Keep up-to-date with the process, preparation, and happenings as I prepare to return to South Africa.
|Posted by Alyssa on March 30, 2016 at 11:30 AM||comments (1)|
People hurt people. Most of the time it’s unintentional but it’s the reality of being human.
If you’re alive then you’ve been hurt and you’ve hurt others—maybe even yourself.
So how do we deal with the hurt we’ve given and the hurt we’ve received?
I thought I had a handle on forgiveness.
Gathered in a small pre-school classroom lined with toys and curriculum, two guys from our team took turns sharing in front of church.
Neither of them had prepared, feeling God say, “I’ll tell you when it’s time.” When they got up to speak they both began to talk about the same topic: forgiveness.
There is something powerful about the way God directs two very different people to discuss His topic.
I thought, “Cool, these people must need to hear it.”
God responded, “Yes, you do.”
He opened my mind to mounds of unforgiveness I had buried so deep in my heart I didn’t even know it existed.
“Okay, cool. But what now?”
Then Nico started talking about his own forgiveness journey and the letters God told him to write.
He started with a list, a long list of everyone who had ever hurt him (including himself) and he wrote a letter to each.
Then God told him to burn the letters. Because it was over; it was done.
God can speak through any means but I love when He chooses to speak through His people—when He reminds us we’re not in this fight alone; when He reminds us our stories matter.
And God spoke, “Write—and then burn.”
So I made a list and I began to write. And I started to heal; I started to let go.
And then I lit them on fire.
I did it one by one. As each page lit with red flames my heart released the pain outlined in those pages—rejecting the lies they represented and accepting the truth God poured out on me throughout the writing process.
I saved the hardest for last: my letter to myself.
Due to the number of pages and the unpredictable gusts of wind from the mountain, my letter took the longest to burn. (Symbolic, I think.)
But it burned.
Every word, every lie, every hold it had on me.
It all went up in beautiful flames.
Forgiveness is hard.
We believe forgiveness means it didn’t hurt, it didn’t matter. But it did, and it does. Our feelings are valid—they’re real—but they don’t have to steal our joy. We have a choice.
We can let it go. Let it all go.
Let it burn.
|Posted by Alyssa on March 22, 2016 at 8:30 PM||comments (0)|
“Stop reading your Bible,” He inaudibly spoke to me.
I ignored Him and kept on.
“Stop reading and go outside,” He spoke again.
I know God can speak through many means but this was my quiet time, my time in the Word, this is how it’s always been done.
“Go, go up the mountain to that spot you like.”
I gave in. Putting down my Bible I slipped on my shoes and headed up the mountain.
It was a very short trek to my spot and once there I sat on a big rock and waited.
“Okay, God; I’m here. Now what?”
You see, at this point in my life I had been going through a lot of changes—working out areas of my life that needed to be given over to Him to fix…to heal.
It was rough; it was painful. But I knew it would be worth it. I knew it needed to happen.
But sitting there on that rock that day I felt like I had been fighting—fighting for a better me and yet never winning anything. When would I get better? When would I see results?
And then I saw and He spoke.
You see, just like the changing season unfolding before me, I too was coming out of a long, cold winter.
It was ending, I was healing; there was green, there was growth.
It wasn’t over yet but He showed me how far I had come and how far I needed to go.
Yes, the grass was radiantly green but it was still amidst the rocks and the dead branches and leaves.
He gave me this real, beautiful visual of my journey. (He knows—He knows I’m a visual person—He knows me. *little girl grin and giggle*)
I spent the next hour soaking in this image—His words to me, His presence—praising Him for all He had done and all He had yet to do.
You see, when God points out an area that needs tweaking (or a complete remodel) He doesn’t just leave it at that.
“You could use work here. Okay, do that, have fun. I’ll be over here when you’re done.”
Like we are useless to Him until we’re “finished”.
Like we are unworthy of His help.
Like He can’t stand to be around us in our junk.
When God points out an area of concern it’s because it’s His concern. He knows you can’t do it on your own and He’s not about to let you stumble through it haphazardly; you’re too important.
