coming home.

to all of our our supporters, friends and family,

first of all, we just want to say thank you. thank you to all of you who pray for us. thank you to those of you who have commented here, emailed us, etc to encourage us, tell us what you’re praying over us and just to let us know that we are missed and not forgotten about. thank you for the many ways you’ve supported us over the last 14 months.

i realize we’ve been pretty absent from the blog for awhile and i apologize for that. we’ve both been wrestling through some big things and it was hard to write about. i actually wrote a post in September about how I was finally feeling like we had settled in here and then the next day i had several total meltdowns and decided maybe I wasn’t really that settled in. I really did feel like i was for about 3 weeks though.

Pretty early on in our relationship, we have always talked about living life with open hands; our minds and hearts free of expectations of what life will look like, willing to go anywhere and do anything that we were called to. Our first big “YES, Lord” was to living life in Kolkata, India and serving with Hope Of Life. This past year has been harder than we could have ever anticipated or imagined, however through it all, we know that we were absolutely called here for a purpose and there hasn’t been a single time that we’ve doubted our calling. We’ve learned a lot of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness through suffering and trials and what it means to rely fully on Him while living and working in hard places.

For the past couple of months, we have both been praying a lot of prayers of “What’s next?” and “When is it it time to come home?” Like I said before, we’ve both been wrestling through these questions. A couple of weeks ago, part of our leadership team at our home (and sending) church was here to visit. It was not only awesome to have friendly faces here, but we were also able to come to a conclusion on all the questions we’d been asking the Lord. And the answer was, “It’s time to go home soon.” So, we will be returning back to the US the week before Thanksgiving.

We want you all to know that we are okay. This is definitely bittersweet and there are a lot of really difficult parts of it with leaving the kids at the top of the list. But if we really believe our God is who He says He is… then we know that all we’re doing is being obedient. We are trusting him to care for those kids. After all, they aren’t ours, they are His and He knows way better than we do. We also have such a peace about this decision. It’s just another step to our living life with open hands.

We would love if you all would pray with us as we go about this last weeks. Specifically, you can be praying that we would be fully present in the time we have left here. That we would leave well and continue to love and serve well as we prepare to go. You can be praying for our adjustment back to life in the US and that we will not give in to anxiety or worry about the future (i.e where we will live, jobs, money, etc.)

Financial Supporters, there are still a lot of logistics to work out, but once we know those we will communicate them to you via email.

thank you again for all the ways you have supported us and loved us. we are excited to see you all soon.

love,

Preston & Alex

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to myself, a year ago.

23 July 2014

to myself, exactly one year ago,

you’re almost there! you have been plugging away at fundraising, working over full-time and helping Pk graduate. oh, and also preparing to make a major cross continental move. you are excited, a little nervous and more than a little preoccupied with packing and preparation. but i have some important things to say to you… so listen close, keep the eye rolling to a minimum and pay attention. 

First, step away from the packing. I know it seems so important right now and I really hate to be the one to tell you this, but on the day you leave you’re going to have to open all of your suitcases and toss some stuff out and toss other stuff in. It’s chaos. You will also end up spending your first two weeks in India in a hotel and living out of 9 chaotic suitcases. On top of all of this, you will accidentally leave your big bag of coffee and you will be without good coffee for a solid two months, but don’t worry, this will pretty much be the least of your worries. Basically, all the time you’re spending obsessing over what to pack is time you could be spending doing more important things. Which brings me to my next point…

Get on your knees and spend way more time with the One who has called you. The harsh reality is that there is nothing that you can do to accurately prepare yourself for what the next year holds. You are going to walk through the valley. It is going to be so much harder than you can even imagine right now. There will be days that you do not even know how you are going to get through the next ten minutes, let alone the entire day without crying or having a total breakdown. There will be days that you end up crying on a random street corner with so many sets of eyes on you. You will experience feelings and emotions that you really haven’t had to deal with before. But you’re going to be okay because you will learn how to cling to the Lord in new ways. 

