Even my top 12 knows my plans changed.

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What are your nine?

Like the rest of Instagram, I downloaded an app today that showed me the top photos from my year. One click and there they were: photos from my life. Some I have forgotten about, and some I wake up thinking about on most days. In that little square were moments from every corner of my life— every person in every month and stretched from here to Asia.

Am I really supposed to look at that and not wonder, “Is this really my life? That I get to do these things and know these people?” Because as I stared at my phone, I lost my words. I had nothing romantic to say. Nothing inspirational to share. Only awe and wonder for the things my good, good Father crafted out of the chaos of 2016.

:: :: ::

Plans changed in 2016. That’s a lesson I’m going to keep learning.

The thing about that top nine is that, honestly, some of my favorite moments of the year weren’t captured. My phone wasn’t around. The camera was tucked away in my bag. My sweetest moments were so far from distraction, that all I had was my presence to keep them burning in my memory–

1. I had to tell one of the most respected, Godly men I know that I couldn’t accept the summer job at the camp that showed me Home. As soon I spoke the words, “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” and hung up the phone, I fell. I turned around into Travis’ arms. He caught me. We stood as the coffee brewed beside us, as my shoulders shook from crying. “This is like a break-up. This is so hard,” I sobbed. It was a hard moment, but he was there and I saw that. I was glad he saw me too.

2. There were times when my dad showed up to church, and I wasn’t expecting it. My face lit up and I threw all my stuff on the floor, just so he could sit beside me in that sweet, country church’s long pew. When he sat on the couch on Christmas, flashlight in hand and shining on the pages of a new Bible, my heart broke.

3. Every party my mom planned. From my surprise birthday party, where granny gave me exactly what I needed to purchase my passport, to the party before I got to put that passport to use. Momma believes in people and believes in celebrating them. I love that about her, because those parties came in moments that encouraged me, inspired me, and filled me brim-full of complete recognition that people are so, so good. And not only me, but the parties and love she shows everyone. Pictures don’t do those kind of celebrations justice.

4. There was the night that Travis and I sat behind Polston for nearly two hours as he told me about a missions retreat he led music at. Prior to going, he had been anxious and unexcited. But, by the end of the weekend he was so full of what the Father had done there. He was so eager to tell me about it. I listened to his stories, and watched in admiration as his heart moved closer.

5. And Hong Kong— more than I’ll ever be able to share with you from beginning to end. But if we were going to start from the beginning, I’d tell you about flying for the first time. It was a moment of complete surrender to my Father and confidence in His good, good works. It was a moment that challenged the beauty of creation I have known in sweet Cheatham County, as I watched the world below me and knew: He did this.

6. Every single day overseas. The day my teammates got up on stage to dance in front of the entire camp. There were those times when my students told me— acne ridden and curry-stained braces—, “Teacher, teacher, you’re so beautiful. And Travis is so handsome.” And every time they asked to take selfies and every time they let me play a round of uno. When they asked me why I seem so happy, and I rejoiced in the chance to tell them about my Jesus.  Those aren’t moments you take pictures of. They’re just moments you replay in your head, and hope you never forget.

7. Saying goodbye to Asia. I hand wrote every student in my class a note, and told them why I think they’re important. Special. Valuable. Worth it. Most of us said goodbye that day, as we cried, hugged tightly, and promised to see each other again one day. The next day, some of us went to the beach. And I dreaded the clock hitting the early afternoon. But it did, and once again: goodbye came. My best friend, Amy, and I walked toward the train heading in the opposite direction as our students waved behind us. I couldn’t look at them. They were so precious, and my heart broke as I stepped on the car and found a seat. My eyes welled as the train moved forward, “I hate this. Even more than teaching for three weeks, getting over jet lag, dealing with the humidity— this is the worst part of this entire trip. What a cost to love people.

8. And when I got back to the States, I met with my hometown friends, Han and Kay, for the first time in over 6 weeks. I met baby Rhonan for the first time, and heard about Kay’s engagement. We sat until the queso got cold, and the people came and left around us. We sat for three and a half hours, and I still felt like it was too soon to leave.

9. Seeing Nashville for the first time since my plane landed broke my heart because it didn’t sparkle like it used to. I realized my dreams were changing, and that fill me with fear and excitement like I’ve never known.

10. When I met refugees in Nashville for the first time, and it gave my heart a home since Asia. As we left the apartment, the leader I was with looked at me in excitement and said, “That was the best first visit I’ve ever had.” And I got to keep coming back.

11. And I can’t forget the innumerable times I’d scramble over after class to Erin’s Lipscomb apartment, just to sit on her floor and catch up on the week. The night we both talked about marrying our boyfriends, we walked across campus completely giddy at our plans. We stood at my car, and she hugged me bye, telling me, “I’m so glad we can be in this together.”

