Monday, May 15, 2017

What's Love Got to Do With It?

I have been thinking for the past few days about love. I always thought I understood what love is. This powerful word that we say so easily and so easily claim. I thought that I understood love, but recently I have questioned: what does love actually look like? What is love in action? What happens when I quit just saying the word and I start living a life of selfless love?

When I was single, I would try to gain the affections of some or another guy. My desire was not that they would let me love them, but that if I worked hard enough then they would love me back. It was a selfish desire, not a selfless one.

And the trend of my singleness, I believe, is common. We so easily get easily swayed into a selfish love without even realizing it. We do things to please the other person, hoping that it will in turn make them love us more. We serve our husband or wife in the name of love, but we are actually hoping to get something in return. It masks itself as true love, but really the motivation is for someone to love us back. 

This isn't necessarily a bad desire, that desire to be loved. It is innate in us. We all want to feel loved and we should all be loved. It is a desire, though, that is truthfully only fulfilled by accepting and relying fully upon God's love for us.

God's perfect love.

His love for us that is entirely selfless. He died for us while we spat at Him and hated Him. He created us, imperfect beings, and still loves us no matter how many times we reject Him, ignore Him, and scream at Him. God's perfect love is the only love that will satisfy that insatiable need in our souls to be loved.

But oh how quickly we ask our spouse to bear the burden of perfect love.

My husband will never make me feel perfectly loved, though he gets incredibly close. His love for me will always be imperfect, and if I am seeking to turn him into the perfect husband with a perfect love for me, I will always be disappointed. The love my soul seeks is never going to come from him. It can only come from my Savior.

That's another hard thing. When we have the earthly love of a husband or wife it is so easy to set God aside and convince ourselves that everything we ever needed should come from that person.

But that is not love. And that is not a fair thing to expect.

So how, then, do I love my husband well? What does that mean?

For me it means, changing my motivation. I should not love him for the love he can give me in return. I must love him because marriage is to be a portrait of God's love for us. I must love him without the motivation of what I will get in return. Because marriage isn't about what C can do for me, it is what I can do for him. It is loving him with a selfless love, asking nothing in return, giving forgiveness in abundance, and living in the peace that we can never fully fulfill each other but that we serve a God who can. And if we are both living that way, then the love that we feel will be incredible.

We all want to be loved, yes, but what if we stopped seeking that acceptance and started giving love first to everyone else around us? What a world that would be, where we would all chose to take care of each other first because we have been given the greatest love from our Father.

We love because HE first loved us. 

Gosh it is hard to do. It is hard to be selfless. It is hard to give up the habit of seeking love instead of serving it on a nice big joyful platter. My husband is incredible at the selfless love thing and I am a work in progress. But how nice to know that God never gives up on us. How nice that we can continue to learn and grow forever and ever.

Love. What does it mean to you? 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Truth about Ministry and Depression

*Disclaimer: This post was written one year ago, almost to the day. I did not post it then for fear that it was too vulnerable, but I feel like I need to post it now. Too many people give into depression and suicide because we don't talk about it. I hope that this experience will give someone else hope that they are not alone, and that maybe they will, like me, take steps towards healing. If you (whether I know you or not) ever need someone to talk to, please contact me. We need each other in this world, and no one should feel the depths of pain alone.*

Written: May 2016

I've debated on whether I write about this too much. I've debated that maybe I don't write about this enough. So if it sounds like you've read it before, feel free to move on. If not, stick around. Probably this post is more for me than you anyways.

To start with, I think there is this misconception that if you are single you can work more because you don't have a family. This is dumb. Just because you are single doesn't mean you shouldn't have boundaries. But I didn't realize this was dumb until I wasn't single anymore. For years my ministry and my work came first, no matter what. It came before vacations, time and visits with my family, and my own personal well-being. Once Cameron came along he actually had to tell me that I needed to love him more than I loved my job, and that was something I actually had to work at. It wasn't healthy, my friends.

