Why Would You Go to the Middle East?

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A few weeks ago I announced on social media that if all the necessary pieces fall into place, I will be embarking on a 3-4 month adventure to the Middle East beginning in January. When I first made that announcement, I was still in the process of making sense of how I had come to that decision, but I’ve finally come to a place where my thoughts are collected enough to share with you why the Middle East is where I’ve chosen to go.

As many of you know, I graduated from college in April, and have been working in the deli of a local grocery store and living with five other women from my university since then. It’s been a wonderful place to be – just what I needed in the aftermath of school. However, before it even began, I knew this season would be relatively short because my lease is up at the end of December. As such, in mid-July I began to explore options for going overseas in January.

As I began to research potential travel opportunities, I kept picturing myself in the Middle East. In some ways this caught me off guard, but in other ways it made sense with some of the passions and desires God’s been cultivating in me, without me even fully being aware of them, for the past year and a half.

I decided to dig deeper into this image by asking God where it came from. God responded by asking, “Kelly, why would you want to go there?” I began to list motives, some frivolous and others with surprising depth, but at the heart of it all, this is the conclusion I came to:

I want to be able to picture it. I want to be able to come home from this trip and pray for names and faces instead of this nebulous mass of refugees and war-torn towns, deserts, and religious extremism. Because beyond the violence and conflict there are people there, living out their daily lives just like you and me. I want to care better. When my grandkids ask me what I did, I want to say, “I went,” not for my own glory, but because I responded in obedience to the call to care. 

To which God responded with, “It will break you.”

But immediately my spirit responded with, “But I serve a healing God, A healing God who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Am I willing to sacrifice my wholeness, trusting that God will put me back together?”

Lately I’ve been exploring this question: If Jesus were currently walking the earth, where would he go? I honestly believe it’s a question we should ask in each area of our lives – in my neighborhood who would Jesus visit, at my workplace who would Jesus talk to, etc. And when I ask the question on a more global scale, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the answer to this question is places like Mosul. Now, just to be clear, I’m not (to my knowledge) going to Mosul. Northern Iraq, maybe, (I’ll know for sure at the end of October) but as I’m feeling drawn overseas again, this question of where Jesus would go has been a driving force in my decision-making process.

As I’ve begun to share about my desire to go to the Middle East, many people have brought up the issue of safety. I understand that I may be a bit naïve to some of the dangers I could face, but I want to make it clear that I do not take my life lightly, and will take every possible precaution to remain safe. I fully intend to come home in one piece, but, the risk of that not happening is not great enough to keep me from going. I can’t allow fear and what ifs to keep me from following what my internal still small voice (with the impressive track record) is highlighting as the next step. (You can read more about my previous wrestling with the issue of safety overseas here: To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain).

This summer Nichole Nordeman came out with a song called Dear Me that has served as a source of inspiration on this journey to the Middle East. The song is a beautiful mix of her saying, “You are so very loved, to the depths of your being, and nothing you can do or say will change that,” and, “Out of that identity of beloved there is so much good you can do so go and be love to your fellow humanity” (the Kelly paraphrase). There’s a line in the song that says, “Hold all the mothers/whose babies bleed from bullet holes,” and every time I hear that it moves me to tears. Because how many mothers in the Middle East are cradling bleeding babies as we speak?

I know I can’t solve the conflicts in the Middle East. I don’t begin to pretend that I hold the solution to the problems they face. If I’m being completely honest, there is very little I can do. But, I have been given a love to share, a love that I have personally experienced and been changed by, a love that I’ve seen heal and redeem and restore in ways that appeared utterly impossible until it was done. How can I keep that life-altering, identity-breathing, breathtakingly beautiful love to myself?

Am I scared? Absolutely! But, the love of God compels me to go.

And so I go, face first into the risk and unknown, but with the confidence that it’s where I’m being led, and the knowledge that no matter what happens to me, I am loved and that is enough.

