Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chapter 22: (Not)The End

My cowboy swept me off my feet and carried me back to Colorado, where we spent our first few months of married life in the Rockies.  We traveled all over Colorado and fell even more in love with the mountains.  After praying hard about our future, Hank decided to go back to school to finish his degree.  That is how this Georgia peach ended up in the mid-West, which are Hank’s old stomping grounds. 
It has been amazing getting to know the place where he grew up.  It has been even more amazing getting to know his absolutely awesome family and friends.  After he graduates, we would love to move back to the mountains.  However, we are willing and excited to go wherever the Lord can use us for His glory.  So that just about catches you up!  I’ll be sure to keep you updated through the blog;)  Until then, I’ll leave you with my favorite Psalm…
Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chapter 21: A Love Story

I read Hank's letter about a billion times before the reality of it all sank in.  He liked me as much as I liked him, and he was going to wait for me until our year at the ranch was finished.  He gave me assurance of his feelings and encouraged me that Christ was in control.  He was excited to get to know me through the good and the bad, happy and sad (direct quote;).  I felt such a flood of relief and pure joy, more than I’d ever experienced in my life.  I’d never fallen this hard for a guy… and here he was falling for me too.  It was a total dream come true.  I was on cloud nine for the rest of the summer.  By the time Fall came, I could feel that the end of the year was near.  Work at the ranch was hard, and I was feeling pretty burnt out.  But every once in a while, I would get the sweetest note in my mailbox filled with encouragement and assurance.  One time there was even a handmade hemp necklace in the envelope with the most beautiful glass piece attached.  He had used his free time for weeks to make me that necklace.  I wore it to everythingJ  We got to know each other as friends through Bible studies, prayer time, worship, and letters.  I couldn’t believe, and still can’t, how perfectly the Lord orchestrated everything.  He allowed me to meet my dream cowboy in such a safe and godly environment.  My guard began to fall, and it was replaced by trust. 

That year at the ranch was fun and hard, filled with life-long friendships and lots of godly encouragement.  I fell in love with ranch life and the vision behind using it for the Lord.  But when December hit, I was ready to leave and start this exciting new phase of life.  As soon as we finished the year, Hank asked me to be his girlfriend.  And six months later, he proposed.  During that time he met all of my closest friends and family, and continually showed me his trustworthiness and faithfulness.  He pursued me with such integrity, always keeping marriage as the goal.  When he proposed, there was no question in my mind that this was the man the Lord had chosen for me since before we were born.  We were married on a beautiful, warm, sunny winter day in Georgia.  He is, and always will be, my greatest blessing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chapter 20: Howdy, Cowboy!

