Cries of Joy

This has actually been a vaguely depressing week for me. Not because I haven’t done fun things–I have! I’ve eaten toasted bagels at eleven pm and watched horror movies with friends and slept in and burnt my tongue on hot chai and bought old books and devoured several squares of dark chocolate. I got my first college acceptance letter with a scholarship offer worth being excited about, and found out that my writing is going to be published in three different magazines. If I ever had a reason to be thankful, this week would epitomize it. I’m young and strong and I’ve been given incredible opportunities to really grasp and savor life.

But lately I’ve felt almost overwhelmed with how happy my life is. It’s as if God’s been working a slow metamorphosis in my heart and I’m cracked and bleeding under the pressure of beginning to understand other people’s pain. Contrasted to my own life, thinking about that hurts.

I remember experiencing this after I came home from Asia. Standing in a moment of hot joy and knowing the deep parts of me were sinking beneath the surface. What right do I have to feel happy? What right do I have to laugh? To know joy? To face the sun in the knowledge that my life is smooth and easy, that my bank account is full, that my skin is clear and warm?

It’s never easy to turn off the voice in your head that says, “What about the hurting? What about the lost? What about the broken?” But it is easy to drown it out with other things. Because if you sit in the silence and really listen, the walls of your heart come caving in. What about the hurting? The lost? The broken? There’s so much darkness. So much pain. Even if you worked your hands raw, even if you gave the clothes off your back and the pennies in your wallet, it wouldn’t be enough. You’d still lie awake in bed at night thinking you weren’t doing enough.

Some of you may have seen my somewhat heated Instagram post last week as a response to “The Dress” controversy. I’m not going to lie. I was mad. I’d blogged earlier in the week about the issue of eating disorders and how we can show love to ourselves and others by choosing worship in the way we eat. That same day, I’d been reading numerous articles about the twenty seven million humans trapped in slavery today, and how activists all over were trying to raise awareness on the issue of sex trafficking through social media. These issues seem so big to me. So swallowing in their impossibility and sadness. I was as fascinated with the dress controversy as anyone, but only for about thirty minutes. After that, I honestly struggled with my anger and disappointment at the tens of thousands of Americans who flooded social media with heated debate over the color of a dress. I enjoyed the playful bantering, but there was an underlying urgency that disturbed me. One hundred and seventeen comments. People bickering back and forth–losing sleep, going crazy, feeling out of their minds over this dress.

I feel out of my mind. I feel impossibly small, ridiculously helpless. Everything hurts me. I watched the documentary “The Act of Killing” and cried. I’ve been to this country and sat in these homes. I know that these aren’t faces on a screen that are being filmed as a political or social message. They’re real. They’re soft and they smell a little bit like sweet tea and they’re toasted from the sun. I cried because the seams of my heart were plucked and something was seeping out.

Then I stumbled across an article in a magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office about Norwegian bloggers who were sent to South East Asia to work in the sweatshops where most of their clothes are made. Curious, I went home and looked up the videos from the trip. More tears. More weeping. More places I recognized and people I knew to be real. To be true. I knew the sights and scents and sounds and I knew the hurting and the desperation.

And yet, in spite of all my aching and grieving over the slaves and the bulimics and the factory workers and the minority groups and the battered and bruised peoples of this world, I’m still chiefly angry at myself. It’s easy for me to feel frustrated to the point of tears at the failed efforts of most of America’s politicians. To be mad at the family members and friends who roll their eyes at me and make me feel silly and emotional. It’s even easy for me to post something impassioned on social media and guilt other people into acknowledging their own failures to make a difference.

The hard part is stopping to look at me. At Rachel. I rob myself of being able to experience true joy because I refuse to believe I’m worthy of it. In the midst of my rants and tears and appeals for justice, I can’t avoid the withering voice that tells me I’m partially to blame for the evil I see in the world. Because I don’t give enough. Because I live too comfortably. Because I’m quick to point and slow to act. Anxious to blame others and hesitant to examine the sin in my own life.

I’ve cried myself into a works-based religion. The type of faith that says, “Jesus, you’ve done too much for me and I need to do a little more to make up for that.” Just because I sleep in a queen sized bed. Because my bread comes from Trader Joes. Because that bag I bought wasn’t on sale. My empathy and tears for the sufferings of others has deceived me into believing my walk is less important.

I don’t live like a monk. I buy songs off iTunes. I go to Starbucks. I print pictures and do too much laundry and I’ve even shopped at The Gap before. Sometimes I write checks for the mission trips of friends or worth strangers. I do that thing where I buy jewelry made by uneducated girls in Bolivia. Once a year, I use some of my Christmas money to donate a big chunk to orphans in India or a college graduate in The World Race or international missions. But that’s usually it. I’m definitely not giving hundreds of dollars each month to feed the hungry and clothe the widows and educate the orphans of this world.

But how many times have I told myself it’s all or nothing? Instead of asking, “How can I live more sacrificially?” I ask, “How can I live with myself?” I’ve duped myself into believing that unless I pull the shoes off my feet and rub ashes on my face and spend my life in the sweatshops with the Cambodians, that my witness is in vain. And so I feel guilty, sad, and scared.