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Mystery of the Invisible

One of my favorite songs is from a band called Verida and goes as follows:

I can feel, but I can’t touch
The atmosphere of your love
Surrounded by something I know is there
For reasons that I can’t see
What exists is far beyond me
But I will have faith in the unseen

‘Cause I’ve heard the sound of the ancient hymns
I’ve felt the chills of the cool, cool wind
I’ve tasted the sweet before
Been lost in the beautiful
The powerful mystery of the invisible

We’re all living an epic tale
Restoring of those who fell
A breathing cathedral of your heart
And it draws me with every breath
Puts path beneath my step
And I’m haunted by how I’m comfortable

‘Cause I’ve heard the sound of the ancient hymns
I’ve felt the chills of the cool, cool wind
I’ve tasted the sweet before
Been lost in the beautiful
The powerful mystery of the invisible

Have faith, have faith, have faith, my dear
Have faith, have faith, have faith, my dear

I’ve heard the sound of the ancient hymns
I’ve felt the chills of the cool, cool wind
I’ve tasted the sweet before
Been lost in the beautiful
The powerful mystery of the invisible
The powerful mystery of the invisible

To be honest, these lyrics are where I want to be. On my best days I see the beauty in the mystery of the invisible. But unfortunately, most days are not my best days, and I spend an inordinate amount of time living in fear of the unknown.


About a month ago I went on my first backpacking trip in the Mount Hood National Forest to a peak with a lookout, and a supposedly stunning view. And I’m sure the view was stunning, but due to wet and windy weather conditions, this is what we saw instead:

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Beautiful in its own right, but not exactly the vista we were hoping for.

And yet, as I sat perched on the ridge, buffeted by water from the sky and unable to see farther than a few hundred feet, I was struck by the realization that, so often in life, the fog is all we can see.

But here’s the crazy part. Just because we couldn’t see the mountain views that this particular lookout is known for doesn’t mean the mountains weren’t out there, beautiful and majestic as always. Which then led me to recognize anew that my inability to see God’s plans for my future doesn’t negate their existence or beauty.

So today I’m making a renewed effort to have faith in the unseen, and take confidence in a God who is faithful, even in the fog.

Gritty Hope

Hope, to me, has always been elusive, an enigma, so difficult to comprehend and nearly impossible to put into practice. Other concepts such as joy, peace, faith, or love feel within my grasp, but hope has always seemed to be just beyond my reach.

For many years my attitude towards hope (especially in situations where I have previously experienced disappointment or rejection) has been “What’s the point?” In my mind I justified this attitude with the beginning of Proverbs 13:12 which reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” No matter how many other verses I read about the beauty and significance of hope, this verse became my default, a protective armor of sorts against the risks involved in choosing to hope.

In the past few months, however God has been using a combination of blog posts and life circumstances to help me see hope in a different light. He’s pushed past my tough exterior of faked indifference to get to the root of my aversion to hope.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth He’s uncovered – I am afraid to hope.

In many ways this fear feels justifiable. Hope is risky. It demands that I trust that God is good, all the time, and that He loves me. It calls me to put stock in things I cannot yet see or know. And it forces me to surrender my lust for control and certainty.

Even writing about hope makes me want to crawl under a safe, stable rock, only venturing out when I feel some measure of security in how the journey will end. But deep down I know that security is an illusion, and certainty isn’t promised.

In all the times I’ve used Proverbs 13:12 as an excuse to avoid hope, I have completely missed the second part of the verse which reads, “but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” How did I miss that? Yes, hope is risky, but the risk increases the value of the reward, as well as adding to the richness and joy of the journey.

In the words of my wise friend Chloe, “Hope is the anchor for our souls, holding us perfectly in the balance of a Kingdom daily recognized and not yet eternally realized.” (Practicing the Presence of Hope)

So today I’m going to choose hope – risky, gritty hope that doesn’t yet make sense to me, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that God is faithful to keep His promises. With my hope rooted in Christ, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

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Picture credit goes to my wonderful and talented mom! 

To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain

These past few weeks I’ve found myself up against a new mental and emotional challenge: wrestling with the reality of my own mortality. I’ve always known that I am mortal, but I’ve never put much thought towards what would happen if I were to die in the near future.

