Uniting Under the Marriage Covenant
There are far too many words and pictures to share to do this occasion justice, but I would be amiss to not at least acknowledge how grateful + astounded we are at how the Lord has abundantly blessed us in this season, because He has been set first in our lives + in our marriage (Matthew 6:33, Luke 11:28, Psalm 4:7, 84:5, etc.). Here are the highlights of our special day joining as one, and our subsequent journey of life begun together on our honeymoon in Colorado.
Wedding photography by Shelby Spencer
& then the Camps went camping...
Connections Created to Confirm My Course + Calling
Stuffed between school + other summer responsibilities were a few lonely weeks that I couldn’t stand to leave free — I saw that time as prime opportunity for me to go somewhere or serve somehow, so I reached out to my pastors at church to see if they could find anything for me in their plethora of connections… and long story short, I got confirmation about a week before leaving that I would be going to a church in Georgia for the month (note: if you remember my past blogs about Mexico, Denver, my desire for control, etc., then you know this going-blindly-without-expectations thing was a huge work God has done in my heart). Since I didn’t have set expectations for what I would be doing during my time there, I had no idea that God would use me in the ways that He did; teaching me more about myself, preparing me for my future, and challenging a well-established church to look at things from new perspectives for the furtherance of the Gospel + God’s Kingdom.
Upon my arrival + having initial conversations, I vaguely knew that I would be helping with the students ministry + discipleship, as well as with college + young adults outreach, VBS planning, and really whatever anyone else needed at any point. Also, in hindsight, MUCH of my time was spent meeting with people + building relationships or serving in mundane ways, that may not all be mentioned here. The Lord was seriously working in me during the past few weeks + that is evident in the short stories that I will recount below. One major realization that I had was the way God speaks to me through making connections. Ever since I started studying the Word for myself, I have said that “the coolest thing is making connections across the Bible” — whether it be specific phrasing, paralleled themes, or just the consistency of our God from Genesis to Revelation; I loved how it all connected! As I tell about the things that I have been doing + the takeaways that I have been learning, you will see how God used connections between random events, or conversations, or readings to bridge various pieces together. (Warning: if you CTRL+F the word “connections” it will probably show up 100+ times by the end of this blog 😉).
If you have stuck through this blog post this far, you deserve congratulations! and a thank you! If you can believe it, this is a teeny recount of just the highlighted connections in each of my days, which barely skims the surface of my full day’s events. Regardless of all of the words + details, what I hope you take away from this is how incredible God is — how He moves + speaks to + teaches + touches + sanctifies us.
All of these connections confirm my calling unto Him + counsel me in the course He has for me ahead.
How The Lord is Presently Pruning + Preparing My Path
That’s the question I have been asking myself over the past month. I have a big year ahead of me; it’s turning out to be, at least. I’m finishing up my undergraduate degree and will be graduating from college in May, I begin my first full-time internship in the field that I am hoping to pursue, I begin graduate school for a Masters in Integrative Wellness this Fall, then if you haven’t heard the news of my engagement already; I am going to get married as well! There’s so many exciting events + moments + opportunities ahead, some of which I had planned for + expected, but others that I had no idea were going to be coming in this season of my life. With the combination of these factors, I am pausing to reflect + reevaluate the plan I had set for myself. Notice some key words in that: the plan that I had set for myself. Now, we know where this is going… “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). So, in light of that, I have spent a lot of this past year + especially the past couple of months in a lot of prayer. Prayer for guidance, yes, but more so prayer for my own heart — for contentment where God has me + where God is leading me.
You all know by now, or if you don’t then you can tell from the title of this blog, that I have a heart for missions. Since the moment I grasped the Gospel fully for myself, I wanted to share it with other people; I wanted others to have the same hope, joy, fulfillment that I had in a life saturated with Christ. This eager desire combined with my love of travel + learning of contrasting cultures, sent me into a search + pursuit of national/international mission trips + opportunities. My plan throughout college was that I would attend classes throughout the school year (late August - early May), then I would spend my summers out on mission. Then, when I graduated college, I wanted to pursue a long-term program through the International Mission Board (IMB). This plan was golden up until the last month of recent events, as I began to realize that the plans I set for my life were not exactly compatible with God’s blueprint of my life.
One of those “events” that I mention, came about through recent teaching opportunities that I have had. I co-teach 5th grade students every week at my church, but I have had fewer + newer opportunities to teach fellow college students. I spent intentional, invested time in study + preparation, making notes + takeaways as I would for myself in my own study. Following the lesson, I was given very literal, positive, encouraging feedback. I did not ever think of myself as a teacher, but it gave me the occasion to reflect on past experiences where this has also been true of my writing, leading, discipleship. Further, it reminded me of how this gift of teaching is so present + prominent in Jay — my (almost) other half. The purpose of our lives is to glorify God + the purpose of any relationship is for that to be manifested greater together than as one. As I began to put these pieces together, I fell even more confident of our relationship, as a God-ordained pairing, and even more clear on what it was that God was preparing ahead of me.
At the current time, in societal terms as well as my own place in life, it has been made more clear to me that my desire to go out on mission is no less fervent + clear, but it is definitely not in the precise way that I had been expecting or envisioning it.
For one, it was not going to happen immediately when I graduated college. I wanted to do long-term missions somewhere for at least a couple years, however, God had different plans. Based on how my 21 years of life had gone thus far, I did not expect to be stopped in my tracks by a romantic relationship. Fortunately, and providentially, God has used this relationship to grow my spiritual walk + my personal life (though they are not separate) in numerous capacities. I have learned more about myself, my sins, my strengths + weaknesses, my surroundings, relationships, the local church, the depths of God; it was not a season wasted, though my mind may have been tempted to think otherwise because I was not “going” out on mission.
