Pride’s Seduction

I had a dream the other night about a man. Specifically, Gatsby, but this time he was Marylin Monroe’s murderer (you know how dreams go).

He ran a little enclosed kingdom, with him ever at the center. While there was an overwhelming awareness that he could kill them at any moment, the people threw themselves at him. Something inside prayed he would. Somehow, somewhere deep inside myself, I was one of them, desperate for him to want me, yet aware it would end in death. There was a man working for him, reduced to a dunce from his abuses. Though he loved his master, he fought to help us escape this society of grey. 

I had just been outlined for reconstructive surgery, as women were expected to look a certain way there and I, apparently, had the audacity to break the mold. At the last moment I said no. The doctor was angry. The building was blue and made of glass. 

With a blink I returned to the city below. It occurred to me, then, how a boy can become a dictator: he had been given all he ever wanted. Like a mirage in the corner, his parents could be seen, terrified at the moment their smiles would waver, causing him to throw another tantrum. You know the look in their eyes: that scared, nervous smile, the too-quick, harried response of “He’s so smart. Look at him, such a good boy…”

He had killed Marylin  one night after dinner. Elaborately, with a set of wine, coffee, and her latest script to practice together. Something in all his subjects wanted desperately to be killed by him. It was glamorous. It made you someone. Walking around his house, a girl couldn’t help but dream of being loved by such a man of luxury, even if the one night stand ended in death. Tragedy made the story more romantic.

Every girl knew the outcome of a night with him, yet every girl begged he choose her. Every man envied him, prayed for his camaraderie, all the while knowing it would leave them as vegetables, walking round and round the ditch he drops all his old servants in. 

He survived off the women’s beauty, the men’s vitality. One kept him eternally attractive, the other eternally young. 

I looked back once more before jumping the wall. I knew the other side held life, truth, and my love. Devilishly handsome as ever, he returned the look, but this time the snake inside was clear. He was maniacal, hopeless, selfish, and alone. He wanted nothing of us but his own immortality.

Turning my head, I made the leap, and as feet met ground, I awoke.

Until writing this all out in my morning pages, it didn’t occur to me that this was my subconscious’s way of processing everything we saw in South Beach on Memorial Day Weekend. Throughout the rest of this week, the Lord showed me how my “seductive dictator” is pride, but we all have one. We all have our little hidden sin we keep quiet, letting him pump us full of the pain meds we crave as he digs the knife deeper into our backs.

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I say pride because that’s my struggle, but yours could be different. Idolatry. Lust. Laziness. Selfishness. Whatever it is, it’s never too late to release it to Him and jump the barricade.

“Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words are smoother than oil, in the end she’s bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps straight to Sheol. She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable.” ~ Proverbs 5:3-6

“Don’t abandon wisdom, and she will watch over you; love her, and she will guard you. Wisdom is supreme, so get wisdom. And whatever else you get, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; if you embrace her, she will honor you. She will place a garland of grace on your head; she will give you a crown of beauty.” ~ Proverbs 4:6-9

 

 

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So What If It Hurts?

Lines of black
Lead to where
Visions fall flat
Folks forget to care

Lying hazily
In fields of white
Voices scream for meaning
Wishing for wings to take flight

All is starched clean
Perfumed with bleach
While underneath
Rotting sewage lies unseen

Can you taste the disease?
She’s coming on the breeze

Like bitter gall on the tongue
She’ll arrive with the setting of the sun


We’ve become so afraid of getting hurt we’ve boxed ourselves into little white-walled, cushioned caskets of what we think is safe. Minds overflowing with concerns for propriety, we can no longer enjoy the very people we got all dolled up to see and are trying so desperately to impress.

Dear Miami, I watched it happen. While we may have been the city of failures and dropouts, we were also the city of relentless dreamers. Having seen the worst come true, we could stare fear back into her prospective corner because so what if it hurt? At least we lived. There was the mettle that comes with knowing that no matter the outcome, the alternative of living wondering, wishing you had done whatever it was, or perhaps stood against the grain of whatever it was you felt pressured into, was worse than the initial trepidation.

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Beyond this, though, how often are we afraid to speak up or get close and open our hearts because of the mountains of what-ifs? What if (s)he gets offended or takes it the wrong way? What if when they see my heart, it’s too much for them or they criticize it?  What if I get hurt?

While some of these questions do help in building the boundaries necessary for any healthy relationship to flourish, if carried too far they become walls against intimate fellowship in a way that truly is detrimental to our emotional well-being and our Christian walk.

