I spent the last couple of afternoons sitting on this porch, talking and praying with my sweet friend about the storm. Her home easily floods every time there is heavy rain. Understandably, she was anxious about Hurricane Irma. Both days we prayed that the Lord would move the storm away, further out to sea and that no water would enter her home. Today after the weather cleared up a bit, this was the first place I went to check on. She had taken shelter elsewhere and coincidentally, she and I arrived on the street at the same time and slowly took the walk back behind 2 other houses to her home. This bit of water on the porch was all that was there. He did EXACTLY what we asked of Him. HE moved Irma further out and not one drop of water entered her home. As the song says, "He's just that kind of God... that's just like Him.
When I was in the states I worked in non-profit development. In this field, like many others, my progress was always measurable - usually by how much money was raised from a gala, golf tournament or luncheon I was responsible for planning. The gala was usually on a Friday evening at a swanky hotel, and I’d work there from around 7am that morning until 2am Saturday morning - from set-up to break-down. I was kindly given a hotel room so I could “sleep in” on Saturday morning, but never did because without fail, at around 6am on Saturday, the dings would be begin. The email ding, the text message ding, the phone ding - usually from my chairperson, supervisor or board member - all with the same question: “What’s the final number?” The success or failure of all of our hard work on this event was measured by this number. This is what was reported to the board, written in press releases and subsequently printed in headlines in local magazines and newspapers. It also determined if the programs we offered to those in need would be funded or not. THE final number. I’m sure at your job, you have a similar number - how many accounts, how many attendees, - how many, how many, how many. Our resumes are filled with and our careers are defined around measurables like these.
When I look back over the last year here - outside of the number of times I’ve cried or been sick - I cannot truly measure much and that used to bother me. Over and over, I found myself reaching for this invisible, indescribable goal or prize - that would somehow define success for me. It wasn’t necessarily a number, but this standard I had set for myself based on what I perceived others had set for me. (Have you ever done that? It’s really not worth the energy.) This was made all the more difficult when in December, I was led to resign from my sending organization.
The Lord was calling me to “more” but it sure did not feel like it. I was resigning but could not give an explanation as to what I was moving on to or even with. The process has not been easy and I can admit that at times I missed the ease of my “old life”. Yet, every night at 7:00pm I am assured that I am exactly where I am supposed to be when I make my way onto my roof to pray and see this reminder:
Time spent integrating into another culture; building relationship and trust with locals; listening and learning needs before attempting to meet them; sharing in the joys and sorrows of everyday life; sharing my home and being welcomed into others’; stretching the limits of what I deemed to be my personal space or my things or my way and surrendering them to the Lord; time in prayer begging for direction and discernment; placing myself in new and uncomfortable places and situations, etc. These things can’t be measured.
When I began to measure my success by God’s standards and what He has called me to do, things began to look differently. I can look back now and see how everything has been working together for my good and for His glory all along. I am now doing things I was once fearful of or timid about. My Spanish is improving and relationships are growing deeper. The Lord has planted some initiatives and ideas in my heart and as He’s watering them, they and I are growing. (I hope to share them with you all very soon!) I haven’t seen and cannot report back the results, the final numbers, the measurables - but I see the process now and that is what I value. The process is the prize.
For years, the first thing I’ve said upon opening my eyes each morning has been “Thank you Lord”. In January, after returning from the holidays, I sat up in my bed on my first Monday morning as a newly independent missionary and added “Okay, what now?!?!” and have been doing so ever since. Sometimes He tells me what do with my hands, but many times He tells me what He wants to do in my heart.
It is incredibly easy to call ourselves going and doing and working for the Lord and completely miss the work that He is trying to do IN us. Every single yes, every single step of faith, every single time we cry out “Lord! This hurts, but I still trust you”; every single time we feel like spiritual warfare is going to take us OUT, but we fight back - every. single. time. - we are brought that much closer to the Lord. This, my friends, is the prize. The testimony, the intimacy, the time, the growth in the knowledge that every single thing the Lord said about you is true, is the prize.
With much appreciation and love,
Su Hermana en Christo/Your sister in Christ,
Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
who trains my hands for war,
my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.
Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
More and more lately, I’m reminded of just how inadequate I am - apart from God. I often think of a hymn I heard many times when I was younger, during the many summers spent in my grandmother’s church - you know, back when church began with both a deacons devotion and a pulpit devotion. You knew church was about to begin when someone, somewhere on bended knee, with or without the help of accompaniment, began singing:
"I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior!
