Thursday, June 20, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

Endings: College. My time working with my beloved ASU babies. Being a Clevelander. Having my own bedroom. Being able to not shower for days. Making coffee for one. Having my love 800 miles away. It being socially acceptable to leave the house in soccer shorts and a t-shirt.

Beginnings: Post-grad life. Married life. Teacher life. Making coffee for two. Having my love in the same town (and in 15 days, under the same roof!!). Showering every day. Dress slacks and nice tops. Being an adult. A new church home. The Sandberg Nest.

I have put on my cap and gown, turned my tassel, and received my diploma. I have said goodbyes, cried quite a few tears, and hugged many necks. I have put things in boxes, in trash bags, and in piles to go to Goodwill. I have made the trip back to Nashville to start life here. I have accepted my first job as a teacher at a local elementary school teaching second graders. My fiancé and I signed a lease on Monday for our new apartment. In 15 days after we say I do, I will move in with him!

But as chapters close, and new ones open, I can't help but to look back on the past four years of my life. Four years that have gone by in a flash and in a slow and steady rhythm at the same time. Four years that have brought laughter, tears, growth, set backs, goals being met, and dreams being obtained. Four years that have left me rich with memories and love. Four years that I would not trade for the entire universe.

 A long time ago (and by "long time ago," I mean, "in high school,") I read The Perks of Being A Wallflower. It's tremendously better than the movie, if you were wondering. In the story, the main character has a line for moments that will be forever marked in his memory. He says, "And in that moment, we were infinite."

 College is marked with many of these moments. Perhaps hundreds of these moments, all tiny and special and tucked away in the recesses of my heart. But there are five huge ones that have managed to mark me permanently, and that perhaps have molded me into the woman that I am today. Some are funny, some are serious. All have merit. All are special.

Five: Dave Matthews live in Atlanta.
    I went with two of the coolest girls ever. I met these girls while we were on yearbook staff together. I can only hope that some of their coolness rubbed off on me.
   We traveled the 2.5 hours to Atlanta and ate at the World's First Moes. This was a big deal for me, The Girl Who Loves All Things Moe's Burritos. I remember running over a curb at some point. I also remember lots of great conversations about boys, and playing Frogger in Atlanta traffic. I remember the girls sitting two seats down for us in the arena were doing acid. I remember categorizing Dave fans into three groups: the frat boys, the over forty crowd, and the pot heads. We realized we didn't fit any of these categories. We made a fourth: "Cute College Girls With Really Great Taste in Music." We danced like seaweed, which was our only goal of the night. We laughed and danced and soaked up the goodness that Dave Matthews is. We drove through McDonalds at 2am on our way home because we were hungry. We ate Big Macs and giggled the whole way home. When I listen to Dave, I still smile.
     I'm not sure why this night left a lasting impression on me. Perhaps it was one of those things that college kids are supposed to do. Perhaps it was just all the wonderfulness of being surrounded by good music. Perhaps it was just right where I was supposed to be in that moment, perhaps it was what my heart needed. Perhaps.

Four: Cramming 7 people (and all the luggage for these 7 people) in my Honda CRV.
  My time in SWAT has forever changed me. The timing of me joining SWAT was nothing short of ordained. Praise the Lord that His plans are bigger than mine.
  We went on training weekend for SWAT leaders. On the way to Timbuctwo, Georgia, a fellow Swattie's car broke down. I had two other girls in my car, she had four people in her car. We managed to all get to Timbuctwo...a few hours late. We had a great weekend, and then got ready to load up and head back to Lee. Then we realized we would have to cram all seven of our little selves in my trusty Honda CRV. Plus our luggage. I sat on three pillows. The girl in the front seat with me sat on two more. There were four people in my back seat; three sitting on the seat and one laying across all their laps. My final passenger was in the trunk, who was smushed up against our luggage, sounded a million miles away when she tried to talk to us in the front of the car. The Lord was watching over us, because we didn't get pulled over. I have never laughed so hard in my life. It was then that I knew SWAT was a family that would forever change me.

Three: My SWAT weekend in Peshtigo, Wisconsin.
  Well, now this one is obvious! I met my soon-to-be husband on this weekend. :) But I also met a few of my closest friends on this weekend. I also met people who loved and cared and are now going to be a part of my family forever. It was on this weekend that I learned to love and be honest and quirky and myself. It was on this weekend that I fell in love with loving God's people. It was on this weekend that I began to learn that if I truly trusted in the Lord, He would use me in ways far beyond anything I could imagine. Immeasurably More.

Two: Freshman year. Yes, the entirety of it.
  Oh, freshman year of college. During no other time of life is it acceptable to live in such close quarters with 30 strangers. Freshman year of college, my nine months in Simmons Hall, my nine months with girls that would become sisters.
  Before I started college, there were many people telling me that I would love it. Sure, it was a rough start and I longed for people to have inside jokes with. But in no time, I had friends and I had sisters. I had giggle buddies, baking buddies, and girls to hunker down with and watch Madea movies. These girls challenged me, spurred me on, and called me out. These girls let me borrow their clothes, their shoes, their flour, and their ears and hearts. The girls I lived with drove me nuts, but those short months kept me at Lee. Those short months of living in freshman housing taught me how to love, how to forgive, how to laugh when situations seem grey, and how to blast Kelly Clarkson when boys are being... well, boys.
  I learned how to be gracious, and I learned what servant leadership looks like. I learned more about Jesus through those 30 girls than anyone I had ever known on earth. It's funny how you start a season as strangers, and somewhere in all the things that life has to offer, you find sisters.

