The Passage of Time

Four yeas ago, I was preparing to graduate from high school and launch into the unknown waters of what I imagined to be “adult life” but actually turned out to be a category unto itself. The time spent in undergraduate studies (when completed in the traditional manner) is truly this bizarre liminal space between the teen years and full-blown adulthood. Standing on this side of that quirky season of life, I can now say that those years were messy yet wonderful, hard yet beautiful.

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Four years ago me (oddly enough to the day) on the cusp of adventures I couldn’t yet imagine.

Three years ago, I was in Romania, having fantastic conversations with the Word Made Flesh staff, enjoying the bounties of the garden at their children’s center in Galați, having my heart broken over the poverty and suffering I encountered daily, and confirming my calling to cross-cultural ministry.

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Embracing my inner world-traveler in a Moldovan kitchen!

Two years ago, I was resting at home before embarking on my adventure to Nepal. I vividly remember the difficult wrestling I did during those weeks between school and my trip as I processed through what I can now officially claim to be my hardest semester of undergrad, struggled to come to terms with the devastating earthquake in Nepal, and grappled with my own mortality as I prepared to go.

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Here, I was tired and confused, but about to enter one of the neatest seasons of my life thus far.

Last year, I sat on the edge of a promising summer that did not deliver. There’s so much I have already said and could continue to say about the difficulties of those four months, but on some level, that season remains fresh enough that I’m still healing and coming to terms with all that transpired. However, I am beginning to see tender green shoots pushing through the dirt of what I initially perceived to be a wasteland, and if it weren’t for last summer, I would not have even noticed them, much less celebrated every inch of their progress.

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In spite of the chaos, I enjoyed some definite bright spots in my first summer in Oregon including a visit to the Portland Night Market.

And now I’m here, with a BA in History, working at a grocery store, living in a new town with new roommates, becoming acquainted with my first car, struggling with my health, weathering massive shifts in most of the relationships in my life, and having no plans beyond December. Yep. Even six months ago I couldn’t have imagined being where God has currently plopped me, but I’m discovering that this place is beautiful in its own right. Hard, so hard, but undeniably beautiful!

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I made it – in no small part due to the encouragement, support, generosity, and love of the dozens upon dozens of people who have helped me every step of the way. I know I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – my life is peopled with beautiful souls! 

I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote quite a while ago, but never had the occasion to share.

Time
You’re never what I expect you to be.
You move forward at a consistent pace
bringing the dreaded and the longed for with equal speed.
You’re like a snare drummer,
keeping the beat with remarkable precision.
And yet, you’re unpredictable.
A short ten seconds of words can flip a life upside down
while completely altering the trajectory of innumerable days.
You’re often nonsensical,
allowing a minute of joy to pass in a flash,
and yet, letting the blissful taste of that minute to linger far longer.
You heal
and you steal,
one moment a beloved friend,
and the next a detestable enemy.
You’re needed,
and loved, at least by me,
but sometimes I don’t want you because I can’t regulate your tempo.
I know you’re a gift,
intended for my well-being,
but you often feel like a curse,
hell-bent on destroying me.
And yet,
someday you’ll be irrelevant.
But until then, I’ll surrender my metered days to the author of all time.

5 Lessons I’m Endeavoring to Learn

As most of you know, I am now in my last semester of undergrad, and as such, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reflecting on what God has taught me during these past four years. For those of you who spend extended periods of time with me, these five lessons won’t be anything new because I talk about them frequently, but I’m realizing that they’re good enough to bear repeating.

1. Growth is circular.

Whenever I learn something, I have this silly expectation that I will master it the first time around and then be able to move on. In reality, I often learn a lesson, and then a situation comes up in my life that tests whether I’ve actually learned the lesson I’m claiming to have mastered, at which point I quickly discover that I have so much more to learn. Take, for example, last Friday. In my Christian Discipling class we were discussing emotional authenticity, and I was patting myself on the back for having mastered the art of tapping into my true emotions. Three hours later I found myself upset and confused about a situation with a friend that drug up old wounds, but incredibly unwilling to allow myself to press into what I was truly feeling. It took my roommates asking if I was okay (and not taking yes for an answer) for me to acknowledge that I was hurting. At which point I had two choices – be frustrated with myself for failing to be true to my emotions, or recognize the circular nature of growth. Growth is like a moving bike. If you are a speck on the wheel of a bike, it feels like you’re making progress as the wheel moves forward, only to be drug backwards over and over again. But, if you look at the bike as a whole, it is consistently moving forward. (This analogy is much easier to describe with hand motions, but I’ll trust you to get the idea). In the same way as we grow, if we only focus on our current situation, we often feel like we’ve backslid and lost all we’ve learned. However, if we take a step back and look at how far we’ve come since we started, we can no longer deny our growth.

