Honestly…

Hey guys.  I wrote this about a month before I left the Philippines.  Looking back on that year of my life, I realize that the further I trekked that season, the less I spoke up about the reality of what I was experiencing.  Though that year was by far the best of my life, and I am grateful for the blessings and lessons, it was also without a doubt the hardest 365 days I have ever encountered.  I say this without an ounce of exaggeration; there were days I wanted to slip away through the cracks in the cement of the walls of my tiny, sweaty, apartment.

Being a missionary is not as glamorous as my Instagram may have caused it to seem, and is as far-removed from easy as I was from the comfort of my temperature-regulated, cushioned, quiet bedroom in Boise.

The following is a glimpse into some of the intense emotions and mental struggles I battled through in the Philippines.  Though it definitely doesn’t describe the season in its entirety, and if you’re hungry for more details, I’d gladly sit down and share them now that God has put my feet underneath me to some degree.

But I hope that my transparency frees you to be more vulnerable.  It’s a challenging lesson to learn, how to be courageously honest about one’s self and experiences.  Yet it’s as liberating as it is terrifying, and I hope that some of you who are hiding behind the illusion that you have to manicure your life in order for people to like you and include you finally start gaining the boldness to disclose the raw, unfiltered, grimy, and even painful parts of life.  And at the end, still have this truth: that the goodness of God underscores literally every chapter of life.  That regardless of the adverse seasons and the amount of times you cry yourself to sleep, He is still the God of freedom and healing.  He’s never left you, and He never will.

And through the really, really heart-wrenching days of the last year, I learned that, too.  God is good, no matter what.  So yeah, here I go…

 

Taking a deep breath.

In, out. Repeat.

Another.

In,

Out.

Okay here I go.

Saying more than I ever wanted or intended, but I cannot pretend that I haven’t been fighting for what feels like my life and my sanity lately.

I don’t really like this position, lying down in front of you and recounting my experiences, or the troubling things that have crossed my mind lately.

But here I am, the girl who many call a missionary, the girl who is slowly but surely been shying away from that title because the shame I’ve been trekking through lately makes me feel so unworthy.

Stop. Take a deep breath again, Hannah. In and out. In and out.

I have one month left of the biggest season of my life so far. Eleven months of living in a developing nation called the Philippines have flown past my eyes. And I know, I’ve allowed myself to fall somewhat silent over the last few months. Not because I have nothing to say, or because I want to keep in the dark those who have been following my journey. I just really don’t know how to tell you all that I’ve been walking through a hurricane. I felt like if I wanted to share my struggles, I would have to tell you all which way is up, and I honestly didn’t know the answer to that for the last few months. I just kept looking at the Father, not even sure how to relate to Him sometimes, because He seemed so impossibly good, and I seemed too incredibly bad.

Depression. So heavy, it kept me in bed some days. So weighty, it was hard to open my eyes sometimes. So thick that it exhausted me to fathom that I could even dare to believe in good things.

Anxiety. So tormenting that I often lost my breath trying to catch up with my reeling thoughts. It was like my mind would cast its line out into the deep, and an enormous fear would tug on the bait, and I couldn’t stop the elusive string of thought from diving into the dark and unknown. So far from the light that I started not even knowing what was solid or what to grasp for help. I have never felt more like I was drowning in my whole life.

Shame, so massive that it felt like an enormous thunderhead on the plains of my soul, and I was doomed to walk underneath it. That its rain would melt me down until I eroded away with the earth. So alone that if I cried out for help, I wondered if anyone would even hear me. I thought I had to resort to lying flat on the ground in surrender, and be trampled by my future. This is what I deserve, I swear it’s true. I cannot possibly be free from my past.

Thankfully, Jesus is more real than all of it. He is the Way up. And now I’m finding my wings. I’m holding tight to this hot-air balloon that I call freedom in Christ. It’s crazy. Now I can breathe. There aren’t rocks on my chest right now. There aren’t any weights tied to my feet and my hands aren’t stuck behind my back. Abba is teaching me how to be His child again and it makes me want to never leave the safe place of His lap.

I write this, honestly, unsure of the reasons. I think it’s mostly because I’m so thankful I’m being set free. And I want people to know it’s possible. To be so far gone in your thoughts, your shame, your circumstances, and your sin, yet never past the point of return.