While we’re talking about spending more time with Jesus, let’s talk about your identity for a second. This is going to be a big thing this year and maybe if we can get a few things straight, it won’t be as painful. Here’s the deal, I know that you’re used to being the smart one, the confident one, the one who has it together most of the time, the in-charge one, the cool, calm collected one, but these things are just things that generally describe you. These things do not define you. These things are not the end all be all. Believe it or not, you will not die if people think you’re stupid. You will not combust if you cry more than once every 4 months. And the important thing to understand is that your identity is completely hidden in Christ. There are going to be days when the only person who understands you in an entire country is Preston. And it is going to be so hard. You are going to crave understanding, shared history and community like you never have before. You’re going to want to be around people who know that you’ve been drinking coffee since you were 11, that you skipped the 4th grade and that you know how to write a business plan. But those people will be far away and you will learn so much about finding yourself in the Lord and not in what you can do and what you have accomplished. It will be hard. And you will not have it figured out a year later, but you’ll be a lot closer than you were today. 

i know that this sounds like a lot and you are probably wondering why you should get on a plane in 2 weeks… but here is one thing that you can be assured of: You never once doubt your calling to Kolkata, India. I know, after all i’ve just told you, it’s crazy, but it’s a huge evidence of grace in your life and how the Lord has grown you & shaped you. You will always know that you are absolutely supposed to be there, even on the hard days. And here’s the thing, you are not going to walk through this next year alone. You married an incredible man who balances you out in the best way. He’s still going to do that. You have an incredible support system of family & friends. It may take a little while for people to figure out how to care for you. But it’ll also take you awhile to figure out how to be a good daughter, sister, & friend from abroad. And if you’re going to learn one thing this year, the first thing i want you to learn is this: if you want grace & mercy for yourself, you have to want them & give them to other people. This will be vital to your next year. 

All of that said, good luck and don’t forget to cling to the one who has sent you, the author & perfecter of life. He has given you everything you need for life & godliness. Yes, even life in India. 

i think you’re awesome. 

love,

me

 

eleven.

I just finished one of the best books I’ve read this year. Actually, I’ll probably put it in the category of best books I’ve ever read. An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor is about learning to encounter The Lord outside of the walls of a church and in the seemingly mundane practices that make up our everyday lives. I could go on and on about this book, but the part that stood out to me the most is actually in the introduction. She talks about going to speak at a church and asks the priest what he wants her to talk about. The priest replies, “Come tell us what is saving your life right now.”

We hit eleven months in India yesterday. And it has been way more difficult than I ever could have imagined. Physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. But we’re still here. And we’re still fighting — for joy, contentment, gratitude, faith in our unbelief, perseverance. We’ve learned so much and we’re still learning every day. The first reason that we’re still here and still fighting is just Jesus. He’s been so faithful and so good to us over the last 11 months. I can honestly say that in spite of the hardships and difficulties, we have never once doubted that we have been called here for reasons both known and unknown to us. And we know that He will continue to be faithful and good for the remainder of our time here.

The second reason that we’re still here and still fighting is because we’ve both learned how to feed our souls in different ways here. We’ve figured out what works for each of us individually and in our marriage. We know that in order to pour ourselves out day in and day out, we have to be super intentional in filling our own tanks and letting The Lord pour into us. Nourish is my word for the year and it has been incredible to see the ways that The Lord keeps using it to bring me back to himself. That’s why I love this quote so much. It reminds me of ways that I am not an island. It reminds me of all the little things that have the potential to nourish my soul.

So in honor of our eleventh month in India, I give you 11 things that are saving my life right now, because who doesn’t love a blog post that includes a list? 🙂 Side note: These are in no particular order and don’t include obvious things such as, Jesus, Preston, family, friends, etc.

1. reading — I am a big time reader. My mom used to take me to the library as a kid and she would only allow me to check out as many books as I was old. We went once a weekish. I was the ultimate book worm as a kid and I’ve totally reverted back to it because it’s pretty much the only hobby I can retain here. Books I’ve LOVED recently: Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, Mudhouse Sabbath, Beautiful Ruins, and the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series.

2. music — on repeat this month: Joni Mitchell, Lorde, The Head and the Heart, The Fault in Our Stars soundtrack and fun Spotify theme playlists.

