SixEight Life

justice.mercy.journey

On losing a friend….

10653592_10205107436589906_8267599693869537327_nMy friend Angela died today. It became pretty clear a couple weeks ago that the healing we’ve been praying for on her behalf would likely come when God brought her home. It happened today, at 4:43pm. Breast Cancer sucks.

I’ve never lost someone close before. I’ve lost great aunts and and a few grandparents, but I was either young or had a more distant relationship with them. Angela was my friend, my good friend. Even though I’ve been thinking and processing this for weeks, the finality of today hits pretty hard. I won’t be getting coffee with her and dishing about life anymore. I won’t be able to text her anytime to check in. We won’t be able to dream about traveling and fix all the world’s problems over Caramel Macchiatos (her drink) and White Mochas (mine). We were really good at fixing the world’s problems, let me tell ya. And we laughed. We laughed a lot.

Some of you reading this probably knew Angela better than I did, and some of you never met her. But regardless, here are a few things I want you to know about my friend.

1. Angela loved Jesus: The number one thing about my friend that you should know is that she loved Jesus. She loved to worship Him and she loved to serve Him. She was always active in the local church. She sought out ways to glorify God no matter her circumstances. Throughout her three year fight with breast cancer she took advantage of every opportunity to shine for Jesus.

2. Angela was generous: Last year Angela was ending her second fight with breast cancer. We grabbed lunch to catch up and chat. This was a season of my life where I was in between jobs. I was stressed about money but didn’t say anything to Angela about how worried I was about even paying for my lunch. But despite any financial difficulties Angela may have been facing, she somehow knew that I could use someone to pay for my lunch. So, she did. She didn’t know the extent of my worries, but her generous spirit prevailed. It meant more to me than she probably knew.

3. Angela had great fashion sense: This may seem silly, but it’s something about my friend that will always make me smile. She gave me fashion advice and always knew the best way to accessorize. And she LOVED shoes. Angela had a great sense of style and it was just fun talking about shopping, clothes and shoes with her.

4. Angela was a servant: Angela thought about others consistently. She took coffee to chemo patients on a regular basis. She always served at her church. Angela truly put others before herself. Whether it was planning a conference, sorting donated clothing, volunteering at the church office, or stuffing shoeboxes full of goodies for kids halfway around the world, Angela was always looking for ways to serve others.

5. Angela was a matchmaker: This one is fun. My husband Brent and Angela were friends before she and I were. 10687040_10101356310839233_2989706054596850554_nWhen Brent first starting noticing me, he went to Angela for advice and to just talk about how he liked me. At some point, Angela looked at him and said “Don’t talk to me about her anymore until you man up and ask her out!” or something along those lines. Well, the rest is history. We owe our relationship to Angela :)

6. Angela was joyful: She loved life and loved to laugh. Even during the tough days she had a smile. She was able to find joy in the midst of her trials. I’ll never forget her laugh, she loved to laugh. I can’t use words to adequately describe her beautiful laugh, so you’ll just have to trust me on this: her joy, and her laughter- they were contagious and inspiring.

7. Angela was a good friend: Angela never ceased to encourage her friends. She listened to me go on and on about life and stress and always had an encouraging word. She also wasn’t afraid to be bold and honest when needed. We would go a couple months without seeing each other, but would reconvene for coffee and pick up where we had left off. She was truly a good friend and her loss will be felt by many, many people who had the privilege to call her friend.

Angela is whole again. Cancer tried to ruin her, but she didn’t let it. She was bold and was a bright shining light for Jesus during her time on earth. And because of that bright shining light, she’s now whole and in the arms of her savior. I can picture Him telling her “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Maybe she’s sipping caramel macchiato’s while lounging in the sun, wearing flip flops. One of our friends put a hashtag out there for her: #bossingheaven, which is so hilariously fitting. Her classic “Come to Jesus Moments” are probably a bit easier to have since she can now drag the offender right over to Jesus’ feet. That’s probably not theologically accurate at all, but it makes me smile so I’m going with it right now.

