This post is part of Andrea Lucado’s series, “Notes to Your Younger Self,” celebrating the release of her new book, English Lessons. It’s an honour to be part of it; this is a note to myself when I was in the middle years of university. At the end of this post, there are details about a fun book giveaway, so read on and find out how you can enter. You can also read this post at Andrea’s blog.
It was a solid concrete mass of a highway that got you there. Straight on Highway 412, a right onto Holly Street and then a slight left on West University Avenue. On the left across from the cathedral is a graveyard. Concrete tombstones dotted the green field, there were trees and a gravel path that wove between the plots. You went there to run and to think, brown and red leaves crunching under your feet in the autumn and frozen air burning up your lungs in the winter. It was a quiet place for your thoughts. No one would know about the fear, the anxieties, the despair. The graveyard was almost always empty.

University started when you were 19, a Sri Lankan missionary kid from the Philippines. Your mother hugged you goodbye on the concrete pavement in front of the women’s dorm, and you walked inside, into an American life on a small, Christian campus. There were daily classes, the all-you-can drink soda machines in the cafeteria, shopping at Wal-Mart and chapel services twice a week.

It has taken us 12 years since graduation to begin unraveling the space between the days.

Your life was going to be a mistake-free, dead straight road, heading in one direction. Jesus, heaven, peace. Was that the destination? There were visible off ramps and some detour signs, but you couldn’t possibly take a break from the straight road. If you did, you were lost with no way back. Your certainty was your security.

I see your fears, the ones that keep you inside the four walls of your dorm room. You’re afraid of making a mistake, of failing, you’re afraid of sin. Earning your way into belonging and love is the only way to satisfy your fears, but you can’t cope with the work it involves. So you wait through it. There is an unknown world of culture and calling right outside the door, and you don’t know how to navigate it. You think that by living less, by limiting your decisions, by staying safe you will keep yourself away from the unknown towns on the side of the highway.

One day you get off the straight Arkansas road, fly to the far side of the sea, travel around the world. You get married, you have children, and as the days tick over, you fight to live.

But I need you to know that there are so many mistakes, so many failures, and sin that so easily entangles, and I’m sorry, but this is life.

It is full of darkness.

You learned to fear the things that seemed big, so you stayed away from a second drink and didn’t date, but no one told you that selfishness breeds loneliness and pride only leads to destruction and your years can waste away in bitterness. You have no idea how much you will struggle to be truly honest with the man you love, how easy it is to lie about the small things, how easy it will be to not keep your word. You will not always be honest with friends, you will play a role you were not supposed to fill, and when you can’t take it anymore, you will run away from expectations you cannot meet. You will fail so many people.

Darkness will wrestle with you. It will not win, but it will be there. It has to be there. You cannot know the light until you’ve sat in the darkness.

There is a life waiting outside the highway. It will often look like a wilderness, but someone else is there. Did God grab hold of you? Did you grab hold of him? Theologians spend centuries debating how it works, and all you know is that you don’t know, but you are not in the wilderness alone.

His love and his truth remake you away from the straight road, in your mistakes and failures and sins, he is working.

It looks like asking for forgiveness. Often. You will have to learn how to belong to friends, community, husband and family, and learning how to belong to people when you make mistakes is a painful, beautiful lesson in grace. You learn that you don’t have to trust everyone, that building a friendship takes time. Endings become comfortable, you know now that not all things, not all people, not all relationships last forever.

I need you to know that the mistakes and failures lead to redemption and hope – this is the long road of wisdom and experience that you cannot see in a fall and spring semester. But when you turn around and look at the decades, you see the dead things made new, the ashes turning into beauty. It takes time for the spirit of despair to become a garment of praise.

So go ahead and live. Take the back roads and the tree-lined boulevards. Skip on gravel paths, fly down the autobahn, you cannot get lost because you don’t travel alone. He is leading you home.

Notes to Younger self growing up

Fun giveaway time!! I’ve got two copies of English Lessons to giveaway to anyone living in the US, and one copy for someone in Australia (apologies to those in Europe and Asia!). The giveaway is open until Friday, June 9.