We’ve been taught for years that joy exists outside of circumstances. That even the martyrs and the persecuted Christians and the sweatshop workers and sex slaves can experience joy because the trials of this life pale in comparison to the glories of heaven.

But what about those of us who lead happy, full lives? Is it almost just as hard for us to experience joy sometimes, because we feel so completely unworthy of it? That’s definitely where I am right now. I refuse to let God fill my tank, because I want to prove to Him that I can run on it empty. Try me, God. Strip me. Send me to the factory. Give me to the nations. Make it hard to love you and let me love you more.

That’s the prayer we want to offer up. Make us super-human. Super-Christian. Give us the extraordinary capacity for joy and help us make a difference.

The prayer of the twenty-first century American is harder. Sitting in your two hundred thousand dollar home. Wearing J. Crew jeans and mashing sweet potatoes. How do we ask God to give us joy as we go to work, to sit in our offices and update websites or write articles or edit photos? How do we ask Him to give us joy at the movies with our friends, at the park with our boyfriend, in the car with our family? These things are all so good. So full and happy already. We think we need joy for the suffering and we reject it for the blessings. There’s no room for joy because my life is too happy. Because my circumstances are too easy. And because I’ve done nothing to make it harder, or sadder, or more uncomfortable.

I don’t know how many tears I will spill over the things I learn about life apart from my own. The low income black families struggling to keep food on the table in inner city circles. The children of divorced parents. The girls who have been raped by those they trusted. The lies of authorities and scandals of politicians. I don’t know how many times I’ll break over the cruelty that not only exists in, but rather rules our world.

But I’m learning that my good life is not some kind of curse. I know I will feel pain, but I can’t measure it against the pain of others. I can only wait and trust that God is working all things out for His good, and that even the small, seemingly unimportant ways He uses me are valid.

Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”

I know what “cries of joy” means to most people. It means laughter, exuberance, lifted spirits.

But to me, crying equals sobs. Joy is found in the clapping hands just like it’s found in the tears. In the moments I am thrilled with life, I will praise Him, and in the moments life breaks me, I will praise Him. Because I am a person who feels deeply, who cares deeply, my joy will sometimes be expressed by crying. Sobbing over evil but rejoicing over the fact that these people who are broken and hurt are cradled in His hands. I can’t give up hope because I know that the salvation of the nations doesn’t rest on me. It rests on a God who cares, who heals, who holds, and who brings joy to every situation. I can still make sacrifices, but I have rest in the knowledge that nothing I could ever do or give would be more than what He has already done.

So the next time I go off on a rant about something, be it sex trafficking or global missions or sweatshop laborers, know that I am doing it out of a heart that is burdened but joyful about what God is doing in the world. He is making all things beautiful, in His time, but I always want to be one of the few who shone light in the darkness and witnessed the transformation.

-Rachel

The Glory of God in Eating

Did you know this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week? Neither did I. To be honest, it’s never something that is on my radar. I care about cancer. I care about depression and suicide. I care about victims of rape and sex trafficking. I care about orphans. But, if I’m being honest, I don’t often take the time to care about eating disorders.

I’ve been thinking about why that might be. I think a part of it is that eating disorders make me uncomfortable in general. It’s one of those “secret sicknesses” that everyone inevitably ends up knowing about and ignoring when we see it in our friends. You’ve probably been there before. I know I have. You’re eating dinner at a friend’s house, helping yourself to a second helping of garlicky pasta. Your friend excuses herself to use the upstairs bathroom and leaves the water running for five whole minutes while the rest of you continue eating and talking at the table, avoiding the exchange of glances and dipping your bread in the sauce. It’s an elephant in the room. One of those moments where everyone knows but no one does anything.

I guess I never know what to say. Why? Why are you doing this? When did it start? How does it make you feel?

These are questions that imply answers. I’ve found answers hard to come by when having open, raw conversations with my friends struggling with bulimia or anorexia or binge eating. They don’t know why they do it. They can’t remember when it started. And by now, they might not feel anything at all. Numbed by shame, or maybe empty from guilt. I always leave those conversations feeling as awful and gutted-out as my friend must feel, unable to stop, incapable to help.

On weeks like this one, I’m tempted to continue to ignore the subject of eating disorders. I can’t remember a time when I ever intentionally skipped a meal. I’ve never stuck a finger down my throat. I don’t have these stories and these scars like so many of my close friends.

But, as a woman, I know how it feels to view eating as a crime. Instead of starving myself, I overeat. On days when I’m stressed or bored or lonely or tired, I grab chocolate or heat up spaghetti or buy a Poptart from the gas station vending machine. And I eat. Boy, do I eat. Seconds, sometimes thirds. I eat until I’m more than full. Until my stomach, which I’ve heard is the size of a fist, is the size of a quarterback’s head. And I may not puke in a bathroom stall, but I do something just as bad. I hate myself.

Ask any woman, whether she has a history of a diagnosed eating disorder or not, if she’s ever hated herself after eating a large meal, and she’ll undoubtedly tell you yes. Ask her if she’s ever looked in the mirror and seen nothing but overspilling skin and tree-trunk thighs, and she’ll say of course. Ask any woman, whether she’s thirteen or twenty-seven, or fifty-six, if she’s ever slapped labels like “hog” and “fatty” and “heifer” on herself and worn them like well-deserved Girl Scout Badges. You know the answer as well as I do. Yes.

