As I reflect over this past month, I cannot help but be in awe of what God is doing and how He hears the prayers and desires of every heart. He sees us, He hears us, He loves us; not because he has to or because of anything we have done, because he wants to and He paid the ultimate price to do so.
This month, God has allowed three things to happen to me that have changed my heart: I broke down, I officially moved in, and He gave me love and joy. All these things may not seem like anything monumental (or they are things I typically take for granted), but trying to live in a new place and find myself in another culture, these are milestones. The best way I can think to say it is, THINGS GOT REAL. Let me explain.
First, I completely broke down. I don’t even remember the last time I cried so hard for a long period of time. I guess having my life turned upside down can do that. After being here for two months and working on my third, I couldn’t simply hold it together like I had been trying to do. Every time I had wanted to let my emotions go, I just did something else, or willed myself to pull it together, and usually that worked. Every time this “hole” in my heart meant for my family and friends seemed overbearing, I did whatever I could to take my mind off of it. I knew God could hear the cries I was holding inside and he could see the hole, but if I was going to be here and serve and honor him, I was going to be strong and not let those things get to me. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t serve God wholeheartedly with this gaping hole growing inside of me. I couldn’t genuinely love and serve the people here when all I wanted to do was go back home. Thankfully God had other plans instead of me just “holding it together”.
Towards the end of February, I had the opportunity to run a half marathon. I didn’t really want to do it because I hadn’t been training for it.. and the race started at 4:30 A.M. But, one of the other interns on the team was challenging me and I let my competitive side get the best of me (which happens more often than I would like to admit), and with that I signed up. If nothing else, it would just be a nice long run under the morning stars. The night before the race, we decided to stay in the homes of the long term missionaries (which was a tremendous blessing). I love living with Filipinos, but there is something about staying in a home that is more like what I know that allowed me to really rest and relax. The next morning was the race and it was so worshipful and everyone on the team did very well. It was so encouraging. For just a brief moment, the hole didn’t seem to be so overbearing and I was doing something that I loved. After the race we went out to eat and then back home to get ready for church. As I was waiting to get cleaned up, I had the opportunity to FaceTime my mom. She was at the conference meet watching Cornerstone Track and Field compete and I was able to watch the last distance event. Though this was also a blessing to be able to see everyone, I couldn’t hold it together anymore. I missed everyone so much, I could feel right to my core and I broke down completely. I didn’t realize how big my hole was until I saw all the people who were missing from it. I pulled myself together as much as I could and went to church. I didn’t even make it through the first five minutes of the service and I was crying again… and then again at the end of the service.. and then throughout the day into the next morning… It was through my weakest moments that God was able to humble me (I needed to ask for help), he was able to bring me closer to the team here, he allowed me to encourage and be encouraged, he allowed me to look past myself and realize the struggles of others, and he was able to mold my broken heart into what he wanted it to be… not what I was trying to make it be.
By falling apart, I realized how I was trying to simply “survive” here, not “thrive”. I was just wanted to “get by” and not fully embrace this experience and what God is doing. God was able to show me how weak I am and how strong he is. Also, how his love is the most powerful thing in this world because it has the power to change hearts and minds for his glory. With that, I began to realize what I needed to do to really “thrive” here. At a team meeting, as interns, we made a list of what we needed as individuals to be right mentally, physically, and emotionally, so we can serve God wholeheartedly spiritually. Within the next few days, I officially moved in. I hung pictures, notes, and cards all over my room from friends and family. I began making my own food, instead of just eating what was always put in front of me. I became more motivated to run in the mornings as I realized that is what I need to start my day…to spend quiet time with the Lord and after my run dig into his word. To start the day serving him and learning how he has been serving and loving me since before the creation of the world, and he hasn’t stopped yet. Spending time with people who encourage and uplift me so I can uplift others. As interns, spending more time together and having bible studies and praying for one another. It’s amazing the people God put in my life to help and uplift me; one specific person is my roommate, Christine. She is from Germany and she is the person I laugh with the most. We talk about anything and everything, and she has been such an encouragement. She always seems to understand and is genuinely interested. She also holds me accountable to my commitments and constantly reminds me how good life is and how God has blessed us. She has been here almost a year now and has made such a difference in the lives of so many people; I am very thankful God allowed our paths to cross.
