Thursday, November 24, 2011

You are so good to me

I feel like Thanksgiving so easily comes and goes each year without me really taking the time to step back and look at my life through the eyes of total gratitude. I easily get wrapped up in the feast and the family and the football, but sometimes the day will just pass without me ever really sitting in the purpose of it all. Sure, I will send out texts to friends and family about how thankful I am for them. Sure, I may think about how generally thankful I am for my blessings as I wake up to the smells of sweet potatoes and turkey being prepared in the kitchen. And sure, when we pray before the meal, I will think about how thankful I am for the wonderful family God has given me. But rarely do I take any sort of substantial time on this day to really look at how good the Lord has been to me.

This is my first year ever to not be home for Thanksgiving. As hard as it is to be away from my family in Texas, one thing that I decided I would do this year is take some time today to really look at my life and acknowledge the Lord's blessings and mercies...something I wish I did even more throughout the year, but something that I just refuse to overlook today. November 2010 - November 2011 has undoubtedly been the craziest year of my so many ways. It has been a roller coaster beyond what I ever could have expected. And I feel like almost every day, my emotions will end up ranging from excitement to fear to frustration to sadness to peace at some point during the day. But today, I simply choose gratitude.

What am I most thankful for today?
  • Mel and Donna Carter - I didn't get to pick where I was born or what family I was born into. I didn't get to tell God, "8208 Joliet Ave. in Lubbock, TX please". But if He HAD allowed me to choose, I would have picked my mom and dad. It's so cliche, but so true, that the older I get, the more I am just blown away that God would gift me with the parents that He gave me - parents who raised me in the ways of Jesus, who showed me (didn't just tell me) that there is nothing more important than your walk with God, who have loved and supported a daughter whose life probably isn't looking exactly like what they might have imagined, a dad who has always made me feel like a beautiful daughter, a mom who has been so much more than a parent, but has been one of my best friends. Oh gosh, I could write a whole book about my mom and dad...
  • Melissa Carter - I really don't think I could possibly choose another female on the planet that I would rather have as my sister. My sister is different from me on so many levels, but that's what I think makes us perfect for each other. I just feel like everyone needs to know Melissa. She has been a source of laughter, encouragement and inspiration in ways that I know I'll never be able to express.
  • Jesus Family - I don't know if I've ever understood what relationships in Christ were meant to be more than I have through my Jesus Family here in Tennessee. These are my best friends in the world, the people who I can be with and just let down every guard and breathe, the people who make me laugh so hard that I physically hurt, the people who will listen to me and cry with me, who carry my burdens, who push me spiritually and call me out when I'm going the wrong way, the people for whom God has given me a love that I didn't actually know I could even have for other people. Oh, my heart is full when I think of my Jesus family.
  • The Minchew Family - (of course...part of my Jesus family...) I feel like the Minchews truly deserve their own bullet-point here...specifically at this point in my life :) Not only have they forever been my "Tennessee family" and not only are they the ones with whom I'm celebrating Thanksgiving this year, they have also so very graciously allowed me to live in their home during this time of transition in my life. But more than that, they have each individually been a source of so much encouragement and support over the past 6 years of my life, and are truly four of my dearest friends in the world.
  • The family at Harpeth Community Church - God led me to this family of believers almost as soon as I moved here, and these have been the people who have been my source of strength and support through life's post-college journey. I was blessed beyond words with the opportunity to minister to the youth at this church for six years - an experience that changed me forever and brought more joy into my life than I could have ever imagined.
  • My HCC small group - I had a Thanksgiving meal with my small group last week and on my way home, I just couldn't stop thinking about how thankful I was for those people in my life. God has given me friends who aren't just the greatest/funnest people to be around, but who also encourage and challenge me spiritually every week and who have been the most wonderful people to walk this journey with. Greatest friends I could ever hope for.
  • Hilary Boucher and Melanie Sutton - I have been meeting with these two women each week over the past couple of months, two women who have always been dear friends of mine, but who are now becoming partners in the gospel, sources of intense encouragement and inspiration on the darkest days, voices of truth when the lies are attacking, prayer warriors, and people with whom I have shared some of the hardest of tears but also some of the hardest of laughs. Sisters in Christ, just as I feel He desired it to be.
  • Proverbs 19:20 - I am so thankful that the Lord's purpose is always the one that prevails in my life, no matter what plans I may make. If my "plans" had come to fruition in my life, it would look quite different than it does now. But there is not an ounce of doubt in my mind that my life is more full of purpose and passion and joy and fulfillment because the Lord, in His mercy, took the reigns in my life and led me to people and places that I could NEVER have planned for.
  • Romans 8:28 - There has never been a time in my life when I could look back and say that God wasn't faithful in not only working things out, but working things out for my BEST. In some of the most frustrating and hurtful experiences, He was at work shaping me and moving me in a way that now when I look back on those experiences, I actually look at them with joy and thanksgiving. That can't be explained outside of Him. He is forever faithful.
  • Jeremiah 29:11 - As I mentioned, this has been one of the most insane years of my entire life...maybe the most insane one ever. And I will NEVER understand why, but in His grace, God has chosen to form in me a specific passion and has given me a vision for where my life is headed that I just don't deserve. He has been weaving things together and putting people in my path and is truly at work. Although the final picture is beyond unclear, I believe that the path is sure. And for whatever reason, He chooses to use me to work in His Kingdom, to be His hands and feet, to be a vessel of redemption and freedom and truth. This is a blessing that I couldn't feel more unworthy of, but for which I am overwhelmed with thankfulness.
  • Jesus - No words do this one more justice than...
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

"Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his goodness..."
Psalm 103:1-2

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What is in your hand?

On Tuesday night of this week, I went to Kairos, a weekly worship service held at a local church. The teacher this week spoke about the story of the call of Moses (in Exodus 4) when Moses is just trembling in fear and God says to him, "What is that in your hand?". M
oses says, "A staff." And God says, "Throw it on the ground." And when Moses throws his staff on the ground, it becomes a snake and Moses runs away from it in fear. But then God tells him to pick it back up, and when he does, it becomes a staff again. The teacher talked about how the staff represented Moses' work (a shepherd). The action of throwing it down was an act of obedience, but its becoming a snake also shows how our "work" has the ability to destroy us if we allow it. But God tells Moses to pick it up because God was about to use that staff for mighty purposes in the Kingdom. So the teacher asked us on Tuesday night, "What is that in your hand?" He told us to throw it down, and then reach over, and pick it back up. Because when we surrender our "jobs" into God's hand, He can use it for mighty purposes in the Kingdom. The staff looked the same after Moses picked it back up, but it wasn't the same. From then on, God used it even though Moses carried it.

When this teaching was over, I was stunned...because of what I had just experienced that day at my own workplace...

I have been employed for the past 7 years by a company in Franklin, TN that has treated me amazingly well. This company has continually been over-the-top understanding and flexible with me as I tried to balance it with my other job in youth ministry. However, it is no secret that the nature of this job is not my passion nor is it what I want to do for the rest of my life. And although I have been very thankful for this job and for how well I have been treated there, I cannot imagine how many times in the past 7 years I have said, "...but I really don't think I'm going to be there much longer...". And then a year later, I'm left saying, "oh my goodness, I'm still here".