I’m a missionary, if that’s the title you want to give me. I’m the one who is supposed to have it all together. I am the one who is supposed to be most free. I’m the one who is working for an organization that promotes freedom.

And for the last few months, I still felt and lived like a slave. To my emotions, circumstances, and sin.

Turns out, freedom is Jesus. It’s an option for everyone, and a choice everyone has to make. A yes to Jesus is a yes to freedom in you.

So you can be the one that everyone claims to have it all together, and you can be the one that people point out as the biggest mess or failure. And regardless of what it looks like on the outside, despite the physical, mental, or spiritual chains we encounter in our lives, we can all be completely, one-hundred percent, radically, and wildly free.

It’s not about us. It’s about the liberator, the emancipator, the victor.

He won for us.

For me.

For you.

Take a deep breath, Hannah.

The reason for my tears is no longer my overwhelming sadness, fear, or hopelessness.

My tears are those of a much more honest human. They come from a broken, but healing heart. They stream from the core of someone who has finally seen the light. From a deep place of gratitude. From a person who now has a genuinely profound and new understanding of what it means to no longer have chains.

These tears are a response to Abba’s emancipation proclamation, written in blood, signed with sacrifice, validated in uncanny love.

Oh God, I am finally free.

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When You Realize You’ve Changed…

I’m procrastinating by adding to the Pages documents opened on the dock of my MacBook, each one filled with the last month’s random thoughts that I’ve picked up on this road of being a missionary in the Philippines.  Maybe I’ll finish this one before the work day ends and I head down the street to lead devotions at one of the houses.  Or maybe this is a thought that the Lord will continue in me before I post it and that’s okay, too.  But here’s how I start my blog posts.  Hope you’re enjoying it so far…. 😉

So on another, completely different note, my phone was stolen yesterday.  Yes that’s right, my sleek, rose gold, iPhone 6s that honestly helped me keep myself organized and on time to the many pencil marks in my schedule.  It’s also the thing that made me look and feel a little out of place when I sat next to a man on the jeepney with dirty feet and a weathered face, or the one holding my instagram feed when I looked up and spotted the thinnest man I have ever seen in my whole life.

The contrast of wealth and poverty here is so drastic that sometimes I feel like I’m choking on it in the same way I choke on the exhaust that pours into my lungs when sitting in Manila traffic.  It sits on my palate and I honestly struggle through such mixed emotions as I wrestle in my soul over how the one who has so much and the one who has so little can be literal neighbors and never share so much as a conversation.

I am guilty.  I don’t know the scale of poverty of my neighbors, though I see it on a daily basis. There are still some things about my life here as a missionary that keep a bit of my “first world bubble” in tact, like owning an iPhone, yet God keeps inserting push pins into that ever-thinning wall, and I feel my comfort zone being dissolved.  And when my phone was stolen, I felt another prick in the bubble.

For a solid 20 minutes after realizing my phone was missing, I shuffled through emotions of panic, frustration, and confusion as I tried to retrace my steps and recover an item that held so much of my life on it.

And then I felt deeply convicted.  I live amongst women who once had a hard time finding enough to eat.  It was then I chose not to cry about my predicament.

Later that afternoon, a friend loaned me her old phone, and I went to the mall to get a SIM card for it.  I spent some time browsing to see what my options were about getting a new phone, to remedy the current temporary fix.

Even deeper conviction set in as I looked at options, knowing God had blessed me with a larger-than-expected tax return and I was able to purchase an older model of a still brand new iPhone right there on the spot.

I’m still discerning if what I felt at the mall was conviction or shame, but the feeling plummeted itself deep into my soul.  How could I drop this much money on the same day my phone was stolen when so many people have to choose which kid to feed today?

I’m still waiting and praying and deciding on what to do about the phone, but I want to talk about what’s going on in my heart right now.

How do you know God has changed the terrain of your heart?  When the things that you once didn’t bat an eye at are now the things that bat you in the gut.

In a way, I’m glad my phone was stolen, and for a handful of reasons.  First, it gave me an option to choose joy during a frustrating circumstance.  Second, it allowed me to not be a slave to things while operating in a ministry (and in a faith) that promotes freedom. Third, it allowed me to realize that God has undeniably renovated my heart.

