Veloma.

Man, this post has been a long time coming and I have just been putting it off. Tried writing one and it didn’t sit right, so here I am, twenty-four hours before I board a plane bound for the States trying to pull words together for my final blog post in Madagascar.
I hate goodbyes. They make my throat hurt and I tend to cry when I don’t want to, completely lacking the mental ability to formulate the words that I want to say in that moment as I leave people I love. I remember this story my parents always tell me about a breakdown I had when I was about four years old. My entire family went to the SeaTac airport to see my grandparents off after a two week visit. We hugged them goodbye and they boarded the plane, leaving the five of us lined up on those uncomfy leathery seats facing the window, just staring at those little men in orange uniforms carting luggage around. The wheels of the giant aircraft started to roll backwards, so I got up and went to the window, hands pressed against the glass. Then I did it. I bawled. Howled actually. It didn’t take long before my dad had joined me at the window and tears leaked out of his eyes. Along came my sister and then my momma. We all stood there, bawling our eyes out.
It would be highly inappropriate for me to cry obnoxiously in the middle of the Ivato airport, but I wish I could. I might try to stifle the howl with some tissues. Yes, there are so many things I will miss, but mainly my heart is breaking over people. I want to mention all of them individually and list out for you what I adore in every single one of them.. But they are getting letters from me and I can ramble on in those. God surrounded me with glorious, broken, growing people. I am forever grateful. They are irreplaceable and hold a spot in my heart that others wont ever be able to occupy. You just cant take their spot. I have contemplated the distance that will be between us, the lack of hugs and honest chats and the removal of my presence from Mada. It’s terrifying and I feel my heart seize a little bit. I am leaving and no one is traveling back with me. I am leaving and I might never see them again. I am leaving and am headed back to America, a world superpower after living in a third world country for nine months. My mind hasn’t stopped for days. It just keeps racing. I’m not sure what about, but all I know is that it just goes and goes. So I decided to give it all up. I handed over everything to hands much bigger than mine. I entrusted my friends to God and asked that He hold them in grace so deep that they never leave. I released my fears of being forgotten and replaced and reached a realization that life will move on without me and that’s great. God fills in the gaps. I chose to trust God with my future and believe that He is already there. From poverty to riches, He is still God and He still works in both contexts.
I wrote in my very first blog post last September that though I have no idea what the future holds, I know God will meet me, for that is who He is. That still rings true.

Pray for me tomorrow, as I leave this little African island and reconnect with that inner four year old that is sure to come out as I say my goodbyes.

See you all stateside.

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Home.

I miss evergreens, cross walks, and the smell of coffee shops. I miss comfy couches. The ones they sell here make my butt go numb in about thirty minutes. Scratch that, it only takes about ten minutes.. I miss American sports. Gosh, do I miss them. I miss rules of the road. There is something comforting and reassuring about knowing that where there are lines you stay within them, where there is a speed limit you abide by it. It makes me feel like I might live a little longer. Of course there are the people too… Probably the biggest contributing factor to any missing that occurs in my heart. The smallest of details will remind me of people almost instantaneously. A hug from a woman who is older than me will remind me of my momma and how good her hugs are. Or if I try to make a smoothie, I wish she was making it for me. Mine always end up chunky. The man down the street who came to help fix the toilet reminded me of my dad, from the bald head down to the camo shorts. Harry Potter marathons, worship at church, Dutch Blitz (Nertz), letters, songs that come on the radio, laughter, pinecones in Mantasoa, Bible verses, excursions like quading or canoeing or playing soccer, mangoes, star gazing, etc. I am constantly reminded of my people.

But here is the flipside. Somewhere in the seven months that I have spent teaching, catching buses, learning to bargain and mainly getting ripped off. Somewhere in between the people coming and going, in between the missing old friends and making new friends, I began to LIVE in Madagascar. It is home now. I love this place. My heart gets this strange ache in it when I think about driving that road toward Ivato and dragging my bags on a plane. Lately my eyes have taken a little extra moment to drink in the sights that are now familiar. And my heart is so content. The sunsets and sunrises, the fruit stands, watching Aina translate, seeing Malala wave to me from her grandparents shop across the street, dodging dogs and chicken and men and vehicles in order to visit my friends down the street, rice, trips to the post office, teaching and watching my students actually learn and absorb and enjoy the lessons. My other short term friends from all around the world. I love them. The Petrellis and the way they have pretty much adopted me. “Hattie, do you have solar protection (sunscreen).. I have to be your Mada mom!” -Valeska. I could go on.
I love Mada and the people here. I love my places and people in the States too. Both are my home.

