Wednesday, July 4, 2012


     This year is rapidly coming to a close. I look back and I see a blur of beauty, pain, community, loneliness, fear, change, grief and love. The ever changing mixed emotions have not allowed my insides to settle for more than a moment. I miss my family in the USA, but I don't know that I am ready to leave this place where I have so clearly seen God.

     Two weekends ago we as Guatemala YAVs had our final retreat. As we talked about going home, we thought about all that we have learned. I struggled to articulate all the changes I feel within myself, but I believe that all I am learning can be summed up in three categories:    

          1.  God knows our needs. Have Faith.
          2.  God is with us. We are not alone.
          3.  God gave us value. What we DO is not what defines us or how we should define our love.   

     Maybe these are all phrases that you know and can say to yourself. I, however, think that in the North American culture living these phrases out and truly believing each in its entirety is an extreme test of faith, hope, and love--not to mention endurance. For example, number one. God knows our needs. Have Faith. If we were living within that statement, we would not constantly be stressing about the things that turn our hair grey only to worry about our hair turning grey. Most of these things are out of our control in the first place yet we insist on a power struggle with God. Every time this year when I have made it to the edge, God has had his hand at the cliff to keep me from falling over. Let go. Sit still and be. Don't stress when you are three minutes late for Sunday School and your hair is still wet. Jesus surely didn't shower everyday. Wet hair probably isn't a huge factor in the relationship status with our heavenly father. He will hold us anyway.

    God is with us. We are not alone. God comes to us everyday in people we encounter, the erupting volcano, in our emotions, in the flowers, the breeze, and the (sometimes never ending) rain. This year I have experienced on several occasions the sense of extreme loneliness and isolation brought on by language and cultural barriers--and tunnel vision. 

    Last week I was accompanying a group of youth from Albany Presbytery which required me to remove myself from my normal environment for an extended period of time. After they left, I was sad. I felt their love for me and enjoyed their presence and the presence of God among them everyday. The connections were intentional and therefore, easily visible to me. There were moments in which I felt a longing for this kind of connection in my daily life. And this is exactly where I caught myself. I do have these connections in Guatemala. Even when I have felt alone and disconnected, the workers on the farm, my friends at the gym, my bible study group, my host family, and the other YAVs are the face of God with me. I couldn't see it until I was disconnected. The face of God, the hugs of God never look or feel the same. Perhaps, this is why we have a hard time recognizing His constant presence and falsely sense loneliness. If when we feel alone, we use that emotion as a trigger to remember to open our eyes and look for God we can possibly experience the love of God more fully. 

      Our God who loves us created us uniquely. He formed us to love one another. We are like puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly to form a greater, more beautiful picture. A puzzle with missing pieces begins to lose its value. Therefore, each piece, just as it is (whether it graduated summa cum laude or last in its class) is valuable to the constructor. I think it is easy to get caught up in the North American culture where quality of performance often becomes the root of our own self-worth. When we put so much pressure on ourselves to make good grades, to get first place at the swim meet, to play a flawless concert,to translate perfectly we expose the symptoms of our misplaced value. This is NOT loving our neighbor as ourselves because we are NOT allowing ourselves to be loved.

     Perhaps this lesson is the most important thing I have lived and learned this year. I left my saxophone behind and have not used much music this year. I have gained more than twenty pounds and I have been terrible about keeping up my blogs and doing my reading assignments. These things that have I have used to define myself for so long were suddenly gone. GONE. And my reaction? Grief. I experienced grief. Not over a dying relative or lost friend, but over my definition of self. the definition that was a constant stress to maintain. The Vanderbilt graduate, Blair School of Music student, and athlete was lost. You would think I would have felt freed. But as it turns out, I am a little shy and I had nothing left to hide behind. It is probable that the current language and cultural barrier that I live with exaggerated these intense emotions of completely shedding my stressful comfort zones, but when I finally let go, when I finally escaped not only my expectations to perform but learned to ignore those around me, I was joyfully free. I have never experienced such liberty and grace in my life. Its a wonderful feeling. I recommend it highly. Let go of your idols and live in faith that God knows our needs and he is with us.

     I was really struggling to articulate what I have discovered this year, but thanks to the Youth of Albany Presbytery and the two other facilitators Hector and Luis, my experiences of the last week solidified some of my newly learned lessons. God knows my need. He sent me an extraordinary group of youth, their chaperons, and  my two co-facilitators. God is with me. These wonderful people reminded me how much I am loved and what a huge capacity we each have to love others. God gave me value. I am full of worth no matter how well I translate songs, sermons, and games.


  1. Inspiring post! VERY!!! Thank you SO much for sharing your heart. So many hard lessons filled with rich beauty!

    Love you!

  2. Austin: what an amazing and courageous woman you are! Thank you.