I don't think I would have ever admitted it out loud, but there has always been something deep, deep down in my spirit telling me I wasn't done there. And I didn't even know what that meant. But for years, week in and week out, I have been talking to students about going into their schools and going into their jobs and bringing Jesus into those places, because that is their mission field. The problem was that I could never help but take a step back in my own life and look at my own workplace and ask what I was doing to bring Jesus into that place. I made up every excuse in the world. "Well, it's not a workplace that is conducive to relationship-building." "Well, even if I tried to get something together outside of office hours, no one would come." "Well, my real mission field is in youth ministry; I just have to go to this other place so that I can pay the bills." That last one was always the one that would randomly pop into my head and would produce immediate conviction. So what, I get to pick and choose when I want to shine for Christ? And if I do, I'm choosing to shine for Him when I'm working in my "ministry" job, but not in my "secular" job? Yeah...pretty lame...

This is why there has always been this tension in me, this thing in me saying that for seven years, I haven't really done anything for the Kingdom in that place. Sure I've encouraged people here and there, but I think I have always known that God had something more. And if I had left that job at any point in the past seven years, I think I would always have looked back and regretted not really ever making a mark for God in that place.

One of the things I've always dreamed about was having a women's devo or prayer time. Problem is, I never thought anyone would do it because it would require off-the-clock time...and it's like pulling teeth around there to get anyone to agree to that. So although for years, I've considered doing that, I have never once spoken it out loud to anyone.

So a couple of weeks ago, I am eating lunch with a couple of women from the office and they were just sharing about how hard life is and long-story-short, I end up asking them if they would come to a weekly womens' prayer time/devo if there was one happening at the office. Without hesitation, they said "yes!" (with much anticipation in their tone).

Fast forward a week, and there are five of us meeting about starting this thing. We decided to not make a big thing of it and just spread it via word-of-mouth. I'll be honest, I was worried that if any of the "higher-ups" found out about it, there could be some problems because of the distraction it could cause in the office. So we just told a few women and had no idea if anyone would show this week.

Fast forward to Tuesday of this week, our first "official" meeting, and 15 women show up. I was blown away. It was a really sweet time together and there were already tears flowing from some of their eyes...and we had barely gotten this thing started! Later that afternoon, I found out that one of the women had mentioned that we were doing this to the CEO and co-founder of our organization, and I immediately got nervous. But she said that he was so excited about it and told her that we would always have his support. Again...blown away. I e-mailed him that afternoon and just assured him that this would be completely off company time and also told him how thankful I was that we had his support (and threw in that I was praying God would put it on the hearts of some men to start the same thing...:).

I came in Wednesday morning with over 15 e-mails from other women in the office asking me to add them to the calendar invite for the weekly meeting and also had an e-mail reply back from the CEO:
" actually gave me chills when she told me. Absolutely have 100% support from me. It’s sad that the world forces us to be politically correct so that we would avoid any religious issues in the work place. I really don’t like that. You should also know that along with myself, you all will have the support from the rest of the Executive Team! We will be more intentional here b/c I truly feel that it is what He wants for us and for this company. "
I couldn't help but just stare at my computer screen in amazement. I was getting e-mails from women all day telling me that they have been wanting something like this at the office for a long time, how it was an answer to prayer, how desperate they were for something like this each week. And then at my daily team huddle that morning, one of the women in my team asked if we could start praying at the beginning of our huddles. So there we were, standing up in the middle of the office, praying as a team. It was almost surreal. God is on the move.

The reason I share this story is not, by any means, to give myself even the slightest pat on the back. If anything, this is somewhat of an embarrassing thing to admit, that for seven years, I had made up excuses about why I was spiritually "chained" there and couldn't really do anything for Jesus. And I truly don't one bit deserve to be part of what God is doing in that place right now. It is by His grace alone that I would have the chance to see and join Him as He moves on hearts and lives in that office.

No, the reason I say all of this is to just encourage you, no matter where you are or where you work, to not wait for seven years before you decide to make a mark for the Kingdom in your workplace, in your school, in your community. There are people who are desperate for it, hungry for it. Be bold and courageous. What is your staff? You have one. Throw it down, and then pick it back up, and see what God will do with it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I Had a Dream...

I really don’t dream much. Or if I do, I rarely wake up from them and I rarely remember them. Last night I had possibly the worst dream I’ve ever had in my life. It wasn’t like any other dream I can remember…it was vivid. It felt completely real. And it was really long. So there was never a point in it that I remember thinking, “This is a dream”. It was one of those dreams where when I woke up, I literally rejoiced in my bed upon the realization that it wasn’t real.

To get to my point, I have to share a little about the dream itself. Warning: this may be a tad graphic…sorry. I’ll spare you all the details, but basically I was in a big city and was taken by a gang (after watching them kill my dad) and most of the dream consisted of them taking me to different places and doing awful things to me...awful things…I won’t go into the specifics, but let’s just say that there were multiple times when I was begging them to just kill me.

Anyway, the POINT of me sharing this is that there was one part of the dream where they took me to a church and had me tied up. I can’t remember what they were actually doing to me, but I remember very clearly that there was a church service happening and they had me right in the middle of the sanctuary where everyone was meeting but nobody was paying an ounce of attention to me. I’m tied up and bleeding and crying out to everyone for help, but it was as if I was completely invisible. No one was even looking at me, much less attempting to rescue me.

And it wasn’t until I was describing the dream to some of my friends this morning that it all hit me.

I once heard Christine Caine (of the A21 Campaign) speak about the horrific things that are happening in the world around us today, but we just keep “playing church”. There are horrible things happening to innocent people today on our watch as the Body of Christ. And I would think that if these things were happening right in the middle of our church building, we would do something about them. But since it’s happening outside of our walls and in places where we can’t see them, it is easy for us to turn a blind eye.

I was reminded of our visit to the castle at Elmina in Ghana, West Africa, a few weeks ago. This castle is the biggest and oldest standing slave castle remaining in Africa. After touring the castle and hearing about the horrific acts of injustice that took place within those walls, we were taken to the top of the castle where there was a church. We were told that the church would actually meet there every week while right below them, people were getting raped, beaten, starving to death or dying from sickness because they were laying in their own waste. And the church would be only feet away from these people…just “playing church”.

It’s easy for us to look back on them and think, “How could the church know that this was happening right below them and not do something about it?! How could they just stand there knowing what was happening right under their noses???” But I wonder…what will future generations say about us?

"How could the church just stand by when they knew there were 925 million hungry people in the world? How could the church just stand by when they knew 27 million people in the world were held in slavery? How could the church just stand by with 143 million children living as orphans? How could the church just stand by while 1 million people were trafficked across international borders every year? How could they just keep playing church while they knew those things were happening?"

I am again brought back to what I said in my last post: it is the CHURCH that was not only called, but empowered, to set the captives free, heal the hurting, feed the hungry, BE THE HANDS AND FEET OF JESUS in this hurting and broken world. And it is only the church that has been given the authority to attack the gates of hell. Heaven help us if we choose to simply “play church” and forget the reason we’re on the planet!