I come to Thee."
I remember thinking "WHY is this song so long!??" If you were to stop reading and sing the lines above now, you’d see it takes a while to get it out. It’s funny how time and maturity changes things. I sat on my couch last night and sang-cried those lines for a while, and it didn’t seem long at all. Oh, to just sit and be in the presence of the Lord. I often wonder if the writer was truly in need of a tangible blessing as she wrote “Oh, bless me now…” Sure, blessings and things and gifts come, but nothing, nothing at all is better than the gift of His presence. For a while now, after the sun goes down and the streets begin to quiet and there’s nothing left to “do”, I find myself just sitting. My first few months here I would have told you I was bored or hot or lonely, but wow, how I praise God now for this time. For Him allowing me the time to sit and fall into Him as my safe, soft, place of rest.
I’m often asked what it is like to live here and many times, I feel that people don’t always want the real answer. I usually share that it’s a mix of good and bad times, but God is at work, and while that is true, it is also true that I have never been in such an unstable and unpredictable environment in my life. One in which my “plans” mean absolutely nothing, my striving seems pointless and the enemy seems to be laughing at my every attempt to strive harder. That’s the honest answer. Just like you, I don’t know what is coming when I open my front door each morning. For the last few months, I've opened it only to hear news of sickness, conflict, hurt, death, strife among missionaries, and yes sin. For me, it’s been mental and emotional instability, concerns for my family back home, and financial trouble. As much as you and I strive and strive to work through, push through, keep going, it can seem as though the enemy has “knocked us to the ground and forced us to live in darkness like those in the grave” as David laments in Psalm 143:3.
In times like these, I am grateful for His presence. Grateful that He’s ready and willing and waiting to sit with me, to hear me call on His name, to comfort me and for His “gracious Spirit to lead me forward on firm footing”. (Psalm 143:10B)
We do truly need Him every hour. There’s not a minute of the day that we don’t. My prayer is that He continues to remind us through His word and His spirit that He is an ever present help in times of trouble.
Later that night, after the tears dried, a new song came to mind:
"And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing."
My heart is ringing today, and for that, I am grateful.
Thank you for your continued support, love and prayers. Dios te bendiga.
Venid a mí, todos los que estáis cansados y cargados, y yo os haré descansar.
Mateo 11:28 (LBLA)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
As some of you may know, I was never able to complete my 30 days of gratefulness due to illness last year. Boy, what a time that was :)
But, I'm alive a kicking now, so I'll be back to it soon...
Today, I'm grateful to be able to FACE FEAR.
So I moved to an island, one prone to flooding and hurricanes and that also has the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. I know many people here that drive out to the beach every Sunday to relax and rejuvenate themselves for the week ahead. When asked to go, I usually decline and offer that I'm not really a "beach person" - which is true. But the reasoning behind it is because I don't know how to swim and am therefore afraid of water. I remember being sent to the Y for lessons as a kid and when, on the first day, the instructor told me to jump into 12 feet, I turned and left. She tried to console me by telling me that I would "float right back to the top". That didn't work. No thank you, and goodbye.
Fast forward to my move here. As apart of the program I'm in, I'm asked self evaluate every few weeks - thinking through and rating where I am emotionally, physically, spirituality, etc. and then talk through ways in which I can improve. In my first few evaluations when I rated how I was doing physically, it did not look good. I was doing yoga from time to time but that just wasn't enough. When thinking through a full body workout that did not require me to be in the heat, I thought of swimming! Perfect. Oh, but wait. I don't know how. Did I really want the stress of learning to swim stacked on top of the already weighty transition to the DR? Not really, but I thought "If not now, then when?" and signed up.
I'm literally in the slow lane. Swimming - no attempting to swim. If you saw me you would not say that I'm swimming. You'd be utterly confused by the flailing arms, and sounds of choking and coughing. You'd probably also think, "Why is she always standing up?" To my right, you'll notice the 6-year-old gliding past me as she practices her backstroke. She occasionally glances at me with sympathetic eyes and at that moment, I'm so glad for the way that her parents raised her. I'm 33 and learning to swim for the first time. Did I also mention that I have zero coordination skills? No one told me that swimming required so much work! I have move my arms, legs, and breathe at the same time? Have you ever seen me on the dance floor? If not, here's a idea:
This is real, people.
