13 Ways My Life Changed in 2013

This blog has been long abandoned this year....as I have been incredibly busy with so many wonderful things. Phew, God has turned my world upside down and made it into something beyond what I could have hoped for or imagined. Here I sit, in December, having no idea why it feels like New Years was yesterday. Here are 13 reasons that I am a different person than I was on January 1st.

1)I have survived living in my own home for an entire year.
This has been a crazy thing to learn. I have used a hammer, drill, wrenches, pliers, etc more times than I can count. Praise the Lord I had a father that let me tag along and watch him do this stuff. Despite learning how to fix a disposal, switch an outlet and replace a tub faucet thingy- the greatest lesson I learned from owning my own home was to ASK FOR HELP. Humbling.
2)I was able to see a baby being born.
If you have seen this miracle happen, you understand why it changes you. And how you look at every human being. The complete adoration I have when I look at this child is baffling. She has done nothing to please me, yet I am pleased in her existence. That's how Jesus loves us, and how He calls us to love others. Love them just because.
3. Sorry kitties, I am now a DOG person.

Welcome home, Polly Flinn. I picked this mini lady up in the Spring while working. After a crazy (and expensive) ordeal involving her permanently zombie-like eye ball, she is the perfect guard dog, and snuggle partner. She has stolen my heart. Which is good, because she has stolen...and CHEWED....every item in my home lower than four feet off the ground (such as my college graduation Bible.)

4)I have learned the reality that for every hopeless situation, God has an answer.
The picture for this one is solemn. It is from the memorial service of all of those who have lost their lives to the streets in Indianapolis this year. In the midst of hopelessness, we spoke of hope. I have walked right to the very edge of my bottom. To the place where I have thrown my hands up and said "I don't think I have an ounce left to pour out." My coworkers at Outreach, Inc. have walked with me through a year of seeing unbeliveable miracles in the lives of homeless youth, as well as many times of teary prayers where no answer seemed in sight. But God is good. His mercies really are new EVERY MORNING. And I am still in love with my job, and even more in love with Him.
5)I am no longer homesick less.
I am now a Hoosier. There. I said it. Indiana is my *home* now. I miss Pennsylvania so so much, and it will be years until I have the intimacy in friendship that I have with people back home, but this place has grabbed my heart. I am learning to love Indiana, and some days, I even delight in being here. Farmers, basketball, corn and all. Indiana's not too bad.
6)The internal work of discovering "humble confidence" is taking shape. 
Yep. That's a shameless selfie. Ha! But in the sake of being transparent, I wanted to put down a comment about the work God has been doing within my heart. Wounds from past ministry had me living life under the assumption that "if my voice was really heard, it would be bad." God has been healing this deep down to its roots. God has done amazingly amazing work in me, and its ok to say that "I am worth hearing, and what I have to say is pretty awesome." This sounds cliche or like something you would read on a motivational poster, but I am worth hearing. And when I recieve compliments, it isn't arrogant to be thankful. Every compliment adds to the crowns I get to throw at Jesus' feet. Glory Glory! I am ok with gaining those :)
7)I have discovered my undercover farmer.
If God were to tell me "Stop doing urban ministry. Right now." I know what I would do. I would be a farmer. With veggies and herbs and fruit trees. Ohhh, and have I mentioned my chickens? My mind is clear and my heart is joyful when I am out in my yard tending to my 'fields' and gathering eggs. On the third day of creation God said "It is good" twice. And THAT is the day vegetables and plants were created. It makes sense that time in the garden is healing for the soul. Ohhh, but if I were to REALLY become a farmer, I dream of owning cows. Grass fed ones of course :)
8)I know the delight of "one man's trash is another's treasure."
I took the leap this year. Right into a dumpster. Several times actually. It seems there is a whole resource at our disposal we aren't tapping into. I dipped my toe into the world of dumpstering this year and its actually a blast. And free, AND you get free stuff at the end. Just be careful to inspect everything VERY closely.
9)The wanderlust inside of me is bigger than ever!

Before this year I have traveled to far and distant lands (Africa, Asia, Central America, the Middle East) and loved every bit of it. I didn't realize the amazing thing it is to travel within the US. Now that I have seen the west coast, I am more excited than ever to spend time and (less) money exploring the states in years to come! Grand Canyon anyone?
10)I have become a part of the best neighborhood (in the 317 at least)
This neighborhood. It's so fun. My friends are here. The next door neighbor watches out for me. The children chase my chickens around and help in my garden. It's such a blessing to be here! Sure, it's not going to win any awards for "Best Place to Live in the US" any time soon (just wait...that time will come!), but it's home. And I love knowing the people that live around me. There's so great...and there is never a dull moment!
11)Every day I understand how much bigger Jesus is than my attempts to 'fix things'
It is almost laughable when I work so hard at my 'job'. It's always the moments when I am without an answer or 'getting out of the way' on purpose that God shows up and miracles happen. These are the moments when my voice doesn't break the walls down in someone's heart, but the Spirit does it...because really, He's the only one Who can. And I am learning how to shush and watch Him do it daily.
12)I have seen a dream given to me by God made real.
Four years ago, I don't know if I could firmly say "I believe God still gives prophetic words." But even then I heard one. God told me to stop teaching, and that He would give me a job in full time urban ministry. In the states. In faith (and with a considerable amount of fear) I stepped out. It's a beautiful thing to walk in the fulfillment of a delightful dream God has given you. Realized, after four years of frustration...this dream of urban ministry has been a joy each and every day. My God is good, and His love for me is as real as why my alarm goes off every morning and I get up to live out worship to Him. It's a rare gift, and I find delight in the Father Who gave it to me.
13)I am more confident that God is going to do things beyond my wildest dreams.
This year has provided me with reason after reason to know that God is real, He loves me...and He is ready to blow up my life for the kingdom, and for my own joy. I'm so excited to see what 2014 brings!!!