To enter: Just leave a comment on this post and tell me, what’s one thing you would go back and say to your younger self? Please also indicate if you are in the US or Australia.

Update: The giveaway is closed, and the winners have been notified. Thanks!

When I was four-years-old, my family moved to a large house on a dirt road in a small province in the Philippines. 

The leaves of mango trees were glossy green, and coconut trees reached their branches for the clouds. On the hot days of the dry season, we felt the sweat trickle down our necks as we sat in front of electric fans. Wet season brought with it daily rain and regular typhoons, the kind that blew trees and electric lines down. Our basement would flood, and we had an assembly line passing buckets along until we emptied it. 

We told the tricycle drivers to take us to Guadalupe, and directed them after a fork in the road to go right, down a slight hill, and stop at the rusted brown gate on the right. Like most houses in the Philippines, there was a tall wall all around the property. At the top of the wall, broken glass pieces had been embedded into the cement when the wall was built, a supposed deterrent to robbers and drug addicts scaling it at night. 

To the left was our neighbour Ka Loreng who had a sari-sari store (literal translation, “variety of things” store) where people bought shampoo in sachets, candy, corn bits in little orange bags and on the hottest day of the year my mother would take us there to buy soda, which Ka Loreng poured into plastic bags. We sipped it out of straws while we walked down the road. 

Across the street was Evie and her three kids, a bit further down the road was her sister-in-law Jubi and her kids. There was a large field next to Evie’s house with corn crops and sometimes, sugar cane. 

To the right of our our house was a plot of land, and three families lived there in several ramshackle huts, in the Philippines they were called squatters. I remember the women, Nanay Ange and Teri, and a girl a little older than me, Leah. The walls were flimsy pieces of cardboard-like wood nailed together, the roofs, corrugated metal. There were no ceilings, some of the floors were long pieces of bamboo patched together, some of the floors were the earth of the ground, flattened slightly. Each hut was one room, mothers, fathers, children all lived together. There was no electricity and no running water.

Continue reading at GraceTable

When February starts, I feel a deep settling in, a sense of, “Here we go.” They say our birthday is the day we entered the world, but I think our lifetimes mark days when we are reborn. February holds most of my beginnings.

On February 4, 2009 I boarded an EasyJet flight from London to Geneva, Switzerland. I was in the middle of my trip around the world and about to head into the one part of the trip that was totally unknown. Most people who travel do it for the sense of adventure, the longing to see new places and meet new people, being in an unknown European city would be a dream, but I still don’t know why I did it. I’m a homebody and an introvert, and I had no interest in Switzerland. If I was going somewhere in Europe, I would have gone to Italy, Greece or Spain, the places that fascinated me from my history textbooks.

My bank account was running low, and the Australian dollar was crashing, and I didn’t want to have to figure things out for myself. I wanted to be somewhere where someone else was taking care of me and telling me what to do.

So why was I in Geneva? The answer is one of those awkward “Christianese” responses, but it is the truth. God told me to go.

When I share this story, most people fixate on the God telling me part. How? They ask. That is amazing, they exclaim, How did you know for sure?

But for me the fascinating part isn’t that God told me. It is that I went. And to unwind that story, I have to take you back to Northwest Arkansas in 2003 and my friend Amber.

She has brown hair and brown eyes, and in those early university years, something was happening to her. What I remember her talking about was how God would talk to her, in prayer, through the Bible, but also just prompt her to pull over and talk to the person walking on the road and other things. She wasn’t telling me about who God had told her to marry or what she was going to do with her life. She told me about the person she stopped to encourage, the moments when she sensed she was supposed to go and do something that didn’t make sense and the conviction in her spirit of the things that she was supposed to do differently.

Maybe it was because she was a “dependable” Southern Baptist and not a “crazy” Pentecostal that I trusted what was happening in her life, maybe it was because I knew her and loved her and could see first hand the transformation. Listening led to obedience, hearing led to action, and I witnessed a slow deepening of love in her heart for the things of God, it unlatched freedom in her life, and I watched, captivated by the life of adventure unfolding in her life.

I knew I wanted what she had.