So as horrific as that dream was last night, it was like God giving me this tiny little glimpse into what it must be like to be suffering and dying at the hands of another person, while the “hands and feet of Christ” turn a blind eye and just keep playing church. God, give us Your eyes so we can see!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reflections on Ghana

We landed in Nashville at 9:00 this morning, and there was a wide range of emotions going through me. Of course I was excited to sleep in my own bed tonight and was excited to eat a Blue Coast salad for lunch. I was excited to see friends. But more than anything, I still felt a heaviness in my heart, a sadness. I honestly wasn't ready to leave yet.

It may seem a little crazy that I would feel so attached to girls that I only spent 4 and a half days with, but it felt like we were just really starting to feel like sisters with the girls at Sweetwater at the very time we had to leave. As one of my teammates said, it felt like the first day was just getting to know each other; by second day we were feeling a little more comfortable with each other; by the third day we were friends, and by the fourth day we were family. And then we had to leave. I know we barely had time to scratch the surface of these girls' stories, but nevertheless, my heart was just bursting for them. They really dug themselves in deep.

I was thinking today about all that this trip meant to me, and I feel like I'm just barely getting started, but a few things that have come to my mind so far...

First of all, I have been encouraged to see that the teen girls ministry that God has placed so heavily on my heart is one that does, in fact, translate to other cultures. I was skeptically wondering whether or not the InsideOut / Girl Talk ministry would really "work" cross-culturally. And I was amazed by how much it did. As I mentioned on my first blog about the trip, we truly are all cut from the same cloth. Although the outside manifestations of it may look different from culture to culture, we are all struggling with the same lies and the same core questions. Truth is still truth and lies are still lies, whether you are in the U.S. or West Africa or China, for that matter... This was so encouraging to know, because it means that the message of InsideOut / Girl Talk is one that is important for teen girls in every culture and every pocket of the world to hear. And it works, because it is built on the Word of God and empowered by the Spirit of God...both of which stand the test of time and of culture.

Secondly, I learned that at the end of the day, Jesus is truly the only One who change hearts and changes lives. I will admit that coming in, I was also skeptical about the actual effectiveness of a home like Sweetwater house, being managed by Americans but run by Ghanaians. And I just can hardly believe what I discovered. These young girls are coming in with some deep-seated issues and pain and struggles. And after hearing some of their stories, it would be easy to think that there is little hope for them, that it will require more than what a "normal" person can give them to help them work through these issues. I myself have even said that I don't have the letters behind my name to be able to help these girls in the ways that they need.

However, God really opened my eyes this week to the truth that JESUS changes lives. Professional psychologists and counselors and doctors don't change hearts. Jesus does. The Spirit does. I saw this through the lives of the girls at the Sweetwater House. These girls are coming in as broken, abandoned, sad, hopeless little girls and after only being in the home for a year are now vibrant, strong, passionate, FUN, young women who have a heart for the Lord. And this is happening with not one psychologist or professional counselor on staff. There is ZERO explaining it outside of Jesus, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit changing lives.

And WE, the church, have been given this Spirit. We have been given this empowerment. Not the government. Not rehab facilities. But the church itself. Jesus empowered His church to complete the mission of reaching a hurting world. As Nancy Alcorn says in her book Echoes of Mercy: "Just as Christ gave His Great Commission to the church and no one else, He also equipped the church and no one else to carry out His commission. Just as no other institution was appointed to 'heal the brokenhearted,' neither was any other institution equipped for such a healing work. Only the church has both the authority and the power to bring restoration to broken lives."

There is so much HOPE for these young women. I think I had actually doubted and wondered if these girls who had seen and gone through so much would ever actually be okay - if they would ever be whole again. I see so much promise in their eyes. I see dead hearts and dead sp-
irits coming back to life. I see beauty coming from ashes, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. It was such a beautiful thing to see...hope. To remind myself, I bought a wood carving cut in the shape of the Andrinka symbol for HOPE.

Learning all these things has done nothing but intensify the stirring in my heart for teen girls ministry, overseas work, and reaching out to hurting young women, particularly those being rescued from human trafficking. There were innumerable things that happened this past week that encouraged me or that answered questions that I had.

At the end of the day, I just continue to pray that we would seek out that which God has given us a passion and a fire and pursue it with a vengeance. That we would give our lives, our time, our energy over to eternal things, not temporary ones. After this week's experience, I don't know how I'll ever be able to settle for anything less.

I truly cannot wait until Jesus returns and there is no more of this pain and brokenness. No more tears and no more questions. But until that day comes, may we just continue to fight the good fight and keep the faith, so that what Paul said of himself might be true of us: "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day..." (2 Tim 4:2).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

a very tearful farewell

I can't believe this day arrived so quickly. Today was our last day with the Sweetwater Girls. I was already dreading it going in. These girls have completely stolen my heart, and there is no doubt that I will be leaving a piece of it here as we go home.

The past couple of days (since my last post) have been just incredible. God has moved in some powerful ways in the lives of many of the girls. There have been walls breaking down, hearts being pierced, and truth sinking in. At the same time, I have been changed. I have been inspired by these girls' stories. I have been encouraged by their faith. I have been infected with their joy. They have brought me to tears and my side has hurt with laughter. My heart is full. I truly cannot wait until the day that I will see them again, whether here on earth or in heaven.

There is a sweet, sweet girl who was in mine and Monique's small group this week named Florence. I could tell all morning that she was heavy with sadness, so I went up to her and asked what was troubling her. She mentioned something about her head hurting but then said, with tears in her eyes, "When will you be able to come and see us again?" (which was when I realized what the heaviness all morning had been about). It was a heart wrenching question. I told her that I would pray to God to give us the opportunity to come back and see them one day...and I meant it. I assured her that even if we do not see each other again here on earth, there will be a day when we will all be together forever. She smiled in affirmation but could not hold back the tears. It just about ripped my heart out (...not only for her, but also for me). She asked if she could have a picture of me so that she could always remember me...

Me with Sweet Florence
(I told her I would mail it to her...)

This afternoon, we had a very sweet time of washing the girls' feet and praying over each of them. It was just such a blessed time of serving, honoring, blessing, and encouraging our sisters in Christ. There were many...many...tears.

It was heart wrenching saying goodbye to them today. I knew that our team would be very emotional about leaving, but I did not expect all of the tears from the girls. It is incredible the bond that can so quickly form when the relationship is built on Christ and centered on Him. I truly feel as if these girls have been my little sisters for years. It is hard to imagine that I have only known them for 4 days...crazy.

I am sitting here in my hotel room and their faces are just running through my mind. My heart really is heavy already missing them and wondering...hoping...that I will be back here before they graduate in a couple of years. As I told Monique tonight, it is almost unbearable to think about not ever seeing them again ( least this side of heaven...). Oh, what a very blessed and life altering week it has been. A piece of my heart is undoubtedly staying in that little house outside of Accra, Ghana.

Please say a prayer for my sweet sisters - that they would continue to move forward boldly in the Lord, that they would take their stand against the enemy's schemes, that they would find healing from their hurts, freedom from lies, and that God would continue to relentlessly pursue their hearts until they are fully His. Amen.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reflections in Ghana (Days 1-3)

A few short months ago, my friend Monique Zackey invited me to a fundraiser banquet for an organization called Today's Choices. I remember specifically NOT wanting to go to the banquet that cold February night because I had had an awful day and just didn't want to be around people. But for some reason, I really felt God prompting me to go (...and today I can understand why...).

