A Random Moment in TJ Maxx

There are many steps to take in preparing for a big move.  Some of these steps are small, but even the smallest step can still have a lot of meaning.

So there I was, at TJ Maxx, to find an inexpensive but large and durable suitcase.  I picked out a really pretty one because if I’ve learned anything during the course of my travels, it’s that you want a suitcase you know is yours and doesn’t look like anyone else’s so you can find it in baggage claim.

And then, because I’m happier buying a few things each pay check than buying everything at once right before I leave, I went to grab a few toiletries like dry shampoo and soap.

There, standing, with suitcase in one hand and dry shampoo in another, my eyes got all misty.

“Oh crap,” was my first thought.  “The fear is setting in.”

But even though that is my normal reaction, it only took a second for me to realize I wasn’t getting emotional over fear.  I was getting emotional with gratitude and with awe.

With everything that Jesus has already done for me, why should He ever fulfill this dream as well?  Why should He give me this thing my heart has longed for and has been an idol on so many occasions?  Why is He sending me to live in the country I want to live in when my real home, my real destination is nowhere on this earth?

And last night, one of my dearest friends sent me a photo.  It was a photo of a piece of paper where she had written prayer requests from small group the first night I ever met her, about three years ago.  Next to my name (well, actually it was next to the name ‘Amanda’ because that’s what she thought my name was that first time we met) it had a prayer request related to my job and then,

“Ethiopia?”

It is so amazing to realize that that little country with a question mark was a tiny seed of a dream and now it’s a full blown reality.

Thank you Kathy for sending me that photo, thank you TJ Maxx for a darn cute suitcase, and thank You, Jesus, for giving me more than I could ever want or need.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voyage: A Journey and a Valley

Four weeks ago I had a Skype interview for a position to teach kindergarten English at a school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

At the time of posting this blog, I have accepted and signed the contract and will leave in February of 2017.  In addition to teaching littles, I hope to volunteer with the World Orphans Ethiopian staff in any way I can that will not be in the way and hope to be a support for them.

Before receiving the job offer, I spent two and a half weeks, unable to sleep, knowing those are the hours they were in session at the school, the hours they would be most likely to email me to offer me the job.

But nothing…until I emailed them and they replied that internet had been mostly down, country wide, due to high school exams overloading the servers!

In the meantime, the two and a half weeks of instability, looking at my future with wide-eyed terror, I was reading my Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision.  It was titled “Voyage”.  And it was every bit of peace that I needed about my journey to Ethiopia, the one past and the one future.

FullSizeRender

And then the awakening to my nearsighted humanity hit me full-force.

This voyage had nothing to do with Ethiopia!

This voyage, this journey we are on is Heaven bound!

I had to take some time to repent the next day when realization struck, because I have put forth so much energy in pursuing the gifts of God that I have failed to pursue Him directly.  I do this in many things, of course.  I do this in my quests for social justice, my striving to be a hard-worker, my future dreams of being a wife.  I seek to excel in achieving His blessings, but He is the Destination of my voyage and the Captain of my soul.

Just like my few and far between romantic interests could not fulfill me, just like promotions have never fulfilled me, embossed qualifications, losing 25lbs, spending $130 at Ulta, eating a family-sized box of Marie Calendar’s Vermont Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese, having money in my savings account, having friends, having family, having sponsored children I can write to, buying from ethical companies, and drinking a well-balanced peppermint/chamomile tea over ice cannot fulfill me, the emptiness of each of those things cannot compare to the outstanding, all-encompassing fulfillment that I can find in my Captain.  And at the end of this voyage, that fulfillment will be ultimate, and I will be weak for nothing but Him.  My little bark will be safe and secure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Peace that Rules Life

Throughout the years I have struggled a lot with anxiety at different seasons.  I very much like to be in control of what happens to me, but constantly feel caught up in a whirlwind.  I don’t think this is uncommon.

As a follower of Jesus, I live a life that is never my own and that has been called to relinquish control, to give it to Him and act upon the very ‘follow’ instinct that should be innate.

