Paralyzed

Paralyzed.  Paralyzed by questions. People ask me a lot of questions these days.  And I can handle one, but when they start to string off a lot, I become paralyzed.  At least that is what my brain feels like.  Like it can’t complete the full thought.  I can still only think a few days out.  Maybe the month.  Others try to think for me or put thoughts in my head… and I can’t process all of that.

Paralyzed. Paralyzed by culture.  It has been odd at times feeling like I still don’t belong.  The culture is moving at such a pace and I can’t keep up.  And it is overwhelming to the point where I just give up.  It seems like so much has changed.  People’s lives.  How they relate.  What their priorities are.  As well as mine.  The causes that people choose to support.  The whole political state right now.  I cannot immerse myself in culture, because I do not feel as if it is my culture any more.  I cannot follow conversations.  And I cannot remember things that used to come easy.

Paralyzed.  Paralyzed by decisions.  In the grocery store there is a whole aisle of chips.  And I like 50% of them.  I avoid that aisle.  Because I can’t decide.  I have come to be accustomed to about 10 chips to choose from, seven of which are too spicy for me.  And so I always choose the same one.  Then there’s the decisions that matter.  Like where to look for jobs, what to do with my time, who to focus on, where to jump back into life.  Do I grow roots again and make friends, or am I just touching down again.  These are the decisions that paralyze me as I over analyze.  I feel as if I am still to sit.  And wait.  That God is preparing that for me and it is not available yet.

One place where I have not been paralyzed was in the classroom.  I had the opportunity to teach middle school woodshop, which I have been doing since I’ve been back.  And I have been grateful for so many things that happened during this time.  It helped to unparalyze my brain as I was able to create and had purpose and use the artistic side of my brain.   Students asked me questions about spacing of nails, types of sandpaper, and staining techniques.  I designed projects and even taught myself how to change sanding belts and saw blades.  I liked the challenge and it allowed my brain to function in having vision and being able to problem solve.  One girl asked me how I knew so much about wood, and I chuckled.  Because I probably knew more than her, but I am no expert.  I truly look at this time as a gift that God gave me, reminding me of the love I have to teach others and encourage them when they feel they are unqualified.

And so as I focus on what is still paralyzing to me and areas that I need to explore, I am pressing into what God has for me. Listening to His voice.  Knowing that this is a journey, and that God has led me to this point, with purpose.  I need to be able to slow down. To not immerse in the culture.  And to be whom God has created me to be.

A Final Graduation

 

I have attended graduation ceremonies on many levels.  And there is something within me that is proud every time.  There are some kids that breezed through their education and didn’t put forth their total effort, and yet they graduate.  And there are kids that shed blood, sweat and tears to get where they are.  For most of the students in Guatemala, to continue their education is a sacrifice.  It is the blood, sweat and tears kind of education.  They sacrifice to be in school.  They put off marriage, have less time for helping at home or in the fields, and being surrounded by family.  Many of them have to work to put themselves through school.  Their families sacrifice financially and put great hope in them that they will be able to succeed.  There is much pressure.  And there is much reward.  They value their education.

And so for me, to be able to see these students graduate and move one step closer to realizing their dream of having a better life, it is truly an honor.  I have prayed for these students.  I have a personal relationship with many of them.  I know their families.  I walked beside them.  I listened to them and I told them that they could do it.  Over and over and over again.  Because I knew that their way to a better life was through education.  Many of them I had to convince to stay, to work thorough the difficulties, that it would be worth it.  To persevere.  Yet seeing their smiles and their sense of pride shine through is truly something special.

This year two different classes graduated at ADONAI.  The first to graduate were the high school students.  One of my favorite moments of the night was watching them lead worship.  Seeing them on the stage reminded me of the growth that had happened over the years.  These students had been regular attenders at our worship evenings for the community and their talents and confidence grew over time.  Their faith was grounded and I have watched them take that faith and be leaders within the community – shining the light.

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As they accepted their diplomas and walked off stage, I am confident that there is a better future ahead of them than what they left behind.

 

 

Our nursing students had an intense year, completing their studies and passing their clinicals.  Each of the students passed the national exam as well to be qualified to practice across the country – a phenomenal feat.  These students were so excited for graduation and took great pride in their studies.  Many of them will be working in our clinics and hospital, and even better – some will gain jobs in different facilities where we know they will shine the light of Jesus as well as impart their knowledge.  Please continue to pray for these students.  As our job in guiding them is not over.

