Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Costa Rica

I imagined toucans and jungle, and I imagined being immersed in a new country and its culture. I envisioned taking notes while observing behavior or discussing in small groups among my peers. I knew next to nothing about what to expect, but I knew I would be challenged and that I would grow. The opportunity to do my internship in Costa Rica would be one that would shape me and give me a glimpse at a world I had never seen before. I knew this experience would be a crucial part of my progress in becoming a counselor or in working with high school teens.

Day one of our trip, we discussed the opportunity for a few students to go out that very evening to the streets to pass out cookies and coffee to the local prostitutes. I considered not going, I was exhausted, I didn’t know if I could handle the emotional pieces of that exposure, and I was worried my family would worry if I went. I reluctantly put my name in the jar and began to pray. I told God that if he wanted me to go, I would, but that I didn’t want to. My name was the first to be called. I internally sighed towards God, but I’d be obedient. I would go, and I knew God must have had something special for me to see that night, especially since I told him I did not want to go.

Later that evening, we began prayer and worship and it hit me. I suddenly was faced with the reality that I was about to step into a battlefield of spiritual warfare. I was going to see it in person, not on a movie or in an article clipping. I prayed, and I felt God with me, I told him I wanted to be where he was, where he led me, and that I was surrendered to his will. I know that in my career, I will have to approach God with the same heart. I was reminded that evening that I was not in control. As much as I prayed for people to come to know the Lord, I had to trust that God is in control of the timing. I didn’t even know if I would have the opportunity to share with any of the prostitutes, but much like Paul tells Timothy, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV), I would be an example or simply love the prostitutes by being there with them that evening.

The small group of students and Face of Justice volunteers went to the streets. The first prostitute I encountered was a man, but you couldn’t tell from his face. He had perfect hair and makeup, but broad shoulders and large feet. He called himself “Josie”. God showed me something beautiful the second I placed my hand on him in prayer. I saw him as a little boy, with no makeup or high heeled shoes. I saw him scared, vulnerable, broken, and I saw a male figure that abused him. I saw how much God still loved him and longed to be with him. Shortly after we got back in the van, I saw a car pick up Josie and drive away. This hurt. After the tiny shred of hope I felt while we prayed, I saw him leave to prostitute himself. After sharing the love of Jesus with someone, you hope they hear something that resonates. You hope they might make a better choice next time. Rarely do you see them reject that peace you’ve shared with them only minutes after you leave. Ignorance really is bliss. I had to remember that God is bigger, and that Josie’s story isn’t over yet. Professionally, this experience strengthened me. I had to overcome the discomfort of my personal feelings, being tired, worried, and not knowing what to expect. I will also be able to overcome disappointment, while also trusting in God in the moments that sting. I intend to work with at-risk high school students. I expect that my experience that night in San Jose will prepare me for similar adversity. I imagine I will encounter many students that it feels as if we have taken ten steps forward while working with them and seeing them grow, only to watch them make bad decisions that will take them fifteen steps backward.

The morning of the day we visited the rehab center, I felt very little empathy towards the men at the center, before even arriving. I was prepared to judge them, seeing as I had a hard time believing those with an addiction have anyone to blame other than themselves. Very quickly into the men’s stories I began to cry. One man shared that he had been in the rehab center for three months, and he had a two-month-old baby. He missed his baby’s birth. I looked around the room and no one else seemed to notice that teeny tiny, extremely significant fact. I felt angry; angry at the men, especially the man that isn’t there for his newborn baby. I wanted to yell at every man there and tell them that they were ruining other people’s lives, not just their own. Their choices, their own choice, to put their addictions before their families are now affecting their families and their children. I had pulled our professor out of the room for questions, and he offered sound advice and prayer. I was able to let go of a lot of my anger and resentment that day. I didn’t know I had a lot of those feelings, and acknowledging them and giving them to God, was powerful. This was my biggest area of growth that was added to my personal experience from this trip. I am forever thankful for this experience.

By the end of the week, I felt emotionally drained. I had heard and seen more hurt and brokenness than I ever wanted to acknowledge was real. When you see the child that you know was thrown into a dumpster as a baby, or hold and pray over an infant of a 13-year-old mother, or feel the presence of a very heavy spiritual darkness that lingers where you wish there was only light, it changes something in you. I would not have considered it a strength during the trip to be so emotionally exhausted, but I believe it created an endurance within me, and a tolerance to digest that kind of brokenness. Costa Rica was a crash course on brokenness in our world, which I know pains God to see. I want my heart to break for what breaks God’s heart. I want to feel what he feels and love like he loves. I can’t be the hands and feet of God if I am not moving and doing his work. From the experiences I had in Costa Rica, I was strengthened, professionally and personally, so that I am now better equip to do what God has called me to do.

What I consider to be a weakness from the trip to Costa Rica, is time. I would have wanted to get to know our team better, each individual. I believe teamwork and team building is incredible, and while we did have an amazing team, I wish we did more to get to know one another. I cherish every person on that trip and since God is intentional, I know everyone was there for a specific purpose. I would have liked to know each person’s heart, story, and dreams.

Moving forward. 
I remember my husband used to tell me, “never lose your innocence”. I never fully understood what he meant when he said that until now. The things you read about in newspapers is completely different when you see it in person. I don’t believe I’ll ever fully be able to put everything I saw or felt into words, and I don’t think anyone other than the group that was there with me will ever understand it. My experiences from Costa Rica are pearls to me. They are precious and valuable to me and to those that were there. I am forever thankful for what God did in the lives of those I encountered with Face of Justice, and in the experiences and relationships I’ve had with the group on the trip. I have grown personally and professionally in ways that I would not have if not for this trip.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

What is resilience?

To my sweet, precious little girl,

At a mere four-years-old you’ve lived in four different states and moved into about 10 different homes. Your resilience and ease amazes me. You never complain and are always eager to get on an airplane or hop in the car for a long drive. You’ve walked with me through some of my biggest life challenges. You’ve held my hand in my biggest life victories. You’ve helped me to be more patient, to be more sensitive and to love with gentleness. Without even understanding the whole picture, you love exactly like Jesus does. I am taken back at how at such a young age, you’ve experienced so much, and how you’re not fazed by anything that is difficult. You left your favorite stuffed animal at “the Army house”, and your painting supplies at Grandma and Grandpa’s old house, but you don’t mind. It never matters to you where we are as long as you are tucked in at night and given little eskimo kisses. You have made friendships that lasted an afternoon, but somehow you remember all of their names. You remember details and cherish memories that such a young mind wouldn’t normally retain. You’ve adopted resilience as a part of who you are, and I admire you so much for it.

I’m intrigued by you, sweet girl. I long to understand you and your little life more. I want the tools to understand your brain, our experiences from your eyes. I am in love with being your mommy, and I adore our time together. Thank you for your grit and your forgiveness and your precious love.

I love you forever, Emma.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Every May

I just completed my last assignment of my undergraduate career. I did think this would feel different.

I have spent the last 8 1/2 years of my life going to school, not knowing what I'm going to school for, going part time, picking different majors, dealing with life hurdles, moving, being a mom, and whatever else happens in your early 20's.

When I finally decided what I was passionate about learning, I buckled down. I went to school full-time, I didn't take breaks in the summers, and was fully committed to finishing with my best effort. I even made the Dean's list and got on a few honor's societies (which was so not like me to do). I got up early, while it was dark outside, so I could get in studying time before my little girl woke up. I have been in the middle of timed exams when she's woken up crying, or needed me for things. I've played with Barbie's while also reading textbooks. This school thing has been a journey for me. And it's still not over. I start graduate school Monday (I told you I wasn't taking summer breaks).

Every May I would see people I know graduate; people younger than me, people getting higher degrees, basically leaving me feeling anxious and excited to hurry up and finish. For as long as I can remember I've always wanted to grow up. I wanted to hurry up and get my driver's license, move out, buy a house, etc. I finally have grown up, however; I don't feel what I was expecting to feel. Graduating isn't someone finally waving that magic wand over your life and giving you a huge salary, a dream job or a perfect schedule. Maybe for some it was. I suppose what I've learned is that school, accomplishments and goals are great, but they are not the reason we live. We live to tell others about Jesus.

For me, today, I am practicing enjoying the fact that I overcame so much to finish school. No one will quite understand how big this is to me. One day, when Emma grows up, she will get to see how I did this for her; to encourage her, be an example, and to provide better opportunities for her own future (because today when I told her I finished, she just smiled and handed me some Silly Putty). I am so thankful for her little smile being my motivator, my sweet husband encouraging me to keep going, and my parents for being supportive the entire 8 1/2 years, no matter what I was doing. By the grace of God was I strong enough to keep going.

I finished undergrad!