Day one brings school ministries and lunch meetings and new faces.
Everyday new faces. And trying to remember all the names when most of them are Asian and unusual…I’m getting there.
Day three brings community and new-found family and I knew that very first gathering that I was all in. Happy tears. Grateful tears.
Suddenly I could see how everything had been leading up to this. Because all of my hobbies fall into place here and all of my skills and experience are being called on and this, this is where God has been working to bring me all this time.
It all made sense now.
Suddenly my planner is full and everyday holds new adventures and good food and genuine friendships.
Suddenly meetings are my favorite because when great minds and big hearts get together to dream and plan, amazing things start working themselves out.
I’ve never encountered a community so passionate and creative and infectious.
These people are changing Bali. And it won’t be long before the ripples start reaching other shores. I have no doubt.
Because here the dreams are big and the faith is bigger and impossible situations are simply opportunities for God to step in.
It was incredible coming back five years later to the country that had such an impact on me growing up.
I was raised to have a curious mind, to explore the beauty of language, to love cultures different than my own.
It was in this city that I found Jesus as my best friend, where I learned that family is one of the most important things you can have, where I became convinced that Thai food is undeniably the tastiest food on the planet.
I knew such a huge part of me was wrapped up in this land of traffic thicker than the humidity and blatant stares and friendlier smiles. I remember days when all I wanted was to leave. But you can never run from who you are. Missions runs through my veins and I knew I’d come back. I’d always come back.
This time it felt strangely like…home.
Home is one of those words I always stumbled over.
What is home?
I had moved so many times early in my life and I rebelled mentally about settling in the unexotic Midwest. And it wasn’t until I’d been back to Thailand twice, Kenya, Costa Rica, and finally Greece to realize that this little Midwest city that could hardly be called a city wasn’t such a bad place to come back to.
I fell in love with the smallness, the simplicity, the coffee shops, the culture. Even after my two closest friends moved several states away, I was content.
And for the first time I knew how it felt to be planted – my roots grew a little deeper. Suddenly I realized I had two beautiful places to call mine.
Friends come and go and home isn’t always where all the friends are. My people span too many continents for that.
All at once I realized that home was less about my surroundings and more about my heart. It was about the coffee shop I visited two afternoons a week, where the Americanos are strong and the baristas know my name. It was about my favorite streets and downtown memories and old houses full of character and charm and stories to tell. It was about the library brimming with the worlds and adventures that filled my childhood summers. It was about family and shady trails and quiet creeks.
It was when I became content to call my little Midwest “home” that Bangkok suddenly felt like home as well.
Now I’m packing my suitcases and moving back to Southeast Asia, though a new part for me – a little smaller, a little more beachy, a little less familiar.
I’m less sure than ever about what the future holds and far more excited than I ever hoped to be.
New country, new people, new adventures to be had and memories to be made.
I am so looking forward to adding Indonesia to the places I call home.
These past couple weeks I’ve learned a lot about forgiving people – including myself. I’ve learned how to pray for those who have hurt me.
Praying blessings is powerful – to bless those who curse.
It’ll change the way you think about them, to intercede on their behalf, to plead with the Father for their happiness and well-being, to pray deep faith and abiding peace and overflowing joy over them.
It’ll do things to you – eliminate selfishness and bitterness, change the way you love.
Not for the faint of heart but I highly recommend it if you’re willing to learn a lesson in humility.
That’s where I’m at for the moment.
Humbleness. Prayer. Letting go of the need to be right, to be understood.
Because let’s face it, we’re going to be misunderstood sometimes. People aren’t always going to stick around to hear our side of the story and we’re not always going to get our apology.
And it’s okay. Really.
Their opinion doesn’t define you. It’s how you respond that defines you.
This summer has been pure poetry. Love, loss, adventure, nostalgia, magic.
I thrive on this stuff – on new faces and familiar places, hotels and humidity and memories – reliving the old and making new.
I was born on the move. I live to love and let go.
She said it right, my mom, how I leave a piece of myself wherever I go…but I also take something with me. This is why I’m always changing, shedding my skin to open new eyes.
I think about regrets, choices and words that haunted me, and I turn a fresh page. To know this – that I had loved with all of me and tried my best and that’s what made it enough – this changes everything.
To live without holding back is often painful; but I’ve learned to not hate myself for the things that make me brave.
This is freedom – to walk humid streets and find no stranger.
This is magic – to see yourself as mystery and flawed and to choose love.
Contentment doesn’t start in the exotic; contentment starts ordinary.
It’s born in the everyday moment – in gratitude for the little things. Turning routine into ritual and making habit the rhythm of a heart at peace.
Learn to choose joy when it doesn’t come easy and it will surprise you when you’re not expecting it.
