Saturday, April 26, 2014

Malawi: This Season

The wind is rustling the world outside my screen door. It's one of those sudden Tucson winds, the kind that carries surprises and change with it. It's "cold" today, an oasis in a landscape of 90 degree highs. And an unimaginable joy (for the Tucsonan): it even smells like rain.

Rain. Thirst.

This year has been dry. This semester has been dry. Busy. Rushed. Stressed. I find myself talking to people and not even forming full and complete ideas. I try to compose messages, and find myself capable of only typing communicative half-sentences. "Will be there soon," or "Not going to make it." I hope every time I hit send that I don't sound abrupt and distant, although in reality, that's somewhat true. It's just not personal. I'm abrupt and distant with almost everyone lately. My emotional life is on hold, a luxury I don't have time for. A sea I cannot afford to sink in. Not now. 

Is this really who I want to be?

The question is haunting. Not everyone handles stress this way. Maybe that makes me "weak," but I've stopped caring about that. It, like many things, is a question I don't have time for. I can only digest it in small pieces, those islands in time I set aside to be "at peace." I am not sure I feel more peaceful in their wake. 

I don't mean to sound dramatic in all of this. Part of me hopes to finally carve in rough-hewn and jagged words what I have not been able to express elsewhere. I don't ever remember being in such a busy, heart-squelching time. I don't ever remember feeling so disoriented, if only for the physical lack of time to process, understand, and dig meaningful roots in life outside of grad school. But there is an end in sight. It's the point in the marathon when a little pathetic sigh of despair escapes you at the thought of how much distance remains. But still, the end exists, and that is encouraging.

But I'm not writing to lament this season. It is merely a time, a hill, a thing to overcome. More importantly, I want to tell you of a journey I will be embarking on at the end of this craziness, one that I expect to overwhelm me, challenge me, and perhaps pour life-giving water to the deepest, neglected ebbs of my heart. All that to say, I am going to Africa in June.

The trip, of course, is not about me. I will be going with a team from my parents' church, Mission Community, to Malawi for two weeks. We will partner with a local organization to visit medical and new-mother clinics, play with orphans and local kids, and serve wherever our hands are needed. We are at the discretion of what the local organization needs, staffed by native Malawians. We are merely hands and feet. And hearts. When I let myself process this, pray for it, emotionally engage with the reality that I will be going, I get so excited for the beautiful and wonderful people I will meet. I long to hear their stories, see their smiles, cry their tears, and learn from them. I want to know them, understand them, value them. Not in pity, but joy. Malawians are said to be some of the warmest most joyful people, and also some of the poorest people. Do I even understand what it is to be poor like that? The answer, unequivocally, is no. But do I understand their joy in poverty? This answer is probably equally humbling.

In the solemn halls of academia, I forget that this is who I am. More than any sense of power or accomplishment, prestige or intellectualism, the times in my life that I have felt most alive have been standing in the middle of Mexican slums and busy Asian thoroughfares. I expect this trip to be a mutual exchange - giving everything I have to offer and soaking in everything my heart can hold. I think it is unavoidable that I will receive more than I can give, and this, too, is humbling. But I pray to go, to be obedient, to be persistent, hopeful, and daring. I think this time will offer clarity into the season I find myself, and pour life back onto these dry bones. I only hope to love and serve the people of Malawi as much as their presence will undoubtedly serve me. Their stories will probably break my heart, and challenge my comfort. Their realities will humble and possibly even grieve me. Their smiles will warm my soul. 

If you are interested in finding out more about my upcoming trip or receiving more personal updates and prayer requests, please email me. (You can find my email address through the "profile" tab in the sidebar.) If you are interested in financially supporting this trip ($1300 still to raise by May 3!), then either send me an email or go to this website. You can support me specifically by clicking the green tab on the bottom left ("Support Someone") and specifying my name. If you are content to receive broad updates, feel free to keep checking this page. I will most likely post some of my broadest pre- and post-processing thoughts here. 

Finally, go in peace. 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.' (Romans 15:13)


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wherefore Art Thou, Humility?

He has made everything beautiful in its time. 
-Ecclesiastes 3:11

Even me. Even you. 

I don't know about you, but I always wanted to be the kind of person who would stand for something. I aspired to be the sort who wasn't afraid to do anything, so long as it were the right thing. (And it would always be the right thing.) I would have crisp wit and ringing character, be gracious and compelling. I would be a rebel, a leader, an anomaly. 

Until I wasn't.

Maybe the stress and busyness of grad school have squeezed out the ooziest uckiest things from within me, or maybe all the emotion that I haven't had time for is going to awkwardly splatter all over this entry, but somewhere in my swashbuckling splendor, I think I've gone terribly awry. And it's not the sort of "awry" that is just a wrong turn here or there. Rather, if I were a mountain, these troublesome stones would stretch into my deepest layers.

Ugh. - That awkward moment when you realize you're actually a jerk.

There are always two options when you come to this kind of discovery. The first, and easiest, is to close that the heck up and leave it alone, or make excuses for yourself that divert the issue rather than absorbing it. (#winning) The second, reasonably more uncomfortable option is to unearth the entire monstrosity, invite your closest friends to help, (buy a pizza?) and go thereOr sob. As I did all over my coworkers this week. 

The thing is, I do not want to be someone whose sass or wit stand in the way of being available. I don't want to seek laughter, "likes", and approval at the expense of being truly known. I do not want to brush over the glaring flaws that people try to make me aware of in the name of, "It will probably be fine." (Which, in English, means "Whatever, fools, I got this.")  I want to be daring, confident, and unequivocally vibrant, yes. But I also want to be humble - genuinely humble. I would rather be unimpressive and genuine than flashy and pompous, which is unfortunately not what my life has always communicated. I would rather be overlooked (ouch!) for something that I am than loved for something I do not want to be. But more important than being any of these things, because focusing on being anything invariably becomes about striving, I need to know that I already am His. God's. There is no striving in that, but rest. There is no pride in that, but humble gratitude. There is nothing to prove, because it has already been proven. There is no greater than or less than, there just is. And there is peace. 
"Jesus came to release us from the slaveish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves." -Tullian Tchividjian 
Will you join me in being real in this crazy life? Authentically unmagnificent? A learner? We always want our best colors to shine, but I would rather wave the flag of 'work in progress' if it meant that I would continue to progress. Mature. Deepen. Soften. I don't have this all figured out. I'm not just saying that. And I'm sorry if you've ever been overwhelmed by the stench of my self-importance. 
With that I leave you with The Oh Hello's, and their beautiful song.

But nothing is a waste
Nothing is a waste if you learn from it
And the sun, it does not cause us
The sun, it does not cause us to grow
It is the rain that will strengthen
The rain that will strengthen your soul