At the beginning of this year I asked God what He would teach me. It seems that every year there is one word/phrase/theme that follows me through it all, and I wondered what this year’s word would be. It was on that day that “brave” came to mind and it has stuck with me every since. I found it strange that "brave" was the word because it was just last year that I blogged about how I wasn't brave, but He hasn't called me to bravery but to obedience. I remember that time clearly: I was getting ready to leave for Africa and I was pretty scared. In those moments He reassured me that obedience is enough: He isn’t asking me to be a fearless warrior just yet. He will provide the peace; I only need to take the first step. I still believe it’s true that no matter how afraid or uncomfortable the road ahead is we should not wait until all fear dissipates or we feel totally prepared, because realistically that could take forever. We just need to say yes; we just need to be obedient to what He has set before us. But now in 2018 I believe He is calling me out one step farther, to not only be obedient but also to be brave because His Word and His promises are true and I can be brave and confident in the midst of the storms and the unknown.
He makes me brave through every change and every chapter
There are definitely some things that frighten me as I look at the year ahead of me. In just a few weeks my sister is getting married and moving away, and then a month later my best friend is also getting married and moving away. Despite the joy I feel for them and all of my other friends who are getting married and starting a new chapter, I feel grief for this season of life that is coming to a close and the relationships that are changing. I also feel fear as I look to next September. I am thankful that I was accepted into Social Work but I know this program and career will require a lot from me and sometimes I wonder how I will handle it all. These are just 2 examples and it’s only April…there’s still time for more things to come up :) Yet through it all, “brave” keeps being whispered over me. He makes me brave through every change and every chapter, and I can approach the unknown with confidence because of Him. And you know what? The more I let go and just say yes, the more I can breathe. I am so free in Christ and even the scariest roads have blessed me beyond belief! Every path He has led me down has only made me richer in Him. Looking back I see how faithful He has been and my confidence grows; I know that He is making me braver by the day.
I’m not sure what this year looks like for you, but I pray that you can be brave through it all. I pray that you can look to God for your comfort and that your confidence will come from the fact that He has walked your road before you. I pray that your fear doesn’t paralyze you but that it wakes you up and that for the first time in a long time you can experience the abundant life He offers so freely. I pray that you will pray prayers that frighten you and dream dreams that challenge you and let God do radical things through you. I pray that this year you will be brave.
1. characterized by or showing inability to remain at rest: a restless mood.
2. unquiet or uneasy, as a person, the mind, or the heart.
3. never at rest; perpetually agitated or in motion.
I know this feeling; the absence of quietness in my mind and heart, the lack of rest. I have experienced it for a while but since I got back from Africa it has been worse—I just can’t feel fully settled. It doesn't matter how much I love where I am or who I am with in the moment; I am still restless, torn between two continents.
I find myself often questioning: where is home? Is it right here in Canada, or is it somewhere far away? This question has been wearing me down, especially as I apply to my school program for next year and wonder what September will look like. Will it ground me in Kitchener or send me away? But the other night as I wrestled with these questions God reminded me of truth. He reminded me that I will never find home here. Never. Because home isn’t Kitchener, Kitwe, or anywhere in between. Home is heaven.
CS Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
I am a pilgrim. This confusion and restlessness is because I wasn’t made to settle down here in the first place. It’s a strange mindset to have when everyone around me seems to be building up their careers, bank accounts, and properties. It sure looks like I should be building a home here too. But He calls His children to something higher—a life fully dependent on Him, trusting that the best is yet to come in a place we can’t feel, see, or understand now. Until then, I am a pilgrim.
I am learning to accept what being a pilgrim means. I am accepting that I will have to say goodbye over and over, because movement requires leaving things behind. It means leaving people and places I love, to go be with other people and places I love. Being a pilgrim means never getting too comfortable in one spot. This may mean financially, spiritually, or geographically. Maybe it will be all three. But as a pilgrim my life shouldn’t be about finding comfort. I am accepting the fact that sometimes my journey will be difficult, confusing, or downright grueling. Sometime I will want to just forget about the journey and start setting up a foundation for a nice big comfortable house. It’s in those times I need to remember no mansion I could build here will ever come close to the one that awaits me. Lastly, I’m learning that my desperate desire to feel settled isn’t strange, it’s actually a void God placed inside me for Him. My heart is aching for home. It doesn’t matter where I travel, what I chase, or who I do it with, the aching will never fully flee. My Maker is calling me to Him, and only with Him will I be home and fully settled.
"“Today is the first of 365 days filled with adventure, wonder, excitement, hardship, and growth.”
I remember penning this out on January 1, 2017. I went on to write a word picture of me standing at the beginning of a meadow, looking at the mountains in the distance. The picture was a description of what I envisioned the year ahead of me to look like. “But before I know it I’m at the top, miles from where I began and so much stronger than before. The thorns in my arms, the burning in my legs, the wheezing in my lungs, all brought me here: to the top of another peak.”
My 365-day journey through the meadow and up the mountain has taught me many things. It taught me that fully trusting God is really hard, but there is freedom in surrender. It taught me that I am not called to be brave, but rather obedient to what God says. It taught me that life will always be changing, so I need to rely on God as my constant friend and companion through it all. It taught me that contentment will never come naturally, so I need to fight for it and choose it every day.
Needless to say, 2017 has been quite the year—I spent over 50 hours on planes, traveled roughly 17,700 kilometers, and even climbed a mountain (really didn’t expect that one when I wrote my journal entry). I lived in a new culture, made many new friends, drove across my beautiful country, and started college. And through it all God keeps showing me that He’s just getting started.
In conclusion, I stumbled across a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins titled “The Gate of the Year” that resonated with me as the New Year is just around the corner.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand
into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and
safer than a known way."
While the start of a new year is exciting, it is also daunting and full of unknowns. I don’t know what 2018 will bring—will I continue on to social work? Will I return to Africa? Will I travel somewhere new? What unexpected opportunities will fall into my lap? So as I ask these questions, I reach for God's hand, because I do believe it will be better than light or a safer known way. His hand will be better than having the answers or avoiding the hardship. His hand will provide me the strength and the courage. His hand will protect me, and it will lead me through every meadow and up every mountain that the next 365 days hold.
A few of my favourite captures from 2017...
“I know though the winter is long, even richer the harvest it brings
Though my waiting prolongs, even greater Your promise for me like a seed
I believe that my season will come.” ( Seasons, Hillsong).
I love winter. I love when I wake up to a fresh dusting of snow on the ground, or when I step outside and feel crisp air on my cheeks. I love that winter brings Christmas, and as December is upon us I become more and more excited. But as much as I love winter in the physical sense, I don’t like winter when it describes my season of life. I don’t like when I feel stuck in a perpetual state of waiting, with no sign of harvest in sight. For physical seasons I know that even though the snow might stay for a few months, spring is coming. Just like clockwork, every year around March it begins to melt, and buds begin to bloom. Over the summer months the crops will grow, and by fall the fields are ready to be harvested. But in seasons of life I have no calendar to go off of. Without an idea of how long my waiting will prolong, it’s easy to grow discouraged and impatient, and completely overlook the beauty that my winter holds.
It’s hard to be in a season of waiting. It’s hard to see value in the in between and to not want to skip the winter entirely. But the longer that I’m in this season, the more I see contentment is worth fighting for. It is worth praying for, choosing, and then choosing again, because it is never something I won’t need. I also see that He is working as I wait. He is shaping my heart and changing my thoughts even in the quietest moments. And lastly, in the end contentment has very little to do with my season, and everything to do with my heart. I am called to rest in my Father and find all my satisfaction in Him no matter what season I’m in, and when I do that I will find the richest form of contentment regardless of my circumstance.
So yes, it can be hard to not have a timetable of when spring will come. It can be hard to feel stuck in a rut, especially when it seems like everyone else’s life is changing in exciting ways, and my heart aches for Africa. But still there is beauty in the waiting. There is beauty in wrestling with contentment and learning to submit to where God has me now. So whether winter lasts a few months or a few years, I will continue to trust that just like a seed I will grow and blossom in His time, and the harvest coming will be well worth the wait.
“What do you do when you fall in love with a place an ocean away, and every fiber within you is telling you to stay? What do you do when you learn to love the people in that place? When they stop being stranger's faces and start having names? What do you do when you then have to look them in the eye and tell them that you have to leave and this moment is goodbye?"
When I wrote this I was sitting in my room in Kitwe, Zambia. Tonight I’m sitting in my room in Kitchener, Canada, still asking myself those same questions. I don’t know how to handle falling in love with a destination 12,480 km away, which makes it really hard for me to understand all the feelings that come along with that. As I continue to process my time in Africa, I have been going back to the journal entries I wrote while there . Today I have decided to share some excerpts from those entries with you, because they open a window to my experiences, thoughts, and emotions in a unique and raw way. So, without further due, my journal:
(05.25.17) This morning I woke up at 5:40 after a restlessness night, showered, hugged my beloved Mom and sisters goodbye for the next 7.5 weeks, and headed to the airport with Dad. As we approached knots formed in my stomach and anxiety began to rise, because this is it: this is the day I have been praying for, waiting for, and saving for, for so very long. Before I knew it I was boarding, and the engines were roaring for take off. So I clutched the green pillow I had been given by the flight attendant, and held my breath as the wheels left the ground.
(05.29.2017) At 7am sharp Dennis picked me up to take me to school for the first time. When I arrived the kids were standing in assembly practicing a song to sing to me as a welcome. As I stood there with my instant coffee I almost didn’t have words. I feel so humbled that God let me come here, and that people along the way cared enough to help make this dream a reality.
(06.2.2017) 7 days ago I stood outside Ndola airport wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into, but here I am 7 days later still alive and well. In this weird way I feel like this is a second home that I am revisiting. This is just like what happened in Brazil: a strange culture suddenly becomes familiar, an unfamiliar family suddenly becomes like my own family, and a distant land suddenly holds my heart and changes me forever. This is what is happening with each bumpy drive, each exchanged smile, and each hand reaching for mine. A new home, right here in Kitwe Zambia, 7,755 miles away from everything that has ever been familiar.
(06.15.2017) Today was a good day, even though it went nothing like I expected. I woke up half an hour late because my newly fixed iPhone (yay!!) was reset to Kitchener time, and I didn’t think about that when I set my alarm last night. I got to school in good time, only to find out from Grade 6 that today doesn’t work for them to take pictures. With not much to do, I found myself out on the field with Stacey where she was directing football (soccer). She told me that I should help out the girls team so I ran to the office, changed into pants, and before I knew it I was a forward on the girls team running in my trusty Target sandals. We didn’t win, and after half time I thought I was going to collapse, but in the end I am so glad that I got dirty and made some memories.
(06.30--07.1.2017) I never want to forget my first real glimpse of Victoria Falls or the thunder in my ears as the millions of gallons of water tumbled over the cliff in all its glory. I don’t want to forget running across the bridge and getting absolutely soaked, or the smiles on our faces when we reached the other side. I don’t want to forget hiking down the gorge and the view that we found once down there. Don’t forget sitting on that rock and just taking it all in with awe and wonder. Don’t forget drinking your coffee by the Zambezi River after seeing elephants, zebras, and giraffes. Don’t forget getting strapped into a harness and zip-lining across the gorge from Zambia to Zimbabwe and the excitement of flying across that space.
(07.12.2017) My heart is so full yet so sad. I am sad because today the students were mellow and withdrawn because I only have a few days left. They clung to me, they told me they loved me and would miss me. Then Mapalo asked me, “Ashley, why is it that the people we love must leave us?” And that killed me, because she has given me her heart, I have accepted it, and now I’m leaving indefinitely. She trusts me, and now I am falling off the face of the earth. For all she knows I will never come back again. How do I answer her?
(07.14.2017) Goodbye hurts, but I am glad that it does. Like I told some teachers earlier, I would rather build real relationships and hurt more, than be content with surface level interactions to protect myself. I’m blessed by this pain, because with every heartache I’m reminded of how thankful I am that I have so many people to love and be loved by.
(07.15.2017) It’s over. The goodbyes were said, the baggage was checked, and flight 871 to Addis Ababa left with me on it. It was hard to leave. As we approached the airport my stomach tightened and dread filled me. I hated hugging my newfound family goodbye, and as we embraced tears slipped down my cheek.
So now this chapter has come to a close. I don’t know when I will come back but I will love you forever Africa, thank you for treating me better than I deserve and for changing me more than I now know. There truly is freedom in surrender.
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand...there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…that have taken hold.” –JRR Tolkien
Today marks three weeks since I left Zambia to come back home, and even though I have so much to say I have felt at a loss for words. I have been avoiding blogging because quite simply I don’t know how to express the things I have been feeling lately. But then I heard this quote, and it gave me the motivation I needed to just sit down and start writing, so here I am.
This quote is part of one of the ending scenes of The Lord of the Rings. The setting is Frodo’s study: he has returned from his mission of destroying the ring, and now he is sitting at his desk finishing the book his Uncle had started years ago. And as I watched this ending scene and heard the quote, I felt like I could connect with it because I have been asking myself the same question lately…how do you pick up the threads of an old life—how do you ever move on—when you know that there is no going back? But something that I am learning, is that it is OK to not know how to pick up the threads, which right now means that it’s OK to have many emotions all raging at once. I’m allowed to miss Zambia like crazy while still being thankful that I’m in Canada. I’m not a calloused person for enjoying the comforts of home, and I’m not a dramatic person for hating how we as North American’s take so much for granted.
I am also learning that it is OK to not want to move on. It’s OK to not want to go back to the way things were. Because the truth is my experiences in Zambia (the people I met, the things I saw, the conversations I had), all changed me for the better. So I don’t want my coming home to be me going back, because that would be a regression. I want all of those experiences to impact and change me long term: To budget better so I can give more funds to the school. To set aside time so I can pray for the children. To live my life in a way that isn’t excessive or wasteful—to not forget the realities that I witnessed just a few weeks ago.
So how do you pick up the threads of an old life? I don’t know. Maybe you don’t. Maybe those threads stay where they are and God starts weaving a new part of the tapestry altogether with fresh colours, and in the end both the old and the new will connect into a beautiful picture that I just can’t see now.
I’m three weeks into my stay here, and I am finally remembering a bunch of the kids names now. There is a friendship established—every day I can expect them to come running and we’ll sit together and talk. They continue to teach me Bemba, various handshakes, and they keep trying to get me to dance despite how often I tell them I am a terrible dancer. On Thursday the Grades 5-7 had a Boys vs Girls soccer game, and somehow I ended up in the middle of the field as a forward for the girls. I never want to forget that afternoon: chasing after the ball in the hot African sun, gasping for air and laughing with the other girls by my side.
Friday was a Teachers vs Students netball game for girls and soccer game for boys, which was also a lot of fun. Us teachers won the netball game, but the students beat the teachers in the soccer game. I must say I was very impressed, these kids have football in their blood.
With every day that passes I have this hunger to know these kids—past the handshakes and the Bemba lessons. I want to know where they live, what they do when they get home from school, how they spend their weekends. I want to know their biggest dreams and their deepest fears. But the other night as I told God that, I had to stop and reevaluate whether or not that’s really true. Do I really want to confront their realities? Face the shack they call home? Swallow the fact that some nights they don’t have supper? Acknowledge that some of the very girls that hold my hands and pet my hair, face abuse and live in fear? It's ugly, it's uncomfortable, and it's convicting. But the fact is that ignoring these realities as a child of God, is sin.
And then I had to ask God, what hurts Him more: hearing his precious children crying out for help, or having his chosen saints ignore Him when He calls us to help?
There are a lot of questions I have, and lots of things that I don’t know, but what I do know is that God takes our brokenness aside and makes it beautiful. I know that from the ashes beauty will somehow rise. That no matter how many pieces a child’s life has shattered into, God is a good Father who’s heart is to restore. I know that He wants them to succeed far more than I could ever hope to. I know that He has an individual plan for each child. I also know that His plans for these children involve us, and closer to home, me. My time. My money. My commitment. My prayers. How am I really handling the responsibility I have been given as a child of God to be His hands and feet?
Today marks 2 weeks since I arrived in Zambia, which is crazy. On one hand I feel like it was just yesterday, but at the same time I feel like I’ve been here forever in the best way possible. My mornings are spent collecting information for bios and photographing the children, but when the lunch bell rings I find myself in the middle of a sea of children trying to touch my hair or teach me Bemba. And in every moment of all this my heart keeps getting fuller and fuller, and with each hand reaching for mine I feel my heart growing more entangled with the souls I’m surrounded by.