Here are some recent pics from this past month..

Holding my friend Rova's sweet little guy.

Holding my friend Rova’s sweet little guy.

AIM Short Termers at our retreat late March.

AIM Short Termers at our retreat late March.

Love these guys.

Love these guys.

Malala and her grandpa.

Malala and her grandpa.

My  Malagasy family. Aina, Mr. Hery and Fugain.

My Malagasy family. Aina, Mr. Hery and Fugain.

Broken People.

“Momma knows best.” That is so the truth. From the time I was six and would have emotional breakdowns, my mom would patiently say, “Honey, its time for a nap.” I would be so mad at her for not taking all my tears and “legitimate” concerns to heart.. But as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out. She knew what I needed. Since living in Africa, I have skyped and messaged my momma pretty consistently. Wise advice was always what I found. A couple of weeks ago, I got ahold of her and asked to talk.

You see, I had reached a breaking point that I had never hit before.  I was starting to despair about humanity. I know how that sounds, dramatic and pessimistic. But that was honestly where I was at. New depths to my own heart had been exposed. It was as if each week brought a new flaw to my attention. Perhaps it was gluttony one week as I ate my weight in chocolate to escape, then fear of failure as I pondered my ability to effectively teach the next week, discontentment as homesickness flooded my heart several days later. Living overseas for a significant amount of time and continually adjusting is like standing in front of a mirror, all day, every day. There is no escape, no way to outrun your fears or hide who you are. It is all out on display. Not only are you more conscious of your weakness but you see everyone else’s with more clarity and you better believe they see yours.
It was as if it all seemed to bombard my heart at once. All that I had seen in others and in myself weighed heavily. Dysfunction, bitterness, pride and the stench of self-righteousness, blindness, emotional scars, pain, compromise, apathy, despair.. Heart wrenching poverty, abuse, corrupt morals, consumerism and excessiveness.
I broke down.

I wondered “Is it worth it to continue putting myself out there? Is it worth it to love when pain is inevitable? We are all cracked and broken and when I see the edges with such clarity I grow afraid of ways I might get cut or cut others. Can we change?”
I was there.  I feel guilt and shame to even admit that, but its the truth.

“Mom, have you been there?” “Yes, hun. Many times. ” My mom proceeded to tell me about the times when she wondered whether it was worth it and if she would ever see change in people.. “But Hattie, you don’t know what God knows. You don’t see what He sees. He doesn’t just see our flaws or the place where we currently are. He sees us as we are and where He wants to take us, how He will change us.” We talked and cried together for about 2 hours.

I am cracked, most definitely. Broken, most assuredly. Flawed, to the very core. So are the people around me. But, there is a Man who I have come to treasure that has taught me something so utterly valuable about humanity and love. Love involves pain. Love is not blind, despite what people say. Infatuation most certainly is. But love sees the scars and the sharp edges that are sure to cut. It sees the cracks that run deep, the pitfalls and it CHOOSES to place itself in the path of pain for the sake of loving. Jesus saw the ways we would hurt Him, trample Him and trade Him in, but He laid it all on the line.

“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19

336Hr Solo.

I got a letter a couple months ago from a dear friend who is currently going to a small Bible college out in the boonies of Montana. He had written the letter the day after he returned from a 48hr period of solitude in the wilderness, spent in fasting, prayer, Bible reading and simply being in the presence of God. Back in November when I was reading it, his words struck me as odd. “..It did not go as I had pictured. Not even close. I pictured a very peaceful and pleasant time with my Father but it turned out to be a very revealing, testing and breaking time before a Holy God with nowhere to run.. (the days) ended with me sick with myself and pleading with the Lord.” The word “breaking” especially caught my attention. You are in the middle of one of the most glorious mountain ranges a person can find themselves in, surrounded by the presence of God Almighty and He chooses to break you? Not inspire, not refresh, not comfort, but break?