Secondly, I learned that this does not mean that my chance for missions is completely gone away with just because it may not happen in the two years after I graduate. Rather, it may come in 5 years, or maybe 25 years, or maybe not at all. And I learned something really important through this process (the process of a lot of prayer, study, tears): contentment. My heart is content because the whole concept of missions is not. about. me. This is not a journey to grow + mature me (though it does do that), or a way to satisfy my own desires for travel or connecting with other cultures. Missions — THE mission — is to glorify the God of Heaven alone.
Thirdly, to go back to where I started, I see the Lord leading me in ways that I did not expect in my plan; yet these are not antithetical to missions. Missions has a connotation where we only think of it being to go out yourself, or to send out financially/prayerfully. However, there is another aspect: training, teaching, organizing, leading. When it comes to these preparatory tasks involved in the mission of God, we often glaze over them, or do not even think of their existence. But how important they are! If we did not organize + lead individuals, there would be no trip to send or go out on, and there would be no assistance or guidance along the way either. If we did not have individuals teaching + training individuals before they were sent out somewhere, at best they may encounter difficult situations or conversations that they do not know how to address; at worst they may misshapen + muddy the message of the Gospel itself. The more I learn about the intricacies of missions + I learn about my own giftings the Father has indwelled me with, I begin to see my mission mindset being redefined + refined.
As I am still much in the process of prayer + patience awaiting the times + opportunities ahead, I ask one thing of you: your prayers. If you haven’t caught on through this post already, prayer is a key thing here (in life). I ask for your prayer for my future; wherever it is that God leads me, that I be content, that I humble myself + my preferences, that I be patient + gracious, that I be — for all the days of my life + all the ways that I can — honoring + glorifying to the God of Heaven + Earth, the great I Am.
"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after;
The Darkness of 2020 Cannot Overcome the Light of the Gospel
This blog was intentionally created + commenced as a travel blog to share some of my spontaneous excursions + planned destinations. However, 2020 has been a year that did not allow for many of those events to occur — at least not afar. This year has encompassed frequent flexibility + a healthy dose of discoveries. The time we have spent adjusting, we have been learning more deeply + growing beyond stagnant routines. My 2020 was a little bit like that...
As I mentioned, and as we all know, travel completely ceased + wanderlust hearts like my own were deflated when quarantine + lockdowns ensued. However, in the midst of rules + restrictions, creative minds began to construct inside tranquil, still bodies. We went back to the drawing board. We originated new ways of keeping our legs moving + our hands occupied. We dusted off parts of our brains that had been stuck in autopilot + we began to chart new territories. This occurred for me in the discovery of new hobbies such as reading (for genuine interest + pleasure rather than for school assignments!) + crafts such as embroidery, bracelet-making (a nostalgic return), collage, and what I take as a craft: cooking. But for the travel-bug inside me... it tracked + traversed foreign lands that were in my own “neck of the woods.” No way could I stay locked in a house for 2 weeks...3 months...TBD how long. I had to get outside (with proper PPE of course); even if for just a little bit or just outside my back door. Below are some snapshots from my not-so-far but new-found location getaways.
While my travel-lust was being satisfied in experimental ways, I was being stretched in many other ways, much more internally. It is not a surprise that when we face situations that are unfamiliar + uncomfortable, we experience challenges + come out changed on the other end. Have you ever felt that? I think this year provided that for a lot of us, and if you have not experienced that, 2020 isn’t over yet (LOL). I have trusted full-heartedly that God has been using this time for a purpose. We have had much time to wrestle + raise questions in the present of what that purpose may be, but now we have an opportune time to reflect in hindsight of what we have experienced, encountered, learned. For many that has manifested through a turning of eyes away from work + into the family, priorities shifted apart from external pleasures by means of money or travel + toward internal contentment through hobbies, relaxation, time with the Lord. For me, the afflictions + adjustments of this year were met with increased stress + an intentional relationship. Through both of those, sanctification.
I genuinely hope that this period has been a time of growth and discovery for people. It is times like these that make us find new intricacies about ourselves and the world around us, ask deep questions, and begin to see why difficult, dark, disheartening times truly do bring about the sweetest fruit and brightest light.
From some of the pictures above, you can see that I’ve had some really great moments + highlights from the past year. But honestly, I think the greatest highlight has shone through in the midst of my darkest. Let's set a slight scene: I was stressed. I was overwhelmed. I had the biggest breakdown of my life. My sin was no longer vague (“I’m a sinner”), but it was made evident + clear (“THIS is my sin!”). Before, I knew I was a sinner saved by the mercy of God + the blood of Jesus. I applied that to occasional sins that came up. But now I began to connect dots; God opened my eyes to see those occasions as being continual tendencies + patterns of personality.
Being close with someone allows them to see the inconsistencies + faults in us. To call them out + bring them to light, but also to encourage us to persevere + point us in the right direction to the One (only one) that can save us. The Lord has blessed my highest dose of spiritual stress with my highest degree of social support. Jay has been — fortunately for me, I think maybe unfortunately for him, LOL — at my literal side through all of the mess of myself. But that is what we’re called to do as believers in the church, no? We hear one another’s hurts + bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2). We use prayer + the Word of God to reveal sin + to exhort one another. I have been blessed with a whole church full of obedient, loving, selfless people like that — like Christ. God used Jay in my life to point out the dirty clothes that I was still wearing so that I could fully take part in the washing + renewal that Christ was offering — not just by word or practice, but a full realization + transformation.
In our college Bible study, we have been going through the gospel of John. At the onset of this emotional overflow (the night before) we read chapter 15 — the one most people know as the “vine + branches” or the “abide in me” passage. We read through the chapter at the beginning of our time together + something captivated me. I couldn’t stop rereading verse 2: "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." The Lord prunes the branches that are bearing fruit… in order to bear more. He does not take the time to refine + reform a branch that is already dying or falling away. He focuses on those that are bearing fruit + He prunes them. While I was questioning whether or not my faith was real or genuine because of my sin that I had been made aware of, the Lord was pointing out to me that this pruning was not a punishment or cause for me to run away or hide. This pruning (in Greek: cleansing) was to reveal to me that I was growing in the right direction, but that there were necessary steps still needed to be done so that I could continue growing. Pruning is not easy or comfortable, but how worth it! What a glorious outcome! We must go through the discomfort of discipline + directing in order to proceed in sanctification + produce sweet fruit.