The past two weeks have seen a spike in anxiety as I wait for an answer that could easily determine some pretty massive steps in my life.  I should mention that in addition to relinquishing control, I also have a hard time with the virtue of patience.

I know I am not alone in the frustration of feeling that God has called me to a life of adventure and seeking opportunity to serve Him, while also being in a waiting period and wondering why, if He has put this on my heart and I have done my part to pursue it, has the door not opened?

But a week and a half ago, at church, in the midst of a week of division in this ‘United’ States to which we belong, my pastor preached out of Colossians 3, specifically verse 15.

“And may the peace of Christ rule in your heart, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.”

He talked about the word ‘rule’ and how it could also be interpreted as ‘govern’ or ‘arbitrate’.  Because it is the peace of our Jesus that is to make the decisions, the governing determinations over our reactions, our concerns, our need for control.  We were called as one body to live in this.  And ultimately, we are called to be thankful.

I love that sentence tacked on at the end.  The word peace always brings to my mind the conflict of anxiety.  When I read the word ‘peace’ I feel immediate condemnation for the lack of trust I give to God.  So my initial reaction to peace is shame, never thankfulness.

And yet, my body, your body, our church body, we are indeed called to the peace of Christ.  Peace with one another, peace with the world we are in and not of (and live in direct defiance of), and peace within our hearts in the knowledge that we are free to live in obedience to Christ and free to rest in His finished work.

I also finally started the book “Wild and Free” with a couple of ladies in my life.  To be perfectly honest, I detest most books written toward Christian females.  I’m sick of the “How to be a better wife and mother” rhetoric or the “How to stay pure and not do bad things with guys” speeches in those directed towards singles.  Those things are important, but they are not ultimate.  This book is extremely refreshing in that it preaches recklessly pursuing Jesus wildly and freely, without fear of the world, not to make ourselves feel better, but to bring God glory in who He created us to be.

I’m trying to figure out what it looks like to be at peace, to follow without fear, and to let go of my insecurities so that I can bring God glory (although I believe He can redeem anything to His own glory).

This verse is a good start.  So today, I choose to be thankful for the peace that He offers, rather than ashamed of my constant rejection of it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exquisite Pain

The little ‘subtitle’ of this blog is “The exquisite pain when the lion peels off my scales”.  The reference of the lion peeling off the scales is from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis from his series, The Chronicles of Narnia.  I have mentioned that a few times throughout the years of having this blog because the name ‘undressing the dragon’ is a bit weird if you don’t know the reference.  But let me paint you the scene:

A boy filled with sin and pride is turned into a dragon as a result of greed and temptation.  He tried everything to be set free, even peeling off his own scales.  But underneath, he just finds more scales.  He can’t rescue himself.

Enter Aslan, the lion.  Aslan is a type of Jesus.  He is an allegorical representation of the Christ.  And the boy, Eustace, realizing that he cannot remove his own scales, surrenders to the lion.  The sharp claws of Aslan painfully set Eustace free, removing every last scale, and leaving behind a boy, skin and bone, raw and pink.

So I use this term, this exquisite pain.  Ironically enough, I once used this term in reference to sin.  The way giving into temptation can feel so good despite the negative implications.  But exquisite pain has been redeemed in my life.

A few days ago, I was reading from Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest”.  I’m a little bit behind (only a little…like only four months…) but part of the devotion for March 1st, in reference to Jesus asking the question, “Do you love me?” reads, “But this question of the Lord intensifies our sensitivities to the point that this hurt produced by Jesus is the most exquisite pain conceivable.”

This is what it is to let God work in our lives.   This is what it is to let God strip us of our sin, leaving us raw and tender flesh.  We go through seasons of hardening and seasons of softening.  We experience an exquisite pain that frees us from our gross inhibitions.

After three years of God telling me to give something up, something I loved dearly, I was finally obedient.  This was only a few weeks from leaving for Ethiopia and in the months leading up to that surrender, I was clinging tighter than ever, growing scales over scales over scales.  It was so painful to say goodbye to something that had been a constant presence in my life, but I cannot tell you the freedom brought by obedience.