In the next 2 lanes over are the more advanced swimmers. 2 teenagers are in the next lane and 3 adults clearly much older than me are in the next lane racing and doing drills. There is a man that is clearly a "seasoned saint" killing it. Meanwhile, I'm just trying to learn how to float on my back without freaking out! Water is in my ears and it feels weird. I still squeeze my eyes closed even though I'm wearing goggles. Each day, I swallow water, choke, water goes up my nose, my breathing is off, my goggles slide off, anything and everything that can go wrong, goes wrong.
One of the other students mother sits alongside the pool closest to my lane. She occasionally looks at me and says with her eyes, It's okay. Keep trying. Thank you random woman. I love you just for that. Occasionally, a porter or landscaper will pass by and give me the same look. I don't know you man but your mama raised you well and I love you too!
I've learned that much like learning to swim, life is hard. There's now way around it. Sometimes you feel like you're just stuck. Arms flailing, completely drowning, or just when you think you have the drill down and you're kicking your feet as hard as possible, you realize you haven't moved an inch. Or if you're like me, you've made the wrong move and your arm goes careening into the concrete wall of the pool. How do explain yet another bruise?
But, the only way to get better is to keep trying. Yes, it takes me FOREVER to do one lap. Yes I choke on water every class. Yes my throat burns. And my nose. Yes I want to get out of the pool, drive home and cry. Yes, I think the other students are talking about me, but I don’t speak German. Dangit. Yes, I'd rather not have to do the work of washing and twisting my hair 3 nights a week. It's all just so inconvenient. I can think of a million OTHER things to do 3 hours a week but then I'd still be in the same place. Afraid.
Last week, two new girls joined our class. My instructor excitedly said to me "Apriel, these two girls are at the same level as you!" How nice of him to choose those words. Ha! (I thought: and exactly what level is that sir?) But honestly, I was so happy to have them with me. The three of us were in the same (slow) lane together. Between broken Spanish and encouraging smiles we pushed each other through class that day and it was great. At the end of class, they even taught me a new technique (the dolphin kick). It felt good having someone alongside me. They haven't returned to class since (Did I scare them away?) but I was so grateful for the company and having learned something new. I killed it on the dolphin kick by the way.
Today, I'm grateful to be able to FACE FEAR. Regardless of the details of the process - easy, hard, alone, with others, painful, carefree, frustrated or full of joy, I'm just happy to be facing fear and learning something new, because in the process I'm learning more about me. Why? Because growth never gets old.
Today, I am most grateful for RAIN.
There are two things that I always disliked as child, things that still come into play today. One of them was the sun going down. It signaled that it was not only time to come inside from playing but that also that the day was over (duh, I know) It meant that whatever I was experiencing at the moment was about to end and simply become a memory. Being the control freak that I was, I hated that this was something that I could not stop from happening. Along those same lines was the second thing I disliked and still did into my adulthood - rain. Impending or present rain meant a number of things: no outdoor activities, cancelled plans, or worse my hair was going to get wet (haha). I don’t like driving in the rain, I don’t like being wet, or having to do my hair over. Rain has just always been SUCH a huge inconvenience.
Fast forward to July 2016, when I arrive on the island, not realizing that it is one of the hottest months of the year here. I knew that it was going to be hot, but I had NO. IDEA. Being from Houston, Texas, I know all about heat and humidity, but I didn’t realize just how hot it would actually be. I quickly realized that while Houston is in fact hot, we still live, work, drive, etc. in air conditioning the majority of the time. Here in the DR, not so much.
So, we are currently in the “rainy season” here and surprisingly, I love it! It rains a few times a day for short periods. Afterwards, the air is “fresh” (as many Dominicans say), there is a nice breeze that I appreciate SO much! I never thanked God so much just for the breeze. I think when I consider His creation, I generally think of the earth, sun, moon and stars, but now I see so much more. He created the rain, cool air, heat, wind, thunder, lightning, clouds, etc. and He controls them all just as he pleases. Being more aware of this now, I’m glad to have the current weather remind me daily of Him not only as our creator, but in light of the current state of the world or my personal circumstances, I’m also reminded that He is the controller of all things. As the song says: He’s got the whole world in his hands.
Today, I am most grateful for rain, because it brings such sweet relief and comfort as it reminds me of just how BIG God is.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you set in place, what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?
Psalm 8:3-4 (NLT)
You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.
Revelation 4:11 (NLT)
Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks.
1 Timothy 4:4 (NLT)
Today, I am most grateful for DIRECTION.