So yeah, it is really frustrating to have someone steal something that holds scores of precious pictures, notes that contain pieces of writing that I haven’t had time to develop yet, and all the schedules and to-do lists that kept me organized.  But on the other side of things, there is nothing frustrating about a day where I spent the morning organizing the donations that came from several of our supporters.  I was surrounded by watercolors and ibuprofen and clothes and I was overwhelmed at God’s goodness.  And there’s also nothing frustrating about serving in a ministry where miracles happen daily, dating someone who challenges me and cares for me so well, or simply having breath in my lungs and strong legs to carry me on my run this morning.  And aside from God’s many blessings, I need no other reason to praise Him other than the fact that “he saved my eyes from tears, my soul from death, my feet from stumbling.”  So I chose joy.  Because all of the things I listed outweigh a stolen iPhone.

I also work for an organization called Wipe Every Tear, that works to offer freedom to women and ladyboys victimized by the sex trade through means of education.  We offer options at tangible freedom as well as offer opportunities to experience Jesus, the one who sets us free from sin, death, and the shame of our pasts.  I’m free, body, soul, and spirit, because of Jesus. And as I sat on the window seat in one of our safe houses yesterday, I realized that it is possible to exchange one form of slavery for another. It is as possible for me to be a slave to material things as it is to be trapped by a bar owner.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey?” Romans 6:16

Is my phone a greater source of joy for me than the One who supplied it?  Do I feel lost when I lose it?  Does it unwaveringly dictate the course of my day?  Does it dim my sight for the Kingdom?  These are all questions I must consider now before I simply go purchase a new phone.  Being raised in America, I realize now how much of my identity is in material things, and how much of those things I obey before I listen to the King of Kings.  I have profound qualms about operating in a ministry and professing a faith that promotes freedom while being wrapped around the finger of an inanimate object.

Finally, and most importantly, I thank God for this circumstance because it has given me room to discover that God has transformed my heart.  A year ago if this would have happened, I would have been much more crushed.  But in the very hour I lost my phone, I thought of others and the need in my community before I went out and made an expensive purchase.  I’m not saying this to toot my own horn because I still don’t know what kind of a phone I’m going to buy, and if I feel peace about getting a new iPhone, then I will get a new iPhone.  There’s no shame when the Lord blesses us.

However, I do cherish that my lost phone allowed me space to be more present in conversations and relationships with others.  I am thankful for the blessing of having the capacity to possess a nice iPhone in the first place.  And I’m overwhelmed with joy at the fact that God has cultivated my heart-soil so much that I am able to look and act more like Jesus when difficult things happen.  Again, not saying this to brag, except to boast that Jesus has been working in my heart and life, and that I’m not the same person I was a year ago.

So here I am at the end of the first draft of this post!  Hooray!  Hannah might actually finish this one. 

I may go get a new iPhone in a few days.  Or I may allow the Lord to teach me some more through this if He desires.  Either way, God is moving mountains of materialism and selfishness in my heart and that’s where I’m purposing my mind to dwell.  I am now sitting in a room at one of our beautiful safe houses, listening to several of my newly liberated sisters laugh and talk over dinner, and I breathe in freshly falling rain as the rainy season rolls into Manila.  God is very, very good.

That’s Right, I Saw That…

In most ways, I’m getting fairly accustomed to the differences of lifestyle here in the Philippines, as opposed to my life in Boise.  For the most part, I’m starting to be okay with almost always being sweaty to some degree.  I am also now taking advantage of the moments when I’m caught in endless streams of Manila traffic as times to think, process, and pray.  I’m used to refrigerating every opened package of food, even nuts and uncooked pasta because ants are the real deal here.  And I actually have a rice cooker that I use willingly and regularly, sometimes even for breakfast.

But there are some experiences, some things I see and stories I hear, that I’ll probably never, ever get used to.  I’ll probably always find humor in the garbage men taking naps atop the mountain of trash loaded on the truck as it hauls down the road at 40 mph.  On a more serious note, I probably won’t ever get used to seeing filthy little kids on overpasses, asleep with a Jollibee cup in hand and 20 pesos inside.