So He’s there, walking you through recovery, every single nanosecond of the ugly.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” –Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
|Posted by Alyssa on March 13, 2016 at 8:50 PM||comments (0)|
4 months ago my dreams were finally realized, prayers answered.
After almost 9 years living with a debilitating illness I can finally say it controls me no longer!
That part of my life is over.
The struggle is no longer a reality.
The micro-managing has ceased; the fear is gone.
I was skeptical that this day would ever come. I knew the possibilities, the statistics, the norm…but nothing about this is normal.
Some of you have no idea what this means but for those of you who’ve known me at all during the last 9 years—heard any bit of my story pertaining to this struggle, prayed your heart out for healing—you know.
You know that I’m still sitting here, four months later, hand covering my mouth, water in my eyes, heart contracting, asking my brain if this is really real.
I’ve had four months to come to terms with this news and I still feel as stifled and lost as the day I took the test. I mean…it’s been 9 years.
6 months without a clue—floating from doctor to doctor, missing volleyball practice after practice, explaining over and over and arriving at the same conclusion: confusion.
A year and a half operating under the wrong diagnosis—making incremental improvements, home schooling and online classes and going to school two hours a day (if I could).
7 years under the correct diagnosis—countless classes missed, countless events never attended, emotional ups and extreme downs, thoughts of suicide. (I mean, was I even really living?)
Relationships strained, ER visits, judgmental stares. Wrong assumptions, pills and doctor visits and heart monitors. Missing weeks of school and rushing every assignment, salt a major food group, diet restrictions.
Too nauseated to think, talk, move or breath. Too weak to walk, stand, sit up or roll over.
Keeping my emotions in check at all times. Choosing when to get excited, to laugh, to smile when any rise in my heart rate could be disastrous.
Feeling like I was alone but not wanting to be with people—being with people took energy, energy I didn’t possess.
Feeling like the downer of any party—I didn’t exactly light up a room.
Feeling sorry for myself.
Feeling like I could never be truly honest about how I was feeling—voicing it didn’t change anything, except for introducing a quiet awkwardness into the room.
The fear of passing out in front of people, of getting hurt, of being a spectacle.
The fear that I would look lazy, disinterested.
The fear that if I did too much today I would be unable to do anything tomorrow.
The fear it would never stop.
The fear that I would never do anything, be anyone.
The fear that my dreams were over before they were realized.
This was my life, my world, my reality.
But my reality has changed.
Even if it doesn’t feel real; it is real. It happened.
|Posted by Alyssa on February 8, 2016 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
I’ve been struggling with my re-entry into the States. And I’ve struggled to put those struggles into words. So I’m going to write you a letter modeled after one I read on this fantastic blog. I didn’t just want to post a link to her blog because I wanted it to be personal—I wanted it to be directly from me, edited to fit me personally—but if you read hers you might find that much of it is similar because she helped put words to my struggle. Thank you, Ruthie.
Dear Friends and Family,
I have changed; I am not the same as I used to be and I’m still trying to figure out who that is. Am I an American who’s finally home? Am I a missionary who can’t wait to get back to the field? Am I happy to be home? Am I sad? Can I be all of these things? Who am I anymore? One of my biggest struggles right now is with my identity and it might take me a long time to figure out who I am (like months… or years).
Home is a word that no longer refers to a single solitary place. You can never know how much I missed you. Homesickness became a way of life and I had to learn to live with the devastation of all I was missing back home. But I don’t want you to misunderstand, I loved where I was at—what I was doing, the people I lived and worked alongside—LOVED it. I experienced intense moments of complete contentment—one of the only times I’ve ever cried out of pure joy and satisfaction—driving on the road to an outreach in the Transkei. I can’t explain the complication of feelings that come with a heart that desperately wants to exist simultaneously in two very different places.
Rediscovering life in the States is harder than discovering life abroad. This may be an odd and confusing statement but for reasons I don’t fully understand, it’s completely true. I’ve gotten used to the way of life, job, and family I had while living in South Africa and losing all of that hasn’t been easy. I’ve lost friendships, purpose, routine. I’m grieving. (Wow, that’s weird to say.) It’s true; I’m grieving the life I had but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be here, with you, it’s just…complicated. I don’t expect you to understand (how can I when I don’t fully understand myself). All I want is for you to listen, it might not make sense to you but I am a verbal processor so your simple act of listening can help me process in a huge way. All of these feelings are awkward and I don’t want to hurt you so chances are I’m not going to come right out and share my struggles but don’t feel like you can’t ask. I may not know what to say or I might start crying but the simple fact that you cared enough to ask will make a huge difference.