12. Everytime my baby sister tells me, “Sissy, I love you.

These are the moments that didn’t make it in that top 9, but they shaped me and made this year something special. I’ll cling to those pictures, but my head is spinning at the memory of these people, places, and things– who am I that I get to know them?

:: :: ::

2016 was a fire. Her flames were strong and quick, and she refined me like gold so that I could write on December 31st: I am closer to who I was made to be. I’m closer than I was last December, closer than I was on my birthday in February, closer than I was when I flew over the Pacific in June, and closer than I was before I began packing up my dorm room in November.

I am so, so close to the girl I was made to be— and it’s all because of 2016.

She led me to difficult questions where I stood face to face, grappling with answers that could either hurt or heal. She showed me what real anxiety looks like, and with tears in her eyes, showed me how it smothers any grace, peace, or joy I could hope for in my life. She fearlessly taught me about love— all the hurt, goodness, pain, and indescribable joy that comes with it. She gave me people to call a tribe. She gave me prayers in the loudness and even more prayers in the silence. She gave me more uncanny coincidences that I could remember, and led me closer to my Father. She gave me some great pictures, long talks over coffee, and moments that led me to scribble across innumerable pages in worn journals.

There were good days. There were bad days. Some that left me so hungry to keep climbing the mountain, and others that brought me to my knees. 2016 was the greatest adventure I couldn’t have penned word for word— and if she taught me anything it’s that plans change and the greatest moments can’t be compacted to a little collage.

Who knows what next year’s collage will look like— I couldn’t guess it now, even if I tried. But, I’m so eager for it. I’m so eager to fight more. Love more. Serve more. See more. Do more. Have more conversations that change my heart and fill me with the words I wholly believe the world needs to hear.

And if that’s all she had to offer— changing my dreams and my own soul in the process— it was worth it and it is propelling me faster, faster, and faster into January 1st….

Hey, 2017, get at me. I’m so ready for you.

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A Lesson Learned: volume 2

Being at the heart of a Good and Perfect will doesn’t mean you won’t miss the things you know most.

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Leaving home is always hard for me. Something about saying goodbye, and leaving my place of comfort and safety hits me in the feels. And when I left for Hong Kong back in June, I did so knowing I would miss out on weeks of life at home.

It’s not that Joelton, Tennessee is anything the significant, but the people there are the ones who have rooted me and helped me grow. And I left knowing that I wouldn’t be there to grow with them in those few weeks. I wouldn’t be able to laugh with them. Swap the stories over coffee. Wrap my arms around their necks when I missed them.

Leaving Joelton meant leaving all of that, and trading it for some 8,000 miles and limited phone service. This probably should have been hard lesson number one.

:: :: ::

On my second morning of teaching in Hong Kong, I woke up before my alarm rang and saw a text from Kay announcing the birth of Han’s baby.

With crusty eyes and a sleepy hand, I turned the screen away from me and said, “What?” before rolling over and falling back asleep. When I woke up again later, this time in tune with my alarm, my first thought ran through my head like a dream I had almost forgotten: Han had her baby. Han had her baby. Baby Rhonan is finally, finally here.

The thought repeated as I got dressed, washed my face, and brushed my teeth. And as I began my routine commute on the MTR toward Tai Wai, and then to Kowloon Tong and Choi Hung where we left to get on the mini bus, the thought ran relentlessly through my head.

While I had been sleeping in the night, my best friend had welcomed a new piece of life— created for wonderful and mighty purposes— into the world, knowing that he would impact every life around him and change the world in his own ways. Although I knew he would come while I was overseas and far from home, it hadn’t quite hit me that I would miss it.

But, they sent me pictures. Gave me a brief summary of the labor story. Told me how much he weighed. Assured me he was a cute baby. As I read and tried to piece it together as best I could, I came back to this thought: I wasn’t there. I missed it.

And when all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around my sweet Han and her baby boy, my heart hurt, knowing it would be another 4 weeks before our triumphal greeting.

:: :: ::

Just a couple days later, and it was our first Friday of teaching. This meant I had survived 5 full days in a foreign classroom, and my journal pages had lines of written memories and prayers to prove it.

After the first part of our lesson, during our brief mid-morning break, I reached for my phone hidden in my desk to check the time. Before my eyes even saw the clock, I saw the missed FaceTime calls from Kay. “Wow, she must really want to say hey,” I thought. I looked at the phone for a few seconds before I knew how, or if, I should respond during the class day.

I had a few more minutes of break, and although long phone calls from Kay are expected, several in a row are not. Hoping everything was okay, I told myself, “Just 5 minutes. Just a 5 minute call.” I stood by the window, listened for those high pitched FaceTime beeps, and waited for the call to connect. When it finally did, I saw my best friend’s smiling face for the first time in two weeks. We said hey and hi, and some of my students gathered around to wave hey and hi too.