It’s a terrible form of self-mutilation. We may pride ourselves in the fact that we’ve never gone twenty-four hours on nothing but Saltines. We may feel sorry for our sisters and cousins and bio lab partners who lock themselves in bathrooms after meals and run the water to hide the noise. But how do we approach the topic of food? Is it something we’re self-conscious and apologetic about? “I can’t. I ate three chocolate chip cookies last night. I’m going to blow up like a Goodyear blimp.”

I’m beyond convicted of my own unhealthy approach to food. For years, I’ve yo-yoed on a never-ending series of diets, binge eating periods, more diets, and more binging. I’m sure it confuses my friends. One week I’m ordering a Cookout burger with onion rings and a milkshake on the side. The next week I’m nibbling at a bag of nuts and claiming I’m not hungry. The taste of corndogs is like ashes in my mouth. I swear.

Why do we do this to ourselves? There’s no consistency, so there’s no pacification. I can eat nothing but salads and eggs for a week, then a few Five Guys burgers, a Chickfila milkshake, and a box of Kraft mac and cheese later I’m ready to write hate sonnets dedicated to my own disgusting body. All I want to do is eat, and all I feel after eating is sorry. Sorry I ordered fried chicken when I could have ordered soup. Sorry I ate my cousin’s fries after my own onion rings. Sorry I made those cookies. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Lately, though, the Lord has completely regenerated my heart attitude toward food. For the past few months, I have been making a healthy conscious to eat in a way that will nourish and not confuse my body. I’m realizing that food is a good, good thing. That eating food can be a joy, and not a crime. When I stop hating myself, when I stop jumping back and forth between crazy diets and junk food, when I stop denying myself any sweet and rich pleasures… I learn to love to eat.

Shauna Niequist said, “Maybe it matters because even though so much of modern life and theology insists that what matters is my mind, my soul, my inner self, my heart, there is still this nagging part of me that knows on some deep level that the things we touch and hear and taste are spiritual too…”

How often I need to remind myself of this. My body is spiritual, too. The things I put in my mouth, the things I hold with my hands, the things I press on my tongue… These are all vehicles of worship. They are opportunities to rejoice, to feel joy, to express emotion. When I stuff my body full of food and then prick my stomach and thighs and hips with steely thoughts of contention, I’m ripping down the veil of the temple. I’m destroying what God has made as beautiful. I’m polluting my worship for Him.

There is a way to eat to the glory of God. Did you know that? I don’t think I ever knew did, and some days I still wonder if I fully understand what that means. How is there a way to shop and prepare and cut and slice and grind and bake and flavor and eat with joy? How can I take these foods and let them enter my body with an attitude of “It is good?” How can I silence the serpent in my ear telling me that it’s not good, that I’m not what He’s said I am, that the fruit of sin is better than the food I have been given?

This is something I’m still struggling through. It’s hard on the days when I want sugar cookies and I choose to eat peanut butter. It’s annoying on the days when I want more fries and I choose to make egg salad. Even harder on the days when I’m surrounded by friends and I choose to relax and eat a hamburger. When I choose to believe that it’s okay. That my body is still sacred. That the mornings involving avocados are beautiful and the afternoons involving corndogs are sacred.

I’m learning that God is glorified when I eat in a way that brings me joy. For me, I’m finding that means being healthy. Choosing to love my body. Desiring to mix spices and add color and relish every crunch and gulp and flavor. But it also means loving myself when I do eat a hamburger. Being okay with the way my stomach sticks out after a bowl of curry. Celebrating a birthday with cake and cold icecream, because choosing to indulge means choosing joy. And joy comes without a price tag of loathing.

I still don’t know what to say to my friends and loved ones struggling with debilitating eating disorders. I ache, I cry, I struggle with you. I encourage you to look for the help you need and believe that you are worth the sacrifices others will make to be there for you. I’m here for you too.

But don’t think that just because your attitude to food can’t be summarized in a clinical term beginning with an “a” or “b” that you are worshiping God with your body. To truly radiate God’s glory in every area of our lives, we have to learn to love this form of worship called eating. We have to embrace the daily sacrifice and joy that comes in sitting at a table, spreading out an offering, and relishing the produce He has provided. Whether it’s spinach. Whether it’s pizza. When we eat with glad, thankful hearts, we affirm to God: “This is good. You are so, so good to us.”

-Rachel

P.S. If you want more information on National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and how you can find help or help others, check out their website here!

On Beauty

Once upon a time, I cried in front of a computer screen. It was late at night and my family was watching “Dancing with the Stars” while I melted into a puddle of hot salt water at my mom’s desk. Four words was all it took.

I was fourteen years old and I’d joined the newest Christian-teen-girl fad of a website. It was all about fashion and modesty and being darling and all of that great Christian-girl stuff. People posted photos of the outfits they’d worn and everyone voted and commented on them. I’m pretty sure it was designed to be encouraging. At least I always got excited when I was on it, and I was anxious to upload a photo of my own. I asked Hannah to take some pictures of me in my white shirt and yellow gingham shirt, then I loaded a photo to the website that evening with a cute little comment about the sunshine and yellow skirts.

