This Season is Vital for the Next

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This season of life has been the most beautiful season I can remember. It’s peaceful. While I know this peace won’t always be here every second of every day,  I am resting in it. And when this peace leaves, I know I serve a God who is my anchor in the midst of storms. He is my constant peace even when chaos surrounds me. He is your peace, too. Be still, my sweet friends. Be still and know that He is your God.

 

I’m currently in the middle of working on a MennoTalk (think of it like a TedTalk except in the Mennonite world) for Mennonite Church USA Convention 2017 in Orlando, Florida IN LESS THAN A MONTH. When I was accepted for this MennoTalk, I was in a very different place in my life. Social justice defined my theology, and I was ready to give an educative, passionate talk about God’s call to the upside down Kingdom in pursuit of racial reconciliation and social justice. While I believe racial reconciliation and social justice play a massive role in the Kingdom of God, I also believe that when those things become your main focus, you are focusing on the wrong things. Feminism, social justice, eradicating poverty, and humanitarian work left me feeling empty and longing for more. While my heart will always beat for those things, those things are no longer identifying factors. I am a Daughter of the King, and that is the only title I will claim.

 

So here’s the thing: love God well, and do what you want. Dive into Scripture, because the answers for these tough topics wait within the pages that breath upon every page you turn.

 

I recently had a fun conversation with God about how I should probably start looking for a job that offers healthcare and 40 hours a week, you know, since I’m a college graduate. He said to me, “Abi, not yet.” As terrifying as that answer was, I’ve gone too far to turn back now. I have seen the faithfulness of God unfold in my life in supernatural ways these past few months, and I would be a fool to not listen to Him now. I deeply look forward to the day I begin humanitarian work again with a new perspective; one that focuses on Jesus first, others second. Until then, I will continue to lay low in this season as God prepares my heart for the next. I can feel big dreams brewing in my heart, and while I am unable to articulate them right now, I can feel God moving.

 

I too am learning how to be still and know that He is my God.

He is who He says He is.

He will provide.

He will restore.

He will show up.

He will answer you.

He will come for you.

He will lead you to face the biggest waves, and He will give you victory to conquer.

 

If you can feel dreams brewing in your heart but you’re unsure where to start, be still. This season is vital for the next.

 

#noturningback

 

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Remembering the Life of Richard Miller

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Richard Miller, commonly known as Dick, and to his grandchildren, pappy, was my great-grandfather.

He was a feisty one, that guy. Every time you thought it was really over for him, he’d come back a day later with a spring in his step. I like to think that my pap never truly died. He just took a break from fighting for a little while.

My pap died this morning.

My pap was once married to one of the most amazing women of all time, Hilda. Gram would always give us cheese in those little plastic wrappers. Unhealthy, absolutely. Did she win over our hearts? Yup, every day. Gram died in 1997. I was only 3 when she passed away, so the only memories I really have of her are of cheese. But I do know I loved that woman as much as a 3 year old could. (Which is a lot.) I also remember giving her a kiss on the glass top of her casket. Pap was married to her for 55 years before she passed away of meningitis. With a love like that, I have no idea how you continue on without your best friend. But pap never lost his spirit and determination for life.

My pap served in WWII in the Army Air Force (1943-1945) attached to the 369 Bomb Squadron as a ball turret gunner on a B17 named “How Soon.” Pap completed 35 missions from his base in England, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, along with other military medals.

Pap never talked about serving in the military. Ever. But a few years ago, he started talking some. He pulled out some of his old journals from his time in the service, and I read about a couple close calls he almost had. The detail was so vivid in those journals. When I close my eyes, it’s like I can still see his handwriting.

It’s sad to say for me, but pap and I didn’t become close until he moved up to Laurel View Village about 2 years ago. When I would go cash a check at the bank there, I would make a left and then a right straight back to his room. We’d sit and talk for a little bit, and sometimes, he would cry. I went to visit him a few months ago, and one thing he said to me is something that is still engrained in my mind today: “Abby, I just feel like I’m wasting space here. I can’t do anything, I can’t go where I want to go, I’m just here.” He cried. And so did I.