One: Standing in The House of Mary in Bethesda in Jerusalem.
   As I have said before, the timing of my trip to Israel was only the Lord. Every single moment of my time in the Middle East was absolutely saturated with the love and presence of Jesus. That trip taught me so many things.
  But as I prepare to become a wife, I keep coming back to one particular moment of my time in Jerusalem. My trip to Bethesda, where Jesus healed the bedridden man, was a journey that didn't seem like much at the time. But over life and time, the Lord has revealed to me that that moment was uniquely planned by Him to plant in my heart and grow into a beautiful memory of which I would be gathering the fruit from for a very long time.
   The group I was with stopped by the House of Mary before we made our way down to the actual pools at Bethesda. The House of Mary has been turned into a cathedral. A cathedral that is known for its incredible acoustics. My group decided to sing How Great Thou Art while we stood in The House of Mary. I had never heard, nor probably will ever hear again, such a beautiful sound. It was almost as if we had entered the gates of Heaven and all of the angels were chorusing along with us. It still gives me chills to this day.
  In fifteen days, I'll be singing this song alongside my new husband as we worship at our wedding. And I'll remember the moment of splendor in The House of Mary. How great, Thou art. How majestic and merciful and articulate and intimately interwoven into the details of my life. How great, Thou art.

  College is an amazing, beautiful, arduous climb to the top of a mountain. But the view from the top is spectacular, and so worth it. On to bigger and grander mountains.

Through Him, all things are possible.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Immeasurably More

 Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

   This time a year ago, I was in my junior year of college. My plans for life after graduation included moving to Nashville and applying to Vanderbilt University to continue my studies in their graduate program. I wanted to teach in metro Nashville, I wanted to live in a cute apartment with original hardwood floors in downtown, I wanted a chocolate lab, and I wanted to travel during the summers. I felt like this dream was in line with what the Lord had in store for my life, and I was greatly looking forward to graduating and starting the next chapter of my life in a trendy city that I love.

  But God, in all His infinite wisdom, had other plans.

  This time a year ago, Ephesians 3:20-21 became a verse that I clung to and claimed for my life. I knew that God, in all His infinite wisdom, had plans bigger than I could ever ask or think. I knew that God, in all His infinite wisdom and love for His daughter, had plans to prosper me and not to harm me (Jer. 29:11) and to bring glory to his name (Psalm 23:3). I have always been a dreamer, I have always looked forward to life after college and greatly anticipated what it could bring.

Oh, I could have never imagined all the greatness Jesus had in store for me.

This time a year ago, I went to Peshtigo, Wisconsin for a SWAT weekend and met the most wonderful (and handsome!) man. I had no clue what was in store on that weekend, and I certainly was not expecting to meet my future husband.

But here we are, a year later...and Dale and I are engaged! He proposed in October, and we are in the wedding planning season! It is such a blessing and such an exciting time. I am greatly looking forward to married life with Dale. :)

 When I was sixteen, my dad and I were on a road trip to my grandmother's for Thanksgiving. During this trip, my dad had me write down ten "non-negotiables" in my future husband. My dad told me that any man I dated would be held up to this list, and if my dad felt that the guy I was dating did not meet my list of requirements, he would lovingly talk to me about it. I am so thankful to have a father who cares about the well being of my heart during my dating experience! There were a few times that some guys crossed my path who did not display the things that were on my list. The ten things I had written down were not surface level desires like, "He must be muscular!" But they were deep-seeded, divinely appointed, engraved into my being needs such as, "He must be a man of God. He must have a strong group of male friends around him to hold him accountable and encourage him. He must be adventurous." I felt like the things on my list demonstrated my core beliefs and reflected the kind of man that God had in store for me.

I was right!
But I was only scratching the surface.
Because God, in all of His infinite wisdom and great love for me, HAD IMMEASURABLY MORE IN STORE.

There are qualities in Dale that I anticipated and wrote on my list. He meets every single one of my "ten things" on the list my dad and I created when I was sixteen.
   But there are also qualities in Dale that I didn't even know that I desired in my future husband. How cool of Jesus! The Creator of the universe knows me so intimately well that when He created Dale, God said, "In my book are all of Amberly's days, and all of Dale's days. And I have ordained the day they meet, the day they become engaged, and the day they marry even before they enter into the world. I have created Amberly to be adventurous, and I have created Dale to be adventurous. I know they will enjoy many, many adventures together. I have also created Amberly to love the little things in life. And I know that I have created Dale to be incredibly attentive to detail, which will complement Amberly's enjoyment in life's small wonders. I know Amberly will love that in Dale."

To all my single friends, discouraged friends, or distraught friends who might be reading this, TAKE HEART.

Because God, in all His infinite wisdom, has IMMEASURABLY MORE in store for you.

 I remember what it's like to be surrounded by [seemingly] everyone who is engaged, happily dating, having babies, or going on adventures. I remember what it's like to be dissatisfied with a season I was in. I remember what it's like dating bozos and becoming discouraged by the [seemingly] dismal prospects of men in the world. I remember what it's like having my heart broken.

But TAKE HEART. God is all powerful and His timing is perfect.

I realize you may be thinking, "You are engaged. It's easy for you to say that God is good, and He has immeasurably more in store, because you are living in the immeasurably more."
And you know what, friend? You're right. It is easy for me to say that. Because I am living in the season of immeasurably more. But I am also claiming the promise we see in Ephesians 3:20-21 for the next chapter in my life, and all the chapters after that.

Because I know my God to be FAITHFUL AND TRUE.

Dale and I are currently praying/seeking/asking the Lord for direction in the next chapter after graduation. We are making decisions on where to live, work, and the like. Satan likes to get in my brain and heart and attempts to plant seeds of doubt about the Lord not providing for this next chapter. Satan likes to try to convince me (and sometimes he does, for a time) that God will lead me into the next chapter and then leave me hanging.

But you know what I am doing? Clinging to the promise that God will do IMMEASURABLY MORE in my life, in Dale's life, in our life as husband and wife, and He will do IMMEASURABLY MORE through our marriage.

So we are to take heart because JESUS has overcome the world (John 16:33), remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and cling to the promise that God will do IMMEASURABLY MORE (Ephesians 3:20-21) than all that we could ask or think.

Now. That's some crazy cool, divinely powered, strength to get through tough times!