 

 

Not the Same

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There is a great difference between a shot term trip and long term living.  They are not the same.  There is a great difference from coming home from a short term trip and coming home from something permanent. They are not the same.  Both offer the opportunity to reflect. Both can have a life changing opportunity. Both can stir up a passion and fire and give redirection to your life. But the body undergoes two different experiences. I have lived them both. The mountain top reality as well as the deep rooted change.

Being absorbed into a culture instead of just seeing it. Having to deal side by side with the challenges that come from living within a culture. Learning to be flexible because there is no other option. Meeting people, having real relationships and true friends. Incorporating a different rhythm to your day as well as different norms. Walking beside broken people to bring them to Jesus. Learning a culture so that you can understand the heart. Conforming. Sacrificing. Living with less. Rewiring your brain for another language.

So much has changed that it is difficult to even assimilate to your own country. When home to visit, the body never really has to flip over, but under the idea that this could be permeant, everything changes.

People see me and expect me to be the same person as when I left. And yet, I can guarantee that I am not. I am not the same. My world view has changed, my needs have changed, my spiritual life has changed, my ability to connect has changed. My priorities. My passions. My energy. I cannot engage in every day conversations because I do not know what every day is. People put labels on you, think you will have the same job. And live in the same community. People say, “You’re just the same. It’s as if you never left.” Yet inside you’re screaming because you realize they cannot see the change. They cannot understand that Jesus has changed me to adapt and build something in me that I must use for my future.

There is no way that anyone who lives cross culturally will ever be the same. Because there is nothing that is the same. Assimilation is difficult. And space is a necessity.

Because our culture has lived a life of overabundance, instant decisions and infinite choices, we do not see what it is like to be overwhelmed by these things. There is a fight within me to resist the conformity. A fight to resist falling into a pattern because it is expected or culture. A fight to resist same.

Yet two things have not changed – my passion for people and my passion for them to reach their dreams and experience freedom through Jesus Christ. If anyone recognizes these passions as the same, it is true. They have been fueled even more.

Yet even though these two remain, they are played out differently. They are not the same. They stem from a deeper vein. I am not the same. Nor do I want to be the same. I have died to so many things that were important to me because it was necessary. And I have to choose whether I will bring these things back into my life or keep them still. I have a fight within me for the oppressed populations. I have a language within me that yearns to sing. And I have a mixed culture within me that is not at peace here nor there.

 

Let us not expect the same and embrace the difference.

Make a Difference

I still remember the day that I received this piece of paper. Dr. Linda Culbertson’s class. Senior year.

And as I sat there ready to embark on real teaching, her words penetrated my soul.

“ How can your effort make any difference?”

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(The original as it came to me.)

We will never be able to reach them all. So often we are faced with this truth. There is so much need; everywhere in the world there is need. We are overwhelmed by the masses and the need to the point that it becomes paralyzing at times. I have felt the weight. I have seen the burden carried by others. I know that this is a reality. And for that reason, this pieces of paper – and the ensuing message that it sings, has traveled with me from Grove City, to Guatemala, to Virginia, Slippery Rock, each camp that I have worked at, each youth retreat, mission trip and classroom. The starfish to me represents so much more than an echinoderm.

A starfish reminds me to take my focus off of the masses and try to love and encourage just one. And slowly but surely, love is spread. A difference can be made.

My heart’s desire is to be available for whatever God has for me. And I ask God to cross paths with those that I can encourage. Today I was reminded of how God works and I don’t even realize it. I find myself asking if I have done enough. I feel my heart questioning. If I have made a difference. If I have loved as He would have loved. If I have been obedient to what He has asked of me.

Trying to cross that cultural line multiplies the difficulty. And today, God answered that one. Reminding me that HE cares about the little things. I worry about how I was perceived. And how to encourage beyond my cultural level of comfort. But God reminds me that it is He that speaks through the words. If I am willing, He is able.

Often we do not know if that starfish reached the ocean again, but I LOVE it when years later I see or hear the testimony of one of my former students and see them swimming freely, confidently in the sea. Oh how my heart leaps for joy.

And so I pray, that as the beach goes on for miles and I continue to walk, that God continues to use me and guide me. And I am grateful for the privilege that it is to walk beside students through their journey.

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While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

 

 

 

 

 

Open Gates

How are things progressing at the hospital?  What is your patient load?  What changes have happened?

These are all questions that I get on a regular basis.  And ones that are difficult to answer because each week it is different.  Except the fact that the people keep continuing to come.  More people are coming on scheduled clinic days and the ultrasound, pediatric room, chronic room and general consulta rooms are getting a lot of use.  The laboratory is up and running as well as the pharmacy.  Take a look at what it looks like with people.

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 They accepted their first overnight guest a few weeks ago, a little boy who had severe pneumonia.  His family works for us so it gave us grace in being able to figure out how best to work out shifts and care.  But as the clinics expand, they will be taking in more overnight patients and more critical needs.

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 Staff are being hired and trained and numbers are being added weekly. 

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They are finishing the roof for the second story which will be on call/ office space/ classrooms.

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The operating rooms are near completion and will be ready to roll when the physicians and staff are able to take on that responsibility.

 

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Along with that, will be the birthing rooms and postnatal care.

 

They are finishing the last of the walls and everything is looking more pristine each day.  There are so many small, small details that go into a hospital from what happens in the office to medical records to sheets and new staff and the kitchen.  The amount of decisions that have to be made are endless.

 

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As I flew over the hospital and watched it come to life in front of my eyes, I am reminded over and over again of God’s faithfulness.  Of the itty bitty parts of a vision have come to reality.  And how God’s words have not fallen on deaf ears.  If you build it, they will come.  And that has been true.  There are so many small, small pieces that have gone together to make this a reality and God deserves all of the credit for that one.

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The prayer room is getting more use and putting Christ at the center of all we do.

Rooted

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I have walked this mountain at least seventy times.

And over the last month I have been contemplating a question. There are few trees on this mountain, but where there are trees, they appear to be growing out of rocks. Last week I passed by a rock that had been totally destroyed by the roots. So much that the roots had broken the rock to almost appear as if there was soil.

And I wondered, why would a tree choose to be planted here, in this rock? As I looked around there was plenty of soil base – away from the rocks. In my opinion, everywhere else but the rock would be more hospitable to a tree.   But I see no trees coming from the soil. As I gaze across the mountain side, each tree is rooted within a rock.

Why?

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From what I know about rocks, there is not much nourishment that comes from rocks . It would be hard to find water within a rock. And how can those tiny roots begin to penetrate the hard surface? Yet, unless my eyes deceive me, this has happened. For more than a hundred trees. And thousands of seeds have fallen to the ground, where there is soil, and yet not one has taken roots. What is this phenomenon?

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I ask myself, what can I learn from the tree?  What does this one lesson have for me.  What should I be learning from these trees?

The rock provides protection.

The rock provides a foundation.

There has to be a security in the rock. Shelter.

Pushing through a rock to grow sure develops perseverance. It develops strength. The roots of those trees must cling to the rock to remain alive. And we too must cling to our rock – Jesus. Who is alive. Who does provide nourishment. Who is stable.

I have thought, “I wonder what that would feel like to be that root?” To push the rock. To break the rock. There must be discouragement with each breakthrough. Because one layer of rock just leads to the next and the next. This tiny tree has no idea of what it’s getting itself into.  Yet it is helpless.  It cannot move to another location. It merely clings to the rock and gives its best effort. It merely grows where it is planted. Is that it what we should be doing as well?

Where do we find ourselves planted? Do I plant myself within the rock? Or do I seek fertile ground? Often I think we see open ground that appears to be a good place to take root, yet it doesn’t have the shelter that the rock does. It doesn’t provide a base.  I seek the comfortable so as not to be vulnerable to the elements.  I have the idea that I want to persevere, but I am slow to press into the rock.

And so today,  may I learn today from this tree.  From all of the trees.

That in order to stand the test of the time, I must find the Rock and root myself there.  Any nourishment that I need will be provided.

 

“The Lord is my Rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my Rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2

 

 

 

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Burdened

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 My heart’s cry so often is… Break my heart for what breaks yours…

I am burdened.

Again.

In a different way.  But I have recognized it as a heart burden.  A grieving.

It is easy to be in an area of need and be burdened.  But being in the states for a longer period of time and then being in the city has given me three different perspectives of the world in a short period of time.  And to each place, there are adjustments to be made.  Yet, there is a fresh way of seeing life here as well.  Being away gave me perspective.  Turned my eyes from the focus here to the focus there.  Being away reminded me of changes in the world and changes in myself.  A perspective that isn’t developed in a short trip back to the states.

And so, to step back into life in the valley here, in a way is to see it again afresh.  Many things were forgotten and my senses take it in again.  I see the burden.  I feel the burden.  I feel the difference.

Burdened.  There is something here.  Burdened for the older generation.  As they lived through a war and are on the other side.  As development happens, yet they cling to their old ways. Burdened as technology passes them up and I see the structure of family changing.  They are saddened.  They are struggling to understand the change.  I pass an old man a few times a week along the side of the mountain.  He is in his field with his hoe in hand.  Barefoot.  Trying to plant a crop of corn so that he can continue to eat.  Yet he barely has the strength to raise his hoe.

Burdened for the middle generation as they seek to work.  As they look for jobs and to provide for their families.  As they have hope now for change and as the Western influence comes.  Burdened because there are more materialistic things for them to desire, yet in this valley, the opportunities for jobs are scarce.  If they have an education and want to stay here, they find themselves in a corrupt system to struggle for a job.  You must be the right political party or family or associated with the right people.  Burdened because they want to provide a better life than their childhood produced.  Many of this generation has left leaving mothers to raise their children alone or aunts or grandmothers who now have the burden of raising children left behind by immigration.

And the burden grows. For the younger generation.  As I have listened to conversations and dialogues, I hear a change in the way that young people are talking.  Here in this valley.  They want out.  They want something different.  They hope for something that they have not had.  They want an education.  They want a change to dream.  They want the things they see in movies.  Many of them are looking to the states as an answer to that.  They know that there are opportunities out there, and yet they are ill equipped to embrace them.  They have pint-sized practice at decision making.  And yet, they are making decisions that completely effect their path for the rest of their lives.

And so as I listen to the youth here talk about their futures.  As I talk with students who have left to study.  As I talk with those from the mountains that have come to town, the general consensus is that they are searching.  Many go to the bigger cities.  Many go to the states.  They are searching for something that would satisfy.  Something that will help them make a better life for themselves than the previous generation had.

I had a flashback as I was thinking.  That much of what is happening here is not much different from what I have seen in my hometown.  Or in the small towns around me in Western Pennsylvania.  They were mining towns.  Oil towns.  Boom towns.  The economy was built on what was around them.  Over time the people left, the industries were not able to keep up with the change.  There were no jobs.  There was nothing to entice young families to stay.  Adolescents graduated, went away to college and settled elsewhere where there were opportunities and promises and a better job market.

I have a soft heart.  I am often burdened.  But this burden is real. I am constantly thinking of how to break that cycle.  How to provide hope.  How to create jobs that will keep the educated here, within their communities.  Bettering the town.  To have role models to point to.  And above all, for God’s mercy to shine in this country.

Our Timeline

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It has struck me profoundly over the last months that each Christian walk is dotted with different milestones, like a timeline in their life. 

Not necessarily a timeline of events, but a timeline of discovery.   Internal discovery.

There is the milestone when we understood obedience, or trust, the authority of the believer, receiving forgiveness, being forgiven, our identity in Christ, hearing God’s voice, having peace whatever the circumstances, being loved by an unconditional love, how to walk the path of grief. 

This does not even scratch the surface of discoveries that we have on our Christian walk.  There are so many things that we deal with and areas in which we grow.  But what has struck me as I have listened to and been a part of different groups and heard stories from the heart over these last months, is that there is no progression that is right or wrong.  Some learn God’s unconditional love before they have an experience of deep grief,  Some learn to walk the path of grief before they experience unconditional love. For some people they may learn to hear God’s voice at the age of nine and others at the age of fifty nine.

My rational mind would say that we as Christians should have a timeline or a check list and that the growth that God leads us through should be sort of uniform.  But it definitely is not that way.  Most definitely.  God takes the scales off of my eyes about one thing after I have been a Christian for twenty years, and someone else may have learned that in their second year and yet someone else in their fiftieth year.  Quite creative I would say!  We are all made unique in image and personality.  But we are made unique in how God revels Himself to us as well  

It is as if we each personally have our own race to run.  Our own puzzle to put together.  Our own experience to undergo.  And each experience draws us deeper and deeper towards that deeper life in Christ.  Many times I wish I would have reacted differently, chosen a different path or talked less and listened more.  But then, if those circumstances hadn’t happened in that order, I would not be the person that I am today.  And so I am grateful for my struggles.  Grateful for my downfalls and errors.  Grateful for mistakes that have caused me to grow down.  To grow deeper.  I am stronger.  I have a deeper faith. 

Let’s us run that race today.  Towards a deeper life.  Accepting the trials as they come.  And learning from each one, not wavering in our faith as we know that Jesus has us in the palm of His hand.

 

Hebrews 12:1-3 ” Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

Trustfall

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

 I recently read my very first post on my blog and nothing seems to have changed.  This life we live essentially is a trustfall – for you, for me, for all of us that put our hope in something that is unseen.   Here is that post – trustfall

Four summers ago I stared at my blog and wondered what name I wanted to give to it, because I thought that be important.  It would be a constant reminder to me of why I do the things that I do. I settled on “Trustfall” because a life lived in a foreign country is always going to be founded on trust that God is who He says He is and will catch me with each cliff that I step off of.  Most of the time there is an element of blind faith that enters into the path of obedience. And this weekend, I sat in church and listened to a message that resonated in my heart.  Resonated with the fact that I am called to run a race and not just remain on the treadmill in training.  And so my eyes focus ahead of me, feeling as if I am at that cusp of the trust fall again.  Feeling as if there is much unknown around the bend.  And still, I run.  Eyes focused forward.  Trusting.  And it is with that that I step into whatever God has for me in October.  I look to Him, the author and finisher of our faith to set the road before me, to put the boards in place , to take that walk of trust.   Let’s all take that leap of faith this month and trust that God is who He says He is an amidst the chaos of life, He is able.

Complete

Isaiah writes…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…. So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

 There are words that sometimes creep into my mind when my mind is still.  Irresponsibility. One of the words that floats into my mind on a weekly basis.  One of the words that I have had to dismiss.  One of the words I have labeled as a  lie that has tugged at my heart some over the last few months.  Never have I not worked.  Never have I not had ten projects to do when I finished the one I was working on.  Never did I not have an agenda to fill.  And so as I have waded through these last months of complete chaos to me without a predetermined agenda, the word irresponsible continued to come to mind.  I know that I wasn’t irresponsible through it, yet it was this complete reverse of what I was used to that it feels like chaos at times.  I know I was to rest, but in my mind I tried to put some sort of order to that rest.

But whenever I tried to be responsible.  Whenever I tried to have a schedule or a time frame or expectations, they ended in closed doors.  I tried to find some part time work, closed doors.  I tried to put life in neat boxes, closed door.  I tried to make a schedule, it changed.

And so what that did was to put me on God’s time.

 A complete surrender.

 And the result of that was to experience complete provision.  It wasn’t what I was looking for.  It wasn’t my expectation.  But God threw out dates and experiences and circumstances that can only make sense in His timing.  Provision in a way that I hadn’t really experienced before.  Reminding me that all I do, wherever I am is really His anyway.  And His provision has strengthened my faith more than anything else during the last months.

And so, as I reflect on Isaiah’s words, as I look to make God’s thoughts my thoughts and God’s ways my ways.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I only want God’s timing.  Because He is the one that never fails.  God knows the purpose.  God promises that His words do not return void.  And so, as His words resonate in my mind, my prayer is that it accomplishes what He purposed.

It is sort of like a telescope.  Those ones where you can extend it and extend it and extend it.  With each new level you see new things, have new experiences, and gain new understanding.  Once you start to extend the telescope out, you don’t want to stop.  You want to see the intricate pieces behind the workings of the universe.  And so it is with our lives as well.  Through each experience, through each season, around each bend, we gain invaluable experiences that take us deeper and deeper in understanding and perspective of how God puts the pieces together.  I am grateful for each experience, although painful some might be, that grow me deeper and deeper and expand my perspective.

 And so what that left me to do was to search myself, to hear God clearer and to develop a different perspective.

 A deeper perspective.