As the months went on, Pap started to forget things more and more, but his humor was still there. I went to visit him one time, and I guess the nurses weren’t letting him go outside that day. His first response upon seeing me was, “Thank God you’re here. Get me out of this damn place!” So, as he requested, I took him for a stroll in his wheelchair outside. I think I gained more from that wheelchair stroll than he did.

One time, I went Christmas caroling and made a special detour to pap’s room. I brought along a teddy bear for him. He cried when I gave it to him, and I cried too. As far as I know, he still has that teddy bear.

Over the past year, Pap and I cried a lot together. He probably wouldn’t remember if you asked him, and that’s okay. But I’ll always remember the sweet moments when I wiped tears from his soft face.

I never really specifically remember pap telling me he loved me as a kid, and even at his old age when he was fully coherent, he never said it much either. But about 3 months ago, I was getting ready to leave my usual bank visit with him, and this was the day he told me he felt really worthless, like he was just taking up space. We talked for a bit longer, and as I was getting ready to leave, I told him I loved him. And for the first time I can ever remember in my 20 years of being around my great pap, he told me through choked up tears that he loved me too.

About 2 months ago, I was working my job at Auntie Anne’s in the mall. I was taking the bag up to our cart by the food court, and all of a sudden pap comes out of the elevator. I remember literally just staring at him thinking, “….how did he get here?” I knew he didn’t recognize me in my work uniform, so after I delivered the bag to the cart upstairs, I found him sitting beside the bench right outside Auntie Anne’s. I went over to talk to him, and after a few seconds, he remembered that I was Mark’s daughter (he really favored my dad) and then said “this is the biggest store I’ve ever been in!” He never failed to make me laugh. Turns out the residents at Laurel View were having a mall outing, and pap was “tired of being cooped up” so he decided to sign up and go.

As time went on, pap started to forget more and more. Some days, he would say “Abby, I know I was married one time, but I just don’t remember to who…” and the next day it would turn into “I never liked Hilda.”…and then the next day he would say “I miss Hilda.” He was a rollercoaster of hilarious sayings and emotional moments, and I don’t take any of the time I spent with him for granted.

But I do regret one thing.

I regret not spending enough time with him.

I learned a lot from my pap. I learned that strength is a part of who we are, even when we’re dying. I learned that part as I watched my pap dying in his hospital bed.

I learned that it’s okay to cry.

I learned that we may feel like we’re wasting space in this world, but there will be a million people you impacted throughout your life that will tell you differently. Don’t give up.

I learned that you’ve gotta be okay with laughing at yourself.

But the most important thing I think my pap could’ve ever taught me is that death isn’t the end. In fact, it’s truly just the beginning.

A lot of you who are reading this don’t know God or don’t care to know God or hate God because He took someone you love away from you.

I understand.

I get it.

My sole purpose of following Jesus isn’t so I can get to heaven one day. That’s not why I chose to follow Him. Heaven is just a massive added bonus. If we live our lives only with the intent of getting to heaven, we have wasted it all.

But BECAUSE of Jesus, I have hope. Guys, this isn’t the end. We don’t just die and become nothing. Our existence does not cease. I know what it’s like to question Jesus and this whole eternity thing, and I remember during that period of my life, it was one of the darkest I have ever known. I felt hopeless. I felt like if this was it, if I was just going to become nothing after I died, then what’s the point? Why am I here?

You have a purpose here. Don’t waste this life.

This life God has given us is so tiny in comparison to the eternity He has planned for us. This is literally .0000000001% of our lives. This life right here, right now.

Am I sad that my pap is gone? Yes. But words cannot even begin to describe the amount of joy (and jealously) I feel, because I know where he is right now, and the Man who is physically embracing Him is the one I worship.

So don’t apologize that he’s gone, because this isn’t sad. He’s with Jesus. And that’s the biggest cause for celebration if I’ve ever known one.

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1 Thessalonians 4:17
And we will be with the Lord forever.