Walk in peace and the knowledge that God will do IMMEASURABLY MORE than all we can dream, think, or ask.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


  Summer is a busy time around these parts. Moving, traveling, summer classes, work, a tattoo, more traveling, Atlanta adventures, a mission trip, more work, crafts,  a SWAT weekend, trips home, and a family vacation make up the past three months.
  Usually when I write a blog post, there is something in my heart and soul that is burning to be put down on the page. This go-around, it just feels like the right thing to do. It's been awhile and quite a few things have happened since my last blog post. So we'll just see where the Lord takes it. 

 I moved into my first official off campus apartment in May. I arranged furniture, painted baseboards, dusted windowsills, hung pictures, wiped down walls, killed spiders, planted flowers, hung blinds, and changed lightbulbs until the cows came home. Finally, after three months of living here, I think my little home is ready for the year! And the two new roommates I have for the school year. 
 This summer I lived with two really fantastic girls who allowed me to "nest," try new Pinterest recipes, and ramble about my fantastic boyfriend all summer long. We talked about Jesus and boys and Ikea. We laughed and cried together. It's always amazing how quickly you become family with those who share the same roof that you do. 
 These girls taught me how relational we are as humans. Created in God's image, we all have gifts, talents, and natural likes and dislikes. We complimented each other incredibly well, and we saw first hand how God places us together with people around us to really grow and stretch us in seasons. 
 Oh, the summer with elementary schoolers. At the beginning of this season, I was incredibly daunted by this thought. I wasn't looking forward to spending my summer getting up early and going to school to countdown from five, hand out sentences and holler at children all day. But now that this season is over, I miss it. 
 I met new friends and became closer to old ones. I actually got pretty good at dodgeball. I read a number of different books while the kiddos were sleeping. I spent more money than I care to admit on fast food. I got a legit Chaco tan. I spent most every Friday at the swimming pool. I hugged, put bandaids on, and cheered on precious little ones all summer long. And I grew to absolutely adore my job even more. There is something truly, truly, truly magical about hearing your name chorused by 30 kids each morning as you walk through the door. There's nothing more special than watching a student with autism hit a grand slam and run around the bases during a baseball game in the gym. (I cried like a proud mama after my student crossed home. And I'm not ashamed of it!) 
  I've always known that I am created to be a teacher. So the hugs, giggles, hand-drawn pictures and handwritten notes made getting up early, shouting, disciplining, and riding the school bus on field trips so worth it. Somewhere, while I was tying shoes, wiping away tears, pushing kids on swings, playing hide and go seek, coloring, and teaching children to about life, they taught me about life. Every day, my munchkins demonstrated how to forgive, be resilient, trust, love without restraint, and find joy in the small things. I am so blessed to be able to giggle and celebrate life with them!

  Chicago, Trinidad, Florida. My three big trips this summer. Chicago to see the most wonderful man (other than my dad and little brother). Trinidad with Faith Baptist Church to do ministry with teenage students. Florida for family vacation.
 Trinidad was incredible. Trinidad was new and exciting and frustrating. The people were incredible. The airport was not. I lost my luggage for 5 days. But through it all, God was good.
 Our first full day, we went to two Hindu temples on the island of Trinidad. Our first stop was The Temple on the Sea. It was absolutely beautiful. The water, the mountains in the distance, and the sunshine made for a really great scene. But I knew, in my soul that this was not a place where Jesus was celebrated. Our team walked around and took pictures. We asked questions and looked around. As we left to go back to the bus, I heard birds singing in the trees that hung over the walkway I was on. And I knew.
  It was easy to see that this temple wasn't constructed to glorify Jesus. It is a Hindu temple. Built by Hindu people, funded by their money, and attended by the Trinidadian Hindu population. But I knew that the Holy Spirit was still nearby. The birds singing in the trees told me that. Romans says that nothing, not even angels or rulers, can ever separate us from God's love. Although I was in a place constructed to worship false gods, my King still had His presence near and around me. The birds in the trees reminded me of that. God is so sweet and so faithful to speak to my soul!
  Our team led Bible studies for three days with teenage students. We laughed, danced, ate really great food, swam, played basketball, and had heart to hearts for three wonderful days. The last three days of our trip, the students from the beginning of the week helped put on a rally for Trini students that were from outside of the church family that we were working with.
 The first night of our rally, we had around 50 students. All of our team members were pleasantly surprised and so excited to see what Jesus was up to. That night, we had a number of new friends dedicate and re-dedicate their lives to Christ. Glory be! Such a great way to start out. And such a humbling evening. 
  The second night of our rally, we had at least 200 students show up. It was ridiculously overwhelming in the absolute best way. Jesus was ROCKING our faces off. Lives were changed, dedicated and re-commited that night as well. The last night of our rally, we had around 30 kids come. Which was perfect and small and intimate. (I DID have to put my teacher voice on at one point during this rally, which cracked all my teammates up!)
 We went to a homeless shelter. We loved on orphans. We truly came into contact with "the least of these" as Scripture says.
 Trinidad taught me to get the heck out of the way. Sometimes I get so caught up in my own agenda, the schedule of events, or not feeling prepared. Sometimes I forget that I do not run the show. Actually, a lot of times I forget I don't run the show. Thank goodness that I don't. Thank goodness that I serve a God who is so big and so much greater than I am. Trinidad taught me to be patient. Dealing with airline workers in a foreign country where there is no real concept of "on time" and "hurry" will do that. Trinidad taught me that no matter the need, God will meet it. Wearing someone else's clothes for 5 days will teach you that.

