Monday, October 31, 2016

Take Courage

Psalm 12 (NASB)

"1 Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be,
     For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
2 They speak falsehood to one another;
     With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
     The tongue that speaks great things;
4 Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail;
     Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”
5 “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy,
      Now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”
6 The words of the Lord are pure words;
      As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will keep them;
     You will preserve him from this generation forever.
8 The wicked strut about on every side
     When vileness is exalted among the sons of men."

I read this Psalm this morning in my devotions and found it super helpful in light of the upcoming election. This Psalm summarizes so well what this current political season seems like to me. It's tempting to fear the outcome and what it will do to our government and to our freedoms, particularly as Christians. But this Psalm was such an encouraging reminder that the Lord is still in control! He is not powerless to save us, and He truly does care about us. Because of His pure words we can trust that He will keep His promise to "cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). It just might not be in the way that we expect. Even when a situation seem bleak, we can still have hope. The greatest battle between light and darkness has already been won.

"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Thursday, May 5, 2016

So What's Next?

It’s been almost a year since graduation. When I think back on how much I was able to do, it feels as though much more than 11 months has passed. God opened so many doors for me to serve Him around the world and I am so thankful for all that I have been able to experience, and for the growth, as well as for all of the people who came alongside me and supported me in various ways and challenged me to think in new ways.

For the past two months, I’ve been wrestling with where to go after the missions training with Encompass. Do I pursue an internship with Encompass overseas in Southeast Asia? Do I stay home? Is there another course that I should be pursuing? Everything that God allowed me to do last year seemed to point very clearly to pursuing the internship.

But after getting back into life here in California, I began to see some doors right here that might be opening for me to serve Him and also grow. God has been plugging me into some groups lately through my own church and another one nearby, and He’s really been using those to challenge me and grow me in some much needed ways. He’s also been showing me some relationships with others that I can serve Him in. It began to make more sense to me to stay here and invest in the relationships and groups that God has already given me, rather than try to start completely over in a different country where things would be even more difficult. It seems as though God can still use me in some very important ways here. 

It was a tough decision for me, but I’ve decided to stay here for a while. I don’t know how long. One of the things that I’ve learned this year is that it’s very hard to predict what God will do next. Anything could happen in the next few weeks or months or years. And as long as I trust the Hand that holds my future, it will always be more exciting to me than terrifying. I know that He loves me, and that whatever He brings into my life will be for the best.

Was all of the training and other missions activities a waste of time and money? Not at all. It seemed as though it was pointing towards going overseas to serve, but then I got a different perspective: maybe God was using it instead to fuel my desire to serve Him and equip me to do that wherever He calls me, even if He calls me to stay where I am. If I hadn’t gone to Cambodia, I might not have been introduced to Encompass and been equipped through them to carry out the Great Commission wherever I am. I’m not disappointed in any way. As much as I love the thought of serving Him in another country, I don’t think that’s the right course for this time in my life, and I’m just as excited about seeing what I can do right here.

Friday, April 1, 2016

March Not-So-Mad-Ness

Life since Engage 5 has been going well. Keeping a missionary mindset is a lot harder when you're not around the team who taught you it 24-7 and when you're not working solely on building relationships but also balancing a job and other commitments. But it's been really encouraging how many people I've found in my current circles who have a heart for missions as well. I'm so very thankful for His grace which has kept me fighting to serve this last month.

Speaking of fighting, I’ve been learning a lot about what the “fight of faith” looks like on a daily basis. Or more realistically, moment by moment. It’s so easy for me to forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). It’s easy to think that what’s in front of us is all that there is. That the person we are struggling with is the one right in front of us. Not Satan. It’s easy to forget that we don’t have to give in to all of the sinful impulses and that we have the power of the Holy Spirit in us to fight against it. I don’t usually do things like this, but because I’m beginning to take this much more seriously, I realized that I needed a daily reminder of what I’m up against, and so wrote the word “Fight” in sharpie on my arm. If you’ve seen that and wondered what it was, now you know! =) This has been a big encouragement to me, and it’s been encouraging to see how many more battles I’ve been able to win in because of this reminder. It’s during times like these that I’m thankful for that bit of stubborn determination that comes in every now and then, that I can channel into a good purpose. =)

I have been enjoying one of the slowest months that I have had in a long time, and it feels so good to not be constantly rushing to one thing and then to another. In previous years, I’ve never really had a great system for organizing my time and would be constantly stressed trying to get a gazillion things done, not really doing much prioritizing and doing too much procrastinating. But with the institution of some categories to help me figure out what absolutely needs to be done this week and what can wait a couple days, weeks, months, or years, it has become much easier for me to get things done. And to still have time to relax and have fun! It’s amazing how much sleep can help too! Gone are the days of consistently getting 5-7 hours of sleep. Certainly don’t miss that part of high school! Just wish it didn’t take me almost a year AFTER high school to realize that it isn’t necessary to be doing that anymore.