Honestly, the thought of my own death is not overly frightening, because, when I die, I get to enter the realm of no suffering with Jesus forever! And while I definitely deeply value my life, and have no desire to die now, if I did, I would be ok. However, I worry about what would happen to those I love if something were to happen to me. At first glance that seems selfless, but the truth is that it is an incredibly selfish thought. If I die, I don’t have to deal with the consequences of my death here on earth, but my loved ones do.

I know these are things no one wants to think about, but lately they’ve been running circles in my mind. Here’s the thing: I know Nepal is dangerous. But when people remind me of the dangers, I want to remind them that nowhere is risk-free, and that humans are terrible evaluators of potential risk. For instance, driving is continually proven to be risky, and yet many of us continue to get behind the wheel on a daily basis.

I do, however, understand why people have been increasingly concerned for my safety in Nepal. In the wake of the recent earthquakes, the dangers in Nepal have become much more visible, both to me, and to those I love. The risks simply aren’t as abstract as they used to be, and I find myself wondering what would happen if something were to happen to me in Nepal and I didn’t return to the States.

But then I realize that that is the voice of Satan tempting me to be afraid. Satan knows just as well as I do that Nepal is exactly where I’m supposed to be this summer, and he’s doing everything he can to keep me away. Fears about my own death are just his latest ploy, but guess what Satan, it’s not going to work!

So for those of you who are worried about my security in Nepal, please don’t be. While I can’t guarantee my safety, I do promise to not be reckless, and I deeply trust both Tiny Hands (the organization planning my trip) and Jesus. I also don’t know the last time I’ve felt so at peace with any decision I’ve made. In the words of my friend Marybeth, “don’t let anyone put a question mark where God has put a period.” I can say with complete confidence that I belong in Nepal this summer!

I know it’s a lot to ask you to release me to go. I truly appreciate your concern for me, and don’t know how to express all the gratitude I feel for your support, but I do have one request: when you feel anxious about my upcoming trip, ask God to help you trust Him. Ultimately I know that I will continue to be safe and secure (in soul if not also in body) in the presence of God!

To Live Is Christ

You’re My King and I’m Your Lionheart

This song has been a favorite of mine ever since I stumbled across it last fall. I love the way Of Monsters and Men sound, but their lyrics are often quite nonsensical. Take, for example, their song “Dirty Paws.”

“Jumping up and down the floor,
My head is an animal.
And once there was an animal,
It had a son that mowed the lawn.
The son was an ok guy,
They had a pet dragonfly.
The dragonfly it ran away,
But it came back with a story to say.”

Really? If anyone can make sense of these lyrics, let me know. However, the lyrics to “King and Lionheart” ring clear and true to me.

Until tonight, I had always viewed this song from the perspective of a woman singing to her lover. She’s saying, you’re a king, so you’re strong and powerful, and I’m a lionheart, so I’m bold and courageous. It’s an anthem of the idea that together, we can do anything!

Tonight, however, I heard this song differently than I ever had before. I was lying on my bedroom floor, worrying. At the moment, life is just a tad bit scary. Yesterday, I moved home from college for the summer. This means readjusting to life at home, saying goodbye to dear friends, and testing if I’ve truly internalized the myriad of lessons I learned this year. Not to mention that I’m trying to work out a summer job, and I’m a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding in six days. Oh, and did I mention that I leave for Romania and Moldova in ten days? So as I was saying, life’s just a wee bit terrifying.

As I was lying on the floor listening to this song, however, it struck me that while this song could be a girl singing to a boy, it could just as easily be me singing to God. He’s the King, and He calls me to be His lionhearted disciple.

When I see the song in that light, I find it even more encouraging.

“Howling ghosts – they reappear                                                                                           In mountains that are stacked with fear”                                                                           (King and Lionheart)                                                                                                              “In this world you will have trouble”                                                                                  (John 16:33)                                                                                                                        “But you’re a king and I’m a lionheart.”                                                                            (King and Lionheart)                                                                                                           “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                                                                  (John 16:33)

This world is scary, but God is bigger than my fears. That’s the “He’s the King” part of the song. It’s a message I can never hear enough, and fortunately, I do hear this message often. A message I don’t hear often enough though is the lionheart part of the song. I am bigger than my fears! So I can move forward in courage, knowing not only whose I am, but who I am. I am a lionheart!

