unexpected lessons/East Africa update

Despite the fact that it’s impossible to expect the unexpected (and 95% of this semester abroad so far has been unexpected), there are some things you expect when you leave home.

I expected that there would be culture shock. I knew that there would be an adjustment period. I knew that I would eventually grow used to being surrounded by a different language, that I would figure out the bus systems. Maybe on day I’ll actually be able to identify euro coins by their shape and color instead of having to flip everything over to check the money amounts.

Basically: you expect study abroad to be one big huge learning experience. But it’s turning out to be a learning experience in some ways I didn’t expect.

I figured I would learn about Maltese culture and history. I would learn the euro coins and the bus system. I’d learn my way around campus, around town, around the island. I would learn how to be independent, how to be on my own the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.

But as it turns out, my semester is going to be a crash course in all those things I don’t like to learn.

Patience, when the buses are never on time. Service, when that means washing a sink full of dishes that I didn’t use. Love, even for those yelling outside my window at 4 a.m. Kindness, when all I want to do is snap at the people driving me crazy. Humility, because the wind here makes good hair an impossibility.

Here, asking God to guide my footsteps takes on a new meaning when I’m lost in the turning, twisting, unfamiliar streets. I’m learning how to find peace in the Lord at times when it doesn’t exist in my surroundings. I’m asking for strength to the face the day, every day, because there are times when all I want is to not be here.

I’m learning how to depend on God completely and wholeheartedly, because there’s not much else to depend on. I need Him to be my guide, my protection, my strength in ways that real and raw and entirely different from at home.

Over the past three weeks, two thoughts have stayed in my mind.

  1. I’m so much more excited to go to Africa.
  2. I’m so much more terrified to go to Africa.

Now that I’ve had a taste of life outside my comfort zone, and all the joys, challenges, and lessons it involves, I’m looking even more forward to a month dedicated to serving the Lord and growing closer to Him. And I’m scared of it, because being out of your comfort zone is plain and simple uncomfortable. The lessons I need to learn usually aren’t fun ones. These five months, and that month in Africa, are going to change my life in ways that I can’t expect. That’s overwhelming, and thrilling, and nerve-wracking, and lots of things besides.

but God is good, and He is dependable, and so I am depending on Him to change my life for the better.

and now…update time!

while this isn’t 100% set in stone, I am most likely going to be in Rwanda or Uganda come July. I’m excited. time to start Wikipedia-ing those countries.

as of today, I’ve raised $1,583.51. this is just under 40% of my total. thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has donated towards my trip, has prayed over this adventure, or has offered encouragement. I couldn’t be doing this without your help, and I’m incredibly grateful to all of you.

if you haven’t donated – would you prayerfully consider supporting me financially? I still need to raise the other 60% of funding for the trip and deadlines are going to sneak up on me. all of the nifty information and links can be found here on my support page.

once again – thank you. I can’t say it enough.

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so let me be weak.

being broken isn’t fun.

I know this all too well. there are days when I feel shattered. moments when the cracks form in my soul and my fingers aren’t strong enough to keep it together. times when my delicate glass heart gets dropped onto a concrete floor. there are hours of tears, salt water dripping onto the shards of my heart that surround me.

do you have these days? I can’t be the only one.

I can’t be the only one, because we are all breakable and this world has a tendency to break things. so time and time again I fall apart, time again I find that my fingers were too clumsy with the Elmer’s glue and somehow my heart is breaking again.

and I know that I talk about this a lot. I’m sure you’re tired of the constant steam of synonyms for broken that appear all too often in this space.

but it happens all too often.

sometimes it’s because my life seems too overwhelming for me to bear. sometimes it’s because I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going. sometimes it’s because one of my friends is hurting and I am hurting for them. and sometimes – frequently – it’s because there are times when I realize just how big and messed up and yes, broken, this world is.

can you see? do you see how broken we all are?

and I am broken by the largeness of it all. broken for every teenager that feels a need to buy into someone else’s definition of beautiful. broken for every little boy that spends their days working in the fields or the factories, next to their parents who will never make enough to buy their freedom. broken for every that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, if there is even a next meal. broken for every college student that sits lonely in the dining hall. broken for every girl denied an education because of her sex. broken for every one that doesn’t have friends they can call family. broken for everyone without hope, without love.

does it not break your heart, the amount of pain in this world?

it’s not fun.

but it’s only when I am broken, broken by the weight of the world, broken for all those that are broken, that I am able to love them.

only when I am unable to hold my heart together myself do I hand the pieces to the Healer. only when I realize how badly the world is broken do I pay attention to those hurting around me. only when I see how desperately we all need the Lord that I ask him to let me help make His name known.

being broken hurts, but only in my weakness do I let the Lord be strong for me.

the very-not-comfortable zone.

They don’t use the phrase “out of your comfort zone” for no reason.

And despite all the preparation for study abroad, despite the day-long orientation, despite the talks on culture shock and adjustment period and open-mindedness, nothing really prepares for you that moment when you are finally kicked out of your comfort zone and land smack-dab in the middle of your uncomfortable zone.

I’ve been in Malta for two weeks now. It’s been uncomfortable.

Nothing prepares you for this. Nothing prepares you for the emotional rollercoaster of study abroad. No one told me that it would be so hard. No one warned me that I might start crying in the bathroom in the Toronto airport. No one told me how terrifying it would be to get on that plane that flies away from everything you know, and then to get off that plane and step right into the unknown. No one told me that I could be standing in the midst of a beautiful garden, staring out at sea and sky so blue a camera could never capture it, and half of my mind would be thinking, I just wish I was at home.

And obvious as it is – that 4,800 miles is a long way from home – it’s a really long way from home. It’s a long way from my friends and family. A long way from the church that has become my second family, from the dance studio floor that I know like the back of my hand, from the campus I could walk in the dark. It’s a long way from a place where I belong, where I fit in, where I know my place and my way around.

4,800 miles away from the place where I fit is very much out of my comfort zone.

I didn’t expect the sense of displacement. I didn’t expect to feel slightly lost at all times, even once I figured out my way around the campus. I didn’t expect to feel so transplanted. I didn’t expect to feel so completely like I don’t belong here. I didn’t expect it to feel so overwhelmingly not-home.

but being this far away from home has made one truth abundantly clear to me: I can never be too far for God.

it’s a truth I’ve become extremely grateful for.

to Him who by understanding made the heavens,

for His steadfast love endures forever;

to Him who spread out the earth above the waters,

for His steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the God of heaven,

for His steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:5-6, 26

There is nowhere I can go that is too far for Him who made the heavens, for Him who spread out the earth. There is nowhere I can go that He will not be there, that He will not go with me, always and evermore, for His steadfast love endures forever.

(steadfast, by the way, is one of my favorite words. Strong, firm, unwavering; some words just sound the way they mean, and steadfast is one of them.)

I can never be far away from the One who made the world.

I can never be lonely with the One who created relationship.

I can never be scared with the One who defeated death itself.

and I can never be unloved, with the One whose steadfast love endures forever.

(if you want to hear more about my shenanigans in Malta, they’ll be happening over here).