It was a cold and beautiful snowy night as I sat in the corner of the ranch staff room after dinner working on my laptop.  Well, I wasn’t actually working… I was emailing a guy I’d met back in Mississippi.  See, I’d been praying since that first Beach Project in Daytona for the Lord to guard my heart for my husband.  I didn’t do such a great job of guarding my heart that freshman year in college… so after the heartbreak of sophomore year, I became very guarded.  It’s funny how the Lord works sometimes.  Every once in a while I actually would start to like a guy, but it was always right before I moved somewhere!  Like right before I left for Africa, right before I left for the States, right before I moved to Colorado...  The timing was just never right, and I was always left lifting my eyes to the heavens and crying, “Seriously??”  What timing.  Because I’d always wanted to meet someone and get married, and the wait was getting harder as friend after friend kept getting engaged.  But this was my life, and I couldn’t see at the time that this was the Lord’s way of guarding my heart.;)  So once again I was emailing a guy I’d already said good-bye to.  I’d been at the ranch for two weeks, and new staff members were coming in every day.  I was older than most, who were mainly right out of college or high school.  There was also a no dating policy for ranch staff, so I went into this knowing that nothing could happen in that department.  I was here to serve the Lord and have fun.  So when the staff door opened and in walked the hottest, most handsome guy I’d ever seen in my life, I knew I was in trouble.  “Oh Lord, guard my heart!” I thought as I watched him out of the corner of my eye.  He was tall, muscular, and seriously looked like one of those football players I’d always had a crush on from a distance.  He glanced my way, and I freaking melted.  “Hi,” he said, “I’m Hank.”  J
Ranch life was really hard work and super busy.  I worked on cabins, and I feel like all I did was eat, sleep, and clean.  But twice a week I had the opportunity to pick up my guitar and help lead worship for the staff.  Our worship team was small… normally only two guitar players; me… and Hank. 
This was how we initially got to know each other.  We would jam with whoever showed up for practice, play through different worship songs, and sometimes hang around afterwards to chat.  It was one of these days that he shared with me his testimony.  His story is absolutely amazing.  I was intrigued by this cowboy who had been through so much and had come out shining in a very unique way for Christ.  We wanted to keep talking after he finished telling me his story, but we had to get back to work.  I remember walking with my guitar to the door while he walked out the other door.  I turned to look back just as he did, and it was at that moment that I knew I’d fallen hard for this guy.  I remember thinking, “Ah well, if it doesn’t work out, he’ll be a really good friend.”  That lasted all of like two days.  I tried to stay focused, but it’s hard when you work and basically live with someone in such close proximity.  I had no idea how he felt, and I knew it had to stay that way.  Wellll… that was before I realized my little high school graduate roommate was starting to pick up on some vibes!  Before I knew what was happening, she had become our little go-between.  “Michelle, he totally likes you.  He said so himself!”  Yeah, stuff like that.  Well, that’s pretty addictive when you’re not allowed to talk with the other person alone or give in to your feelings.  So this went on for a couple of months.  Until one day, I saw an envelope in my mailbox.  It wasn’t brightly colored or cute and small, so I knew it wasn’t from any of my friends or family.  It was a plain white envelope, with notebook paper inside, no stamp… My heart jumped up to my throat.  I grabbed it, ran up to my room, and ripped it open.  It was from Hank.      

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chapter 19: The next adventure…

It was a beautiful day as I drove back to Mississippi after a visit home.  White clouds rolled over a bright blue sky, and the sun bathed my face in warmth as I drove over bridge after bridge through Pensacola and Mobile.  I was praying, asking the Lord what He would have me do now.  My whole life I’d worked towards Africa, and now that was done.  A verse started playing on my heart and mind.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  I knew it was time to move on from the comfort of Mississippi.  This was the first time I’d ever worked a desk job, and I was starting to feel claustrophobic.  I remember talking to my sister about it, and she asked me, “Well, what do you want to do?”  All I could picture was my little office, sitting at a desk looking longingly out the window.  “I want to work at like a ranch or something!”  The great outdoors, fresh air in my hair and face, yeah… that would be great.  Well that was all I had to say.  The next thing I knew, she had me on the phone with one of her friends who had worked for years at a ranch in Colorado.  Aren’t sisters awesome? J  Her friend told me about her ranch, and it sounded like a little piece of heaven.  Tucked back in the Rocky Mountains, there’s a green valley filled with horses, cattle, and a group of people who love the Lord and want to share Him with others.  I was sold.  I flew out, met with the staff, was offered a job, and accepted.  There was never a question in my mind if this was where the Lord was leading me.  It was as clear as Africa and Scotland.  I was moving to Colorado! (insert Bonanza theme song;)   