The Man In My Life
  Trinidad taught me that I am dating the man that I am going to marry. As the girls from my SWAT weekend in Wisconsin say, Dale is my GAMFY, or God's Appointed Man For You. Franklin girls say SMOG, Sexy Man of God. Whatever the acronym, Dale is it! :)
 Chicago happened in May. My first trip to the windy city brought laughter, hugs, snuggling, lasagna dinners, lake-side picnics, ferris wheel rides, funnel cakes, skylines, swimming, pictures, more laughter, and the realization that I had met the man I was going to marry.
 60 days, hours upon hours of Skype conversations, 6 bags of Starburst jelly beans, and a plane ride later, we were reunited in the Miami airport. I will never, ever, ever forget this day. I think all I said for  three solid minutes was "Finally!" We boarded the plane headed for Trinidad, and landed about 3 hours later. And discovered that my bag didn't make it on the plane we had just gotten off of. My checked bag was still sitting in Miami, which was not where I was. Frustration, tears, and more frustration followed. I dealt with baggage desk employees who could have cared less about my situation and I had to go through customs twice. After finally making it out of the airport, I had no idea where the rest of my team was, and I had no idea where I was supposed to go if I got out the door and no one was there waiting on me. But as the sliding doors opened to the lobby where the arriving passengers met their loved ones, I saw Dale. It was then I knew I would be okay. 
 The next few days were tough. I couldn't shower or brush my teeth (Except with my finger. Which is fine and dandy for about a day. After that, you really just need a good ole toothbrush). I couldn't shave my legs. But Dale was fantastic all the way through. He witnessed my teacher voice as I talked back to an airline employee. He put up with frustrations and tears. He even endured a trip to the mall with me to buy new clothes. I am so blessed to call him mine. 
 But it was the ministry that we did on the trip that excites me so. Watching Dale encourage, love, pour into, and challenge the young men on the trip with us and the Trinidadian men was incredible. I am so proud of all that God is doing in his heart, and I can't wait to partner with him for the rest of my life! 

Family Vacation
 Laughter, sunshine, love, hugs, long walks on the beach with Dale, even more love, swimming, kayaks, SUP boards, baking, tickling, and snuggling. Vacation is such a glorious time, and this past trip was no exception. My family went, plus Dale and my extended family. We ate tons of food, played Quelf, shopped, and laughed until we were worn out. There's nothing better than loved ones, sunshine, sea air, and good food. 

Jesus is so good. Summer is such a fantastic time of recharging and recovering. A new adventure awaits. Senior year. Peer Leading, off campus living, methods/student teaching, more trips to Chicago, meeting new family members, planning a very special day ( :) !! ), work, and more SWAT weekends.  

Come what may, Jesus is the Name that carries me. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Life is Stuffed with Blessings

It's been almost a year.

It's crazy how four little letters can contain so much. Change, growth, tears, laughter, plane tickets, moving boxes, textbooks, love, Jesus, multiple jars of Nutella, new friends, old friends, and family.

The beginning of May became very important in my life two years ago. My house flooded, my dad had a heart attack, and one of my best friends was involved in a life-threatening car accident within days of each other. One year ago, I took a leap of faith that caused a lot of heartbreak. Then took a journey to the Middle East for three weeks, where my life was changed forever.

So now that this semester (and my junior year of college) is quickly drawing to a close, I find that the beginning of May is fast approaching. And with the beginning of May comes time to remember and be thankful for the growth and for the love that has consumed my life.

A portion of this past year was spent with my heart, mind, and soul in fragmented pieces. Searching for truth, searching for worth, and searching for healing took on many different forms, some of them healthier than others. I traveled, made new friends, spent lots of time with old ones, and invested in some really fantastic girls in Franklin. I "unplugged" my self-worth line from Jesus and began to plug it into other things- work, boys, friendships...

But I learned that being "unplugged" from the life source of Jesus Christ was damaging my heart, mind, and soul. Satan had convinced me that what was in the world was greater than what I had with Jesus. I didn't walk away from the Lord completely, but I began to invest my heart into other things. The summer ended and I came back to school. I had put all my fragmented pieces back together in the resemblance of a heart, but it was held together with tape and glue. The slightest gust of wind or gentle shake could have brought my heart tumbling down again.

Fall semester, I joined this incredible ministry called Students With A Testimony. I met really freaking amazing college students who loved Jesus and loved students. We travel and lead DiscipleNow weekends with middle and high school students for churches in the area. I've traveled all over Georgia, Alabama, and I even did a weekend in Wisconsin for SWAT.
I joined SWAT thinking that I would be able to minister to young ladies and encourage them in their walks. Little did I know that the blessings I would receive in return were more than I could ever have imagined.
I met people - from students to host home families to other SWAT leaders to youth pastors. But the quality of the people I met, and the truth that they were speaking into me was so much more than I ever was expecting. And I am incredibly thankful for it. There were challenging moments (like getting 8 middle school girls off the topic of Justin Beiber and on to the topic of honoring Christ in our relationships with our families) but there were also fantastic moments where Jesus totally showed up. Being able to pour into younger girls and encourage them to fall head over heels in love with Jesus blessed my soul. And reminded me of how absolutely amazing Jesus is.

My life is stuffed with blessings.

This semester, I began to work for Cleveland City Schools. I help teach an after school program to elementary schoolers, kindergarten to fifth grade. Many of my little monsters (and I say that with the most love in my heart) come from really rough backgrounds. You can almost see the hunger for love in their eyes.
I have yelled, swept up Goldfish crumbs, played race, swung, given more hugs, been given more weed flower bouquets (those are my favorite), taken more temperatures, laughed, danced, and met more invisible friends in the past two months than I have in a long time. And it has provided more healing than anything else in the past year.
I am always amazed that even after the hardest day with my kiddos, I find myself missing them. The way they think I'm a hero, the way they say my name and want me to chase them around the playground, the way their sweet little arms wrap around my legs for hugs, and the way their eyes light up when they understand what we're learning...these are a few of my favorite things. And the way that I miss them the minute they leave only encourages me that I am made to teach elementary schoolers. Some days are chaos, and some days make me want to pull my hair out. But it's amazing how giving and giving and giving to others gives you so much in return. It's like my little friends have reached into the farthest places of my heart, blown off the cobwebs, and restored me to whole. It's only Jesus' grace and provision that I have the job I do and that I work with incredible co-workers who I have grown to love. And that I teach, laugh, play, chase, tickle, and adventure with some of the greatest elementary schoolers around.