The comment that broke me was only four words. A question of sorts, in some teenage girl’s half-hearted attempt to be funny and maybe kind of clever. Definitely intended to draw some laughs, although I still don’t know who from. I logged on the computer and saw, under my photograph, the comment.

“Looks like a man?”

It was me. Fresh-faced. Curly-haired. Thick eyebrows and pre-makeup and wearing the girliest outfit you ever did see. But those words cut me open and bled all over my yellow gingham existence. I cried and cried and read it again and again and felt like the ugliest man-woman in the world. My mom came in and held me for a long time before I told her what happened. I suppose that was five years ago. Sometimes it still feels like it happened recently.

I’ve accumulated many stories over nineteen years of times I felt absolutely devoid of beauty, charm, and grace. Moments when my heart felt naked. So it’s very interesting to me now to see a growing tend in social media promoting women to make declarations of beauty. Trends like the #20beautifulwomen challenge that cause thousands of teenage girls to post pictures of themselves on Instagram acknowledging that they are beautiful and special and important.

All it takes is one comment or thought for us to struggle with an issue for the rest of our lives. Five years have passed since someone made a joke about my masculine features on social media. But almost every time I get dressed or put on makeup or pull back my hair, I feel like her words are Sharpie-d on my forehead. Looks. Like. A. Man. Do you see it, world? Does my hair look like a 70′s rock band drummer? Is my nose too wide? Does my chin stick out? Are my eyebrows thick and furry? I still catch glimpses of myself sometimes and think “man” before I’m able to push the thought away. In a way, I don’t think that will ever stop. I’ll be a seventy-year-old lady who probably fears she looks like an old geezer and avoids polo shirts like the plague.

I’ve been bothered, burdened, and even plagued with self-image issues my whole life. Too masculine. Too white. Too heavy. Too awkward. Too everything. And yet, even after all this, if you asked me, “Rachel, do you think that you are beautiful?” my answer would be a resounding yes. Why?

Because it’s taken me time, and it’s still taking me time, to realize that these shortcomings don’t define me. They can’t keep me from choosing to believe I am beautiful. And not in a doe-eyed, ruby-lipped kind of way. I believe I’m beautiful because I’m strong, and because I’m happy, and because I’m loved.

Who do you let see you on your worst days–when you’re sweaty or frizzy haired or crying or vomiting? Your family? Your best friends? Your significant other? Your oldest acquaintances?

Now how do those people view you? As ugly? Hog-ish? Masculine? I asked a few people to answer rapid-fire what the first word that came to their mind when they thought about my appearance. My best friend said, “Beautiful”. She’s held me at eight in the morning while I sobbed into her arms and dampened her pajamas at the news of a friend’s death. My boyfriend said, “Snazzy.” He’s seen me without a touch of makeup, with wet hair pulled back in a bun and a stretched out orange sweatshirt. My little sister said, “Cute.” She’s seen me fresh out of bed. Crusty-eyed, wild-haired, and cranky.

Do I believe them? Absolutely. Why? Because they honestly, truly, deeply love me. They love me despite my flaws, my quirks, my failings. Despite the way my hair looks in the rain or my body bulges after vacation. They think I’m cute and snazzy and beautiful and I believe them. Adjectives only hold power in the words of those who speak them. Those who know them to be true. When a word is spoken against you, it is stuck in the hands of the person who spoke it. It doesn’t control you. Doesn’t define you. What words do you choose to define yourself? “Strong. Loved. Chosen. Special. Beautiful.”

Now if that’s just how much your physical family and friends, how much greater are you loved by God? How does He see you? You are a most prized possession to Him. A jewel in His crown. He has formed you and held you and seen you in every high and low and secret moment, and He still sees you as His beautiful, precious child.

I can love my body–can love myself–when I see how preciously and carefully I’ve been created. No mistakes. No mishaps. My eyebrows are intentional. My thighs are intentional. My nose is intentional. This is exactly how God wanted me to be and He has given this body to me as a gift. As a temple for His presence.

When you are confident and content in the way Christ made you, there is no room for sin to tear and scar you. 

-Rachel

The Grind

Sometimes you feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope. Like you’re digging a well and instead of finding water at the bottom, more rocks and more dust just keep accumulating. That’s kind of how I’ve been feeling lately, to be honest. This New Year has gotten off with less of a bang and more of a half-hearted pat. I’ve been feeling discouraged and uncreative and confused about my future. Things kind of climaxed this week when I realized that my time spent working is about a fifth of what it was last year before I left for Thailand. My income is pretty much a fifth of what it was as well, and I just feel more sluggish and disheartened in general.

I always know things are serious when I cry in front of my mom about something, and even that happened this week. I wanted to sign up for an art class and after looking at my work flow and bank accounts I realized that I really don’t have enough money to spend on something like that right now. It was a humbling and weird thing to acknowledge for me, because I honestly haven’t worried about money once since I was fourteen years old. But there I was crying over an art class and realizing my life felt pretty empty.

