Monday, March 31, 2014

Affirming + Reflecting // week 11

I had the opportunity to join Zachary and a bus full of other BBC students for a conference on church growth at Northridge Church in Rochester, NY last week. A good conference is one of my favorite things. I loved school and I still love to learn. Conferences allow me the opportunity to pack in a lot of education on very specific topics along side other people of a similar focus in a short amount of time. I have never gone to one with someone I knew, in fact rarely have I even known people who will be at them, so it was a new and delightful to share the conference experience with Zachary. We found ourselves resonating with the familiar ideas presented to us at 16:5, found ourselves saying, "They think how I think!", and rather than coming away with new information we were simply affirmed in our current vision and direction. Encouraging and invigorating, it certainly fueled the flame for future ministry that the Lord has put within us.

My car full of belongings was parked at BBC while we were over in Rochester. When we got back I drove it to my new home in Wallaceton, PA. Zachary's mom has the gift of hospitality and when she heard my host home had fallen through she opened her own home up to me and invited me to consider it my home indefinitely. Wednesday was too cold to unpack my car, affording me a day to rest and reflect on the conference. With the wind dying down and the sun coming out the following day it only took three loads to get everything unpacked and moved into the side of the house I'll be living in.

Flying to Dallas early in the morning on Friday to attend Hope Spoken. A two hour wait for a shuttle ride provided time to relax in the humidity and shade of a lovely Texas day. As I had done for the Influence conference, I connected with some gals I had never met before over Twitter and we booked a hotel room together for the conference. The three of us were able to chill in our room and share stories for two hours before registration began. I had anticipated recognizing a lot more attendees than I did and the sense of community established through shared experiences like these looked different for me than it did for my roommates. We were assigned to a small group and, excepting one other girl, were the only individuals in the group that hadn't come with a friend. Dynamics for connecting change so much when you come in pairs rather than independently. I've found that connecting with people is pretty simple if you're brave enough to get a little vulnerable, all it takes is sharing your story and being curious to hear about theirs.

The Lord had spoken something to my soul Thursday night that He built on, rooted deeply and sealed during Hope Spoken. Similar to Zachary's and my experience at 16:5, much of what was shared at Hope Spoken was familiar to me. It wasn't because I had heard the speaker's stories before, because I hadn't, and it wasn't because the truths spoken were elementary, they were actually deeply profound in the most simplistic ways, it was the heart behind them, the hope within them, the common thread of Jesus throughout them that is so familiar to my soul. The Lord spoke a lot to me during the weekend. I found myself withdrawing to journal frequently. The women I felt most akin to and connected the most naturally and deeply with over the weekend were the speakers. I watched Jesus breathe life into hundreds of women's hurts and brokenness and it was beautiful. I took 30sec of embarrassing bravery and obeyed when He gave me specific words of affirmation to deliver to the musicians who shared their gifts and led us in worship. I sat in the sunshine and I went in the pool. In my soul was the calm of deep waters and whether at the conference, in the airport or settling in back in Wallaceton, I knew He'd be continuing the work He'd begun. I was happy to be there. I was happy to come home.

As an added treat I was able to connect for lunch with an old classmate of mine who lives in Dallas. Sharing the visions that the Lord is casting for each of us and the ways He's led us along since we parted ways four years ago was refreshing and invigorating. A culmination of 16:5, Hope Spoken and my life in the land of adventure, I flew home mentally sharpened and emotionally refreshed but physically very tired. My voice is almost gone so today I'm not processing, just reflecting + resting.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Moving on // week 10

My trusty old CRV is packed and waiting to take me away come Sunday. We're saying goodbye to New Jersey and the lovelies we have met here, and heading to Pennsylvania for awhile. Zachary has a little less than two months of school left up in Clarks Summit and what comes after graduation is still a mystery. I'll be living in his hometown of Wallaceton with his dear Mother, waiting to see, in the meantime. Being asked to leave my host home didn't feel good but what a disguised blessing it turned out to be. To have the door close on a living situation that doesn't suit freed me to accept an invitation to move into a place that feels like home and where who I am fits, and that isn't a bad thing at all. Five hours is too far away to continue to work at Growville, finish taking my watercolor class or go to small group each week, but some relationships are only meant to last a short season, while others are a practice in staying intentional across the miles. It's all part of the adventure.