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But still so often we let the fear win. We box ourselves in, and then from that fear, as a mode of both protection and justification we start looking for all the sharp pieces in others that could possibly wound us, neglecting to realize the barbed wire fence we’re slowly building around ourselves. And discontment is birthed.

Darling, don’t let discontment steal your joy in community. We’re all imperfect, carrying residue of our old selves. Look past mine, and I’ll look past yours. Give grace to the ones who’ve hurt you, whether intentionally or not, and return to your circle. Even if they be scattered about the country or globe, return to them. In the Age of Technology, there’s no excuse for scorning community. Granted, be prayerful about the companionship you choose, but when the Lord directs you to a person or people, don’t neglect that, especially not because of pride.

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Sandcastles versus Marble Palaces

There is an undeniable scream inside all of us crying out for something more, a meaning beyond the world behind our eyelids. Like stormclouds gathering, we let the emotions roll in one after the other. Insecurity. Disappointment. Hurt. Bitterness. Perhaps they don’t always arrive in that order, but arrive they do. All are symptomatic of the same thing, what my brother calls “sandcastle pride.” We stop trusting entirely the Lord’s plan for us, and start searching out ways to make our dreams happen on our own. True, any dream worth anything at all requires work, but at what point does work transfer into idolatry?

In the words of one wise nine year old, “Start reading your Bible so you can learn how to get your life back on track!” We are desperate to be alive, yet terrified at what that would mean. Authors make millions off self-help books, either about gaining control or letting go, or doing one to achieve the other. We all dream of a higher existence of some sort, but only once we seek and pursue the Lord’s vision over our lives will we find any sort of the divine calling we crave.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ – this is the Lord’s declaration – ‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:11

It’s not about the work itself. It can never be about the work or else we’ll fall into either a cycle of obsessive over-achievement or bitter resolve to press on. Neither can it become about whatever earthly outcome, money, or fame, for in the end, once it’s been realized, there will be an inevitable sense of “that’s all?”

I’m not saying we all need to jump up and become ministers; He did make some doctors, filmmakers, musicians, or writers, etc, but there must also be some eternal goal for our lives or else what’s the point?

We all have some daily burden; what’s yours? The daily awareness of what is, and screaming response of what should be? This is your battleground, so wage war! There we find our sense of purpose, of vitality- there we bring bits of His kingdom to earth. And it is in this process of fighting for the “should be,” of fighting for some necessary change weighing on us so heavily it seems that to not strive to bring it about would be a moral slight, that we being to trade the sandcastle for the marble palace.

 

Moment by Moment

This past Thursday, over a picnic at our favorite hideout, my beloved Jonny asked me to be his wife. And of course, I said yes.

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Now as I write this it’s Saturday, and I’m laying on the couch in what feels like an exhaustion-induced paralysis. My mother said I shouldn’t think myself so invincible to jet lag, but of course being her headstrong replica I didn’t listen. And of course, Momma was right. After hopping between twenty-one time zones, perhaps sliding back into my old schedule right off the bat wasn’t the best idea.

But my gosh it’s worth it. I’m home.

For the past six months I’ve been dreaming of this life, and now I’ve returned to it. As incredible as traveling through southeast Asia was, my heart and home and ministry is here in Miami.

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Fast forward a bit- it’s now Tuesday, and I’m just alive enough to deem myself awake, and about to consider my second cup of coffee. The laundry is finished, and though the dress I’m wearing in this picture is now a shirt, as I looked up just now the missing sock was spotted. One task down, coffee in hand, and I’m ready to take on the day. It’s a slow climb, getting back to normality here. With the residue of things experienced still beautifully imprinted upon my mind, I’m gently coming back to the pulsing reality of the life I dream of.

Airport Floors and Midnight Muffins

It feels so strange to be back in Kona. Almost like coming home, but not quite. When I left for outreach I swore I’d never in a million years come to this island ever again. Now I have to- part of it is home to me.

Sitting at the Banyan Tree Cafe, sipping coffee and people watching. Counting the hydroflasks and Birkenstocks- the ywamer uniform (yes, I am proudly one of them. It seems we all showed up unaware of the cliches we were subconsciously fulfilling). Gasping at the sight of the sea, more gorgeous now than ever before. Soaking in every breeze. Listening to the constant prayer rising up from all around.