Today's Choices started a ministry called Sweetwater Ministries. A few years ago, they opened a home in Ghana, West Africa, where 24 Ghanaan girls who have been rescued from the streets and other difficult circumstances (some were purchased out of slavery) live for 3 years at a time. At Sweetwater, they are given food, clothes, a bed, education, and most importantly, Jesus. They are taught a trade of their choice (either sewing or hair dressing) so that when they graduate, they have a way to provide for themselves.

At the fundraiser that night, I learned all about this ministry and completely fell in love with it. Fast forward about six months and, only by the grace and the movement of God Himself, here I am in Ghana with a team of eight women (and two men...) bringing a girls' event called Girl Talk to the 24 precious girls at the Sweetwater House. During this time, we are speaking to the girls about their identity in Christ, their purpose in the Kingdom, forgiveness, freedom, and redemption. We play games, do crafts, give gifts, share testimonies and worship Jesus together. It literally is combining two of my greatest passions in life - ministry to young women and international missions....a dream come true, honestly.

Our team! From left to right: Monique Zackery, Dante Williamson, Margaret Callahan, Me, Stefani Johns, Karen Walker, Shayna Hobbs, Pastor Chris Williamson, Alisa Malone, Doris McMillian

I have made a pretty bad mistake in that we are already closing on Day 3 of the trip and I have yet to enter one blog post. It would be completely impossible to try and explain all that has happened in the last 3 days, but I will try and give a couple of the highlights. Suffice it to say, it has already been one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

We met the Sweetwater girls on Sunday after church and I was just not prepared for what I was about to experience. We arrived to a beautiful WELCOME sign and 24 girls standing on the porch. And then it was literally 10 - 15 minutes straight of cheers and claps and laughter and hugs. I couldn't believe the reception. It honestly felt as if we were all just long-lost friends reuniting after years of being apart. They literally stole my heart within 30 seconds...I'm already dreading leaving them at the end of the week.

Meeting the Sweetwater Girls for the first time!

I had the honor of teaching on Monday on the topic of identity. I was SO struck that day by how very similar their struggles with their worth and their identity are to ours. One of my teammates, Shayna, said that when they wrote down some of the lies that they have believed about who they are, she noticed that the young African girl sitting next to her had literally written the exact same three words that she - an American woman - had written down. Our lives may look different from the outside looking in, but the enemy's tactics never change. It's amazing...we truly are all cut from the same cloth.

It was a somewhat surreal experience speaking on a topic that I've spoken on innumerable times in the states, but teaching it this time to 24 young girls in West Africa, many of whom have been abandoned by their families, abused, lived on the streets. It was just such a humbling experience to think that God would use me to communicate this message of truth to these young girls on the other side of the world.

One of the most powerful moments of each day is testimony time. We typically have a couple of the Sweetwater girls share their testimony and then one of the women from our team share theirs. Today, the first Sweetwater girl walked up to give her testimony and none of us were prepared for what was about to happen.

It was a story of much hardship but came to a climax when she said, "You may wonder where my parents are. They are gone." And she started crying....hard....then said, "...and so is my sister". She then continued to share, through many tears, about how blessed she is to live at the Sweetwater House where she has "a bed with sheets" and how God has truly redeemed her life from the pit. She was crying so hard...and so were we.

Tears were flowing from the eyes of many of the Sweetwater girls as well...which is such a rarity in this culture. I have a feeling that they were not only crying for her, but also for themselves and the many aspects of their stories that they likely share in common. It was just this moment when it was as if we all came to this place together where we could just weep with one another over the hardships and difficulties that these young girls have experienced but also about the redemption and the healing that Jesus brings. After sharing her story, this precious girl, through her weeping, timidly started singing My Redeemer Lives. We tried, through our own tears, to join her, but it was difficult to get anything out. It's hard to explain what this moment was like, but it is a moment that I know I will never forget as long as I live.

When I talked to this sweet girl later that day, she told me that she loved that song because it has her favorite word in it - Redeemer.

There are so many things that I wish my friends and loved ones could be experiencing alongside me here - to hear the beautiful voices of these girls in the morning as they worship, to see their eyes light up as they open their gifts, to see their tears flow with one another as they carry each other's burdens, to hear their stories of how they have changed since coming to Sweetwater, to see and hear their indescribable laughter as we play every silly game in the book from Twister to Simon Says.

It's frustrating because I truly think I could fill a book with all of the experiences and all of the stories from the past 3 days. I will try to post at least a couple more times during the trip to keep my friends, family and supporters better informed. I could never begin to adequately thank those of you who have given your prayer, financial, and spiritual support for this trip. Please continue to pray for us as we are here, but more importantly, that God would continue to powerfully move in the lives of these 24 young girls. What a mighty God we serve.

We made purple bandana bracelets to represent the girls' identity as royalty - princesses of the King!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

in every season...

When answering the question, “So how are you doing these days?”, conversation seems to eventually lead me to say, “It’s just been quite a season”. And I’ve noticed other people in my life saying these same words about their own lives – “it’s just a season”.

Of course Scripture tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a season for everything – to laugh, to mourn, to dance, to weep, to search, to give up, etc. But what I’m realizing is that usually when people (present company included) say, “it’s just a season”, that’s usually code for: “I don’t like how life looks right now, and I know that it won’t be like this forever, so I just have to get through this and hope that things will change.”

I write this post for those who find themselves in that place – discontent, frustrated with life, frustrated with God (or maybe outright angry with Him), impatient, fearful – or at the very least, anxious – about the future and the unknown. These are all places where I’ve found myself over the past few months. Everyone’s “seasons” are going to look a little different, but here’s, for example, what my season has been looking like:
  • God called me out of a job that I loved, that I was comfortable in, and in which I had developed innumerable deep relationships. But he called me out of it without giving me a clear picture of what was next. It was the whole Abraham “I’m-not-gonna-show-you-exactly-where-you’re-going-but-I’m-telling-you-to-move” call. This has proven to be really difficult.
  • Over the past few weeks, He has given me these small tastes of what He wants to use me for in the Kingdom and has shown me what makes me come alive, when He is most at work through me, but I haven’t really seen them come together or come to fruition yet. These “small tastes” have done nothing but intensify my desire to be able to spend my time and energy in them while also intensifying my discontent in doing anything less.
  • There is a heaviness in my heart for all the chapters in my life that are closing and the relationships that are forever changing as a result. I am so thankful that He has given me friendships that have turned into “family”, but many of those people are leaving as permanent fixtures in my life.
  • Various circumstances continue to remind me of unrealized desires in my own life as most of my friends are all married and now having children. I am becoming the only one in my “circle” not building a family, and the possibility of this dream never being realized is continually difficult for me to try and accept.
  • I have been blessed with a free home to live in and in all honesty, if I were to hand-pick a family to live with, I couldn’t find one more wonderful than this family. But to be in my late 20’s living in someone else’s home with most of my belongings in storage is another thing that feeds into this dissatisfaction / unsettled feeling during this season.
As I was reflecting on all of these things yesterday, I realized that the common denominator is that my life is just one massive question mark. Nothing is sure. Nothing is settled. Nothing is certain. There are fears and anxieties about the future and the unknown.