2k14

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I knew I was going to write a blog summing up the year of 2014. I’m not sure how one sums up a year’s worth of “things” in a blog post, but I’m accepting this challenge.

Some of you are glad this year is over.

Some of you got divorced this year.

Lost a loved one this year.

Moved away from home this year.

And some of you wish this year would never end.

Some of you got married this year.

Some of you announced your pregnancy this year.

Some of you brought a little baby into the world this year.

Some of you beat a horrible disease this year.

Maybe for you, this year was the greatest.

And maybe for you, this year wasn’t so great.

Wherever you stand on the yearly scale of awesome, I want you to know that I get it.

I understand.

But I’m here to tell you a little something:
1.) You are awesome. That’s right. You. You, you beautiful person reading this right now. You seriously rock. Keep on rocking.
2.) No matter what happened this past year, learn from it! Allow it to mold you, allow it to use you in the most positive, light giving, way.
3.) I never really liked the whole “new year’s resolutions” type thing, so I wanna challenge you guys to something new:
A love resolution.
In 2015, what does it look like to love God, others, and yourself?
And what does that mean to you?
And how will you do it?

Because remember, without love, we are nothing and our actions are meaningless.
4.) Live fearlessly.
5.) Become passionate.
6.) Give.
7.) Serve.
8.) You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.
9.) I love you.
10.) Jesus loves you.

2014 was the year I decided to stop turning my back on God, and when I decided to stop turning my back on God, it’s funny how I began to see Him in the places I thought He never was.

You have a purpose here.

God isn’t finished with you yet.

So this year, give more, serve more, love more, become more passionate, live more fearlessly, do more.

We asked God to build His Kingdom here.

We’re the Kingdom builders.

In 2015, my prayer is that God brings it on.

What’s yours?

Why I Stayed.

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This was my life. I had felt like the past 18 years had all led up to this one year I spent in South Africa. When I got home, I felt there was no purpose for me here except to get back to Africa. That’s all I wanted. That’s all I felt I needed. That’s all I cared about. That’s all I dreamt about, all I hoped for, all I desired.

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After returning from South Africa, I did one year at Eastern Mennonite University, where I formed amazing relationships with beautiful people like the stunning ladies pictured above. This year was one of the most difficult thus far because I almost felt displaced. This place didn’t feel like home anymore. I was in a world where I not only didn’t understand it, but I also didn’t understand myself. So much had changed within me in the past year that I was having trouble keeping up. All I wanted was to go home, and I was determined to do anything to get there. I prayed every night that God would take me back. And this past summer, God answered.

I committed to Rock Africa in August and was set to move to Zimbabwe in February of 2015 to work alongside a nonprofit called Africa Works as the volunteer coordinator. I was so excited. Everything was falling in to place, and soon I would be out of here. Nothing was going to hold me back, I would be so free. I would be home.

I kept forgetting that the Africa I knew so well and this new Africa I knew nothing about were going to be different. I kept forgetting that the people I know and love so well in South Africa weren’t going to be here in this new Africa. I didn’t care, I just wanted to go back to a place that felt like home. My sore heart was so ready for relief. If need be, I was ready to die there.

And then…

I met Jared.

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Jared isn’t the reason why I chose to stay. He knows very well that I’m an incredibly independent woman with a huge free spirit, and I’m blessed to be with someone who allows my heart to wander and my soul to soar. But Jared is very logical. (Something I am not and have learned to embrace and be okay with it.) Jared didn’t know me when I got home from South Africa, but I’ve told him some stories and my family has shared things with him as well, so he was able to pick up on the type of person I was.

Jared also spent a good amount of time in Africa, so believe me, he gets it.

As the first two months of our relationship went by and I grew to love this beautiful man even more, I started thinking about what I was about to do.

Jared and I had had multiple conversations about me moving to Africa. He was ready to support me no matter what, and he was ready to wait years if he had to. At the end of every conversation, he always told me to follow my heart.

But in every conversation, he always asked the question, “Is this wise?” And that’s completely excluding our relationship. He was asking me if it was wise for me mentally, physically, spiritually, and in the future.