After my embarrassing sob-fest I took some time to pray and reflect on my life right now. It’s such an awkward time of transition. I haven’t decided if I want to go to school next fall or stay home. I haven’t decided where I want to live or what I want to do or what step should come next. I thought about my friends and realized I hadn’t seen any of them in weeks. I opened the stories I’d been working on and realized I had dozens of projects open and nothing finished. I’d turned into such a classic case of disorganization and laziness. I was always working but never getting anything done. There was no purpose to my actions because I had no focus for my life.

This week I’ve been trying to make the future different. I’ve been reading through “Generous Justice” by Tim Keller (a birthday gift from my boyfriend) and the Lord has been convicting me that too much focus on my own success and wealth will only lead me to further unhappiness. I spend so much time holding a secret grudge about the fact that I can’t travel as much as I used to or buy as many clothes as I’d like or take random art classes whenever I feel like it. But I am still so much more infinitely blessed than ninety percent of the people around me.

And so I’ve been working on identifying my distractions and having a clear vision. I want to be working hard on good projects and enabling God to move my life forward. I’m working on a third book and I’m determined to finish this one. I’ve been taking the Hemingway approach and setting aside an hour every morning and an hour every night to do nothing but write. My phone is turned off. My internet is disconnected. I’m focused and pushing and while it sometimes feels like I’m bleeding, the story is coming together.

I’ve also been trying to view Instagram and Pinterest as sources of inspiration and joy, and not portals to jealousy. It’s so easy for me to get on social media and look at how perfect everyone else’s life is and become discontent with where I am. I’ve certainly had some amazing adventures to be sure, but it’s not helpful for me to be constantly longing to go to Peru or Morocco or Niagara Falls. So while I haven’t gotten to the point where I’ve deleted any apps yet, I am learning to tell myself, “Wow. That’s amazing. She is very blessed,” while also realizing. “Wow. My life is amazing. I am very blessed.” My life and my goals aren’t meant to match anyone else’s. 

It’s a grind, isn’t it? Life, I mean. There are times when  you feel so happy and so high and then there are times where you’re crushed in the spokes of a heavy spinning wheel. He flattens us. Wrings out all our pride. In the moments when you don’t have something that everyone wants you realize what you really need. His consistent love. His lavish grace.

It’s a prickly time and a bloody, honest one. I’m not writing these things for you to feel sorry for me or to feel bad about your current circumstances, whatever they are. These words are being said because they’re true. I have crinkled, crushing weeks where I’m wrung through the grind. And I always make it out okay.

This is a year for honesty, right? Let’s be honest about what’s hard for us. Then let’s zip up our big-girl pants and type until our fingers ache and stay up one hour later and throw away well-used tissues. And we’ll find beauty and joy in it all.

Life is often found in moments stuck in the grind.

-Rachel

#GivingTuesday

Hey guys! I’ll get back to full-time blogging  soon, but first I wanted to give a shoutout to #GivingTuesday

In the hectic rush that is Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so many people forget about #GivingTuesday. Which is a shame, because of all the shiny new objects in your shopping cart this year, very few may actually make a difference in someone’s life.

After meeting Elaini a few years ago and marveling at the self-sacrificial love that has motivated her to raise over $89,000 for kiddos in India she may never meet, I made a promise to myself to always make the most expensive item on my Christmas shopping list the one that gives back to others.

Join me today in setting aside some of your shopping money to help send money to Elaini’s kiddos. By sacrificing that new coat or pair of shoes or Instax camera (haha I’m preaching to myself here), you can put food in the bellies of babies and knowledge in the minds of hungry souls.

You can make a tax-deductible donation to Warm Blanket’s Orphan Rescue Operation here, and check out Elaini’s thoughts on #GivingTuesday here. Also, please raise awareness about this opportunity to give on social media by posting a photo and tagging it #Unselfie and #GivingTuesday. Let’s help remind the world what Christmastime is all about–sharing God’s gift to us with others!

-Rachel

You’re Probably Expecting Some Reflections

 

Well today marks two weeks since I returned from my four month stay in Asia, so I figured a blog post was probably long due. I’m sitting here with what feels like a stone in my stomach because writing about my experiences + my homecoming is actually way harder than I expected it would be. I keep wanting to either gloss over everything with a shiny happy overcoat or paint a dismal grey shadow of gloom, and neither picture would really fully encompass how it feels to be home and to think about all the things I learned. “In conclusion” blog posts are horrible and unfair and should be banned, but somehow everyone expects us to write them anyway.

For those of you who have been wondering, yes I am still alive and yes, I’ve had a good two weeks back in America. I’ve been to the beach and the city, I’ve gone dancing and window shopping, I’ve eaten milkshakes and Chickfila, and I’ve been reconnected with my family and almost all of my friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better fourteen days back in the States.

There’s a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald that goes:

“It’s a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”

When I stepped off the plane in Richmond, I felt this heavy wave crash over me at the thought that everything was so familiar. I knew the shape of the airport. The weak arches of water in the drinking fountains. The smell of burgers at Wendy’s and hot wings at Applebee’s. I got in our family’s minivan and was almost a little stunned at how normal the itchy fabric seats felt, and found it strange how completely un-strange all the scenery was.

I was overwhelmed at how completely ordinary everything felt. Like I’d never been gone at all.