kelly-with-hannahPretend to be a speck on the wheel of my tricycle and then you’ll hopefully understand my analogy. 🙂 

2. God has room for your full range of emotions.

I am known for giving people this advice all the time, and until last summer, I thought I believed it. But last summer, for the first time in my life, I found myself feeling angry at God, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure He could actually handle ALL of my emotions. Being angry at God is scary, and it’s not a place I would recommend sitting for a long period of time, but unless you are willing to engage that emotion, you won’t be able to move beyond it. In her newest book called Present Over Perfect Shauna Niequist talks about oil and vinegar prayers. She says that we want to get to the oil in our prayers – the beautiful, rich, intimate times with God, but that in order to get there we must pray through the vinegar – our fears, frustrations, and really anything that is bitter in our lives. And you know what I’ve found in mining though the darkness within me? That God truly does have room for my full range of emotions. My questions and doubts don’t scare Him because He knows that no matter how hard I push back, He will come out true.

img_1957Sometimes my emotions feel as strong and reckless as the ocean, but God is faithful to never let me drown. 

3. Prayer is never powerless.

During my freshman year, one of my dear friends and hallmates used this phrase, and it has stuck with me ever since. This phrase usually comes to mind when I’m in a situation where I feel powerless and God is asking me to pray, which is endlessly frustrating to me! I want to fix, answer, do, but God says, “wait, trust, pray.” Over and over and over again I have seen the power of prayer at work in my life. In response to my prayers God has provided housing, mended relationships, drawn people to Himself, stirred hearts, and healed in miraculous ways. Sometimes I feel like I’m just flinging words at the sky, but lately God’s been reminding me that He hears me. It blows my mind that we serve a God who wants nothing more than to listen to us, and takes into consideration the things we have to say.

imgp0180Sweet Bree gets all the credit for the “prayer is never powerless” line. 

4. Should is a dangerous word.

If we are doing something because we feel we should, that is a warning sign that we are not being authentic to who we were created to be. As I look back over my time in college, I realize how many decisions I made out of a place of should. It is only in the past few months that I’ve been truly able to look at my life and say, “Yes, this is who I’m meant to be.” Not that I’m living in full authenticity by any stretch of the imagination (see #1) but lately I’ve been marveling in how much joy it brings me to do the work that I was made to do. When you find those things that make you come alive, everything else pales in comparison. Sometimes that means being quirky or different. So much of college is not only learning who you are, but coming to terms with what you’ve learned about yourself. My encouragement is this – if it brings you joy, don’t let it be stopped or silenced. In the words of Howard Thurman “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

img_1181Experiencing other cultures makes me come alive!

5. God is trustworthy.

This sounds simple, but truly believing this changes everything. If God is trustworthy, then my future is secure. This is probably the most important lesson I continue to learn – life-altering enough to get it tattooed on my arm. Sometimes my roommates ask me to name a time when God has failed me, and I can never do it. The ways of God are not my ways, and He loves to surprise me, but He has never failed me, not once. One of my current favorite songs is “Seasons Change by United Pursuit, and the chorus, though simple is profound. “Though the seasons change/Your love remains.”

imgp2410Father, since you are a God who loves me unconditionally, help me become a daughter who trusts you no matter what.

Discipline

Christmas break is always a time of intense reflection for me. Not only has the fall semester ended, but a whole year of life, according to the calendar we follow, is coming to a close. I usually spend much of my time at home processing what has happened in the year that passed, and dreaming of what the new year may hold.

Around this time last year, I started thinking about what I wanted 2016 to be about. Some years I’ve made New Year’s revolutions, but they’ve never been particularly helpful for me, so I decided to instead pray for God to give me a word for the year. As I began to pray, I secretly hoped God would give me a word like joy, or adventure, or whimsy.

Instead God told me that my word for 2016 would be discipline.

And much as I wanted to push back, I knew, with complete certainty, that the word fit.

Most people I know (myself included) flinch a little at the idea of discipline. It just feels like such a rigid concept. But the overwhelming sense I got from God was of Him spurring me on to greater things than I had previously attempted, or in the words of my roommate Ellisa, shloving me (shoving me with love). In telling me that my word for the year was discipline, God was not being heavy-handed, but He was very clearly saying to me that in order to get where I wanted to be, I was going to have to be willing to put in some hard work.