After Christmas break in the drive back to my townhouse room, I decided 2003 was the year I was going to start listening to God. I didn’t set an alarm and depended on the Holy Spirit to wake me up for class (he didn’t, I started setting an alarm again). I could tell you lots of crazy stories, clothing I threw out, music I deleted from my computer, and the many other zealous signs of youthful passion. I could tell you about reading Isaiah 61 and memorising those words, Beauty for ashes, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, oak of righteousness a planting of God, and holding on to those promises to get me out of a period of depression.

Maybe you smiled, maybe you rolled your eyes, but I can tell you that 2003 is the year when God became my friend, it was the year the words in my Bible started to live inside of me. There was a trust unfolding in my soul as we talked through each day, the knowledge that God would never leave and that I could expect his hand to be faithful. 

It is difficult to obey someone you don’t trust, but the more I listened, the stronger his voice grew, the more familiar it sounded. It called me home, slowly redefining my identity, shaping my beliefs, creating a space in my life that was both terrifying and tender, sacred and funny. And slowly obedience became easier.

So much easier that when it made no sense at all to fly to a small town in Switzerland, I did it.

I often wonder what I would say about Geneva if I never met the man who became my husband five days into that two-week February visit. 

I think I would say that learning to listen to God and do what he says has been one of the sweetest, most frightening experiences of my life; that you cannot predict how it will go; that obedience is both painful and lovely; that you will wonder if you hear right and you will question yourself; that there is grace abundant for each moment and each day.

For the girl wandering around Lake Geneva in a coat that wasn’t warm enough and for you today, I would say, You can trust him, and it is worth it. You will never regret saying yes to God. 

I’m linking up with Amy Peterson today with this story. Amy wrote a beautiful book, Dangerous Territory. I read this memoir in a few days, the writing is solid and meaningful, the story is compelling. For anyone who works overseas in a ministry context, this book will give you language for the many stressors and complexities of missionary work. For anyone in a western country, this book will give you words for your own desire for a meaningful life and the broken ways we can create that for ourselves. I highly recommend it.

hope

Two weeks ago, Husband was away for less than 48 hours, and I lay in my bed at 2:30am and could not sleep because I was terrified at every creak and noise I heard.

My best friend starts a a new job in the centre of the city, and I wonder about a terrorist attack.

Many people dear to me live in Germany and Sweden, and day after day I’ve scanned headlines about shootings, bombs and stabbings and wondered, where next?

I watch conventions and read tweets and fear washes over me wave after wave after wave.

Fear shows me my expectations, it unveils my entitlements. Fear highlights where I place my confidence. If my expectations are security and safety, anyone who threatens it causes fear. If I am entitled to a stable society where I can retain the privileges of my life, someone who aims to take it away or adjust it gives me reason to be afraid. If my confidence is in the way I look, my accomplishments or the contents of my bank account, the loss of any of these elements causes insecurity and uncertainty.

Our fears grow out of the grief and pain of not having the life we want. It blossoms when we believe something we deserve is being taken away from us, and our fears are then exploited by the people and systems who have something to gain from our fear.

But we have a better hope.

Hope that is stronger than fear.

Hope that is beautiful.  Hope that is eternal. Hope that cannot be taken away.

Hope that will not disappoint us, hope that will not put us to shame. 

raindrops

What role is fear playing in your life today? If its voice is louder than than anything else, maybe these truths will give you strength for today.

We think our minds are enlightened, we read, ponder and debate the opinions of pundits and pastors, and we find lifelines in their ideas. But it is your spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus that we need. You truth brings life to our soul, your breath forms our bones.  The eyes of our heart need your enlightening, we need to know, experience and believe the hope to which you have called us. (Ephesians 1:15-18)

