Taking Steps

Growing up, I was a planner. I liked to have everything figured out. I wasn’t a worrier. I hardly ever stressed. But I wanted to have an idea of where my life was going.

Publishing a book at sixteen years old was a blessing. Traveling the country, seeing hundreds upon hundreds of smiling faces and ink stained fingers. It was amazing. Starting this blog was an even bigger event in my life. Having an outlet to dream and ponder and laugh and confess. And hearing the responses of so many individuals who felt the same weight pressed upon their hearts. The weight of life and growing up and experiencing the fears and joys and questions that come with having lungs and blood and souls.

The older I grow, though, the more I realize that I can’t plan life. You can’t plan the rip in your chest when you look through photos of people who don’t love you anymore. There’s no accounting for the pressure behind your eyes when the tears are held back after rejection. You don’t  find yourself preparing for the days when you’ll just feel lonely. There’s no backup plan for disappointment.

I’m a very optimistic person. You won’t often find me mad, or depressed, or on the verge of tears. But even I know that life isn’t always a set of stairs leading up. Sometimes you take a step in the dark.

Everyone talks about the clarity that comes with doing overseas missions, or experiencing life in another culture for any period of time. You’ve seen those kids who come home from two week trips with a glow in their face, rambling on and on about how great God is and how wonderful it was to be able to help the needy of this world in some small, seemingly unimportant way. They come home with a fresh perspective on life and they sling their backpacks on over their college sweatshirts and disappear under the crunchy orange foliage with Bible-verse coffee cups in their hands.

Six weeks into living overseas, I don’t feel like my mind is that much clearer. It’s not, honestly. I get more headaches than I used to and I feel tired most of the time. And I don’t always feel like I’m being particularly helpful or encouraging. When I go to bed at night, my feet are dirty and my head is full of pictures and conversations and prayers but all I really feel is overwhelmed. Every day I feel like I grow smaller and smaller as this world continues to swell and expand.

Everyone keeps asking me what the main thing I’ve learned so far might be. Do you really want to know that the main thing I’ve learned  is? I’ll warn you. It’s not pretty. It’s not particularly uplifting. It’s not the kind of thing they’ll put in magazines or print in articles or read aloud at church pulpits to encourage young people to give up their lives and their families and their Starbucks (just kidding–we have Starbucks in Asia) to move overseas and pursue.

I’m learning that I’m really not that useful at all.

It’s harsh but it’s true. I’m a writer, but there are writers in this world who are better than me. There will always be someone else who will express a thought more eloquently. I’m a photographer, but I’ll always see someone else with clearer eyes than me. No matter what I do or who I feel I am in life, someone else is going to be better. Other people are going to receive more praise and touch more hearts and live more fully than I ever will.

Gosh, now that I’ve started writing about this, I’m not sure if I can really get the words out. Everything feels weak and insufficient in the light of how I actually feel. I’m not usually at a loss for words, but it’s hard to take the feelings that are on your heart and stretch them into thoughts that can be shaped and formed into letters and words and blog posts.

I’ve been playing “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” on repeat lately as I pray and work through exactly what God is trying to show me. The words are stuck in my head on an almost constant basis. And I keep asking myself, “Is this my real prayer? Is this my real heart?” It’s tricky sometimes to separate the emotions from the true worship in my heart. The words are so convicting.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.
Let me walk upon the waters,
Wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.”

In the last few weeks, I think that my desire to follow Christ has grown from a longing to a real, beautiful crippling need for His direction in my life. My heart is just playing these words over and over again as I go about my day.

I’m at the Asian grocery store. Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. I need that kind of deep, uninhibited trust. A borderless dependency on God to guide my steps. I’m sinking–drowning–without Him.

I’m driving to work, the billboards and advertisements and smoking food stalls rushing past. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me. In a land of mountains and waterfalls, glittering temples and smoking offerings, I know that I was called. It’s a place I never would have chosen and a world I have to pinch myself to believe I’m in now, but this was God. This was God plucking me out of small-town Virginia and placing me in the middle of an ocean. An ocean that evokes fear and confusion and wonder in my soul. And yet He’s holding my hand and giving me feet to walk.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander. I’m sitting on a dirt floor somewhere in Asia. The sun is casting long shadows across the chipped pink paint of the concrete walls and I’m overwhelmed with the thought that life is so much bigger than I ever imagined it was. My mind is stretching over the thought of a God who spins the planets and pours out blessings upon the nations and chooses to love me. And all I want is for Him to take me deeper. Walk me farther. Grow me further.

I’m behind my computer at an office in a big city in Thailand. And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior. I can feel it now. I know it to be true right here.