Energy eludes me. These days I struggle to stay energized. My sleep is still off, I’m emotional, I’m unmotivated, I’m confused, and I’m just exhausted…like all the time. Everything takes more energy than it used to. This could be due to a million reasons but the important thing to know is that it’s happening and I’m struggling to embrace it and not hate myself for being so unproductive. Little decisions seem to befuddle my brain. I forget what I’m doing easily and sometimes I feel like I can’t even lift my eyes to watch yet another episode of Criminal Minds. Everything in my life has shifted—everything—and I’m not even sure where it has all gone. I feel like I’m walking around in the dark with no directions and no matter how badly I want to keep going to find some light all I want to do is lay down on the cold, hard cement and take a nap…a really long nap. What I’m saying is that I don’t have energy right now for much, and that is okay. Sometimes I won’t be able to have multiple meetings in one day…or one week but my energy level does not match my love for you. If I’m overwhelmed I’m not overwhelmed by you but by this whole new situation I’m trying to figure out. Be patient with me; I love you.
Life for me is now a paradox. I love being home; I desperately want to be back in South Africa. Living in South Africa was fantastic; living in South Africa was extremely hard. Unlike when we were kids, as adults we now realize that not all situations and circumstances are all good or all bad. There is moderation to everything and with that can come muddled feelings. You can help me find the balance between my paradoxes. Ask questions but please make sure your questions are balanced across the good and bad scale. I want to share the victories AND the defeats and I want to be careful not to distort my memory of this time in my life. I apologize now if this makes life with me a challenge but knowing you’re with me in the challenge will help fight my feelings of loneliness.
Yes, I’m lonely. In many ways, you don’t know me anymore. That’s not an entirely bad thing and it’s certainly not your fault. It’s reality and that reality often finds me feeling alone. You may know some of my stories, you may have seen some changes in me, but the only people who truly know what this year has been like for me—the things I’ve experienced, the ways I’ve grown, the places I’ve been—are all halfway around the world…and only awake for about six of the same hours I am. I feel like I’m the only one of my kind—outnumbered and misunderstood.
This is all normal. I’ve learned that these things I’m feeling aren’t necessarily special to just me. Many people in re-entry find themselves struggling with anxiety, depression, even some symptoms of PTSD. I know, sounds a bit far-fetched but it’s all completely normal. This doesn’t mean something happened in the field, or that you or I are doing something wrong. Living overseas is highly stressful and it’s near impossible to avoid the effects it can have on our mental, emotional, and physical heath. I won’t struggle with these feelings forever but don’t be surprised if it’s a long and messy journey.
I’m maddingly confused! (Yes, I may have just invented that word but it fits, right?) My identity has been challenged and confused and I don’t even know where to begin. Some of the old me still remains (my love for soul touching music and good popcorn) but some new parts have been added as well (confidence in my abilities and an intense love of the beach). I’m not who I was when I last lived in the States but I’m not who I was when I lived in South Africa either…and I’m going to need time to make sense of it all. I may change my mind from day to day or hour to hour. I don’t know what I want! I don’t know which church I will attend, or if I should get involved or take a break. One day I might want to talk about my experiences and the next I may want to talk about anything but or nothing at all. Please be patient as I figure out (again) who I am. Speak into my life—the things you see that I do well, my passions. This will help me figure out who I am and what I’m supposed to do. I have to figure this out on my own but I need you to help get me there. Encourage me to do new things and invite me in on your own new endeavors.