My life is stuffed with blessings.

Through this year, I have continually asked myself how people live without Jesus. I saw this pin on Pinterest the other day (yes, I'm making a point out of something I saw on Pinterest.) that read,

"I love God. No, I don't want to force it down your throat. But man, you're missing out."

There is nothing truer. This past year has taught me that. The abundant life that Jesus offers...there's nothing sweeter, truer, purer, or more fulfilling. His grace is addicting and His love is extravagant. Trip Lee's new album is currently rocking my world (along with Christy Nockles, Flame, and the Hillsong Live album that came out in February) and he says it best in his song "One Sixteen":

When it comes to God everybody’s got a version
Some are wearing turbans
Others getting virgins
With all of these options, we know he’s for certain
‘Cause ain’t no other God like mine
You gots to admit it
Yeah, I’m fallin’ ‘cuz I’m sinning
Yet his grace is sufficient
Beat the grave
Said it’s finished
Got them unsearchable riches and they deep
That’s why I’m like
Can you dig it?

-Trip Lee, One Sixteen

His grace is sufficient. He beat the grave. His unsearchable riches go on and on and on.

I'mma brag on my King.

At the beginning of May of 2012, I'm moving into my first apartment (for my senior year at Lee). I'm also spending 5 days in Chicago with a blessing of a man. :) I am unbelievably excited for good memories and answers to prayer. This summer brings new relationships, a new apartment, classes, rock climbing, coffee drinking, laying in the sunshine, dancing, and I'm sure lots and lots more Jesus.

My life is stuffed with blessings.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Journeyin' Through the Holy Land

Bedouin friend, taken by a Bedouin student.
Baptisms in the Jordan River.

The Old City of Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock, and Mt. Of Olives.

I left for Israel on May 15th, 2011.
I returned from Istanbul, Turkey on June 2nd 2011.

And during the course of those 19 days, my life was forever changed.

I traveled to Jerusalem, Israel; Petra, Jordan, and Istanbul, Turkey during my time in the Middle East. I came face to face with Jesus, religious conflict, history, and love in a variety of colors. I slept in airports, in hotels, in buses, on floors, on tables, and in airplanes. I ate food of all different colors, shapes, and kinds. I took many pictures. I journaled LOTS. I laughed and cried and loved until my heart was full.

I went on this trip through Lee University with their education program (seeing as I'm an education major, and all...). 30 kiddos went, and none of us really knew each other before the trip. We traveled to Atlanta, flew to London, flew to Tel Aviv, and drove to Jerusalem where we would be living for ten days.

In the Middle East, I encountered God. I encountered Him as God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, God the Comforter, God the Author, and God the Creator, just to name a few.

God the Father: We were in the Middle East on a study abroad trip. And as educators, we toured many different schools to get a taste for what the education system in all these different countries looked like. We went to a Tali school (basically their curriculum combines both Arabic and Hebrew cultures in the curriculum- which is unheard of, but a great idea to take steps toward peace!) during our time in Jerusalem. We also visited a deaf school in Jerusalem because we had a friend who worked there as a soldier teacher (she is in the Israeli Army). Here, I met Jonathan, a precious little 7 year old who was hard of hearing but had the most beautiful smile I have seen in my life. He diplomatically made eye contact, waved, and smiled to every member on our team. More than once. I had to fight with everything in me not to scoop him up and take him home with me. Blessed my soul. :)
While in Bethlehem, which is part of the West Bank and a Palestinian settlement, we visited a Catholic boy's school.
In Jordan, we visited a Bedouin school. The Bedouin people are nomads and live in caves or tents in the desert. The Jordanian government is forcing these people to move into permanent housing, in order to better keep tabs on them. It was here that I saw God as Father.
This school was also an all boy's school. Naturally the guys from our team were totally stoked, seeing as they could play soccer and do man stuff with these new friends. We visited the classrooms, were treated like royalty (much like in Malawi!), and took lots of pictures.
During recess, while many of the boys were playing soccer, I was walking around taking pictures of the fun and a few boys caught up to me and wanted to take a picture with me. I was nervous to give them my camera (a Canon Rebel, whom I love very much), but I slid the strap around their neck and explained to them how to take a picture. Which was more difficult than it seems, considering I don't know a lick of Arabic, and they knew very little English. But the boys caught on quickly, and lots of fun followed.
I instantly, and I mean INSTANTLY, was in my element and overcome with peace. I was doing two things I love: teaching, and taking pictures. The joy on the boy's faces was so evident, and I couldn't help but thank Dad. As I watched them laugh and take pictures of their friends, I couldn't help but think of the Lord's extravagant love for them. "Red, yellow, black, and white" just kept playing over and over in my head. The Creator of this universe loves those little Bedouin boys. They are His children, as much as I am. Talk about humbling.

God the Son: Jesus. It is a powerful name that has traveled through languages, time, across borders, and around this world. And I've walked where He has.
The interesting thing about Jerusalem is that it looks like nothing that I had conjured up in my head before going. I was picturing camels, and desert, and shepherds, and cobblestone. Thank you, Beginner's Bibles and flannelgraphs from Sunday School!
But it's nothing like that. It's modern, ancient, unified, and divided all at once. It's crowded, it's a melting pot, it's so full of Jesus I can't even describe it.
We toured the Garden Tomb/Golgatha, Nazareth, Capernum, the Mt. of Beatitudes, the Dead Sea, Masada, Ein Ghedi, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, the Via Delarosa, the Old City of Jerusalem, David's Fortress, and the Western Wall. I've touched where Jesus was born, where the cross stood, been in the tomb where he was buried, and walked the land where He did His ministry. Many, if not all, of the holy sites from the Christian faith have churches ontop of them. (Even Peter's mother in law's house. The Franciscans built this weird looking UFO church right ontop of it. ) But the thing about these holy sites is that some of them may not be totally accurate. We know a few things for certain, like Peter's mother in law's house and where Mary's house was, and the cave where Christ was born. But we don't know exactly where Christ's cross was put in the ground, or where He cried on the Mt. of Olives.
But it doesn't matter WHERE it happened. It only matters THAT IT HAPPENED. He was born of a Virgin, revolutionized the world with love and truth, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead to sit at the right hand of God and He will one day come again. All that matters is that He came. And He rose. And He's coming again. Hallelujah.