As soon as I begin to feel a tiny taste of freedom from the sins that so tightly, vigorously entangle, I am tempted to sigh in relief + throw out a quick “Oh, thank you Lord for giving me peace!” then move on. But I am quickly reminded of how weak I am + how needy I am of my Savior. Not just once in my justification by His dying for me + declaring of me, but over+over in my sanctification. I continually fall short (“fall” not “fell”; Romans 3:23) + I need continual cleansing (Jesus washed the body, but we still need washing of the feet; John 13). Now, don’t get me wrong — Jesus has already cleansed us. We see that in the succeeding verse of John 15: "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you" (v.3), but the blood of Jesus does not only deal with the guilt of sin (present); it also deals with the stain of sin (past, present, future) which hinders our continual relationship with God. We must be unreserved + upfront, willing to come to God with our acknowledgement + plea of “Lord, cleanse me.” Not because we haven’t been cleansed before, but because we need to be continually reminded of His continual cleansing to enjoy continual relationship with Him. He is not a one-and-done operator. His love + mercies are unending, everlasting, steadfast, eternal.
So in a nutshell, I was overwhelmed out of my wits in order to recognize that I am not the ringleader + I need to REST in the One that is. I was feeling dirty + disposable + undeserving in order to discover that the Almighty God has chosen to CLEANSE me in spite of those faults, and He continually chooses to pursue me every moment of every day. I am still undeserving of this great love, but I see it in a whole new light. Not by me, but all by Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.
”Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
Let this be our hope for today, + for the new year.
Finding Contentment + Opportunity in Unforeseen Times + Places
As we all know + are well (may be too well) aware of, COVID-19 has shifted many plans we’ve had set for 2020. However, those shifted plans haven’t all been for the negative as they seem to be from the outset. And in those shifted plans I hope there have been for you, like there has been for me, some switched priorities + stretched perspectives.
I mentioned in a previous post that this year would have been full of various destinations on my list to explore + experience + exposit through this blog, including New Orleans, Dominican Republican, and a return to Denver for the summer. When all of those aims were taken down one by one, I felt disappointed. But honestly, the feeling didn’t last for long. I realized — by the grace of God intervening in my type-A, control-freak mind — that all of this COVID confusion, chaotic circumstances, corrupted courses were happening for a definitive purpose. And despite them — in the midst of them — God was still working + abundantly providing me with unknown paths + possibilities.
The first of many unforeseen events for this season of life was the start of a new relationship, which if you know me, you know that this is quite new. I won’t spend too much time here (so feel free to ask questions as you’d like), but in short, it has been an incredible blessing for the both of us that was quite timely considering our personal + spiritual growth during this time. The commencement + course of this relationship is one of those instances in which you can see God working in hindsight, but fortunately through the present process as well.
P.S. yes, the bangs were another unexpected venture; a wise + well-planned quarantine impulse decision if I do say so myself. That way, in case I did not like the outcome then I could easily be humiliated + hidden away without anyone noticing. Fortunately, I’m fond of the look :)
On to more eventful changes to my unscheduled summer: I am being certified as a Health Coach! When my college classes went online + my trip to Denver was dropped, I realized that I now had about four months open before school began back again, + I am most definitely not the type of person that could let those months stay vacant (my parents know all too well of my “I’m bored!” complaints — sorry...). So, I began pondering + probing for what I should do — another mission trip? more online classes? an internship? Well, I didn’t have to ruminate or rummage around for long because I then remembered the need I had for some certifications for my future career in Corporate Wellness (or similar field). This particular certification I’m pursuing is online + at-your-own pace — the reviews I read averaged people taking about 3-4 months to complete it — check for me! Further, they just so happened (no coincidences!) to be running a sale at the time I was looking to begin that offered the certification for half-off the original price — double check! So, now I am finished up with that material (I finished earlier than expected because it was intriguing + exciting to finally be studying something that I’m specifically interested in!!) + I will be taking that final certification exam at the start of August — I would appreciate your prayers!
In the midst of career certifications for the summer, the Lord was also still providing for my longing to serve + be on mission. My local church offers an internship for college students under Generation LINK known as Summer LINK in order to educate + equip us to be better church members, disciple-makers, followers of Christ. Throughout the summer we read through + discuss numerous books — including The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever, What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile, Why Should I Join a Church? by Mark Dever, to name a few — serve the local body + surrounding community, lead kids ministry activities + classes, as well as have the privilege of residing with + having collective dinners at the homes of church families. All of these things have been profoundly precious to me, but as was the case with my previous summer spent in Denver, the Father has revealed a bounty of blessing beyond what I expected. I have been able to serve + love + be loved by so many souls outside of the “structured” time we have together as a group doing the internship. Couples have invited me over for breakfast or games or walks in the park, I’ve helped house-sit numerous homes (+ by house-sitting I am also implying watering lots of gardens + picking ripe veggies, as well as taking care of numerous pets including energetic puppies, cats, bunnies, a hamster, fish, etc. — all good things!). I have also gotten to put my passion of administration + organization to practice by cleaning + upgrading areas of the church building, designing handouts + filling out Excel sheets, collaborating with a couple friends to provide photographic + penned media for updates on what all we are doing as interns.