I'm so glad for the opportunity to stay out East, so close to the cities and the coast, and I am thrilled to get to live in PA rather than just visiting it. Every time I pass into PA from NJ during my travels the beauty of the woods and valleys delights me and I wish I was surrounded by it more often. There are half a dozen little towns and malls and golf courses and suburbs within a twenty minutes of me here in Jersey so after the challenge and adventure of living in this shopping center + four-lane highway area a small town will be a very different adventure, but it will be a much more familiar one. Bring on the spring planting, dog walking, backyard grilling and driving down back roads with the windows rolled down!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Where you fit // week 9

Dad always told me to figure out what I wanted and then go for it. I never knew what I did want, I was just really clear on what I didn't want. Lots of little wants whispered -- "travel", "art", "ministry", "marriage" -- but I couldn't figure out a lifestyle where they would fit together well. There have been a few opportunities I knew I wanted to take -- Ellerslie, India, the Little House and Mission:Denver with the youth group -- but as far as something for the long-haul, something for life that I wanted, I just didn't know. Until Zachary.

We had been on different pages about why I was moving to Jersey and that created quite the sea of conflict and miscommunication to navigate. Open communication brings a lot of clarity to confusing situations though and while he and are awesome at miscommunication and overreaction, we're also really dedicated to staying open. It took nearly two months to get back on the same page because some things have to be cleared up in person and to do that schedules have to line up for intentional visits. The result has proved to me once again how constructive conflict can be. People seemed to think that our relationship had hit a breaking point, but it was a bonding point.

Who I am and the life I lead has taken on more shape in the past two months. In my independence I'm free to test out my little wants -- going on weekend road trips, exploring the towns around me, taking a paint class, figuring out how to best show Jesus-love to my co-workers, wanting to do more street outreach with the poor and discovering a desire to serve the Body through helping lead studies and worship -- and make choices I get to learn from. For example, staying out late with my small group is worth the loss of sleep + getting up early to cover a shift at work last-minute is too. Figuring out and pursuing the life you want isn't usually as step-by-step clear as the process of getting a degree is. It takes as much work but it takes more flexibility and fearlessness in the face of uncertainty. You examine opportunities based on which will move you more in the direction of the Lord's will and even if it looks less sure than the other options you take the leap of faith and find that, while you may not have had control and knew you were taking a risk, He did have control the whole time and what looked like a risk was actually quite secure.

The steps I've taken that have led me to here weren't a logical progression that I could have mapped out as a five-year plan five years ago and ended up in this same place. Every step had so much purpose in it though and the Lord sees to it that nothing gets wasted when following Him into what He has prepared. I thought I was moving out here for six months so having this #newjerseyadventure come to a close after just three months was unexpected, but it doesn't mean it's wasted. Finding that the life I lead doesn't fit with my host home, that experience isn't wasted, He gets purpose and growth and fruit out of it. Finding that I fit well in child care but have to leave my job earlier than anticipated, the time I've invested and the lives I've connected with haven't been wasted. Finding a perfect fit with the most phenomenal community from a simple Google search and a brave move to reach out, the handful of times we've shared and the relationships that have just begun are not wasted even though I can't stay. This move was full of challenges and confusion and conflict and it didn't last as long as I had thought but Jersey was where I was supposed to be for the past three months and now that the purpose of this adventure has been accomplished in the Lord's eyes, He is leading me into where I'll fit next. I don't know what it will look like, all I know is that Zachary is a part of it. I'll let y'all know where I end up next.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Doors Close // week 8

I came back late one night, around 11pm, and winced as I opened the garage door knowing that the Mathai's room is right above the garage and I didn't want to disturb their sleep. Texting Suja earlier I had said I would be back later than 10pm and sincerely hoped the garage door didn't wake them. She emailed me a response the next day asking that I be back in the house each evening by 9pm or else find another place to live. Quite an unexpected and unfortunate dilema since I now had to regular evening events I was plugged into for community but both ended around 9:30 and were about 30min away from home. Communicating to Suja that I'd be leaving my groups early to respect the request that I be back in the house by 9pm I also asked how I could best avoid disturbing their sleep on occasional weekends when it couldn't be helped that travels would get me back later than that. She and her husband talked about this and when they got back to me they said they thought it would be best for them and their family if I found another place to live for the remainder of my time in Jersey. That's all. Surprised and confused I told them that prayerfully I would have another place lined up by the end of March. They said not to feel rushed.

