We’re Engaged!

I am overjoyed to announce that the man I have been blessed to call my boyfriend has become the man I get to call my fiancé and one day, my husband.

Caleb proposed on Elephant Mountain in Taiwan last night (this morning for you, America) with the lights of Taipei glowing in the background. He sang to me, accompanied by Nolan and Nicole, as all four of us simultaneously cried, laughed, and fought back nerves. I was not wearing anything special, my nails were not freshly painted (the picture below is a misrepresentation…), and I had sweat “glistening” on my skin thanks to the humidity and the hike.

In all ways it was unforgettable, simple, and representative of the life we will be starting together:

In our future, there will be lots of laughter and many tears of joy (with me, crying is a given). There will be friends and family surrounding us to support, mentor, love, and guide us. There will be (countless) instances in which my hair is not done and I’m not wearing any makeup, yet he calls me beautiful. There will be mountain-top highs and bright moments that twinkle like Taipei 101. There will most certainly be music.

But there will also be moments of confusion, like when I asked, “Did you get down on one knee?” afterward, because I honestly couldn’t remember…hah! There will be moments of misunderstanding, like when I yelled, “We’re engaged!” at strangers who only spoke Chinese…There will be difficult times in our life together, like the struggle to walk up the mountain last night, and times where it might be too dark to see each other clearly.

In all moments, especially the tough ones, I pray Caleb and I put God first in all we do and rely on Him for our strength. Our goal should be to do His will and always bring light to His glory. Through all things, I hope we will serve one another and put our own wishes last. And I know we can spend the rest of our lives actively choosing this love, never taking it for granted.

I am thankful for Caleb and for all of the people who have influenced us, as a couple or individually, throughout our lives. I am thankful for whatever path or paths led us to this moment.

I thank God for His steadfast love and the way He works through it. And I thank you for reading and for your love, thoughts, and prayers for Caleb and I!

proposal!

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A Heaven I Can Imagine

Last night I had a life-changing experience, I think. I don’t always recognize them in the moment, but this one hit me instantly. It changed the way I see my faith, my Christian family, and my eternity.

My reader Sherry and I were discussing the second coming of Christ, and let me tell you it was all getting very confusing. Acts 1:11 reads, “You saw Jesus carried away from you into heaven. He will come back in the same way you saw him go.” The idea of Jesus coming down from heaven in this way is hard to imagine. Where is heaven? What does it look like? How far away is it? Can we put heaven into words, into pictures, into dreams? Will we see him riding in on a cloud? Soaring from the sky like a bird in flight?  Exploding into our lives like a firework? After a lot of talking, I admitted I did not have the answers and Sherry agreed we could not fully know what to expect from heaven or from the return of Jesus.

We moved on in our lessons and I forgot about the heaven discussion. Quite a while later, we were reading Acts 2:42-47, which describes the selfless ways in which the believers lived. They shared food, money, and time. They sold belongings to give the proceeds to the needy. They opened up their homes to one another and shared everything (v. 42). It says, “They were happy to share their food and ate with joyful hearts,” (v.46). Sherry and I were struck by this idea of a fellowship of joy. We discussed how different our modern churches look from the gatherings of these first believers. We questioned how we could be more like them. We spent stretches of time in silence, each of us pondering the implications of this passage in our lives. Eventually, Sherry said something to the effect of this: One day, we will live in complete joy. We will all share our lives with one another, united in Christ. And then she said, “That’s the kind of heaven I can imagine.” 

I tried to hide the tears that were welling in my eyes, only to see that Sherry was crying as well. We were both moved by our longing for this heaven, this joyful fellowship, this selfless unity. We laughed a little and she apologized for being sensitive, but I know our tears were a genuine reaction to what we had just experienced. We had glimpsed a future that was beautiful and full of promise in a world that often feels so lonely and dark. We had rediscovered the goal of Christian love and unity. We had realized that heaven might not be a place we can see with our eyes just yet, but it is a place we can feel with our souls.

Until Christ returns or calls us home, let us set our sights on things eternal. Let us strive to live like the first believers, giving up all we have to serve God and others. Let us invest in our faith, instead of in worldly possessions. And let us unite in joy instead of clinging to the problems that separate us.

I know this is easier said than done, but let us be transformed by the hope that heaven isn’t so far away after all.