What I thought would be a major bummer summer full of disappointments + dullness, turned out to be considerably enriching + eventful. My pastor has so aptly been going through the book of Ecclesiastes since the beginning of May, + the lessons that I have learned through this study of God's Word have been particularly profound + perfect for us all to learn at this point in time corporately. For one, through Ecclesiastes + through the Coronavirus, we learn our humanity — we are faced with our time-bound, fleeting nature + the understanding that we are not in control. God determines the times + seasons of our lives; whether in prosperity or adversity, joy or sorrow, He is in control — what a relief + blessing! Further, pleasure + prosperity is a gift; a gift that we are not deserving of or guaranteed. Adversity + hardship + death on the other hand, are clear avenues for us to slow down, lean in, + allow time for transformative reflection, by the power of His guiding hand. It’s easy to slip into insecurity + impatience during times when we are not in control or when we do not have a full picture of the situations surrounding us, but by being impatient + longing for the next thing to come, for “better days”, or even for “how things used to be”, we are missing out + denying God’s presence + power, will + work today. These circumstances are flawlessly ordained + orchestrated in our lives for a particular purpose — for our good, growth, glory to Him. The Lord God knows the beginning, the present, the end of the story (Proverbs 8:23, Revelation 1:8) — why do we desire or pine for anything else? why do we not trust Him? I encourage you now as you are reading this, flip open to Ecclesiastes + read it; allow the Word of God to open up before your eyes + meditate deep in your mind. There is nothing new under the sun; what we struggle with + are confronted with today is what those of old have likewise encountered. And God has seen + planned + known it all. We are a speck in His vast masterpiece.
This season of life has been far from normal for all of us, but I think we can agree that that is what we all needed the most. Reconnecting with loved ones, appreciating the still + quiet, diving deep into old hobbies + new-found passions, being challenged to confront the things we thought were gone or done with or worked through, being pleasantly surprised with fortuitous exchanges or encounters or events.
God keeps teaching me to lean more + more into Him rather than rely on my schedules + plans. He is teaching me to be comfortable with unknowns + to love the unexpected.
I am grateful.
Centered in Christ Through Coastal Creation + Coronavirus Confusion
Prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) escalation, my roommate + I had planned to venture down to St. Augustine for Spring Break. Despite the uncertainty + unknowns including national mandates for social distancing + our university moving to remote learning, we followed through with the adventure anyway, living day by day with the evolving news + surrounding environment.
After a six hour drive down south full of conversations + laughter, music jams + podcast reflections, we arrived at our home for the week late Sunday evening. The next morning, we rose before the light + headed to the sand lying outside our doorstep. As the vibrant orange sun softened + rose into soft golden light, we flowed through a yoga sequence. Once our bodies had awoken through movement, we rested + reflected + renewed our spirits as we opened God’s Word to begin our study through the book of Micah. Weeks prior, we had flipped through + discussed which part of Scripture we would like to go through together. We both agreed that we would like to study Revelation more in depth, but figured we would start with something a bit shorter, perhaps more manageable or understandable, + a portion of Scripture that often gets overlooked. As we read + worked through the specific chapter for the day, our perspectives were made more + more aware of God’s consistency + intentionality in loving us, even in the case of punishment. It is for our good! A desire to hear + sing a praise to our gracious Father was in due order, so the first hymn I navigated to was “Here Is Love,” which consisted of lyrics so applicable to our morning’s moments in Micah as we sat marveling at the ocean. It also happened to be Savannah’s birthday, so her family came down from their nearby town of residence to spend the afternoon with us + we enjoyed a nice seafood dinner at the marina.
Our morning began with a bodyweight beach workout circuit + a continuation through our study of Micah. After we grabbed some breakfast, we headed up to Fleming Island to visit Savannah’s family for the day. I got a tour of the house + was introduced to all of their furry family members including two dogs, two cats, + a little brown bunny. Savannah + I walked down to a nearby dock admiring the surrounding homes, overgrowth of Spanish moss, scurrying geckos + rippling waves. We spent some time playing around with our cameras + doing a mini photoshoot of our unplanned matching of outfits + personality. One major theme from the week was discovering how similar the two of us are, not only in appearance but in interests, intentions, influences, ideas. It’s such a blessing to see how God has brought the two of us together in a way that was so cohesive + aptly timed. That evening, we went out to a restaurant where Savannah’s sister works so that we could visit + see her 'in action' as she served us fresh foods + dreamy desserts. However, the experience was quite out of the norm considering coronavirus changes that required many dining tables + other options to be excluded from service. When we arrived back to their family home, we took a stroll around the nature trail surrounding the neighborhood, then headed back to our place in St. Augustine Beach.
We jump-started our day with a run down to the pier along the beach, followed by another yoga flow. For our Bible study time, we ventured out into town where we stumbled upon a coffee shop to switch up the setting. Perhaps the change in setting ushered in a shifted perspective + clearer vision of what + how God was moving. The two of us sat on a bench outside for who-knows-how-long discussing, praying, praising how we were individually + collectively growing, how we were being pushed + challenged spiritually, the art + magnificence of God’s creation, His plan + purpose in placing us together, ideas + proposals for doing ministry + seizing Gospel-centered opportunities. Our overfilled + overjoyed spirits continued as we explored the old historic area of St. Augustine that afternoon. We wandered around the architectural beauty that is the Flagler College campus, perused through small local shops, + wandered into some art studios along the oldest street in America. It was here in this latter location where we met a man named Holiday (in honor of his birth date falling on Christmas Day). Our conversations floated around current status of life + career, passions + interests, stories + testimonies. As we shared, he was moved to tears by our “beauty,” our hearts, our motivations, our pursuit of Jesus. I sensed a longing behind his rounded glasses + cracking voice. I am certain our encounter was purposeful, whether for the sole benefit of meeting + interacting, or perhaps a reason greater than either of us conceive. Savannah + I continued exploring + engaging with the community, as our eyes were caught by decadent milkshakes being served up at Prohibition Kitchen. The venue inside modeled old saloon style vibes with newspaper menus + orange-gold lighting hues; although the establishment ironically was prohibited from selling any alcohol at the time due to new coronavirus regulations. Late that evening as the sun disappeared + the sea of stars arose, our toes traveled back out to the sand as we strolled, stargazed, sang, + searched for hidden ghost crabs.
