Last October I decided that I wanted to study abroad. It seemed like a great opportunity to spend my Spring semester in another country and to learn Spanish.
I spent weeks praying about whether or not it was the right thing. I felt like it was a choice between studying abroad or doing a long mission trip in the summer. Doing both seemed impossible due to time and money.
Learning Spanish or serving in a Spanish-speaking country? How are you supposed to choose between two dreams? But I did decide. I decided to study abroad in the Spring and save the missionary thing for another time.
However, there were some issues with my classes and my study abroad had to be pushed to the Fall. It was a let down to say the least. I was stuck in America for another nine months, but I had no idea what was those next nine months would hold.
Surprise #1: During spring break, I led a college team on a trip with POI to Honduras. After months of stressing over fundraising, airline tickets, planning and meetings we hopped on a plane and spent a week that I wouldn't take back for anything. I watched my 12 friends gifts shine as they served with such selflessness. In the weeks following that trip, we cried over bowls of oatmeal, walks to class, and coffee dates. Each of our hearts were forever broken and changed over the poverty we saw and a culture so different from our own.
That week brought new relationships bound together with a deep passion for the “least of these.” Relationships that continue to bring encouragement to keep serving, loving and sharing.
Surprise # 2: One week wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to go back and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I didn't have the money or the time, but I did it anyways. I asked if I could go back for one month, live in the girls orphanage, and write about what I saw. Well, one month turned into two that changed my life forever. That summer I experienced some of my most painful dark nights alone, broken over the pain that surrounded me, confused as to why I was there, and overwhelmed at the never-ending need. But I also experienced overwhelming joy as I saw smiles on dirty faces, squeaky Spanish voices calling my name, and prostitutes finding a new hope.
I came home a different person. Broken-- with eyes opened to something so much bigger than myself.
* * *
I leave for my Fall study abroad trip in the morning. Its a difficult transition and in many ways, I’m too caught up in this whirlwind to be ready to leave again.
But as I look back at the Lords quiet faithfulness, I am in awe. My frustrating messed up plans turned into more than I could have ever imagined.
There is always a purpose in the pain and in the confusion. There is a purpose on those days where its all just too overwhelming to process, and on the days that are all smiles and joy.
I’m reminded of this beautiful, yet often overused and misunderstood verse:
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
I can make it through the hard days and the seasons that don't make sense because I have something so much higher and so much greater.
Now read this verse one more time, but in its context:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
Never give up hope, and never forget that there is always a purpose.