Many Layers of Our Onion Lives

I was inspired by the way my friend Sarah Lara phrased this, which obviously also has a reference rooted in Shrek (which I’m not at all mad about). We were talking about the people who “get us.”

Sometimes that’s our family.

Sometimes it’s our friends.

Sometimes it’s fellow missionaries.

Sometimes it’s the people we minister to.

I’m Karleigh, but there are layers to who I am. My family or friends who have known me since I was young have a different understanding of who I am. My best friends from college understand me in a different way because of walking through years of shared experiences. Those who have been a mentor, counselor or wise counsel have seen profound parts of my soul that aren’t shared with everyone. My fellow missionaries “get” the clash of cultures & not fitting in either here nor there. Those who I work & live with at Lily House know the ins and outs of that specific ministry in ways outsiders can’t.

It’s not that any one of these relationships has more importance or worth or depth than another. There’s just layers.

So, when I’m missing Michigan family & friends who “get me,” that’s not a statement about not loving or appreciating or being seen or understand by those in the Dominican. It’s simply a longing for a specific soul connection with specific people. And believe me, during most of my visits to Michigan, I long for people who “get me” as a missionary and dominicana (I claim a certain level of Dominican-ness after these years).

Our lives are onions. Our relationships are onions. Maybe for one person, I haven’t even let them close with a knife because I’m scared to share my layers. Maybe for another, the pricking on their eyes was too much when they started cutting down. And others have patiently & painstakingly endured the tears & process of breaking through. Not every relationship is on the same layer and that’s okay.

More than anything, I’m grateful for a God who knows each and every layer & is never afraid of what might be hiding deeper within.

Remember the Titans

Last night, I re-watched “Remember the Titans” because it recently showed up on Netflix here in the DR and let’s be real, it’s one of my favorite sports movies ever. (Side note: I’m not a huge sports fan unless it’s college football, specifically Michigan State football, but I LOVE SPORTS MOVIES. The passion, the hard work, the underdog stories – I can’t get enough. Okay, end rant).

At one point while watching, I started sobbing; it wasn’t even the part where Gary gets into a car accident. I honestly can’t remember exactly what part it was. But as I considered how the Titans & the town of Alexandria were on edge because of race, school integration, changes in head coaches, learning to work & play & live side by side with each other, an overwhelming emotion poured out as I considered this thought:

“I don’t understand how anyone can blatantly hate another human being simply on the basis that their skin is a different color.”

I don’t write this to start some kind of political debate or make a huge social statement. I just write this because it struck me so poignantly last night how race issues, along with many other issues, at their basis, are a misunderstanding of how each person holds the same innate value as any other person. We are all created in “imago dei” – the image of God. I’m reminded of a Matt Chandler sermon where he addresses this, saying that all races come from Adam & are made in the image of God; ethnic diversity shows God’s glory in a greater way. It is never justified to treat a human like an animal, because it is a mockery of His image in that person. [A Beautiful Design sermon series by The Village Church, or you can watch this video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIxAue0Q8ks]

Right now, I live with people who are a different race than me. I work with people who are a different race than me. I buy my food from, worship on Sunday morning with, seek advice from people who are a different race than I am. And I cannot imagine hating any of them without getting to know them because they are different from me. I cannot imagine closing myself off to the beautiful & inspiring & mutual friendships I have. I cannot imagine feeling as though they have nothing to teach me; feeling as though I am better than them because of this skin color dubbed “white.”

I still remember something Heather Owen wrote in a blog post once about differences in color of skin, race, culture. It has stuck with me & often comes to mind when I think or speak about these issues. As I close this post, hoping only to share something the Lord reminded me of, hoping only to continue being reminded that each human is created with the same value, I will share her words with you.

The only color that matters is RED: the blood of Jesus Christ, which covers us all.

Heather Owen

Constanza Mission Trip

I had the privilege to be part of a team of 20+ people from 5 different local churches that traveled to partner in ministry with a fellow SCORE missionary in Constanza, Dominican Republic. Constanza is settled in the mountains and about a 3.5 hour trip from where I live in Juan Dolio. We stayed for 3 days, so we packed in as much ministry as possible during that short time!