We feel small and lonely, like there’s a huge army of people out there who believe differently, who hate us, who want us dead. We feel like our territory is shrinking, stolen a meter at a time by laws or bombs or people. We think we deserve to be in power because we are right. Our eyes are full of the dirt of the world, our ears are full of pride. Wash our eyes, cleanse our ears. We forgot that the only power worth having is your immeasurably great power, the power that walked Lazarus out of the grave, the same power that lifted Jesus out of the tomb, and this power is for the working of good, it is not to keep giving us the life we think we deserve. Your power is for the raising of the dead. Send us out to raise the dead in our world. Take us to the wounded, to the one who cowers in terror and let your power restore. Remind us that the word of truth we heard, the gospel came to us not because of our racial superiority or our inherent worthiness. We received it through grace, we did not deserve it. We did nothing to earn it. And this same gospel is in the whole world, and it is bearing fruit and growing because it is alive, and God is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come to eternal life. (Colossians 1:3-6, Ephesians 1:15-23, 2 Peter 3:9)

We confess that the thought of physical and emotional hardship and injustice terrifies us. When we suffer, we want to find whom we can blame. We want to vote away the anguish in our minds, we will buy our way out of our pain, we will follow the one who promises to take our suffering away. We will do everything except receive that it may be from you, and that we could even rejoice in it. The strongman is not the answer because we already have the answer. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory. You are alive in us, nothing can harm us. No one can promise us glory or safety or freedom that you have not first already put in us.  (Colossians 1:24-27)

We believed irreverent, silly myths—that our worth and value came from our marital status or that how we parents determines our children’s faith or that we have undue political influence—we believed that it is our work that produces faith in people, we lived like every success of our family had something to do with us. We needed a stable marriage, well-behaved kids and the trappings of a well presented life to feel like we succeeded. Retrain us, God. Retrain us for godliness, and show us that we toil and strive not for something on earth but because our hope is set on a living God. Help us set aside our weak and useless rules and draw us closer to you through the better hope you offer us in Jesus.  (1 Timothy 4:10, Hebrews 7:19)

We want to believe that the life we had was a good one, that we were essentially good, nice people, making decisions that benefited people. We shared, we gave, we were good. But we know better now, that the life we had without God was foolish, we were disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures. Remember our hearts? We hated, we envied, we thought horribly of other people. But goodness and loving kindness rained down on us, God appeared. He saved us. We were entitled to nothing in and of ourselves, we were entitled to nothing in our society, but he washed us, he renewed us, he made us right by his grace, and instead of our passport or the flag to which we pledge our allegiance, we became royalty. Heirs of a kingdom that cannot be moved, altered or shaken, according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

Our confidence is not our access to people who are important or information that no-one else has. Our confidence cannot be found in the strength of our might, our ability to outwit terrorists, or the wisdom of our economists and policy makers. Our confidence is that we can walk into a new and living way, opened for us by the blood of Jesus. We can draw near with a true heart, believing that our hearts and bodies have been washed clean, there can be no greater confidence than this, that God has done everything for us to be with him. Being with him is better than being safe, being with him is better than being secure, being with him is better than being right. Hold fast to the confession of your hope. He promised. He is faithful. (Hebrews 10: 19-23)

camelias

Holding on to our hope is the only way to walk through fearful days. When the darkness closes in, we know there is a light shining in the darkness for the darkness cannot be light to Him. When the world shakes, we know we have a precious cornerstone, and He cannot be moved. When we feel robbed of the life we think we deserve, we recognise that our inheritance is not written in a constitution or an amendment, our inheritance is not held in a bank, a tax code or a will. God gives us a living hope, and our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and unfading (1 Peter 1:3-9). It will last forever.

Our hope is in the finished work of God, it is not in our circumstances, in our own transformation, or in the state of affairs in our communities and nations. Nails and a cross gave you and I free access to God in three days he gave us power over sin and death. Jesus’ act of love on the cross means we are accepted as we are. The trying can stop. The performing has no place. Fear is impotent and irrelevant. When faced with the truth that God himself loves us, died for us, rose again and will one day return, only hope can live.

The hope that what our eyes see is not the full story.

The hope that the fear assaulting me is empty.

The hope that the ending is good because of his innate goodness.

The hope that the cross has the final word, the empty grave is the final answer.

Our hope is in him. Jesus will not disappoint us.

photo (3)

I rolled over the other day, and said to Husband, I miss Sweden. Only a few words, but this was more than homesickness. It’s the sadness that follows me around even though life in Australia has been more than good. Sadness that cannot be shaken, not by gratitude or numbering my blessings or coffees or warm weather. Fatigue can wash over me in the middle of the day, and I’m still surprised with the overwhelm when it comes to making simple decisions, the energy I do not seem to have for connecting with people.