This was when God gave me a powerful reminder that it is in this place that I have no choice but to rest in those things that I KNOW are true and are constant: that God is faithful. God is good. God is at work. He will never leave me. He will never forsake me. He will finish the work He has started in me. He has not forgotten me. He is always out for my good. With ever-changing circumstances all around me, with all of the unknowns and all of the questions, I can know that He is still God. He is still on the throne. As one of my favorite songs says:

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship.

I am thankful that in an ocean full of questions and unknowns, there is a rock on which to stand. And at the end of the day, this is all I can rest in. This is what allows me to stand in this season. I have to pray daily for the grace to rest in what I know that I know that I KNOW is true.

God brought back to mind a lesson that he taught me on a trail back in Febuary of this year. I didn’t even realize at the time how desperately I was going to need to understand this lesson over the coming months.

I was walking on a trail at Tims Ford State Park. The first half of the trail was paved and close to the main park road. The second half of the trail, though, was not paved and went down into the forest of trees. There was NO ONE out there.

There were these moments while walking when I would look down ahead of me and couldn’t see a path at all. I would start to worry that once I got up to that point, the trail would just stop and I would have no idea where to go and would be lost in the middle of the woods. It happened a few times. I would look ahead, not see a trail, and start to freak out a little bit inside. But it never failed…once I got up to that part that I was so worried about, there would be a path – it’s just that I couldn’t see it earlier from my vantage point.

Eventually, every time I would look too far ahead and start getting worried, I would literally have to tell myself, “Melanie, stop worrying. There will be a path.” And then I realized that if I would just stop trying to look so far ahead, I wouldn’t even be tempted to worry! So I had to start telling myself, “Just focus on the next step or two ahead of you, enjoy the scenery around you, and there will be a path.”

So God has again brought me back to that place and reminded me to stop trying to look so far down the path, because from my vantage point, I can’t see the whole thing. It’s ridiculous to try to lean on my own, limited understanding. I just need to focus on the step or two in front of me and enjoy the scenery, enjoy the journey, enjoy HIM, and trust that He will make my path straight. And I’m trusting in something much more reliable than a trail in a park; I’m trusting in the Almighty, ever-faithful God.

These are the things that are helping me survive “the season”. And I pray that they might be an encouragement to those of you who find yourself in a season as well. When life is not what you want it to be, is full of questions, or is full of fear, you have to stand on what you know that you know that you know. Trust in He who is same yesterday, today, and forever.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

apart from Me, you can do nothing...

I am sitting in my dorm here at Bluefield College after being blown away ONCE AGAIN by Him…and it’s prompting me to write. The past week-and-a-half has been an amazing experience at Impact Virginia camps. Impact travels around the state of Virginia each summer putting on service camps for junior high and high school students. My good friend, Dana Jorgensen, asked this past spring if I would be willing to speak for a couple of weeks of Impact this summer…and my immediate thought was that he meant I would come and maybe speak at a session or two….nope… I would be the one and only speaker for the camp, so I would be teaching each and every night. This was not something I had ever done before. My “speaking engagements” in the past have been to groups of 20-40 students, most of whom I know personally. This was going to be standing in front of 150 – 200 kids (and adults) who don’t know a thing about me.

That’s when the fears and the lies started sweeping in. I was hit with just about every one in the book:

  • What if they don’t like me? They’ll be stuck with me for a whole week!
  • What if I’m boring and I look out and everyone’s asleep?
  • What if I try to crack jokes and no one laughs?
  • There are so many speakers better than me that could do this.
  • I can’t communicate to a large group in a way that would be inspiring.
  • Why would they ask me?!
  • I’m not equipped enough.
  • I’m not wise enough.
  • I’m going to get on stage and freeze up.

Yeah…and that was only the beginning of them. Lie after lie and fear after fear. I very reluctantly took them to God and He did what He does best and just started squashing those lies and those fears with His truth.

First of all, “you’re worried about what they will think of you?!” That’s when I received a swift kick in the rear with Isaiah 26:8 that says “Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts”. This has nothing to do with Melanie or Melanie’s name. I realized that if those students left camp not remembering my name, but remembering the name of Jesus, that was going to be victory. This was so much bigger than me.

So on to lie #2…”you don’t think you’re equipped or wise enough to do this? You’re right! In and of your own power, you don’t have the ability to do this.” And then, the next kick in the rear: 1 Cor. 1:27 – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

He reminded me that this has everything to do with Him, His power, His name, His glory…and nothing to do with my own. So…I had no excuses left or reasons to say no. I agreed to do this, with a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and anxiety. (Not gonna lie…as I was driving to Virginia a week-and-a-half ago, I actually had a vision pop in my head of me getting on stage and literally freezing up and having to just walk off stage.)

Fast-forward a week and a half and I have just been floored by the way God works. I had to learn a lesson early on in this experience. On the first night of the first week, I had a short session that was mainly just me introducing myself and the theme for the week…it actually went pretty well and I was feeling good about things. I got laughter to my jokes and felt like I received a warm welcome. So going into the second night (which was really our first official teaching session), I was feeling pretty confident. Problem: I was feeling confident in myself.

So I get up to speak the second night and I’m feelin’ good. I think it was a total subconscious thing, because I don’t believe I would have been able to verbalize this to anyone, but I just had this “I-got-this” attitude happening and I think I said a short prayer right before I got on stage, but I was feeling pretty good in and of myself. There was no desperation for God or the Holy Spirit’s work that night.

So the teaching begins that night and I’m telling you…I was NOT feeling it. I felt like nothing was really sinking in, the room felt empty of power, and I just felt like I was talking to a wall. I didn’t experience any of that feeling when you know that He is working and speaking through you. It was discouraging…and it brought me to my knees in my room that night. I would find out (over a week later) that the session that night actually went well and was impactful, but it’s almost as if God would not allow me to experience it. I had gone in with a self-reliant attitude that night, and thankfully God did not allow me to get away with that.

I realized how very foolish it was of me to go in thinking “I got this…”. Did I not remember the

lessons He had taught me coming into this?! This was bigger than me. I was going to need His presence and His power with me every step of the way and in every word that came out of my mouth. God took me to John 15 and reminded me that it was not just a good idea, but it was vital for me to stay connected to the vine, because “APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING”.

Every night since then, I have found time before the worship session to go away by myself and just get on my face before Him, begging and pleading for Him to work and to move and to change hearts and to pour out His Spirit on that room…to do all of the things that I cannot do. And I feel like He’s just been showing off ever since. He has been taking the little scraps that I’ve been offering to Him every night and working in ways that literally cannot be described outside of Him.

It’s honestly been a little difficult accepting the words of encouragement and the praise and the thanks from the people at the camps – the “what-you-said-really-impacted-me” type statements – because every part of me just wants to grab these people by the shoulders and be like, “I’m telling you. The words may have come out of my mouth, but I have NO power in and of myself. Those words were HIS to YOU and that was the Spirit of GOD impacting you and inspiring you and changing you.” The reality is that I can’t exactly do that to everyone who comes up to me, because I think I would start freaking everyone out around here. But I just want to shout from the rooftops that I cannot do anything outside of Him…I am literally nothing in my own power.