Those were things I was trying to ignore.

Those are things my parents have been asking me for the past 3 months, and I have ignored it because I didn’t want to face the truth.

I had 2 weeks of sleepless nights after that.

I knew what I wanted. I knew where I wanted to be. I knew where my heart was.

But I knew the truth.

And I knew I loved this man unlike any love I’ve ever felt before.

And I knew God placed Him in my life for a solid reason.

And I had a choice to make.

I knew God was going to bless me either way, but that didn’t make any decision easier.

So with my heart in my hands before God, I shut the door to Africa.

And I reopened the door to continuing my education.

And let me just say, it was a hard decision…

but at the same time, it was the easiest decision of my life.

You see, I have no doubt that God had opened up those doors for me to go to Zimbabwe. But I also have no doubt that God was giving me a choice to make. I always thought I had no reason to stay here…and then He gave me one.

God is going to use you. Wherever you are, He is going to use you.

You don’t have to go to Africa to make a difference.

Just open your back door and talk to your neighbor.

Most people would say that I’ve made a mistake saying no to Africa: I’m working at Auntie Anne’s, I’m a waitress at The Tollgate, and I’m going to UPJ starting this spring. Sounds like a pretty mediocre life compared to purchasing a one way ticket to Zim.

But you know something? Not for one second do I think it was a mistake. Ever since I shut that door, I’ve been realizing every single day how God has been using me and is using me every day…

and I can’t believe I’ve wasted the past year not moving forward in His love because I felt that I needed to be in Africa for Him to use me.

If anything, me choosing to stay has been the biggest risk I could’ve ever taken for Christ.

So if you’re struggling right now, if you have a heart for foreign missions but you know it’s not your time yet, take heart! Don’t wait around for God to open up doors for you to go. Open up your heart to Him right now. Be willing, be ready, and be patient. Remain in prayer, and remain in His love. And be fully okay knowing that the biggest risk you could ever take for Jesus is choosing to stay.

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

 

Pro-Love.

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Abortion.

We’ve all talked about it at some point in our lives.

We’ve gotten into debates about it in college.

Maybe you know someone who’s had an abortion.

Or maybe you’ve had an abortion.

Maybe you’ve been in one of those pro-life rallies.

Maybe you don’t have an opinion on this.

And that’s okay.

But I need to share something with you guys, because this is important to me.

Back in high school, I was pro-life. I attended the pro-life march in D.C., and I remember being so excited to be apart of something I felt was a way to let people I know I was a true Christian. Plus, those women were sinners and needed Jesus.

In college, I was pro-choice. I started looking at this situation as a political thing, one where the rights of women were being taken away from them, one where people were telling them what they should do with their reproductive system.

People have asked me currently what I am.

And after months of struggling and wrestling and crying out to God and trying to see Jesus on both ends, I am pro-love.

I believe strongly that life is sacred. All life, at all stages and at all ages.

But the people who believe this too tend to forget about that when they’re posting on Facebook that the guy who murdered that girl deserves to be put to death. What happened to them saying they value life?

And then people are screaming at the woman to keep her baby and congratulate her when she decides to…but when the new single mom has to get food stamps, people are calling her lazy and forgetting that they fought to keep that precious life.

There are people who are all about protecting the rights of women, but what happened to the rights of the tiny being growing inside of them?

What about all the other options that moms could go with besides terminating her pregnancy?

But what if we stopped looking at this like a pro-life and pro-choice thing…

What if we started looking at this like Jesus does?

What if, instead of joining in the rallies of pro-life marches, we began to form relationships with women who were considering getting abortions?

What if we talked to them about Jesus, we talked with them about other ways of keeping that baby, what if we dedicated ourselves to walking life with them?

And what if they still decided to get an abortion, and we were the people embracing them as they left that clinic and telling them that Jesus still loves them?

I believe strongly that Jesus would do everything He could in love to help that mother know how beautiful she is and how beautiful that baby inside of her is.

But I also believe that Jesus is waiting at the back door of every abortion clinic to embrace women as they leave.