Following another morning routine of exercising + studying Micah on the beach, we met up with some other students from our university who happened to be vacationing in the same location as us at the same time! The large group of us spent the whole day at the beach, including times of jumping waves + constructing a sand castle memorial for an unfortunate crab who was no longer creeping + crawling (we named him Eugene). Shortly after departing from the group to return back to our resort, we received word from our university that all in-person classes, events, trips, even graduation was canceled for the remainder of the Spring semester. Obviously our minds were a bit flooded + taken aback by the news as we proposed scenarios of what this decision means for us individually, as well as the corporate impact. The two of us decided to relieve any potential stress arising by walking into the little town around St. Augustine beach to return to the coffee shop where we talked over tea. Businesses were closing up for the night, so we escaped back to the beach where we sat in the sand looking up at the vast array of speckled stars, felt the warm air interrupt by a ripple of cool breeze, listened to the incessant building + rolling + crashing of the waves along the shore. Once again, we spent hours just resting in the presence + greatness of our God — His creation; our fragile + ever changing lives, His stable + steadfast existence; what He may be doing, what He is doing, how He is working, how He is using us, what He is teaching us, why… Man, I can’t begin to explain the depth + significance of this moment + this friendship. For such a time as this, for both of us. What a blessing.
A bit of an interruption ensued, as we diverted our usual morning routine in order to make a pit stop at the auto shop to get some work done on Savannah’s car. We dropped it off to get checked out + fixed up as we returned back to their home for an exceptionally chill day of lounging in the backyard, reading books + getting organized for online classes, playing with curious kittens + loving dogs. At this point, eating establishments have been ordered to close all dining tables/rooms while continuing takeout/delivery service, so we stopped by a taco stand in St. Augustine beach then ate out of the bed of Savannah’s father’s truck, then ended our night with a bedtime Bible study time through the next section of Micah.
Back at it again with our daybreak routine: yoga, workout circuit, Bible study. Afterward, we spent a little extra time laying in the sand + drifting off while listening to the waves + feeling the morning sun’s warmth. The move for the day was to check out the state park that was just down the road from the beach, yet when we arrived we discovered that it was closed due to the coronavirus situation. So, we instead picked up some Caribbean food to-go then ended up in the vicinity of a historic lighthouse + boat ramp where we picnicked within a small park of overhanging green trees + delighted Spring critters. After filling up on coconut shrimp + fried plantains, we explored random tidbits around town including a plant nursery, thrift store, pet adoption center, + food truck garden. We both took a brief siesta before meeting up with the family for a sunset picnic on the beach.
Sigh… Our last morning full of sand + sun + waves concluded with a workout circuit + deep stretch. As we wrapped up Micah, we reflected on our (personal + humanity's) continual rebellion against God + our blindness to His greater workings; yet the Lord’s unceasing, unconditional, unbounded love for us in providing us discipline that is showered in our own growth + His mercy, as well as the way out of our pit + the coming reward rooted in Christ Jesus. We packed up + moved out of our resting place in St. Augustine Beach, then returned back to the food truck garden to enjoy poké + smoothie bowls before embarking on the drive back home where we will be settling into yet another new + unforeseen routine amidst the ever-evolving coronavirus situation.
As far as travel opportunities + updates for this blog, I had many upcoming that have now dissipated: I was going to be spending some time in New Orleans at the beginning of April for a professional psychology conference in which I was presenting my own research; the end of May was to bring a trip to the Dominican Republic for a short-term study abroad in which I would have been able to conduct my own nutrition education program to students as an additional research endeavor; and as of a few days ago, my return to Denver, CO for summer missions was also ceased.
It's easy to be anxious + confused + question why all of this is happening, especially since it's something unlike any of us have ever encountered or experienced before. But it's also easy, with a bit of pause + prayer, rest + reflection to see God's hand in it all + feel His presence in every space. It is definitely a time of shifted perspectives + realizations of our human fragility. God is using this time of weird schedules + wrecked routines to re-establish our priorities + dependence on Him. Now is the time for us to "Listen!" as He exclaims in Micah + boldly change our lives toward His direction. The current circumstances look bleak on the surface, but I am looking forward to the continual journey with the Father despite my dim, limited view.
Stay safe, healthy, well — in mind (virtual contact is better than no contact), body (sanitize + eat clean), spirit (dig in to the Word, fill up with prayer).
Surprising Friends + Snowy Fun in CO
Whether you’ve read my previous posts or have heard me ramble on + on about it, you could rightly assume that the time I spent in Denver left a huge impact on my life. I established myriad relationships that were beyond surface level interactions + pined for continual cultivation. My mind seems to always be wandering + my heart yearning for this place + people again, so I decided to follow through + booked a return flight to Denver over my winter break — a little early Christmas surprise for my Colorado comrades.
The plan for a return was mentioned basically since our last week there in the summer, so Mary Claire + I were tracking flights + pondering plans while in the midst of school, stress, side activities. but it wasn’t as quickly fully set in motion. There was a point where the idea was completely falling flat as airline tickets were soaring + other priorities were demanding. But one afternoon following a night of disappointment + despair over the fantasized excursion, God opened a door along with a whisper: “why are you downcast? don’t you know I always provide? why are you trying to take matters into your own hands? don’t you know to trust Me?” The flight had dropped fractions of the previous expense + was structured around the perfect time frame. Mary Claire + I quickly bought tickets while they were so low, then eagerly expected + partially planned our approaching adventure.