I collapsed into my bed that night and curled up into a ball and slept for hours. Like nothing had ever changed. Like this had been the same room swimming behind my eyelids for the past one hundred and twenty nights.

It completely terrified me. The fact that I could be gone for four months, eight thousand miles away from pine trees and biscuits and everyone I knew and loved, only to come home and find that nothing had changed.

It’s hard to look at yourself and identify the ways you have or haven’t changed in the past few weeks or months. It’s like growing. You go to bed each night and wake up each morning and then find one day that you can reach the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet and that your favorite blue jeans end above your ankles. It couldn’t have happened overnight, and yet you never saw it coming.

I can’t look back at my time in Thailand and identify when I changed or grew or learned things. I do know that it was hard. That God changed me in ways I didn’t fully see until I was back home. But I don’t know how or when that happened. I know that when I first arrived in Asia, I struggled. I was an eighteen-year-old girl in a foreign country where I didn’t know or feel completely loved by anyone. And it hurt to realize how strange that felt.

I guess I’ve spent most of my life taking for granted the fact that people love me. Not only do I have my sisters, who are like smaller, cooler versions of myself that are almost constantly around me, but I have a community of amazing people who just love me. And who show that love in incredible ways. And while that love is an incredible gift, somewhere along the way I had twisted it into a selfish dependence on others. I had grown really comfortable with the way others saw me. Not just as someone smart and talented, but as someone who was important. Someone who stood out. I knew that all my friends loved me, and that people who I hadn’t even met yet probably liked me too based on the things they would have heard about me from others. I never had to worry about making a good first impression, because I already just expected everyone to love me regardless.

My first two weeks in Asia were sobering. I remember sitting in my corner of the office one day and feeling completely overwhelmed with how small I felt. Invisible might be a good word. Insignificant would be another. I was in an environment where I knew no one, and where that fact really didn’t bother anyone else. I mean, people made small talk and were nice to me, but I knew I was the new girl who hadn’t quite settled in yet and found her place there.

It was the first time I had ever felt completely alone. Stressed. Tired. Jet lagged. Lonely. Unimportant. And while I was excited at the chance to spend four months exploring another part of the world and serving God in whatever ways I could, I also felt completely inadequate to the task and lacking in the energy it took to accomplish it. I went to bed at eight or nine every night. I made a friend and watched her leave. It was just so frustratingly hard.

I didn’t really recognize at the time that I was struggling, but I knew that I was losing weight and getting headaches and talking to people back home less and less. I missed my family and friends, but I just never felt like talking to anyone.

The worst thing you can do when you’re feeling lonely is to avoid people. But I was making absolutely zero effort to find friends in Thailand and I wasn’t really keeping in touch with too many of my friends back home either. I felt myself becoming smaller and smaller as I traveled more and met more people and gained deeper insight into what God was doing in Asia.

And then an amazing thing happened. As I shrank, everything else got bigger. I think your prayer life changes when you’re in a stressful situation. I didn’t realize that until my first two months in Thailand. My view of God was just magnified. I started going on afternoon walks with just my camera and no idea what anyone around me was saying. I watched. I took pictures. I was completely moved and broken over songs I’d heard a thousand times and verses I’d known since I was five. I realized that no matter how small and insignificant I am in the grand scheme of life, God cherishes me. I felt my relationship with him expand into something I’d never known. He was my Savior, but He was my Friend. I saw Him provide for me in ways I hadn’t expected. He gave me friends. He gave me a Thailand family. He deepened my relationship with my roommate. He opened the door to ministries and trips I got to be a part of. He showed me how much He loved me through the sweet words of my new friends and the little gifts they unknowingly gave me, like nicknames and inside jokes and the knowledge that I was wanted there.

And somewhere around the end of my second month in Thailand, I suddenly realized: I was happy. Not just “I’m having fun with my friends wearing cute clothes and drinking milkshakes and dancing until midnight” kind of happy. The deep happiness that comes with realizing that I was different from everyone around me, but that we all deeply appreciated and loved each other because we could see God moving in each other’s lives. Here were fifteen people with completely different backgrounds, worldviews, stories, and personalities than me, and I probably never would have met or been friends with any of them in America. But it was beautiful. And I found that I honestly didn’t care about how they all perceived me. I certainly wasn’t the prettiest. I didn’t dress the best for sure. I wasn’t the funny one. Or the witty one. I could never claim to be the smartest and I wasn’t the most talented.

But I was happy. And I knew what it felt like to be completely stripped bare and forced to look upon the ugliness of your own heart. But because of that, I also knew what it was to be covered. Covered in grace; in love; in the knowledge that Christ is enough. I could laugh and tease and go to bed early and skip out on sushi and have long talks in the car and not worry about anything because I knew that nothing I could do would ever add to enough.

I didn’t expect to miss Thailand this much. The night my friends took me to the airport in Chiang Mai, they slipped notes in my bag and attempted to break dance in the international departure lobby and bought me piping hot tea and pressed their faces up to the glass making silly faces until I disappeared. And I feel like I left a part of my heart behind. That doesn’t make me broken, or unhappy in America, or miserable until I return to Thailand, but it does make things different. I left parts of me in Asia that no one will ever know about or see again, and I brought pieces back that I don’t think I’ve fully recognized yet.