And today I was challenged by God to surrender something else.  My constant need for financial security, even if it means scraping by, has led to so much fear and distrust.  It is expensive living in America.  I could feel guilty because I have a lot more money than the children and mothers I had the privilege of meeting in Ethiopia, but I also live in a part of the world that demands a lot more.  My parents have been amazing, especially considering the fact that I am twenty-five and have my Bachelor’s Degree, and have helped me enormously financially.  So there’s more guilt.  There’s fear and distrust and guilt and disappointment with pay checks (despite the HUGE benefit to spending this year working part time and the fortune of actually having a job).

After a few months of attending services at a wonderful church, I finally made the transition, leaving my old church to pursue membership at this new one.  It is an INCREDIBLE church with what I consider to be accurate theology, a love and reverence for Jesus, beautiful liturgy, and hymns that have actual theological content based on Jesus.

My favorite part of my church though?  Communion.

So my pastor was preaching out of Deuteronomy 8, talking about how we put God’s blessing before God and how we consider them to be our own accomplishments.

I’ve had a great, productive past week and this week ahead will see me finishing my TEFL certification and then starting my MBA.  Both things I’m excited about and thrilled with my ability to pursue them (I’m busting through my TEFL within a week!) but both are putting me into debt.  Proud of my accomplishments.  Terrified of my finances.

Pride.  Fear.  Pride.  Fear.  Pride.  Fear.

Communion.

I was challenged to bring my pride and my fear to the table of my Savior.  Not bowing before him in guilt and shame, but dining with Him in the memory of His grace for me.  Celebrating His goodness.  Thankful and repentant, but never ashamed.

This is what He calls us to.  An exquisitely painful letting go of our pride and our fear and surrendering to His invitation to the table.  At this meal we remember that our God is enough.  We remember that ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever’.  We enjoy Him by joining Him.  And an exquisite pain becomes simply exquisite.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At Home or Abroad

I have given myself some time now to process from the awesome experience of a Journey trip with World Orphans to Ethiopia.  It has been a week since I’ve been back and after a few days of jet lag and bed-ridden mega-flu that hit me on the home bound flights, I’m returning to daily life in Washington.

My trip began with a delayed first flight out of Portland which took me to Denver, where I met with two of my teammates, and then to Dulles where we met another six.  After arriving in the Addis Ababa airport, we met our tenth member who had flown from his station in Japan.

We landed early on Saturday and after leaving the airport, we met Z (for privacy of in-country people, I’ll just be using initials), who would be our primary host during our time and whom we would come to realize has a wonderful heart for children and a genuine love for the work God has him doing, as well as T, our driver with whom we enjoyed many conversations over dinner.

We went straight to the amazing Holy Savior Guest Home, a great place for mission groups and adopting families to stay during their visits.  This place was absolutely BEAUTIFUL and the staff were the best.  N, the owner has an incredible smile and she has such a joyful personality.

We settled in, ate, slept, attempted to learn a few words of Amharic, and got ourselves together for the week ahead.

Sunday came around and we got ready for church, where we met B, who heads up the economic empowerment aspect of the ministry.  She has a kind and humble spirit and I couldn’t help wanting to ask her to be my friend forever.  We also met the third member of the World Orphans Ethiopia staff, M.  Though he looks younger than his years, his quiet wisdom shows his age.

The two-hour Amharic service was pretty nifty despite hearing snippets of the message only as a piece was briefly translated to one member of our team and it trickled slowly to others of us.

IMG_4192The view outside from the church compound, the buildings to the right I believe were once used as classrooms, but I could be wrong on that.  It was a great compound with multiple buildings, the big church (behind me so you sadly can’t see in this photo) and a swing set off to the left.

 

We then took some of the kids that the church ministers to through the World Orphans program to the zoo!  It was a blend of a zoo and a walking safari and the kids seemed to really enjoy it.  I spoke a lot with one of the older girls, E, who has so much potential and is so beautiful and sweet and I can only hope that she will grow to recognize that.

Monday was a very intense day.  It was the day for home visits.

The two most awful, difficult books I have ever read are Gary Haugen’s “The Locust Effect” about the vicious cycle of poverty and violence and “Half the Sky” by Kristof and WuDunn about being a woman living in poverty.  These two books are stark and disturbing eye openers to the reality of much of what goes on in our world today.  And yet they did not prepare me for two of the stories we heard while meeting four heroic women face to face in their homes.

Each of the four women told us their stories as we sat with them and each story was difficult and very distant from me sitting at my laptop right now in an ergonomic swivel chair.  But these ladies were so strong and these ladies LOVE their children.  The third woman we spoke to had a pretty incredible story, and one that was once rather frequent in Ethiopian villages, wherein she had been kidnapped from an early age in an attempted forced marriage.  She served us amazing, freshly roasted coffee and some of the best bread I have ever tasted.  She told us of her dreams to be a hairdresser and the costs involved.  She told us about her life as a single mother.

The last woman we spoke to has faced one of the most difficult series of events I can imagine in her seventy years.  From her marriage at age ten to being the only survivor of 76 people in a bomb as a soldier at age twenty to losing everyone she cared about at age sixty when she chose to save her grandson from near infanticide, this was a woman of incredible character and ten-year-old M, will always know that he is deeply loved.

Tuesday we visited Mother Teresa’s hospital and that was pretty incredible to see.  They are doing some amazing work but the sheer numbers of patients was rather startling.  We got to spend some time walking around with the kids in the women and children’s ward which certainly brightened the emotional aspect of that experience.

We spent the afternoon with the World Orphans staff doing a bit of Q&A and learning more of what they do and how they do it.  I loved hearing the hospitality behind every answer.  There is a lovely servant heart built into the culture that was highly evident through these three amazing people.

Because it’s still a little bit draining still to write about all of this, I’m going to take a break and just post some pictures here of where I have thus far written up to:

On to Wednesday!

We went to one of the local schools run by a church partnered with World Orphans on Wednesday.  We did a VBS style program with two members of our team deliver wonderful messages that they managed to tailor to each age group perfectly, a few songs with motions which were fun to have translated, a great puppet show, and plenty of laughter.  The older kids were a little too cool for us, but they did grab two of us and decided we absolutely needed to have our hair braided into corn rows.

We were also able to meet the beautiful lady who had made the jewelry many of us bought as souvenirs and gifts.  She is the star of the economic empowerment program and is extremely talented.

For dinner that night, we went to a traditional place that is tailor made for tourists with amazing Ethiopian food, plus music and dancing from each of the different regions and people groups.  One lady did this crazy head spin that definitely had a Linda Blair feel and it was more than a little scary.  That was a pretty awesome dinner.  N, from the guest house came with us which made it all the better!  Added to our party of M, Z, T, and ten Americans, it was pretty fantastic.

Thursday we visited another ministry, MYM, that does some phenomenal outreach to the street kids in Addis.  There were two American sisters volunteering as well as another man and I honestly can’t remember where he was from but I think it was somewhere in west Africa.  We hung out with the three boys who at that point were in MYM’s program and did a mini version of our VBS lesson and then went outside and played in the MYM courtyard.  One kid was a beast at Foosball and they were pretty solid at ping pong as well.  Then came the fun experience of me sitting on a tray much smaller than my rear and holding onto a rope while being pulled hard and fast.  It was one of the most enjoyable activities I’ve ever done.

Thursday was also our day to grab some souvenirs and that was a little on the stressful side, but I was able to get some fun things to commemorate the journey.

We concluded with a trip up Entoto Mountain with a beautiful view and also getting to see the first orthodox church in Addis Ababa and the surrounding community.

Time for more photographs!

Friday led the way to meeting my Compassion International sponsored children!  This was a crazy experience and honestly I don’t even know where to begin on writing about it.  I will say that one of my young men is the most incredible child I’ve ever met and his grandfather shares his humility and servant heart.  I was amazed by their character and he gave the best hugs in the world.  He and his grandfather, who live about four hours from Addis, had never been to the city.  His grandfather said it felt like being in Heaven.  I couldn’t agree more.

One of my littles is only five and he just wanted to play and have fun.  It was great seeing him enjoy himself. I am super excited to see who he will grow up to be and hope I get to meet him again when he is a little older.  His mom seemed tired by his energy, but she did her best to keep going.  And my young lady and her mom were evidence of why discipleship is necessary no matter where you are.  They live in a rough area (so far that they actually had to fly in) with a strictly Orthodox population.  (Ethiopian Orthodox is similar to the very strict orders of Catholicism that you don’t see often where instead of Latin, they speak a dead language called Ge’ez that the congregation can’t understand.  There is very little grace involved).  My letters to her in future will focus on the importance of sharing and loving others, because she is pretty territorial!  Still, her smile and laugh are infectious and she is just too beautiful!

The next day we traveled to Wolliso (good luck finding the correct spelling on that because every sign we saw said something different!) where we settled in at the lodge.  There were some fun things to do there so one of my teammates and I went horseback riding!  You could only go in pairs, so another pair of teammates waited for us to finish and then took their turns.  The best part was when Z and T gave it a try!  Z had never ridden before but both of them were great and it was fun watching everyone enjoy themselves.  I have always loved riding horses but it had been a VERY long time since I was last on a horse.  I had actually ridden three camels since the last time I had ridden a horse, so it was great to be back in the saddle.

After that, we went swimming for a while until an amazing and epic thunderstorm began.

Sunday was one of my favorite days.  We went to the church at Wolliso where the service was translated into Oromio from Amharic and it was amazing watching the two preachers in this dance that we couldn’t understand but could absolutely get the gist of.

During the whole service, the kids who live at the church and others who attend were crowding around us as we were sitting by the door of an extremely packed church. One girl, L, pretty much grabbed on to me and would not let go or allow any other child to touch me.  I’d been claimed.

After church we saw where the kids live, it’s not an institution or orphanage and World Orphans has done a pretty great job of implementing their vision even there.  While most of the work they do is keeping kids in a home with a parent or guardian, this was more like a group home, yet the ratio of adults to children is far better, and they still receive the holistic care necessary to lead a healthy and productive life.

The kids then came to the lodge where we were staying and we all went swimming.  Again, I was only allowed to hold, hug, and play with L.  So we swam and she had a great time.  Now and then I would pick her up with one arm and another child with my other arm but eventually she would shoo them away.

It was sad to say goodbye to all the kids at the end of the day.  That evening we had dinner and one of our team members posed us all in a Last Supper photo.  We were one disciple short as T had already left us for the evening, and clearly none of us would have been fit to pose as Jesus, but it was a nice way to commemorate our final evening.

Monday was our final day.  We drove back to Addis Ababa and made a last visit to N and all the ladies at the Holy Savior Guest Home for a birthday surprise for one of our team mates.  It was an extremely bittersweet goodbye to everyone.  We didn’t want to say farewell, but were so grateful to have had the experience and meet them.

I love the A.A. Milne  Whinny the Pooh quote, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

I told a few people, when they asked if Ethiopia lived up to my expectations, that I had read and studied so much about it and looked at so many pictures that Ethiopia had become some sort of mythical Middle Earth in my mind.  When I actually got there, it was more like just finally finding home.  I’m so grateful for World Orphans and their Journey trips, and of whatever the long term effects may be.

And there you have it, that’s a very short overview, but maybe longer than most people want to read.  To everyone who contributed to the trip through prayer or finances, thank you so much!  It was truly incredible.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Just a little update, I had mentioned in the post About a Bag that I do not receive any credit or product for free when I post about brands that do amazing things.

This is still true, I do not receive anything in return when I blog about these things.

HOWEVER, I have become a Sseko Fellow and joined their team of sales associates.  So the Sseko link that I have always had on the side of this blog is now an image with my 10% off code and links to my sales.

I wanted to clarify in case anyone saw that I am now a part of their sales team and then saw my sentence about not getting any credit or products and make sure that people knew the two are not related.  I still get nothing for talking about brands and companies, but I will absolutely use my Widgets to advertise brands I love and I have no qualms with getting sales as a result when I know they are sales that are sending girls to college!

Speaking of, here is Faith, she is my ‘Sole Sister’ and my sales contribute towards an additional 100% scholarship (Sseko already matches her savings 200% at the end of the internship so she can go on to university).

Faith

By all means, check out Sseko, buy stuff with my 10% off code, and send girls to college!  I can also now present at physical Sseko Trunk Shows as well as Facebook parties and my hostesses get credit for product and free stuff.

Okay, enough spam!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem of Prostitution

As a part of my trip preparation, this is an assignment to look at a cause or problem relating to the orphan crisis. Prior to going to South Africa with World Orphans, I used this assignment as an opportunity to look into the issue of the economy and it’s relation to poverty and the orphan crisis.

Having read quite a lot about Africa and Ethiopia in particular, the issue of prostitution has been weighing heavily on my heart.

I suppose there are a few reasons for this.  One is that it is very hard to read ANY book about ANY African country without facing a few chapters on HIV/AIDS.

AIDS sprung up about the same time in Africa as it did in Haiti and in America.  In the US, the illness was heavily regarded as a lifestyle punishment, and then a Haitian illness, and then a problem for hemophiliacs.  Suddenly the ‘vengeful God’ explanation didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the rapid spread of this disease.  This disease that has been found in apes and monkeys but is not fatal to them and which came about so suddenly to humankind.

Meanwhile in Africa, it was everywhere and completely out of the blue.  Documentaries like “Never a Neverland” about Swaziland show startling statistics of how an entire generation is dying out leaving behind a country of children, most of whom are also infected.  Books like Surrender or Starve explore the impact of war in the horn of Africa and how many soldiers returned home to find themselves infected.  The biography There is No Me Without You (a popular read for any families adopting from Ethiopia) confirms this as it tells story after story of infected parents leaving behind sick children.  One story is about a man who was a soldier and after one single night of he and his comrades going out on the town, what he brought back killed his entire family, and eventually himself, leaving behind none but a small child, now living with a family in America.

So what does all of this have to do with prostitution?

In countries of extreme poverty, prostitution doesn’t always happen for the stereotypical reasons we think of in America (drugs or pimps disguised as boyfriends or childhood abuse or the promise of becoming a famous model).  Prostitution happens because it is the only way to make money fast.  And people take advantage of that.  That’s why organizations like The International Justice Mission and Agape International Missions are working so hard to remove the supply and the demand.

But when a woman is desperately trying to feed her baby…

When a man is facing the brutalities of war every day…

Supply.  Demand.

And if the supplier or the demander has the unseen beginnings of a vicious illness, who can say to stop?

If a man purchases sex from a stranger while away from his wife, then upon his return, what is to stop her from infection?  And when the very thing that causes disease also causes the beauty of creating life, what if that life is born with the disease?  And what if that child grows to watch her parents wither and die from this disease and has no choice to feed herself other than sell her body?  And what if she gets pregnant?

This is the reality for many in the third world.  Of course it is not the only cause of the spread of AIDS, of course prostitution is not the only source of income.  Yet, this is a pattern that exists.

And maybe it isn’t just a problem of prostitution.  In the documentary series based on the book Half the Sky, we watch women in poverty and their circumstances.  A recurring theme is incest and abuse.  Little girls and boys being taken advantage of in the most horrific ways we don’t want to imagine.

So maybe prostitution results from a lack of respect for women?  Except this isn’t just a problem for women.  So maybe it’s a lack of respect for people.  Period.

I don’t know how we fix this.  I don’t know how the world overcomes selfish instability and the desire to have what we want when we want it at the expense of others.  I know that I make decisions every day that are selfish and do not benefit others.

I know that the only hope for the world is the Gospel, the joy of knowing Christ and striving for obedience not to make Him love us, but because we are grateful that He already does.  So maybe the only real solution to these problem, things like AIDS, war, prostitution, economic instability, and lonely children living on the street, is Jesus.

And as usual I have to share this quote that has become somewhat of a mantra

compassion

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment