The Girl in the Red Dress

To think it all started with a red dress. She stood so confidently and carelessly, that the beautiful beach sunset behind her was only an insignificant backdrop. Her smile filled her soft face with charisma and in that completely trivial moment, I decided to stop scrolling. Usually, I find Facebook’s friend suggestions entirely annoying, but when I saw her little picture pop up, I was overcome with a feeling I still cannot explain. Deep in the pit of my stomach, something directed me to stop.

Like a total weirdo, I stalked her profile. Actually, like a total normal person, because—who are we kidding anymore? The more I found out about her, the more I was amazed. I remember thinking to myself: This is crazy; we are exactly alike. And on an even weirder note, I remember thinking: I bet we would be really good friends.

Then, in perfect timing, my place of employment, Wild Rose Boutique, put out a hiring notice.

Generally, I am not one to interfere with other people’s lives or reach out to them in any way at all—especially not a stranger—but in this case, I just did it. I cannot explain the complete conflict of character because I do not even understand it. I simply had a feeling. I felt that she would be a perfect fit: for the job and for me. So I messaged her and asked if she would be interested in applying… and she turned me down.

For two months, life went on. I went to school and work and peddled through the routine of everyday life. In October, I set off on a trip to Uganda. My mind was completely renewed and cleansed of all reality of American life as I traveled through the country without any sort of online connection—I forgot everything momentarily. Then, as I sat at the airport in Brussels, Belgium, trying to catch up on two weeks’ worth of emails and notifications, her message came through.

They say that you have to wait on good things—plant seeds, be patient, and let them bloom in their own time—but I always thought that was crap. That day, though, and every day since, I have been so glad that I planted the seed and waited instead of trying to force it to bloom, or growing restless, stomping my foot and walking away. In waiting, I met my best friend, and the person whom my soul has needed to help it thrive.

Sidney is unique. I may get in trouble for this, but she is like my mom. What I mean, is that unlike a lot of my other friends, she does not take my nonsense. I can be dramatic and sassy and completely ridiculous, and you bet she will let me know. In truth, it makes me happy when she calls me out and holds me accountable, because at the end of the day, I do not want to be anything less than the absolute best version of myself. She sees the girl I have the potential to become when I stop holding myself back with fear, distractions, and some very clever sarcasm.

We do have a lot in common, as I originally fashioned, but we are also different in so many ways. Sidney and I are not two peas in a pod; we are Donkey and Shrek. She is kind, accepting, bright, and energetic—and most important of all, she always searches for the best in people. I, on the other hand, am the smelly ogre. As we learned, ogres are like onions; you have to peel back their layers to reveal their true promise. Not many would stick around to peel back all the layers I have built up around myself, but she did it—and in record time.

Now that I know her, I feel like a bright red dress is the most fitting piece of clothing to compliment her bold personality. She is courageous, and incredibly honest. She is confident in who she is and passionate about the things and people she loves. She is motivated, and she doesn’t give up on what she believes in. She is kind and hospitable, charitable and selfless. She can be soft and still sturdy, and she can be a force, yet still impeccably delicate. I think her only flaw may be that she doesn’t realize how quickly and radiantly she lights up the room for everyone else.

She makes me reevaluate what it means to be a good friend, and a good person.

Proverbs 27:19 says: As in water, face reflects face, so the heart of a man reflects the man.

I used to think that the best friends were the ones who agreed with me and took part in the same nonsensical laziness, jokes and careless actions that I did, but what I have found is that a best friend is someone who challenges me and constantly knocks on the door of my thick bubble, insisting that I come out.

Sidney is different because what you see with her is what you get. There are so many Facebook profiles that make a person seem smart and kind and compassionate, but so many of those profiles are also just a screen shading the ugly truth of who someone actually is. However, she is the exception—transparent as the water, her profile is an effortless reflection of who she is and what she carries in her heart. She has been magnificently and ruthlessly honest from the beginning, and it is one of the things I admire about her the most.

I have never had a friend exactly like her, and now that I have her, I hope I never lose her.

Just as the Lord giveth, he has taken away. God can remove people from our lives for a variety of reasons: they keep us from him, they hide our potential, or they are toxic to our livelihood. I had to lose the friends that weren’t right for me before I could receive the ones who were. It does not mean that those friends were bad people, they were just not a good fit for my life. It is difficult to unlearn what we have always known, but it is possible, and is often the greatest gift we can give to ourselves.

What I have learned is this: if something is for you, it will not run or hide or avoid being yours. Sidney did not think she wanted a job at the Wild Rose at first, but in the end it was where she needed to be and where I needed her to be.

The bible says many things about friendship, its importance, and the effects it can have on us—both positive and negatively. The book of Proverbs discusses many of these significance’s:

Proverbs 11:4Where there is no guidance, a people fails, but in abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 17:17A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Proverbs 27:17Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

I think we often look at friendship as a gift from God, when in fact, it is a necessity. He created us to be creatures of love and gave us a to need to thrive off of others. Friendship is not this perfect entity—it is as messy and chaotic as any relationship. However, it is fatal to remove ourselves from the friendships that bring out the madness, and anger, and frustration, and laziness in us. Who we hang out with shapes who we are. Stick with the people who pull the magic out of you at any cost; those who yearn to know you truly and deeply will love you without regard.

Because Sidney is so driven and committed and enthusiastic, just being near her forces me to have those qualities too. I graduated from college last week—if it was not for her gentle yet consistent badgering, I would not have left college in the place that I did. She made me want to try my hardest and actually get involved with the people and activities on campus. All of the friends I made in college, I made in the last semester. For the first time, I took an in-person class and looked forward to it, as opposed to the online classes, night courses, and a few in-person classes I took reluctantly before. I actually walked across stage at graduation and felt proud—and I even decorated my cap. I think the biggest change of all though, is that I am sharing all of this. She peeled back my layers, not because she was trying to, but because that is just the type of person she is: incredibly caring and splendidly cunning.

She is a modern day Ruth. Just as Ruth left her people and her land and her gods behind to stay with her widowed mother-in-law, Sidney leaves her needs behind to care for the friends and family in front of her. She is loyal, welcoming, and gallant in the seamless way a friend should be.

If you struggle with friendships or relationships, remember that you are a child of the King, and you are worthy of time, adoration, and gentleness. Do not settle for fleeting devotion and selfish appreciation—and do not be the friend who only takes and never gives. Timing is everything, and the perfect friend will compliment your strengths and weaknesses in the flawless way God intended them to. People will treat you however you allow them to; if you want to see a change, make one. Stop settling for the same people who are not right for you, or who may have been right for you at one point, but aren’t anymore. It is only as complicated as you make it.

And to Sidney,

You are honest in your actions, and you give the entire world great reason to love you. Cling to being great, generous, and grand.

Brown Boots

As I write this, the sun is streaming down through the window of a sweet little bakery in a friendly neighborhood and onto my face. Across the street, children are playing at a park, laughing and running hand in hand along the fence. Even in the midst of this warmth, my mind wanders to the things in my life that are testing my faith and diminishing my hope. It seems that no amount of unclouded days can overshadow all the gloom happening in the world anymore. The simple and common thing to do in the face of adversities is to turn around, put our backs to the sun’s warmth and walk away into the dimness. Eventually, we forget what its live-giving waves feel like altogether. Fairly, this path leads only to even more pessimistic cold. There is a point in everyone’s life when they turn and there have been days and situations in my own life when I chose to turn and walk with my back to the sun for a while—and those days were difficult—but there was also a time in my life when I did something worse than walking away: I stayed in one place. I did not walk in the sun, away from it, or toward anything else. I just stood there.

Actually, to be completely accurate, I probably sat there, or laid there—something with no motion or effort required. I spent a lot of time not doing a thing. Sure, I got up, ate, went to school and work, and came home, but other than that, there was not much going on in my life or my mind. I never tried to be anything or anyone exceptional. The only other thing I did do was complain about my choice to stand in one place. The truth was that I got myself into the situation; I locked myself away and made the choice to be alone and not go anywhere or do anything. I was ridiculously afraid to be around other people and I was even more afraid of what they thought of me. I know, how dumb, right? I think the same thing now, but I have come to realize that more people than we recognize go through life everyday feeling this way.

The problem is, most people don’t see a problem. Why does it matter if we just get up, go to work, go home, sit on the couch, fall asleep, and do it all over again every day for the rest of our lives? I guess it doesn’t. But, personally, I want my life to have some substance. In my mind, grind and routine and sitting on the couch aren’t part of “life”. The things that make up my life are people and places and experiences and affairs. Most days go by uneventful and unmemorable, but the things that are remembered are real life—they are important enough to withstand time, death, phases and loss.

I don’t want to spend my days treading water, or stuck in the mud. Actually, when I imagine someone ensnared in self-doubt and pity, a very vivid image comes to mind. In a cave on top of the highest mountain in Whoville, a Grinch sits in his recliner, going over his schedule, and contemplating whether or not to go to the town’s holiday celebration. If you are not familiar, it goes a little something like this:

4:00- Wallow in self-pity.
4:30- Stare into the abyss.
5:00- Solve world hunger. Tell no one.
5:30- Jazzercise.
6:30- Dinner with me. I can’t cancel that again.
7:00- Wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked.

As humorous as this list is, the irony in his excuses reflect so perfectly the life of somebody who is held motionless. If you know the storyline, you know that the Grinch in fact does end up going to the celebration. So why does he start moving again? Simple— because a kind-hearted little girl went out on a ledge (literally) and invited him to start—and persistently, I might add. When we are stuck in a rut, it is usually because of stubborn choice, and the reason we cannot get out of that rut is also stubborn choice. We need someone or something to care enough for us, that they are willing to extend a hand of kindness and grace… or invite us to the “Holiday Hoobity Whatty”. Now, let me tell you about my very own Cindy Lou Who.

I actually met her for the first time on my twentieth birthday. I just happened to be volunteering at the radio station she worked for. She sat down in a chair next to me and told me she loved my brown boots. Like most clothes I own, they came from the thrift shop, and as a proud thrift shopper, I was quick to tell her that. As luck would have it, she too was an avid thrifter. We talked for as long as we could and I honestly do not remember a single thing that was said—but that day I learned just how simple friendship could be.

Fast forward a couple months: I decided to volunteer at the radio station again. At this point, I had completely forgotten meeting this girl, but she walked right up to me when she entered the volunteer room and said, “You’re the girl with the cute boots!” Immediately I remembered. “I’m Emma.”

We picked up talking like we had been best friends since our little meet-cute in the fall. It was as if no time at all had passed. We talked and laughed and shared stories all week long as we worked alongside each other. When the week came to an end on Friday morning, it felt a bit odd to be leaving one another’s company, though it felt even odder to have made such a close friend in only three days. We both looked at each other a little awkwardly as it came time to say goodbye. Then she did something completely unexpected: instead of opening her mouth to bid farewell to our short friendship, she quickly blurted out, “Hey, let’s spend the entire day together!”

Five minutes later I was riding shotgun in her Subaru on the way to her house. Looking back this is all a little crazy—I mean, she could have killed me if she wanted to. Honestly, what she actually did was much, much worse. When we got to her house, she revealed to me her most prized thrift finds: a collection of sad clowns. I truly thought it was a joke, but as we continued through her house, the paintings, and statues, and sculptures of sad clowns kept growing in abundance. Each one had a name and a back story as to why it was so sad—many of which were incredibly sinister and disturbing. She had so many; there were even some from foreign countries. Since that day, I have found out that sad clown collecting is in fact, a very popular thing. Now when I go to thrift shops, I notice the sad clowns that I had never seen before, and it reminds me of Emma and her quirks… and the life-changing day we spent together.

After we left her house, she took me to the coolest local hotspot for lunch. It was a communal food hall where every table was twenty-foot long, and the entire point was to spend your lunch break conversing with random strangers. We spent hours there, talking to each other about our entire lives. Truth be told, I have always thought it was easier to tell my life story to strangers anyways.

IMG_7877Some ridiculously unflattering photos from our day of shenanigans. 

The rest of the day we went to local thrift stores, vintage furniture showrooms, antique barns and (of course) coffee shops. It had quickly become one of my favorite afternoons. All good things do come to an end, unfortunately, and as she drove me back to my car across town, we actually did say our goodbyes. She told me that she was moving to Ohio the next weekend and she asked me what I was going to do after I graduated from community college. I told her what I tell everyone: “I have no idea. I really don’t have a clue where I am going, what I am doing, or how I am going to decide. I am just waiting on God to tell me what to do.”

Then she said something I had not considered: “What if he doesn’t tell you what to do?”

I just sat there. I didn’t know what to say or think, but thankfully, she did.

“Maybe you should just do something—anything. Just decide on something you know you want to do, and then do it.”

I went home, and the more I thought about what she said, the more I felt condemned. And the more I felt condemned, the more my stubbornness kicked in. And the more my stubbornness kicked in, the more I knew she was right. I had to do something, even something small, just to get myself moving again. So, I started this blog. It has been rewarding in many ways, but first and foremost it has inspired me to keep progressing. Emma’s little nudge got me moving again, and it made me realize a few things too.

God doesn’t have to tell you how to take every step of your life. When you walk, you don’t pause after every stride to ask what’s next—you put one foot in front of the other and keep strolling. A sweet friend shared a beautiful nugget of truth by Kurt Vonnegut with me last week:

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

If we take that next step, instead of pausing or standing in one place, we will learn and we will grow. We will get our wings and be capable of flying to the next stop ourselves. That is not to say abandon God and forget about his role and presence in life.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10:
“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

At first glance, it sounds a bit like that verse is actually telling us to remain stationary in one place. After a minute of research though, I came across something interesting. The original Hebrew root of “be still” does not mean to be quiet or to stand motionless—it means to let go.

When our parents taught us how walk, chances are they probably held us up by our tiny hands and walked along with us like we were little puppets on a string. They helped us and they practiced with us and they trained us to pick up one foot and then the other. Eventually, we got the hang of it. But to actually walk on our own, we had to let go of their hands and start moving. We likely fell down a lot, but they were always right behind us, ready to pick us up and get us back on the right track.

If God has spent time teaching you and perfecting you to be who he created you to be, then it is okay to let go of his hands and take a few steps on your own. If you fall down, he will be right behind to scoop you up.

I still have my thrifted brown boots, and for a long time, I just stood in one place and looked down at them. Thankfully, someone came along and looked down at them with me, saw their appeal and potential, and then encouraged me to get walking so everyone else could see too.

Find your Emma—or better yet, strive to be someone else’s Emma. Pay a compliment. Start a conversation. Invite somebody to lunch. Show them your creepy collection of sad clowns… Okay, not that last one, but you get the point. If you see someone treading water, don’t leave them to drown. Be kind and radiate positivity. Walk hand in hand with the Lord toward the sunshine, but don’t be afraid to let go once you have finished learning, because when you release your grip, you will be left with a free hand to offer others who are just stepping into their own brown boots and getting ready to move again.

Another Black T-Shirt

I think I speak for everyone when I say that the one thing we all have in common, whether we want to admit it or not, is that we each have a huge collection of random t-shirts stuffed in a drawer or closet or tote box or pile on the floor. The crazy thing is, these shirts just sort of show up over the years; I am not sure where I got all of them or how they made their way to my closet, but every time I check, I swear a few more have shown up. I also do not know of anyone who actually wears all of the t-shirts they have. Personally, I have developed a system to store them according to how much they are used:

At the very bottom of the pyramid (which is a plastic tub stored in the basement) I have all of the shirts I will never, ever wear again—my third grade tee ball shirt, a post prom tee that barely fits, some free tee from a radio station, and the family hand-me-down tee that has been to every older cousin and sibling, to name a few. Being a somewhat rational person, I have to ask myself, why not just get rid of these completely useless t-shirts? Honestly, I don’t have a good answer, but every time I try to donate them or give them away, I come up with some excuse and cannot let them go. It is completely ridiculous, but the smorgasbord of random shirts is a part of me and a bit of a shrine to my past: I have a t-shirt for everything I’ve ever done and everywhere I have ever been. They are little memory tokens… that I choose to put in a box out of sight.

The next level of the t-shirt pyramid is composed of the stained, oversized, oldies, who have seen better days, that I am not ready to let go of quite yet. These t-shirts are the most pitiful of them all in my opinion. They are caught in the middle between ‘I love you and will wear you all the time’ and ‘I’m shoving you in a box for eternity’. These tees make their home in a drawer and are either worn around the house when I am cleaning or crafting, or when I am going to bed. I call these “old clothes” and it is their purpose to be timeworn and comfortable.

The very top level of tees is actually a shelf in my closet; they sit on a high throne of convenience and repetition. As you can imagine, these are the select few elites that get worn regularly. I actually have two stacks of these, though. The left stack is all colored tees, and the right stack is all of my black t-shirts. I am not exaggerating when I say I have more black t-shirts than anything else in my closet. I adore them. To the people who spend endless amounts of time picking out an outfit: a black t-shirt and jeans will never fail you.

I am a firm believer in a largely black wardrobe—one can never have too much black. It is the color of coffee and mascara and penguins. Black is good. Regardless of how many black shirts I already own, I will always buy another.

My absolute favorite way to get a black t-shirt, though, is to hunt for one among masses of grandma sweaters and 90’s puff jackets at the thrift shop. There is something so satisfying about digging through all of the crap to get something worthwhile, such as a black tee, for dirt cheap—it’s like finding buried treasure. Thrift shopping takes practice, though; it is a sport of patience. You have to wait for the right item to surface, and you have to know where to look when it does.

I think a lot of our struggles in life come from not waiting, and from expecting things to show up conveniently just for us when we need them to. Life is a lot like a thrift shop: you have to wait for the right things instead of settling for whatever is in front of you now, and you have to dig for the things you want to get out of it. Thrifting wouldn’t be very much fun if I went in with the mindset that it was all just going to be grandma sweaters and puff jackets. If I didn’t take the time to dig through things, I would either walk out empty-handed, or worse yet, with a giant teddy bear sweatshirt.

Babe Ruth told us to never let the fear of striking out keep us from playing the game. When you go thrift shopping, you may not find a treasure, and that’s okay, but if you keep going back, you may find the perfect black t-shirt with the original tags still attached for ninety-nine cents. In the same way, when you decide to get off the bench and take a swing at life, you may strike out, but you also might hit it out of the park.

Up until a week ago, I thought those were my two options in life and at the thrift shop: I could either win, or I could lose. Then, as I shuffled through the racks at my local Goodwill last Monday, I came upon something holy—another black t-shirt. I grabbed it immediately. This tee was different than my others. It had a high neckline and sleeves that did not quite come to the elbow, like something that a woman in the 40’s would wear. It was the holy grail of thrift shop finds: vintage. I was so excited… until I got into the dressing room to try it on. It didn’t fit the way I wanted it to; it bunched in odd places, hung awkwardly at the sides and was entirely too long and baggy at the bottom. Normally, I would have put something like this back, but for some reason, I had this feeling that I should still get it and try to make it work.

I got it home and put it on, and as I looked in the mirror, I thought, “Wow, this still looks just as terrible as it did at the store.” I tried on some different pants and skirts and things with it and attempted to “fix” it, but nothing looked quite right. Then, I got a bit of a crazy idea.

A few years ago, my parents got me a sewing machine for Christmas. I am not sure why they got it for me, because the only knowledge I have of sewing is what I learned in eighth grade FACS class; I haven’t used the thing hardly at all. There were several times over the years that I tried to make something small or sew a few pieces of fabric together for practice, but none of those attempts ever worked out too well. Yet, at the moment, I had completely convinced myself that I could cut up this thrift store tee and somehow sew it back together to fit me perfectly. I already had this image in my head of exactly what I wanted it to look like, all I had to do was make it happen.

So, at ten o’clock at night, I decided I was going to stay up and work until this shirt was finished. I measured ends and edges I wanted to go, pinned some things in place and thought it looked pretty good; then I got to cutting. I cut this shirt up so much that I actually felt like Edward Scissorhands; I even had two pairs of shears—one in each hand. I tried it on and made adjustments at each turn, and I did run into some problems.

What I originally thought would be a quick job, turned into a three hour ordeal (and half of that time was spent trying to remember how to thread the sewing machine). Once I got the bottom length to where I wanted it, I put in on and realized the sides still looked baggy, so I cut them open and took two inches off of each and sewed them back together. Then, I saw that in cutting up the sides, I had made big holes in the armpits—I could not just leave it like that. So I eye-bawled it a bit and cut out some swatches from the underarms then sewed the sleeve and bodice back together. At the very end, I decided to go over all the edges again with a few more front and back stitches, because I was not even sure my sewing job would hold up.

It was one in the morning by this point and my shoulders were sore from hunching in front of the sewing machine for so long. I finally finished this project and decided to put the shirt on one last time.

The sense of pride I got when looking in the mirror at my finished product was something wonderful, that is, thankfully, still fresh in my mind. I had done it. The shirt was not just a t-shirt anymore, it was my t-shirt, and it was exactly like the picture I had in my mind of how I wanted it to look.

IMG_7780     Me in my perfectly altered black t-shirt.

I realized something looking in the mirror at my finished product: you can win and you can lose, but you can also change. If you don’t like the person or the circumstances, or the t-shirt staring back in the mirror at you, it is within your power to change them. I forget this all too often, unfortunately, and I let my happiness be dictated by circumstances I just assume I cannot change without even trying. In completing my little shirt makeover, I had to ask myself, what else have I not changed or fixed because I assumed I couldn’t?

I did not have the skills or knowledge to be cutting up, hemming, and taking in a shirt, but I did it anyways. Philippians 2:13 says “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

We can literally do anything if we have Christ on our side, and many people know that. It is the next step where we are missing the boat; we actually have to believe in ourselves enough to take action and do the thing.

A more common verse in Philippians that relates to this is chapter four, verse thirteen: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Just because this verse is overstated, does not make it less true. It is my hope though, that we would bear in mind it’s significance and value, and not just wear it on our t-shirts, but bind it around our necks and write it on the tablet of our hearts (Proverbs 3:3)

You can trust in God, be faithful, and practice thanksgiving for the things he has given you—and I encourage you to do so—but when things are not the way you pictured them, don’t just pray that He will miraculously fix everything for you. He also blessed you with talents and passion, a heart and a brain; He gave you these abilities, so that you could use them to fix the things that need fixing. Instead of praying for the hungry person on the corner, go and feed them. I am not saying don’t pray; I am saying pray and don’t stop there—do something.

If you need more inspiration to get up and act, I encourage you to read the book of Colossians. It discusses the beauty of thanking God, praying to God, and then doing good work for God through the apostle Paul while he was in imprisonment.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:24

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Colossians 4:5

If Paul can believe and write these truths while imprisoned for acting on God’s behalf, then I think I can practice them in my freedom. No matter who we are or where we are, we were graciously given the capabilities to change things for ourselves and for others; it is our choice to use our time and talents for transformation, or for trifling. Luke 6:38 teaches us that the amount you give will determine the amount you get back.

We only get out of life what we put into it; if we go into a thrift store expecting the most awful and ugly sweater, that is what we will receive. If we go into a thrift store expecting something wonderful to be waiting for us, we may find it, but we also may be disappointed. On the other hand, if we go into a thrift store with an open mind, we can come out with a treasure every time. It may require a few alterations, but if we work at it with care, remain patient, and see it through to the end, we will be left with a sense of accomplishment and a perfectly fitted black t-shirt.

I will leave you with one of my absolute favorite quotes by Nathan W. Morris:

“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.”

 

 

Yellow Fever

IMG_5368

In October of 2017, I spent some time in Uganda—a beautiful and dusty little country in Eastern Africa. Generally, when people take trips to another continent, they do quite a bit of planning a ways in advance. I found out that I would be going on September 1st… and that we would be leaving on October 4th. A month may seem like a reasonable timeline, and at first I had convinced myself of the same, however, I quickly realized that leaving my jobs, school work, and family was going to take a lot of preparation. I had to request the time off at one job, and I ended up quitting the other. After speaking to each of my professors, it became clear that my only option would be to work so far ahead in the next month, that I would have all coursework I would be missing, completed before I even left. I had to tell my family members, which was nerve wracking for me (and for them once I told them where I was going). Several of them had some serious reservations; they were only worried about my safety, of course, but it was still discouraging to not have their full support. I had to get all of my financials in order, because a fairly spontaneous trip half way around the world costs rather a lot of money. All of these things put a considerable amount of stress on me, but none of them as ruthless as the ridiculous hassle that was obtaining all of the necessary vaccinations to go. First, I had to get caught up on all of my regular vaccinations, then I had to focus on the ones that would keep me safe and healthy in Uganda. The most important one was the Yellow Fever vaccine. Before I continue, let me give you a little background on Yellow Fever.

Yellow Fever is a viral disease spread through mosquito bites in South America and Africa. Once infected, the symptoms can include fever, aches, jaundice, abdominal pain, and severe liver disease usually accompanied by internal bleeding. It can and does lead to death in many cases, and there is no treatment or cure for it. That is why it is so important to take precautionary measures such as getting vaccinated. The vaccination is also a requirement to enter the country of Uganda.

I called my regular physician and asked if she could access and administer the vaccine, the YF-Vax or Yellow Fever Vaccination, and she told me I would have to contact the county health department and request it that way. So I did. Unfortunately, that ‘solution’ was short lived. The lady on the other end of the phone working for the health department informed me that they did not have any YF-Vax left and could not request more because it was in short supply and high demand. She suggested I call a large clinic about an hour north to see if they had any left. With high hopes and an anxious heart, I made that call. Finally I got a definitive answer… but it was the exact opposite of what I had been hoping for. Instead of reassuring me they had it, she explained there was only one manufacturer of YF-Vax licensed in the United States, and they had shut down production completely to rebuild their facilities, which would not be done until the fall of 2018. Before shutting down, they had built up a huge surplus of the vaccination to be used in the between time. What they failed to account for however, was the large and ongoing outbreak of Yellow Fever in Brazil. The remainder of our stock here in the U.S. was sent to South America and used to vaccinate those living amidst the outbreak. Long story short—there was absolutely none left in America.

At this point, I was freaking out a little. Okay, I was freaking out a lot. I cried and thought that I for sure would not be able to go to Uganda. I was also running out of time; the day of my mental breakdown, I only had two weeks until I was set to leave. I kept researching though and tried tirelessly to find a solution. Finally, I came across something slightly risky, but it was the single option I had left.

There was an experimental vaccination made popular in France called Stamaril that was available upon request and only at a select few locations across the country. There were a few hesitations I had: the drug was not technically legal, I could not get it at a licensed physician’s office because of that, insurance would not cover it, and I would have to find someone to drive me to one of the locations because you cannot drive after receiving the vaccination. I also had no idea if it would qualify as a Yellow Fever vaccination in Uganda. By the grace of God, everything worked itself out. My dad was able to drive me, I pulled together the money to pay for the extra expense, and I decided that if the French were regularly dispensing this vaccine into their citizens, I probably would not die from it. In addition, I would receive the exact same certification card for Stamaril that I would have for YF-Vax.

It seemed as though all was well again. Then about a week before leaving, I got incredibly anxious. I have never been one to experience anxiety, but my nerves were kicking in at the thought of traveling alone to a new place with a war-torn history. I even had a few nightmares that I would die in a disturbing way while I was there. All of this was completely out of character for me, and honestly I was making myself sick with the fear of a worst-case scenario. My mom could see my fear, and it made her fearful too. She told me that if I was having doubts, it was probably not God’s will for me to go. Mom, if you’re reading this— I’m sorry, but you were dead wrong.

I went to Uganda, and as soon as I got there I was overwhelmed by the joyful welcome I received. My heart was peaceful as I stepped onto the red dirt soil for the first time. The feeling did not wear off, either. One day, as we were driving through the Ugandan countryside, I looked out the window, felt the sunshine on my face, and recalled all of the doubts I had before leaving. I told myself to remember this moment, to tuck it away for whenever I had returned home and felt like I did not have a purpose in life, or when I was faced with a situation that made me fearful again. This was purpose—God driven purpose. He needed me to go to Uganda, and I needed Him to help me go.

I learned later in the trip that several other people attending had similar experiences to mine: their families did not offer their support, they had monetary issues, and they had immense nerves and fear cling to them as they tried to prepare for what lie ahead.

After I returned, I thought a lot about fear, and about how I could not let it hold me back if I wanted to live a full life in service to God—because, here’s the thing: a life in full service to God is one of fear. We have to fear him, and revere him enough to do what he tells us to do.

That realization made me think back to a few months earlier when I had had a major conflict with one of my best friends. This was the kind of fight that completely ends friendships, and neither of us was completely at fault, or completely willing to admit that. I will spare you the details, but in short, the fight ended with us cancelling our plans for the summer and not speaking for three months. It was awful, but because of our cancelled plans, I was able to move away for a while and do the work and will of the Lord in Alaska. I knew within a day of being there that the Lord needed me in that place at that specific time for a reason, and I was overcome with guilt when I thought of how I selfishly had planned to do what I wanted instead of what God wanted. As always, God won, but it was because of my conceit that a friendship was sacrificed as the cost.

Just a few weeks ago, I took a giant leap of faith for the first time in too long. I signed myself up for another experience that would ultimately lead to me strengthening my relationship with Jesus in preparation, and hopefully strengthening others’ in the outcome. After officially registering for the event, I walked outside and got in my car to go to work; it was completely dead. My knowledge of cars is very little, so after a few times of trying to get the ignition to turn over, I gave up and decided to just take my brother’s truck. I went back inside and his keys were nowhere to be found. I ran back and forth tirelessly from the shed to the house, grabbing every single key we had to try and start the truck; none of them worked and I was going to be late. Finally, I decided my only other option was to take my dad’s truck. This was a very daunting realization for me: No one is allowed to drive his truck; it is basically his baby—he barely drives the thing himself for fear that something will happen to it. With that being said, I understand why he would not want me specifically driving his truck—I do not have a great track record when it comes to driving; accidents just seem to find me wherever I am. Thankfully, my day did not entail any accidents, but the annoyances kept coming like pitches from a machine. I had a customer yell at me extensively over something that was out of my hands and not a big deal. I realized later in the day on my way to the gym that I had forgotten deodorant that morning (yuck). Then, I had one penny less than I needed to give exact change for my coffee and had to break another dollar. The final straw, though, was when I got to Aldi and realized I was completely quarter less. (You may be thinking that is not that big of a deal, but if you have ever been to an Aldi, you know it’s the worst.)

In my frustration, I shook my fist at heaven and thought “God, how come every time I try to do something for you, every bad thing that can happen, does?!” Then I got my answer clear as day. Because I was living for God, the devil was working twice as hard to make sure I failed or gave up before I could carry His work to completion. Satan did not want me to go to Uganda and be opened to the miraculous truths of the Lord tucked into every breath there, so he put every obstacle he could think of in my way. He did not want me to go to Alaska at the time I did, because he did not want me to be a servant of the Lord to the people in need there. Satan is evil and his ways are evil, but the goodness of the Lord will always overcome.

James 1:2-4 says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Being put to the test for the Lord is the greatest honor He can bestow upon us. The next time you feel pressure or stress in life, I encourage you to take a moment and evaluate why your faith is being tested—and then praise God. Honor him and trust him instead of shaking your fist and questioning him. Become a modern day Job and show Satan that the trials and frustrations of this world are no measure for the holy love and treasure that consumes God’s people. Take the advice of James and turn that frown upside down when things aren’t quite going your way. Naturally, it is not going to be easy to do, but that is exactly the point: good and perfect things must take the time to grow and mature before they become perfect, and if you wish to be perfect and complete, so must you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in Color

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Life takes place in the threshold of a million countless colors. Many times, we do not recollect all of these colors, but they are always present with us. Colors represent our past and influence our future; each and every vibrant color we contain comes from a moment, and all of those moments together make up a lifetime.
There are two kinds of colors in life. The first, are those we choose to bring into our lives—intentional colors. The second, are those which come into our lives of their own accord—natural colors. The colors we choose are a pigment purposefully brought into our lives because we believe they will manifest our happiness, show our spontaneity, and prove our power and control. The ones that occur on their own, however, transpire much more frequently. They sprout up quietly out of our happiness and our joy, our pain and our wreckage, and even our contentedness and mediocrity. Sometimes they stay hidden under cover of brighter colors who shine more eagerly, but other times they push themselves to the forefront of reality and make known their significance.
It is important to recognize and be thankful for all of our hues; there is a reason that one of the first things children are taught in school is to identify their colors. As the saying goes, one is successful when they ‘pass with flying colors’. In the same way, one has failed when their life passes them with flying colors. The precious thing about colors is that they are one in the same with moments; once they pass, they rarely appear again. I don’t want to be responsible for missing parts of my life because I am not present, or don’t acknowledge the moment I’m in. Yet, it is so easy to fall victim to the failures of many and miss out on the most vivacious, animated, and energetic bits of existence.
The symbol most commonly associated with colors is, of course, the rainbow. While there may be no pot of gold at the end, it is still worth something much more valuable than gold: hope. Genesis tells of the corruption of the earth from early on:
“The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Genesis 6:5-6
When I read that the Lord regretted ever creating man, it hurts my heart. I think of all the evil in the world today and all the ways that I have messed up personally, and I cannot help but wonder if God feels the same way today as he did then. We read on to find that, in his distress and hurt, the Lord sends a flood to wipe out the earth.
“So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals, and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” Genesis 6:7
“And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” Genesis 7:19-23
It is dispiriting that man betrayed the Lord and his laws, and chose to live in immense sin. Because of His love, though, this forlorn story has a happy ending. God stops the rain, the waters eventually subside, and the Lord leaves his faithful and trustworthy servant, Noah, in charge of repopulating the earth. He also makes a very special covenant with him:
“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:11.
This covenant has never been broken, and thanks to some colors, we will never forget that.
“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.’” Genesis 9:12-15
Just as the rainbow is a sure sign of the Lord’s promise to mankind, the colors of our lives are a sure sign of hope, because we know that they are all a part of God’s divine plan, interwoven into each of us. The dark colors, the flashy colors, the bland colors, and the bold colors all come from him.
The truth of the situation is that we let God down then, and we let God down now. The only difference is the hope we have in Jesus to save us and the promise that the Lord will never destroy all his people again.
It would be easy to take this covenant for granted, and as humans, we are all guilty and enclose shortcomings. However, our job is to please the Lord and do his work to expand his kingdom. Living in color means taking the time to stop and look around once in a while, and requires getting out of the routine of things. Living in color is considering all of the things life could be: the impact we could have, the lives and circumstances we could change, and the capabilities we could have if we applied ourselves more. We can stay busy and sit silent as the colors of our life nonchalantly pass by and escape us, or we can embrace them as precious gifts of hope to uplift and encourage others, offering them the same hope that the righteous rainbow offers to us.