Day 1: The Surprise
The three of us (myself, MC + her sister Harper) flew out on a Sunday afternoon, arriving in Denver late afternoon. we had reservations for a rental car which was confirmed at a set all-inclusive price knowing our age, insurance, etc. However, these kinds of things never go so smoothly, do they? When we got to the desk, we had issues paying with Harper’s card, we had to pay extra insurance (in addition to the extra cost for our age), had to pay for it under one name while the driver was underneath another; needless to say it would have been an unnecessary hassle + additional financial strain to follow through so we decided to forgo the rental car + figure out transportation along the way. So, we caught an Uber out of the airport to Josh + Sarah Cook’s house.
To jog your memory, Josh Cook is the pastor of Dwell Church which Mary Claire + I served with for the summer. We had previously contacted Sarah about our trip so she skillfully assisted us in our planning, particularly in order to surprise Josh + Josh. The original plan was for us to show up to the (legendary) Little Man ice cream shop in the neighborhood, but the rental car chaos delayed our arrival so the Joshs had already made plans to go see a movie at that time. Backup tactic was for us to surprise them after the movie, so we went to grab dinner while they were gone + settled in our things at their house while we waited. We anxiously anticipated their arrival (it was the first time either of us have pulled a surprise like this for anyone!). Then around 9:30pm that evening, we casually sat + chatted on their couch as Josh + Josh walked through the door with jaws dropped + an utter confusion followed by “what are you doing in my home??” Their reaction was eerily, accurately, precisely predicted by Mary Claire + Sarah — haha! It was super sweet catching up + reconnecting as the night came to a close.
Day 2: Roaming CO
With the rental car plan out of the way, we reverted back to our days of public transportation, which honestly was a highlight for us. We made our way downtown to explore some of the Christmas decorations + peek through the Denver Art Museum which we had gotten many recommendations for this past summer. For lunch we met up with one of our friends in Golden for Nepalese food + updates on the family, then she took us back to downtown Denver to explore the Brown Palace Hotel which was elegantly decorated with Christmas decorations + fancy finger foods delicately nibbled by posh persons in ostentatious outfits + headwear. Afterward, we wandered over to the Christkindl Market where we sampled European pastries + hot cider + met a new friend, reminding us of the connections we had made previously with the people that drew us back to return again. With our sweet tooth accounted for, we quickly hopped over to Broadway for a thrift store visit before heading back to the Cook’s home for Monday night group gathering for Dwell Church. The night was full of cooking + consuming dinner, sharing highs + lows, chatting about old memories + creating new ones too.
Day 3: Hiking + Running Club
This morning we woke up early to head out to the train station to take us up to Boulder. When we arrived, we met two professional runners from the area that Mary Claire knew (fangirled over) since she currently runs in college. They took us up on a snowy hike to Realization Point that offered phenomenal views of the surrounding city, the Rockies, + miles upon miles of Colorado in the distance. The descent down slick slopes brought a few slips, as well as some eager mule deer passing by. Following, we strolled through shops on Pearl St. + settled in a cozy spot for lunch before riding back to Denver. Tuesday evenings in Denver for us always meant running club, so that’s where we headed once again. We got to surprise some of our friends we met through the club, catch up with them, then hang out playing games afterward. The evening was not exactly what we had expected it to be, but the pros + cons were weighed with the conclusion that God appointed us to arrive in our friends lives at those particular times for a purposeful reason + resuming these kinds of relationships takes time + patience + understanding as we drift through various seasons in life, hoping to cling to Him more than we do ourselves, others, or outside sources.
Day 4: Breckenridge
Since we surprised Josh + Josh with our arrival, they understandably had plans during those days (could we put capitalism on hold?). Well, it turns out, maybe we could just a bit. Josh Cook shuffled + scrambled some meetings around in order to spend the day with us! He took us up to Breckenridge, known for its skiing. We stopped along the way for some pancakes to fuel us through winter wonderland drives, mountain town shops, and of course some snowball fights + tiptoes along frozen rivers. When we returned back to Denver that afternoon, we stopped by the post office to deliver some packages from Dwell Church. As we were standing in the queue of others sending + shipping, we encountered the sweetest elderly couple who were quick to spark conversation regarding our many tiny boxes, their celery juice cleanse, + random tidbits in between. On her way out, the lady popped open her purse + fanned out flavors of Blow Pops for us to choose from, as well as the mail clerk assisting us. The Edgewater Public Market was a new addition since our last visit, so we perused their numerous nourishment options ranging from Venezeulen arepas to lobster rolls, snacks + sliders to Ethiopian cuisine. That evening, Josh Frase had some special surprises of his own for us since he could not join us for the earlier activities. He took us downtown to go ice skating under the clock tower + twinkling tree lights until they closed, then over to taste some tacos where another one of our connections from the summer met up with us. We made our way back to the Cook’s house that evening to watch Star Wars + eventually pack up our bags to return home early the next day.
It’s strange + unusual for me to experience life in this way – to go from wanting to live life alone + never return to the same places or situations I had previously traveled or encountered, to coming back to Colorado again (and again – hello 2020) to revisit the same people + places. It takes a lot of growth + trust to see God working in a place to defy my own thoughts + desires in order to follow where I see Him leading + pushing me to delve into. It’s even difficult for me to come to terms with these changes because I have known + expressed myself to be one way for so long, but man am I excited to take on a new role for the sake of laying my own name down + lifting His up. Thank you Denver for teaching me these things + continuing to draw me back to your neighborhood + His heart.
A Reflection On The Past Year: Experiences, Thoughts, Growth
Man, 2019 has been a year of complete remodeling, rebuilding, renewing, revamping myself in all sorts of ways. I lived in Ireland for four months. I lived in Denver for two. Then somewhere in between my home-home and college-home (you know how that goes…) the rest of the time. I learned to let go of my deep-rooted, tight-gripped sin of control; trusting God with whatever unfolds. I learned to open up to strangers + to genuine community – replacing fears + insecurities with fellowship + vulnerability. I learned to dig in – to His character, His calling, His creation, His community. God has consistently paved my way. Consistently led me on a journey – one He has crafted + known since the beginning (Jeremiah 1:5, Ephesians 1:4); one He delights in revealing to me (Job 12:22, Daniel 2:22). This neck of the woods has been a mix of unknown highs + uncharted lows, comfort + difficulty, expected + unforeseen. Through it all, I’ve been learning to put behind my innate tendencies + give my full, undivided, wholehearted attention to the experience.