There are mornings where I wake up feeling like I want to cry. I just want to go back to that place where I felt so happy and free and where I didn’t feel like I needed to seek after God because He was always right there, wrapped around me. But I’ve realized that happiness doesn’t depend on your circumstances. And I honestly believe that God would have taught me all those same lessons right here in Virginia if He’d chosen to do so. Which means that there are more things for me to learn in the coming months that He didn’t want to show me in Asia.

A friend recently asked if I felt like I’d grown up in Asia. I told him that I wasn’t sure yet. That maybe growing up is a process of growing alone. Thailand was the first time I felt like I had to fully deal with someone alone. Just me and God. It was hard, and it was a mountain that required scaling, but that I climbed without my family and without my friends. And maybe that means I grew up a little. Became one step closer to being an adult.

So yes, it feels good to be home. I love seeing my family and spending time with the people I grew up with and care about deeply. But I also love living in the freedom of knowing who I am to God. I’m special because I’m His. Not because of anything I am or do or think. It feels so good to just rest in that while I wait to see what He’s going to do in my life next.

-Rachel

P.S. Sorry for the longest blog post ever. Truly sorry.

 

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

 

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

The Fairytale Mindset

Before you read this, please understand the following.

I’m writing this as an eighteen year old girl. I’m writing this as someone who has never been kissed or even held hands with a boy. I’m writing this as someone who does not have all the answers, and who doesn’t have any false illusions of being an expert on these subjects. Hopefully, I’m writing this in humility and in searching my own heart, which is definitely deceitfully wicked and completely un-understandable at times. I’m not trying to judge anyone, or force my views upon anyone else.

I went on my first date when I was seventeen. Yes, I was under eighteen. Yes, everyone thought my parents were crazy for letting me go somewhere alone with a member of the male specimen (although we did drive separately and there were several thousand people surrounding us as we awkwardly walked around outside with our hands in our own pockets).

Before you start getting all interested, though, I’m not planning on telling you all the details of my love life in this post. Someday, I’ll probably tell the whole story and you’ll get to indulge in your nosiness all you want. Today, you’re just getting little snippets, though. Snippets like the picture of me on my first date, wearing bright orange cords (“You’ll be able to find me when you get there because I’ll be wearing bright orange pants!” I told him, much to his horror) and with windblown hair, walking around with a nose reddened from the December breeze. I was finally getting to spend the afternoon with a guy that I liked a lot. He’d won my respect as a friend and had followed all the rules when it came to asking my dad permission to take me out, meeting the family, and getting to know me from a distance. And he was serious about me. Dead serious.

Long story short, that relationship lasted for about three months. We broke up over the phone, because he was on a trip several states away, and it was completely mutual. As far as I know, there were no hard feelings. We’ve seen each other since then, and while I won’t lead you guys to believe that being in and out of a relationship is as un-messy as your mom’s kitchen sink (or maybe it’s just my mom who is like that), it’s fine. There were no tears, no fights, and no more than a handful of “shoot-me-now” awkward moments. He’s an amazingly godly guy who loves the Lord and will make a great husband to someone one day!

It just won’t be me, I realized. And so I ended that relationship with the assumption that I would just have to start searching for my husband elsewhere. In a Bible study, maybe. At a church. In the middle of a book signing. At the grocery store, for Pete’s sake.

He could be ANYWHERE.

When I wrote my little comical parody of “Pride and Prejudice” a few months ago, I was completely taken aback by the almost viral response it got. Ten times more views than any of my other posts to date. I was laughing about it with my family and I think I made the comment, “I guess people found it funny!” My dad just shrugged and said, “There’s truth to it. For every truly funny thing, there’s gotta be a little truth behind it.”

It took a few days for that to sink in. But when it did, it really sank. Deep to my bones. To my guilty heart. The heart that, ever since I was old enough to realize that boys and girls are different, longed to have someone tell her that she was pretty and special and sweet and smart. The heart that wanted to be held, nurtured, and flattered. The heart that sought after a match, and wasn’t going to take “Wait” for an answer. Because waiting is boring and some of us just want to know all the answers right now. And what girl, when she’s so desperate to fall in love and so eager to make it happen with whomever seems interested, can resist a handsome, sweet guy who seems to genuinely like and respect her?

And so I’ve made mistakes. I’m not here to list them for you, or to ask you to judge my life or my heart. God’s pretty good at doing that Himself. But there did finally come a day when my heart was completely captured. Snatched up, tucked away, and treated like the treasure that it is. And it wasn’t a tall, handsome, bowtie-wearing stranger who did it.

It was God.

My heart stopped fluttering the moment I realized that no man is ever going to make me truly happy. I’m never going to wake up one day and think that the man by my side is a perfect gift from the Lord sent to meet my every need and fill my every empty spot.

My emotions stopped swirling when I realized that I might never find someone who makes me belly laugh every single morning, even when I’m sick or cramping or about to give birth to his child.

My longings stopped controlling me when I opened my eyes and finally understood that no man will ever be able to read my mind, or know my heart, or completely capture me in every way imaginable.

Because that’s not what men are for. That’s what God is for.