Between trips to Knotts Berry Farm, hiking with friends, and camping, it’s been a more outdoorsy month for me. Getting out in God’s Creation is something that I’ve been enjoying more and more lately. It’s even more awesome with friends! Thankful for all of the opportunities this month to do that. It's awesome how many places there are to go hiking in Orange County! The pictures below were taken on a hike in Irvine. I’m hoping to go more the rest of this year.

The highlight this month was a short weekend trip to Mexico to build a house with Amor Ministries. A couple people from my church and I joined some other young adults from the First Chinese Baptist Churches of LA and OC. Most of them I had never met before. But I was incredibly blessed by how friendly everyone was! I thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend a couple days getting to know and working alongside these wonderful people.

Despite the short time that we were there, there was a lot of learning and growth packed into those 4 days. For starters, I hadn’t been camping in four years, and I’ve never built a house before. Previous experience with a hammer and other tools included hanging pictures and re-upholstering a piano seat. Not much else. But that weekend, I learned how to mix and pour concrete, smooth it out so it can properly dry, build frames, put up wire and paper around the house once the frames had all been erected, etc. Electric tools were completely banned from the worksite, in order to do it how the Mexicans would. Some of the jobs I felt like I was able to learn quickly; others, not so much. The most frustrating task for me that first day was hammering nails into the frame. No matter how many times I kept hitting that nail, it just wouldn’t seem to go properly into the wood. But thanks to several patient people who were willing to give advice, by the end of the second day, my hammer and I were getting to be very good friends. I kinda miss it now…I have to resort to hanging picture frames now if I want to use it... =P The various aspects of making the concrete were really hard work, but I really enjoyed those. Seeing that flat surface after all of that work was awesome!

The work was certainly challenging and I went home thoroughly tired at the end of the 8-hour day. But I learned that I really enjoy doing hard work like this, especially when you can watch something grow before your very eyes. I think I may have found a new hobby! I actually looked up Habitat for Humanity soon after getting back home, but it looks like getting involved with them would be a little difficult for me because of my work schedule.

Getting to camp each night was an interesting experience. My former declaration that I love camping (based off of a memory from four years ago) was seriously challenged on this trip. I would not say that I hate camping now (I would-and will-totally do it again), but I have a greater appreciation for my more comfortable bed, protection from the elements, and the ability to clean-up easily. However, I did appreciate the different perspective that it gave me. Where I live in California, the sight of homeless people is not too uncommon, and you don’t have to drive very long before you’re in a poorer neighborhood. I fear that I have seen it so often, that I’ve somewhat become desensitized to it. This trip was a powerful look into their lives, which I am very thankful for. Solely, because of that, I don't think I would change anything about the camping. I need that reminder...

So far, there are no more trips planned in the near future. ;) Taking a break for a while! I'm still praying about what to do long-term, and will try to keep you all posted!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Coast to Coast in 6 Days!

It's been about 11 days since the last day of Engage 5. The last few days in Georgia were wonderful. Even though we had the hard task of saying goodbye to all of the new friends that we had made during the last 5 weeks, we were still having some great conversations. Maintaining relationships online is hard for me, but I'm hopeful that I'll still be able to stay in contact with them. The last couple days were filled with a couple more classes, two more visits to the Mercer cafeteria, a fun visit with my friend in Clarkston, and saying goodbye to the people at Reach the Nations and the Encompass staff.

 Saying goodbye to my fellow Engagers, the people who I had lived with for the past 5 weeks was incredibly hard. I am so grateful to God for putting each and every one of them in my life. They were a huge encouragement to me, and also some of the most fun people I have ever met. I'm already missing their daily company.

 All of the trainers were amazing too! God really used them to challenge me and help me grow and I am so thankful for all that they were able to share with us from their years of experience on the field.

On Thursday, February 11th, I said goodbye to all of them and hopped on an Amtrak train bound for Washington, D.C. for the second part of this whole adventure! This was my first time using Amtrak long-distance, and I was very excited to experience it! I had about a 14 hour stretch overnight, reaching D.C. before lunch on Friday. Had a wonderful time exploring some of the monuments and memorials for a few hours. It was great weather outside: not too cold or too warm.

Unfortunately, they were doing a good bit of construction/maintenance around the Washington Monument and the Reflection Pool was drained, so it took a bit away from the "atmosphere"...but it was still really neat to get to see these places!