1014250_10152844769490649_7392816251855536312_nMy sweet friend, I’ll always miss you. But I know you’re happy again. I’m so grateful for the time we all had to know you here on this earth. I’m sorry we never got to have our classic movie marathon, I guess neither one of us thought this would actually happen. I wish we had spent more time together. I wish I hadn’t had that cold the last time you were in the hospital since I didn’t get to visit you that time. There are other things I wish, but I know you’d probably get on to me and tell me to stop regretting and move forward. I’ll do that, my friend. I’ll tell people about your story. I’ll use your obedience and faith to point people to Him. And if I need to, I’ll conduct some ‘Come to Jesus meetings’ for you too. I bought new shoes in your honor and I’ll wear them to your funeral. I think you would have liked them. I love you friend. I’m glad I never ceased to tell you that while you were here. Now go give Jesus a hug for me. I’ll see you again someday.

Check out Angela’s blog here.

Round…. 10?

Photo credit: snow0810 (creative commons)

Photo credit: snow0810 (creative commons)

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog post. The premise of the post was about battles. I was in a season of calm and was relishing in the blessings and provision of God. It was a good time, but I pictured myself standing at the corner of the boxing ring. My gloves were off, I was taking a break, breathing deeply and drinking some water. The calm I was sitting in felt wonderful, but I pictured myself glancing at the boxing gloves. Would I have to put them back on again? When would that time be?

Fast forward to now. The gloves are on, they’ve been on for several months now. I feel like every time I catch my breath, life throws another punch. I wasn’t ready for the gloves to be back on. I wasn’t ready for the next round. But it didn’t wait for me to prepare myself, it came charging in. So here I stand, proverbially bruised and weary from the fight. I thought this round would be over at a certain point, there seemed to be a distinct end date, but it hasn’t ended. So I find myself staring at the ceiling, willing myself to do what I need to do but wanting to hide. I feel my breath catching in my throat as another issue springs forward.  I’ve had some physical reactions to stress and worry that seem to come one after another. I go from guilt (why can’t I just handle it) to self pity (woe is me, things are so hard) to ambivalence (just screw it all, I don’t even care anymore). Sometimes those moods will switch as the day progresses.

I said that I wasn’t ready for this battle, but life didn’t wait for me to prepare myself. And I’ll tell you why I wasn’t ready for this round. I haven’t learned my lesson, I haven’t learned to trust. I’m clinging to my talents, experience, and ability to “handle it” instead of just handing it over to the One who wants to carry all my burdens.

You see, last year my summer was stressful as I was in between jobs and had no idea how God would provide. The summer of 2012 was overwhelming- my job was in shambles and I was completely miserable. The summer before that was overwhelming and uncertain. Brent and I had just gotten married, I was looking for a job while trying to learn how to be a wife. And in the summer of 2010 I struggled with anxiety and doubt. I had a bit of a reprieve in 2009, but in the spring and summer of 2008 I sank into a pit of low self esteem and near depression, a quarter life crisis of sorts. I could keep going, but you get the gist- me and summer have a rocky relationship.

Now, as I read over the previous paragraphs, my initial reaction is embarrassment. What are people going to say? Does everyone think I’m pathetic and weak? I have this constant inner struggle to have it all together. I am always ‘fine’, everything is always ‘okay’ even when it really isn’t. I’ve used (read: distorted) all sorts of scripture passages to justify my need to always be okay.

But you know what? Things aren’t always okay. They aren’t always okay for anyone. We live in this social media world where we see everyone’s beautiful pictures and happy status updates. We inwardly think that they have perfect lives and not a care in the world. But that’s not true! We all have struggles, we all at times find ourselves nearly passed out from a fistfight with life that leaves us wondering how we’ll go on. Being weak and not being okay does not make you or I any less of a person, or less of a Christian We are all valued and loved by God, no matter if things are good, bad or in between.

And, just like last year and the many summers before, I’m remembering that God pulls me through the battles in ways that I can’t even comprehend. He kneels down beside us and heals our wounds. He picks us up, takes the gloves off our hands, and fights for us. Scripture is clear on this truth.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” Ex. 14:14

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28

“You are my strength, I watch for you, my God, you are my fortress” – Ps 59:9

There are many, many more verses and stories where God has come through for His children. I can share stories, and I imagine you can too. But it’s so easy to forget when we feel like we’re getting punched in the gut every five seconds. Today, I’m trying to remind myself to not forget. And if you’ve made it this far in this post, thank you. When I started writing tonight, I was on the verge of tears and had a sinking feeling in my stomach about the week ahead. I really planned for the post to end differently, but I feel like God began to work in my heart as I typed, bringing scripture to memory and reminding me of all He’s done. It’s sort of like writing therapy I guess. Is there perfect peace right now? No, but I’m getting there.

Friends, we can’t forget all He’s done and all He’s promised us to do. Hand the gloves over to him and remember that we just need to be still.

Five Months, Twenty Things

Thirty is looming ahead my friends. I can’t believe it’s almost September! I meant to write this post in July, the halfway point of my year of the 30 by 30 list, but I just didn’t get to it. The summer flew by in a blur of stress and busyness, and I’m ashamed of my lack of blogging. But I have been able to chip away at the list. You can keep up with the full list and updates by going here.

So far I’m chipping away at things quite nicely. About 10 items are completely finished and several are ‘in progress’. Even more have a concrete plan in place that should lead to me accomplishing them before January 22nd.

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Our team in South Africa with Hope2Africa

I’m honestly having a blast with this list. I’ve always loved to do lists and goals, but this list has taken me to a new level of truly living life intentionally and with purpose. There are so many adventures to be had, so many new things to experience and so many memories to be made. Here’s a recap of some of the most amusing, thought provoking and fun moments of my list so far.

Driving a Stick: I thought I was going to kill myself, my brother and my husband. As Casey instructed me how to put the car in gear and shift, I muttered a four letter word that was caught on video by my husband. Sadly (or conviently) this video was deleted from Brent’s phone, so there’s no proof. I sputtered and abused that little car and had the customary ‘crap how am I going to get up this hill’ moment and found myself hearing my brotherly calmly say “go to second….. no, that’s fourth….. second Emily, second…… and we’re stalled.” I consider it accomplished, even though Casey insists on another lesson before he’ll concede that I can check it off my list.

Leaning to Surf: I strategically planned our long weekend vacation so I could accomplish this10428692_10101190200226233_8189278597736510850_n one. St. Augustine Beach is named one of the top ten places on the East Coast for surfing, and it’s driving distance from Atlanta. I was really excited about my lesson and was sharing it with my husband’s family on a stopover down to the beach. Someone then made casual mention about shark attacks, and then I felt the anxiety creep in. So to be honest, I was a little nervous on the lesson day. I was even more nervous when one of the surf shops I called to make a lesson called me back the day of to inform me that they were canceling lessons because the conditions were too rough. Red flags, choppy, rough waves and intense wind greeted us as we arrived at the beach. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Brent can vouch for me. I took a deep breath, tried to push my fear and foreboding aside, and focused. After about 45 minutes of being beaten around, I was up! And up again, and again, and again! It was incredible. I can’t fully explain the feeling of being caught by that first wave. We were all cheering, and my instructor said that she was surprised I was able to catch as many waves as much as I did. No sharks, no major injuries (just some awesome rug burns from wiping out), and no regrets. I’m hooked.

10576951_10101267402252753_7461725558344413985_nStress relief at its finest: I rediscovered some stress relievers and discovered some new ways to relieve stress as well. First of all, massages. I had my first massage, and I had NO IDEA what I was missing out on. Can that be a regular occurrence, please? Also, I rediscovered a bit of escapism I went to often in my younger years- fiction. I love a good story, and I used to spend much time getting lost in good fiction. On my list was to read and watch the Harry Potter series. For the past month, I let myself get engrossed in this series. First of all, why has it taken me so long to read these? Amazing literature, I couldn’t put the books down. And honestly, I think the escape of these books got me mentally through parts of July and August, as it’s been a very busy, exhausting, and stressful few weeks. I was able to come home and disappear in the world of Hogwarts. At 2 am on a Saturday night when I finally closed the Deathly Hallows I was sad to finish, but happy to have completed reading one of the most iconic series of my generation. And one more stress reliever to mention- the art of being alone. I’ve never been one to be comfortable in being alone. I always feel anxious and self conscious when I’m by myself in a public place. So, I faced that uncomfortable feeling while on a work trip to Portland, Oregon. I had a whole day to myself. I dropped my luggage off at my hotel and set off to explore the city on my own. I spent hours in a bookstore, not worried about holding anyone up as I walked down every aisle. I ate truffle fries and a veggie burger by myself at a restaurant. I explored shops and neighborhoods, not worrying about what others were thinking. It was actually quite nice, I may have to do that again sometime.

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The Family enjoying our poop coffee.

Other things to mention: This post is getting a bit long, but I can’t go without mentioning the day I was able to get nearly everyone in my family to drink the infamous ‘poop coffee’, Kopi Luwak. At the start of our tasting session, I had two people willing to try, but by the end of the night nearly everyone had a sip. Later I took the rest to work and had a nice Friday afternoon tasting session with some colleagues. It is divine coffee, it truly is delicious. I took Brent to a shooting range for his birthday and learned to shoot our gun, jumping slightly every time I pulled the trigger. I went on a mission trip with my mom, and could write dozens of posts on the impact of that week. I nearly threw up after riding a legit roller coaster at the Animal Kingdom (don’t naysay, it was legit for me!). I’ve explored several new cities and still have a few more to explore.

Nearly every other item on the list is either in progress or planned. I’ve had friends offer to help with tasks. Other friends have started their own lists. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and have made memories that I’ll never forget so far. With five months to go and 20 items left to complete, I’m going to be busy, but I’m excited and ready to go. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a copy of War and Peace and make reservations for my pottery lesson. :)

Why Refugees Matter

June 20th is World Refugee Day.

I’ve been thinking about this day for several months.

Darfurian Refugees in Chad. (Photo Credit: European Commission DG ECHO- creative commons)

Darfurian Refugees in Chad. (Photo Credit: European Commission DG ECHO- creative commons)

There will be events, festivals, awareness campaigns, celebrations and times of contemplation. It’s a global day to celebrate refugees and to reflect on the trials and difficulties that they face on a regular basis. It’s a day to advocate for peace to end the violence and persecution that so many people face around the world.

I had big plans for World Refugee Day. I was going to write an eloquent piece and submit it to Huffington Post or another site that accepts guest blogs. My professional life revolves around refugees, and on many occasions my personal life does as well. I love my job and I love my calling, and I love to write. I was going to combine those elements and write a piece that would be perfect, poignant and striking. It would have the perfect blend of emotional appeal and factual information. It would compel the reader to take action to ‘welcome the stranger’ to our county. Did I mention that it was going to be perfect?

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t do it because to be honest, I’m kind of exhausted.

So instead I’m sitting at my computer on the eve of World Refugee Day, struggling to come up with words to type. I haven’t had time nor even energy to blog in months, because life is just so crazy. Working in the human services can be incredibly challenging and draining, and it’s also challenging to work to help and serve people who have been through so much in their lives. Trauma and pain are ever present in many refugees’ lives, terrifying experiences are woven in the fabric of their life story. The busyness combined with the sheer magnitude of fully understanding the plight of refugees can feel overwhelming.

But it is worth it.

Photo Credit: United Nation Armenia (creative commons)

Photo Credit: United Nation Armenia (creative commons)

I was reminded of that very fact just the other day. I was talking to a young man who felt comfortable enough to share his story. His family fled a war after his father and younger sibling were brutally killed. He, his mother, and his other siblings fled to the coast and got on the first boat they could find that would permit them to travel. They didn’t know where the boat would take them, they just knew that they had to get out. After a month long journey, they ended up in a foreign land where they didn’t speak the language or understand the customs. They lived as stateless citizens in this second country for five years. They were discriminated against because of their racial background. They weren’t permitted to work because of their status in this country. Several years into their new lives they were finally able to apply for refugee status. And several years later they found themselves on a plane headed to Atlanta, Georgia.

As I listened to my young friend share his story, I could hear the pain in his voice. At one point he paused and quietly said “This time was very hard for me.” But as he continued, I began to hear the hope in his voice. He has big plans. He wants to go to college and become one of the first lawyers from his ethnic background in Atlanta. He is so proud to be a United States Resident. He already talks about taking the citizenship test in a few years. He and his family embody the reason our country was founded. They faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds to make a new life. They live simply and are building their new life. My friend proudly told me about how they saved up to buy the couch I was sitting on as we ate chapati bread in his apartment.

Friends, refugees matter. They comprise a small population of our immigrant population in the United States but it would benefit all of us to seek them out and form friendships with them. They work long hours at really difficult jobs to make ends meet. They are patriotic and proud to live in the United States. They pay taxes and save money to open businesses in their community. They remind me of my own ancestors in many ways. My family is a eclectic mix of many different nationalities- most of whom immigrated to the United States to make a better life for their families. Some fled persecution, famine or other difficulties. They worked hard to start fresh and to create their own ‘American Dream’.

We are a nation of immigrants, and refugees are a beautiful picture of what makes our country great. Amidst the busyness of my life, the stacks of paperwork and the struggles that come from walking the journey with refugees during their first few days in America, I am reminded of this picture. Refugees matter to God, and they matter to me. They are an important part of our country, and I am so proud, humbled and honored to know many of them.

If you want to get to know a refugee family, let me know. I’d love to introduce you to some of my friends.

 

Hope

Photo Credit: upyernoz (creative commons)

Photo Credit: upyernoz (creative commons)

It was the darkest of days.

The world turned dark. The thunder rolled. The veil was torn. The earth shook and the people fell to their knees.

Hope seemed to be lost in that day. It was a Friday. It was a Friday we know as a Good day, but in that moment, I’m sure it seemed far from good.

“It is finished” Jesus cried.

And to the disciples, to the followers, those words must have torn through their hearts like a knife. Finished? How could it be? Where was the hope? This is it? Where was the promised messiah? Is this really happening? He’s there, on the cross, dead. Hope seemed to die with him on that tree.

Friday was a dark day, and I’m sure Saturday was dark too. But Sunday, oh glorious Sunday. Sunday fulfilled the promise. Sunday, which we commemorate and celebrate in a few hours, fulfilled the promise of salvation. Jesus rose! Death lost its sting, the grave was defeated. Oh beautiful, wonderful Sunday! It came to fruition. On the cross, Jesus took it all. He took our pain, our shortcomings, our failings, our hurts, our shattered dreams and broken hearts. He took on the burdens of humanity so we wouldn’t have to.

That’s how we have hope. The days can be so very dark, but we have hope in Jesus. Jesus endured the darkest of days so our burden could be just a little bit lighter. The burden is heavy, but He’s right next to us, carrying it with us. I’ve had some dark days. I remember a late night, a season of depression where I felt smothered to the point where I didn’t know how I could go on. I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe, but in the moment, I knew. I knew He was there. There was a battle, but He was there, fighting for me. There have been seasons of financial difficulty where I didn’t know how we would pay for groceries after that week. All of my dreams, all of my plans felt like they were slipping through my fingers like tiny grains of sand. But in that moment, I knew. I knew I still had hope, because He was there. I’ve been in frightening situations, on the brink of shattering abuse or assault. One step in a certain direction could have changed everything. But I believe He guided me. I KNOW He guided me.

I think of friends right now who are enduring pain I can’t even imagine. Medical diagnosis with an unsure future. Unimanigable loss of a child or spouse. The aftermath of abuse. Pain and suffering that seems unbearable. In the cloud of pain and darkness, there’s always a glimmer of hope. A promise of eternity shines ahead, illuminating our journey that can be marked by pain and doubt. There is hope in the cross, hope in the empty tomb. We can rise with confidence. Even when we strain to see ahead through our tears, He is ahead. He is leading this journey.

That’s why tomorrow is so important. Tomorrow paints the picture of perfect hope. To the follower of Jesus, everything is dependent on that bloodstained cross and on the empty tomb. It may seem bizarre and unbelievable to some, but it’s what we cling to. He is the King, He died for us, and He rose again, defeating the darkness and pain of this world. Does it mean life is perfect? No. Does it mean that the life of the Christian is easy? Of course not. But through it all, we can cling to this truth. And one thing is for certain:

We have hope.

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