3. fun, pretty little things — i have developed a slight washi tape obsession. it just jazzes up the most basic of things and it makes me happy. Also in this category, nail polish, headbands, my fun quirky prescription glasses that I bought in Thailand for $4, candles and anything that would be in the office supplies section of a store.

4. encouraging emails — it makes our week if we get an encouraging email. we’ve both gotten a couple over the last month or so that have really lifted our spirits and reminded us that we can keep going.

5. Praying the 23rd Psalm over myself — I’ve been doing this in the mornings as I walk to the girl’s home and it is such a great practice for me. My favorite part = “He restores my soul.” This reminds me that no matter what I walk into or past on a daily basis, I serve a Savior that will restore my soul.

6. journaling — I’m on my 8th prayer journal since we moved to Kolkata, but the last little bit I’ve learned some new processing techniques that have been really helpful in my day-to-day processing. One of these is peaks, pits, praise & prayer. I thought it seemed really lame the first time I saw it, but it’s been pretty helpful in assisting me in categorizing and compartmentalizing my days, which tend to be really chaotic. (also, i’m a paper products fiend and this totally feeds that obsession.)

7. care packages — June brought some awesome packages and we know we have some in the mail right now. It’s both encouraging and just fun to get mail. + there are always loads of fun things in them that we can’t get here, so really we appreciate care packages more than we can say.

8. podcasts — up until recently, I only used podcasts for sermons, but recently I’ve discovered others that I love and that are just fun. My favorite is “Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey”. I listen to it while cooking and it’s just good for me to listen to fun, normal conversations. She also always asks her guests about what they are reading, so I usually end up with several book suggestions.

9. online resources — since moving to India, I’ve spent a lot more time online. This may sound weird, but it’s the only way I keep in touch with anyone at home and in learning to nourish my soul, i’ve had to tap into completely different resources. A few of my favorites are She Reads Truth, IF: Equip, Velvet Ashes and A Life Overseas. The latter two are aimed at expat life, but the first two are awesome resources for quiet times.

10. comfort food — we got home from Thailand last week with a suitcase full of things we can’t get in Kolkata. Mainly food. We brought back Goldfish, Cheez-its, pretzels, animal crackers, crisco, GRANOLA BARS, etc. We even managed to snag some marshmallows from the volunteer team that left all of their leftover food. Side Note: if you leave food from America on a table in a room full of people who work in South Asia, there will be a mad dash as if there were $100 bills on the table.

11. our trip to Thailand — one of us will be blogging about this later this week or next week, but know that it was restorative and refreshing and so so good for us.

 

Thank you for supporting us, praying for us and encouraging us for the last eleven months. I am so sorry that we’ve been so horrible at keeping up with the blog lately. We’re trying to get back to regular blogging now that we’re back to a regular schedule. So you can expect to hear from us more often.

 

what we’ve been up to {May}

I know, I know, it’s been a long time. We have a good excuse, I promise! For the past month, the HOL kids have been out of school on summer break. When the kids are out of school for summer and at Christmas, some of them will go to family members for the break. During this time, the staff was also able to go visit their families in the neighboring state so we were able to step up and give the staff a big break. This break has entailed us keeping one of the young boys at our home and also entertaining the older girls. They have come to our house everyday and we have played games, made cards, painted and watched Power Rangers. We even had several sleepovers! Ha. It has been a lot of fun, but it’s also been a lot different from our normal schedule. It’s been a loooong time since we’ve had a day off and we are certainly tired, but it has been great to give the staff a break and be able to spend such great quality time with the kids that are here.

Other things we’ve been up to:

— I have finished planning for my English class through the end of September! This is such a huge thing for me.

— Hot season is almost finished! Can you say Hallelujah?! The heat index is only 108* today and it is steadily getting a little cooler. I’ve heard there should be 2 or 3 weeks of flux left but then it’ll be monsoon season. I’ve never been this excited for rain.

— HOL is going to summer camp! We take all the kids and staff to a facility a little bit outside of Kolkata for a summer camp / conference. Preston is preaching and he’s been working hard on preparation.

— Preston is taking an online open-enrollment seminary class this summer. He’s a church nerd. He’s having the time of his life already.