Our main focus was visiting schools to do a mini-VBS style program. These are schools which allow the missionary and local pastors to enter in monthly to share with the children. It is very encouraging that these schools are allowing evangelical Christians to enter in and teach/share with the students. Much of the area, as is true for the Dominican in general, is very Catholic. The traditions of the Catholic church sometimes keep other evangelical churches from being able to influence and share. We praise the Lord for the opportunities to share the Gospel with these children, and pray their exposure will have a domino effect in reaching their parents, families and neighbors.

I gave the Bible story lesson portion of the program 3 different times throughout the trip. I shared the story in Mark 2:1-12 of the paralyzed man being lowered through the roof to reach Jesus. I asked the kids to share what their friends do that make them good friends. Responses of helping, sharing, playing, and supporting filled the room. I then was able to share that not only did the paralyzed man have good friends in the 4 that lowered him down, but also in Jesus. Jesus is the best friend we could ever ask for! He sees our needs and meets them, but also gives us forgives from sin & eternal life.

Our program also included songs, games and crafts. There were many smiles and laughs shared!

We also visited different local churches and participated in services. On the first day, my group traveled 1+ hour to a small village further up the mountains called El Convento. This village is reachable via motorcycle in 20 minutes, but because we were in a pick-up truck, it was impossible to avoid all the potholes on the winding mountain road. The church is a small, one-room building with plastic chairs, and the electricity was out during the service. Regardless, I helped lead worship with an acoustic guitar and small drum, the Word of God was preached, and all the seats were filled!

Visiting this small community was one way God helped teach me PERSPECTIVE. There are hardships & obstacles in all communities, cities, churches, and ministries. But witnessing those faced by my brothers & sisters in this region of the country made me think about how lucky I am. Yes, ministry at LH is tough. Sometimes we also don’t have electricity. We face crisis situations with women. But we also have better access to resources such as hospitals & stores, as well as easier access to our neighbors in order to share the Gospel. The missionary we worked with shared that while they have 8 churches established in the area, there are still 20-30 different communities/neighborhoods (like the one in El Convento) where there is NO church with solid doctrine and NO ONE going out to share the Gospel. Like Jesus said in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Please join me in praying for more laborers in this area so that all are given the opportunity to hear the life-changing news of salvation & restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

I thought of two different songs throughout the trip. One is “Hills & Valleys” by Tauren Wells. It talks about God being God in our high places as well as the low ones. He is the God of all seasons, all circumstances, all situations, all emotions. The other is “God is Always Good” by Covenant Worship. The end of the chorus says, “What I sing on the mountain, I’ll sing in the valley: that God is always good.” Whether I’m in the mountains of Constanza or the “valley” of Juan Dolio – whether I see the Lord at work or have to walk by faith – He is always good.

Enjoy below pictures from the trip! (Place cursor over pictures to view captions).

 

Romans 5.

romans 5

[I recently finished memorizing Romans 5. There is so much good Truth in this chapter. Above are two of my favorite verses & below are a few of my thoughts on this chapter.]

God is so much better at giving gifts than we are. What we did & deserved He gave the opposite. His gift through Christ of salvation was a response to our broken condition, not our goodness. Nothing good in us, nothing based on what I did or what I do – it’s all His good gift-giving. It’s all His grace. Christ’s righteousness becomes mine, all because the Father knows how to give good & perfect gifts.

Christ’s obedience outweighs my disobedience. I am saved because of Christ’s life. Sin is my first nature, but I don’t have to stay there. I can receive God’s abundant provision of grace & His gift which is a stark opposite of the trespass I was born into. I become justified instead of a lawbreaker because of Christ’s gift of obedience to replace my disobedience. I have true life – life in my spirit – because of Christ’s obedience & God’s grace. My new character is righteousness.

[May the Lord continue to challenge me to trust & obey & believe all that He says.]