So as we all know last year I struggled pretty strongly with anxiety and burnout. Years of ministry without boundaries will do that to a person. It made me unmotivated, not very nice, tired, and pretty sad and anxious all the time. As I transitioned to a more balanced life of ministry, the fallout from my years in non-stop ministry didn't just get fixed over night, as much as I would have hoped it could.

As God moved me, or forced me really, into transitioning to a more healthy work-life balance, the impact was rough. I was pulled pretty forcefully from my way of life and it was kind of like a bad breakup between me and my work. I won't sugarcoat things, though there is a lot that doesn't need to be said, but the combination of having to understand a new life paradigm and the heartbreak of being treated really badly by people that I trusted led me to a rough new chapter of being a missionary.

A side note before I go on: I have been reluctant to post this in fear that certain people will think it is overdramatic or exaggerated. But the truth is that I don't have to care what those people think. We don't put enough emphasis on the toll that ministering to human suffering can take. We think we should suck it up and be fine, but that isn't me. There is only so much rape, murder, abuse, and neglect that I can take before I break. We need proper counseling and places of rest for missionaries. Missionaries get so caught up in their work and their need to write newsletters and convince supporters to stick around, that they don't take care of themselves for fear that people will think they aren't working hard enough. That is also wrong, and it is something that we need to come to terms with, both as missionaries and as those who support them.

Anyways, for the last six months I have struggled heavily with what I now realize was depression. My depression took a toll on our marriage, as neither of us really understood it at the time. I would burst into uncontrollable tears, as if someone had died, at random moments and I would be unable to stop. I was unmotivated at work and at home, I was tired for no reason, and I was sad basically all the time. For my husband this was difficult to understand because he was working so hard to provide a good life for me. It made him feel like a failure, but that wasn't it. I couldn't explain why I was sad and I didn't want to be sad, I just was. And with each stab of injustice as I tried to do what I thought was right, the cycle would start all over again.

Throughout this last year of my ministry on the reservation there were multiple times I had the thought pass through my mind that the solution was really just to die. This thought crept back in about a month ago. It is a harsh and evil voice that tries to make you believe your life is worthless and it is really really scary. I never would have followed through with it thanks to the strength of the Lord within me, but it is a scary and convincing voice that says you might as well just be dead.

And hello, that's called depression.

Until one day I decided that this was the last time I was going to cry over what injustice had been played against me. It was the last time I let other people control my emotions, my marriage, and my life. It was time that I let God work the healing in me that I had been rejecting for so long. 

I will tell ya, it has been a hard 2 years and a hard 7 months of coming to terms with a lot of things. I can say with such joy though, that I finally feel really close to complete healing. I have been able to see so much progress within myself over the last 7 months as I slowly became me again. It feels weird to wake up happy, content, and not be anxious for days at a time, but I think I could get used to it!

Small things have helped, like joining the softball team I mentioned in my last post. It seems silly, but joining the team shows that I am no longer isolating myself in a world of ministry and work. I am branching out of my comfort zone, making new friendships, and settling into a new way of life. My marriage has gotten better and better as C has learned how to take care of me and as I have learned better coping skills and ways to find joy in my life. And my ministry, surprisingly to me, has not suffered. Just because I had to take a step back doesn't mean that everything fell into a big pit. My kids still call, we still hang out, we still laugh together and have sleepovers. They are just as important to me as ever, I have simply learned that I need some space and some boundaries, and that is ok.

Like I said in the beginning, this post is probably more for me to process than for you to read, but maybe it will help someone else out there. Working in ministry is hard and we want to pretend we have it all together, but it is ok if we don't. It is ok to take a step back for self care even if others don't understand.

And don't worry. You don't have to send me emails or stop me on the street to ask me if I am ok. I am great and I am healing and I feel better than ever. It is like a dark cloud has lifted and I find myself laughing again and feeling happy again. Its a good thing and I know it is just going to get better. God never left me and He never will, and I know He will heal my heart fully again.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Relentless Burden of Relaxation (sarcasm intended)

I spent last week laying on a beach in Mexico thanks to the extreme generosity of a good friend. It's ok to be jealous, it was pretty awesome. The funny thing was that even though we were in a little piece of paradise, Cameron and I could not figure out how to relax for the life of us.