You mean so much to me, you really do. You can never know (I can never really know) how much your prayers and support aided me in my ministry this past year. Without you it would not have been possible. (Yes, God can do all things but He chooses not to do it alone. He chooses to use us and He chose to use you in my life and in my ministry this past year.) Dankie, enkosi, thank you for the part you shared in all that took place this past year and for your friendship and patience as I learn what it means to be me again. Thank you for not letting me walk this journey alone.
|Posted by Alyssa on October 3, 2015 at 8:30 AM||comments (0)|
God is healing my heart. In the past couple months alone He has taken me through mounds of forgiveness (mainly of myself); revealed a mass of insecurities, teaching me to put my security in Him; and taken me from self hatred to self love. He’s poured out His love on me and taught me to love in return.
He’s fully and finally become my One, my Only.
I am not the same person I was at the beginning of this year; I’m not the same person I was two weeks ago. When God begins a work He sees it through to completion.
I am healthier, happier than I have ever been in my entire life. And that’s Jesus.
This all sounds generic, clique even, (and as I writer I HATE that) but what else can I say? I have fallen more deeply in love with Christ. Realised fully for the first time His faithfulness, His perfect friendship.
There is a difference between loving someone and being in love with someone. I’ve loved Jesus for most of my life but only at the age of 24 have I finally fallen completely head-over-heals in love with my awesome Savior.
This doesn’t mean I suddenly have everything together; no. I still have my struggles. I still have to remind myself daily that He is always there, that He will never leave, that He is perfect, that He is good, that He’s a better writer than I could ever hope to be. Speaking His truth has such power to change our perspectives.
My God is mighty to save! Not only from the consequences of sin (eternity away from His presence) but from your past, your insecurities, your enemies lies, your hurts, your struggles, your broken hearts. He’s bigger than it all. He’s our Healer, our Mighty Saviour.
This may all sound familiar, you’ve heard it a million times. But do you believe it? Have you experienced the healing power of your Creator?
Or have you lived in disbelief of His faithfulness to come through for you as I had for over twenty years? Sure, I knew all the right answers; sung all the right songs. But what meaning does my mouth express if my heart is unwilling to let Him work? He lives there, yes, but I’d chained Him up, restricted His access to only that which I deemed He could handle.
He wanted to be allowed into my junk, into my mess. Here’s the difference between transparency and intimacy: transparency means you see me; intimacy means you see into me.
Intimacy is scary stuff! I don’t want anyone to see in there!
But as I learned to trust Him and He began to heal me He’s taken out the trash, cleaned up the mess. It’s not as ugly in there as it once was.
My God heals.
My God heals.
Do you believe it?
|Posted by Alyssa on May 12, 2015 at 6:05 AM||comments (0)|
I have changed more in the past three months than the past three years combined. God has been working on my pride, my anger, my self-criticism, my vulnerability, my love, my trust, and my freedom to be myself.
I am more in tuned with the Spirit, more in love with Christ, and more aware of His presence than ever before.
He has been hard at work in me and I am exhausted. This is the joy of saying yes: serving a God who just wants to love you. He wants the absolute best for us. He brings us through hard times—forces us to face major heart issues—because He wants us to give all our junk over to Him so He can begin restoration.
This past weekend the JAM girls and I attended a ladies camp put on by a local church. God touched on various areas of my life, all revolving around the theme of intimacy with Him and with His people. It was an exhausting weekend.
In one of the sessions, the speaker said, “You can only give the love you’ve accepted.” She went on to explain that so many of us approach God asking for Him to fill our thimble with His love instead of bringing a giant bucket.
Then she went even deeper. “Do you love yourself?” I was shocked to discover that my answer was no. I had believed the lie that I was unlovable. I had been asking Christ for such a small amount of His love because I believed that I didn’t deserve any more. The speaker said, “The Bible teaches, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ We’re not loving our neighbors because we’re not loving ourselves!”
What would our world become if we learned to love ourselves as God loves us?
Seriously, think about it!
How would this one truth change our relationships, our community, our country, our churches? We emphatically say our world needs love but ignore that fact that WE are the problem. We are part of the world, are we not? God doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t already done so why do we think we have such authority to demand something of the world we have yet to implement in ourselves?
“Okay, but how?”
I don’t have the answer. I can’t overcome 24 years of lies in one day but I CAN accept that He loves me; truly, truly loves me. Sees my ugly, sees my junk, suffered and died on a cross for me—loves me.
And I’m not the only one.
You were a cracked, broken jar of clay. When you accepted Christ He presented you with a brand new jar but you continue to cling to the old.
You are holding on to your sin, your past, your perceived imperfections. You are holding on to a lie that says you are unlovable.
Let it go!
Smash that jar.
|Posted by Alyssa on April 30, 2015 at 7:00 AM||comments (0)|
Sacrifices. We idolize the word and yet fight its consequences.
When I was seventeen years old God took me through a process of giving my life over to Him—completely. This journey, I’m sad to say, took months. God asked me, “Would you die for Me?” and I could only answer no.
My no turned to yes during a missions trip to Honduras. Believing that God was going to literally bring me to a place where I would have to make this decision, I was terrified. This decision was one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make.
That is, until this year, as I gradually come face-to-face with the reality of living a life solely devoted to God.
I knew this year was going to be one of the absolute best, hardest years of my life but knowledge and experience are two very different things.
I am reminded almost daily of how blessed I am to be living here in South Africa. I love South Africa. I love the people, I love the views, I love the work I’m able to do here, I love the feeling of being in the center of God’s will (there is no place quite like it). But I also miss home.
It still baffles my mind how these two polar opposite emotions can exist simultaneously in one mind. I’ve even gone so far as to experience feelings of guilt—guilt that if I’m missing home then that means I’m not appreciative of where I am; guilt that if I’m content here it means I don’t really love those back at home.
But, for the most part, I had been able to keep my emotions in check…that is, until I spent my first holiday away from home. Whew, that hit me pretty hard. Skype is a wonderful thing but it cannot allow you to live life with the people you miss so terribly.
You can’t give a hug through Skype, or receive one. You can’t chill on the couch and spend the afternoon simply in the other person’s presence. And even though they can see you, maybe even hear you, you still aren’t there…and you never will be.
I have had one constant best friend my entire life. Last Saturday, she got married…and I wasn’t there. I will never have been there. I will not show up in any photos. I will have no stories to tell. I missed eating the food, the cake, watching her get ready, watching her walk down the aisle, hearing the vows phonate from her lips.
I did see the wedding— I even had a front row seat—but I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there for her on one of the most important days of her life. And it kills me.
Saying yes to God’s plans for me may have taken a lot of coaxing but being faced with the consequences has been almost unbearable.
Dealing with these consequences can be hard, even painful, but the consequences of saying no are far greater. It won’t be easy—you may even find yourself wanting to scream—but to be anywhere outside of the will of God…well, that’s just crazy.
|Posted by Alyssa on March 11, 2015 at 6:50 AM||comments (0)|
God’s strength is up for grabs.
Not only is it available but He’s waiting for you to ask.
During this last week, the team and I facilitated a tabernacle for Reach (a group of teens interested in outreach and spiritual growth). The tabernacle was made up of various stations where the teens could encounter God.
We had just finished a crazy weekend camp and we were all exhausted. During the 45 minute drive from our base to the church, our buckie (vehicle) was filled with silence and bobbing heads. On the drive I kept saying to God, “I’m spent, I can’t do this; I don’t want to do this today.”
Once we arrived and were preparing to start, my conversation with God shifted from negativity to a cry for help, “I can’t do this; I don’t have the energy. God you have to fill me. Work through me. Take over. I can’t do this on my own; I need you.”
Two awesome things happened:
1) He said, “I always have to fill you. You can never do this on your own. You always need me.”
2) He supplied. The exhaustion faded and I was able to speak His truth.
Why does His provision always surprise me? He’s never failed me before and He won’t start now.
A couple days later the team and I were helping out in a pre-pre school, Little Lambs. It was our last day and we had all determined to give everything we had.
I awoke that morning feeling lightheaded, nauseous, and tired. For me it was love at first sight with these kids so I was frustrated at how I was feeling.
I know from past experience that when I don’t feel well it can come across as disinterest and annoyance and I wanted to be sure that these kids understood just how much I loved them.
So I started praying, “God, I don’t know why You allowed me to feel this way today but I need Your strength. I am going to give these kids everything that I’ve got (which isn’t much) and trust that You are going to supply the rest. I need You to come through for me.”
And He did. He always does.
In both of these instances, my feelings of sickness and exhaustion returned almost immediately after the task was finished, reminding me that God had done His part just as He had promised.
My first reaction typically isn’t to cry out to God for help. We haven’t always shared the best relationship but for the first time in my life I can honestly say that I love spending time with Him. I love talking to Him and I absolutely flip out when He responds.
God is growing me at an insane pace already and it’s only been one month. I can’t wait to see how He will change me in the next 10.
|Posted by Alyssa on February 12, 2015 at 4:55 AM||comments (1)|
On Tuesday, our training was focused on the Holy Spirit. We watched a video series and heard of the awesome work God is doing in and through hearts in Brooklyn, New York.
Although it was seemingly unrelated to the specific aspects of the Holy Spirit that we were learning, God used this video series to heal hidden pain. He revealed in me deep hurt that had turned to anger.
I was struck by something I noticed in the background of the first video and I had no idea why. I couldn’t get it out of my head.
After the last session we were given a few minutes to allow the Holy Spirit to speak further. As soon as I turned my face toward the floor my eyes began to fill with water.
I was completely taken off guard.
As snot hang from the end of my nose and my sight became blurry I decided that if I was going to get to the bottom of my raw emotions it was not going to happen in a room with 9 other people. I needed to be alone…and I needed to blow my nose.
I went to the bathroom and started praying.
What is wrong with me? What are You trying to show me?
As He revealed the source I broke down even further.
I couldn’t understand why He had allowed those I dearly love to endure such pain.
I asked Him, Why? No answer. I asked again. No answer. The more silence I received the angrier I became.
I managed to collect myself—dry my eyes—but every time I took a step toward that door it all began again.
I slid down the wall to the floor, saying, Okay, You have my attention. What?
Then He finally said, The why doesn’t matter. I love them.
I completely broke down. I had actually convinced myself that God didn’t love them.
And that was it, the core of my anger.
There have been a few times throughout my life where I can recall the Holy Spirit’s teaching but I have rarely, if ever, willingly opened myself to His revelation.
It’s a scary concept. No one really wants to know what’s lying dormant just beneath the surface of their hearts.
It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing, painful.
I have felt barriers preventing a full, healthy relationship between God and me for some time and although I think I have at least a few more barriers to break down I have a love for and comfort in God that I haven’t experienced in a very long time.
I gave my anger to Him and He was faithful to take it away.
Remnants of the pain remain—the past can never change—but my anger is no longer present.
Chances are you have experienced great hurt. Like me, you have probably spent endless hours asking God why. But it’s not about the why.
He loves you.
He loves you.
And this is the best thing for you.
|Posted by Alyssa on February 11, 2015 at 3:40 AM||comments (0)|
I arrived in Cape Town on Thursday, met my awesome team who came to pick me up at the airport, placed my luggage in my room, ate lunch, and began straightaway with camp training.
As you can imagine, I was quite foggy and had trouble lifting my eye lids but God provided the concentration needed in order to absorb this pertinent information.
I was even able to stay up late enough to play a couple rounds of Outburst with my new family but as soon as my head touched my pillow I was gone.
Morning came incredibly too soon and promised more training before the campers arrived later that afternoon. Yes; day 2, first camp, 120 5th-7th graders.
It was long day after long day but God provided the strength even in my jet-lagged exhaustion.
God has blessed right from the start.
I was worried about how the team would get along and, honestly, when I saw them in that airport all I could think was, They are so young!
Awkwardness set in but it didn’t last for long.
They were all kind, helpful, funny from the very beginning and I felt more comfortable around them after just 10 minutes than I had felt in a long time.
God wasted no time correcting my ridiculous fears.
Today is just a quick update to get you all up-to-speed for my post on Thursday. (I’m really excited to share what God has been teaching me.) Lord willing, Thursdays will be my new posting days.
As always, you may gleam some prayer requests from my blog posts but I will always post specific prayer requests and praises to my twitter (which is linked to my prayer page under “Fuel”;).
Thank you for joining me on this crazy adventure and be sure to come back on Thursday for a lesson on the work of the Holy Spirit.