— We’re going to Thailand in 3 weeks and couldn’t be more excited!

— We got a {temporary} scooter! We’ve been looking to buy one for awhile and haven’t been able to find one, but it worked out for us to borrow one until August. It has already brought so much freedom and ease to our lives and we just got it. 10 minutes vs. 45 minutes (including a 15 minute walk, 1 bus ride and 1 auto rickshaw ride) to church. Groceries with ease, etc. We’re still looking to buy one but are so thankful for this one in the meantime.

— I recently discovered that you can borrow Kindle books from your local (or in my case, not-so-local) library and it has been the best thing for this bookworm. I’d love to hear what’s on your summer reading list!

— This technically happened in April, but the Kingwood First Baptist AWANA kids sent our kids Easter bags and they were so great! And we obviously love getting American candy!

 

I’m sorry we’ve been absent… the past month has been absolute insanity. We promise to get more consistent from here on out. Thanks for keeping up with us and praying with us and for us!

cooler weather. so great.

cooler weather. so great.

our cute little house guest with a cute little umbrella.

our cute little house guest with a cute little umbrella.

one of our many park outings.

one of our many park outings.

this guy is a champ. sermon prep, online class & picking up my slack while i was sick. he's the best.

this guy is a champ. sermon prep, online class & picking up my slack while i was sick. he’s the best.

sleepovers in india mean making your house guests a huge pot of ramen noodles…for breakfast.

sleepovers in india mean making your house guests a huge pot of ramen noodles…for breakfast.

rainy day. so thankful.

rainy day. so thankful.

coming up for air.

If you’ve kept up with our lives for the last 8 months, I don’t think that it’s a secret that they’ve been challenging at best. There’s been the sickness, learning the language, adjusting to a whole new culture, battling the everyday darkness and so much more. Can I be really honest for a minute? We came to the end of ourselves a few weeks ago. It was messy. It was ugly. There were lots of tears involved (mine). But it was so good, so so good, because it ignited a shift in our thinking. We had been pleading with the Lord for awhile just to make things easier. Asking, “How long is this all going to be this hard?” over and over again. But finally, in the midst of the mess and my own desperation, I had to change my thought from “when/how are you going to make this easier?” into “how am I going to walk through this valley gracefully?” It is amazing how a small change in thinking can completely shift our lives. 

I feel like for the past eight months we’ve been treading water, splashing around, always struggling and often times feeling like we were surely going to drown. But now we’re coming up for air. We’re learning how to not just survive in our environment but to thrive in it. We’re learning that maybe this is the new ordinary and therefore we have to adjust and mold ourselves to cope with it even though most days, nothing feels ordinary. 

For me, coming up for air is a lot of small things. It means adjusting some of my habits so that I sleep better. It means reading more books. It means more regular exercise and more regular times of worship with Preston. It means choosing joy. It means taking care of myself. It means choosing openness when people ask how I’m doing. It means practicing humility and asking people for help. It basically means taking my own advice and feeding my soul more regularly. 

Coming up for air has been the best thing that I have done for myself in the last 8 months. It’s been refreshing. I feel like a more complete version of myself and I am coping better with “the new ordinary.” The valley doesn’t feel as low and the darkness doesn’t feel as dark. I feel like I can breathe better.  But most of all, I’m thankful for all the ways that the Lord is teaching me to obey. All of these things seem small, but when you put them together, they make a huge difference. 

 

“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, 

to the soul who seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly

for the salvation of the LORD.”

Lamentations 3:25-26

through the valley

There’s a scene in “Friday Night Lights” (the TV series) where Coach Taylor and Buddy Garrity are talking to a local community advocate to get the lights turned on at a park in a rough part of town. This conversation is taking place right after a kid was shot at the park while Coach was there trying to track down one of this players. The advocate, who is an ex-gang member, tells him that he has one question for him, “Do you really want to make a difference or are you just sad that you saw a kid get shot?”