Blessings

I am very overwhelmed by the amount of blessings I have experienced in the past two days! I’m not the best at summarizing events, so instead of giving a play by play, I just want to make a list of things I am truly grateful for.

1. Meeting June, a woman close in age to myself, and bonding over our love of British accents, a Capella music, and the word of God.

2. Learning how to properly cut a mango thanks to Julia! And I’m just thankful for all of the new fruit we’ve been given to try.

3. Having Sherry order food for us and actually knowing what we were eating…

4. Praising God, praying, and singing in two languages, but with one heart.

5. Pineapple cake and hot and sour soup. Mmmm.

6. Cute kids on the subway!

7. Walking to and from the church everyday and appreciating the sights, sounds, and people around us.

8. The opportunity to spend time with new friends and go on adventures tomorrow and Tuesday (more to come on that later!)

9. Learning that laughter is universal and creates bonds of friendship faster than words.

10. Truly understanding the meaning of having a family in Christ.

I am so grateful to be in a beautiful place with beautiful people having the experience of a lifetime! Thanks for all your prayers!

 

Dumplings and iced coffee with tapioca!

 

Playing pictionary!

Some readers and church members!

 

Intentions

Good morning! (Good evening, America!)

My first reading session last night was nothing short of beautiful. I spent two hours getting to know a wonderful woman, Sherry, as we talked about our lives, read the gospel of Luke, discussed really insightful ideas, and asked/answered questions in a way I have never experienced before. As a Christian, it struck me how few opportunities I have had (or rather, taken) to share my faith with other people. Until last night, I have never had an in-depth Bible study in which Jesus was so thoroughly depicted and so clearly present. It was an awe-inspiring occasion and I am looking forward to many others as this trip goes on.

I receive daily quotes via email and last night’s made me think about what we are trying to do here: “It is quite possible to perform very ordinary actions with so high an intention as to serve God therein better than in far more important things done with a less pure intention.” — Jean N. Grou

With that quote in mind, I am hoping my team and I can see this trip as the incredible opportunity that it is. We might not see immediate results or know the impact our work does (or does not) have. We might never know the outcome of our reading sessions in the lives of our readers. Nevertheless, I hope we can make genuine friendships and invest our time in others. If our intentions are always set on God, then our acts will point towards him, no matter how “ordinary” or “important” it may seem through human eyes.

Smiles of Strangers

So the adventure has begun! After a very long trip, our team arrived and started to make a little home in Taiwan.

I am already falling in love with this experience and I’ve hardly lived two days of it yet. The people here have incredibly happy spirits and I have been blessed by their hospitality. We got a tour of the city yesterday morning from the woman who owns our apartment, Anna, and she was so patient with us. Her smile and her reassurance made me feel welcomed and comfortable in this unfamiliar place. She bought us breakfast at McDonalds (first meal in Taiwan! Hah!) and then showed us how to get to the church we’ll be working with for the next three weeks (more on that later!).

Last night we went to dinner on our own and ventured into the unknown. I ordered Com chày thit chà bông without any clue as to what it was. What arrived was what I’d call a giant fried rice pancake, covered in green onions and a brown fuzz that turned out to be dried shredded pork. It felt like a caterpillar and tasted like salt. I enjoyed it quite a bit, so I’d consider my first adventure in food to be a success!

com chay

Embracing new experiences, one plate at a time!

The man who brought out my food felt so bad about it taking long that he gave me the meal for free. I was surprised at his kindness and generosity, as the food still came out quicker than most restaurants in America. There are many similarities between Taiwan and America (for example, most people are on their phones on the subway, their fashion is very similar, they have McDonalds – as you already know!), but I can tell that their hospitality is displayed in a very different way here. This difference is found in the smiles of strangers, the small “hellos”, and the humor they find in the language barrier. Even the humidity is welcoming in a weird way! I am excited to get to know these people better and hopefully let you guys, my readers, in on some of the special things I learn from them.

After dinner we had our first meeting at the Greater Taipei Church of Christ!

greater taipei coc

The front of the church

We introduced ourselves to the readers and members of the congregation, sang one of our songs for them, and then arranged meetings for our reading sessions. I met with two of my readers, Tom and June, who seemed close to my age. Tom could literally not stop smiling, which made me happier than any stranger has ever been capable of doing. His excitement made me excited and I am ready to get to know him better! He was very complimentary of our singing, so I am glad we have the opportunity to perform for these people. Music is going to be a connecting thread between our team (I love singing with Nicole, Nolan, and Caleb) and a way to create relationships with our readers.

peeps in church

The team hard at work!

