Since I have been back from India, I can honestly say my life is different. From my perspective on the world and the way I deal with life & people (and myself).. it all looks completely different. I’m not saying that the day I got back from India I was a completely different person than when I got there. But there hasn’t been a single day since I’ve been back from India (7 months ago) that I haven’t reflected over my time there this summer, and the Lord has used this time to change me.
I want to write about life since I’ve been back from India because I want to remember this time and what the Lord taught/ is teaching me through it.. and hopefully encourage someone else. So I apologize for this really long “hey I’m going to Israel” post that isn’t even about Israel at all until the end.. (you can skip down to that if you’d like 🙂 ) This is going to be long and all over the place, so I apologize in advance..
Sooo, even if I didn’t realize it, I had a lot of expectations about India and my experience there before I left.. but of course it wasn’t anything like I could have expected (shocking). Unmet expectations lead to resentment, and as weird as it sounds, that is completely true in this case. If I’m being real, most of last semester, until Christmas break, was spent mad at my time in India, with bitterness towards the country as a whole, and also angry at God and doubting who He was. And not a single soul knew it. I spent 4ish months doubting my faith and didn’t talk to anyone about it because I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and guilty. And I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t spend hardly any time with the Lord at all. Now, a lot of this has to do with my time in India, but a lot of it also has to do with just growing up.. and some from classes I’ve taken since I’ve been in school (as silly as that sounds), religion courses and a ton of sociology courses that have told me that culture shapes every part of you.
When I got back from India, I started to really think about that. “I’m just a “Christian” because I live in America. But if I lived in India, I would be a Hindu.” Some other thoughts were, “Every religion has the same basic characteristics, so who am I to say that I’m right?” This was especially hard because I lived among Hindus for over 2 months, so I not only heard or learned about another religion, but I walked among them, saw them going to temples multiple times a day, praying fervently to their gods, talked with them in depth about the Gospel etc.. day after day after day. It was draining. So it kind of became the question of “how do I know what I believe is truth” kind of thing. And I didn’t read the Bible because the whole time I would be I was thinking, “I don’t even know if I believe in this so why am I reading it?” So when I read the Bible it reminded me of my doubt, so the easiest thing to do was just to not read it at all..
I really struggled with this. I didn’t realize how much until I finally went over to the house of a wonderful family and talked with them about it. These people have become dear friends of mine because of our time together (talking about India) recently, and they are actually preparing to possibly move there soon! I avoided going to their home all semester because I knew we would talk about it. But on Christmas break, I finally went to visit them, and a remark about India was made… One look from the wife/mother at me, and I was in tears. Not cute, sweet tears. I mean the ugly cry, y’all. It was bad and embarrassing, but now we make jokes about it, so it’s cool. ANYWAYS, I finally vocalized what was going on with me, and a lake of water (my tears), a box of tissues, and 5 worried/ concerned kids later, my heart and head were so relieved. Through our talk, I gained some wisdom and acountability and community. After that (long) talk, I began to actually think about and work through these things instead of ignoring them. I began to realize some things about myself that I’ve never paid close attention to. For one, how logical I am. I want everything to have a reason and an x-y-z answer to it. I just want things to make sense, and I want to be able to figure it out. Secondly, I analyze everything. EV-ER-Y-THING (it’s the trait I most despise about myself). (Both of these are issues of needing control. I know.. The Lord and I.. we’re working on it..) So I really struggled with thoughts like, “I ‘feel’ like the Gospel is true and that I have been walking with Jesus and my encounters with him are real, but how do I know it’s not some psychological mechanism I have come up with myself to fill the need to feel loved and have purpose??! How do I know that’s not the reason the whole world does this, and it just looks different because of our different cultures?” The only thing holding me together a little bit was that I knew my life had been changed. I knew that my desires were different. I knew that specific areas of my life that once seemed hopeless and destroyed had been redeemed.. Something in me kept saying that it couldn’t just be coincidence, and none of that heart change and mind renewal could have come from myself.. (Because I know myself and how broken some areas of my past were.) So again, I struggled with a million different thoughts, but at the same time, I really didn’t struggle because I didn’t let myself think about it at all. I completely avoided it at all cost.. I’m not sure why. Scared of what I would come up with if I did think about it or scared of the frustration that I would feel when I couldn’t come up with anything.. I’ve been warned about all of these things, and even talked other people through it, but I’ve never struggled with it myself until a few months ago. And for me, that was extremely frustrating. But over the past couple months, the Lord has been teaching me about faith. Something this “church girl” has heard (and taught) about for years and years.
I began reading that I am “saved by grace through FAITH” differently. It’s faith. That’s it. There is no tangible “Because of ____ proof, we know that this is true,” etc.. And the Lord has given me that faith!! So long story short, I decided to trust the bible as truth. I’m choosing (not really because God has sovereignly already chosen me- and chosen for me- it’s only from Him that I have faith.. but that’s a whole other novel) to believe the bible is God’s Word, and it alone is truth. I’m not always going to “feel” saved or “feel” like God is with me, but my emotions and feelings are so wavering, inconsistent, unstable, and not dependable at all. “Facts trump feelings” has become my motto the past few months. And I trust the bible as fact. So whenever I start to think something contrary to God’s Word, my thoughts are what is false, and God’s Word remains truth. Always.
Just like with loving anybody, it doesn’t come naturally (at least it won’t forever..) to love God because we’re sinful and selfish people. I have to choose to actively love God, even when I don’t “feel” like it.
The Lord has really been teaching me a lot and increased my faith dramatically over the past couple months, but I know that there will be other times in life, whether thats a few months from now or 10 years from now, that I will doubt if God really is who He says He is again. And when (not if) that time comes, I will choose, by God’s grace, to love the Lord, remain faithful to Him, and trust His Word as unwavering truth. Again, it’s really not me choosing anything.. God decided this for me a long time ago, and I am so thankful for that. The reality is, even if I was born in India and regardless of who my family was or what culture I was surrounded by, the Lord would have still saved me because “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He predestined us (me) for adoption as sons (daughters) through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). My God is not limited by culture or anything else. He is completely sovereign over all creation, and according to His Word, He has chosen me to be his daughter, and He would have made that happen regardless of anything in or around me.
So as the Lord is sanctifying me, other struggles have arisen like even though I know the Gospel is true, and I know that the Lord has saved me, what about the people in India (and other dark and extremely lost places around the world)? Now I’m starting to feel guilty almost that the Lord has saved me (in a place where it seems easy to), but all my friends and other people I shared the Gospel with in India will never know and follow Jesus.. and a lot of it has to do with where they live. But again, I have to remind myself that, just like with me, the Lord is not limited by our location or anything else around us. And remember that, before the Lord saved me, I was just as lost as my friends in India. I also have to trust that our God is one “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Lord wants every single person know Him a whole lot more than I, or anyone else, does. So why do I not trust that He will go to all lengths to make that happen? I have to know that just like in my life, the Lord is completely sovereign and in complete control of the country of India as a whole and also in each of the hearts of ever single person there.. and that’s exciting stuff! What a HUGE yet PERSONAL God we serve!!
I have been clinging to Acts 17:26-27 as I think about and pray for India and Nepal daily: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him though he is not far from any one of us.” (Still struggling a bit with this, so prayers would be appreciated).
So the Lord is continually changing my heart and attitude towards India and bringing to mind the wonderful times there instead of the ones that were draining and discouraging (and I’m trying to forget about the weeks I was sick there.. ew). The first few months after I got back, if/ when people asked me if I was going back, I would reply with a sweet, “Ummmmm, no I don’t think I would..” But inside I was thinking “HECK NO ABSOLUTELY NOT NEVER IN MY LIFE.” But now, the Lord (truly, it is all Him) is doing wonders inside me, and I am planning on going back in the near future 🙂 (just maybe not get sick this time). I love India, and I am extremely thankful for how the Lord used my experience there to deepen intimacy between He & I and how He used it to mold me and shape me to look more like His Son. I’m praying that God would allow me to see the world like He does.
I realize this is a lot, and I would be surprised if anyone actually got to this part of this long winded post that probably didn’t make any sense and doesn’t have any pretty pictures.. BUT if you did, I truly hope and prayed that this didn’t cause anyone any doubts of their own in who God is. (Please don’t stop now because this is the good stuff!!) My prayer is that it would encourage someone. I went months without talking to anyone about my unbelief because I felt ashamed and embarrassed because I have been a lot of places around the world as this “missionary,” and now I was doubting it.. I felt like something was literally wrong with me.. It’s exhausting pretending like you have it all together when on the inside everything is a train wreck because you’re doubting in the only One who gives you peace. So much pain and insecurity could have easily been avoided if I had just brought it to the Lord and then to the believers around me. I had created a standard for myself of this perfect Christian girl that I can’t even live up to. So if you’re reading this, and you can relate in any way, please know that it is normal, and I believe everyone has struggled with this.. even those who are seemingly unwavering in their pursuit of Jesus. Be encouraged that there is SO much grace and freedom in the Gospel. And run to Jesus. Don’t limit God.. He can handle your doubt/ unbelief/ insecurity/ whatever it is! Don’t ignore whatever thoughts are damping your walk with Christ because you are afraid of what will happen when you start to work through them.. Don’t think that He is ashamed of you, embarrassed by you, or that you are now somehow less of His child. Thankfully, God’s love for you isn’t based on your performance. It’s based on Christ’s performance, and His performance was flawless.
The incredible thing about the Gospel is that, since our salvation has absolutely nothing to do with us, who we are, or what we’ve done/do, we can’t “lose” it.. We are never saved by our performance, never sanctified by our performance, never finally delivered by our performance. It’s all done by grace. When you sin or doubt God or whatever (which we all will daily, even after the Lord saves us), you’re slate before the Father is still that of perfection and righteousness and holiness. You know why? Because it has nothing to do with you! And that’s a GREAT thing! Because of what God made possible through Jesus, our record of sin and screw ups and regret is completely taken away and it is replaced with Jesus’ record! That’s INSANE! So you’re not perfect, you’re never going to be, but the Good News of the beautiful Gospel of Jesus is that you don’t have to be!! There’s so much freedom and grace!! So whatever it is.. Take it to Jesus. He really knows you. He understands you. Every part of you. And He still loves you an unimaginable amount. He desires to be in relationship with you. So stop feeling the pressure of having to have this perfect relationship with God and feeling like you’ve failed when that doesn’t seem to be the case. Ask him to increase your faith. But know that your hope is not found in the purity of your faith, but in the power of God’s amazing grace. It’s all about Him, and what He has already done. And talk with other believers about it(I would be MORE than happy to talk with you about it..preferably at Newks 🙂 ). ….Soooo basically, do the exact opposite of everything I did! All of these struggles I have been warned about, and all of the things I’m talking about I have heard so many times before, but there’s just something about “lightbulb” moments that certain experiences bring about, and it’s just wonderful. I’m thankful for these moments when Jesus gives a little more clarity to us 🙂
The past 2 months have been the best. It’s been hard, but seriously I’ve seen Jesus in every moment. From seeing my sorority sisters decide to follow Jesus to seeing evidence of redemption in areas of my life I thought redemption was impossible and would never come.. And the intimacy I’m experiencing with Jesus is unlike any other time in my life.. It’s been so sweet. My expectations for my trips are always wrong. And by wrong, I mean I actually experience the exact opposite of what I assume I will. But it’s so good. It reminds me that I’m not in control, that I never will be, and honestly, that I never want to be. My Father knows far more and far better than I do. Even if it’s not until months or years that He shows me the “what”s and “why”s, it’s always perfect. And it’s always so He gets every single bit of glory from my experiences/trips/ life.. and what else do I want? Absolutely nothing. So I am loving this season of life (something I would not have said 3-4months ago). Not to say life is perfect right now by any means because that is definitely not the case.. But I am walking closely with Jesus, and that’s all I need and want. Through my experiences last summer (in all 3 countries), I learned and saw just a little bit more of what it really means/ looks like to really follow Jesus.. Truth makes us responsible. & Now that I know truth.. there’s no going back. I’m learning that my life and the goal of my life is not about making myself happy (shocking, I know..), but it’s about bringing God glory.. So in the midst of struggling, instead of trying to get out of the situation or fixing it so the struggle isn’t there anymore & I’m happy, I’m learning to embrace the struggle, depend on Jesus, and desire that He gets the honor and glory regardless. My happiness is just a by-product of walking closely with Jesus & resting in Him. & He’s so worth it. Christians, we don’t read our bible, spend time in prayer, go to church, etc to become this better person/christian, or even to make/prepare ourselves to be an awesome wife or husband to someone one day, or anything like that.. that’s not the goal. The goal is Christ Himself. To know Him better. He’s the goal. He’s the reward. And it’s totally worth it. I’m grateful for my time in India and for how the Lord used my time there to teach me so much about myself, Himself, and the people around me, that I might not have learned otherwise. I’m really grateful for the times of refining and sharpening even when it’s hard.. I’m so grateful for how He chooses to mold me to look more like His Son.
OKAY, so ISRAEL!!! I’m going in less than 10 days!! I’m really excited for this one. It’ll be different from any other trip I’ve taken for several reasons. First of all, I’m actually going with a group of people instead of by myself this time (I know, I’m weird). So that’s exciting!! I don’t know any one else going.. but I’ll make new friends, and that’s so fun!! Also, this is the shortest trip I’ve ever taken (12 days) (besides Honduras).. I always go places for months, so it will be weird feeling like I’m leaving right after I get there.. I don’t know how I feel about that because I won’t get to be submersed in the culture and get to build relationships with people there 😦 Also, it’s a tour of Israel, so there won’t be much evangelism or public “ministry” per se. (anyone who knows me knows how I feel about tourists/ the whole idea of “touring,” so I might just go a little crazy..) But we’ll get to walk where Jesus walked, learn where Jesus taught, pray where Jesus prayed, take the Lord’s Super where He did.. like oh my gosh, HOW AMAZING! I’m so pumped. Oh, and we’ll get to float in the Dead Sea on my birthday, so how awesome is that? I’m so excited. Can you tell? I don’t know how I’ll update/ document this trip, but we’ll see..
If you would like to know how you can pray for me/us as we go, first of all, pray that God would get glory in every part of the trip. Pray that we would meet people/ houses of peace and someone would decide to follow Jesus! Even though this isn’t exactly a “mission trip,” that should always be our aim and mission, even in Memphis, TN. So pray that we would somehow be able to engage the locals and that our conversations with them would be intentional and that people would hear the Gospel & decide to follow Jesus! Pray that the Lord would continue to increase my faith. It’s seriously creepy how perfect the timing of this trip is.. I know He has been preparing my heart before I even knew I was going, so pray that he would continue to. (A few months ago, I was planning on going somewhere else for the summer again, but randomly-as all my trips seem to come about- this trip was made available for me to go, so I decided to do this and stay home for the summer.. it’s weird how often my plans don’t happen.. haha). Pray that intimacy between the Father and I would deepen. For those praying, I truly appreciate you and your prayers so much. They mean so so much to me! Thank you!