With the dawn of a fresh quarter, herds of new students are all around. I so desperately want to pick their brains, see what’s going on behind the scenes…


Flash forward. Graduation was so much more emotional than any of us expected. Goodbyes to the ones who have become family; the thunder signaling a new season. Again I think of this new crew of YWAMers flooding the campus, a feeling kin to that of thinking of my coming nephew one day being held to my mother’s chest. There’s so much he’s yet to know, so many tears he’s yet to cry there. He may think he knows how much he adores that place of safety, but he doesn’t yet…

I watch their faces. So full of expectation for the coming six months. They may think they know what they’ve gotten into, how they’ll be changed. They don’t, not really. Not yet.

Throughout all the tears and farewells, joy ran thick. We did it. And now we’re on to something even better, even more challenging. For one, it’s fighting against sex trafficking. For another, it’s studying to become a film-maker (and what an amazing one she will be). For me, it’s returning to the city my parents came to as missionaries to continue the work they started, to carry on their vision along with them.

Flash forward again. Sitting on the airport floor, adjusting to what is now a 23 hour jet lag. Listening to Blink-182 in my favorite hoodie I’ve waited three months to return to. Waiting to board my red-eye. One flight down, two to go. Let’s do this.

I’m still processing DTS. All I learned, felt, thought, experienced, witnessed. But I know that I grew, and that I’m grateful. That this new season will be one of extreme joy and thanksgiving. That when I get off that third flight, the man I love and haven’t seen in six long months will be there waiting for me. That I can’t wait to see what the Lord has next in store for all of us.

Until next time

XOXO

 

 

Slum Chai and International Smiles

Wiping faces, trimming nails, cutting hair. Get pulled into a group of young mothers. Giggle about language barriers, hair colors, and upcoming weddings. Hold their babies. Comb my fingers through the lice infested hair.
Child comes up with typical Indian meal: sweet boiled grain of some sort, similar to quinoa. Mother, smiling, tells me to try some. Fully aware that travelers often get terribly sick from just this, that I was sick from less than this, I said a quick prayer and took a bite. Some experiences are worth it, but more than that showing them that I don’t see myself as being above them, especially in a culture of castes, is worth getting so sick I’d maybe have to be sent home, as we were debating the first time around. To refuse would be to convey that I am higher than them and their way of life, especially given the lack of translation. It would say their food is dirty, that while I will sit and chat with them and play with their kids, I will not go that extra mile of intimacy and break bread with them. I couldn’t do it; I simply could not.
Smiling through the almost immediate nausea and heartburn, I sat with a woman whose young son (between four and six years old) we had prayed for a few days before. His legs were burned by a cooking fire about a week prior to our arrival, and he could no longer walk. As her kids ran back and forth, we laughed instead of talked, playing with her kids as they came by. Two of the four are in the picture with me. Through it all, the little family had such joy. I ran into her on the bus today, and was once again shocked by her immaculate beauty. However, beyond the mirth, beyond the elegance, there’s more pain in her eyes than many of the other women I met there. She’s one I dream of taking out to coffee and just chatting with, with no language barrier to this time curb our conversation. Perhaps on the nearing Other Side.
About a half hour before we left, one of the couples I was sitting with invited me into their home for chai. Again, to refuse would be more damaging to them and to our witness here than any bacteria would be to me. I can treat bacteria, but the wound of offense takes much longer to overcome. Having watched it boil, though, I knew this one was safe (and delicious).
Upon stepping into their home, the first thing I noticed was the purple and gold scarf hanging as tapestry. Catching my breath, I whispered to the wife that it was beautiful. Seeing as how she couldn’t understand my words, I hope the smile conveyed it.
These two families, both believers, were some of the most fascinating to me. While I hunger to know the full stories of the first (why did I never see her husband? Was she married? What was her daily life like?), the second was the only couple I’ve seen here who appeared genuinely in love. Teasing and laughing with each other and their children, it was clear they truly enjoy each other’s company.
I hope to return soon, to continue to love on these people and experience more of their way of life. Despite the poverty, there is such exquisite glory. Each time we’ve visited this slum our cameras have stayed home. On our final day or two with them, I hope to capture each rubble covered rose lying hidden there.
Humans like these families, like the children of this little Indian tent-town are why I’m here. Their smiles, their laughter, their joy. All they ask of us is prayer and a hand to hold. Gladly, my darling.
Until next time
XOXO
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Photo Credit to Chris Park (IG: @chrispark01) 

On Sisterhood.