As sweet as this moment was, it was short lived. We couldn’t see a thing past the “Low Connection” message and a black screen. I had forgotten to warn her that my service in Hong Kong was not what it is back home. Even if I couldn’t see her moving in perfect time, it was so good to hear her voice in a place so far from home and my familiar places.

In the midst of the chaos of pleading with the service to pick up our call, I turned around in time to see my team leader walking in the room. Just when I thought the timing for everything happening in those few moments couldn’t be worse, the girl who is responsible for my actions in the school and for my place on the team walked in to hear my students loudly enjoying their break time, their teacher trying to pick up a phone call, and absolutely no order or structure to hold it all together.

As Kay continued to get my attention and sync up our words, I quickly told her, “I can’t talk, gotta go, bye, love you!” and hung up. I can’t say that went in the journals as my most graceful moment.

As we left break time and moved into our second portion of teaching for the morning, I checked the time once more on my phone. And again, I didn’t see the clock. Instead, I saw the notifications from Kay and this time, she had sent me pictures.

I didn’t even open them. It dawned on me what the purpose of our call had been. Even though my heart stopped and every thought in my head froze, I knew I needed to keep going. There was a classroom of 23 students looking to me for the next hour and 40 minutes. I couldn’t think about or look at the photos that waited for me on the other side of that lock screen.

But as soon as class was over, I reached for my phone. And sure enough, my predictions proved correct.

Kay was engaged to marry the man of her dreams. With a ring on her finger and a smile on her face, this was my announcement to the moment that we had dreamt up for years now. My head raced around and around.

Yes!

It finally happened!

How! Is this real life!

What!

I’m so happy!

She has a ring!

We can wedding plan!

Oh, I know she’s so happy!

Jordan did real good!

How did I not guess this?!

AHHHH!

Even though these thoughts, and so many more took over every thought I had, at the center was that raw feeling of knowing I missed it. I missed probably the sweetest day of my best friend’s life. And again: my heart hurt knowing that all I wanted was to squeal and hear the entire story, but it would be another 4 weeks until I could be there to rejoice with her.

:: :: ::

One day this all hit me. Somewhere under the sky of Hong Kong, it hit me. I don’t think it was that day, or even the next day. But at some point, I cried and confessed, “Yup, this is hard. This is the hardest thing that could be happening in my world right now, and I have no clue what to do with it.”

I wanted to believe I was rejoicing from the other side of the world — and some moments, I did believe that. But I remember much more vividly crying out and telling my Father about how unfair it felt to miss so many sweet moments from home. How crummy it felt to not sit beside Han and cradle her baby boy, or how weird it felt to not be there to high-five Jordan and gawk over Kay’s hand. Oh, how disappointed I was to not be there for the most life-transformational moments my friends had been hoping and waiting for.

But at some point during over the coming days, He reminded me: being in the heart of My good and perfect will doesn’t mean you won’t miss the things you know and love most.

It doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel like you let people down. It doesn’t mean you won’t attempt to carry that guilt. It doesn’t mean you won’t sacrifice some things. It doesn’t mean you won’t miss home. But My child, you have to make a choice: are you going to believe the enemy or Me?

I brought baby Rhonan into the world.

I allowed Kay and Jordan’s relationship to grow to this place.

I called you to be here in Hong Kong.

In My perfect and purposeful sovereignty, I crafted each of these moments for such a time as this. I’m writing every story here in Hong Kong, and every story in Tennessee too. Do you believe me when I promise to be in the middle of each and every one, even when you can’t be?

:: :: ::

I chose to believe Him. I chose to believe that He was at work in more ways that I could pen in my tattered journal, and that the moments He was asking me to give up were nothing compared to the chapters He had coming ahead of us.

Even though my homesickness was heavy those following days, His words resounded in my mind as I remembered how completely, wonderfully, unexplainably special it was that my best friends and I were all called to different places this summer. And in all of our uniqueness and different seasons, He had made these wonderful plans for us.

When I left for Hong Kong, Han was pregnant and raising a sweet girl with her husband. Kay was waiting for a ring, and preparing for her own trip to Jamaica. And I was asking for a life calling and for a greater love for the boy who holds my hand. By the time I hugged their necks in Tennessee again, 6 weeks later, Han was the mother to a sweet girl and and a sweet boy. Kay had a beautiful ring on her finger and had beautiful stories to share. And I had risen to a calling I never thought I would hear, and longed for that boy to be by my side during it all.

And when we sat in the Mexican restaurant for nearly 4 hours, catching up on everything we had experienced apart, I knew it was worth it. Every sacrifice, every tear, every time I had said, “I’m rejoicing from the other side of the world, but longing to be with you!” was worth it.

Choosing to believe it was my Heavenly Father had hand-written each story was worth it.