I definitely enjoyed not having to deal with a lot people since it was colder out! Took me about 4 hours to explore the Lincoln Memorial, Korean Memorial, WWII Memorial, Washington Monument, Smithsonian Castle, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One of the biggest highlights for me though, was getting to walk right past the White House. Apparently, there's only fence around the front and back...the side is right on the street! Totally could have touched it if I wanted to...Haha I loved how everything was so close together. It made it very easy to get to a lot in a short amount of time.

 (Smithsonian Castle)

Spent the night in a hotel which was only about a mile away from the White House (no, it wasn't a fancy hotel) making it an easy walk. Enjoyed getting 12 hours of sleep that night! I figured I would probably need it for the rest of the train ride back. Woke up the next morning to find it snowing outside! Enjoyed getting to eat my waffle in the dining room downstairs and watch the snow come down in the street. Beautiful!

I don't typically use public transportation at home and it's been years since my mom had taken us kids on a bus, but since the Amtrak station was a couple miles away from the hotel and I wasn't thrilled with the idea of walking that distance with a heavy backpack, I decided to use the Metro. Their website had a great tool for figuring out where to go, which made it really easy for someone like me who didn't have a lot of experience using it and was on the opposite side of the country... I found a stop less than a quarter of mile from the hotel, right in front of a Starbucks! I learned that a hot mocha and a cold, snowy morning go really well together...

Thankfully, I was able to make it to the Amtrak Union Station without any issues. The station there in D.C. was huge and the inside reminded me a bit of an airport.

One thing that I found fascinating on this trip was the wide variety of station sizes, designs, etc. The ones in Chicago and DC were the biggest, with Sacramento being a close runner-up. But many of the stations that we stopped at along the way back to California were rather small. The boarding process was generally very easy and I didn't have too much trouble figuring out where to go, despite the various station set-ups. If I did have questions, I found that the employees both in the stations and on the trains were generally very friendly and helpful! There was also no security that needed to be passed, which made the process a lot easier. It was a great first experience.

From Washington, D.C., the train went to Chicago, IL, passing through states such as Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. A large portion of it was overnight, but I got to see a good bit of beautiful West Virginia before it got dark. Definitely one of my favorite states that I got to see on this trip! I loved all of the farms with the wide, snow-covered fields and big red barns.

Originally, I was planning to explore some of Chicago before my next train since I had about 5 hours there. I ended up walking about a mile to a nearby church, Soul City and caught the last half of their service. I really enjoyed getting to experience another part of the Church that morning. But on the way there, I was noticing that the city seemed really dead...there were hardly any people or cars out, and even the businesses seemed to be closed. I knew that it was early on a Sunday morning, but it was still a little disconcerting...and it was freezing (not as windy as I expected, though). So I decided to go back to the Station and enjoyed people-watching for a while!

In the portion of the trip from D.C. to Chicago, I had ridden coach, but from Chicago to Sacramento, I decided to get a room which I really enjoyed. It was much easier to have a regular-sized bed to stretch out on instead of curling up on 2 empty seats to get some sleep (it's not impossible...but it's not as comfortable either...). Meals were also included with the purchase of the room. I'm thankful that I took advantage of the first meal served in the dining car (dinner) since the dining car had to be taken off later that night because of some technical problems and was never put back on! It's community-seating, so I got placed with an older gentleman traveling to CA and another man and his 11-year old son who were traveling to CO for a ski trip. It was great getting to meet them and I really enjoyed talking with them. Talked a lot about travel since the older gentleman travels quite extensively for business and also knew some tips for building up reward points! That was my only community-dining experience and I really enjoyed it! They did provide meals, however, for the people in the sleeper cars for the remaining day and a half.

I really enjoyed this portion of the trip. The scenery was incredible, including both the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas and provided for hours of entertainment. But it was also a great opportunity to do some journaling and reading and processing of everything that I had learned during Engage 5. There was so much good stuff that we covered in that short amount of time, so I was very thankful to have that time to think through it some more and to figure out how to apply it to my situation before I got home. Usually, that doesn't happen very easily once I get home and I end up losing a good bit of that information. So I was able to come back feeling a little more prepared to jump back into things. Super thankful for that time!

Once I arrived in Sacramento, I had two more trains and a bus and arrived in Anaheim, CA about 10:30 on Wednesday morning, 6 days after I had left Georgia. The whole trip was an incredibly awesome adventure and I am SO thankful that I got to experience everything that I did. God was so good to provide the people that He did along the way and was faithful to provide in other ways, as well.

It's been an interesting transition back to California. It felt really weird to finally be back home after spending 5 weeks living with completely different people and then spending a week traveling. And in a way, I'm a slightly different person from the girl who left California back in January. But it's so good to be home. I am so excited to be applying what I learned here and seeing what God does through it! I'm missing the time in Georgia, but am excited to jump into this new season!