You see, our vacations are generally active vacations. We pick places where we can hike every morning, or go to museums and do some sightseeing. This vacation, though, was different. In this location of Mexico there was absolutely nothing to do except lay on the beach, or lay by the pool, or read on the patio while overlooking the ocean. Yea, rough life.

So the first day Cameron and I did all of the obligatory laying around and reading and by the end of the day we were totally freaking out. "We might have to leave early," Cameron said. " I don't think I can do this for 4 more days."

"Yea, who knew that being lazy would be so difficult!!"

It was such a weird predicament, to have the opportunity to be leisurely, a luxury really, and have absolutely no idea what to do with it. 

We laid on the bed, overlooking the ocean, and deeply sighed. What a ridiculous problem to have.

The problem was an American one, but a problem nonetheless. We had accustomed ourselves to lives of such busyness that idleness was more foreign than the local Mexican grocery store. We had convinced ourselves that relaxation was bad, something to feel guilty about, and a waste of our precious time.

But as the week went on we started to give in. We read novels for hours, took afternoon naps, and walked down the beach looking for shells every afternoon. I swear that Cameron started to look younger as he left his stress behind and actually began to rest. We were rarely frustrated or angry, and we laughed. We laughed so much more than in our everyday existence.

What had changed? Cameron and I still talked with each other in the same ways, and the same problems and to-do lists still existed back at home, but we were calm. We were more easy-going. We were more apt to let the other person choose where we should eat dinner and we served each other better. All because we allowed ourselves some rest.

Funny enough, I came back to work today feeling so calm, even though the visions of the beach are only in my mind. The spirit of rest accompanied me to the office, and actually produced a more effective and productive employee. Rest seemed to enhance my normal life, even though our culture frowns upon it. And it made me think that maybe Millennials sometimes have the right idea. The media and the "real" adults chastise the Millennial generation for not holding down jobs, for wanting a more leisurely, retirement-like existence, in their twenties. But I think maybe this generation is grasping onto something that has been missing. Yes, we need to work hard. Yes, we need to do well at our jobs, seek a sustainable career, and be responsible.

But maybe, just maybe, we also need to relearn how to take times of rest. Maybe every now and then we need to let go of guilt, log out of our email, and spend some time reading a novel on a beach somewhere.

Add a piƱa colada in a real pineapple and I am thinking I might have found the recipe for success.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Flowing Words that will Not Be Stopped

I miss the words that used to flow like ocean waves from my fingertips. 
Like the tides they would present themselves. 
They were reliable, they were my lifeline. 
And then so much changed and I think I could barely figure out myself let alone the words to express it. 
I lost myself somewhere. 
I lost the words that were so precious to me and I curled up into the shell that I had created and decided that the world was bleak and I was better off cutting myself loose. 
To produce words would mean to process and I did not want to process. Processing can mean pain, and my little shell was comfortable and dark, but manageable. 
Processing was not manageable. 
So the words packed themselves into a box and decided not to bother me. Since I was rather snappy it was probably better for them anyways. 
But despite my resistance the words kept pressing against the tips of my fingers, begging to be written. Maybe my identity was a little bit lost, maybe my purpose uncertain and my ego hurt, but there were still words that wanted to be pushed into the sea. 
So I sat and I decided to let my soul move my fingers, no matter the result. 
To write, for me, is to live. 
The tides are moving and from this point forward they will not be stopped. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Dreaded "S" Word

Let's get real ya'll. This week in church we talked about that verse. You know, the one that makes you cringe and wonder what the heck Paul really knew anyways? Yup, we talked about the "wives submit to your husbands" verse and things. got. real.

Here is a little of my history with the dreaded "s" word.

