In honor of my first blog and the closing of another year, I decided I would begin with practically regurgitating just about every thought, fear, dream, hope, disappointment, hurt, laugh, and joy that has come to pass within the last semester.
To be completely honest, this past semester has been one of the most difficult seasons of my life.
For those of you who are absolutely dying to know why, (please note my good humored cynicism) proceed to read on.
I am mostly writing all of this to get it all out of my volatile mind, to sort it out, to try to analyze and make sense of it, to recount the joy and goodness that has come out of all of it, and hopefully to extend some encouragement to a passerby.
I am going to assume those of you reading this do not know me. For those of you reading who do know me, and know me well, then some of this will be familiar to you, and some of it very unfamiliar. As there are some crazy things that Jesus has done in me this semester that I have not yet shared with many. Not because I wanted to hide it or keep it to myself, but because I have spent this entire semester trying to figure out for myself what in the world Jesus was up to.
So from the beginning, here is my recollection of how Jesus flipped my entire world upside down and wrecked my life (in the most incredible way you can imagine):
Over the summer, I got to love on homeless and runaway youth. To this very day I can say I have never been more happy in my entire life than when they were with me and I with them.
I didn’t understand it. I could not make sense of the newfound joy that was causing my heart to explode.
One specific girl, we’ll call her Grace for now, changed everything for me when she shared with me her story.
What was most impactful was her response to Christians. She told me that she did not like Christians. That they had done so much wrong to her and those she loved. When I first met Grace, she wasn’t even sure that she believed in God or Jesus. After spending more time with her and loving on her with the love of the Father, best that I knew how, and letting Him speak words of love and truth to her through me, Grace changed.
Sounds pretty miraculous, huh? Jesus is that kind of a person. You can imagine my excitement. And yes, my heart exploded again. She told me that she was going to give Jesus a chance. That she didn’t think the same of all Christians as she used to. Holding her hand in prayer and worship of a Father who was pursuing her right before my own eyes was the most incredible and beautiful thing I have ever witnessed.
Grace was the beginning.
I am happy to say that I am still in contact with her. When I remind her of God’s faithfulness and His deep, crazy love for her, not only does she acknowledge it, but she agrees.
So at this point you may be thinking, “Hmm, that is a wonderful story, but how in the world did that ‘wreck’ your life?”
So glad you asked.
It wrecked my life, because I knew I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop loving these kids. I couldn’t fall in love with the homeless, see the Father’s pursuit of them, and then just go back to my normal life.
I tried to escape it at first. I tried to rationalize. “Well, God has called me to medical missions and I am in college to be a doctor. I am going to medical school. Maybe homeless ministry is just something God wants me to do on the side.” WHAT.
Yeah, exactly. Like loving the people right in front of me would have to take a seat while I pursued my other dreams.
I had a very wise brother once tell me that there is a lot of freedom in God’s will. So often we freak out and think we have to pinpoint it exactly. That somehow if we miss it, we mess up God’s entire plan for humanity. Here is the truth: God gives us so much freedom within His will.
Up to that point in my life I had a very warped concept of the will of God. I still cannot get my finite mind around His infinite ways (and never plan to), but regardless, I feel most of this season has been a product of coming to a better understanding of the freedom in the Father’s will.
For the first time in my life, I felt the chance to really live out the Gospel. To really live out the teachings of Jesus, the ministry and the life of Jesus. To really be His hands, His feet, His embrace.
I knew I could still choose to pursue medical school and live overseas for the rest of my life and honor God. It has always been my heart’s desire to do that, to honor Him with my life wherever He placed me. I finally realized it wasn’t about choosing this career path over that one, or planning out logistically which one would be more feasible.
It was about seeing an opportunity to love someone, and just going for it. At this point in my life I think I am finally understanding that to really follow Jesus requires us to step out into the unknown, the uncomfortable. It doesn’t make any sense at all. And that was my problem all along. I was trying to make sense of God who is outside of my understanding. I was trying to make sense of something crazy that He was calling me to. But I didn’t need to make sense of it.
It is as simple as this: He put beautifully broken people directly in my path. Gave me a deep and burning love for them. Said, “Hey Carrie, I want you to keep loving them. Forget everything else right now and just do that.”
After many nights crying out in frustration to God because of my stubbornness to simply “forget everything else and do just that,” He began to subtly and gently guide me in the way of the unknown.
So I began the journey of following. And learning to trust in His leading.
I began the transition of leaving behind all that was familiar and comfortable to me. To leave behind my small private Christian college, my academic identity and 4.0 pre-med dream, and everything else that was insulating me from the darkness and hurt of a city that has been crying out for the love of a Father that they do not yet know.
I knew I couldn’t love the people God was telling me to love when I wasn’t with them. He was calling me to be with them. As He was with us. Love becomes much more real when you make it personal. When you choose to invest in a person’s life.
So I packed everything up and hit the road. I moved into an apartment in downtown Springfield where I would be able to be as close as I could to my kids.
At first God kept closing every door. You can imagine my frustration with Him. Here He was telling me to leave my comfortable life behind, move to the city and love on homeless people. Yet it seemed He was calling me to something that was impossible.
You would have thought I was a felon because of how difficult it was for me to get into MSU (a university in Springfield). When I finally got accepted, I wasn’t able to sign up for classes. I couldn’t get registered for any classes because I was going to be two and a half weeks late to the semester.
Ya see, I was going to be in South Sudan from the end of December to nearly the end of January (more about South Sudan at the end of this blog).
There was a period of time where I thought I wasn’t going to go to college at all or even afford a place to live. I simply couldn’t get in. I was really angry with God about this because I was not ready to give up my dream of graduating college. I was okay with Him calling me to Springfield, to work with the homeless, and even giving up the pursuit of medical school, if I was going to continue my college education, but this time in social work.
When I came to the realization that He might have been requiring me to cross “college education” off of my list, I was pretty upset to say the least.
I remember sitting on the floor of my room, crying in anger to God, yet again. Then I remembered. I remembered when I was 14 years old and God called me to ministry. I had no idea of what that would look like then, I just knew He wanted me to lead people to Him. I remembered reading His words to His disciples. When He told them it would require everything. I felt my throat tighten and quickly thought, “Yeah, I’m okay with that. Everything. Okay, God, I am willing.”
For the first time in my life, I realized what He meant when He said we must be willing to lose everything to follow. I was about to lose it all. Or so I thought.
And I can honestly say, after weeks of crying and praying for a content heart, I was okay with it.
If God was requiring me to stop going to college and become homeless myself to love the homeless, then I was okay with it. I was ready to start living out the Gospel for the first time. I was ready to radically serve a God who is radically pursuing His children. I was ready to start living out a Christianity that looked like Jesus.
Two days ago I got a phone call.
I had been praying that God would make something possible. I didn’t care what it was. I just wanted Him to put me where He wanted me, wherever that was.
My team leader for my South Sudan team called me and told me that the trip was being called off.
If you haven’t heard the news lately, which chances are you haven’t because it’s Africa, South Sudan is on the verge of a civil war. If you want all of the details of the situation I would be happy to sit down with you and tell you, but for the average American who doesn’t have the time to hear about the typical problems of another African rebel war (please note my extreme cynicism, and I swear I am not a complete jerk) I will spare you and just tell you that the situation is so real that over 500 people have died in one week. It is spreading quickly over the country I have grown to love and it has become too dangerous for myself and my team to go and minister to the people who desperately need the love of the Father.
After I got off the phone with my team leader I cried. I cried and screamed for a long time. I had literally just packed my backpack and taken my last oral typhoid vaccine pill before I got the call. I was hurt.
Hurt that after six years of anxiously waiting for God to send me to Africa, He closed the door. My team and I had been meeting and preparing to bring the Gospel of Jesus to a tribal people group since August. Nine days until we landed on that red soil. I was absolutely heartbroken. The people I had fallen in love with were, and still are, hurting. And I cannot bring them Jesus during a time they need Him most.
But I know He is moving there. And I believe His Light and Power will be displayed in the midst of such dark suffering and hate. I am praying towards that end and He has given me peace in that.
If you are still with me at this point, then bless you. You have made it this far with my ranting, complaining, terrible grammar, and over usage of commas. Please accept my virtual fist-bump.
Right now I am sitting at my parent’s house trying to figure out what my next step is. Since I’m not going to Africa now, I have no problem starting college on time. It is pretty evident to me that that was the door I was praying God would open, that was what He was making possible.
I am soon to be on my way to Springfield again. But for good this time. And I am full of excitement down to my very core. I cannot begin to imagine what Jesus has for me there but it is going to be crazy and good.
He has definitely thrown me through the wringer this semester, but I am grateful. I know now He was testing me, yet again. Testing me to see if I was really in it. Was I really willing to lose it all? I guess I should ask myself again. Am I willing to lose it all?
Yeah. I am. Because if losing it all means I find Him, and I am where He wants me, then I don’t want anything to do with having it all.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought He would be calling me to minister to the least of these in downtown Springfield, pursuing homeless case management, and willing to let go of everything I have ever known.
Brothers and sisters I want to end with encouragement to you.
When Jesus says He wants everything of you. Do not be scared. Do not think it will ruin your life.
Okay wait. Let me re-word that. It will ruin your life. But, in the most incredible way possible.
When you let Him have everything, He’s bound to turn it into something mind-blowing. If you are a skeptic like me, you are probably scoffing, “Yeah, yeah, everyone says that.”
But I promise you, as my life, and the most difficult, heart-wrenching, and painful season yet to testify – He always has something good.
After all, He thought us into existence.
Read that again.
He thought us into existence. I think of this often.
Because everything He has for us rests in that truth. He thought us into existence so that He could know us. So that He could love us.
And in return, we would know Him, and we would fall in love with Him. At the end of a painful season, or even if you are in the midst of it, please remember that He created us to love us. Why wouldn’t He have good things for us?
Good things do not always come without pain. More often than not, they do. But that pain seasons us. It allows us to come out of it rejoicing and believing in our hearts that it was not without reason.
Tonight I am humbled by the power and love of a God who is intimately acquainted with each of us.
Our concept of time is so different from His. Pslam 139:16 says “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”
He knows us. He really knows us. Emmanuel, God with us.
He knows the name of every South Sudanese person hurting at this hour. He knows the name and the story of every man, woman, and child on the cold streets of downtown Springfield. He knows us and it is the purpose of our existence to know Him.
At the end of the day I make sure my heart knows this one truth. God is good. So simple, but so big.
He is good no matter the outcome of our lives or what path we choose to journey on. His love for us is not contingent upon our ability to accept it and believe in it. His promises stand from the beginning of time and into eternity.
And my soul knows it very well.
Grace and peace.