I spent the beginnings of the new year in a new country. I took a chance going somewhere I had no distinct connections or draw to, somewhere I had never been, with people I had never met, with really no clear direction or expectations for what I was to do when I arrived. I honestly like this sort of mystery + exploring something new; but paradoxically, the details surrounding that new territory must be mapped out in my brain. This world of unknowns was setting the stage for four months of breaking down my built up walls + loosening my clenched up fists, to humbly be brought down + fully trust my Father in every aspect of my life. Going to Ireland was for a study abroad, but more so for my own enjoyment — to travel + explore + grow in cultural experience. However, God had far greater plans + purposes than either of those reasons — far beyond what my finite mind + persistent heart could comprehend, configure, or contrive. As you may have gathered from a previous post, I struggle(d) with the desire for control — in general, but more specifically in my health/appearance, my school/success, my everyday events/time, etc. Throughout the four months of traveling alone, living in a foreign place, having unknown plans, I learned to let go of those things I was trying to control + let go of the idea that they provided me stability + security. I learned to let go of fear — fear of safety, of unknowns, of failure, of imperfection, of living up to or missing out. It was by no means an easy process. I faced many late nights + early mornings burdened, pressed, stressed out of my mind with tears streaming down my face, just to realize that it was all for nothing (Matthew 6:25-34 James 4:13-15, Proverbs 16:9) — Jesus has already promised to take ALL of that weight off of my shoulders if I just give it to Him (Matthew 11:28) — why had I not done this sooner?? Learning to remove the desire to control, to know the details, to plan all things, to have set expectations, set me on a sure foundation of trusting God completely, constantly + also set me up for the subsequent two months in Denver, and even the upcoming semester at school, and let’s be honest, for life.
The summer brought excitement, and thanks to the first half of the year, unwritten + unestablished expectations. I went into the experience in Denver with an open mind + in turn learned to open up other parts of myself. I was challenged to step outside of my normal/my comfort zone to engage with strangers. This allowed me to truly learn from them + for them to learn from me without any hesitation or pretenses. I was bold in my speech, actions, decisions. I was vulnerable about my faults, past, weaknesses, needs. As I have mentioned before, I am an introvert. It takes a bit to draw me out + for me to feel comfortable, confident, adequate to make myself known. However, I see now, through the process of this summer, that God can use me in that particular way He created me, as well as expand my illusory boundaries to open up unrevealed, concealed parts of me to further grow myself + His Kingdom.
As Fall rolled around, I headed back to campus for the first time since the previous Fall semester. I was uneasy about the transition back, mainly because I had learned + grown + changed so much that the experience would be completely different than what I was used to previously in that environment. Right off the bat, God crossed my path with numerous individuals that provided me the opportunity to form new friendships + invest in being intentional with. Further, I was led to a local church that drew me in like a magnet with the concentration of their community + depth of their doctrine. These opportunities, divine appointments if you will, allowed me to fully express + dive into the uncharted territory that was introduced from the past eight months. It also got me more interested + invested in committing time to wrestle with difficult topics, study theology, search for understanding. I’ve acquired a new found passion + urgency for these things — I keep digging, digging, digging into the Word of God with a continual supply of new findings + questions — it’s the Mary Poppins bag of life! Day by day I am acquiring more knowledge about God + His sovereignty, character, will; moving me from elementary milk to substantial meat (Hebrews 5:12-15, 1 Corinthians 3:2). Now, I must continue in this pursuit, finding a balance beyond selfishly soaking up all the information for myself + rather turning outward to love, encourage, serve, exhort my family of believers + reach out to share this overflowing knowledge, heart, passion with unbelievers who may not have access to or any experiential knowledge of picking up + tasting of this cup.
This year, God has abundantly + exceedingly answered requests.
Concluding the summer, I prayed that I would be able to form the same type of prompt, pointed, purposive, life-giving relationships with people I would come into contact with on campus. Provided.
Prior to my return to my campus from a semester away, I prayed that I would have someone to disciple + lead in the way that a mentor had done for me. Provided.
Going into this past year of 2019, I prayed for a heart change. I think, in review of all this… provided.
I prayed to my good, heavenly, trustworthy Father that what I had learned + grown into within the past year wouldn’t be left behind in Denver or in Dublin or in the cracks between here + there, but I would be able to tap into + draw from that newly dug well of Kristen — that I could let go + open up + dig in to anomalous avenues of life where He was leading.
Wrestling With Staying Put Or Striving Out
I left Denver on a high (no pun intended). I had made memories + connections like I never have before + like I never expected I would. I departed with a heart full of all the goodness of Christ + a head full of ideas, hopes, plans to come back.
But transitioning back home was hard. Transitioning from busy days filled with a constant presence of people + places + plans to a slow murmur of sitting at home, sauntering alone, silent living. I felt like all of the gains I had just made in my life relationally, personally, spiritually had just come to a halting, screeching stop.
My thoughts have been scattered with doubts. My mind is reminding me of the plans I had to travel the world, to see new places, to meet new people. I shouldn’t be wanting to return to the same place again… or should I?
What if God is calling me to settle down + establish roots in a single place at such a time as this, in such a place as this? Can I continue to love a place if I’m living life with the same people? Is this why He placed me in Colorado — to draw me back in? Was Colorado just another destination to meet + connect with new people for the heart movement, head memories, high moments? Or was it planting a seed for a further flourishing in the garden of His plan?