“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Philippians 4 MSG
I chuckled at how I probably looked staring contemplatively out of the bus window in the middle of 40 chattering, laughing kids with the wind whipping wild my curls while some kind of chill indie techno pop or whatever blared over the speakers, but there was something about the way the afternoon sunlight blazed golden across the tall grasses in that field and I couldn’t stop staring.
I soaked up the moment soul-hungry and mentally lingered, wondering at how underrated the Midwest actually is.
There’s something magical about camp season. When you escape to a piece of no man’s land tucked somewhere in the hills of who-knows-where with spotty cell phone reception and a gazillion sweaty kids for a week to run ridiculous relay races in the blazing heat and throw water balloons at each other that are actually filled with warm chocolate milk. Such fun.
But in all seriousness it’s kind of my favorite. And I kind of cry a little every time I have to leave because there’s nothing quite like getting away from normal life for a week or two (or four) to hang out with cool people and be silly and love on Jesus to the sound of an acoustic guitar and cicadas.
The funny thing is that I had some great plans going into this summer. I was going to work this camp, get into this relationship, apply for this job, move into this apartment…it was going to be perfect. I had it all figured out – my life for the next couple years. All in the name of loving Jesus, right?
Well, something started to unravel in me. Somewhere between a few certain whiny campers and another thunderstorm and mud all over everything (because we camped out in the woods for a week and it rained the whole time and I’ve never seen so much mud in my life) and soaked sleeping bags and sleep-deprivation. Suddenly here was the end of my rope and things weren’t working out and I couldn’t do this anymore.
But Father kept whispering softly to me – in quiet hammock moments, in laughter and conversation around the campfire, on muddy trails, through falling rain. It was half a week later that I stopped long enough to listen, to lean in despite my disappointment and frustrations. His words came gentle, “Silly child, trusting in your own plans. Don’t you know to put your hope in Me alone? Do you really think you know what’s best for you?”
His probing laid me open and the next few days felt a little raw. It was a gradual releasing – of my plans and stubbornness – a softening. I thought I had pliable been all along. But there I was, “my” life and “my” future in my own hands again and it’s never comfortable to peel back the fingers of a clenched fist.
It didn’t make sense to let go. Because my plans made sense. They would work out perfectly with what I wanted and how I was going to live out the things God had placed on my heart if He would just work with me…
Yeah. Sounds rather ridiculous when you think about it that way.
So I let go. Even if it meant doing the same things I’ve been doing for the past two years and living in my parents’ basement until I’m thirty. (Okay not really, but that’s how it felt if I’m honest….And don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but you know what I mean…)
With that releasing came such a peace.
Because if I was letting go it’s because God had something better in store and I’ve walked with my Father long enough to know He never disappoints.
I packed my suitcase that Saturday morning after camp was over and the goodbyes were said, and strangely enough I found myself looking forward to getting back into the routine of my life – housework, homework, and afternoons in the office.
But I come home to a surprise I was not expecting. It explains the releasing, the heart conditioning, and the hopeful expectancy for the future.
The sun came out and just like that, it was spring.
I’d been waiting. So long.
Winter always seems the hardest.
I was eating regularly and sleep was a priority and strength dripped life slowly back into these fragile, anemic bones…yet I still felt just that – fragile.
I usually loved clouds but there was no break in them for the sun and I was breaking deep in my own stormy mind. It kept hitting me fresh – my apathy in the face of Christ’s agony and here I was stuck face down in the mud of my own self-pity. Who was I anyway?
He was breaking me piece by piece and there were hard conversations and tear-smeared pillowcases but there was grace. Always grace.
Monday night bible study and Dawn’s sweet words like hope in my tired days. Giant plates of sushi and teasing laughter and good conversation. Americanos and finished homework. Long bike rides and hot baths.
Grace. Little tastes of Him in the everyday moments.
And it came late morning on a Thursday – after several early mornings of sleepy bible reading and seemingly unfruitful prayer time – like the breaking of clouds, like sunshine on cold pavement:
The spirit-fog lifted.
“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 MSG)
It came back like an old, familiar friend – this focus, this urgency for the kingdom of God.
What have I been doing??
Comparing myself and my doubts and my failures to His holiness and perfection…and here it was in front of me the whole time:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)
I wondered if I’d ever really learn that deep down.
But here He was reminding me again: It’s not about you! Silly you… It’s not about your life or your job or your future…it’s about ME. It’s about eternity and MY kingdom and how are you working towards that?
It’s not about yesterday and how you’re not all you thought you’d be and how you’ve messed this up again…it’s about who you are in ME and how you let ME work in and shine through you right now in this moment.
Okay, God. Help my unbelief.
It’s time to put down the self-pity and self-condemnation. It’s time for purpose once more, for focus, for kingdom living.