Last week, there was a man (a grown man, mind you…not a student) who came up to me late Tuesday night (long after the worship session) and handed me a two-page document and asked me to read it and give me his thoughts. He said he hadn’t written anything in probably 10 years, but was inspired to write, because God had moved in him that night. It was his testimony – a testimony that ended with “tonight, sitting on the back row and listening to Melanie speak, I realized what my purpose was…” I could do nothing in that moment but just fall on my face and praise Jesus. He ended up sharing his testimony with the whole camp later that week.

Now we’re at a new location and last night after the worship session, one of the older students here asked if he could share his testimony at some point. So this morning, he got up in front of the 200 students and adults and shared about how his mother had died last year from cancer and how He had run away from God, but this spring, God brought Him back. He then said that “It was last night, listening to you speak (pointing at me) that I realized why I’m here and what my purpose is…” And I could do nothing but just utter with my lips, “Praise Christ”.

This is not the stuff that can be manufactured by man. I do not have the ability to change hearts. I don’t even have the ability to change my own heart! God. God alone. He alone can change hearts. He alone can take lives and turn them around.

It’s crazy, because the more I am seeing Him move and the more fruit I am witnessing, the more desperate I am for Him. It’s another one of those amazing paradoxes. He fully satisfies the thirsty, but always leaves them thirsty for more. I am so thankful that He brought me to my knees last Monday night, reminding me that I am nothing and can do nothing apart from Him. It makes me wonder why I don’t go into every single day with this desperation for Him to move. I wonder how much more we would all experience of Him and how much of a difference He would make in our worlds through us if we chose to walk in His power every single day. I wonder…

At the end of our days and at the end of our lives, may there be nothing left to say, but “Praise Christ”!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

find the darkness

This weekend I attended the Trafficking in America Conference in Nashville. I hardly know where to begin.

Human trafficking is, by definition, "the commercial exchange and exploitation of humans including forced prostitution and pornography, involuntary labor, servitude and debt bondage". Ever since I heard about the issue of human trafficking a few years ago, God has just been breaking my heart over the issue and has continued to stir that passion more and more over the years. Granted, there are a million issues and injustices in the world over which my heart breaks, but there is nothing like this one to me. The fact that there are young girls and boys (as well as adults) who are literally being held as slaves for the sole purpose of giving their bodies away day and night is one of the most horrific tragedies that I can imagine.

We received an insane number of statistics this weekend, but here are some of the ones that stood out the most to me:
  • There are approximately 300,000 trafficking victims today in the U.S. ...yes...right here (and if there are 300,000 victims used 30-40 times a day, how many men are participating in buying women and children? Do the math...)
  • There are only 50 beds in safe-houses for these 300,000 victims. (My good friend and I have been continually praying about the possibility of opening a home for victims in the states...this fact just encouraged/inspired us even more)
  • Every minute, two children are forced into sex trafficking. That means that in one full day, 2,880 children have been forced into this horrific world (if I did my math right....)
  • Sex-trafficked children are raped 8-30 times per day
  • There is $32 billion in total yearly profits in human trafficking
  • "Pimping" is an art...good grief, it blew me away. These people are highly skilled at what they do (and are actually able to share their skills through various pimping books and conferences held nationwide).
  • The average cost to "de-virginize" an 8-9 year old is $50K (the younger they are, the more expensive they are)
  • The vast majority of prostituted children in America are American girls (most people think that the majority are girls from other countries that are shipped to the states)
  • For you Tennesseans, 78 out of the 95 counties in TN have had some form of human trafficking in the last two years
But.....statistics are faceless. They are numbing. And as Christine Caine (founder of the A21 Campaign) says, "A statistic is just a number until you meet the one."

Well we got to meet a few of those "ones" this weekend. There were a few trafficking survivors who shared their stories at the conference, and it was these women who inspired us to hope and to action. The problem is massive and overwhelming. You can feel defeated before you even start. But if it weren't for the brave men and women who decided to move on this issue, take a stand for justice, and be an agent of healing and hope, I wonder if any of those survivors would have the incredible stories that they have. They were once caught in some of the most horrific stories of abuse, terror, darkness and despair and are now thriving, full of hope, educated and married with their own families.

All I could hear in my head while I was listening to their stories was:

Into the darkness you shine, out of the ashes we rise.
There's no one like You, none like You
Our God is greater, Our God is stronger,
God you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer, awesome in power.
And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

(I don't care how tired of that song you might be...those lyrics kick some serious tail)

I feel like I'm going to be digesting things from this weekend for days and weeks to come. We were able to meet many people involved in fighting this problem as well as restoring its victims, and we now have a list of people just in the Nashville area with whom we will be meeting in the weeks to come to learn, dialogue, and possibly collaborate with.

So...I write this post for two reasons:
  1. I just want to continue to be part of raising awareness of this horrific issue in the world.
  2. I want to challenge you to ask God to break your heart for what breaks His. As I said earlier, there are countless ways that our enemy is attacking in this world. By no means do I expect people to be passionate about this issue. But I pray that God would give you eyes to see the broken and the hurting and give you a fire in your gut about something out there, whether it be a heart for the sick, the addict, the poverty-stricken, the broken family, fill-in-the-blank.
I once heard Christine Caine tell this story of when she and her son go out and buy a flashlight and in his excitement in the checkout line at Walmart, he asks, "Mommy, can we go out and find some darkness?" The kid's got it right! As followers of Christ, we are here to bring His light into this dark and hurting world. And until we get that, I fear that we lose our purpose.

I continue to believe that God is calling me to move in this issue. I still don't know for sure what that specifically means, but there was this amazing feeling as we left the conference that we were like an army - a united front - just ready to go out to pierce the darkness in the name of Jesus. I love the unity that happens when the people of God join together in His name to fight. And if our God is with us, then what can stand against! Let's go find some darkness...

We watched this video at the conference (yes, a tad cheesy but still...powerful message...)

For more information regarding sex trafficking (and to find out how you can get involved), check out these sites:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

be still

Okay so first of all, to my blogging friends, don't even try to figure out my blogging patterns, because even I can't figure them out. It's like once every few months, I just feel a blog coming on, so...I write! But I can't figure out the method to my journalistic madness..either way, here goes...

It's close to impossible to explain what the last few weeks have been like. In November of last year, I knew that I knew that I knew that God was calling me onto a new path. I wasn't burned out on youth ministry by any means, but I knew that God was prompting me (very strongly) to move on some things that He had been stirring in me for years. I'm going through the "A Call To Die" Bible study right now and today's study talked about how a real walk with God is an adventure because He "lets us get into patterns that give us some stability, but as soon as we are established, he leads us in a new direction to new experiences of enjoying him and letting him use us." Amen to that, David Nasser.

I served as the assistant youth minister at Harpeth Community Church for six school years. The youth at HCC are true close as blood brothers/sisters. Honestly, I feel like they might as well be my own children. I have gone through every level of experience with many of them. I have cried with them (and for them), laughed until I couldn't breathe, hurt for them, tried to protect them, been overwhelmed with pride over them, wanted Jesus so badly for them, and have loved them in a way that I truly - TRULY - never knew was possible. They made my heart so full.