So maybe I’m not having a mountaintop missions experience. Maybe I’m not the poster-child for growth and encouragement and maybe my story will never be used to compel young people to follow Christ into other countries. Maybe I’ll go home and start drinking Starbucks and go to college and feel like nothing’s even changed.

But maybe this is a bigger and better lesson because it’s not the one I would have picked for myself. If you’d asked me what I wanted to learn when I came to Asia, “I am a pretty insignificant but incredibly loved individual” probably wouldn’t have been my answer. I wanted to come here and learn about how I can help and how I can serve and how I can change the world for Christ. But while I’ve been setting my eyes on the hurdles I want to jump, God’s been focusing on my heart. On the slow and painful stretch He’s putting me through right now. And while all I want to do is run and leap and fly, He’s taking one foot and carefully planting it in front of the other.

I’m taking steps. I’m walking on the waters, but it’s not very glamorous. It’s not fast and it’s not inspirational, but it’s real. It hurts because it works and it will heal because it’s necessary.

I’m not sure if I explained all of this properly or not and I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I don’t have to be the best writer in the world. I don’t have to be the most inspirational photographer. I’m not concerned about being the funniest or the wittiest or even the most honest.

I am me. I’m an eighteen-year-old adventurer who is just trying to follow Christ fearlessly and openly. I’m never going to run marathons on water.

But I am going to continue taking steps. And that’s enough for me.

-Rachel

 

Two-Ton Killing Machines

I’ll never forget the day I got my license. I turned to my mom, held the piece of plastic up almost reverently, and whispered, “I am now legally licensed to operate a two-ton killing machine.”

I can’t think of a sentence that could have the power to scare her more.

My sister, Hannah, has been going through her own drivers-ed course the last few months, which has me “fondly” thinking back on my own first driving experiences. So when a reader asked that I share my drivers-ed story, I jumped on the chance. Why? Because it’s probably the only story I’ll ever get to tell you that’s just rich with danger and intrigue.

Not.

Anyway, I remember the first ever day that I went driving with my dad because it was sunny and bright and filled with so much promise and hope. I’d gone to the DMV to get my learner’s permit a few days earlier, which was a laugh because I hadn’t really studied for longer than a couple hours, and the lady behind the counter strangely reminded me of that creepy worm-lady from Monster’s Inc. “You didn’t file your paperwork last night…” She started going off on me about clearing my pockets of cell phones, hand-held games, ipods, and other electronic devices. I stood there silently while she went off for two whole minutes. When she stopped, I could only blink and stammer out, “I…I’m homeschooled.” Translation: I don’t have any of those things.

I think I only have my photographic memory to thank for passing the learner’s permit test because I was literally reaching into my brain to remember what I had learned only a few hours earlier. Yellow sign with a distorted antlered creature on the front? Must be a deer crossing. (Yes, we have those in Virginia) But, whatever the case, I passed!

Which is how I found myself sitting in the drivers seat of my dad’s truck a few days later.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the boonies of southern Virginia, let me explain something to you. Men don’t drive cars. They drive trucks. And women don’t teach kids how to drive. Put any Southern woman in the passenger seat with her daughter at the wheel, and she’d probably faint. Or reach over, grab the wheel Jesus-in-a-Carrie-Underwood-song style, and plummet everyone to an imminent death. These were the main concerns with my mother, so my dad decided to teach me how to drive his big Chevy truck.

He handed me the keys and showed me how to start the engine. We went over mirror and seat adjustments and took a moment to look over our surroundings. We were parked in the big field behind our old church. There was nothing near us but grass and more grass. Up ahead was the large brick church, steady and strong in the distance. Relatively little danger. Or so we thought.

My dad’s voice was soft but firm as he instructed me to turn the key and start the ignition. Then he uttered the now infamous words that started out my driving experience.

“Now lightly tap the gas.”

I forgot to tell you something that is pretty important to this story. Up until this point, the only vehicle I’d ever driven was a golf cart. I was raised around rednecks, okay? And at any hog roast or bbq, there was sure to be a golf cart on the premises. And the reality of the fact is that I was such a bad golf cart driver, that I’d been forbidden by all my friends to steer the vehicle. Golf carts were dangerous when Rachel was behind the wheel, apparently. And driving a golf cart meant pressing the flimsy pedal down hard and steering with a steady hand. Two things I was bad at.

Behind the wheel of that Chevy truck, though, I was determined. I would be a good driver of vehicles. My sketchy golf-cart driving past was not going to taint my four-wheel drive future. So, smart independent woman that I was, I floored it.

Lesson quickly learned: Chevrolets and golf carts have almost nothing in common. So if you slam down on the pedal of a truck, you will in fact go flying forward at the speed of light. This necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re speeding across a field with the presence of a large brick building growing ever closer in the now-near distance.

