Sunday, November 13, 2011

Birthdays, blessings, and burdens

This is the first time I am writing to all of you as a 25-year old...eek!!  How in the world did I get to be 25?  I feel like I was just 17 a week ago.  It's crazy how fast time flies the older you get.  I'll admit, I was a little worried about not being around my usual friends and family for my birthday; I thought that I wouldn't enjoy the day as much.  Well, was I ever wrong!  It turned out to be the best birthday yet!  The day began bright and early with an e-mail from my dad....they usually call me once it is officially my birthday, but e-mail was the only route this year.  My family had also sent me cards and I opened those before I even stepped out of bed.  Out of normal routine, I came downstairs before we left, grabbed my luncbox, opened it to get my breakfast, and surprisingly found a card.  I had mentioned to Dom that my mom used to write notes and put them in my lunchbox, so he wrote me a birthday note and placed it in my lunchbox.  How thoughtful!!  When I got to school, everyone greeted me with enthusiasm and hugs (students always make birthdays so much better)!  For all of you who were expecting me to meet someone over here, well...I have a boyfriend.  He is from Honduras, has the cutest smile, and is in the 4th, not actually my boyfriend, but he thinks he is.  Little Manuel brought me the most beautiful calla lilies for my birthday!  God love him, he made his mom take him out the night before so he could get them.  He was so excited to give them to me.  The day continued to get better and students were being very sneaky and after lunch, Mr. Dom had to "distract" me.  Once they were ready, they blindfolded me and led me to my classroom.  When they opened the door and took away the blindfold, I was surprised with music, shouts of birthday wishes, food, and decorations.  My students had rearranged the classroom and had the coolest party waiting for me....complete with Justin Bieber singing "Happy Birthday" (not the real thing, unfortunately)!  They had brought snacks, made cookies and punch, bought pink plates because pink is my favorite, made a beautiful birthday banner, and even made hand-made treat bags for all the teachers.  I was blown-away at the effort, time, and thoughtfulness they put into everything.  We spent the rest of the afternoon having a dancing party, complete with the cha-cha slide, macarena, and cotton eye joe (just for me).  Mrs. Julie's students made me a birthday video (on my facebook), Mr. Dom's students made a huge card that the whole school signed, along with many other cards, notes, and gifts.  While gifts are great, the love they showed me was the greatest gift of all!  After school, us teachers went to the mall and then met a group of friends for sushi!  The birthday blessings didn't end there...friends paid for my dinner and had bought gifts.  On our way home, we stopped at the grocery store and while standing in line, was approached by a needy family.  The mother needed toothpaste for her little girl.  My heart broke at the sight, so I gave her the money she needed for the toothpaste.  However, my heart still hurt for her; I could do more than just give money for toothpaste.  With the financial gifts I've been blessed with, God was able to use me to bless this family with toothpaste and a few groceries.  Dom even gave them some extra money.  Now, that's how every birthday should be to others, rather than receiving all day.  To put an end to the day, Mama Tye and Pastor Pete had made a delicious cake for me.  God has truly blessed me with the most wonderful new friends and family.  I felt so loved the entire day, not just from those in Honduras, but from so many of those at home who took time to write to me. I was not excited to turn 25, but it has definitely gotten off to a good start!  I think it may be a really good year! ;o)

My kiddos

The beautiful table and decorations

Hand-made gift bags
Link to my birthday surprise video
Link to my class dancing to "Cotton Eye Joe".  Thought I'd bring a little country to Honduras.

So, I have always been a big believer in that God works in mysterious ways, and this may seem like a very small way, but it was one that has meant so much to me.  I have been wanting a really good book to read for my quiet time and had heard awesome things about "Radical" by David Platt.  There really aren't any options for buying such a book here and downloading sucks up our internet.  God must have known that I wanted and needed to read this book because my Aunt Ricki bought it for me and sent it as a surprise.  I was thrilled!!  I have spent the last few days reading, and let me tell you, it's intense.  If you have not picked up this book, you need to.  I am just two chapters in and it is changing my life.  The whole revelation behind the book is how we have taken Christ and the gospel and manipulated it into what we think it should be.

I want to share a quick excerpt with you.  Just to preface, Platt is writing about a trip he was planning to take in 2004 to Sudan.  He was reading a Christian news publication and came across two headlines side by side.

On the left one headline read, "First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building"....On the right was a much smaller aticle.  The headline for it read, "Baptist Relief Helps Sudanese Refugees"...Now, remember what was on the left: "First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building."  On the right the article said, "Baptists have raised $5,000 to send to refugees in western Sudan."  
Five thousdand dollars.
That is not enough to get a plan into Sudan, much less one drop of water to people who need it.