During this last outreach trip to Angeles City, I had a conversation in a bar with one of the parents who attended the Parent Vision Trip through Adventure in Missions.  As my Filipina sister and I led our team through the slimy bars on Walking Street, there were multiple times throughout the night where I noticed the momma’s heart of one sweet lady on my team breaking over and over again.  Every time a girl rubbed her scantily clad skin to relieve herself from an overly air-conditioned stage, or teeter in her skyscraper stilettos, I swore this lady nearly jumped out of her seat to clothe her with the shawl on her back.  Every time a customer did something violating to the dancers, I thought I’d see a purse come slamming down on someone’s head.

But I didn’t.  And as we sat on the torn, pleather seats of the last bar we attended that evening, I fell into a conversation with this momma.  She asked me some pretty tough, thought-provoking questions.

How do you see this stuff so often and keep coming back?

How do you handle these experiences and sleep at night?

Truthfully, dwelling on the fact that a highly-paid dancer at one of these bars gets paid $5 for dancing on a stage all night in a bikini and stilettos while men harass and violate her really does make it hard for me to sleep comfortably in my safe bed.  And knowing that she can get forcibly plastered by men buying her drinks, where she receives the commission of a subway sandwich is even harder.  And the truth that someone can buy her for the night for the price of a jacket at the mall simply takes the cake.

How does one handle all the evil that happens on Walking Street?

Well I’ll be the first Jesus-loving, God-fearing, spirit-filled, Christian to say that at first, it makes my image of God look a little dark.  And I am not about to go into a theological debate over why bad things happen to good people because I don’t have that answer yet, and maybe never will.  I still know in the depths of my heart that if the God I love and know is true, then His heart is completely wrecked over His daughters’ oppression.  I don’t have to question His character.

And as we sit on those bar seats that have seen too much evil throughout the decades of Walking Street’s existence, I wonder if what I’m witnessing isn’t an accident.

We are Jesus’ hands and feet, right?  We as Christians, according to 1 Corinthians 12, are actually called the body of Christ.  If the purpose of our lives was to get saved and go to Heaven, then we might as well just die at the altar (sorry that’s a little dark), but I think you hear what I’m trying to convey.  Jesus loves us so much that He not only came to earth to die and save us, but to use His life as a model so that when He returned to the Father’s side, we could partner with Him, and embody the love of Christ as we do Kingdom Work.  In other words, perhaps we are the eyes that see evil, connected to the hands that reach out, connected to the legs that carry out Kingdom endeavors, connected to the head that gives practical gospel and direction (like helping bar girls go to school), which is connected to the heart.  And I mean, The Heart—The Father’s Heart. 

And that heart is so sweet on the broken.  Jesus’ heart is absolutely, 100% for every one of those girls’ chance at living and experiencing true freedom.  But for Jesus’ body to truly be aware of the task at hand, and for us to adopt the Father’s Heart for the broken, sometimes we have to see messed up things.  Sometimes we have to endure sleepless nights for people who hardly ever sleep soundly.  But how wonderful it is, that God chose me, a young, reserved, quirky, brunette, green-eyed, freckled, 20-year-old girl from Idaho to be His partner in doing Kingdom business.  And He is calling you, and you, and you, dear readers, to be His partners as well.

That thought reawakened something in me as I sat next to that mom on that bar seat that night.  I had a new resolve to be more aware of what I see, and decide what I can contribute to the need I perceive around me.  No, I can’t feed every starving kid in Manila, as much as I wish I could.  But I can continue to fight for the 64 girls who call Wipe Every Tear home, and whenever the Lord allows me to see something that pricks my heart, I will fight for them too, even if it’s only 5 pesos in a Jollibee cup.

I am not responsible for what people do with my love, kindness, and generosity.

I am highly responsible for the heart that sits inside my chest, the cultivation of it, and the love, generosity, and kindness that can, should, and will pour out of it.

So I ask: what do you see today that’s broken?  Is it a starving child or an abused neighbor?  Is it the homeless in Manila or the homeless under the bridge near your grocery store?  Is it the trafficked girl or the burned-out, single mother?  Allow yourself to be more broken for the broken.  Adopt the Heart of the Father for your community.  Be very brave, and very kind. 

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead.”

– James 2:14-17