I really wish I could have seen the look on my dad’s face as we plummeted toward that church. I’m sure it would have comical, to say the least. What I could hear is his voice, which croaked out a rushed “Hitthebreakhitthebreakhitthebreeeeak!!!!”

In a golf cart, you slam on the break to glide to a graceful stop. In a Chevy, you slam on the break to halt your truck mid-stride and cause the student driver and her father to jolt forward in their seats. My heart pounded against the seat belt on my chest and threatened to jump into my throat.

“Put the truck in park,” my dad squeaked out. Then, slowly and very carefully, he reached over and pulled the vinyl seatbelt across his chest, buckling it with a click.

That was the first ever adventure I got to experience in a car. And if my dad didn’t have a heart attack that day, I’m sure he almost did at least half a dozen other times in the following weeks and months.

But hey, something funny happened. Somewhere between the screeching breaks, apologies, and frantic questions, I learned how to drive. I got my license. I even bought my first car (a beautiful silver 2002 Honda Accord). And while I still realize that driving is a dangerous and sobering privilege, I feel comfortable behind the wheel and I love the joy of a good car ride.

I can’t think of any advice to give to other fifteen and sixteen year-olds going through drivers ed because I know that it was one of the most stressful experiences of my own teenage years. But I can tell you this. It gets easier. It becomes more comfortable. And it’s so worth it!

How did you learn how to drive? Any stories that can top mine?

-Rachel

 

Easter in Thailand

 

As this Sunday approaches, I can’t help but keep thinking about the fact that this is the first Easter I will spend in another country. My sister and friends have been texting me updates about Easter parties, Easter dresses, and worship services from back home, and it makes me happy to see that life is going on and that my loved ones are still celebrating in all the same old ways.

It feels strange to be thousands and thousands of miles away from home on the eve of one of my favorite holidays. Strange because I won’t be waking up at the crack of dawn to worship with my family, but also strange because I won’t be living in a culture where Easter is celebrated or even noticed by the majority of the population.

Tomorrow will be just another morning for the over 300 million Buddhists in Thailand. They’ll wake up, eat their fried rice or noodles, and go about their day, visiting their temples and spending time with their families. There will be nothing different–nothing sacred or special about tomorrow’s specific rising of the sun.

Every day as I drive to work I pass by five or six temples. They are astonishingly beautiful. Some are white stone, glistening in the late morning sun. Others are painted red or yellow or gilded in gold. As a lover of color and beauty, I can’t stop looking at them. There is something lovely to be noticed in every detail, from the fresh flowers to the saffron ribbons to the peaked roofs.

But this weekend, as I was praying about Easter and meditating on what it meant to celebrate it in another country, God laid on my heart Matthew 23:27: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

It struck me that Thailand is a white-washed tomb. Well, it’s a colorfully washed tomb, perhaps, but that’s all it is. This culture is so beautiful and vibrant and glossy, that it’s sometimes hard to see past the lovely exterior to the true heart of Buddhism. These temples that we admire for their shape and color and shine are nothing but tombs in disguise.

There is no life here. There is nothing but bones of the dead and years of wasted lives, wasted acts, and wasted worship. 

Tomorrow morning when I wake up with a praise song in my heart, ready to get in the car and drive to a place of worship with a hundred other like-minded believers, these white-washed tombs will be filled with the desperate. The needy will be there, begging the spirits to ease their suffering. The broken will sit before these vibrant alters, pouring out their hearts in prayer to gods made of stone and gold. Three hundred million Buddhist Thai will make offerings to the dark, gilding their road to hell without the slightest idea about the God who died for them two thousand years ago.

I would encourage you all to take a few minutes tomorrow and pray specifically for the Buddhists of Thailand. Pray for these people with their smiling faces and folded hands and beautiful temples that are empty and broken inside. Pray that the Christians who are here will be strong and bold and joyful in their celebration of Christ’s triumph over sin and death. Pray that the Thai would do away with their idols and tear down their “high places” and find true rest and peace in the grace of God.

I’m planning on spending some time tomorrow evening walking around my neighborhood and praying over the people that I’ve seen and encountered here. If you have some time on  your Easter evening, I would encourage you to do the same!

I hope that you all have a wonderful Easter and that it breaks and warms your heart to reflect upon these words: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

What a privilege to live in the knowledge that we stand forgiven in the cross.

-Rachel

un-Bali-vable

Are you guys getting tired of seeing all my pics of South East Asia yet? Let me know if you ever feel overwhelmed/swamped/overcome with jealousy, yadda yadda.

I was kinda blown away when I found out I got to take a mini four-day trip to Bali for a visa run a week after I arrived in Asia. I’m really suffering for Jesus over here, you guys. Really, REALLY suffering.