In college I was always miffed by discussions about what a Christian woman and wife was supposed to be like. Anytime I heard the word "helper" I gagged a bit. It was interpreted as inferior, quiet, and just there to help the man be the best he could be. Every time I had to listen to one of these talks I was all, "yea no thanks. I am strong and powerful and I don't want to just be a little helper in a maid's outfit!" I was not a fan of the interpretation I had been given and I was not afraid to make that known, for the interpretation I was given was an incorrect one.

After college I went to India on my own for a month, all adventure and independence. While there I attended a wedding. The wedding I did not understand much of because it was mostly in a different language, but one part I did understand was when the pastor literally put a "veil of submission" over the bride's head. Again I was all, "Oh hell no! Ain't nobody going to put a veil of submission over my head!!" (I lose all sense of correct grammar when I get worked up.) I solemnly vowed not to have that in my wedding in any sense. After all, I am a solid feminist and independent woman. 

Then, eventually, I got married. It was a surprise to all of us. He took quite the time in getting here. I still chastise him for not coming sooner. Our ceremony was beautiful and my father, as our officiant, talked about our future, our equality, and our vows to one another. It was absolutely the happiest day of my life.

And then our marriage truly began.

Gosh, that first year was TOUGH! We were both strong-willed and stubborn, and a fight never ended in acquiescence. We each started off right and we ended the same way, no matter what it meant for our mutual well-being. We were two independent people who came together and each believed that we knew what was best.

In the beginning of my marriage I had something to prove. I had been on my own before he came around and I had survived, thrived even. Yes, I mostly ate vanilla wafers and peanut butter for dinner, but it didn't KILL me! I knew how to take care of myself and I felt a need to prove to him that I was not suddenly incapable just because he had joined my life.

And sitting there in the back of the room was that word, that word that I hated and despised. It was equivalent to the "f" word or worse if Cameron ever dared to say it in the midst of a fight. It was the ace in the hole when he wanted to really make me mad. Submission meant inferiority to me and that was not what I wanted from my marriage.

But. . .

Through the grace of God I suppose I began to slowly, and painfully, learn about the true meaning of the "s" word. I came to understand that it is indeed not a word of inferiority, but a word of strength and power. It did not mean acquiescing to the will of my husband, but having a husband worthy of trust and respect, so that I know the decisions he makes are in our best interest.

In my marriage submission does not mean that my voice is not heard. My husband listens carefully to my opinions, my fears, my ideas, and he gives me an equal voice in any decisions we make. Submission means that I in turn give him respect, that as he loves me and is not harsh with me, so too do I support him and strengthen him through my respect for him. He is passionate about providing well for our little family and he needs me to hold him up and support him well so that he can be the strong and amazing man that he is.

Submission is not a bad word and it is not the opposite of feminism. I guess as I have gotten deeper into my marriage I have realized that "submission" has been given a bad rap. In truth, it is about being a better team together. 

Now, don't get mad at me for this post. Don't call me (mom) or text me worrying that I am now living in 1960s Beaver Cleaver's house. My husband is proud of the strong woman that I am, and he loves me for all of me. We try to run a household that honors God and honors one another, and he is a man worthy of my respect. We both have so much to learn when it comes to loving each other well, but each day that we push forward we get a little bit closer.

I told you this post would be a doozy. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Guest Room with a Purpose

Our house has three rooms. The first is the room we sleep in, the second is the music room, and the third is the guest room. In many houses the guest room sits vacant, always clean, and always ready for the one to two guests that come a year.

But in our house, the guest room is different. This room almost consistently has somebody sleeping in it. Sometimes it is a friend from out of town, but more often than not it is someone local- a friend that needs a place for a while or just for a night, a student from the reservation that comes up for the weekend or comes back into town to stay at "home base" for a week. We have had people stay for five months, five weeks, or just one night. Our guest room is always ready for someone to come in and stay for as long as they need.

The way we see it, if God gave us extra space then we are meant to use it for His glory. If God blessed us with a house then we should bless others with a place to sleep and a hot breakfast in the morning. After all, what is a guest room without any guests?