You see, we have to hit the root of the issue. It isn’t just about that baby. It’s about the woman who’s carrying that baby, too. What is she currently going through? What brought her to this point?

So often, we’re concerned about the life of that baby inside of her…but what about her? What if we were actually disciples like Jesus wanted us to be and we began walking life with women in those tough positions?

Then, lives would begin to change. When people stopped defending sides and started defending love, hearts would begin to change, the value of life would begin to change, and the love of Jesus would sweep this nation.

So to the woman who’s doctor told her it would be best if she aborted the baby but kept it,

To the woman who got raped and doesn’t want to keep this baby,

To my friend who has gotten an abortion and regrets it with all that she has,

To the women who have kept their babies,

And to the women who have aborted them,

I am with you. And I love you.

John 15:12
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

A Memoir.

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This place feels strange; light switches are flat and outlets have three holes and the toilets are shaped differently and I don’t have a cell phone.

Mom and dad are far away now, and it will be 4 days until I can call them and tell them I’m here.

It’s September, but it’s so cold. Wrap myself in multiple blankets and cry myself to sleep.

Crying myself to sleep for the next 4 nights.

Reality sets in; I’m lonely, I have no friends here, everything is weird, I don’t recognize much of anything, and what the hell have I gotten myself into.

Poverty: this is different from what the media has shown me.

This cuts deep.

My own eyes; water falls from them.

Beautiful people.

Why this?

Started a countdown on my Ipod touch until I am set to fly home.

322…321…320…319…the days are going by so slowly.

I move into my Aunty’s house; she seems prissy and has such a thick Indian accent and I don’t think I like her.

Bucket baths…what is this. No.

Peanut butter toast every day for breakfast because I’m too scared to make anything else. She scares me. I don’t think she likes me.

Got told I’m working with children in Mpophomeni at an HIV/AIDS organization. I don’t like children all too much, so this should be interesting.

Aunty made me go to youth group tonight. Everyone asked me where I was from, said I talk with such a cool accent. I made some friends tonight. I never thought it would feel so amazing to make friends.

301…300…299…things are looking up.

Started my volunteering with the children in Mpophomeni; never have I seen faces so bright and smiles so wide.

They touch my hair and my skin constantly.

I thought I would mind it,

But I don’t.

One girl loves to come up and touch my breasts just to touch them, as if they are different from her’s because of our skin color.

I don’t even feel violated

Because I understand.

250…249…248…this is starting to feel like home.

Making so many new friends who show me the beauty of this place.

Aunty and I have deep conversations almost every night.

She’s growing on me.

She gave me a key to the house so I can come and go as I please. She trusts me. This is good.

Took a visit down to the squatter camp across from my house to drop off clothes I don’t wear anymore.

Personally handed the clothes to these girls, and their smiles were so big.

So beautiful and bright.

Helped the 2 young girls carry water down to their houses, and they invited me in.

One room holding in so much stench

Built out of mud and sticks

And they were so proud to call it their home because THEY built it.

Pride.

Joy.

This was theirs.

And I was proud to be in that moment with them.

Gave a woman a pair of my shoes off my feet a few months back

Turned the corner in the squatter camp and saw those same shoes sitting outside her door.

I kneel on the ground and cry,

Because in this place of absolute brokenness, there is Christ.

200…199…198…197…but where is Christ.

Where is He as I watched a young boy walk the streets holding his organs oozing out of his side with blood running down his small body?

Where is He as Emilio sits on the corner of the Muslim bakery everyday not begging for money but begging for someone to give him the time to talk, to share his story?

Where is He in the urine pasted streets of Raisethorpe which I walk down every morning?

Where is He in the graveyard of Mpophomeni, as graves upon graves are being prepared for the usual 5 that will die this week?

Where is He in this church that is so charismatic and scary and unpredictable?

Where is He has my theology is being shaken to its core?

Where is He as I walk her to the clinic after she’s been raped and I promise her I will come see her again but I don’t because I’m so scared of seeing her again because she’s 20 and this never should have happened to her

Where is He as Lungi grabs my shirt on my last day and begs me to come back for her because there is nothing left for her here?