When God gave me discipline as my word for last year, I knew it was relevant to January Kelly, but I had no idea just how relevant it would continue to be as the year progressed. I’ve never had a theme so completely follow me and shape my life for such an extended period of time. January Kelly often failed at discipline, but God said, “It’s ok, just pick yourself up and try again.” And then God told April Kelly, “Discipline, my daughter, is your word for the year because I am preparing you for the immeasurably more just over the horizon.” July Kelly was frequently reminded of Eugene Peterson’s words about faithfulness (which takes immense discipline) being a long obedience in the same direction in an age of instant gratification. And October Kelly continued to run into situations where discipline, or continual choosing, was incredibly important. It never stopped being important.

Here are a few of the many situations in which discipline played an important role in my life:

  • It took discipline to stick to food restriction after food restriction after food restriction as my body continued to reject various food groups.
  • It took discipline to read from Leviticus into 1 Chronicles.
  • It took discipline to wake up at 5am and clean dorms for 8 hours a day all summer in a job that got progressively more draining as the summer wore on.
  • It took discipline to stay while so many I know got to go.
  • It took discipline to not walk away from two friendships that almost completely crashed and burned.
  • And ultimately, it took discipline to sit still instead of running away while God took me to new depths of surrender and trust.

But hard as each of those things were, they produced incredible fruit. Here’s what I saw as a result of my discipline:

  • Because I listened to my body and cut many foods out of my diet, I’m eating healthier and know more about my how my body works than ever before.
  • Because I dug into the Old Testament instead of reading easier to understand passages of scripture, I’ve been able to find surprising solidarity amongst the characters of the story of God.
  • Because I stayed in a job that, to be totally honest, ripped me apart emotionally, I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
  • Because I stayed in the states instead of traveling internationally, I’ve been able to plug into the prayer room at my church – an experience which has blessed me beyond measure.
  • Because I continued to invest in friendships that appeared to have ended, I’ve seen breathtaking revival and renewal in our relationships that still leaves me speechless.
  • And ultimately, because I’ve dug into God instead of running away, I am currently holding my future more loosely, and feeling more peaceful and content about my life than I have in a very long time.

All of this (and more) because I chose discipline.

But the purpose of this post is not for me to brag. None of these things came easily. Just this month it took me embarrassingly long (20 days if you must know) to get through the first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles.There were the two cussing phases I went through (before this moment I don’t think anyone but my housemates and coworkers knew about these) where my go-to response for strong emotions was swear words.  I almost walked out on my summer job and both of the friendships I had ceased to hope could be restored. And there were intense periods of time where I questioned the goodness and faithfulness of God to an extent that scared me.

As you can clearly see, I’m not there yet. Something tells me that the need for discipline won’t magically disappear at the end of 2016. However, sitting where I do today, I can see progress that seemed completely outside of the realm of possibility at this time last year.

One of the most surprising things I learned this year was how much joy can be born of discipline. Think of a child learning to walk, or a man climbing a mountain – both accomplishments take immense discipline but produce immeasurable joy!

To be completely candid with you, 2016 has quite possibly been the hardest year of my life. And yet, looking back I see a year that ripped me to shreds, and a God that is putting me back together, more whole, and complete, and who I’m made to be than I’ve ever been in my entire life.

And that is something worth celebrating!

Occasionally in this life we get to zoom out and see the bigger picture, and wow, the view is stunning!

So as the sun sets on 2016 I am overwhelmed by gratitude for a God who has the creativity and foresight to give me a word that had the power to shape an entire year of my life, and helped me dig deeply into the circular process of growth in order to launch me into what this next year of life will bring my way.

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Finding Newness in the Same Old Me

Since I last wrote to you, dear readers, I have had my last first day of school – potentially ever! Isn’t that crazy? And with that last first day I have been ushered into a semester that can only be described as wholly different from any other segment of school I have yet experienced.

I think in part the weirdness of this semester comes from the fact that this summer changed me in ways that are only beginning to come to light. I like who I’m becoming, but it can be disorienting to catch glimpses of newness in the same old you.

One of the changes I’m seeing is a dramatic shift in my priorities. As I sit on the cusp of week five of the semester, I feel God urging me towards soul care – telling me that it’s ok to dig into my C.S. Lewis readings even at the expense of other homework, that it’s more important to cultivate relationships than to get good grades, and that as much as I am at college to receive an academic education, I am also here to learn about life and love and God and myself.

Maybe the difference isn’t that God is telling me these things, but that I’m actually choosing to believe them. And with all of this soul digging I’m having some beautiful revelations, some of which are worth sharing.

