to me is how do I live in a way that fulfills my deepest joys and somehow finds a place to meet a need in the world. I find deep joy in cooking for people. Can’t I just go cook for people? A deep joy meets a great need. I love gardening. Can’t I just plant a garden and let people come play in the dirt with me? People need to play in the dirt; it is restful for their spirits to have their hands covered in dirt.
Yes, I could do these things. However, they will not pay the bills. Reality is I need to make money. I hate this reality so much. I feel trapped by this and want to run out of the moneymaking classroom and yell at the top of my lungs. This wasn’t helped when I went to Uganda and learned I didn’t need half as much stuff as I thought. I can be totally content to live in a hut without electricity or plumbing and have no car or cell phone or computer. I can love that life.
I also learned in Uganda that I am not really cut out for international living. I am a homebody, and I love my culture and the people in it. I am uniquely suited to love my American brothers and sisters. To live in America I have to be able to sustain myself. I have to make money. That doesn’t mean I need to hate it, though.
How to I find a deep joy that meets a need that also brings in an income? I have no idea. This week I learned that I don’t have to do what I am doing, though. I can change degrees, or schools, or states… I am free to take longer to get a college degree. I am free to be ridiculous and transfer during my senior year and abandon the major I made up for myself. I am free to find a school that lets me be free and spontaneous in my education. Or to find a job I love that doesn’t require a degree. I could go be a park ranger for the rest of my life if I wanted to! Really the point is that I am freer than I ever though. I am also capable of things I never thought I was. I am a smart and able woman who can do more than I know is possible.

I am free.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Presence is Possible

This Spring Break I have been reminded, again, of presence.

I have spent the last week at Point Loma Nazarene University. I came to be with two friends from Uganda; Holly was my roommate in Uganda, and BJ (aka Brian) was my friend. Both of those were true again this week as I bunked in with Holly all week and hung out with BJ often. However, I was blessed with much more than reuniting with Uganda friends.

BJ and Holly had classes all week. I knew this was going to happen, but it dawned on me when I arrived that this meant they would be doing things throughout the week I couldn’t join them in. I would be alone. At first I was ok with this. Then I remembered how much I hate being alone. I freaked out and contemplated not hanging out for the week and going somewhere else. However, I learned in Uganda not to run from hard and awkward things, but to sit in them in active patience and let them wash over me.

So I sat. I told myself to trust God and see what would happen. Beautiful things happened. First, BJ’s friends very suddenly became my friends. They would call me or find me and ask me to be with them. People I had only met when I was here for a brief weekend in February invited me to sleepovers and hikes and meals. BJ’s friends became my friends and I was brought into a community that eagerly accepted me. I felt no need to be a different person for them, either. I felt free to be me!

They were present with me. They were present by bringing me into their community and loving me. When I said goodbye to them last night and today I found myself grieved over leaving this community. It didn’t feel like I had only known them a week, it seemed like I had always known them. Their presence was real and tangible in my life and I experienced a flow of life between us.

On Wednesday night I went out to do homeless ministry with BJ and many others from PLNU. I was scared. Homeless people scare me. BJ told me I could hang with him, so I did and didn’t feel quite as scared then. One of BJ’s friends is named Michael. Michael is homeless and he spends his nights at a certain spot on the sidewalk near downtown San Diego. BJ has been hanging out with Michael for a while now it seemed and I soon found myself sitting on the sidewalk with these two men. Few words passed between us, and anyone eavesdropping would probably have found the words awkward and meaningless. However, I experienced a presence in that space that I hadn’t known since being in Uganda. Words weren’t needed, it was ok to sit and be together. Call it solidarity or whatever. We were together and it was a full together. Words weren’t even expected. In Uganda this happened a lot; I would find myself in a Ugandan’s living room without much for either of us to say. At the time it felt awkward and uncomfortable because in the US we expect words to happen all the time. If we aren’t talking we aren’t being productive or using our time wisely. With BJ and Michael words weren’t expected. In Uganda I wanted to run from this or fight against it. This was the first time I had experienced this situation since being back and my soul felt such peace and rest in it. How delightful to not have to say anything. How beautiful to be totally present with someone, a stranger to me, without any expectations. This is presence.

Then tonight two nights ago I finally got to talk with Deanna, another Uganda friend, on the phone. We haven’t talked in a couple weeks and we had missed each other greatly. Though we were on the phone in different states and different time zones we felt more present with each other than we felt with anyone we had been in a room with. The connection between our spirits transcended the limits of time and distance and it was as if we were in a different realm or dimension. A realm where time and distance are immaterial and what is real is what cannot be seen. So thick was her presence with me that I could smell it, taste it and touch it. Such freedom was between us that our whole selves were able to mingle and inter-digitate without fear or pretense. In this place we could totally care for the other without having our self taken away. Both of us could take up space without fearing offense of the other. In this presence we could feel the Holy Spirit passing between us and sharing true life, abundant life. We both felt alive. More than our hearts beating and our blood flowing, life that goes deeper and wider than our bodies; life that is eternal.

Presence, and the ability to be present with people, did not leave me when I returned from Uganda. The need for presence has only grown stronger in me. When I am found by it I lap it up like a dehydrated dog. Presence as I have described is rare and so hard to find. When it is found, however, my soul seems to soar within me and sing truly. Not a song I can hear, but one that is truer than anything I can sing with my voice. How good it is to know I am alive tonight.

There must be a key or something that unlocks this kind of presence. Right now these events feel random and mysterious, however, in writing about them I noticed a theme. What I experienced in each of these events was freedom to be me without expectations of anything more or less. Because of this freedom I was able to let myself take up space and I was also able to let others take up space. There was no competition between us or expectations that could not be met. All there was in those moments was freedom and space to bring my whole person.

Is this something I can only find with certain people? Or can I bring it with me wherever I go? I am beginning to think presence isn’t something that can only take place with certain people at certain times, but something that can take place within myself all the time. It is also something I can bring to people. If I give myself the freedom and space to bring all of me everywhere I go then others will also have that space around me. Presence isn’t random, though it is probably more full when everyone is practicing it. Presence is practiced, just as patience is practiced. It takes work and willingness to be disciplined. Presence and patience aren’t virtues but are disciplines. This means anyone can practice both; I can practice both. I give all of you permission to hold me to this discipline, as well.