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chapter 18: Re-entry

My two years in Africa were precious.  I wouldn’t trade them for the world and will always hold them close to my heart.  It helped define who I am and taught me more than I can ever express.  By the end, I knew that my time there was complete.  The women’s ministry was self-sustaining, and there was another intern lined up to come work after me.  Health wise, I was pretty sick.  I had struggled with things like parasites a lot while I was there, and then I came down with malaria just weeks before I was to come home.  Safe to say, I was ready to get home to a clean house with clean food.  I already had a job lined up to work at Belhaven and a house to live in with some of my best friends.   It was time.
When I think back on that plane ride home, I think of the last couple pages of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, “It will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern either we shall find strange adventures or else some great change of our fortunes… In the name of Aslan, let us go on and take the adventure that shall fall to us.”  After they tumbled back out of the wardrobe, Lewis writes, “It was the same day and the same hour of the day on which they had all gone into the wardrobe to hide.”  When I got home, it was like no time had passed.  I was different, but home was exactly the same.  There were still a billion choices of toothpaste, still debates about the most trivial things, but now all of these things were magnetized to me.  I was in culture shock as I began a really busy first two weeks back in the States.  It’s all pretty much a blur.  I saw a few doctors and had several tests done, my dad re-married, I packed up and moved back to Mississippi, and I started my first desk job.  Even after I was settled in to my new job and house, I still felt like I was caught in some kind of a whirlwind where I couldn’t quite get my feet anchored to the ground.  I’m so thankful for the safe and secure place the Lord provided for me to live and work during that time.  I was surrounded by supportive friends, awesome churches, and an amazing Christian counselor who really took me under her wing.  She helped me see things clearly, more objectively, and helped me work through my culture shock and the changes happening with my family.  Slowly I felt the shock of everything subside.  In its place I began to feel joy, and the longing and excitement that normally come when there is another pending adventure just around the corner…        

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chapter 17: Letting Go

So I started my life in Africa.  I moved in with a local family who immediately accepted me as one of their own.  Living with them was the very best way to learn about the culture, religion, and language.  I loved just sitting, listening to them talk, and soaking it all in.  I learned that immersing myself in the language was really helpful, so most evenings I would just sit downstairs with the family and watch the news or soccer games on their little TV.  They fed me, took me shopping, taught me local music, and called me their daughter/sister.  I shared my heart with them, the Gospel, and they listened with love and respect.  But they never moved from their own faith in Islam.  This happened with so many people that I got to know and care about, and I can only pray that a seed was planted. 
The focus of my job was to help start a women’s ministry at the local University, so I enrolled as a student!  I studied French, the national language, at l’Institut de Francais pour Etrangers.  I began visiting students I met in the dormitories and made an effort to meet all of their neighbors.  One day, I met a girl who decided she wanted to accept Christ as her Lord and Savior.  She laughed at me as I struggled to share the Gospel with her in French and said, “You know I speak English, right?”  I’ve never been so shocked in all my life.  It turns out she was from an English speaking country in Africa, and she was there pursuing a medical degree.  We quickly became friends, and she began going with me to share the Gospel in the dorms.  I started teaching a weekly English class, a hilarious swim class, and before we knew it… we had a Bible study.

My life and work in Africa became pretty routine after that.  Well, as routine as life can get in a third world country.  We would have spontaneous power cuts and water outages almost on a daily basis, especially during the hot season.  One day I had to travel by myself to a part of the city I’d never been before to buy a book for school.  It was a busy part of downtown, full of people and beggars.  My taxi driver’s car stalled like 5 times getting there, and there was this big hole right where my feet should’ve been so I could see the dirty road flying past underneath the car.  It was hot.  And when I say hot, I mean like 115 degrees with 100% humidity.  When we arrived, I got out and looked around only to find that he had brought me to the wrong location.  So there I was.  Lost, miserable, surrounded by beggars pulling at my clothes and purse, not understanding any of the village languages being spoken around me, and I realized right then and there that I’d never been so helpless in my entire life.  It’s a horrible feeling when you realize, for the first time, that you really have no control over your life or the situation you’re currently in.  I had no control at all, and I felt broken inside.  After hopelessly wandering around for about an hour, I finally hailed a taxi and went home empty handed.  I curled up on my bed, cried, and then slept for like hours.  I was exhausted.  That night I went over to the missionaries’ house for dinner.  They had the exact book I was looking for.  So I learned two lessons that day.  1) Be patient.  Don’t jump into things before doing a little research.  Take a breath and realize that life does not revolve around you or your time schedule.  2) Let it go.  Let go of worry and trying to control your life.  Isaiah 41:10 says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  I learned that you have to actually let go of control and fall into the Lord’s arms in order for Him to uphold you.  About a month after this crazy day, the truth of these lessons really took hold on my heart when the Lord opened my eyes to the fact that I had an eating disorder.  I’d never actually acknowledged it.  I finally realized how broken I was, and how I was still hanging on to parts of my life that I wanted to change or control.  So I let go.  I gave it to God, and I have had to daily give these things to the Lord ever since.  I still struggle with them, but I have assurance that the Lord will carry me through the day without worry.  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)  After this, I was able to embrace the extreme laid back lifestyle of Africa.  There is no time schedule; no deadlines that can’t be moved.  When you’re invited to lunch, you could eat anywhere from noon to 5pm.  Classes never start on time, and people may not come back to work after lunch siesta.  But that’s life.  You just go prepared for anything…     