God the Holy Spirit: Birds are my thing. Birds are my God thing. There have been quite a few times that the Lord has spoken to me through creation, but most specifically the presence of birds. Peace and joy come when I see birds, and it always seems to be at just the right time.

Day one, we are standing at the Western Wall. Now, the Western Wall is significant because it is the last remaining wall of Solomon's temple. It's a place of prayer for the Jewish people, and is a very beautiful picture of the love and devotion they have to their relationship with God. As I stood in the Western Wall Plaza and took everything in, I noticed a soup kitchen directly across from the Wall. Which excited me, because of my big ole heart for missions. And I had just been wondering about homelessness and the needy in the community of Jerusalem. I just thought it was so neat, and such a cool picture, to have the last remaining wall of Solomon's Temple directly across from a soup kitchen. What a picture of the kingdom being lived out.
As I continued my little 360 -degree-tour to look around the Plaza, I noticed something: birds. Hundreds. All congregating around the wall, flying to and fro. But all reminding me of the Spirit's presence, and God's love for the Jewish people. And my heart began to beat a little happy tune.

Shortly thereafter, we were sitting in the Garden of the Garden Tomb, looking at the face of Golgatha. As I sat there and contemplated Calvary and fought back tears, a dove swooped down right into my line of vision. A dove. With the shadow of Calvary in the background. I almost lost it. How cool is He?!?

The next day, we visited David's Fortress, which is the highest point in the Old City. The view is spectacular; the Mt. of Olives, the Old City, the New City, the West Bank, and Jordan are all visible from this spot. As I was looking around, I felt a tug on my arm. Marissa was next to me, pointing at something. I squinted and looked closer. And there, in the middle of this great big fortress that we were climbing around, sat a dove. As peaceful as it could be. Just a little sign of God's love. With my name on it.

God the Comforter:

Psalm 51:11 says "Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit away from me."

The Psalmist is writing to God, pleading for his transgressions to be removed from him and in return, be given praise for the King. Shortly before my trip to the Middle East, I went through a big and tough decision in my life that was covered in prayer, but was heartbreaking. I was nervous to go halfway across the world without my family and closest friends, but I knew that the Lord had called me to go on this trip. And boy, did He ever. And He never, ever, ever left my side. Glory be. My doubts, fears, and heartache was cast aside. In exchange, He gave me beauty, dancing, and joy. How He loves.

God the Author: I was originally supposed to be going to Egypt for this trip. Due to some civil unrest in Cairo (where we would be spending the majority of our time), the trip directors decided that it would be better if we switched our trip to Israel, Jordan, and Turkey. So this trip was "Plan B." This trip that so radically changed my life, wasn't originally the plan. But God is the Author of all things and the Great Orchestrator, and He had a plan. He knew how much I would learn and love and be challenged on this trip. And He used it. He used, what I considered a "Plan B." So although I took a giant leap of faith at the beginning of this summer and made a tough decision, I know God's got a plan. He orchestrated an unbelievable three weeks in the Middle East. I trust Him to pen a beautiful path to my life. Although I originally thought that this path was "Plan B" after my big decision and therein my heartbreak, I am now seeing that it's not Plan B. It's His plan, and I'm in the palm of His hand, and nothing can take me from there. So the pen is in His hand. And I trust, just like He took care of me in Israel, He will carry me through.

God as Creator: I am an artist. Well, I like to think I am. I know my way around a Hobby Lobby, I love to paint, and I poke around with photography. God speaks to me through creation- His earth, and the creations of His children- through songs and artwork of all kinds.
The second leg of our trip was in Petra, Jordan. Petra was the Middle Eastern equivalent to Cleveland, Tennessee. There were a few shops, a few restaurants, but nothing really of note here. Until we went to Petra Park.
Petra Park is a national park that honors and displays the life of the Nabateans, an ancient people group of southern Jordan and the Canaan area. They're important became they carved lots of really cool stuff from rocks (see pictures below). Petra was important to me because it reminded me of God's splendor.
Our tour guide showed us around the park a little and told us quite a few stories I don't remember. Then, we were let loose in this national park for the whole day. We had a liter and a half of water and a sack lunch to last us. I had snacks in my pack. I thought ahead. Thank you, CliffBars! The park was huge, and we didn't even scratch the surface.
The small group that I was with decided to climb the first flight of stairs we came across. Little did we know this flight of stairs was 817 steps long. Which wouldn't be too terrible, if:
1) I was in shape
2) the steps were all even and smooth like in America
3) it was not 50 million blazing degrees outside
[Note: it didn't start off 50 million blazing degrees. But it eventually got there, oh say around lunchtime.]

We climbed. We stopped to have a snack. We climbed. We stopped to take pictures. We climbed. We stopped to let the boys throw rocks off the side of the cliff. We climbed. We stopped for water. And to pet some cats and talk to some Bedouin ladies. We climbed. I thought I might die. We climbed. I thought I literally was on the Stairway to Heaven. We climbed...

...and finally got to the top. We had climbed up what we later found out was one of the sacrificial mounts of the Nabateans. Which was eerie but neat. We stopped for lunch and to look at the view and for the boys to pretend they were going to fall off the side of the cliff to their sure death far below and give all the girls heart attacks. We took more pictures. Then, the boys decided to boulder up another mountain on top of this sacrificial mount.