-Rachel

Why You Need (Girl) Friends

I‘ve always felt way more comfortable around guys than I have around girls. I really have no idea why that is. The females in my life are pretty much baffled by this, since I’m probably the girliest, silliest, most colorful young lady you will ever meet. I wear skirts five days out of seven, I paint my nails orange or hot pink, and I’ve been to two Taylor Swift concerts.

That being said, I’m also the girl who doesn’t gag at the site of blood. I can watch horror movies for hours without screaming or squealing once, and I laugh my way through haunted houses. I might be bored out of my mind watching a game on NFL, but I’m the first person to jump into a game of touch-football or ultimate frisbee, even if I’m wearing a dress. I can roll with sarcastic conversations and I like talking about classic rock and food. I have a lot of guy friends because I’ve found that guys are just incredibly easy to talk to and get around with. I’m not flirty (at all!) and I don’t try to get every male I know to fall in love with me. Trust me. Every guy I know thinks of me as just a friend, and I’m happy with that!

But somewhere in my teen years, I started to recognize how important it is to have girl friends.

I always wanted a close group of female friends when I was in middle school, and I just didn’t know any girls my age. And then when I started meeting more girls in high school, I found it difficult to click with the females around me. There was a lot of drama. And it’s not that guys don’t have drama (because, believe me, they do), but this time it was different. I felt like everyone was competing with each other, and the relationships that didn’t work out felt ten times more painful. I cried over the falling-outs I had with my female friends because they hurt me in ways that my friendships with males never could. I started thinking that friendships with girls were just too hard, too messy, and too painful.

Until God started showing me that girl friends are truly amazing gifts.

I’ve always had sisters and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t regard them as my absolute best friends. But in the last few years, I’ve been amazed at all of the other “sisters” the Lord has been bringing into my life. Older, younger, taller, shorter, and in all different stages and walks of life. These women have become the strongest source of encouragement and companionship in my life.

I’ve learned that it’s important to have friends your age. As homeschoolers, we tend to not stress this, but I want to stand up for the friends I have who are eighteen and nineteen. These are the girls who really know what’s going on in my life. We understand each other because we’re all in the same place in life. None of us have to explain what it feels like to be on the cusp of adulthood. We can complain about work, school, and the pressure that we feel to grow up and become a certain way. But we can also encourage each other because we all have seen God’s faithfulness in each other’s lives. We might have days where we wake up and think, “Gosh, it’s rough being eighteen,” but we all are in this together (*cue the High School Musical music*) and we know we’ll make it out okay.

But I’m also seeing how crucial my older female friends are in my life. One of my very best friends is twenty-five. And even though I usually forget that she’s older than me, it’s helpful sometimes to know that she’s been through things that I haven’t experienced yet and that she might have some advice for my stage of life. One of my other closest friends is actually a woman in her forties, who I’ve known since I was eight. But even with so many years of life and time separating us, we still feel completely free to speak our hearts to each other. We pray for each other daily, text each other Scripture verses, and genuinely enjoy the time we get to spend chatting each week.

Younger girl friends are also becoming more and more important to me. I always thought that it would be hard to relate to girls who are two, three, or even five years younger than me, but I’m realizing it’s doable. And not only is it doable, it’s also fun and enjoyable and special! Thirteen and fourteen year old girls have so much energy and so many questions. It’s a joy to just be a friend to those younger girls. To be able to have them over and watch movies with them and paint their nails (having younger sisters helps with this), but to also be able to lead them in Bible study and pray over their lives. Being an older woman in their lives is a big deal, and I don’t ever want to downplay the role God might have me be in their lives.

But we all know who the most important girl friends in my life are. My mom and sisters. Having such godly, fun, loud women surrounding me 24/7 is the absolute greatest gift I could ever ask for. I could go my whole life without ever meeting another person and still feel like I had enough friendship and love to last me forever.

Girl friends are important because they’re the ones who will laugh and cry with you. Who will calm you down when you’re cranky and bloated. Who will shop with you and trick you into spending more money than you even knew you had. Your girl friends are the ones who will come over at 11 PM because you’re crying your eyes out over some stupid guy. They’ll send you hearts in their text messages and pray for you over the phone. One day, when you’re married and you have six little brats (ahem–angels) running around in dirty pants and stinky diapers, your girlfriends will be the ones that keep you sane. That make you laugh with their own domestic tales, and take you out for coffee on the weekends when your poor husband takes a turn watching the kids.

One day, your guy friends will grow up and get married and start careers and lives of their own. They’ll find women who make their hearts skip a beat and they’ll be happy. And you will too!

But you’ll always have girl friends who want to talk. Who will respond to your text. Who will snort when you laugh and rub your shoulders when you cry and hold you up through whatever trials God brings you through in life.

Don’t neglect your female friends and family members. You need your girl friends, and they need you.

-Rachel