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chapter 16: The Honeymoon Period

Those first two weeks in Africa were surreal.  I was on cloud nine as the missionaries drove me around the city and out into the villages.  So much about the country surprised me.  Due to the fact that I jumped into this adventure without doing a lot of research, I didn’t realize that I was going to sub-Sahara Africa.  I had imagined the jungle, but it was desert as far as the eye could see.  I’d pictured giraffes, elephants, and lions running wild.  Instead, the only animals that ran wild were snakes, spiders, and really big lizards.  Not at all what I was expecting.  The people, though, far exceeded my expectations.  They were more beautiful, inside and out, than I’d ever imagined.  They were also far more closed off from the Gospel.  I quickly came to the realization that Islam is like a huge brick wall between people and the truth about Jesus, and I immediately began to pray for the Lord to break down that wall brick by brick.  By the end of the first two weeks, I was tired; emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  The task at hand seemed impossible.  It took so much work just to live there from day to day.   I felt like I didn’t have the strength to tackle a new language and reach the hearts of the people.  I remember one day, the missionary wives took me to lunch.  They could tell that what they call the “honeymoon” period was over.  During lunch they shared with me their own stories about pushing through rough patches and creating a life for themselves and their families in Africa.  They told me a joke that day that I’ll never forget.  It goes like this…
     “Three missionaries go out for coffee.  The first missionary, just heading to the field, sees a fly in his coffee.  “Waiter,” he calls, “there’s a fly in my coffee!  Can I have a new cup?”  The second missionary, back from his first furlough, also has a fly in his coffee.  He scoops it out with his spoon and continues to drink.  The third missionary, a veteran on the field, gets a cup of coffee without a fly.  He yells to the waiter, “Hey!  Where’s my fly?”
We laughed.  The ladies said, “Michelle, before you know it you’ll be asking for a fly in your coffee.”  I loved how that was their way to give me hope.  I could do this.  Many had gone before me and done more than this.  I went home after lunch, still tired and very homesick, but with renewed hope.  “I can do anything through him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:13

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chapter 15: Bienvenue a l’Afrique!

