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 my sister’s artwork unraveled me.

One of the most frequent activities we do at Wipe Every Tear is art therapy. It’s not anything official, we just put art supplies on the floor and our sisters express their hearts–the good, bad, and ugly–on the pieces of paper in front of them. Sometimes they create something simple and exquisite, sometimes it’s a watercolor piece that bleeds off the page, and sometimes girls just write. It gets messy, paint splattered everywhere, pencils strewn across the tile, everyone sprawled out, working on their projects.

The other night, a specific painting touched my heart.

Allow me to frame this for a moment.  Lately, I’ve been wrestling with so much shame. I mean, heavy shame, that feels like a crushing cement disc on my chest, stealing my thoughts and joy the longer it sits on me. I know I’m a missionary out here in the Philippines, but man, I struggle. I hurt. I wrestle. I fail. I cry. I sweat. Life isn’t one massive sunrise out here; often it’s a dark night. I’ve realized that there is a deep brokenness in my heart and that I need Jesus more than ever. I just never allowed myself to be stretched enough to recognize the ugly lurking in my heart.

With that said, accepting the Lord’s love and goodness for me has been a real challenge lately. Seems ironic, amidst me constantly reminding the ladies in our care that Jesus has eradicated their sin and shame and that they are no longer chained to their pasts. But when my soul is the sail amidst the tempest, its harder to navigate the way to the Cross.

Yet the love of Jesus has become more real to me here. I can’t even describe it, how much I feel at the true recognition not of just His forgiveness towards me, but how much He truly forgives, each and every day.  This concept of tidal-wave love is equally as overwhelming as my shame–and exponentially more, actually–but it’s weight is sweet and peaceful. Like finally crashing into bed at the end of a long day, no longer obligated to fight off sleep. It just comes, like an inescapable blanket, and washes over.

I sensed the touch of Jesus tonight, as we colored and painted. It was like He pulled the covers over me again, the blankets of his love and grace and mercy.

As we began our evening, one of my sisters started a drawing, barely managing to scribble one figure before she decided she didn’t like the way it looked, and wanted to draw something else. She crumpled the paper, and tossed it aside.

The sister seated to the right of me carefully picked up the page, flattened it out again, and began adding various colors to its center.

I watched as she would pick up her paper and allow each watery droplet of color to run along the crumpled lines, like a stream relocating its course at the first rain after the dry season.  Over and over, she repeated this gesture until every edge was adorned with color.

As she drew to a close with work, she crowned her piece with a red heart, drawn around the summit of paint.

The Lord spoke so deeply to me in that moment.

For all the times I’ve felt like a crumpled, used, discarded piece of paper, He’s picked me up, turned me over, and headed straight to work creating beauty from my plain and simple ugliness.

He doesn’t try too hard to straighten out my edges or cover up my scars. Instead He adds color and creates something out of their unique design. When He’s finished with me, my scars stand out more than they did before, but they constitute my story. They serve as my testimony of God making a masterpiece out of my rough edges and wounds.  My ugliness now has a purpose of letting others know what is waiting for them at the moment of their brokenness: love, patience, care, acceptance, healing, freedom, future, hope.

And the heart. The crowning beauty. The feature that ties this whole piece together and gives it the ultimate meaning.

Jesus’ love is what collects the pieces of my life, the discarded and the ugly, and uses His creative hand to work a miracle out of the chaos. The blood red of the heart reminds me of the only thing that will actually clean me and give me purpose. Only Jesus, only His sacrifice, only His life, can set me free and make me whole.

I truly was shaken (in a fantastic way) by this piece. I told my sister that she truly had allowed the Lord to speak through her artwork, and it was true. The Lord pierced my shame and anxiety that night with a simple, pure depiction of Jesus’ love.

Living here, doing ministry with Wipe Every Tear, and simply developing friendships with my sisters here is such a humbling experience.  I realize I am right alongside them on my own journey of healing and freedom.  Sure, we come from very different and distant corners of the earth, and we have varying sources of our wounds and points where we failed and fell short of God’s glory.  But now we are here, doing life together in the Philippines.  Merely watching the Lord speaking so personally to my sisters is what pierces the hardness in my own heart and conducts an Ezekiel 36:26 heart-transplant.  My stony, calloused heart is becoming clean and supple again by the lives of these women and by the sweet love of Jesus.

What a joy it is to know that God takes the crumpled, discarded, wasted pieces of my life and creates something beautiful.  That’s what He does with all of us.