I brought the news to my small group and they leapt to defend my cause immediately not only starting group early enough that I wouldn't have to miss anything but also assuring me that they could find someone in the church (PCC) that would be willing to host me or rent to me for four months. Have I mentioned how incredibly blessed and encouraged by these believers I am? If you ever find yourself alone and friendless in central New Jersey reach out to the "Nomads" of Princeton Community Church. They're legit!

One week later and no news on a place to live. I'm not sure how things will pan out in the coming weeks. I'm getting a picture of what a generous heart looks like though compared to a generous action. I want to be a person of a generous heart, quick to sacrifice whatever is needed in order to meet a known need and thereby love another person well.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A fresh month // week 7

Today felt like a real "day". A favorite pair of jeans, new shirt, sparkly shoes and fresh curls covering my head. Navigating my way to "my" Starbucks without a GPS and correctly recalling that there was a Dunkin Donuts across the street, conveniently satisfying my craving for a chocolate covered donut -- a half-dozen size craving. I made it to Princeton Community Church exactly on time, finding Danny and Britney in the foyer. Shadyrest Church was the warm welcome I needed when I first arrived last month but PCC is the place I will best be able to connect and grow in community. So thankful that the Body is so varied and accessible to us all over this Country. I wept through worship, received the Word and partook of communion with members of my new-found small group. I was grafted into fellowship so naturally. With the confidence boost of a friend by my side I joined the seven-week class on relationships and marriage that began today. Parting ways in the parking lot, and finding that there is a Starbucks just up the road from church, I drove back to Route 1 and squeezed between the tightly packed bodies eating at Chipotle for lunch. I popped into Trader Joe's, three doors down, to see their flower selection. It was well picked over. Rather than driving straight home I plugged in the address for the "cheap" theater. I know how to get there by heart from the Mathai's house but getting there from Route 1 lent itself to all sorts of discoveries. I learned there is a book sale at the Library in West Windsor this week, just around the corner from my water color class. I found a smaller Target store a little closer to home. I found a Papa John's pizza place tucked into a little side-road in East Windsor. Arriving at the theater early was good because the line was all the way back to the door! Every other time I've been to a matinee there its been like a ghost town inside. I'm growing accustomed to seeing movies alone. The things you enjoy are always sweeter when shared with dear hearts, but the joy is still to be found in them when you're by yourself I'm finding. "You spend so much less when you're only paying for yourself!" some would say, defending their lone-wolf ways. It's true. But the price you pay, literally, for company is quickly forgotten as your soul knows that it's so worth it. On my way home I realized that the little houses I've used as landmarks to navigate by appear very  different without the snow cover. The tiny towns I pass through are exposing their quaint corners to my eye the more familiar their streets become to me. Stopping by a church that I've been drawn to time and time again since I first saw its steeple illuminated and sparkling out across a lake one night, I was delighted to find that underneath all the snow that had covered its property is the most whimsical and ancient little graveyard. I wandered over its rolling hills in the slowly freezing rain and looked out across the frozen lake it buts up against. As I drove away I read that there is live jazz to be heard at the building next door every Saturday night. Since this haunt of mine is tucked away only five minutes up the road from home, I imagine I'll go listen to the music some weekends. Back home and getting practical, my intention is to work out and cook dinner and then settle in for the Oscars tonight.

My eyes were on the horizon, rather than cast down on the ground, much more today. I'm beginning to feel a sense of belonging in "my" Starbucks, "my" Chipotle and "my" theater. Enough familiarity of location to feel at ease but enough need for exploration and followed directions created a restful day of adventure. Three bangles on my left arm clinking together cheerily throughout the day, sensing the Lord's presence with me -- filling me with life, and the type of weather that always gets me dreamy and nostalgic... It was all so steadying, reassuring, good.

He romanced me today. Not in the way that new lovers do, or in the way that a husband and wife of two years do, but in the steady, experienced, "we have history" and "I know you" way of a much longer marriage union. He's been mine and I've been His for sixteen years and today He spent the day telling me who and what I am to Him. Because love that never ends can never be over-affirmed. Knowing my deep, desperate desire for intimacy He invited me today, through communion, to feast myself upon the extravagant intimacy that He presents His Bride. Hearing my heart cry out to see that I'm loved, when words have come to feel so dry + empty, the no-expense-spared sacrifice He made in order to pursue me because His love declared me worth it, washed over me again and again until I was shook from sobs. Seeing the re-opened heart-wound inflicted by shame of my weakness, He reminded me that those closest to His heart have always been the ones full of promise and found in weakness. He's enough. And He's with me and leading me through this adventure in New Jersey.