That being said, this has likely been one of the hands-down hardest things I've ever done. Thing is, I knew it was going to be hard. I was trying to prepare myself for it...thinking that might make it easier. But it was harder than I even thought it was going to be. It's amazing how those kids and that ministry have become such a massive part of me. It was as if (and I know this sounds a little dramatic but it is, nevertheless, true) there was this part of me that was actually dying.

This leads me to my point (...yes, I'm getting there). I have realized over the past few weeks how, no matter how many times I teach and preach on this topic, I tend to place my identity and my worth in what I do and in what people think about me. To some extent, I don't know how this can totally be avoided. But for how many times I have tried to drill this idea into the heads and hearts of the teen girls with whom I've worked, you'd think I would have this thing conquered! (I know....funny)

I realized that I've been in this youth ministry for six years and I started to wonder if I even was going to know myself outside of ministry. My identity had become "youth minister", "big sister", "mentor", the "go-to girl for problems"....I was used to being needed and valued and sought out...and now, that identity was about to be stripped. Thankfully, I anticipated this identity crisis coming, and I'm thankful that God gave me the heads up on it; otherwise, I might be having a real freak-out right about now.

I took the "Strengths Finder" test a few months ago and it told me that my #1 strength was "Achiever"...which was totally - and somewhat annoyingly - not a surprise to me. I'm one of those people that always has to be doing and achieving and performing. Yes, this can be a strength. And yes, I have to constantly keep it in check lest it become a big problem. One of the problems that can result from this "need to achieve" is that my identity and my worth tend to be tied to my achievements. Therefore, if I'm not achieving, my sense of worth begins to drop. (Side note: A dear friend of mine, Monique Zackery, wrote an awesome post on this very topic...check it out here)

Problem is, I do not know what is next for me. I have some ideas, some dreams, a little direction, but I don't know specifically where I will be or what I will be doing one year - or even 6 months - from now. This is hard for me. Because one season has ended, but it's like the next one hasn't begun yet. And this "achiever" really needs to be "achieving", so it's driving me crazy to not have the next thing in my life ready and waiting on me to perform!

BUT...I believe and I know that God has been telling me, "not yet". It's the weirdest thing. I so rarely feel like I'm hearing super specific things from Him, but this one is so specific and clear. He wants me to wait. He wants me to be still. He wants this "achiever" to stop achieving for a little while. He wants to remind me of who I am - not because of anything I can do - but because of who He is and what He has created in me. He wants to remind me of the greatest gain - HIM. Nothing I do or achieve, no ministry, no external (or even internal) blessing, no relationship, nothing is of more infinite worth than Him. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you."

So I feel like He's just inviting me into this season where it just gets to be me and Him. A season to be rejuvenated and reminded of the One necessary thing in my life. A season of preparation. I don't know what's next but I do believe that whatever is coming is way, way "bigger" than me. So I think He knows that this season of being still and of allowing Him to pour into my heart and my soul is absolutely vital for whatever is next.

I'm excited. I'm so looking forward to putting aside my "Martha" tendencies and be a "Mary" - to just sit at His feet. The "achiever" in me may be wrestling with this season (however long it will be...), but the Spirit in me is saying, "No, this is good. This is necessary. This will be LIFE giving. Treasure this season. Be still and know..."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

catchin' up!

It's pretty amazing to me that it's been well over a year since I last posted an entry on here...I don't know what happened. Many of my blogging friends stopped blogging and all of a sudden, it lost some of its energy for me. Goodness knows I've had PLENTY to blog about!

So I guess it's time to catch up on the past year and a half of my life....

God has been doing some C-R-A-Z-Y stuff in my life over the past few months. And it has sent me from excitement to frustration to peace to anger to joy to confusion to fear. It has been probably the craziest roller coaster of a season I've ever experienced before in my life. And when my life feels like it's all over the place and I can seem to wrap my mind around what is happening, I here is what I wrote about what God has been doing lately...and it starts about six years ago...


In the fall of 2005, I was hired on as the female youth minister at Harpeth Community Church. One of the passions that God really began to stir and develop in my life was for the teen girls to whom I was ministering. Over the first couple of years, I started learning something very important: at the heart of every issue and every struggle that these girls were dealing with was the same core problem. They did not have a clear sense of their worth and their identity in Jesus. It always went back to that. So I began to really pour into the girls with that very thing at the forefront of my mind. In 2007, I started writing a Bible Study for teen girls that was all about speaking to this “core problem”.

In October 2008, I met Jenna Monforte who lives outside of Atlanta, GA. Jenna and I hit it off like none other and quickly realized that our hearts were totally in tune with one another on so many levels. In January 2009, she asked if I would like to come down to help with a teen girls event she was putting together called InsideOut. I led a small group and also spoke at one of the main sessions at the event. I will never forget that first InsideOut weekend. There was this thing in me that just came so alive around that event, something that went crazy in my spirit! The weekend was truly amazing and Jenna and I started dreaming of what it might look like if we “packaged” the event and took it to other communities and other churches. We knew that God had given us a fire and a passion for reaching young women and speaking truth into their lives. I started praying like crazy that He would put other women in our lives who not only shared the vision, but were willing to invest their lives into it.

Simultaneously, God had really been breaking my heart for what was happening outside my little world. I particularly was broken over the issue of human trafficking. There were few things that broke my heart more than the thought of children and girls and women being traded and used as sex slaves. He also started to develop in me a real passion for the nations and a desire to be involved in missions and reaching those who were not being reached around the world. I spent a month in Uganda, Africa in November 2009 and my experience there only intensified that stirring.

We had over 80 girls attend the first Franklin InsideOut in January 2010, and the girls really seemed to love and get a lot out of the weekend. We did another InsideOut in February 2010 in Georgia, but with the busy-ness of our own respective ministries, Jenna and I were not really able to explore the possibilities of doing more with InsideOut. However, I think there’s still always been something in mine and Jenna’s hearts that have never stopped dreaming about that possibility.

In early summer 2010, I met a girl named Ashley Morales while doing some volunteer flood relief in East Nashville. Ashley worked with teenagers through YoungLife, and she told me she had been dreaming about putting together a teen girls weekend event that she could take to Hispanic communities. Her heart behind the vision was everything that we had envisioned for InsideOut, and we had the same heart-to-heart connection that I had with Jenna when I first met her. We exchanged info, talked about getting together, but never actually did.

Also, in the summer of 2010, I was invited by my friend Melanie to a girls event in Franklin called Girl Talk. I was amazed to find that Girl Talk was almost a spitting image of what we did with InsideOut. It also re-ignited that passion in me for InsideOut and all that we had dreamed for it.

The emcee for Girl Talk was Hetti-Marie Barroll. She was incredible, and I thought of how awesome it would be for her to be part of InsideOut that year, but honestly thought there was probably no way that I could get her. A week or so later, I was at my office job and got a text from some of my junior high girls. They said, “Do you remember Hetti-Marie from Believe? She is here at Harpeth with her kids for the summer movie day and she said she would come and do something for us any time we wanted it!” I could hardly believe it. It was like God was saying, “You want her? You got her!” So of course I told them to get her info, and when I got to the church office later that day, there was a note written on a napkin from Hetti-Marie with her phone number and e-mail, saying that she would be willing to come “talk to the girls” anytime.