For years, I’ve grown up with the mindset that my whole childhood, teen, and young adult years are just a “holding place” for the day when I’ll be married and my life will be fulfilled. I’ve approached friendships with just about every male I know as a tentative “beginnings of a relationship” mindset. I’ve made my own plans for the future, and tried to direct my own steps. I’ve attempted to match myself and failed horribly.

We all laugh at Lizzie and Jane and Lydia and Mrs. Bennett, but why? Because, but for the grace of God, that is us. That is me. A woman solely focused on one thing: holy matrimony. A heart yearning for a six-foot-two male by myself with dark curly hair and freckles. Someone to listen to my heart, to hold my hand, and to supply a warm pillow for me to dry my tears.

But when did we replace God with marriage? When did we, as young women, shift our eyes from the true lover of our souls and seek to find contentment in shy telephone calls and awkward hand-holding in the park?

Marriage is a beautiful thing. Love is a beautiful thing. I can think of few things that would make me happier than to know that God has a wonderful, godly young man out there who will never know me perfectly and will probably make me mad nine days out of ten and will forget to turn off the light in the laundry room, but who I will love, cherish, and delight in. I look forward to that day, should God bring it to pass!

But I’m ready to be done with the guessing. With the wondering–could it be this guy? Or could it be that guy? I’m through with asking God to show me my husband and I’m ready to just ask God to show me Himself. To let me know Him more fully. To let me fall more in love with Jesus everyday.

Marriage is never going to make you truly happy.

Jesus will make you truly happy. 

Love will never bring you true contentment.

Christ will.

I don’t look back over my past experiences with romance or young men with regrets or embarrassment. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be sharing them with you right now. All I want to do is share honestly what God has taught me about love at this time in my life. My life isn’t a fairytale. I’m not a believer in pumpkin carriages or magical first kisses or princes who ride in on horseback.

I’m a believer in grace. In unconditional love from God our Father. I believe that God cares about me enough to completely satisfy me every day of my life. In love and out of love. Through messy relationships and beautiful ones. Through broken friendships, broken hearts, and nights spent knocking on the gas station door asking for a carton of ice cream because you just broke up with your boyfriend. (Yep. Been there.)

I don’t have to look forward to the day I fall in love. Because I already am in love. Passionately, gloriously, and miraculously loved and cherished by my Lord. And when you think about it that way, why would I waste a single moment waiting for a guy anyway?

-Rachel

Why is the World So Big?

Some days, I really don’t feel like it’s such a small world after all. Today was one of those days. I was going through my phone and clearing out old photos and I stumbled upon all of the pictures documenting my trip to Portland over the summer. Photo after photo of silly faces, hugs, jumping up and down, and eating icecream. Almost every one with my sweet friend Elaini’s face in it. Then that got me feeling kinda depressed and sad, and I started finding even more photos of my trips to Seattle, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and all the other places I visited this year. And there were so many smiling faces that I haven’t seen in months belonging to friends I haven’t gotten to hug in what feels like forever. Why? Because they’re spread out all over this “small world” that sometimes feels just way too big for its own good.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my home and my family and the amazing network of friends that I have right around me in Virginia. But sometimes I start thinking about all the beautiful people that I know (and friends I haven’t met yet) all across this world and I feel very homesick, right when I’m sitting in my own living room.

I’m homesick for the companionship of kindred spirits that live far away or that I’ve only been able to meet and talk to through the immense world-wide web. I’m homesick for memories made and memories yet to be made with dear friends who always make me laugh and who make every day all the brighter. I’m homesick for deep conversations in person with people I only get to talk to through text. I’m homesick for the spiritual encouragement that comes with chatting with people of different backgrounds than your own, and seeing first-hand what God is doing in their lives.

It’s so crazy sometimes to think of just how big this world is. We can say “it’s a small world after all” however many times we want and it’s still not going to change the fact that there will always be somewhere you’ve never been, some face you’ve never seen, and some story you’ll never know. And it makes my heart just ache with the knowledge that there are people I need to meet and share my life and faith with. That there are friends I need to hug and encourage. Little children with dirty feet that I need to scoop up and kiss. Broken hearts that I need to minister to.

But then I realize: I can find every single one of those things right outside of my front door. In the little two hundred mile radius that makes up my rural county, there are thousands of people that I’ve yet to meet. Thousands of hearts that I haven’t shared Christ with. Thousands of arms that I haven’t embraced and thousands of stomachs that I haven’t fed (with my world-famous pie, of course) and thousands of stories that I haven’t listened to.

When am I going to finally wake up and realize that while God might one day have amazing things for me to do in other states, in other regions, and in other countries, He’s got some pretty big important things for me to do right here?

I’m not going to get hung-up on the “homesickness” and the wanderlust and the desire to change lives in other parts of the world just yet. I’m going to focus on where my home is now. I’m going to pray for opportunities to reach out to and build relationships with the people right around me. My heart is going to ache and burn to see hearts turned to Christ right here in middle-of-nowhere Virginia. For God to do an amazing work in my hometown, with my redneck neighbors, and through my feeble efforts.

Let’s not just turn the world upside-down for Christ. Let’s start with turning home–wherever it might be, whatever it might look like, and however boring it might seem–into a mission field for Jesus.

-Rachel