It was dark as my plane began the descent over Northwest Africa.  I strained at the window to see something, anything; but they’re not kidding when they call it the Dark Continent!  No lights until we got close to the runway.  I had these images in my head of giraffe running alongside our plane or a herd of buffalo on the runway.  But there was nothing.  Just darkness.  I stepped off the plane and was hit by a hot, dry wind.  Sand blew into my eyes, and I wished I could see exactly where I was.  The bus was crowded that drove us from the plane to the terminal.  I was crammed into a corner, surrounded by the most beautiful people I’d ever seen.  Their skin was darker than night, and many of their eyes were surprisingly a very light brown.  As soon as we arrived at the terminal, I was shoved off the bus and almost fell.  This was my introduction to “waiting” in an African line.  By the time I left the country I was shoving right along with everyone else, but this first time I fell to the side confused.  Once I went through security and was shuffled into the main terminal to get my bags, I saw what looked like pure chaos.  I started moving with the crowd and almost stepped on a chicken!  I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said.  Guys kept shouting at me, grabbing at my backpack, and I finally figured out that they wanted to carry my bags.  Any knowledge of French completely left my brain at that exact moment, so I just shrugged and said “no money”.  When they figured out I was American, they started yelling, “Lady! Lady! I carry bags! I carry bags!”  I just laughed and said, “Well, congratulations.”  I finally got my bags and slowly made my way outside.  When I saw a smiling white face totally standing out from the crowd, I felt a flood of relief.  I must’ve had an awesome look on my face because Bill came up laughing and said, “Welcome to Africa!”
It was hot, sticky, and dark when I awoke with a start.  “What is that??” I looked at the clock: 5am.  The eeriest sound was drifting through my open window.  I slowly got up and looked out.  The moon was shining down on the white cement houses.  Everything was so still and quiet, except for a lonely voice singing the most mournful sounding melody I’d ever heard.  The music drifted over the sleeping neighborhood, and I suddenly realized it was the Muslim call to prayer.  I’d read about, but had never heard it before.  I laid back down and listened to it as I fell back asleep.  When I woke up the next morning, I wasn’t sure if it had just been some weird jet-lagged dream.  Sun was streaming through the window, and I jumped out of bed to see my first real look at Africa.  The sun was so bright and there was thick, soft sand everywhere.  Huge, bright red flowers lined my window and the windows of the houses around me.  Everything looked so tropical!  There was a man pushing a cart down the road that said “Nescafe” on it.  I quickly learned that this is like our corner Starbucks.  My first instinct was to throw on my long skirt, run out, and tell him about Jesus!  My heart was so excited to be there, and I instantly fell in love with the people.  As I watched the man push his cart, calling out to the houses to come get their coffee, I was hit by the fact that I couldn’t just run out and tell him about Jesus.  The definition of language barrier finally sunk in.  Barrier.  A huge, brick, impassable barrier.  My heart dropped.  This was the first time I asked the Lord, “What am I doing here?”  It’s pretty typical for me to jump into something without thinking it all the way through.  I knew I was coming to a French speaking country, but I hadn’t really thought about what that would mean.  I took French in college, and I guess I assumed it would just come naturally or something crazy like that;)  I hit my knees and had my first of hundreds of desperate quiet times in Africa.  I felt the Lord calm my nerves and provide my heart with assurance.  I wasn’t sure why I’d been called there, but I figured the Lord had a reason.  So I threw on my skirt, opened the door, and sunk my toes in the hot sand as I went to find out what that reason was.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chapter 14: Bon Voyage

I look at the clock: 2am.  The house is dark, and my sister is sound asleep.  I roll over trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach.  Finally I give up on trying to sleep and quietly go downstairs.  I put on headphones, turn on the stereo, and start working on another mix tape to take with me to Africa... my new home starting tomorrow.  In 24 hours I will be taking my first step onto the hot sands of Africa!  Ugh, there goes those butterflies again.  I can’t eat; can’t sleep.  I’m on the brink of the craziest adventure of my entire life, and it’s all I can do to just keep still and work on this mixed tape.  The missionaries encouraged me to bring something from home that could provide some comfort when things get homesick, so I started compiling some of my favorite songs onto tapes.  My sister actually started recording songs off the radio complete with announcers and everything so I could close my eyes and be transported home for a little while.  Why I’d want to be transported home, I couldn’t imagine, but I did everything the missionaries suggested to prepare.  I watched the sun rise.  I had already said all of my good-byes to family and friends.  My dad had even taken me to Busch Gardens for one last hang out before I left, just me and him, and I will always cherish that time.  This is the longest I would ever be away from home, so I spaced out my good-byes to avoid getting too overwhelmed.  I didn’t want a big send off like when I left for Scotland, so we agreed that my sister would be the only person to take me to the airport.  My mom promised to come visit.  With the help of one of my best friends from high school, I crammed an entire year’s worth of clothes and supplies into one suitcase, one backpack, and my guitar case.  I even loosened my guitar strings and shoved like 3 shirts inside.  I was ready. 
I got all checked in, and then my sister and I just sat there watching the clock.  I was surprised that I was choking back tears, but this was it.  The final good-bye.  I think she could tell I was struggling because she pointed out this guy who had fallen asleep in his sleeping bag right in the middle of the airport.  All of these people were trying to make their way around him, and we just laughed.   
You can tell he was on a long trip.  I thought, that could be me in 14 hours.  So tired I just fall asleep right in the middle of some foreign airport.  I guess any huge adventure like this comes with some fear and sadness.  But as soon as I said that final good-bye and boarded the plane, any sadness or fear was completely replaced by utter excitement.  I was finally on my way to Africa…