As Preston and I were watching this scene recently, it hit me in a completely different way than it had before. In the US, you can often easily avoid the reminders of how broken our world is. You can only read news headlines or avoid the rougher parts of your city. We cannot do that here. Every morning, I walk out my front door and am immediately greeted by barefoot Bengali girls. Their family acts as the “caretakers” of our building. One of them has a freshly shaved head as a sign of her Hindu faith, she goes to a local school. She is one of the lucky ones whose parents can afford to send her to school. Then I start walking down the street, I see all of the other kids of the caretakers for other buildings who are also barefoot, but are not in school. I see dogs who look like they belong in a Sarah McLachlan commercial. I turn the corner and see old women digging through the trash to provide for their families. I continue a little further and see countless child laborers and other laborers. Seeing the other laborers may not seem so bad, but did you know that statistically most of them are probably enslaved? I see all of this on my 7 minute bicycle ride from our house to the boy’s home.

One of the things I struggle with a lot here is feeling like I’m not doing enough. I think that’s why that FNL scene hit me so hard. “Am I really wanting to make a difference or am I just sad because of the things I see everyday?” And honestly speaking, I think it’s a mix of both. I do want to make a difference. So badly. But I am also deeply sad and burdened for what’s going on around me. I wrestle through all of this daily. What else can I do? There are so many great ministries here. I am not doing enough in this city.

And then the Lord speaks. He makes me aware of my own humanity. How I can only do exactly what He’s called me to do. And this is such a lesson in humility for me. I want to do it all. I want to fix everything. But I can’t. Not through my own power.

There’s a quote from Katie Davis‘ book “Kisses from Katie” that I’ve been reminding myself of often lately:

“And even though I realize I cannot always mend or meet, I can enter in. I can enter into someone’s pain and sit with them and know. This is Jesus. Not that he apologizes for the hard and the hurt, but that He enters in, He comes with us to the hard places. And so I continue to enter.”

This is where I am right now. I cannot fix all of the brokenness around me, only Jesus can do that. But I can hold little hands, bandage cut knees, listen to hard stories. I can read stories and teach English and play games. I can do all of this fully confident that there are no small roles in the Kingdom of God. I can continue to enter in, to lean into the pain, even though sometimes this everyday life feels like a valley that we’ll never climb out of. I can do this knowing that He is making all things new. That He is a God that makes streams in deserts. That he isn’t afraid of this valley, this present wilderness. That he can handle my humanity, that in my own weakness, he is strength. And I can believe all of this deep down in my soul, even though I am typing this through tears and doubt. And I can be assured that this valley won’t last forever.

2011-08-04_1312468131

(Side note: if you haven’t experienced “Friday Night Lights,” you should do that. This was PK and I’s second time going through the whole series and it really is the best.)

the battle is won.

I have a confession to make… I have been combatting a lot of lies. I don’t even know how it happened. But it did and I feel like I’ve been at war with my own mind.

But here’s the thing, I am fighting a battle that was won many years ago when Jesus took my own hot mess and died instead of me. It’s not him that’s sneaking in and whispering “you’re not cut out for this place.” He is the one who called me here. And I believe that he is faithful. (1 Thessalonians 5:24). The Lord is not the one screaming at me, “YOU AREN’T QUALIFIED TO BE HERE.” For I know that He has given me everything I need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3). He’s not the one who is telling me, “you’re losing yourself here” because I know that my home is found in him. That because of Christ in me, I have the hope of glory. (John 15, Colossians 1:27). He is not the one who is whispering, “you don’t have anywhere to belong,” because I know that in the kingdom of God is the only place that I need to belong. I know that I belong to the Lord and that He has redeemed me.  (1 Peter 2:9-10) He does not tell me that I am “too prideful, too sinful, too much for this culture.” I know that those lies do not come from him, because I know that in Christ, I am a new creation, He has taken the old and the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I could go on and on; there’s a reason that Satan is called the “Father of Lies”. (John 8:44)

So I will continue to fight the lies, to speak truth over myself, knowing that truth is my greatest weapon. And i know that truth brings freedom. But the thing about true freedom is that you have to want to walk in it. And why wouldn’t I? Jesus died so that I could know freedom. Why would I keep walking in the lies? He has already won the battle. So I will continue to walk into freedom, using the truth of His word, remembering that his banner over me is LOVE. and LOVE always wins.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1