While all of this is beautiful, there have also been some not so glamourous moments. Yesterday morning my phone fell on the gravel at school and shattered, my shower pressure is almost non existent, and last night there was a rat in my kitchen. But through this God is teaching me that these things are all OK. It’s OK to not have a phone for a week until it gets fixed. It’s OK to have to not have a steady water pressure in the shower. It’s OK to cook in a kitchen that just had a rat run through it. It’s all OK.
Today as I stood outside with some Grade 2 girls, one of them lifted up my hands and began to count my fingers, to check if I had 5 just like her. They pressed my nails to see how they turned white under the pressure, and took turns holding my hands. As I stood there in the middle of this I talked with their teacher, and she explained to me that for many of these kids, I am one of the first white people they have ever been in close contact with. Even though there are different ethnicities in Kitwe, these kids from the Compound almost never enter the city, therefore being unexposed to anyone outside of the Compound or school. It makes my heart sad that things are this way. It makes me sad that many of them have to find their own food over the weekend. That every day they wear the same ratty sweatshirt, because it’s the only sweatshirt they have. But more than sadness, I feel joy. Because these children are not forgotten or abandoned. Not only is Lifesong For Orphans speaking out for them and preparing them for their future through the education they provide, but God Himself is their defender, warrior, and Father.
All in all, these past 2 weeks have been amazing. I am so thankful for how smooth my adjustment has been to life in Africa, and I can’t wait to see what else God does during my stay here!
On Thursday at 11:00am Ethiopian Airlines flight 503 left for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with me on it. The engines roared, the wheels propelled us forward, and before I knew it we were airborne, Toronto falling farther and farther behind.
My trip went smoothly, and contrary to what I expected, Addis Ababa was actually my favorite part of the whole thing. In the midst of all the confusion and chaos the airport held, I found myself sitting on the dusty floor of my gate just relaxing and taking it all in. I never felt unsafe, never felt anxious, never even felt out of place. The only way I can explain it is that there was a firm peace upon me, and I know that it is because of all of the prayers being sent my way.
Friday afternoon I arrived in Ndola, Zambia where Delic’s picked me up and we drove home to Kitwe.
Over the weekend I settled in and adjusted to the time change, and today I finally got to go to the school. My heart was so full as I walked up to general assembly to hear the students singing a welcome song they had prepared for me…they sure know how to give a warm welcome.
I ended up teaching a preschool class, and while it definitely held its’ challenges (especially since they don’t know much English yet) I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to get this opportunity. I love how they reach up to feel my hair, love how they all want to hold my hand or high-five me. I can’t wait to spend every day at the school interacting with the kids whether it be as a teacher, photographer, or just as a friend.
I can’t help but think of myself just a week ago: preparing for the trip with so much excitement yet so much anxiety all at the same time. How would the trip go? What’s the culture like? How will I like where I’m going to stay? Will I get along with the people? But as the trip got closer and closer, so did God. I felt Him, I knew His peace in a way like never before, and instead of fear or anxiety I began to feel so incredibly humbled and thankful that the God who parts the seas and calms the storms cared enough to give me the dream of my heart. Cared enough to place this desire in me so long ago, and to prepare me for this trip before I knew it would ever be a reality. He is good, and I am so excited to see how He works in and through me in the weeks to come right here, in Kitwe, Zambia.
“Though I can’t see what’s in front of me, still I will trust You.” –Steady Heart, Steffany Gretzinger
I wish I was as brave, independent, and trusting as some people seem to think I am, but the truth is I’m not. Just because I am traveling solo, and spending 2 months in a far away country I have never been to doesn’t mean that I am brave. I’m really not, and that’s OK. God hasn’t called me to be brave, He has called me to be obedient.
When I look at my own little story, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and unable. But when I look at His story I feel confident, thankful, and excited. Any fears I once had fade away and the joy begins to overflow, because I am going to Zambia! How awesome is my God, to plant this dream in my heart so long ago and now bring it to life?!
In 3 days I will be on a plane carrying me far away (Toronto --> Ethiopia --> the Congo -->Zambia) and while the anxieties and fears that I feel are real when I think of that, so is the excitement and joy that also floods my soul. My Father holds both the future and my hand, and so with confidence I will walk forward knowing that His steady heart will lead my heart on, through the fear and the excitement, through the anxiety and the joy.
So from Kitchener to Kitwe, here I come!