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chapter 13: The Offer

“Hello?”  Pause.  Pause.  “Hello, Michelle?!”  The voice sounded so distant.  My heart leapt into my throat as I realized what this call was…  “Michelle, it’s Bill from Africa.  We received your resume.  Can I ask you a few questions?”  I was so excited during the entire interview, I barely remember what he asked.  But I’ll never forget how it ended… “Well, Michelle, we would love to have you here.  I’ll contact the missions agency to send you the paperwork.  When can you start?”  I couldn’t believe it!  "Um, now?  I’ll be there tomorrow!".. is what I wanted to say.  “Well, I have to graduate and then raise support.  How about August?”  Was I dreaming this conversation?  “Okay!  Keep us updated on your support raising, and we’ll plan on seeing you in August!”  And that was it.  My life-long dream had just come true.  I was going to Africa!  
So I graduated from college.  I loved getting to celebrate that with my family, who made it all possible.  Next thing I knew, I had moved out of the dorm and in with my sister in Atlanta.  She graciously opened her door to me because Atlanta would be a great base-camp for raising support.  I got a job life-guarding again at the YMCA, and then I jumped into the process of raising the money to move to Africa.  Raising support was hard and extremely humbling, but time and time again I was absolutely floored by the love and generosity of supporters I knew and some I'd never met before.  Individuals who did not even share my faith were donating money.  I fell in love with people that summer; all types of people.  It was so moving to see the Lord touching the hearts of complete strangers for Africa.  Jesus is amazing and powerful, and that summer convinced me that He can and will move nations. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chapter 12: Putting on the armor of God

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  Matthew 26:41 (also Mark 14:38)
We moved back from Scotland and began the second semester of our junior year.  Once again, several of our group of 8 friends lived together in the dorm.  That was the semester that we adopted the name GSA for our groupJ  I loved how involved we were in each other’s lives.  We stuck together through break-ups, planning a wedding, tough exams, big life decisions; and they were there for me when my parent’s divorce was finalized.  I think I had convinced myself that it wouldn’t actually happen; that I’d go home one weekend and everything would be back to the way it was.  But that was it, and I had to begin the mourning process that you go through after something like that happens.  Well, I’ve never been very good at mourning.  Death, a break-up, divorce… it’s just so final.  Over.  Out of your control.  I felt lost and started to tail-spin.  Before I knew it, I’d fallen into an eating disorder.  I had gained quite a bit of weight over in Scotland, was again wearing leotards every day in ballet class, and somehow eating and then relieving myself made my stress temporarily go away.  I was worrying, not trusting the Lord with the situation, and fell into sin.  So easy to do, right?  Nobody knew.  I didn’t even think about it; it’s just something I did.  For two years.            
“Be strong in the Lord… Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10, 13