So, over the next few weeks I will (hopefully but no promises on how quickly or frequently) be posting short pieces on some of the snippets of wisdom God’s has been graciously raining down on me. Honestly, I’m very excited to share what He’s been teaching me because the things I’ve been learning have been breathing new life into me, and my hope is that even just one thing I share can do the same for you!

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“How Rare and Beautiful It Is To Even Exist”

Tonight I’m taking a detour from my typical posting style to bring you a light and fun blog post. Although I have many other potential posts I’d love to share with you, in the midst of discovering new food intolerances and exploring a new direction for my life post-graduation, as well as juggling classes and relationships, I don’t have a lot of brain power left over for writing a deep, thought-provoking post this month. Also, in this season of life (as in so many others), music is providing much needed inspiration and motivation. So, I thought it would be fun to share some of what I’ve been listening to lately. Besides, who doesn’t love new music?

Currently 85% of my time spent listening to music is also spent studying. Sometimes music is the only thing that gets me through the long hours of reading and writing and memorizing and…

So without further ado, here are (in no particular order) my top ten favorite study songs:

  1. The Ash Is In Our Clothes by Sleeping At Last
  2. Hello/Lacrimosa by The Piano Guys
  3. West of the Rockies by Garth Neustadter
  4. Rey’s Theme by John Williams
  5. Intermission by Coeur De Pirate
  6. When Ginny Kissed Harry by Nicholas Hooper
  7. Chord Left by Agnes Obel
  8. Wake Me by Message To Bears
  9. Tundra by Cello Fury
  10. New Day by Philip Wesley

When I’m not doing homework, I often turn to worship music. I’ve found that in this season of uncertainties, I need to be frequently reminded of the stability of God’s character and plans for me.

So here are some worship songs that have been speaking into my life this semester:

  1. To the One, Make Us Ready, and Song of the Lamb by Harvest Bashta
  2. Sinking Deep by Hillsong Young and Free
  3. Here’s My Heart by I Am They
  4. Be Still My Soul by Jason Lavik
  5. Come Away, The Anthem, and In the River by Jesus Culture
  6. When I Am Afraid by Laura Hackett
  7. Tears of the Saints by Leeland
  8. I Knew What I Was Getting Into by Misty Edwards
  9. There May Be Tears by Scott Cunningham Band
  10. Give Me A Song by Will Raegan and United Pursuit

I have also made some random musical discoveries in the past few months that are absolutely worth sharing. (I honestly think I could write an entire blog post on each one because wow, talk about incredible music!)

  1. Sleeping At Last – If you have never listened to Sleeping At Last, stop reading this blog post right now and go listen to them! Incredible, right? I could go on and on and on about why I love Sleeping At Last. Their music gives me chills, and their lyrics are profound. My favorite line comes from the song called Saturn, and is the title of this blog post. You can read about the intentionality put into each song here: http://sleepingatlast.com/blog/ It’s unreal!
  2. Hamilton – This a musical that my friend Rylie introduced me to. It’s about the life of Alexander Hamilton, (cue the history nerd-out session) and not only does it have great music and an incredible storyline, but it also courageously engages issues in our society surrounding gender and race. My favorite songs from the soundtrack are The Schuyler Sisters, Satisfied, and Wait For It.

Finally, there are two random songs I recently discovered that I’ve been listening to multiple times a day. One is called Light Ahead by Surveyor and the other is called Sons and Daughters by Allman Brown and Liz Lawrence.

What have you been listening to lately?

PS: Just in case you didn’t stop reading to listen to Saturn by Sleeping at Last, I’ll just leave this here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEnkgfe6jTM

The Next Step in My Journey

For the past four years I’ve had a dream. It’s one of those dreams that feels so wild and unimaginable that I tuck it in my back pocket and only take it out on days when I’m feeling especially hopeful, or willing to believe that God has a good plan for my life. This far-fetched dream is to teach history to Nepali high school students in Nepal. I know this dream is very specific, and I know that as I continue to learn and grow, this dream will continue to evolve, but I also know that this idea of teaching in Nepal has deeply rooted itself in my heart and captured my imagination.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love traveling and experiencing other cultures. You’ll also know that last summer I spent three weeks in Romania and Moldova working with an organization called Word Made Flesh. (Insert shameless plug. Here’s their website: http://wordmadeflesh.org. You should check them out because they’re awesome!) When I returned from Romania and Moldova last June, I knew that my next logical step would be to take a longer journey out of the U.S.. I never dreamed, however, that I would so quickly be given the opportunity to go to the one place I have wanted to go more than any other. I am elated to announce that from June 8th through July 20th I will be going to Nepal!