My favorite part though, is that lately I have been hearing a trend when people talk about our guest room. Almost everyone who has slept there calls it "my room." Teenagers and adults alike speak of the room in the possessive: "When can I come stay in my room?" "If it gets late I'll just stay in my room." "Why are they sleeping in my room??" Anyone who stays seems to feel at home, welcome, and like family.

I like that. I like that people can come into our home and feel like it is their's. It feels like our home has a purpose beyond housing my husband and I, and I hope we always have a house with a guest room. Who knows the stories our homes will tell one day.

I might even start adding chocolates to the pillow.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Here I am, Why Won't You Send Me?

You hear these stories of people doing miraculous things to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. People moving to the countries in Africa, adopting orphans, or living and dying amongst cannibalistic  tribes in Latin America. These people have given up everything to follow the call of Jesus, and for years I have longed to be one of them.

When I was in high school I felt called to the mission field while on a transformative trip to Mexico. I spent the next few years traveling back every summer, and in college did mission work in Spain, Portugal, and India. I was preparing for God to send me full-time onto the International mission field. I was, and continue to be, ready to give up everything for His mission. The comforts of middle class life, my possessions, my family- they were all negligible to me when I considered how God could use me in the jungles of Peru or with the indigenous tribes in Ecuador. I never wanted to live in the United States. I stood before the Lord and said, "Send me, I'll go." 

Yet God did not send me. At first I thought it was a punishment. My many efforts to go overseas after college fell through and I was distraught. I wanted to give up everything for Him, why wasn't He letting me go?? I ended up at Fuller Seminary, still planning to use the tools I was learning there to further God's mission in Latin America. After all, I had a Spanish degree, an Economics major, and was now learning the ins and outs of effective missions. 

But God still did not send me. Instead, He diverted my path towards Arizona, where I have worked with the youth of the White Mountain Apache tribe for the last 3.5 years. Though I was in the US it was still a worthy mission. The tribal land feels like a different country, and the needs are great. I never questioned God's call on my life to the Apache people, but I was still living in relative comfort. I was able to go home to see family often and I was in a warm bed in a nice apartment with all of the amenities of middle class living. Sure, there isn't shopping in my town (other than Walmart) but that isn't a true sacrifice. In a way I felt guilty for serving God, yet still living a life with online shopping and other comforts. 

So the question still stood for me, "God, if I am willing to give up everything for you to live and work in another country, why do You not let me go?" 

I got married and my husband and I began talking about our future. Over and over again I expressed my desire to serve God overseas. My husband talked of his desire to be a dentist, a path that requires much preparation and 4+ years of dental school. Plans didn't seem to match up, and yet they also could. I began to imagine us being able to live and work with impoverished communities as my husband provided much needed dental care. It is still a prayer and a dream, but I wonder if perhaps I must simply have patience before God takes us overseas. 

Patience. Waiting for something that may or may not come. I found myself questioning again the other day why He has not sent me, when I realized that I was asking the wrong question altogether. The questions I should be asking should look like this:

  • What does it look like to live radically for God while living in the middle class? 
  • How can I live a life of service now, when my life may include a regular 9-5 job? 
  • What does it mean to serve God intentionally, and with an attitude of giving up everything, when I am placed in the suburbs of America? 
  • How can I serve God in a crazy way here and now, not waiting impatiently for something else to come along?

I will admit to you that I don't have all of the answers yet. I do not know why, in God's sovereign plan, He has denied my request and placed me in the US. But I do know that His plan is bigger and that I absolutely trust Him. When my life is in His hands, He guides me and leads me, and I have the utmost confidence in His leadership in my life. 

So I decide to serve Him radically in whatever community I am placed, and to let that be enough. Through mentoring teenagers, giving generously of our possessions, and inviting people to stay in our home I must live intentionally right where I am. I will daily tell my God, here I am, send me, and I will have that confidence that sometimes God sends us right next door, and that is as beautiful and worthy a cause as moving to the jungle.