And life went on.  I spent the summer after my junior year at home in Georgia working as a lifeguard for the local YMCA.  If I had one word to describe that summer, it would be relaxing.  Days were spent soaking in the sun watching kids at the pool.  One of my best friends from high school was also working at the Y that summer, so it was a lot like old timesJ  I spent most evenings watching old movies with my mom and spending a lot of time out on the back deck praying about my future.  I knew I would have to spend the next school year applying for jobs, and I wanted direction.  I knew I wanted to go to Africa as a missionary, but I needed confirmation from the Lord of exactly what He wanted me to do.  So every morning and most evenings I would sit out on the deck, watch the sky change colors, listen to the crickets and whippoorwills, and feel the warm summer breeze as I sat with my Bible and prayed.  By the time I started my senior year, I felt more grounded than I had in a long time.  I was focused.  I knew where I wanted to be in a year and what I needed to do to get there.  I joined a large church in Jackson and began making connections with missions agencies around the world.  I met with Dr.M on a regular basis to talk and pray about my options, and he tailored my schedule with classes that would help give me direction.  We even designed a new class together that year; “A Study of World Religions”.  I knew wherever I went on the missions field, I would be outnumbered as a Christian.  I wanted to be prepared for anything.  When I look back on this time, I do feel like I was preparing for a battle field.  I wanted to be strong and equipped.  By my last semester in college, I felt ready for any missionary adventure that came my way.  One afternoon my phone rang.  It was from Africa…

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chapter 11: Welcome tae Scootlund!

When I think back on that semester in Scotland, it seems like a dream.  Probably because Edinburgh is a dream-like city complete with a castle, palace, and rolling green hills filled with sheep.  Saying I loved my time there feels like an understatementJ  When Lyd and I arrived, we hit the ground running with outreach during the annual Fringe festival in Edinburgh.  It was awesome getting to know the city during such an exciting time, getting used to the beautiful Scottish accent, and being part of such a beautiful and historical church.  We took three weeks off after the festival to backpack Europe, and you can read about our trip here.  Europe was amazing, and I finally got to revisit all of the places my family and I went to when I was just a baby.  It was a dream come true.  After we got back to Edinburgh, we began our classes and internship.  We worked with ministries including homeless, youth, elderly, and college.  We really got to know the city inside and out, and we had several opportunities to travel all over Scotland.  By the time we left, I had fallen in love with the people there and truly felt like Edinburgh was home.  I loved getting to live independently in a new country.  Living there and working with all of the church’s ministries mended the broken pieces of my heart.  I felt alive in Christ and ready to jump back into the life and trials of home.  Little did I know, that things would get worse before they got better…

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chapter 10: Cup Overflows

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23 
I approached my Belhaven advisor/mentor with my thoughts of studying abroad the next semester.  He had spent years as a missionary in South America and understood my heart for international missions better than anyone else.  He sat and pondered that for a moment, began rummaging through stacks of paper on his desk, then wheeled around to his computer, and a little smile crept onto his face.  “Michelle,” he said, “how do you feel about Scotland?”  Scotland.  It was a country I’d never given much thought to.  My passion had always been more towards 3rd world countries, like Malawi or Mexico.  But Scotland… I quickly said, “Yes!”  I always have and always will be up for any adventure that comes my wayJ  Apparently Dr.M, my advisor, had just begun communication with a pastor of a church in Edinburgh regarding their desire to have interns come and help with their church ministries.  I could get credit for the internship, and Dr.M would work with me on doing some independent study courses.  It all fell into place so quickly that I knew the Lord wanted me to go.  He even laid this same trip on the heart of one of my best friends from Belhaven, Lyd, who decided to join me on the adventure!
I spent the summer after sophomore year working as a counselor/life guard at a camp back in Georgia.  It was hard work, a lot of outdoor fun with kids, and it started to heal my heart.  A lot of family and my new camp friends met me at the Atlanta airport to give Lyd and I a huge send off to Scotland, and that was the first time I truly felt like my “cup overflows”... On the brink of an amazing adventure, surrounded in love by family and friends.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chapter 9: When faith is tested