I will be working with a non-profit organization called Tiny Hands International. (They’re also awesome and worth checking out! https://www.tinyhands.org). Tiny Hands works in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh with street children, orphans, and victims of sex trafficking. They have children’s homes for at-risk youth and border-monitoring stations to intercept girls being trafficked from Nepal to India. They are also in the process of opening a school with the vision of raising up leaders in Nepal through quality education. My first three weeks in Nepal will be an intense time of learning. My team of nine young women from all across the U.S. will be exploring the different facets of Tiny Hands’ work by visiting their ministry sites throughout Nepal. As a future educator, I am especially excited for the time we will get to spend at the school! We will also be using this time to dive into Nepali culture, and wrestle with issues of poverty and injustice. At the halfway point of the trip, each member of our team will meet with the leaders of Tiny Hands to choose an area of the organization to plug into for the remaining three weeks of our trip.

This is where you as my blog readers come into this. First, I want to let you know that I am planning on using this blog to keep my friends and family, and all of you updated on my trip. As I am in preparation mode between now and June, you can anticipate a mix of posts that are similar in nature to what I have posted in the past, and posts pertaining to my trip. Once we reach June, however, this blog will be filled with all things Nepal! And then once I come home I’ll start posting about other topics again.

I can’t take this journey alone. First and foremost, I will need prayer support. I think all too often we underestimate the importance and the power of prayer! Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Because God has so clearly called me to go to Nepal, I know that Satan will oppose me every step of the way, which is why prayer is such an important part of this journey. Last summer, when I was in Romania, I would be feeling discouraged and overwhelmed when, suddenly, my mood would lighten. Then I would realize that, although it was 4:30PM in Romania, it was 6:30AM on the West Coast, and my prayer warriors were waking up and praying for me. More than once the knowledge that they were interceding on my behalf helped me through the most difficult moments of that trip. So if you are a person of prayer, I would love it if you would pray for me! Sometime in the near future I will post a blog with a list of specific requests you can pray over.

In order to go to Nepal, I am also in need of financial support. I am personally responsible for raising $4200. I know that some of you reading this blog don’t know me personally, and I want you to know that there is absolutely no obligation for you to contribute to my trip! However, I do encourage you, if you feel led, to pray about this opportunity. I firmly believe it takes an army to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. While God is calling me to go, that does not negate the importance of what He is calling you to do where He has planted you. In thinking about the significance of your role in bringing the Kingdom, I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. We all have an important role to play in the body of Christ. If you do feel led to donate towards my trip you can go to https://www.tinyhands.org/campaigns/kelly-simonsen-vision-trip.

I want to say thank you in advance for the myriad of ways you will be taking this journey with me. Even you just reading my blog posts means the world to me! I’m still in shock that this dream is coming true! Nepal, here I come!

Dreams and Reality

Odds and Ends

Hello Readers,

I know my blog has been pretty quiet lately, and while I would love to promise you more posts soon, the reality is I have some twelve page papers staring me down that have won the first place spot on my to-do list. I guess that’s how it goes in college. In the meantime, however, I would love to share some wise and challenging words I have stumbled across in the past few weeks. I sense that I am in a season of preparation, and lately I have read some blog posts and prayers that, difficult as they are, help me to prepare for what lies ahead by defining the way I want to live my life.

The first is a blog post written by a woman named Kristen Brewster. She is on an 11 country in 11 month missions trip called the World Race, and while her current setting is completely different from mine, her words ring so true in my life. Here’s the link:

http://kristinbrewster.theworldrace.org/?filename=the-greatest-thief

The next is a Benediction of Saint Francis that a Romanian friend of mine shared on Facebook. It goes like this:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
– Benediction of St. Francis

I find these words both challenging, and life-giving. What would our world look like if it were filled with people who took this benediction to heart?

Next is a quote that I heard from a friend living in Moldova. It goes:

“What we choose changes us.
Who we love transforms us.
How we create remakes us.
Where we live reshapes us.
So in all our choosing,
O God, make us wise;
in all our loving,
O Christ, make us bold;
in all our creating,
O Spirit, give us courage;
in all our living
may we become whole.”
Jan L Richardson

I love how this quote reminds me that we do on this earth matters deeply.

And I’ll leave you with something a kindly old gentleman told me the other day that I can’t seem to get out of my head.

“May God bless you on your pilgrimage.”

So whether you travel by plane,

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or train,

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on paths steep

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or smooth,

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always remember there is joy in the journey!