I’ve been driving here in the Dominican Republic for just about 2 months now, and the first time that I was driving in Sosua (near where I attend language school), I saw a sign that said Una Via but didn’t really pay much attention to it. A few minutes later, I realized that I was driving the wrong way down the street and that Una Via means One Way… The process of making mistakes here (driving, and in many other areas) has really humbled and helped me accept that I am allowed to be human. I now know what the sign means, lesson learned. Knowing this, I’m grateful just to HAVE direction. Often, I want the Lord to give me full and complete directions for my life. I say “Lord tell me! Give me the info - top to bottom, A to Z, 1 to 10. Just tell me the what, when, where, how and why - bam, I’ll run full speed ahead and do it!” But that’s not usually how it works because one, He doesn’t always make it that plain and two, I don’t always run full speed ahead in obedience anyway. I see direction as such a gift, because even though He may not lay out the specific steps for me, when I just have general direction - small pieces and insights into the life that the He wants me to live - and as I strive to discover more about Him, he makes clear to me not only what I’m supposed to be doing, but He also makes really, really clear what I’m NOT supposed to be doing.
Discovering this has been really, really good because for so much of my life, people have suggested things for me. I’m tall and have long legs, so I was always told to that I should play basketball, or run track, when in fact, both of those were terrible ideas. But people often say to us, “You’re really good at _____, or we can really use your skills in _____ ministry or _____ job, so you should do _____, or you should go back to school and get your masters in _____” and on and on. In the past, I was easily swayed (and confused) by those suggestions and opportunities because I had zero direction and insight into what He would have me to do because I was listening to them and not God. (That is not to say that people do not have a place to see things in me and encourage me forward, but I now know to better discern who I allow to do that) In doing so, I not only learned discernment but I learned to be confident enough to sit in the process with the Lord, ask for direction and then once I got it, to learn to believe it and take steps to walk in it. It is literally a PROCESS of asking and waiting (before taking steps!) I had to do this while preparing to move here and let me tell you, people misunderstood both me and my decisions all throughout the entire process, but I knew with FULL confidence what I was and what I was not supposed to do.
Having a general sense of direction in life also determines how I handle things that come my way on a daily basis. These are not the huge, momentous decisions, or moments but in the good and the not so good things, the comfortable and the uncomfortable things, and especially the things that I don’t have answers to. Earlier today, I was talking with a friend about a few things that are concerning me and after I shared the most concerning one, he said “Oh wow, that’s a big deal, what are you going to do about it?”, and all I could say was “I don’t know” and we moved on. But I said “I don’t know” in such a way that I’d never heard myself say that phrase before. When I think back to when I did not have a true, intimate relationship with the Lord, I could say “I don’t know” and act as if I didn’t care, but inside I would truly be scared and stressed. But now? Now I now I can say it and literally not know, be okay not knowing and still, no stress can come my way. Now, regardless of the unknown, the deadline, the timeline, the expectation, the requirement, or the concern in general, I can say “I don’t know” or “I have no idea” and truly be okay with it. It’s not always easy. At times, I do have to push past my own desire to sound like I have it all together. We finished chatting and moved on, but what I realized later is that what I really needed to say was “I don’t know, but God does.”
Today, I am most grateful for DIRECTION because I, Apriel, literally have no idea what the answer are, and that’s okay, because if I did I would not have the opportunity to see God’s hands at work, and watching His hands at work never gets old.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.
Psalm 39:7 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NLT)
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:28 (NLT)
Each year I am always so encouraged by reading #gratefulness posts that I’ve decided to challenge myself to do the same. Specifically, in light of the fact that the coming days are leading up to my first Thanksgiving away from my family and friends. Not because it’s a “sad” thing, but because it is happening, it’s a GROWING thing (because it is a first). I'm already grateful for it.
So, I am challenging myself to daily carve out time to sit and truly think and meditate on the things that I am most grateful for and share them on this blog page that I never actually blog on...
*By the way, all of my posts will not focus on my current missionary service. They’ll center around my gratitude for the things that I am learning (and unlearning) and ALL of the areas in which I am growing.