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 
As soon as I stepped foot back on campus, I got sucker punched.  Twice.  I got my heart broken, and my dad began the file for a divorce.  This is the second lowest point I’d hit in my life, and any trace of that care-freeness from freshman year was lost.  I began to journal because I didn’t know what else to do.  There was this deck out back of our dorm that sat on the Belhaven Lake.  I would get up early in the morning, go to that deck, and write my prayers to the Lord.  I noticed if I wrote it down, I wouldn’t dwell on it as much during the day.  One morning, the Lord brought me to the above verse.  I decided to memorize it, and it became my life verse.  I found a lot of comfort in James that year, and I learned the vital need of a quiet time with the Lord each day.  I also figured out that when your world seems darkest, the Lord does seem to shine brighter.  Probably because you humbly hit your knees a whole lot more than you normally would.  During this time, I did have a shining light.  The Lord showed His love for me through a very special group of friends.  Eight of us lived next door or near to each other in the dorm, and we created a special bond that year.  We met regularly to pray for each other, cheered each other on at sporting events and piano/ballet recitals, road tripped to all of our different home towns, and relished in our fun evenings of popcorn and dance parties.  Once again, the Lord blessed me with a group of friends that gave me joy through a hard time. 

Sophomore year was long, and I was pretty tired by the end of it.  I felt like I needed a break from Belhaven.  I wanted to get away from it all to allow my heart to heal.  Far, far away…

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Chapter 8: Intro to College

The summer after high school was amazing.  I spent the whole summer on the white sands of Daytona Beach, soaking in the sun with about 100 college students from Campus Outreach.  We were there for a Beach Project, which is a summer of intense evangelistic training.  It was just what I needed to prepare for college life and jump start my Biblical Studies degree.  I had chosen to attend Belhaven College in Mississippi to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies/Christian Ministries and minor in ballet.  I knew I would get the education and preparation needed for the missions field at this Christian college filled with professors who had spent time on the missions field.  My freshman year was so much fun.  I made awesome friends, did tons of road trips, and really embraced my independence away from home.  I became involved with Reformed University Fellowship, took piano lessons, participated in every ballet class and performance I could, helped form Belhaven’s football “Superfan” club, went to every school dance… basically put academics on the back burner while focusing on college life.  It was a blast;)  But at some point in college, you begin to grow up.  You are faced with things that force you to become more responsible.  That point for me was the summer after freshman year.  I committed to another summer in Daytona Beach at Beach Project.  The difference was that this summer, I was a room leader.  It was not care-free like the previous summer.  I was a leader, held responsible for the lives and actions of the three girls in my room.  This was a first for me, and it was eye opening.  I learned the definition of hard work; doing things you may not want to do but have to do.  Dealing with people you may not want to deal with but have to work with.  I should have seen this summer as a warning sign that sophomore year would be different, but it hit me like a truck…

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chapter 7: Bienvenido a Mexico

I had the opportunity to go to Mexico twice on missions trips before I graduated from high school.  The excitement I felt at leaving the country on an adventure was insurmountable.  However, as soon as we crossed the border, that excitement turned to absolute shock.  It was the first time I’d seen a 3rd world culture in person.  My heart was being pulled in so many different directions; from kids at the school we were building to the fathers who would shake our hands so fervently for providing for their children in ways they could not.  I wanted so much for the kids that sold me my daily Fanta to be healthy, to be able to buy shoes, to have the hope of Jesus in their hearts.  I’m not a very emotional person but was moved to tears as the Holy Spirit moved with compassion within my heart.  I couldn’t help but devote my life to this work.  So how was I going to do this?  I felt totally unprepared and incapable of having an impact in a world so filled with grief and problems I’d never dealt with.  I needed a plan; help from people who did have experience on the field.  I needed…a Bible college.