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Please strengthen me for the task ahead…

For my Bible class this week I had an assignment to read Nehemiah, and respond to it in a creative fashion. I chose to write a letter to God from Nehemiah’s point of view before he returned to the Israelites, and then write a letter from my point of view in light of what I am currently facing. Right now I feel many parallels between what I feel, and what Nehemiah felt, and I am inspired by Nehemiah’s unwavering faithfulness to God. So without further ado, here are the letters.

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Dear God,

A while ago my brother Hanani came from Judah to visit me, and brought the most heartbreaking news. He reported that the Jewish people who survived the recent exile are in great trouble and distress. My heart is broken for my people! Their beloved Jerusalem has no walls or gates, no protection or honor. Since I heard this news I have been fasting and praying, trying to discern your will for your people. After spending time with you I know what I need to do. I need to go to King Artaxerxes and ask for permission to go to my people. They need me to lead them to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The thing is, I’m scared. What if the King says no? Or even worse, what if he gets angry and kills me? Even if he lets me go, I know I will face opposition. The people surrounding Jerusalem will not be happy with our building project. But I know this is right! I just have to trust that you will be with me. You are the God of the impossible! If you want the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, you will make a way. Please strengthen me for the task ahead.

Sincerely,

Your Faithful Servant,

Nehemiah

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Dear God,

Back in October I was presented with an opportunity to go on a summer serve trip to Romania and Moldova. I really wanted to go, but I also wanted to be sure it was what you wanted for me. I spent much time praying and listening to you, and I felt you give me the go-ahead to apply. When I was first accepted to the trip I was extremely excited, but now the fear is starting to set in. I am going literally halfway around the globe to a country where I neither speak the language nor understand the culture. I will be traveling with people I met mere months ago, and to top it off, I need to raise $3600 to go on this trip. I know the money will be there when I need it, but I just can’t see how. The fear is real, and it’s eating away at me. But I know this is right! Your purpose is so evident in every part of this trip. I just have to trust that you are preparing the way. You are the God of the impossible! Please strengthen me for the task ahead.

Sincerely,

Your Faithful Servant,

Kelly

Ice Skating

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Ice skating is not my thing. Give me roller blades over ice skate any day. Maybe I don’t like ice skating because I’ve only been three times, and consequently don’t know how to, but whatever the reason is, I simply don’t like ice skating.

Yesterday, my family decided we were going to go ice skating. It was a glorious day! Sunny, and cold enough to freeze the ice without freezing us. We hiked to the pond, laced up our skates, put on the Little Women soundtrack, and were ready to go. Or should I say they were ready to go.

For the first twenty minutes they zoomed around the pond while I stood firmly in the middle with my hockey stick, aka the only thing keeping me upright. I was trying to stay positive, but to be frank, I was failing miserable. I alternated between being frustrated with my family for dragging me out there, and being frustrated with myself for not just going for it.

Let Go

You see, I’m a very awkward ice skater. While I don’t sit on the sidelines and refuse to even try, I also never truly embrace the experience. I shuffle my feet, and move just enough to not be accused of standing still. I know I would greatly improve if I just went for it, but the truth is, I’m afraid. What if I make a fool of myself, what if I fall and break my wrist, what if, what if, what if? The fears play in my head like a broken record.

Yesterday, however, I got tired of being miserable and afraid, and I made the bold decision to let go and truly try to ice skate. So I put down the hockey stick and started skating in little circles, that grew and grew until I was actually enjoying myself. It was still scary, but so worth it.

Looking back, I can see that my inability to ice skate didn’t come from a lack of experience, but from an unwillingness to just go for it. How often do I respond in the same way to situations in my life? How much life am I missing because of my fears? When I am presented with welcoming a foster girl with my family, finding a job for the spring, liking a boy, picking the right classes, knowing which friendships to pour into, or going to Romania, am I letting fear or faith guide my decisions? I’m done with the awkward ice skating. It’s time to find my mustard seed faith!

Unknown Future Known God