In early fall, I spoke at an event at Franklin Christian Academy where they split up the guys and the girls. I soon found out that the other speaker coming was Monique Zackery, the founder of the Girl Talk event I had gone to in the spring! I got to meet Monique and we talked about getting together, but weren’t ever really able to connect.

In October 2010, I was at the Catalyst conference in Atlanta, and during a prayer after one specific session, I unexpectedly started feeling that can’t-breathe-heart-pounding-out-of-your-chest kind of feeling and I truly believe that God said to me “it’s time.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I sensed that He was saying it was time to MOVE on the things He had been stirring in my heart for the past couple of years. I knew that my life was about to take a massive turn.

I spent a few weeks praying and fasting and continued to be confirmed that God was calling me into a new season. I researched organizations that were working with sex trafficking victims and also started talking with Shawn and Linda Tyler, who have been leading a mission team in East Africa for almost 30 years. After much prayer and thought (and realizing that at some point, I was going to need to make a decision and move forward), in November 2010, I made the decision to move forward in working with the team in Mbale, Uganda.

There was definitely a part of me that started immediately mourning what I was going to be sacrificing by going. I realized that my dreams for InsideOut were going to have to be laid on the altar before God. I knew that I would be able to minister to the young girls in Uganda, but it wasn’t going to look the same. This was an extremely hard thing for me to lay down, but I knew I was going to have to.

Meanwhile, 2011 was approaching and plans were underway for what I believed was going to be my last InsideOut in Franklin. Hettie-Marie and I met for lunch on Oct. 19, and during the middle of our lunch, the door to the restaurant opened, and Monique Zackery walks in! She saw us, came over, and said “HEY, how do you guys know each other?!” Little did I know that Monique and Hetti-Marie were good friends!

Re-connecting with Monique that day reminded us about getting together, so on November 12, Monique and I met for lunch. We talked for almost three full hours and it was incredible to talk with someone who shares the same vision, same passion, and same heart. All of a sudden, I started realizing, “Wait, women like Ashley, Hetti-Marie, and Monique are who I have been PRAYING for two years to meet!” Monique shared her heart with me not only for teen girls but also her heart for the issue of human trafficking. I told her that I had also forever had a brokenness in my heart for that very issue. We also started planning on her (and her husband) speaking at InsideOut.

InsideOut Franklin quickly arrived and I was so excited about having Monique and Hetti-Marie involved in the event. We had about 60 girls come, and it was an amazing weekend. And after hearing some of the things the girls had to say hours (and days) after the event ended, it was obvious that GOD HAD MOVED and hearts had been changed. There were innumerable moments throughout the weekend where I felt that “jump in my spirit”, where I just felt like I was right in the middle of the zone of what I was created to do. I felt like I was experiencing God’s pleasure, and there’s nothing – NOTHING – like that.

In February, I spoke at a women’s event at the church, and even that morning with a demographic I didn’t typically speak to, I got that same “jump in my spirit”. After the event that morning, three women came up to me and said, “We have no idea why we’re coming to tell you this, but God has been laying so heavily on our hearts the idea of putting together a weekend event for women.” One of them said, “We know you’re leaving so there’s really no way for you to be involved in this, but for some reason, God was just telling me while you were speaking that we should come tell you.”

That was the final straw for me. There had been innumerable things happening over the previous weeks, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. God was quite obviously trying to get my attention, so I just had to call a “time out” on everything. Why would these doors start opening for me NOW? Was this Satan trying to pull me away from what God was calling me to? Was God just waiting for me to fully surrender those things to Him so He could work and bless them? I was thrown for a total loop and had no idea what to do. I talked to a few very wise people in my life and they all agreed that the way things had been unfolding over the past few weeks were quite notable and encouraged me to explore them and be open to God steering me in a direction that I maybe hadn’t expected.

I immediately contacted Monique to see if she could get together. So on February 11, we met and I told her everything that had been going on. I asked if she had ever dreamed about Girl Talk being more than what it is right now. And I had no idea what was coming next.

Monique said she had actually been praying for months about what was next for this ministry. She told me about overseas teams in Ghana, Sudan, and the Ukraine who have been asking her to bring Girl Talk to them. She said she dreamed of taking Girl Talk to other communities in the states and using it to minister to girls who had been pulled out of sex trafficking.

Monique told me that a few weeks ago, a friend of theirs from New York had contacted her and told her about this girl that she needed to meet named Ashley Morales. And my jaw dropped. I said, “Ashley Morales that lives in Nashville?” I just couldn’t believe it. I told her that I had randomly met Ashley that previous summer working flood relief! It was getting pretty impossible to believe that all of our connections with one another were coincidental. Monique said that after meeting with her, she started thinking about how much better it would be for them to link arms and do this girls ministry together as opposed to building two separate ministries!

She had already been meeting with some consultants about the possibility of having a non-profit umbrella that would encompass Girl Talk, potentially Ashley’s Hispanic ministry, and then other things as well – including missions (taking Girl Talk overseas) and even the possibility of opening a home in the states for young women being brought out of sex trafficking.

Monique also mentioned that a publishing company in the potential that might have the potential for being a “backer” for this. She said that she had thought about putting together teen girls curriculum, including a Bible study that the girls could do with leaders from their church after the event. Once again, I could hardly believe my ears. I told Monique that three years ago, I started writing a Bible study for teen girls. It was just one thing after another.

I told Monique that I had come to this point where I felt like God was asking me to lay down those things that I had dreamed about. There is a “yes” in my heart for teen girls, a “yes” in my heart for teaching, a “yes” in my heart for music and worship, a “yes” in my heart for missions, and a “yes” in my heart for those who are victims of sex trafficking. She said she didn’t believe that God gives anyone multiple passions and gifts just to make them choose one. There is no reason that God can’t take every one of those things and weave them together in something that will allow me to say “yes” to every last one. He is orderly. He is creative.

The calling in my heart that I received in October to “go” was real. But looking back, what I clearly believed I’d heard God say at that moment was: “It’s time to move on the things that I’ve been stirring in your heart for years.” I automatically assumed that meant I was moving overseas. But is it possible that maybe I just wasn’t clearly seeing exactly what that calling was going to look like? Proverbs says that men will plan their lives, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. I feel like the call to “go” and to “move” were very real, but I believe that God is steering me in a direction that I completely did not expect and was certainly not seeking out.

I don’t know for sure what to do with all of this. But I know this: when God seems to be moving and orchestrating and stirring passions and weaving people into each other’s lives, it’s hard to imagine walking away from that! Not when you KNOW that it is those very things that make your spirit come alive. That is something that cannot be ignored and cannot be cast aside.

For a few weeks now, I have been continuing to pray and ponder, asking God to throw a boulder down on this thing if this is not His BEST for me. But there have just been continual confirmations in my spirit that I must pursue the things that God seems to be weaving together in front of me. I have no idea what this looks like a year or even 6 months from now, but it seems almost foolish for me to see God moving so evidently and not follow. So that is where I find myself. And who knows…it may be that two years from now, I will find myself living in Uganda doing the very thing I had originally thought. At the end of the day, I just want to be living and serving in the place where I can be MOST effective for the Kingdom in using what He has given me to its fullest extent. And so the journey continues…