It wasn’t long before I learned exactly the weight of meaning held within those words. The past month, my roommates left for their home countries and I found myself in a place of solitude. Granted, two weeks were spent on vacation with a wonderful Brazilian missionary family who work alongside me here in Madagascar through AIM, but the other two weeks I spent very little time outside of my house. Other than assisting my Short Term Coordinator, I had the mornings and evenings to myself. At the start of the two weeks I found myself filling my time; a little facebook here and there, a few skypes with friends, some reading, cooking sessions with music blaring through the halls of my empty house. But I grew tired. I was tired of seeing life back home confined to my computer screen. I was tired of cooking meals only to eat them by myself. My ears grew tired of the music and the noise.
I must say – the practice of true solitude is one of the healthiest practices a person can commit themselves to. When you take a little time to slow down and tune out the noise, and you aren’t so concerned in updating a status or searching desperately for yet another way to be entertained or fulfill this or that person’s obligations, a space is emptied. A space for the often quiet, whispers of God.
I went on a 336hr solo with Him and He broke me.
He drew me into His presence and it was there in the safety of His throne room that He proceeded to shine light on the dark, dusty corners of my heart. I wasnt just rushing in to say a quick prayer, or try to “feel” Him in a routine Bible reading. I was reveling in His presence. That’s when  He did it – one by one He unveiled crippling fears, boldfaced lies, dissatisfying lusts. As He showed me more of my own heart and more of the idols that I had traded Him in for, I felt my heart break. He addressed the sins He had uncovered. To the fears He said, “Hand them over. Be embraced in My perfect love which casts them out.” To the lies He said,” You know the source of Truth. My Son. Know Him. Be set free.” To the lust He said, ” I am far more satisfying. Haven’t you tasted of My goodness? Don’t stay away.”
Oh I praise God for His graciousness. He takes us to the point of breaking us, but He never leaves us broken for long, just long enough to come to the end of ourselves.

“…ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord.” Ps. 4:4b-5

” There are vast areas of stubbornness and ignorance the Holy Spirit has to reveal in each of us, but it can only be done when Jesus gets us alone. Are we alone with Him now? Or are we more concerned with our own ideas, friendships and cares for our bodies?” -Oswald Chambers

“… He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself.” Matt. 14:13a

My November

Ladies and gentlemen, today marks three months. Where the time is going, I have no idea. It’s a funny thing. Some times I feel like I have lived three days in a 24 hr period. Then I glance back and weeks are already done and gone. If I tried to unpack the month of November, this post would be 2,000+ words and you all would grow bored and abandon reading it. So I’ll do my best to cram it into a “nutshell”, starting with the bitter and ending with the sweet.

I have been in a state of long, drawn out processing lately. I have grown to realize that my glorified view of long-term missions is just that. Glorified and out of sync with the realities of life on the field. Long-termers are just like me – human, complete with their own set of flaws and pitfalls and ever in need of God’s abundant grace. Especially when they are seeking to reach the lost, raise families in a God-honoring way, maintain healthy marriages, stay spiritually strong in often bone-dry places, and deal with never-ending cycles of culture-shock. The load! Not to mention they, are natural targets for the arrows of the enemy. The ministry of long-term missionaries has grown very heavy on my heart.
Then in one week’s time I managed to lose my wallet (which contained loads of Ariary, my debit card and a photocopy of my passport), get giardia (the bathroom became my residence for a few days) and get my backpack nicked in town.. It contained my cell phone, keys, more Ariary (Madagascar money) and my actual passport (rookie mistake, I know). Not much else to say about that week except that it was tough.
Both of my roommates leave in the month of December.
The holidays find me far from those that I long to be with.
Oh, and then for those who would laugh with me about the little things, two days ago I got off the bus in standstill traffic and fell flat on a nice little patch of slippery grass on the side of the road. You should’ve seen the faces pressed against the bus windows as the white girl bit it. Today I got on a bus that had some dodgy brakes. You can probably see where this is headed. The brakes gave out, a minor accident occurred, the bus was evacuated, I was dropped in the middle of Lord knows where. Eventually I caught a cab, but it wouldn’t start, so the driver just proceeded to coast down the road in the opposite direction of my destination. Fifteen minutes and a push-jumpstart later, we were off. All in a day here in Madagascar.

BUT, the sweet outweighs the bitter.
I have been immensely encouraged by the transparency of the long-termers I am surrounded by. I have not been fed a false view of missions. It is hard, no doubt. But they wrestle and they fight and Christ continues to be strong on their behalf.
A new debit card is coming in January, the giardia is gone, and my passport has already reached the US Embassy here in Tana. The little details were ironed out and God used the circumstance to once again draw helpless me into His strong, sovereign arms.
My roommates were, and still are gifts from God. The memories made, the laughs, the tea times, the support and the learning that we did alongside each other has been a blessing. Treasures that will mark the first phase of life here in Madagascar.
I do miss my friends and family, especially now. But distance truly has made my heart grow fonder. I have grown in such thankfulness for the precious people God has given me. Their hugs and their words and just seeing their lovely faces will be that much sweeter to me upon returning home. And also with the removal of all the fluff and festivities, the true meaning of the holidays has resonated in my heart.
I have received letters, messages, packages and done many Skype sessions. Thank you all for loving me so well.
Then there is the One who has loved me the best. In spite of my doubt, in the midst of my constant failings, and regardless of my delay in running to the safety of His arms, He continues to hold me. The tough days have come. I can testify to that. But this I can also testify to – joy in Him is boundless.

Busy Counting.

So I dreamt last night. Now, I’m not that type of person who dreams frequently and then come morning is like, “WHOA. Let me tell you every detail of what I dreamt last night.” Nah. But since arriving in Madagascar, I dream of pleasant memories all the time. They are usually vivid dreams that I can recall in detail of people and places back home. Along comes reality at a bright and early 5 am, with the ringing of church bells and the song of my neighbors’ roosters. Waking up is hard.
Today I didn’t want to be here. I felt defeated before the day began.

I got up anyways – had a private praise session (Jesus and me baby!), met my cleaning lady at the door and handed her the usual supplies, took a trip to Shoprite for groceries, did lesson planning and then headed to my mentor’s house for a nice visit over lunch. About the time I got home, my outlook was beginning to change. I got an urge to do something – I wanted to go “blessing hunting”. I grabbed my camera and headed out. Gave it maybe a minute and joy completely enveloped my heart as I began to take pictures of the blessings that surrounded me. “It’s the little things.” That phrase rings true time and time again.

Blessing 1 -  John 15. Windows that open to let in a breeze and the sounds of the neighborhood.

Blessing 1 –
John 15. Windows that open to let in a breeze and the sounds of the neighborhood.

Blessing 2 -  Every day is a birk day.

Blessing 2 –
Every day is a birk day.

Blessing 3 -  The handiwork of God displayed in those little faces. He creates such beauty.

Blessing 3 –
The handiwork of God displayed in those little faces. He creates such beauty.

Blessing 4 -  New friends at the roadside market stands.

Blessing 4 –
New friends at the roadside market stands.

Blessing 5 -  Early evening.  Warm breezes.  Madagascar sunsets.

Blessing 5 –
Early evening.
Warm breezes.
Madagascar sunsets.

Blessing 6 -  Laura & Micaella.  My lovely flatmates.

Blessing 6 –
Laura & Micaella.
My lovely flatmates.

Blessing 7 -  Making forward progress in the art of cooking. Chicken Pot Pie Pasta.

Blessing 7 –
Making forward progress in the art of cooking.
Chicken Pot Pie Pasta.

Blessing 8 -  Those kids, again.

Blessing 8 –
Those kids, again.

Blessing 9 -  Tea time.

Blessing 9 –
Tea time.

Blessing 10 -  Quiet nights to write all my dear people back home.  Praise God for letters.

Blessing 10 –
Quiet nights to write all my dear people back home.
Praise God for letters.

“Count your many blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
Do it. Stay busy counting all the ways in which He has blessed you.

Heartbeats.

I made up my mind from the start – I will be candid. Sugar-coating rarely profits and I desire for anyone who reads this to be convinced that it is not some extravagant, thrilling, tourist adventure. Far from it.

Today marks my being in Madagascar for 1 month. When I first arrived, I kept asking myself one question, every day, multiple times a day: “What the heck am I doing?.. I can’t do this! I’m only 19! I can’t teach English to Malagasy students without a set curriculum! I can barely remember the name of the town I live in, let alone try to catch a bus to the inner city! And learn a language? This is going to be 9 months with no real joy, no gut laughter and no desire to even be here.” I know. The drama. But literally, that was my thought process for the first 2 weeks and often those same fears and thoughts can hit me unexpectedly. Everything is so new! To see pictures on the internet, or talk with a missionary is one thing, but to enter into a foreign culture and be surrounded by it is entirely different. The warm, beautiful people and their interactions with one other. The daily food – rice, rice and more rice. Want a snack? Grab some rice. The language. The transportation system – no speed limits, no crosswalks, no stop lights, no rules essentially. Pack into a bus, grab a taxi or dodge the traffic on foot.  The sense of humor. The streets and the waste that flows through them.  The chickens that roam the streets and the roosters that crow from 4 am on. The 80 degree weather on the daily. Daily stares from the people and continual inquires as to my interest in foreign men.. All the underlying customs that I am continually being informed of. I mention these differences with absolutely no intention of degrading the Malagasy people. I only hope to highlight some of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in living that I have had to take in and adjust to. If I were to describe it I’d call it a “constant cultural overload”.

But regardless of my many emotions and the continual adjustment, the reality is that I am here. I am in Talatamaty, Antananarivo, Madagascar and my God was here before I arrived and He will continue to be here until the day I depart. I am not walking in new territory. And you know what He has shown me in just the short month I’ve been here? Not only is He HERE, but His heart is here. I was riding the bus back from Analakely several days ago. Seated next to the window, which is my favorite spot to snag due to the view and the breeze that drifts on through and I was just staring out at the bright green expanse of rice fields. The women and men were knee deep in the muddy water, harvesting the rice, while little kiddos ran on stretches of grass that rose above the fields. The houses on the edges  were on average the size of my room back home and built of sticks and bricks, complete with thatched roofs. At one point, I spotted two little kids wading in the mud and my heart began to ache. I hated to see the poverty. To see the dirt and the grime that they lived in, played in and made a living from. To see people struggle to free themselves from their circumstances. My eyes watered as I looked out the bus window. But then it was as if God whispered, “Hattie, my heart beats for these people. I love them.” Yes these people were mud-covered, malnourished and poor. Dirt poor. But the God who takes care of scavenger birds, mere sparrows, holds the Malagasy people and He desperately loves them. He isn’t just heartbroken by their circumstances, but He desires to know them and make them rich. Rich in the embrace of His extravagant love. Rich in His surpassing peace. Rich in Him.

I have tasted of the richness, the grace, the goodness of God. Oh, that these people would come to know the God who has wrecked my world! As of late, my prayer has been for more awareness, more compassion, more love. To be broken over the things that rip at His heart. To know Him so deeply that I begin to see Him in the smallest, most minute details of life.
I have been pleading for a heart that beats in time with the heartbeat of God.

Embarking.

I am having a hard time grasping the truth of what is currently transpiring in my life at this point in time. In less than twenty-four hours I will board a plane bound for Chicago. Chicago is not my final destination. Not even close. I am headed to the African island of Madagascar. For nine months, I will take on a volunteer position teaching English in a local school and nearby seminary. I will be living on the top floor of an AIM (Africa Inland Mission) apartment on the outskirts of town. I will be receiving training upon arrival and given more information about the assignment that has been extended to me. I know that I’ll probably eat quite a bit of rice.. and wear skirts. Other than that, I am aware of little else.

My heart has wrestled this past summer. Wrestled with the fear of the unknown and the foreign, with feelings of inadequacy (which are abounding, given the fact that I am a mere 19 years of age with no degree of any kind). I have secretly struggled with doubts about God’s ability to provide $12,114 in about 5 months time. (We all say we trust Him, but when the rubber hits the road, when the time seems to run out, are we actually settled? Do we feel safe resting secure in His hands or does panic quietly seize our hearts?) In all honesty, loneliness is rumored to be an insurmountable struggle at times when people go on trips like these. They say month 6 is when it really hits, or maybe during big holidays like Christmas. You’re likely to get sick, spend a little time in the bathroom, that sorta thing. Oh, and did you know that Ebola is sweeping across Africa? I have heard all of other people’s concerns on my behalf and had waves of my own fear grip my heart and cause panic to rise and regret to surface before I have even left the country.

Emotions are deeply strung within the framework of man. It is hardwired into our nature. Most of us are utterly dependent on them! They urge us here or there, string us along in this direction or that, and can work us into an absolute frenzy. It’s quite ridiculous. Most often our emotions have no substance of reality behind them. No truth is contained in them. My feelings would’ve long ago told me to get the heck out! Do something reasonable. Go to school. Get that degree. Get married. But praise God! He is far beyond the sensible or reasonable. Oh, how He has shown me that He is beyond being confined. He is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph 3:20a).” The truth of who God is has been further confirmed in my heart during this whole process. He has met me. I am $2000 above my target amount and climbing. I have been brought to tears by the generosity of family and friends who have given without hesitation. I have felt the depth of His love through them. I have been upheld in prayers prayed on my behalf that He has faithfully answered. He sorted out little details with ease, settled my heart on the daily, and realigned my feelings time and time again with the truth. He has met me and will continue to meet me. For that is who He is.