Where is He? Where is this God who says He loves His people and why has He abandoned them here?

Why am I here?

What is this mess?

This chaotic mess of love and sacrifice and pain and sadness and racism and anguish and murder and injustice and poverty.

I’m in this.

And suddenly, these issues become my own

Because these people have become my people

Because they have become my family.

128…127…126…this is my home.

I begin to cry almost every night

But not in sadness of being here.

This time, I cry in sadness of knowing I eventually will have to leave.

100…99…98…97…I am far from God.

But I don’t care right now because I’m trying to figure all of this out.

My faith doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

I’m seeing so much and everything is so jumbled in my head.

My American perspective and my international perspective are colliding and it’s hard.

Kids braiding my hair everyday and I don’t mind at all.

Kati hops on my back and we walk down to the soup kitchen every day. Bad for the back probably, but amazing for the heart.

Learning to Zulu dance from the kids has become a daily “let’s laugh at Abby thing”

And it’s pretty funny, because I end up laughing at myself, too.

I read a part of the Bible in Zulu today, and the kids clapped.

My Zulu is improving.

Just asked Ntokozo. I practice with her everyday.

I told everyone to speak to me only in Zulu so then I could learn and talk to the kids in Zulu because they didn’t know much English.

I guess that means I love those kids.

And I do. I love them a lot.

They greet me everyday with a hug

And sometimes, they don’t let go for what feels like hours

And you know what’s funny? I don’t mind it at all.

When it gets cold out, which it does quite often in Mpophomeni due to the geography of the town, we all snuggle up on the floor together.

Kati never sits still because he always wants to be playing with someone or something

But Andile will lay beside me for hours if I give him my ipod touch to play games on.

They love that ipod touch.

But even on days when I don’t bring it, they still cuddle up next to me.

And I know that they love me even without my ipod touch.

87…86…85…

Ntokozo gave me the Zulu name of “Sthandwa”

I asked her what it meant one day

“Blessed one.”

I cried.

I don’t think I have ever felt more blessed than in that moment.

46…45…44…

Playing soccer in the dirt roads in our bare feet

I walk in my bare feet almost everyday, so the stones don’t even bother me.

We have so much fun kicking that flat ball around

And I’ve never seen better soccer players than those kids.

I’m gaining a lot of weight, but I don’t even care.

I feel beautiful because I am beautiful and these kids are beautiful and life is so beautiful.

The mamas tell me everyday that I’m getting fatter and they clap and are so happy.

I used to hate when they did that,

But now I embrace it, because getting fat is beautiful in their culture

And I am in their culture.

And bucket baths? Well, they’re not so bad.

25…24…23…

Goodbyes draw near but I don’t talk about it.

I can’t think about it.

It seems almost surreal.

But tears never fail right before I’m about to fall asleep.

And I wake up with puffy eyes as a reminder of the sadness that overtook me 8 hours ago.

10…9…8…

I had a going away party at The Red Door, where all of my friends and I would go for drinks occasionally.

It was alright.

I didn’t want it to be real.

I cried on the drive home.

8…7…6…

The kids all made me goodbye cards.

They tried writing them in English.

Some made sense,

Most didn’t.

But I didn’t care.

I knew what they were trying to say.

And they all cried.

They said how much I have changed their lives,

But I will never believe that I changed their lives more than they changed mine.

I see the world differently now because of them.

My heart was broken and put back together by them.

Their tiny little hands that have seen so much hurt and despair and racial injustice and death and poverty wrapped around my heart and pumped grace and love and mercy and patience and kindness into my veins.

No longer would I feel their soft fingers touch my skin.

No longer would I have 5 girls gathered around my hair braiding it.

No longer would I hear their laughter

See their smiles

Hold them in my arms.

Just like that, in a blink of an eye

As I walked to my car

And I waved goodbye with tears streaming down my face

And they all ran to me and hugged me and told me they would never forget me,

It was all gone.

My joy left me that day and stayed with them.

3…2…1…

This place is home,

Because home no longer is a place,

It’s a people.