The time spent home didn’t last long because I was soon off to another location — back to my university. I had lots of mixed emotions going in, mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t been back on campus in almost a year. Getting back into a routine of balancing long days full of lectures, work, and studying with the numerous leadership responsibilities I had taken on was daunting. Not to mention this underlying, irrational fear that somehow I had been forgotten by everyone I previously knew due to my prior semester’s absence.
This fear + stress coupled with all that God taught me this summer about intentionality + relationships came together smoothly, satisfyingly, splendidly — because I stepped out of the way + let God do the work. I think I’ve met + established connections with more people on my campus in the past two weeks than I had the previous two years. That fact would have been overwhelming + horrifying to me then. Praise God for that heart change! Not only have I gotten to deepen relationships with individuals whom I only knew a name, but I’ve also met new friends whom I’ve never known before. By opening up + extending friendship like Jesus did, I’ve come into contact with people that I never would have otherwise. Isn’t that what the Kingdom should look like anyway? I want to befriend the people who have a completely different history + who may have been on a totally divergent trajectory, because they very well may be the ones who need someone in this moment the most.
Maybe that’s why I’m here + not in Denver now. For such a moment as this. To reach out to these people + for them to teach me. There’s a time + a place + a season for every part of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8); this we know. But I am currently learning to not yearn, dwell, linger on pieces that previously were because then I miss the pieces that currently are — that are coming to be — by God’s guiding hand. I’m praising + thanking God for what He’s done, watching + listening for what He’s doing, and waiting patiently + eagerly for what He brings next — whether that be something familiar or something entirely new.
Developing A New Mindset For Isolation + For Missions
I have always liked to define myself as being quite independent, isolated, introverted, individualistic. I thrive in solitude — I am more creative, confident, calm, centered when I am left to myself. While great benefit + value, strength + satisfaction may be found in this state, I have learned that it is not meant to dwell in continuously.
In Genesis 2:18-22, God created Eve as a much needed companion for Adam. We, too, were created as social, relational beings not meant to function alone. We were wired for life to be lived with meaningful, worthwhile relationships.
The pendulum of this isolated lifestyle can quickly swing over to a state of loneliness — leaving us with feelings of loss, emptiness, unworthiness. The Father reminds us in His word that those feelings are far from the truth. He guides us (Psalm 73:23), fills us (Exodus 31:3, Ephesians 3:19), frees us (Psalm 27:16-17). In Psalm 139:13-15 we are told of our purposeful, intricate creation, He has given us a spirit of confidence + power (2 Timothy 1:7), and Luke 12:6-7 reminds us that we are fully known + full of worth.
There must be some sense of balance between solitude + socialization. There is a need for accountability — to be fully known + fully loved not just by my Father but also by those who walk beside me, who can press in + push me toward growth in my walk with Jesus. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 teaches of the importance of being surrounded by other believers, especially to help build us up + lift us up when we have fallen. It is impossible to mature my relationship with the Lord in isolation; the only option alone is stagnancy. In isolation, I may not necessarily be drifting backward, but I am surely not making any progress forward. Through opening up + being vulnerable, allowing the dark parts of myself to be seen by others, I can work to strengthen the aspects that are on the right track + aim to improve those that are not serving to benefit myself or my walk.
God has really been pressing in + making me aware of this isolation tendency of mine for awhile now, but since being in Denver, the concept of community + fellowship has really been emphasized + experienced. For the first time in my life, I have genuine accountability partners that are real with me + I feel comfortable in being open to them. They push me to be better, encourage me when the devil gets into my head, and teach me how to handle various situations maturely + like Christ would. Further, God has been teaching me a lot about Himself + His character through these people that surround me. I see passion, grace, generosity, genuine care, love. I am able to see + experience these unique attributes of the Father because He created each of us in His image — each with different gifts, talents, bits + pieces that work together to function + reflect Him (Ephesians 4:16).
In addition to the importance of community, I have been enlightened with the importance of solitude as well. Recently, as I have come across this understanding of God’s intention for us to be relational beings + dwell in company, I have been harsh + gotten down on myself for the way that I have been operating solo for the majority of my time. However, the two are not in conflict with one another, yet require a balance in our lives in order to operate. We must ultimately learn to create a productive rhythm of fellowship + seclusion, conversation + silence. Jesus modeled this as he took time away by himself with the Father (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35). I don’t believe we were made to have the capacity or energy to keep up with others all of the time (we receive this solely from the Lord apart from ourselves), but we aren’t to remain in this solitary state forever either. Each have a distinctive place + purpose in our lives + our walk with Christ.
Lastly, being in Denver has taught me a lot about how to go about fellowship + cultivating community. Previously, I understood service + mission trips as going out to help someone — physically, emotionally, financially, or most importantly, spiritually. A mission trip, understandably, meant that there was some underlying mission to be accomplished. Until recently, I never understood how wrong this mindset was in going out to reach people for Christ. Rather than following Jesus’ example of relational missional living, we see a group of people or an individual as someone in need of something that we can provide; a project or goal that we can accomplish. Going in with this demeanor + mindset is surprisingly evident to the person that you are trying to reach + will most likely make them highly resistant to whatever help or message you are trying to transfer to them.
The alternative to this process is modeled in the life of Christ (John 4:7-42, 5:1-15). He asked questions + then took the time to listen to their ideas, thoughts, perspectives, feelings. Through this process, He meets the person where they’re at, helps them to discern what it is they desire, + then what it is they ultimately need (which is God, not us).
The main purpose in what I am doing in Colorado is to form relationships with people. Not to change them or to fix them, but to genuinely listen to them + show care for them; just as Christ did to the people He interacted with. I have been astounded + overwhelmed by the individuals I have met + the stories they’ve told, baggage they carry, passions they hold. While I still cherish + delight in my time alone, I have come to love engaging with people around me — another beautiful, wonderful piece of the Father’s creation.
Side note: Here are some pictures from some Colorado nature time (my favorite!)