Know, believe, surrender to, pay attention to, & walk in the Word.

Panama

One of the shirts on my T-shirt quilt is from my first ever mission trip to Panama. I was not quite 14 years old when I applied for the trip. While I was home for Christmas, I found the copy of my application. Here was my response to the first question: Please describe in a paragraph why you feel God wants you to participate in a Brio missions trip.

“I really feel God is calling me to give up my life to Him and become a missionary. I feel like this is the first step to serving God with my career for the rest of my life. I believe that He wants me to go on this trip – I believe that with my whole heart. I just want to follow His plan for me, and I think that this is the type of thing He has in store for me.”

Talk about insight from my younger self! What confidence she had in her calling. Here I sit, almost 14 years after writing that, entering into my third year as a full-time missionary, marveling at the journey the Lord has brought me on. God can always use our pasts, and even the paths we took away from His plans, to bring glory to His name. Looking at my own life, I believe it with all my heart…just as I believed at 13 with all my heart that God had an adventure of surrender in store for me.

Year Two | Dos años

(It is a sure sign of blogging neglect when my last post was a reflection on Year One on the mission field and this one is after completing Year Two…)

Not at all what I expected. I think I can honestly say that after two years of living on the mission field, even though I lived in the DR at LH for 9 months, even though I’ve done multiple short-term missions. God has both exceeded my expectations (immeasurably more than we can hope or imagine, Ephesians 3:20) but also made me surrender my expectations to Him. This past year cannot be wrapped up into a pretty package with a bow on top. It was a tough year for me personally, in the life of the LH ministry, and even our local church. Spiritual warfare is a very real thing and we experienced it the past year. There was heartbreak but also VICTORY and light and love and joy. Looking back, my word for the year seems to be PARADOX: something that seems contradictory but when looked at closer, proves to be well-founded or true.

In July 2017, I wrote out these 3:

Paradox Number One:
I am no one, and I am someone.
Paradox Number Two:
There is no condemnation, but there is conviction.
Paradox Number Three:
I can do all things, yet I can do nothing.

My identity in Christ challenges my Self-Identity on every account. It makes it all not about me. So yes, this past year was one of the hardest of my life…yet it also brought me into a deeper, sweeter relationship with Jesus. He continues to call me into something deeper and different. I don’t know what word or question He will give for this year. In Year Two, my question to God was, “Can I trust You?” He challenged me in my doubt and answered in His faithfulness. One of my personal struggles was seeing many women come into the house and program only to leave. They didn’t “make it”; they didn’t “succeed.” Based on whose standards? To the world, these departures were failures. But not to the Lord. If I was faithful to get to know them, share Christ with them, love them as He loves, let them know they have value – then it was a success. My job is to plant seeds; God does the growing and harvesting. I would love to have a harvest to show for the work of last year. My pride wants to be able to share how many women came to Christ and excelled and are continuing in the program. But the challenge to Self is to recognize I can’t change their hearts and I’m not responsible for how they respond to gospel truth. My circumstances didn’t seem like a reason for rejoicing; but my joy is not dependent on my circumstances. My JOY is my salvation; my JOY is my relationship with Christ.

Whether a woman stays or chooses to leave, I will believe the Lord is trustworthy and He is GOOD.

Paradox Number Three from my list has been especially impactful during Year Two. God has been building the pressure in my life, leading me to a place where I understand more fully how there is nothing good in me and nothing I can give in and of myself. ONLY in Christ can I surrender to what He wants to do in and through me. I can’t do it in my own strength. Moving into Year Three, I don’t want to miss out on an abundant Spirit-filled life because of strongholds and fear. I want to be a “who cares?” person in the sense of, who cares what others think about me if I know the Truth of what God thinks about me? As I’m studying Galatians, I’m challenged with this abandonment of fear repeatedly. As Tim Keller says in the book I’m reading (Galatians For You), when I care more about acceptance and approval from others, I’ve given them “the rights and power over my heart that only God should have” (page 33). The radical and freeing Truth is that my acceptance, position, inheritance, and blessing through Christ are just as secure as my salvation! God’s opinion of me will not change based on “how good I am” (because remember, I’ve already learned the paradox there is nothing innately good in me, yet I am righteous in God’s eyes because of Christ). How I am viewed by God is secure; when He looks at me, He will continue to see Christ. I don’t have to make myself worthy or lovable, because I am already KNOWN BY GOD (Galatians 4:9). His affections will not change or alter based on how many women stay at LH or how well I make a weekend schedule or how many emails I send to donors or how many times I share the gospel with a woman on street ministry. Out of gratitude for who I am in Christ, my desire is to glorify and please Him by giving my best in all areas; but I do not earn salvation, love or acceptance based on these things.

Moving into Year Three, this is the FREEDOM I want to live in. May the God of acceptance, freedom, paradoxes, and goodness continue to guide me, and each of you. I pray we each live knowing despite our circumstances, He is faithful; that regardless of our efforts, He is the one who works in our hearts. My identity is secure in Christ, and I desire to share that with each and every Lily who has and has yet to pass through our doors.

Adios, Year Two. Hola, Year Three.

21246615_10155653024282640_679751699593593169_o

Year One | Year Two

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

January 18, 2016 | I moved to the Dominican Republic full-time as House Sis at Lily House.

January 18, 2017 | Celebrating and reflecting on ONE YEAR in the mission field.


Right now, the song “One Thing” by Tenth Avenue North is playing in my headphones. The first line of the chorus says, “If I’ve got nothing but You, I’ve still got everything I need.” Last year, I clearly remember coming to a place where I asked myself the question “Do I really trust God for the future? Do I really trust in His calling on my life? Do I really TRUST Him?” And I had to answer in all honesty, “No.” I wasn’t sure I could trust Jesus to really have the best for me. I felt like such a failure when I tearfully admitted this to the Lord. But imagine my surprise when instead of feeling like He was disappointed in me or ashamed of me, I felt like He was proud of me.

| God desires our honesty; God desires our hearts. |

I don’t have to put up a front with God. In admitting my lack of faith, He gently wooed me in little moments of the soul no one else could see or understand. “You’re the one thing I can’t lose when I come to the end of me.” In the end of me, Jesus can do His work. Trust. It’s coming, day by day. Today I am more confident saying with honesty, “I don’t understand my circumstances, but I trust You have good for me.”


Maybe it’s fitting that in the picture I took to commemorate today, I don’t think my feet are beautiful. I painted my toenails before going back to the States for Christmas, then my feet were near-constantly sock covered in the cold Michigan weather, only to now again be in sandals and bare-feet. They’re kind of a mess. And I’m kind of a mess. Don’t get me wrong – I know that I know that I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I love this life I lead, in all its craziness and transition and adjustment and joy and sorrow and light. But life is messy, and walking in obedience is messy, and relationships are messy, and ministry can be messy. The amazing thing is, God takes messes and uses them for His Glory, if we let Him. He doesn’t need us to be perfect, because He is. In my journal this morning, I wrote this:

A year that

proves I’m not perfect –

except a perfect mess in

need of Love without

End, Grace without

Question, Identity without

Self.

God brings to the table everything I’m lacking. When I think I’m not enough, He is sufficient. When I think I can’t go any further, He is strong enough to push beyond the lies and doubts and boundaries. May this next year bring more good hope, more opportunity for growth, more seeing less of me and more of Christ.

Hello, Year Two.

Who I Am because of Who He Is

As I read through Ephesians 1 today, I was grateful for the reminder of Who I Am – and that I am who I am because of Who He Is. All the great love God has lavished upon me isn’t because I am great, but because He is great. So that no man may boast, God saves us through grace. He didn’t want me as an after-thought, and He didn’t wait until He saw how I’d turn out before saving me; He chose me before the beginning of the world. And He adopted me to show His love, grace, and wisdom. By adopting me, He shows that He desires relationship, not religion.

I’ve been reading 1 Samuel, and one passage struck me in particular. Saul is making excuses to Samuel about why he disobeyed God’s command, saying that he kept some of the choice livestock he was supposed to destroy because he wanted to make a sacrifice to God. Samuel’s response?

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?

To obey is better than sacrifice,

and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

(1 Samuel 15:22)

To OBEY is to show that we love God. God isn’t looking for all the things we do; He’s looking for our hearts. Ephesians 1:5 tells us that our adoption into God’s family is in accordance with His pleasure. God is DELIGHTED to bring us into His family! He’s delighted to have a personal relationship with each of His children who come to Him.

There’s a passage in Deuteronomy that also reminds me that Who I Am is because of Who He Is. Chapter 7 verses 7-9 tell us that the Lord did not set His affection upon the people of Israel because they were more special than others. They weren’t a nation that was bigger, stronger, more deserving of being elected as God’s chosen people. In fact, it was quite the opposite! They were the fewest of all peoples! But it was because God LOVED them that He set them apart to be a holy nation and His treasured possession. Praise God that through the blood of Christ, I am also brought into God’s family. My salvation has nothing to do with how good I am – it’s all God’s love and grace.

So on the days when I don’t feel special, or I wonder why God’s chosen me as His daughter, or given me the privilege to be part of His Kingdom Work – I will cling to the knowledge that I am worth it to God, and He desires to spend eternity with me. Not because I am anything special, but because His love is so big that He had to pour it out and invite us into His community and family.

I am Who I Am because of Who He Is.

If my life is a river,

I hope it leads to

the ocean of God’s

glory.

The Spot

I found myself at MSU this past weekend to visit with Alex, since it’s halfway between our current locations. While we were walking, I stopped her at this specific spot so I could take a picture. Seems like a pretty regular place; nothing special to see here. But I stopped, and took a picture, because this place holds a significant memory for me.

the spot

This is where I first heard about Lily House.

I was on the phone with Sharon Dees, who with her husband is the director of SCORE Domestic, formerly Youth on Mission. Alex and I had both gone on a mission trip with their organization in 2010, where we got to meet and spend time with Sharon. And my senior year of college, after making my commitment to serve in missions after graduation, I reached out to Sharon to see if there were opportunities to serve.

As we talked and she shared about the recent partnership with SCORE International, she asked me what my major was. “Women’s and Gender Studies,” I replied. And that’s when I first heard about Lily House. Sharon shared about the ministry with me, and told me I could do an internship specifically working with them.

Without knowing – and how could I? – God had just set a plan in motion that was bigger than I could ever imagine.

Over 3 years later, I am packing my bags as I prepare to move and join the Lily House team. All of this to say: you never know who, or what conversation, or what bit of news or information, or when the Lord is going to begin a work in you.

Take in the moments. Live them. Listen. Observe. Reflect and remember.

If you look close enough, the threads of God’s story and plan are evident.

When Oceans Rise

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Every year on this day, I think about where the Lord has brought me. Today is my decisionaversary. It is the day where I committed to spending my first year after college graduation doing missions. That was 2011; and here I am on the last day of 2015, preparing to leave for full-time missionary service.

This song by Hillsong United spoke to my spirit the first time I heard it, and continues to speak. This is the prayer of my heart as I embark on this new journey. I pray the Spirit would take me deeper, leading me closer and closer to my Savior with each day, each decision, each word, each thought, each action, each moment. I pray my trust and faith would grow stronger as I trust where God has called me and that He will take me through every storm, over each wave, walking with me and beside me and enabling me to be His feet. I pray that those feet would be beautiful because they bring Good News to those who need to hear it. And I pray I would call upon His name, wherever I am, whenever I need to, even when the waves seem too high or the waters too deep.

Happy New Year, everyone. May any resolutions you make be decisions that lead you into the arms of our loving, faithful, good, trustworthy, untamed Savior. May you find safety in Him, regardless of the waves. “The One the wind and the waves obey is strong enough to save you.” (Tenth Avenue North). Here’s to a year of walking on water in the power of the Spirit as we trust in the joy of the Father and the strength of the Son.