Genuine sisterhood is still a new thing for me. Coming to YWAM and the prospect of living with about twenty girls, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, scared the daylights out of me. Despite my fears, though, it has become one of the most beautiful times of my life already.

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Taken during portrait practice. This is Hannah, my lovely Norwegian suite mate.

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Jadon capturing Fernanda, my beautiful bunkmate.

Tonight we were invited to join the amazing Abby Beard and celebrate Thanksgiving by making cookies and laughing a ridiculous amount.

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Tonight with Abby was a clear example of a principle God has been impressing upon my heart a lot lately: most of the discipleship happens in those tiny moments when you make yourself available. It’s a concept I’ve always known in my head, but as I’ve been considering the prospect of leading teams in missions myself on a smaller scale than what we do here at YWAM, it has truly sunk deeper into my heart. This is when the magic happens, over too many cookies and coffee brewed to perfection.

Having grown up with a more conservative background and a love-language of donuts, I found in Abby a spirit I immediately admired. Prior to coming to Youth With A Mission, she never considered being a missionary, but now she epitomizes what it means to be a strong Christian woman on the field. Her life is a testimony of joy, which she brings with her wherever she goes.

And she is just one of the women here, and the one I’ve known for the least amount of time; literally less than five hours. My beloved sister-in-law Isabelle has always been an amazing advocate of sisterhood, and while I would agree with her in all her views, women still scared me. While the amount to have wounded me are few, the knives were deep and consistent. Thus, I’ve been more jaded than I would have ever liked to admit before coming here.

But God is good. He placed me in a suite with twenty girls, where I couldn’t run from my social anxiety or even cover it; for the first time I was forced to truly face it. Perhaps that’s the main theme of my YWAM story; conquering the crippling crutch of emotional seclusion I’ve always leaned on. Even if my separation from my peers was never seen outwardly, in my head it was always them and then me. I was never joined with them. Until now.

In these girls I have witnessed such grace, beauty, love, forgiveness, strength, and passion. They have wiped my tears, called me out, cheered me on, and utterly welcomed me when the entire time I was honestly terrified of them for no other reason than that they’re female and within my age range. Words cannot begin to describe the love and respect I have for the women of Voice for the Voiceless DTS. All my life I mourned not having a sister. Now, I have over twenty.

So, specifically to the girls of K 203 and 204, thank you. I love you.

Until next time.

XOXO

Break My Jaw, Give Me Life

Realizing the girls sipping coffee beside you are suddenly some of your dearest friends as gently as the sun slides into the Pacific’s blanket of blue. Giggling about the boys you secretly (or not so secretly) admire. Dreaming of weddings and shores yet to be kissed by our nation-worn feet. Writing letters. Discovering every flavor of Top Ramen. Waking up at 4:30 AM for morning yoga in Himalaya hiking prep. Phone calls to home. Redefining “home.” Realizing it’s a concept none of us will ever see the same again. Tears on staircases. Sins confessed over lunch. Broken stories and shattered hearts shared as the evening’s breeze drifting from the ocean chills our bones. Discovering our rythms have suddenly found us.

Faith being stretched in ways I could never have imagined. Miraculous healing that could never be faked. And over and over again Christ whispering in my ear “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Outreach is getting closer, and I feel the Holy Spirit working overdrive in all of our hearts. How is this already the end of week seven? While sometimes it feels like I’ve only arrived yesterday, others it seems like YWAM is eternal and home was only illusion. And yet the first quarter is already through. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Old, weary relationships rebuilt and restored. Shaking in my Birkenstocks one moment, the next utterly wrecked by God’s exquisite purpose for the lungs wrapped inside these ribs. He has expressed and confirmed to me several times now that I am to go home after outreach. Somewhere in my innermost heart, part of me had firmly believed that wasn’t going to be the case, at least not for about a decade or so; that first my ministry would be brought to some unknown nation where I would reside with only the one my heart loves, the people we are ministering to, a camera, and a Bible. But no. I am going home. And I am so stoked.

Until then, I am here, and there is no where else I would rather be. Discovering the reason I have such a hard time with regular photoshoots is because I am built a photojournalist, and that’s simply different. These thoughts are a tangled mess, and I’m having a hard time unraveling them. Through prayer, nineteen years of liver issues that had crippled me in so many areas were healed in five minutes. Insight was given through the Spirit as to why my jaw refuses to heal: it’s my broken hip, so to speak. I’ve used my mouth to speak so much death, and words are my main form of ministry. It’s time only life flows from these lips.