I went on a hike today on the Santa Fe Trail. If you know me, you know I didn’t exactly want to go…
I started in a parking lot, on smooth paved concrete, but quickly cut off to the side, and the first thing I noticed was that the ground was uneven. I was to follow a path that was uneven, steep, rocky, and because of the recent rain, slippery and muddy at times. The past few months, weeks and days have felt the same way. Grueling on most days. Long and heavy, filled with lists and lists of things to get done, goodbyes to say, packing, organizing, moving, fundraising, selling, preparing, on top of life’s usual happenings: weddings, parties, appointments, ministry - all while feeling like my entire world, everything that I know is shaking underneath me, unsteady, uncomfortable and soon to be pulled right from under me. I’m not a good liar, so I’m just being honest. I know I’m in God’s will, but I’m human y’all. The emotions are overwhelming, hard, weighty, almost smothering sometimes. This past week, the enemy had a good time tap dancing all over my very sensitive heart and mind, conjuring up all kinds of negativity that could have easily summoned me away from what I know to be the Truth.
“If I were your enemy, I’d devalue your strength and magnify your insecurities until they dominate how you see yourself, disabling and disarming you from fighting back, from being free, from being who God called you to be. I’d work hard to ensure that you never realize what God has given you so you’ll doubt the power of God within you.”
- Fervent, Priscilla Shirer
That’s why this “No Trespassing” sign on the railroad caught my eye. It was right near the beginning of the trail, just after the first semi-steep incline, and it reminded me of what I have to tell the enemy everyday.
You cannot have me.
You cannot have my mind.
You cannot have my heart.
You do not define me.
You have no say.
I know who I am in Christ.
I asked one of the girls with me a time or two, “Are we there yet?” “How long before we see the lake?” She didn’t know. But I’m out of breath! The elevation is choking me… Why did I agree to this again?... Such is life, we don’t want to enjoy the journey, we just want to know when the discomfort will end. I quietly decided within myself that I’d just enjoy the walk and endure. Shortly thereafter, we came around a bend, and there it was - Palmer Lake. We had arrived. It reminded me of the irony of valleys. We all want mountaintop experiences where all is well, things are looking up, and the ground underneath us is steady. However, in the valley - where I have felt I was lately - that’s where the nourishment, the water is found. It was pretty cool and such a relief when the shaky, insecure, rocky ground led me to the lake today. Just as it was relieving when my unstable, uncomfortable, unpredictable, scary situation lead me to the Living Water. I let my shaky knees hit the floor in prayer, I sought counsel and was poured into by my spiritual leaders and friends back home, I talked to my mama and daddy too J and swear I could literally feel the prayers from others going up on my behalf. Oh, what sweet relief.
I’d love to say that we walked around the lake and completed the hike, but we didn’t. Someone saw an ice cream shop across the highway, we veered off the trail, crossed back over the railroad and then across the highway and I enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie dough cone. Ahh, more nourishment. I can get used to hikes if they all end this way.
I went on a hike today on the Santa Fe Trail. If you know me, you know I didn’t exactly want to go… but I am so glad that I did, because He met me there.
Con mucho cariño,
If God sees all of time from beginning to end - and He does - then He sees what we cannot. He sees beyond our difficulties and limitations to the eternal impact we will have on others. Although our vision of the future is worse than hazy, we can cling to the illusion that we have life all figured out. We tend to think that it will be just like the past or the present, but it never is. Several events of the past have taken the world by surprise, from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to the economic collapse and Japan’s tsunami.
Consider your own life. Hasn’t much of it happened while you were making other plans? We never foresee the bends in the road ahead. But God anticipates all things, and He sees the complete lives of people yet unborn. He sees your children, your grandchildren, and all the generations that will follow. His unending love for you includes filling your life with eternal meaning. He knows the things He has yet to do through you - the legacy you will leave through the lives you will touch and the lives that will be touched by those lives. So be encouraged!
The language of Psalm 139, describing life in the womb, is powerful and irrefutable. The term “skillfully wrought” literally means embroidered. God has embroidered us. We are a part of His intricately designed tapestry, the design in which He weaves all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). It’s the design by which His intentions are slowly but surely fulfilled.
You have a place in that design, a place far greater than you can imagine! As a single thread in the tapestry, you can see only the threads that you cross. But God sees the entire length of every strand. He knows exactly what He will accomplish through your life, exactly what good works He has set aside for you (Ephesians 2:10). The full scope of the legacy you will leave is beyond your ability to see. You must simply believe, on the basis of scripture, that the thread of your life will extend through time, influencing those you have never met.
I believe that before you were born, God lovingly strung together the days of your life from conception through eternity. I believe that your life is ordered - even to the point of using adversity to your eternal advantage. And the context for my belief is LOVE.
God loved you before you were born. He loves you today. And your legacy is that He will love you forever.
(an excerpt from “God Loves You” by Dr. David Jeremiah)
"If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?