3 years.

On October 8th, 2014 I landed in Paris without a return flight. I had officially moved to Paris indefinitely.

I would have never guessed I would be moved back to America, living in Long Beach, CA on the 3 year anniversary of one of the biggest faith steps of my life. I would have never believed you if you told me I wouldn’t be in France for this anniversary. I always thought I’d be there at least 5 years. Maybe the rest of my life. But God had different plans.

It’s been a little over 3 months now since I’ve left France. And to be honest, I was doing alright, starting to settle in, finding a normal routine, until Facebook decided to remind me of where I was 3 years ago.

So hopeful.

So excited.

Full of adventure and dreams.

Naive to how hard life could really get.

I do believe this is God’s best for me. There are a lot of things that are different now that I am thankful for. But I am realizing that grieving the loss of Paris is going to be a long process. And that’s ok.

 

Talking to Beth the other day, we both agreed we would have never guessed we’d be where we are now back then, both thinking we’d be in France forever. I’ve definitely learned that I can’t plan my life, and God has better plans than I could ever imagine. And that I need to keep following Him and trust Him with the next steps.

Some days I don’t think about Paris much. Other days it’s all I think about. And that’s just part of the process. Nothing can take away my experiences there and the wisdom and growth I gained from those 3 years as staff and one intern year. I can’t wait for the day I can step foot back in Paris and worship the Lord for what He has done. But until then, I just keep going one step at a time. Loving Paris still, learning a new city, and surrendering my future to the Lord each day.

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Hope.

This word, or more so the desire to regain hope, has been on my heart since the beginning of this year. The past three years have been some of the hardest years of my life, with this past year or so being probably the hardest year so far. Because of this, I have been struggling to have hope. Struggling to believe God truly is good in the midst of the mess and despair of my life. Worship through music was always the top way I connected with the Lord, and I could not remember the last time I had worshiped through song and felt connected to God. It was a struggle to even sing the words because it felt like a lie. Almost all of my journal entries the past 3 years have been lament. I was starting to wonder if I ever will be able to experience the Lord again, or if it’ll always be that choice to trust Him in the silence.

You guys, the past 3 years WRECKED me. It felt like I was drowning the whole time. I didn’t have breaks (no matter how earnestly I prayed for one). I wrestle with the Lord over why my story had to be the way it was these past years. I still don’t understand why. I’m still struggling to be fully thankful for them.

But today I was able to sing for the first time in a very long time that God is good… and truly believe it!  

You know the song “King of my Heart”? I honestly don’t know many new American worship songs, but I had heard this once or twice and was able to follow at church this morning. And the bridge is pretty much this on repeat : “You are good, good, oh”.

God is not only present, but He let me experience Him and feel His Holy Spirit today during worship. I could cry right now just typing this out. God has given me a glimpse of hope. Of refreshing my soul. Of what I truly desire. Rest in Him.

Psalm 23 has always been one of my favorite passages of Scripture. When I was young, it was to comfort me in my fears at night, but now it’s the whole message. God is my Shepherd and is always with me. This also was read at church this morning and I felt God reminding me that He will lead me beside still waters and refresh my soul.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

The decision  to leave Paris was such a hard decision. And honestly, I was not 100% sure about it. I did not have high expectations for Long Beach, or expect to find a church, have friends and enjoy ministry as quickly as I have. I am finally getting a glimpse of some positive blessings from the Lord and seeing Him more clearly. I am so so thankful. And though I’m still in transition and working through a lot of past hurt and wounds, and the world is in turmoil. I have learned how to lament but also fight for joy in the midst of it all, and recognize when God gives me things to be thankful for. Like a great church with a heart for spiritual multiplication and realness and friends to bring into that.

I am hopeful that I will create a home here in Long Beach, and I can honestly say that I will stay as long as God wants, and also go when and wherever He wants me to Go.

God truly is good people, even in the pit of despair, God is good, and there with us!

Changes.

Pain is the path to greatness. Someone once said that pain is dysfunction leaving the body. Is is like that for whatever weakness or sickness we possess. It hurts to grow past it or out of it or to have it removed. But this kind of pain is good, and it will not return again. And the lesson we learn will last forever.

 

With a lot of transition on the horizon, I’ve taken some time to reflect back on the past 5 years of my life and wanted to intentionally note how I’ve grown and changed. 4 out of those past 5 years I’ve spent in Paris, which means I’ve spent almost my whole “adult life” living in France. In some ways, I feel I’ve become more of a “French adult” than an American one with the fact that most of those big adult life things have taken place for me in France. Also, things that almost every American adult has done, like buying a car, I have never done, because of living overseas. I may be a bit behind with certain things in America, but I also have gained valuable skills and experience in France that will only help me in the future. Here’s a list of some of the ways I’ve changed and grown being in France these past 4/5 years.

  • Independence : I have found a church family by myself, and am not fearful of the idea of exploring churches and initiating with new people and pastors by myself. I’m excited to do it!
  • Initiative : I no longer wait for others to talk to me first. My job requires me to walk up to strangers every day and initiate spiritual conversations.. in French! That takes a lot of pressure off of starting conversations and making friends, it’s almost second nature now! Inviting others to do things was never something I did, I always just went with whatever anyone else suggested. Now I will plan a trip or excursion in the city and not think twice about it!
  • Fluency : I can speak another language! I never thought I would ever be able to speak another language, and now it’s something I forget to recognize because it’s become so natural and normal. I praise God for this miracle! It’s a skill I always desired but never believed I would ever be able to have.
  • Adventure : Adventurous was never a word associated with me growing up, I was more of the cautious, risk-avoiding kid. But living in a city like Paris, and learning how to enjoy life even in the midst of grief and loss, I’ve gained a need for new experiences and taking advantage of opportunities that come up, no matter the unknown factors or fear. I’m already planning all the things I’ll do and how I can invite others into those adventures in this next stage of life!
  • Food : I was always a really picky eater growing up. I have a running game I play with myself (and have included my family into it) of what foods I eat now that I didn’t before moving to France. To name a few : coffee, wine, sweet potato, duck, paté, mushrooms, cheese that isn’t cheddar or mozzarella, spinach.. I could go on. I find myself enjoying foods from other countries and finding the best cultural experience when enjoying them. Another way to adventure and travel : through food!
  • Self awareness : I have learned LOADS about myself. How to care for myself, and how to share who I am with others. I know more of what I desire and need, and even how I’ve changed. This was probably the hardest change to make and thing to learn, but also the most valuable. I will always be growing and learning more about myself, but the big steps I made while living in Paris will always be a part of who I am.

 

Moving back to America after 4 years of life overseas isn’t easy. It’s a HUGE change that will continue to affect me for a long time. But in the midst of change that is hard and unpredictable, I can also be thankful for the positive, good changes, and be expectant for the ones to come!

“I could never do ministry there…”

I’ve heard this phrase thrown around a lot, and it breaks my heart. Partly because I’m so defensive of first world/Western Europe missions and partly because I feel like it’s such a closed minded thing to say, assuming you can control where God would send you, because at the moment you don’t feel a specific call to that place.

Most of the time we have no idea what doing ministry somewhere would look like unless we have actually done ministry there. How can we choose to cross a place or people group off of our list of “potential ministry areas” when we don’t have a full picture of what that would even mean?

I do believe God gives us all specific hearts for specific people and places, but I don’t think He limits us. And I don’t think that stays the same our entire lives. We can be called to 50 places in our lifetime, or maybe just 1. Only God knows, and we can’t close our hearts off to an opportunity that we have no real idea about.

I have thought a lot about this. With doing missions in a place like Paris, I’ve gotten multiple questions about the “real need” of missions there, or more often questions only about the food and tourist sites instead of ministry.

People see Paris through the eyes of vacation, not a mission field.

One of the interns this year shared how difficult it was for her to go to our annual conference for all interns in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It’s supposed to be a time to recharge and process through the first half of the year and be with people who understand your struggles and life experience. However, the first few days this intern only got questions about how great the food was in Paris, or comments about how easy life must be living in Paris. Even other people doing missions with the same organization, couldn’t quite grasp how Paris could be difficult when in comparison, there are Michelin star restaurants and sidewalks and even whole streets of designer shops, how could that be hard!?

That’s why I am so quick to defend missions in Paris and other first world countries, because people just don’t know what it’s like. They don’t understand that Paris is one of the top 10 University cities in the world. That we meet students from all over the world and from places American missionaries can’t always safely go, like Syria and North Africa, and other places like Serbia, the Caribbean, Madagascar, and the Congo to name a few. We have the incredible opportunity to share the Gospel with students who can be free to ask questions and be away from their home culture and religion. You have a heart for muslims? Why not come to Paris? Here there are huge populations of muslim students coming to Paris where it’s free to talk about religion, and search out truths, especially compared to their home country. Paris isn’t just a place where rich, white, “French” students study in fancy buildings. Paris is a multicultural, influential city, where most universities aren’t well kept (example : A toilet with a toilet seat is a rare find on campus). Do you have a heart for asian students? There’s a whole ministry just for Chinese/Asian students who come to Paris, because there are that many here! And they are finally in a place where they can openly discuss religion and search out what they truly believe. Those are just two examples, not including the “French” people, which really is multicultural and hard to define. You can talk to an atheist, agnostic, hindu and muslim all in one hour.

Paris is somewhere that is really hard to do ministry, but also such an important place to do it. However, I will never say never to doing ministry anywhere. Maybe living in Paris is what’s given me a wider global vision, and a love for all people, but I would love to do ministry in all contexts. I don’t know if God would call me there longterm, but I am open to anywhere, because everywhere has a reason to go, everywhere has people who need to here, and everywhere has their hardships and their beauties. I just hope people can see the beauty AND hardships of every place, and be open to wherever God would call them, no matter how they feel now or how they have felt their heart is at.

*I think my argument for Paris can be an argument for any large city in the world. Cities are international and cities are hard to live in. I haven’t done ministry in any other large city so I couldn’t say for sure, but I also just wanted to add that even though I fight for the validity of Paris ministry, I also see and acknowledge it’s not the only place like this, and the old idea of missions in third world countries living in huts is outdated and limited. Yes, there are ministries like that, but there is also so much more!

Jesus Wept.

A lot of times, when I’m in pain and life is hard, God seems absent. I know He isn’t. He promises that He will never leave or forsake us, but it can definitely feel that way. Recently I’ve been re-reading a book by Carolyn Custis James called When Life and Beliefs Collide. In this book she talks about the importance of theology – truly knowing God, especially for women, and she uses Mary’s relationship with Jesus as an example. What really hit me was the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus. We don’t normally focus on Mary or Martha’s role as much as Jesus’, but seeing Mary’s reaction to Jesus and her weeping at his feet was eye-opening. Mary has learned from Jesus and was his good friend. She knew he could save her brother, yet he was “too late”. How Jesus reacted to her is how he reacts to us when we are in the pit of despair; when we are disappointed in God and don’t understand what he is doing. Here’s an small quote from the book :

Good theology – in Jesus and in us – coexists with broken hearts, shattered lives, and unimaginable pain. It produces a reservoir of patience toward ourselves and others who hurt and cannot understand what is happening. Jesus not only gives Mary space and time to sorrow deeply; he sorrows with her. 

“Jesus weeps for Mary.

He weeps with her over the loss of her brother and his dear friend.

He weeps for her because she is confused, and he knows how hard it is for her to understand him.

He weeps because she suffers.

His tears tell us that our pain is real and that he will never minimize it.”

It is ok to weep. Jesus isn’t disappointed in us for not having stronger faith, or being able to “handle” this situation well. Jesus is weeping with us.

With so much going on in my life that seems overwhelming or just incomprehensible to me, this story reminded me that God is not distant or disappointed with me. He is right here with me, weeping with me. He knows exactly what he is doing and the good that will come out of these circumstances, yet he still sits with me and weeps with me. God is way more complex and incomprehensible that we can even imagine, yet he still has a personal relationship with us. It’s really incredible.

 

Crushed but not Destroyed

Sometimes the storm breaks, and you can catch a quick breath, but then the waves crash down again. Your breaths are short, panicked, and abrupt. Hope for the storm to subside diminishes with each breath, yet you know it can’t continue forever. It has to end sometime…

This is how life’s been seeming the past two years. At the beginning of January I was starting to think the storm was ending, and then another wave hit, and another.. It has honestly been really hard to hold onto hope in the midst of a two year long battle. To me, this feels like long enough. I have grown, I am being refined, and now I’m ready for a break. I do see that the steps of growth I’ve taken, however painful, have been for the best, but some days I just want to take a sick day and get a good full breath in before the next wave hits.

Faith is a tricky thing. It’s so easy to have when circumstances are good. It’s even easy to have faith after a hard time and say you’ve learned and will be stronger next time. But then the wave hits and your grasping for any stability you can find. It is a struggle to trust God in the unknown, unfair, incomprehensible. I still struggle to fully trust God in those moments. I have to choose with my head to say “yes, I trust you” and pray my heart catches up.

I am in the midst of a storm, and I have grown leaps and bounds from how I’ve reacted to the others storms thrown at me, but I still have space to grow. Sanctification isn’t easy. It is messy and painful and crushing, but it is for the best and it is what I desire : to be more like Jesus. But boy do I have a ways to go.

I am not defeated. I am weak, I am not perfect, I still feel like I’m getting hit on all sides by the waves of the storm, but I see more hope. I hold onto the promise of rest, and that God knows what He is doing, even if I never will understand. I have to choose to trust Him, if not, then I am destroyed.

Ministry is Messy

Nothing is as easy or predictable as it seems. We have all of these strategies and tools for how to do vocational ministry, but that can only go so far. I can get overwhelmed with all the “musts” and “tools” we have to use to see God move or feel successful. Yes, it is necessary to have a plan and organization, but I don’t want to lose why we’re doing this, and what it’s all about. It’s about Jesus. It’s about loving Him and loving others. It requires a lot of trust and flexibility. I love to control and predict what will happen in every situation, but doing ministry full-time has taught me that I simply cannot predict what God will do. I know and trust it’s the best, whatever it is, but I’ve learned to stop trying and predicting.

The past 3 years in Paris have been nothing like what I expected; it’s been 1000 times more difficult and stretching than I could have ever imagined. I am thankful for how the Lord has and will continue to refine me, but boy was that flame hot! Ministry is complicated. People come in and out of your life way quicker than you’d expect. People surprise you and disappoint you. And you know what? It’s all God’s best and wonderful plan.

The past couple of months has bred more encouraging and hopeful stories with the student ministry in Paris, but that doesn’t mean we were any less used by the Lord the other 2.5 years. Having to do initiative evangelism daily is challenging, especially when the results you are expecting or desiring don’t ever arrive. I still have yet to initiate a conversation with a student, have them be a Christian or spiritually interested, and meet up with them again and have a lasting relationship with them. And so what do you do? When you’re disappointed and not getting the results you want? You change the definition of success. We talk about this all the time here, because it’s a necessary reminder: what is successful ministry? Being obedient and trusting God with the results. It’s all we can control. And it forces us to trust God and be open to go where He is moving, not where I want.

Some days are still easier than others. But it’s such a freeing thought to know that God isn’t disappointed in me if I didn’t see someone come to accept Him that day. I get the opportunity to work with God to make His name known in the universities of Paris. How incredible is that? We all have the opportunity to work with God where He is at. We are all being used by God, even if it isn’t anything we would have wanted or predicted, God is using us.

I am thankful for my job. I would have never predicted I would be here, and would have never considered myself prepared or “worthy” to work with Him. And that’s what is so great: I am not fully prepared or trained, but God chose to use me anyway, and is doing the same with you! We are being refined and sanctified and glorifying God and He rejoices in us.

Who knows what my future holds and what changes lie ahead, but I choose to embrace the messiness of life and ministry, and rejoice in who God is and how He is moving in the unexpected and unpredictable places and ways. I encourage you to look for where God is moving and join Him. What could be better than joining God in the work He is doing?