Keep in mind, we are in the middle of the desert. Which was breathtakingly beautiful, surprisingly. But we climbed nonetheless. Good thing I wore my trusty Chacos. :)

We bouldered up mountains and stood at what was surely the top of the world. As I looked around and saw Petra in the distance, and mountains rolling across the horizon and clouds hanging low in the sky, I couldn't help but think, "Lord, you have a really awesome view." And I heard in reply, "This is only the beginning." Which made me smile. And feel very very small. His hands, the very ones that hold me, carved the mountain tops and scooped out the valleys. They poured the waters in the rivers and planted trees. He uniquely stitched together the blue lizard I came across (ie: almost stepped on), and specifically designed each bird I saw to survive in such an environment. He made it all. I've never felt so big and so small at the same time.

I made new friends. I laughed until my sides hurt. I Dougie'd ontop of our hotel in Jerusalem. I played Dutch Blitz in a no-man's land between the borders of Israel and Jordan. I bouldered in the desert. I used a squatty potty. I bartered in the Old City of Jerusalem. I ate street corn. I loved until I thought I'd burst and I was loved on until my heart was overflowing. I was reminded, day after day and moment by moment, of God's unfailing love and faithfulness. And it is His faithfulness and His strength that lead me, guide me, and carry me through.

His strength is my joy and my song.

The sign on the door of the Garden Tomb.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Once Upon A Time...

...I was a small second grader with big dreams of being a teacher just like Ms. Honey on the movie Matilda. I would live in a cute little cottage and be super sweet and love all my students. For "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up" Day, I wore pink dress up heels and had my hair tied back and carried around a notebook. I wanted to be a teacher.
...I was a third grader with dreams to be a teacher just like my teacher, Ms. Schnarrs. She typed so quickly, loved Disney, her room always smelled good, and she told me that one day my brother and I would be best friends. (She was right.)
...I was a fourth grader with dreams to be a teacher just like my teacher Ms. Paris. Her desk was always a wreck, she cast me in the class play (which gave me momentary dreams of being an actress) then encouraged my love for writing, (which gave me momentary dreams of being an author) and she loved Dr. Pepper.
...I was a fifth grader with dreams of being a teacher, so I collected all the extra worksheets from my teachers, brought them home, and enlisted the girls on the street to play school with me.
...I was sophomore in high school and was entrusted with my own kindergarten choir class at church. I learned how to manage a classroom of rowdy 6 year olds, I learned how to carry on a very lengthy conversation about Bob the Builder, and I learned how to interact with parents.
...I was a junior in high school, and I took my first trip to Africa. Where I realized that I was a world changer, a Daughter of the King with a passion for helping the least of these. With a thirst for knowledge and a desire to see love spread around the globe.
...I was a senior walking across a stage to receive my diploma, and I was walking into the next chapter of my life.
...I was a freshman in college and I took my first trip into the inner city culture of Lower East Side Manhattan. Where I quickly learned the art of being firm and asking, "Where are you supposed to be?" To students wandering the halls. Where I learned that love sees no color and that kids are sponges.
...I was a sophomore in college, and I took my second trip into the inner city culture of Chattanooga. And I learned that prayer in school can never be removed when a teacher is praying ceaselessly for her students. And I met my first friend who is from an abusive background. And I was taught how to dougie from three second grade girls. And the same girls micro-braided my hair, which took quite awhile to shake out of my "white girl" hair.

Last week, I was at an elementary school in Chattanooga with Mrs. Y's second grade class, observing my little friend for a class back at Lee. On this particular day, the class had a funky schedule which put us outside on the playground for an extra hour, which lent itself to an extensive game of Duck Duck Goose.

As I watched 60+ second graders sit in the grass, laugh, and enjoy the early April sunshine, I was overcome with love for these guys. I genuinely cared about each and every one of them. Their well being, their futures, and their educations. I scanned around the little circle, and I counted two white faces looking back at me. Two. Out of 60.

I should be used to this. I've been at this school many times before, I'm in the inner city of Chattanooga, I've taught in NYC, I'm looking at and praying about being an inner city teacher, for crying out loud. I should be used to this.

But where I'm from, it is lily white. If there's a black kid at school in the Wilco, it's like a fly in milk. Lots of money, lots of affluence. My high school minds well have been a private public school.

I once heard that educators teach in similar environments to the ones they grew up in. I hope not. I love the Wilco, but no thank you.

As I watched my second graders play Duck Duck Goose, I couldn't help but think about the statistics that are stacked against my precious little ones.

Incarceration rates are 6 times higher for black males than white males.
Black women have the highest teen pregnancy rate.
Each year, 1.2 million students drop out of high school. Over half of these are from minority groups.

My heart shattered into a million pieces. My precious little ones were literally going to have to fight to not be another number. A sense of despair began to creep into my heart, but I realized what a great responsibility had been laid on my shoulders.

No matter where I teach, if it's in an affluent neighborhood like Franklin or in the Bronx of New York City, I am a world changer. I can impact the lives of the future of my country. I fill young minds with the knowledge of the world around them, and I can encourage them that education is a ticket out, a ticket to a better life.

Overseas in developing countries, an educated woman is more likely to have a healthier, smaller, and more educated family. She is less likely to sell her body. She is more likely to attain a higher paying job and make a steady income.

Education leads to opportunity. As an educator, I hold the key to opportunity for all the students that will pass through my classroom. And if I can help just one, if I can just change one student's life for the better, I will have made an impact.

Change just one. Feed just one. Love just one.

On the same day that I was in Chattanooga playing Duck Duck Goose, I was in the parking lot walking to my car back at Lee later that day. A woman approached me and the small group of girls I was with, and she began to tell us her story. She had just recently lost her mom to cancer, she was struggling to pay her bills, she had suffered a serious car wreck, and the electric company was going to shut off her electricity the next morning if she didn't come up with 40 dollars.