By moving in and making this place my home, things began to change as God continued to mold and shape my heart. The first thing I noticed was I began to laugh again. Not just a smile or smirk, actually laugh until hurts. Learning to laugh at myself and situations that I can’t control puts things in such a better perspective. Laughing with others and just enjoying being with them. Before, walking out of my house and spending time with students seemed to be such a chore. I did it, but my heart wasn’t in it. God fixed that too. This past weekend I went with students to a farm and we stayed there overnight. I didn’t want to go. I started feeling the hole again and I just wanted to stay in my room and watch movies. However, I wasn’t going to leave Christine hanging and it was her birthday, so I had to go (birthdays are a big thing here). The moment I got on campus and saw the girls waiting for us to pick them up, my attitude and heart instantly changed. I noticed it immediately because for the first time, seeing them brought me a genuine joy. Not that I didn’t enjoy being with them before, it was just different. Loving them and being with them wasn’t forced, my heart was in it and it was a genuine joy that I know was from God. To see these girls and the students here through his eyes instead of being self-absorbed with my own problems. The weekend got better and better from there as we hiked, learned about farming, made crafts, and then at dinner had the opportunity to share with them the story of Esther, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Jonah.
Reflecting back, I see now God had to break me down and let me fall apart. I had to let things go; let go of myself, my family, my friends, my worries and insecurities, and give it to Him. By allowing me to fall apart, God put me back together the way he wanted me to be (and I am very thankful that he did). As a result, I was able to move in and really be comfortable being here. I was able to realize what I needed mentally, physically, and emotionally, so I could grow and serve spiritually. As a result of that, I was able to experience joy and love the people here naturally. It wasn’t a forced love anymore. It was a love that only God can provide and allow me to share with others and with that came an inexpressible joy.
By spending more time with my savior and making him a priority in my life and also as a team of interns, he always shows us something new and encouraging. This month it was the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Though I have heard this story more times then I can count, this is the first time I have really taken it to heart and let it impact my life.
King Nebuchadnezzar has just decreed that everyone under his rule must worship his gods and the image of gold he has made. Every time they hear the music playing they need to bow down to it and worship it and whoever does not obey this decree will be thrown into a blazing furnace. Despite the decree, three Jews (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo), refuse to bow down. As word gets around that there are people disobeying the king, these three Jews are brought before the King. As the King is questioning them (and is “furious with rage”), he commands Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, to bow down when they hear the music, and reminds them of the consequence of the furnace. Except this time, he challenges them and God by saying, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” As the king is ranting and going on, the three men (in great respect to their king) kindly reply, together, that there is no need for them to defend themselves. “The God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he doesn’t, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” This response only added to the king’s rage, and he had the furnace heated up seven times hotter than usual and commanded the strongest soldiers to tie them up. The king wanted the three Jews thrown in the furnace immediately. “So these men wearing their robes, trousers, turbans, and other clothes were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace.” The king’s request was urgent and the flames were still so hot, it killed the soldiers who took on the task of throwing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo in the furnace. With in seconds, the king notices that there are men walking around in the furnace. Except, there are four men, not three, and the fourth “looks like a son of the gods.” The king then calls out to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, recognizing them as children of the most high God, and the three walk out of the furnace unharmed, un-singed, and there was no smell of smoke on them. (Daniel 3: 9-27)
What amazes me about this story is the willingness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, to be thrown into the fire. With great respect, they told the king they would never bow down to his golden image, despite his rage and his coming wrath. These three men knew, no matter the outcome, God was going to get the glory, and they faced the fires of that furnace with great faith, and God came to their rescue. Though I am not being thrown into a fiery furnace, this story encouraged me greatly, especially in this past month. God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things, however, I have to have the faith to be able to step into the fire. To face the flames head on, to step into what God has for me, to give up my very life for the one who laid down his life for me. It’s not easy, and God told me the fires would come, but the extraordinary part is when he meets me in the fire, when he changes my life and the lives around me. I was never standing alone. God gave me people to encourage me and step into the fire with me. Whatever my fire may be, whether it’s being in Southeast Asia or simply just letting go, God has provided, he has met me there, given me people to take on the heat with me, and changed my life and hopefully the lives around me just a little bit more. He brought me out of the furnace with a changed heart and a greater faith.
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God….for no other god can save in this way.” (Daniel 3: 28-29)