Thus was week seven. Sorry there are so few pictures; it was an insanely busy and beautiful seven days. Until next week.

XOXO

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Making My Bed in the In-Between

Sometimes I just sit here and realize I’m living the life I dreamed of. As I write this, I’m sipping Kona coffee (hello, hazelnut latte!) in a little local cafe at a window overlooking the Pacific ocean as her waves crash into the lava rock. Depending on my mood, their interaction will either remind me of faith and flesh’s tug of war, or that moment when I can finally fall back into the arms of someone I love. Surrounding me are fellow students, each working on their own memoirs or photo series. Faintly familiar music hums in the background, overpowered by the sea’s song. The lack of air conditioning is slowly growing comfortable, perhaps even preferred. Birkenstocks have gone from relatively new to well worn in a matter of weeks. Glasses are scratched, watch broken in, and hair raggedy. And I have never been more content.

The dichotomy of adoring my present state and missing home is as present as ever, but I’m learning to find peace within that. My heart will always be half here, half somewhere else, but I suppose that’s both the beauty and struggle of being a traveler.

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Having my father come visit me this past week for my birthday confirmed that even more. Home is no longer concrete: it is purely at Jesus’s feet. Life is no longer concrete, so I lay that at His feet as well. While my father was here, Darlene Cunningham, wife of the founder of Youth With A Mission, Loren Cunningham, was speaking to us each morning. Perhaps the most impactful lesson she gave was that Jesus will always give grace right when it’s needed, not before, not after. Because of this, I refuse to worry about tomorrow. My flesh may yell and scream otherwise, but His Spirit in me is stronger and I refuse to give in to the subtle yet pervasive lie that God is not mighty enough to handle the life He gives me.

So I’ll take it all in stride; leaning into it, as my father would say. I’m learning to love this in between state of planning for the next adventure while gleaning as much as possible from the current. My God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20),” so I have absolutely nothing to fear. Instead, it’s a wild adventure with the One who formed my soul.

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Until next time,

XOXO

Proclamation

I honestly don’t know where to start with this one. So, let’s start with Jesus.

“Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:7

YWAM is kinda known for being a vessel God uses to reveal to people things about themselves they didn’t know were there. For me, that meant anxiety shrouded in arrogance.

It meant that when I came before the throne of God, I believed He would only accept me if I felt I was behaving a certain way. However, my head knew this wasn’t a right way of thinking, so my heart in pride believed I wasn’t trying to be this certain way, it was simply the Holy Spirit working in me because I’m such a good Christian and I don’t believe those lies like all the other “believers” in the room trying to earn their salvation (ugh, fools).

When I entered a situation that made me uncomfortable, such as living in a dorm with twenty other girls, I would draw back and search for ways I felt excluded. The reality was that I was retreating myself while they were all being welcoming and loving.

It meant that when Jonny and I began to get more and more serious, I freaked out because of all the what-ifs and pushed him away while clinging to his embrace, putting him through confusing turmoil because of my selfishness. All the while, he never failed to be comforting, understanding, and forgiving.

But God is gracious. In tenderness, He revealed the lies and the disparities cluttering the sanctuary of my mind and soul, our meeting place. Daily, He helps me sweep out and restore it. I’ll never be perfect, but soon this will be one more battle conquered.

Instead of focusing on all the tiny possible negatives, all the tiny what-ifs, daily I’ll engage the small, sweet moments of joy. Instead of wondering if I measure up, I’ll rejoice in each instance of fellowship with the souls surrounding and my Almighty God. Instead of allowing fear to reign in the dark corners of my thoughts, I’ll open the door for Jesus’s love-light to flood.

Love-light that breaks down social barriers and raises shamed adulterers to their feet, because who of us has not sinned? Love-light that opens blind eyes and heals crippled legs, but then says “Go, and sin no more.” Love-light that would be tortured to the point of death, all the while thinking of your face and crying within Himself “She’s worth it.” Love-light that cares more about His bride knowing and trusting Him than about anything we have done or could do, because we are His aloneAnd that overrides anything fear could ever tell me.

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Each Friday I hope to post a little update like this, complete with photos capturing the past seven days. And if I forget, I invite you to please hold me accountable.

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Please excuse how out of focus this is; it was just too precious of a moment for me not to capture and share it.

See you next week!

XOXO