I literally gasped out loud when I read this.  When did we become this way?  When did our priorities become the outward appearance of buildings, rather than the needs and salvation of people?  I will be the first to admit that I focus too much on the outward and what looks good.  Like I said, this book changes your life!  I won't spoil it for you, but we have created a God in our minds that isn't even close to the true God.  We like our nice buildings, catchy songs, and fun retreats, but what if our relationship with God meant that we had to hide in dark room terrified that we would be killed if we were found?  The book talks about this; there are people in Asia who spend 12 or more hours a day in pursuit of God and His word, while hiding in a dark room - no lights, comfortable chairs, screens, projectors, or instruments.  Would God and His word be enough for you?  Shame on me for feeling so sad and sorry for myself when i first arrived here.  Yes, I was away from what I considered "normal" or "comfortable" but I did not have to hide; I live in a beautiful house, always have food to eat, transportation, and spend my day teaching at a Christian school where we worship God freely.  What will it take for us to realize that God IS enough?  I urge you, read this book, learn from it, and step away from comfortable.  Nothing Christ did was comfortable.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wearing away the surface

The past week or so has been crazy busy!  We were wrapping up the first quarter of school, which means lots of review and then exams.  As a group, we are all beginning to get involved in many different “extracurricular activities”, which makes for really long days.  Just to get you up to speed…
  • I have started teaching the girls some basic cheerleading moves and cheers.  Our school does not have a mascot or colors, so we have been brainstorming ideas.  As of now, our favorite is the Honors Academy Crusaders and our colors being royal blue and gold.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  I am dying to buy the girls little t-shirts, skirts/shorts, and big bows for their hair!  If you would be interested in donating to the cause, just let me know! :o)
  • The four of us teachers are becoming quite the little family.  We have begun praying together at dinner, having “family talks” in the evening, and are really working as a team.  Honestly, we didn’t do this until recently.  I expressed that I didn’t feel like we were uplifting and encouraging one another in the way we should, so we all talked about it, and come to find out, we all had the same thoughts.  We also talked about how we really wanted to be more than just “teachers.”  Yes, teaching is a top priority, but what are we doing that is really ministering to the people of Honduras?  We are starting by preparing a meal once a week for our neighborhood.  We pass so many people on our road but we never stop to talk with them.  We thought providing a free meal would be a good start!  We are also going to host a Thanksgiving Food Drive at the school.  We want to get the kids involved in helping those in need, so we are starting to collect food and other items for families in need.  If you would like to help support this effort, just let me know! :o)
  • My birthday is officially less than a week away…25…half way to 50…mid-twenties…UGH!  Can’t say that I’m super excited about this one. 
  • I can now say that I get to go home NEXT MONTH!!  I really love my life in Honduras, but I cannot even express the excitement I feel about going home for Christmas.  There is literally nothing I have ever been more excited about!
I know I always say this but only because it’s so true…leaving home and being taken away from everything you know really surfaces so many thoughts, emotions, questions, confusions, hopes for the future, and so much more.  Over the past few weeks, I have been exposed to many things that I am not familiar with, and some things that I’m not comfortable with.  It is hard to understand how as Christians we can all have so many different opinions and beliefs about certain issues.  I have also become aware of the fact that Christians can be some of the most judgmental and close-minded people.  It is a very unfortunate truth.  I’ve come to realize that I have spent most of my life just skimming the surface of Christianity; the very “basic” story of growing up in church, going to Sunday School, youth group, church events, “reading” the Bible, praying, and being a “good” Christian.  While all of these are wonderful and help strengthen our fellowship with God and others, being a Christian is so much deeper and I feel that I am just beginning to grasp the full concept.  What I have realized about my faith as a Christian since I’ve been in Honduras:

  • When you feel all alone and like you have 1,000 pounds weighing you down, God truly is the only One who can give you rest.  So many times I have gone to other people for answers that would make me feel better in that moment, but lasting peace only comes from Christ.
  • The Bible is so much more than an index of feel-good quotes whenever we just need something to make us feel better.
  • When we seek joy and God’s desires for us, not our desires, we are able to focus less on ourselves and more on others. 
  • We are made from God’s image and He is made from ours.  I heard this in a message and it really hit me hard.  Do people see me or do they God in me?  My prayer is that I am just the vessel that God uses, while He is the one manning the vessel.
  • Being stripped of everything “normal,” comfortable, and reassuring is the hardest, most difficult experience, but is also the most rewarding, strengthening, and revealing experience.  Sometimes God has to distance us from every distraction so that He may reveal buried feelings and expose desires, aspirations, and truths that we would have otherwise never known.
 I sometimes wonder who I will be at the end of this journey.  I can already see and feel myself changing.  I also think about the challenges I may face when I move back home.  Life in a third-world country is so indescribably different from life in the United States.  God is really speaking to me about the next step in my life and I pray that while I’m in Honduras, I seek every opportunity and take advantage of my time here.  As the days pass by, I pray that I am able to break the surface and truly be a vessel of Christ from the inside out, not the other way around.