I am at the church right now – our first readers are coming today! Hopefully I’ll be able to post blogs more often now that we’re settled. Thank you for reading and for your thoughts and prayers.

P.S. I will try to improve my picture taking skills…my photos of the church are very bad…sorry! 🙂

How Can I Keep From Singing?

When I was in high school, our choir sang a version of the Christian hymn How Can I Keep From Singing. At that time in my life, I don’t think I understood the full weight of the lyrics. My life was too neat, too charmed, too whole to know what poetry like this meant:

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

( If that doesn’t paint a strong enough picture for you, please listen to Enya’s version. Nothing reverberates in the soul quite like Enya 😉 )

Today, though, I feel as though I can understand it better. I have had a very long week…I have experienced many struggles emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I have felt joy and stress. I have been successful and I have been too tired to think. I have had a few highs and one extremely painful low.

Through it all, however, I have been able (&/or forced) to sing. As a music major, the days in which you can simply stop singing are few and far between. There’s always a choir rehearsal or an after-school ensemble practice or a piece that needs extra work. Or in my case, a dress rehearsal for the recital that is approaching WAY too quickly 🙂 Sometimes it is enough to think, “Can I please stop singing?”

Thankfully, the answer to my selfish question is usually no. Despite my negative thoughts or my tired heart, I cannot stop singing. My life is too blessed and too full to ever see living as a chore. To ever resent the music by which I am surrounded. To ever neglect the gift that God has given. To ever refuse to praise Him. I must sing and I know that The Lord is the reason why. When I open my mouth to cry out, His song flows out instead – transforming me, bandaging my wounds, and soothing my soul.

Tonight I experienced one of those small healing moments. In the midst of an emotional weekend, our LST team had our first music rehearsal to prepare for our trip. We began a song called Indescribable. At a time when I thought my heart was not ready to be seen by God, words such as, “You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same,” changed my mind. As scary as it might be to have someone who knows you inside and out, it is a thousand times scarier to imagine going through this life without the one who created your inmost being. Being seen by God is being loved, and being loved is cause for singing. 

This week I will have many opportunities to sing. Some of those moments will be required – by my major, by commitments, by circumstances. Some of them might be in harmony with my friends and family. One moment will be a culmination of the past four years of my music education. And some of the most important moments will be in celebration of a life lived in service to God – in memory of a beautiful person.

I will have many opportunities to sing and when I do, I hope it is with a heart that is open in praise to God. I pray that I reach the end of this week with one question bursting from my life – “How can I keep from singing?”

Adventure Bound!

Tonight was our first official training session for our Let’s Start Talking mission trip to Taiwan (June 2015!!!)

Our team is unique in that we will be English teachers by day and singers by night 🙂 We get the wonderful opportunity to use our voices to glorify God and entertain/encourage our readers with music in a way that no LST team has ever done before. As members of a quartet (+ our director), we will spend the next couple of months preparing our minds, hearts, and singing voices for a mission trip unlike any I have ever been on.

I was asked to describe how I was feeling about the trip at tonight’s training session and I chose the word blessed (hashtagblessedyaknow?) because I am honored to be a part of such an incredible trip, with beautiful people, doing what I love, while experiencing something completely outside of my comfort zone. I know it will be scary at times, but I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do something new and exciting, while also building relationships with my friends and with people I have yet to meet. All in all, I’d say “Adventure is out there!” (Up anyone?)

Today’s session also provided the inspiration for my blog title as we discussed John 15. When we fully trust in Jesus to be our foundation, the vine that we root into, and the source of our sustenance, then we have the strength and the ability to do His good works and produce fruit for his kingdom. As I metaphorically “branch out” into the world, I want to spiritually remain a branch that is fully dependent on Him.

I’m not sure how this whole blog thing will go, but I must admit that my motives for starting are kind of selfish. I have a horrible memory, but I am also afraid of forgetting significant moments, epiphanies, and people. I’m hoping that committing to blogging about my Taiwan experience will help me be more aware of the blessings around me and the beautiful ways that God is working in my life. I also hope to look back and smile at all of the people, places, and stories that God wove in with my own, fully appreciative of it all.

Thanks for reading and for your thoughts and prayers for our team as we prepare for our little adventure 🙂