The Day We Spent with the Talibes

If you have been anywhere within earshot of me in the past month, you know that I am in Senegal right now. This place has overtaken so much of my heart it is ridiculous. When I think about this place, the people here, and the things I have seen God do, my heart literally flutters.

As I write this, we are sitting in the hotel Massa Massa ('sorry sorry' in French - I have no idea about the naming) and we have just finished what we call "Talibe Day." Talibe mean 'disciple'. I am without hesitation, a Talibe Yesu, or disciple of Jesus. In Senegal there is a system of sorts in place where Talibe Boys are known as the ones begging on the streets of the city. Their parents live in the villages and cannot afford to care for them, or desire their sons to learn the Koran. So they send their sons at the age of 6 (or younger) to these Koranic schools, where they learn from a Daara. They memorize the Koran in hopes of using it for ceremonial purposes later in life.

The Koranic schools used to be in the villages, where family was near by and eyes of family were always watching and those who interacted with the boys knew them. Unfortunately, in the 1970s when drought and thus famine came, it was no longer sustainable for the Koranic teachers to stay in the villages and maintain their cost of living. So, the Koranic schools moved to the cities. This caused the parents to send their children far away, some over a 12 hour bus ride to live where they could not see them for most of their lifetime. The boys graduate typically at the age of 16 or 17, meaning they do not have contact with their family for over a decade.

The disconnection from family leads to other dilemmas. The boys are not near people that they know and who care for them. This opens up the door for much more exploitation and abuse. Because the parents cannot afford to pay a tuition to the Daara, the boys are sent out to beg on the streets. In a Muslim nation, this also allows those following the five steps of Islam to give alms, satisfying that religious need. This is where they encounter the harsh realities of city street life. Most get hit by cars, many get taken advantage of and a majority get sick.

The greatest and most obvious loss for them is the loss of being seen and cared for. Its an unwritten rule in every major city in the world that when you see someone begging, you turn away. You avoid looking into the eyes of someone that your heart knows you need to respond to, but can't help. If you give money, you are supporting the Talibe system. If you don't and he goes home to his Daara without enough money he gets punished for stealing, or laziness, or disobedience. Sometimes this is harsh, sometimes it is not as bad as a similar punishment would be in the village. But without knowledgeable eyes and people that know and care about the boys, the line is crossed into abuse far too often.

So what is the answer? Simply put. We don't know. What we do know is that when Jesus was on this earth, He didn't solve every social or economic problem. He will, but He hasn't yet. He loved, He looked into people's eyes and gave them respect, dignity and truth. So today we supported that calling for us to do the same.

There is a beautiful woman named Jane Hampton who has run a ministry to the Talibe boys for over 15 years. She pulls resources together to give them a day where they can get vaccinations, a bowl of oatmeal, play soccer, and be loved. While keeping open communication with the Daaras, Jane brings the boys in to her clinics for a day where they can get the shots they need (she keeps track on very simple cardstock using date stampers and handwritten notes) and also be seen, be cared for and loved.

My role has become my favorite over the two experiences I have had with Jane's ministry. It is called 'the triage table' but how I see it is one where I get to look each boy in the eye as I take their weight and temperature. I make them stand on the scale until I see a smile (they think I am just slow at reading weight). I want them to know that I see them, that I am not afraid to look them in the eye and smile. I see how they are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are human, they are image bearers of a God I am madly in love with.

Today was an extra above-and-beyond blessing. The 'street boys' that we saw last year, from only two out of the fifteen schools Jane ministers to were the SAME ONES we saw this year. I know it was only small glimpses into their eyes and momentary smiles when we didn't understand each other's language...but there was a previous relationship. I was able to build on it this year. When the boys walked up to me, they remembered me. The smiles came quicker and the moments were sweeter.

I know this was only one day in their lives out of years full of chaos and confusion. But I truly believe God opened up a door for us to be His hands and feet in a very obvious way to them. Just as He is our refuge and escape from this fallen world we live in, the environment Jane and the team created became that escape for the boys. They were free from the stress of begging for enough money to not be in trouble, and they were able to simply be boys. Even if it was only for a few hours. They escaped the reality of their situations for a brief moment and simply were.

I squealed a little bit every time I realized the handwriting on the cards was mine from last year. It was a special gift from God directly to me. I was building on previous relationships. They were small, they were momentary, but they were beautiful in a simple way. I could not have asked for a better first day of ministry here in Senegal. My heart is overjoyed with the blessing of this day, and the loving sovereignty of my God.

One of the sweet younger boys. 
Even the older boys enjoyed the time with the team.
The CFC team preparing the immunizations. 
 One of the many boys that our team had the wonderful pleasure of seeing for a second time.
The same boy above in 2012. 
 Emily went above and beyond in her service. She did wound care, something most of us shied away from very quickly.