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.