As she told her story, I will admit that I thought, "Oh, I am not about to enable this woman to go to the supermarket and buy alcohol. I will not enable her." But that thought was quickly stomped out by, "Satan, get away from me. Jesus loves this sister just as much as He loves me."

I asked the woman her name. She told me Rebecca. I apologized that I didn't have any money, but some of the girls I was with did have cash that they shared with her. I asked her if we could pray for her, and she excitedly said yes. So right there in the parking lot, we prayed. We prayed for provision and for Dad to remind Rebecca that she is loved.

I think of Rebecca everyday. Because even though I was not able to help her in her situation, I was able to pray with her, and I pray for her everyday.

Feed. Love. Teach. Heal. Help. Serve. Pray for. Just one. But don't stop at just one.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

2011 [thus far] has brought:
My first New Year's kiss
Passion 2011.
Passion 2011.
Passion 2011.
Passion 2011. [I really loved Passion.]
Lots and lots of snow.
The start of my 4th semester of college.
Chad and I's one year anniversary since we started dating!
New friends.
My first Valentine's Date Night. :)
Taking lots of pictures.
Jesus. Lots and lots of Jesus.

About a month ago in my Art History 2 class, we were discussing Raphael. I really like his stuff. He's pretty smart. But my professor explained to us that Raphael "burned the candle at both ends" and met an early death and demise. Apparently he was a killer and thief and just really liked to party. So that's what my Art History prof meant by "burning the candle at both ends."
But I began to think: what if I burned the candle of my life at both ends? What would that look like? It was during this time that I also ignited my intense love of Lecrae's music. Thank you, Chad! Lecrae is this really fantastic Christian rapper who has an AWESOME story and platform for reaching people, if you didn't know who he was. I like him a whole lot, and find myself being so encouraged every time I listen (which is usually at very high decibels in the car or during my exercise time). So it was shortly after the Art History lecture that I was in the car listening to Lecrae. And one of his lyrics just struck me right between the eyes. In his song "Go Hard," Lecrae says:

If the cross don't move me
I don't wanna breathe no more
If I don't see Christ
Partner I don't wanna see no more

Those are some pretty heavy words. But they hit me nonetheless. If I wasn't moved by the cross, and the unfathomable and immeasurable Love that is displayed there, why even live?. If I am not seeing Christ in everything and everyone I come into contact with, then why even see? This all may sound really morbid and depressing, but it's so true.
I am on this earth to shout for the Kingdom of God and His beautiful glory. I'm on this earth to reflect my Maker.
I'm on this earth to "burn the candle at both ends" for His glory. I carry the Name of the Creator of this universe. Burning the candle at both ends in the heavenly aspect looks a lot different than it did for Raphael. I am called to speak truth, to worship, and to love all those I come across, just as Jesus loves me.
He has gifted me in so many ways, and He has blessed me in so many ways. But all of this is so that I may sing His praises and lift up His Name. So if the cross doesn't move me, if I am not undone at the touch of His word and awestruck by the love that He has for me, then I'd rather not be here. If I am not seeing Christ in my roommate, my professors, the precious girls on my hall, my friends who live on the streets in Atlanta, my family, my Chad, and my sweet Malawian friends that I think of everyday, then I don't want to see anymore.

I was going to Egypt this summer with the education department at Lee. Now we are going to Israel. I am going to be living in Israel, more specifically Jerusalem, for three weeks.
I remember being little and returning from DisneyWorld for the first time. I was watching Disney Channel, and I saw NSYNC standing outside of MGM Studios...exactly where I had been a few weeks before. I instantly hit the roof. I was quite the little NSYNC fan growing up, so to see them standing in the same place I had been a few weeks before just overjoyed little 10 year old me.
Fast forward a few years. I'm 18 years old, and at the Coldplay concert in Nashville with two of my girl friends from high school. I was beside myself in excitement: I was in the same room as Coldplay!! Once again, so excited to have a thread of relation to these superstars.

Now the 20 year old me is going to Israel in a few weeks. I am going to walk where Jesus walked. I just know that I'll be crying the entire time I'm there, but that's perfectly alright. I'll just pack plenty of Kleenex.
I've walked on the same ground as NSYNC, I've been in the same room (albeit a huge stadium) as Coldplay. But nothing in this whole world can compare to walking where Jesus has walked. To see the places that I read of in Scripture literally come alive right in front of my eyes is something that I've always dreamed of.
Philippians 2:9 explains to us that God gave Jesus the Name above all names. Jesus is above NSYNC and above Coldplay. Jesus is higher than Beth Moore and bigger than Francis Chan or David Platt (all whom I deeply love and respect and look up to). Jesus is higher than Joseph Kony and what he is doing to my precious Ugandan friends. Jesus is bigger than President Obama, and Jesus is bigger than Justin Beiber. Jesus, my Jesus, is the Famous One. And I am going to follow in His footsteps...LITERALLY! I've always known that Jesus is the most famous Person ever. But this adventure is putting it into a perspective that lil' ole me can wrap my mind around.

The blessings in my life are innumerable. Some days I just stand in awe of the Lord's fingerprints that are all over my life. In pillow talking, baking, laughing, and dancing with my precious roommate; loving, serving, laughing, discussing, eating, and snuggling with my incredible Chad; and laughing, eating, loving like crazy, talking, and adventuring with my family, I am always struck with just how much I am loved by those who surround me and the One from whom all blessings flow.

There have been some absolutely precious moments in the past 3 months. From playing in 8 inches of snow (the most I've ever seen) with the girls I live with, to being nursed back to health after being stricken with the flu (on our 1 year anniversary, no less!) by the greatest, most God-fearing man I know, to laughing or talking Jesus with my precious roommate Sharon until the wee hours of the morning, to just some really great Jesus moments...I think it's safe to say that 2011 has been a year of blessing, thus far.

With the completion of my sophomore year, a trip to Israel, a vacation to the beach, more time with Chad, time resting at home with the family, beach camp, summer classes, and a summer job all in my near future, I really can't wait to see what the Lord has in store!