We moved to Melbourne, Australia six months ago after two years of living in Sweden and more years before that of a life in Switzerland. I grew up as a missionary kid in the Philippines with furloughs and eventually university in the United States. I moved to Australia as a young adult, traveled around the world and met my husband in Switzerland. I moved every three to four years of my entire life, so carrying on is what I have always done. The boxes get packed, the forms are filled, the mad rush to the airport is made without a thought. The wheels lift off the ground, and the familiar thrill of the new adventure to come takes over.

At least that’s what moving used to feel like. 

I am 34 now, and I have two boys under five in tow. You could say that life on the move, all that carrying on, caught up with me. 

I tell myself that this move to Melbourne should be easy, the easiest I’ve made in my life. I have family and friends here, a support system is in place. I can read, speak and write in English. I can make a bank transfer again. I know where everything is. People are helpful and friendly, white-sand beaches are less than a 30-minute drive away, cafes and delicious food are everywhere.

But there are emotions, events and fears I picked up from carrying on, and I was carrying them everywhere.

I started 2016 on a personal retreat, and I took Soulkeeping by John Ortberg with me. Toward the end of the book there is a chapter about rest. He writes about the Christian life, how it is not easy and is not supposed to be easy. We know this, don’t we? We’ve read the book about holiness and not happiness, we know to expect suffering, even to rejoice in suffering. 

You know this. You are mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, sisters in far flung places, fighting your daily battles. You’ve argued with with your boss, studied for exams, wrestled children who don’t listen. There’s an illness in your family with no diagnosis. You wonder how much longer you can live paycheck-to-paycheck. You’re walking out a difficult marriage day after day. Or maybe you’re just unsettled wherever you are in the life that you have and there is no explanation.

You know that God has not called you to easy. 

D in the light

I never expected my life to be easy. When it comes to hard work or the incoming “hard” thing, I’ve always thought, This is from God. But Ortberg continued. 

The Bible uses the word easy only once. It came from Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

‘Easy’ is a soul word, not a circumstance word. The soul was not made for an easy life. The soul was made for an easy yoke. 

Soulkeeping, by John Ortberg

We carry a weight when we walk through transitions. There is the role you have to fill in your work, the complex people issues, the kind of work that rarely yields a finished product. It is the weight of our children’s emotions expressed in slammed doors and tantrums. Carrying on takes its toll on our marriages, the emotions present in a partnership that may not often be expressed. There are the daily tasks we have to attend to, and in the middle of this storm, we carry the weight, we bear the difficulty, we take it upon ourselves to do it all, feel it all and carry it all.

We have the punishing voice of productivity saying, “Do more. Be more” and the distressed words of anxiety on the other, “It will not work out. It will all fail.” And this is the heavy, hard yoke that was not meant for our shoulders.

I’ve had to open my eyes to the quiet, gentle presence of Jesus in all my moves. The one who comes in and shoulders the weight. His whisper says, You are weary and heavy laden, come to me. Let me carry it. He is not asking for pieces of my life or parts of my problems. He wants it all. His invitation is to a life of letting go

It means more mess, more muddle, things may not happen when you or I want, but I am making the choice to say, I cannot do it all. 

I cannot solve all the problems. There may be overdue bills or an empty refrigerator.

I cannot manage everyone’s emotions. As much as I love my children and want them to transition well, I cannot be everything for them in this. There will be days when I fall apart, and that is ok.

I cannot meet all the needs. There will be needs of my husband’s, of my kids that will be unmet. I can trust that God will meet them, just like he meets me. 

He is carrying me, he is carrying you. In everything, everywhere, his kind hands are carrying us home.

If you’re in the middle or end of a transition, could I invite you to  read Falling Forward: Thoughts and Tips on Transition? It’s a series I wrote last October about our latest move. I hope it will bless you. Right now, I’m trying to capture moments of beauty and change over on Instagram, so head over there and follow me if you want to see more.

I’m linking up with The Grove at Velvet Ashes today. 

Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas