Loved.

Love is a two-way street. As in, you need to give love in order to receive it. Right? In my naïve confidence, I totally thought I had this down-packed. I sang praises to Jesus from my bathroom throne when I was a young girl, and spent many a lunchtime walking around just talking to Jesus in primary school. I’ve written before about how I spent time slow dancing with Jesus in my room when I felt exceptionally lonely; I thought I had made Jesus the lover of my soul. I thought I was the walking, talking personification of vulnerability (still working on humility y’all, be patient). I believed all of this until Sunday night.

Growing up in church and attending Christian schools made me so aware of the greatness of God. It became second-nature for me to worship Him. To stand in awe of His glory and celebrate His faithfulness. I learnt to offer up my praise when I wasn’t ‘feeling it’ and see His goodness when everything hit the ceiling. I had been challenged to be open with my life, to live as real with people and with Jesus as I can (I consequently have literally no secrets, my poor friends joke that they know stuff about me without ever having to ask. Luckily God blessed me with patient people). I learnt, however, that while walking down your side of the two-way street that is love, it is still possible to build a blockade on the other side. Being loved is just an active state as loving someone.

Let me paint you a picture.

You are dancing with the One you love. The music is slow, your hand gentle on their shoulder, the other resting in their palm. You feel content. The room is full of people laughing and dancing, but all you see is the eyes of the One you love. The room may as well have been empty. They place the hand they’re holding on their other shoulder and pull you closer, in a move so gentle, so intimate yet innocent, absolutely laced with love, and lean their cheek against yours.

Every romantic’s natural instinct is to relax into them and hold them close, right? Wrong, ya girl panicked. This is the journey on which God took me on Sunday night. When He so patiently drew me closer to Himself I tensed. It was one thing to sit there in absolute awe of all that He is, but I’m telling you it’s next-level vulnerability to let Him pursue your heart, to just let Him love you. That’s the thing about being loved, you have to actively open your heart to accept it, but other than that you have no control over that. Loving someone else is in your control, in your timing and in your own way. Accepting love however, is reckless because you are placing your heart in the hands of another to do with what they please.

It took probably 10min of me standing in church, not moving a muscle, to accept this new-found vulnerability of being loved by Jesus. And you know what? It felt safer than anything else that I have experienced. It did not betray. It did not reject. It did not criticise. It did not turn its back. It did not misuse or abuse. It did not leave a single scar, but instead lovingly caressed the ones that were already there. In all my years of learning to be a lover of Jesus, I had never experienced the intimate fullness of His love in that way. No safety barriers or emergency exits. I was like a bride, veil removed before her Love, and I felt so secure.

Jesus is rentless, yet patient in His pursuit. He is persistent, but not pushy. He is understanding and kind, yet determined and sure. He waited 21 years for me to be ready to open my heart further, to invite Him into the room to come sit and have tea with me. He is intentional with the pictures that He lifts off my mantelpiece; the aspects of my soul that He cherishes. He is not complacent; the ornaments that are out of place He wants to put right. Yet, He is respectful, He looks at me to ask, “Love, may I replace this one for you? I know something that will be better here,” before touching a thing. His timing is perfect and His patience unending.

Song of Solomon 2:8-11

The Bride Adores Her Beloved

The voice of my beloved!
    Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Behold, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
    looking through the lattice.

10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
    and come away,
11 for behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.

12 The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.

Naturally, God has since revealed that my experience with protecting myself from the risk of letting His love in paralleled with how I had been with people. I had been vulnerable with my life, with my story and with my feelings, but never my heart – that was too dangerous. I found myself struggling to make eye-contact and refusing to display a certain depth of sincere emotion in front of others (which is so not me y’all, I’m a very confident crier). I cannot write fully on that yet though, that’s the next wandelpad which I must travel along. Once I’ve come to the first clearing I’ll let you know what I discover. For now, I invite you to come  and learn with me what it is to be loved – and not just be lovers.

America: A recap

“Welcome back! How was America?” If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve had this past month that started like that… It is weird to think that just over a month ago I was dancing along the streets in Disney World, and yet here I am procrastinating doing university readings. It has been an up-and-down month; one of yearning to be back in America yet being excited for what this year will bring; sunny days reminiscing on cherished memories, but sleepless nights of “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Sara Groves sings a song, Painting Pictures of Egypt, which I have used so many times in my life to encourage me to be present in my current season and allow myself to grow – without constantly clinging to the past and glorifying what was – and this season is no different. I know that my time in America is over (for now), that there is a purpose to me being here, and that the ‘what ifs’ are just that for a reason but walking into this season has been an experience I have never been through before. I have physically returned to Egypt after a year of mentally trying to avoid it.

So, how was America?

I prayed at the beginning of 2017 that God would take me back to who I was as a child, to who I was created to be and that is what my year became. It was a year of falling in love – with myself, with God, and with the people around me. I experienced how the joy of the Lord is truly my strength in the curveballs life threw me, and how they did not knock the wind completely out of my sails – for once. I felt the true value of community and what it feels like to be unconditionally loved for being unashamedly me. Most of all, I allowed myself a year of selfishly chasing dreams that 12-year-old me had dreamt up, and left God room to blow those dreams completely out of the water. It was a year of giving my plans and dreams to God and letting Him work them out in His ways and in His timing.

Austin was an escape, a city God called me to in order to heal and restore me. Looking back at photos from the beginning of last year, although I physically looked good, behind the tiny, toned body was a broken soul. In those photos is a girl that did not believe in herself, understand her worth or have a grip on her identity. Through the year of not having my sport, home town or family to place my identity in, I was challenged to be my most vulnerable self and let people in. Through this experience I discovered myself alongside those who I was meeting. I was able to see the many times that I had sold myself short or tried to dilute my true self in order to fit in or gain people’s approval. I recognised that what I pretended was a laziness to cook, was a mask for me trying to force my body into a shape it was not made to be in – to impress people whose hands I had placed my worth in. I was so caught up in a fabricated reality that I had created to escape the everyday pain of life, that I missed God constantly calling me back to Himself.

Kanakuk was a bubble God placed me in for six glorious weeks to intensely surrender my insecurities to Him and place my identity and worth at the foot of the cross. It was a time of learning how to be an intentional friend, to care unconditionally (dealing with lice and night terrors for four weeks really pulls out the most impatient version of yourself by the end), and most importantly – how to let go of my inhibitions and just have fun. I was asked on one day off, “Petro, you don’t trust easily do you?” This caught me by surprise, because I normally find myself trusting people too easily, until I realised what the question was really saying – that I do not trust people with my true self and the ugliest parts of me easily. Cue a time of me wearing my heart on my sleeve and my friends not needing to ask how I was doing – because I was oversharing anyway. I learnt that the ugliest parts of me were not uglier that everyone else’s, and that being open about my past opened doors for closer friendships and freeing conversations.

Travelling allowed me to appreciate different ways of life, histories and the gift that it is to have homes and family all over the world. It opened my heart to dream even bigger than I had ever allowed myself to before and recognise potential in a life that seemed limited before. It made me appreciate the beauty of my island home and the care-free life I had as a child. Most of all, it made me appreciate my parents for teaching us that the world is our oyster and that we deserve the world, and my dear big sister for never backing away from tough conversations and ensuring that our friendship remains a priority.

The girls around me inspired me to always be the best version of myself, to embrace my love for beauty while keeping it real in my active wear and how to be a reliable friend. The guys I met challenged me to step up to the mark of a Godly woman, while realising my true calling to be (and I quote) “one of the bros.” The families I met blessed me with insights into what a family could be, while allowing me to appreciate the gift of a family that I have been given. The university allowed me to see my capability as a student and to be proud of the school you attend. Watching sport every weekend let me readjust my identity as an athlete; letting me fall back in love with the thrill of competition and the burning of muscles and lungs – instead of being defined by an outcome. The Fourth of July opened my eyes to the beauty of loving your nation, but the importance also of desiring to see it grow.

Returning to Dunedin has been challenging, but it has allowed me to experience the growth and healing that took place in 2017 and take on this city as a whole person. So, America, thank you for providing me with a year of rest and people to love and miss, until next time! For now we focus on making the most of what Scarfie life has to offer. Never forget though – Hook ‘em forever!

Power. Love. Sound Mind.

This is a devotional that I recently shared at my final sorority meeting. It was probably topic number five that I was going to write about. I wanted to speak about the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone and tell about the journey that I have been on this year, then as I was starting to write that devotions I was scrolling through old photos to find the date of an event and was suddenly overcome with how different my body looked. I went down this massive rabbit hole downward spiral that had me standing outside the library crying on the phone to my mum for half an hour. So that brings me here, to writing about taking a stance against fear. (note: I’m never at the library, I’m not that studious please don’t think I am)

When I phoned Mum she asked me how I was doing, and my only reply was “I don’t know,” because I had been having such an amazing day filled with fellowship and time with Jesus and was now suddenly overcome with self-doubt, fear, a perceived lack of control, and all these lies. The first thing my Mamma said to me was that God has not given us a spirit of fear so if I am suddenly overcome by fear, it is not from God. It is the enemy wanting to steal my joy because it is the joy of the Lord that gives me strength, and wanted to break the power of God wanted to say through my devotional.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

During the conversation I came to realize so many lies that I had bought into in the past in regards of my body, relationships and the future (potential blogs maybe?), the root of which was fear. Fear that I would never look the way I wanted to again, fear that I would lose control, fear that I would never be loved by a guy, fear that I am not worthy. I had a disturbing dream that night before, and I had a mountain of school work that I just could not get myself to start in front of me. Mum pointed out that all these things are not from God, God did not feed me these lies, and God did not want to confuse or scare me. She encouraged me to feed myself with truth, to read Ephesians 6, put on the armor and let God fight this battle for me. The victory has already been won in Jesus, we just need to “having done everything, to stand.”

Ephesians 6:10-20 (NLT)

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Another translation says:

Ephesians 6:13 (NKJV)

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

The Bible tells us that we are not fighting against flesh or blood, but against evil spirits. My struggles are not with my body or mind, or with other people, but against the lies of the devil who is trying to derail me from the power of God’s purpose for my life. Think of a moment that you have sat back and just said “Wow God, that was insane!” In that moment you feel so much peace, so much joy and freedom, and that makes you feel untouchable; almost powerful. That is the power of living in God’s purpose, and it is the power that God wishes for us to live in every day. It comes from His spirit and is enabled when we rest in Him.

As I was spilling my fears and doubts to my mum, I was pacing up on a wall outside the library. I suddenly had the desire to be up on the wall, not on the standing on the ground or sitting on a bench – I wanted power and control over my situation. Towards the end of the conversation my mum said that I needed to hand over my idol to God and allow His truth to speak into my life. Honestly, I wanted to vomit when she said that. I am a massive control freak, so giving up something to God means accepting that the outcome that I desire might not come true and that scared me to no end. Eventually though, I stopped pacing and sat down on the wall. I felt so much peace just from doing that, almost as though I was physically surrendering to Jesus. Defeated in my powerlessness and hopelessness, but at peace knowing that God is holding my burden and fighting the battle for me. He promises in Philippians 1:6 that He will continue the good work that He has started in us; I did not need to fear about the outcome of this battle or what would become of this idol that I had created, because God is at work there and promises to continue with it.

What I do need to do however, is keep my eyes and thoughts fixed on what is true, what is pure and what is holy. Psalm 121 was a passage that I repeated to myself multiple times a day during a week that I would say was the week where I was most overcome by fear in my life and is one that I will probably keep repeating to myself as I walk out this next journey.

Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.

God promises to watch over me, to continue His work in me, to protect me from harm, and all I need to do is put on my armor – truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith and the Spirit. The beauty of this is, that these things aren’t anything we can control or work for; God is all of these things and grants them to us by His grace. We just need to sit in His presence, let Him speak truth to us and give Him our burdens. This is easy to say and do when we are in the euphoria of His goodness and grace, in the vulnerability of reaching the point of desperation that Jesus is the only way forward and in the “mountain top moments” of life. It is difficult however, when we are wrestling with fear and wanting to overcome it by our own strength, wisdom and experience. If someone had told me this before I phoned my mum I probably would have rolled my eyes and told them not to slap me with scripture when all I need is a hug and someone to listen to how awful my life is. Bless my mother though, she knew exactly how to slap me with scripture and tell me to get out of the rabbit hole of despair and self-pity, to stop making more out of my issues than they were and to not give the devil more power than he deserves, without me feeling victimised and angry.

I sometimes feel as though this is an ugly see-saw cycle that I am in. That I go from being crippled by fear, to mountain top victory, back down again to hyperventilating on the phone. This is not the life God has called me to, nor is it the life to the fullest that He promised me. My job then is outlined in Ephesians – to stay alert and pray in the spirit at all times. Recognize the difference between hormones throwing your emotions out of whack, and the enemy throwing you curveballs to steal your joy. Know that God wants to move powerfully in and through you and the devil knows this and will try his best to prevent it. This is why before and after retreat everyone experiences the craziest week, gets sick and feels too tired to even go. It is why before you have a breakthrough you walk through hell first.

Be aware of when big moments are coming; for me tonight was a big moment and in a few weeks I have another big moment coming up. When you are aware, you can recognize these spiritual attacks for what they are and sharpen your sword with the truth of God’s word in order to stand firm. Have verses up your sleeve, like the ones I have shared, to recite out loud and refuse the devil room in your life. Know your trigger points that get you to the tipping edge; mine are loneliness, lack of intimacy, and comparison, they show themselves up through body image issues, self-worth doubts, the fear of being single forever, sexual temptation, and fear of losing control or failing in various areas of my life. When these triggers appear, Lord have mercy, ask for help before you give in or breakdown, let the truth denounce the lies before you run out of Kleenex or you scare strangers just wanting to study for finals. This may come from talking to someone who is wise enough to give you truth but mature enough to carry your burden with you, reading God’s word or fleeing the situation physically.

This winter break, or Christmas break for me (I’m having winter and then going back for summer before starting school again), spend some time with Jesus to figure out what it is that causes your insecurities, fears or struggles with sin and find the scriptural truth about them. Then be aware of when they often arise in your life so that you can combat them with God’s word and power before they kick you down the rabbit hole again. During finals week please take good care of yourself, make time for God and for Godly fellowship even when you do not feel as though you have time. Somehow whenever you honor God with your time first He always comes through with enough time and focus to get all one million and ten things done, and it is through these times that you will get the strength to hit a home run off the curveballs that are thrown your way.

Pandora’s Box: The ugliest of uglies, covered by the beauty of grace

I don’t think I have ever sat on a blog post as long as I have sat on this one. I have been putting off writing this for a year. A. Whole. Year. What even!? I normally sit down to write as soon as I am inspired to write something and smash it all out in one sitting, but this one is different. This one is messy, it hurts, it is not pretty. It is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful part of my story. It scares me SO much to be attaching my story to this post, because for a long while in the last 12 months I was going to write it hypothetically, not attaching anything personal to it, but that’s not me and that’s not how God called me to write. It was the one that inspired Pandora’s Box, and also started me on my journey of being passionate about authenticity and vulnerability. So here, welcome into the ugliness of me.

We often encourage one another in the church to extend grace to others, because all sin is equal in God’s eyes. Your little white lie that you told as a three year-old is equal to the person sitting in jail after committing murder. It is a hard pill to swallow, but also allows us to see all people with dignity and not think of ourselves too highly. We may not have committed murder, but we have still sinned and have no right to judge that person harshly for having made different mistakes than us. Had you lived their life, who knows what you would have done?

There is one group of sins however, that is still largely not included in this though: sexual sin. Yes, it is treated equal from the pulpit, preachers are very quick to remind people that God will forgive them and restore their righteousness after they have committed sexual sin. This is not often seen in the culture of our testimonies and conversations though. We really want to hear the testimonies about the drug addicts who came to know the Lord, or the teenager who went to college and started drinking and sleeping around before coming to Christ. We do not really ever hear about the devout Christian who is currently struggling with the same sin. We do not often sit down for coffee with our church friends and tell them about how we are struggling with lust, pornography, or crossing sexual boundaries in our relationships. Yikes, that doesn’t go down easy with a blueberry muffin or caramel slice.

That is precisely my pet peeve with Christian culture though. If we can be honest in confessing and praying for one another’s struggles with jealousy or lack of discipline in reading the Word, why can we not carry one another that much more in our purity? Striving for sexual purity is something that separates the Church from the secular world (Ephesians 5), so it is exactly where the Devil will want to target us. Sexual sin often occurs in the isolation and secrecy of our bedrooms, and that is exactly where the enemy wants it to stay. It is in this secret place that it holds its power over us, and festers into the ugly boil of guilt and shame on our hearts. We begin to think that because we are alone during our time of temptation, that we are alone in struggling with this sin.

That is exactly where I was my freshman year of college. Sitting in my dorm room, my hands pulling at my hair, feeling sick to my stomach. I was a leader in my community the year before and took such a strong stance for purity, yet here I was living a hypocritical life. I tried so hard to stop, but felt so incredibly lonely in that period of my life and this was something that let me escape that. I had not successfully made friends at college, was so far away from everyone who knew and understood me, and was not in the best place in my relationship with my family; I felt so disconnected and found a false sense of intimacy in pornography. I knew it was wrong, I knew I needed to find help, but I could not get myself to tell anyone. I remember many nights walking to church with this heavy burden, wishing someone would see right through me and talk to me. That did not happen though, and I remained stuck in this swirling dark abyss. Until one day.

(My story is so beautifully entertwined with so many others finding freedom, but their stories aren’t mine to tell, so this is not my complete story – just the parts that I am free to share.)

I was at my church small group, having  just encouraged other girls in their faith, putting on a perfect front of having it all together. We had finished for the night and were just chilling, when one of the girls started crying and said she needed to share something. She shared about being in the middle of a struggle with light pornography, and I wanted to throw up. I knew I had to open up, the time had come. Problem was, my sister was in my small group. It is so much easier to open up about the ugly things with people who do not know you well, that telling does not have great consequences. My sister, who I respected and thought was the most perfect woman ever? No way. Cue ugly crying. Wilma (my friend over here), came and knelt before me and asked me what was wrong. I told her I could not share because my sister was in the room. I expected her to politely ask my sister to leave, but that would be too easy. My sister came and sat right next to me and put her arm around me. All I could get myself to say, burning my throat like heartburn on the way out, was, “What she shared is true for me too.” When I expected shock, rebuke and condemnation, I got gentleness, love, and reassurance that I was not alone and would overcome this.

It felt like the biggest burden had been flopped off my back, but was now lying messily at my feet. My secret was out, but not completely – there was still a big phone call home lying in front of me. I am of the weird kind that tells my parents everything, and I knew they needed to know this. So late that night, sitting back in my dorm room I picked up my phone. I dialed my Dad, and said to him, “Dad I have something I need to tell you, but please please please don’t be mad at me.” In between sobs and periods of hyperventilating, because I did not have the cop out of being able to use my friend’s story, I told my Dad everything. I, again, expected shock and the wrath of telling your parent that you let them down and have been living a double life for a while. Instead I got a few moments silence, followed by a teary Dad telling me, “Pets, I need you to know that I have never loved you more than I do in this moment. Thank you for loving me enough to tell me.” To say I was taken aback would be an understatement, I felt so much relief and love in that moment, unlike I have ever felt in my life. Mother Bear had a similar, tearful response, feeling bad that she had not been able to prevent this part of my story.

I was so shocked at my family and friends’ reaction, overwhelmed by the lightness that comes from having confessed sin and opening the door to walk out of guilt and shame. More over, I realised that if that was the reaction of my earthly father, the man who raised me to a certain standard, but was himself imperfect, how much more grace and love would my Heavenly Father extend to me? I saw myself, a young toddler waddling up to Abba and being lifted onto His knee. Sobbing, I told Him everything and begged for His forgiveness and help. The grace and gentleness in His response was overwhelming. He did not put me down in disappointment, but instead cradled me close to His chest assuring me that it would all turn out for good.

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Proverbs 28:13

That was by no means the end of my story. It was just the beginning of a walk of overcoming temptation, stumbling time and time again, wrestling with accepting forgiveness and having to daily hand over the guilt and shame that I was trying so hard to hold onto. The beauty of my story lies in the grace of the Father, be power of the gospel and death of Jesus Christ, the gentleness of community, and the fact that I was not alone. The more I reached out to people, the more I found others (guys and girls) who had or were struggling with pornography. Opening up about my story brought so much freedom, and started conversations where other people were able to lay down guilt and shame and choose grace and freedom.

So what was the point of my rant and sharing of my story? The point was to start a conversation, to help people realise that no matter what you are struggling with – you are by no means alone. There is no way that you are the only one of the people you know that is struggling with your secret burden. That ugly black stain on your story is not unique to you, and even if it was, it is not the ugliest, darkest stain on peoples’ stories. If the only reason for me sharing the part of my testimony that I have only shared with a select few online, was for one person to be able to share their burden then I will be happy. Sexual sin is not singularly a pre-Jesus sin, and pornography is not a male-only issue. To the preachers that address the reality of pornography as not being a pre-salvation sin, please I beg of you, do not exclude women from this conversation. It increases the shame and guilt of the many women in your congregations that are stuck under the weight of this sin. Yes, it is prevalent for me, because it has always been talked about in male circles, secular and not. It has not really ever been spoken about as a thing that women do, or struggle with, for women – secular or not.

Dear friend who may be where I was freshman year, or even walking the walk to freedom, you are not alone nor will you be stuck here forever. Our Jesus overcame death so that you can overcome this. The battle has already been won, and there is nothing that you can do that God is not willing and able to forgive. Have the conversation with someone that you trust to carry your burden with gentleness and mercy, but also have the strength to keep you accountable, have the hand on your shoulder as a reminder to keep your eyes forward and help you up when you fall down.

James 4:6 But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

To everyone else who made it this far in reading this, thank you for extending grace to me in reading this. I sincerely hope that after reading this, that your view of me will not diminish, but if it does that’s okay – Jesus has graciously taken me on a journey of putting my worth and identity solidly in Him, so I will not fight you on your view of me. I am still me, I am still the girl proudly wears her purity ring and stands for everything that I stood for before. I just have a few more wounds that have become scars and have realised that I am only able to stand for that which I do by the grace of God and His great mercy.

God is good. All the time. No really, He is.

God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good. Growing up in the church I had this drilled into me and would probably participate in the back-and-forth recital of it in my sleep. Recently however, I realized that I was not entirely convinced of its truth. But I’m His faithfulness, this summer God has really helped me to believe that He is good and wants what is best for me.

The day before my trip to Haiti I was given news that rocked my world. It put into question the biggest dream I have had for my since I was a little girl. In Haiti I saw extreme poverty, systems that did not work and too many orphaned children. Over summer I have really struggled with my worth and identity. Through it all though God gave me an unexplainable joy that strengthened me each day. I was able to speak life into others while finding truth for myself in Jesus.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

Psalm 56:8

Jesus cares that my heart was breaking and that my worth was not being found in Him. He is with me while I am ugly crying (every fortnight…) and when I am questioning why things happen. Not only that but He holds my sorrows and turns them into joy. The deeper my sorrows have been, the deeper the joy that He gives me has been.

I arrived at summer camp not knowing a soul and not having my phone during the week to contact my friends and family back home. This forced me to turn to God when I was tired for energy; when I was frustrated for patience; when I was doubting for confidence; when I was grieving for joy. He was faithful in providing me with community to love and support me, and for very gently challenging me to put my hope and identity back in Him.

It has been a tough summer of growth, but I feel closer to who I am meant to be each day. I am looking forward to continue walking out this growing season of rediscovering me and leaning more and more into Jesus. I may not be meeting my earthly standards of what, where and who I should be, but I have hope that I am becoming closer to who Jesus made me to be – which gives me so much peace and joy!

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:13‬

Both of these verses God gave me at pivotal moments this summer through wonderful friends and mentors, which is another testament to His goodness and faithfulness. Even in my doubt and in the days where I have not turned to Him with my pain, He hunts me down and showers me with love. He is a good, good Father.

Summer catch up: Nashville!

Days abroad: 175

We are almost at the end of our catch up posts for tonight!

After one night back in Austin, after Haiti and another brief upset stomach in Atlanta, I headed to Nashville to visit an old childhood best friend that I had not seen in 14 years! I was nervous that it was going to be an awkward visit and so I arrived in Nashville on a one-way ticket, but quickly decided that I’d found home and was going to stay for two weeks.

My first week in Nashville was largely spent serving at VBS in the mornings and napping in the afternoons – the kiddos really took it out of me! (Pro tip: if serving at two events/trips, plan off time in between…) It was so nice to come home to a family that understood me, knew how I do life and knew my story. It felt like home in a way Austin never has, because it contained my past and my family. Being given my own space and the freedom to spend hours napping or just chilling in my room was so necessary. At first it felt rude, but I realised that I had not spent any time with myself, taking care of myself or resting, in three weeks. I will forever be thankful to my Nashville family for providing me with a space to recover from the last month’s ups and downs. We visited the farmer’s market and Franklin Factory where they took me to a South African butcher for some biltong! Talk about really feeling at home!

I attended bible study with my friend three times while I was in Nashville and God moved so powerfully each time. One week I was sobbing before the Lord so badly that I had snot everywhere – TMI but unfortunately very real, it got ugly fast. It was great to be in a church environment similar to the one I have back home where the Holy Spirit is free to move and minister as He needs to, which made Nashville feel that much more like home. The people were so welcoming and immediately pulled me into their community; one that I already miss and would give anything to go visit again!

The second week in Nashville was spent touristing, resting and dog sitting in Franklin. It was so much fun! It was in this week that I really got to spend time with my friend, get to know her and really enjoy how similar we are despite growing up a world apart with minimal contact. Nashville is a beautiful, busy, classy city and Franklin definitely deserves it’s title as one of the best small towns in the USA – I would go back in a heartbeat for sure! The south really has stolen my heart, it’s not just Texas but the entire South. I honestly don’t know how I am ever going to go back to Dunedin and freeze my butt off for two more years…

Nashville you will see me again! Nashville family, if I don’t catch you again before you go back to Christchurch I am overjoyed to say that I will see you at home and thank you so much for having me!

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Summer catch up: Haiti!

Days abroad: 175

I have been procrastinating writing this post for about three weeks because I do not know how to condense my experience in Haiti into one post. Haiti was a trip that I never expected when I was planning my exchange, and one that when the opportunity came up I never thought I would be able to go on. I went with a group of 12 UT athletes and four support staff, representing women’s soccer, track & field, men’s swimming & diving, women’s rowing, and women’s volleyball, and we served on the beautiful island for a week.

The scenes and scenery were what you expect of a third world missions trip; buildings were unfinished, trash lay everywhere, the livestock were roaming next to the road, some kids were thin, half-clothed, and had bugs flying all around them, the smells were intense and the food very basic. Part of me was very conflicted about going on the trip because I didn’t want to go spend a week in Haiti, impact nothing and come back to my life of luxury and comfort unchanged. I felt guilty about approaching the kids because I knew that in a few hours I would leave them and they would return to the exact same circumstances that they were in when I arrived.

On the first morning of serving in Haiti though, my perspective started to shift. The lady whose house we painted in the morning was so specific on how she wanted it painted and checked up on our work as we went. At first I was taken aback that she was so specific for a free paint job, but then I realised that it was because she takes so much pride in her home. When I thought about it, my mother would have done exactly the same, which made me appreciate the similarities between the two mothers and how this woman was not controlled by a poverty mindset.

Learning more about Mission of Hope, the organisation we were serving through, also changed my mind about how effective we were being. MOH’s goal is to work themselves out of a job; to empower the local church to serve the community and let the organisation be entirely Haitian run. With their feeding program they want to buy crops from local farmers, work with them to improve their agricultural techniques and serve Haitians Haitian food. The whole mission of empowering Haiti to be a better Haiti and not a little America was really one that I could get behind – it was not driven by a colonial mindset and really valued the lifestyle and culture of the people. Any handouts we gave or service we performed was lead by a representative from the local church to ensure that the community relied on the church and not on visiting North Americans. It’s a sustainable vision that also will lead to a recovered Haiti.

On the other days we planted trees, handed out solar lights and water filters to families, shared the gospel between homes as we visited villages and learnt about their health and water access, and played with children wherever we went. “Go on a missions trip, pick up a child, take a photo” was a mindset that I didn’t understand. I didn’t like the photos people posted with brown babies online because I didn’t appreciate the heart of mission trips yet. Being there though and getting off the bus to have a child climb you like a tree to be held in 0.025 seconds changed that for me. The children craved love and individual attention, they did not want to share you with any other child and wanted your full attention. One little girl that I held while some of the team played soccer against the village kids almost fell asleep in my arms. It scared me that she could feel that safe and comfortable in a stranger’s arms, but I felt so honoured that it was the case.

One of the most memorable moments for me was meeting Benchina and Stevenson at the orphanage we visited. The team had been dropping like flies with a horrendous stomach bug and the night before our orphanage trip it was my turn. I stayed back at camp the morning when everyone went into the villages again (Note: in this trip to the village one of our groups was able to lead a man that was working on one of the homes to the Lord!) to try and recover, but when we arrived at the orphanage I was completely drained of energy. I was leaning up against a doorframe at the end of our tour around the facility wondering how I was going to love on these children when I didn’t have the energy to hold myself upright. Next thing I knew a little boy came and wrapped his arms around me and leaned into me. He just wanted to be held so I sat down on the step and held him while he played with his toy car. My heart ached because, like the village children he craved individual love and attention, but unlike them he wasn’t returning to a home where he could get that in the evening. I felt so bad knowing that the love I could give would not be enough, and there was nothing I could do to make it better. One of our leaders, who was on the board for the orphanage came to tell me that his name was Stevenson, he’d been adopted and was moving to Tennessee soon! I was beyond relieved to hear this because I knew that he would soon have a mom and dad to love and care for him like he needed.

Benchina I met in the toddlers room at the same orphanage after Stevenson went off to play with his friends. She had just woken up from a nap and reached out to me smiling so I took her and sat down on a rocking chair with her. Luckily for me, she too just wanted a cuddle despite both of us dripping with sweat in the heat. I sat with her for a long time before I realised that she was missing a few fingers on one of her hands and only had one foot. While the other children played she just sat on my knee and when it came time to feed them lunch she sat on a chair while the rest clambered all over the other members of my team. Having a psychologist mother with many connections that would be able to help Benchina get a prosthetic and learn how to walk she was on my mind for a good while after having to say goodbye to her. I thought about her day and night, what I could do to help her and if there was any way I could get her out of that situation. One day after our return to the USA I could not keep asking myself these questions so I reached out to the same leader to find out her story. He said she had likely been born with those disabilities, but that she had also been adopted and will be moving to her forever home soon! I was so happy I hugged the friend I was with so tight! Jehovah-Jireh, Jesus really does provide!

One of the biggest blessings for me to take away from Haiti was our team. I have now found 12 new friends and new community on campus, found new mentors and psedo-parents.God put our team together so perfectly not only to serve Haiti effectively but also to tend to each other’s wounds and encourage each other to grow. I learnt so much from our team and had many timely conversations that took care of my heart in ways that I didn’t know it needed care. It was amazing to witness God’s love portrayed slightly differently through each of my teammates and to see their love for Him pour out so effortlessly and joyfully onto the people of Haiti!

So, to Jesus, to MOH, to the Longhorns for Haiti, to Stevenson and Benchina, to the people of Haiti, to our translaters and guides, and especially to those that supported me financially and in prayer – thank you so much for the opportunity of a lifetime! Mwen renmen pou toutan. I love you forever.

 

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Summer catch up: Sister visits and couch surfing!

Days abroad: 175

I finally have a spare moment to gather my thoughts and get all my ducks in a row before my next adventure so I will quickly catch y’all up on the last month and a bit of my life!

After semester ended, my sister came to visit me for about a week and I was able to show her my Austin home. We explored campus and downtown, visited the Capitol and Bob Bullock Museum, went two-stepping, swam at Barton Springs, ate all the good food, painted the town at Graffiti Park and shopped till we dropped! Her visit was so much fun, just way too short. Being away from home has been fine but I definitely started feeling that it was time to check in with the family, play with our puppies and be in my own room. So, having my sister here could not have come at a better time!

The week following Sister’s visit I really realised how much of a community I had here in Austin. I have no lease over summer since I’ll be at summer camp for six weeks and so faced a five week stint of homelessness. I found myself though with an abundance of homes, spending a few days each with a handful of my sorority sisters and small group friends. That really has been the hallmark difference in my exchange from a stereotypical exchange, and what has made it so great so far – the fact that I have a fully American community and am able to really “live” here. One of my sisters said it so rightly the other day, it feels as though I’ve always been in this community and as though I shouldn’t be leaving soon. I have integrated and nested in Austin, and never have I been so thankful for that as when I needed a home and had too many options to choose from!

I’ll keep this post short as I have about three more to right tonight… Instead of words I will share a few photos of my first two weeks of summer! Also pictured: an albino squirrel we found on campus (said to bring good luck if you see them on a test/exam day) and an interview I did for tv!

What 8,000 miles really feels like

Days abroad: 125

Friends, we are officially over a third of the way through this crazy journey! That blows my mind. This week for the first time I felt the 8,000 miles. I felt what it meant that Daddy can’t be here in a few hours and I can’t lay my head on Mother Bear’s lap and let her play with my curls. My 20 year old body suddenly felt 4; I was once again a little red haired girl standing by a beach in Kaitaia covered in sand completely lost. But that’s a story for another day.

Many of you would have heard about the terrible thing that happened on my campus on Monday; we lost a Longhorn in broad daylight, by the library, due to the infliction of a blade. The whole day was weird. It started off like any other Monday, I had a class project and then came home to have a nap because my meeting was cancelled. I woke up to find texts flooding my phone to stay safe, stay home and not wear any of my Greek letters. I praise God that I was not on campus or having to evacuate anywhere. The rumours were horrendous, reports of more stabbings came left, right, and centre – at one stage there was a man coming door to door in my building after a stabbing in our parking garage.

I stay calm in the face of adversity, it normally takes me a few hours or days to process fear or danger. This time it hit me through a video of a sweet, sweet boy singing. He was a Freshman, who loved his Momma, his beautiful girlfriend, his brother and everyone he knew, and adored his Dad. I looked into his face, listened to the song and my heart broke. I suddenly felt very vulnerable, the events of the day became real and my safety net was on the other side of the world. As anyone who knows me well can attest to, I am a crier. I am more a sobber than a crier, but I cry all the time and for no reason. Movies are a nightmare for me – waterproof mascara is a must. Makeup to Sunday night church never happens because I end up with trails down my cheeks. With my heart in a million pieces on the floor I needed to scream into my mattress, wrap my arms around my massive Teddy and eat my sister’s fondue.

The weight of the 8,000 miles was suddenly very real and very heavy. The extent of the coming seven months seemed too long. I did not feel safe, I still do not feel safe. I suddenly cannot comfortably walk to football at 5:30am, something I previously would have (naively) done without a care in the world. I am constantly scanning crowds when I walk for more than just cute boys and outfit ideas. I panic when someone walks fast or breaths hard behind me. I still have not had a good cry. Austin is home and will always be a home to me, but my heart has not found a safe landing pad. I don’t have a Daddy whose shoulder I can sob into or an Ouma who can bring me tea while I sit and contemplate life.

I still love my life here and am beyond happy to be here, the thought of leaving still terrifies me. But I want my family. I want to stop having to introduce myself to people wherever I go and having to always be polite. I want, just for one day, to be able to look disgusting, eat nothing all day and be rude to someone. Adult life where you have to always be on point is exhausting. I miss being able to be safely unpolished. Unpolished me is ugly, messy and very, very vulnerable. Although I am all for vulnerability and do wear my heart on my sleeve, I do not let many people into the very depth of my heart. The part that needs the most care and a special kind of unconditional love. The people that know and understand that part of me, without me having to explain it to them or voice my problems are so far away and I only now feel it.

Yes, you could summarise this as Petro is just homesick after 5 months abroad, but this is more than just missing New Zealand, or my family and friends. This is missing that safe, familiar place. That walk to Lifegroup, where you know which angle to cut across the rugby field to avoid the worst of the post-scrum mud patches, and where the tea is kept once you get there. It’s knowing that a Rob Roy trip and a serious chat in the park is just a text away. It’s having the beach a block away, to take an early evening walk and clear your head. It’s that feeling of walking downstairs and having a little ball of white fluff jump against your legs because she missed you the five minutes you were out of the room. I miss my family, but most of all my heart misses feeling safe.

I am going to bring this to a happy closing, because I would hate for you to think that I am having the worst time in Austin. On Tuesday, following the death of our Longhorn a bunch of Christians gathered by the Tower to worship and pray for everyone affected by the tragedy and for peace on our campus. I cried (surprise, surprise) as we sang that God is a good, good Father, my heart really questioning that truth; when we prayed for Mrs Brown who will never see her baby again; for our campus to not be divided by hope; but mostly when we prayed for the body with the knife. He is our brother too, also has burnt orange blood in his veins, and Jesus loves him just the same.

Afterwards, I was sitting on the stairs collecting myself before a study group when a group walked past and asked among themselves what the gathering was. The explanation offered was, “Oh, some frat thing.” I chuckled at their mistake, before turning back and being gobsmacked, realising that the majority of the crowd leftover were guys. It was so beautiful to see so many men gathered under Jesus’ name to pray for their campus and our Longhorn family. At the official campus memorial the next day, a similar feeling overwhelmed my heart when in the middle of a song there were suddenly a sea of horns in the air – as if to stand together in love and stand against fear. It was two of the most beautiful moments I have seen in my entire life.

There will be good that comes from this grief; answers from this doubt; laughter from this pain; and pain from this fear. I truly believe that with all my heart.

Pandora’s Box: Technology & Shame

Week 2 of Pandora’s Box! We’re starting off slowly and will gradually get uglier and messier here on the ol’ blog. This week we tag-team to Mima, who wrote about how technology stole our worth and can cause so much shame because it steals the identity for which we were created. How technology is shaping and taking over our lives is often talked about, and the conversation is slowly turning also to how much shame and identity questioning is caused by social media. So, here’s our take on a very important topic that is going to keep getting more important as technology and social media gets bigger.

 

The first identity you and I ever held was child, daughter or son.
We were held in tender arms as we uttered our first cries and were nestled upon our mother’s hearts.
We fastened ourselves upon her bosom in complete trust that she would nourish us and not give us poison.
Our fathers held us, a fragile bundle in hands that could easily engulf but instead swore to protect and love.
Our needs of being seen, being known, being love, being taken care of were all met.
As children our needs were easily met, or is more accurate to say our needs were more readily explained and affirmed?

In an ideal world the above would be normal, it isn’t.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from your mother looks or feels like.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from your father looks or feels like.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from anyone looks or feels like.
When this need to be loved is not met by Someone outside of ourselves, we go looking for that Someone who or whatever they maybe.

(Please note you are completely free to argue with me,)

What if social media is parenting us? What if that has become the place we feel safe, known, loved.
What if we are being coached to connect better with a screen than we are with tangible presence?
What if we have been taught to associate the number of likes with life?
What if we rather take a picture of where we were so that other people know where we were rather than enjoy being in the moment.
Who do we turn to in the midst of a crisis?
When we are bored?
When we want to celebrate?
When we want?
When we need?
Who do we reach out to?

I understand why it’s easier to interact with your screen than it is to talk to flesh and blood.
There is no risk.
Your screen won’t judge you.
You can hide behind it and no one is the wiser.
You can speak to it and it doesn’t speak back.
It can just lie there lifeless in your hands and yet somehow it holds your life.

When you have thought or have been brought up thinking that maybe you are not worth the risk of loving, it’s hard to risk and let others in. I was brought up in a good home and like any good home it has its issues, added to that a sinful nature, a fallen world; the result is a trapped mind.

Trapped in looking for validation any place other than where it is freely given.
Trapped in placing other fallen beings as my judge when there is only one true and just Judge.
Trapped in believing that no one can save me so I have to look out for myself.
So I scroll through the likes, flick through the faces that light up, do a song and dance for my “crowd”.

When did technology when did social media become our Savior, Judge and Lord? The day we forgot to love our God with all our strength, all our heart and with all our soul.

As you grow and learn, you realize that getting into a relationship is not the end goal, its merely the beginning. You find that comparatively getting into a relationship is far easier than maintaining, sustaining and growing said relationship.

You find that to grow a relationship requires risk, opening up your heart fully to another person. What if true life is found within risking it all? What if true life is found in being present in both our relationship with God and our relationship with others?

Jesus modelled that.

He showed that it’s a relationship with the Father, a needy relationship, a submitted relationship that is where true life is found.  A relationship where things get messy, where things are not Pinterest perfect or Instagram worthy. Where the mark of our relationship with God is not that we graduate into self-sufficiency but we graduate into childlikeness dependency.

To be quite honest, the gospel tastes like vinegar to me sometimes I wanna spit it out and run away. Maybe when you have had a lifetime of drinking poison, the antidote actually tastes bitter not because its bad but because its different.

Heaven looks nothing like this planet, there is no orphan mentality, there is no fear of authority, there is no sense of being lost, there is no death, and there are no lies. There is a Heavenly Good Father cares for us, wants the best for us, protects us, loves us and that all of those needs were met in Jesus.

Am I the only one who struggles with this? That the moment I repented and said yes to God (Christianese of accepted God into my heart) instantly the righteousness of Jesus was put on me and I was adopted into the Kingdom of Heaven. God the creator of the heavens is now my Father and He loves me. He wants to be the one I got to when I am bored, when I am needy, when I am tempted to booty call that guy, when I am mess.

To be human, I have realized is to be in a constant state of need. To be a Christian is to consistently bring that need to God my Father and expect Him to meet it. We can’t outgrow our childlikeness, we can try and stuff it down but deep down inside we know we are not that strong, we are not that great. And that’s okay.

God is a good father, who nourishes us more than our mothers can, protects us more than our fathers can and loves us far more than the love of anyone on this planet.

So, let’s stop making idols out of our phones, our sex drive, our parents, our lovers, our kids, our food, our bodies, our thought, our feelings.
Let us return to God, believe in Him and be the much loved child whose needs are always met.

You will always be a child in Your Heavenly Father’s eyes and that is more than okay.