Making Dreams a Reality: India!

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August 2011 (from my tumblr)

29 September 2011

“Missions week is really difficult for me because I want to just drop out of school and just travel forever and film and love babies, and at the same time, I know I need to focus and complete my degree. I’m so close to never having to do pointless busy assignments again and to say I’m SO EXCITED is a massive understatement… Another thing, all I’ve been thinking about is India. Africa. Missions. Babies. Documentaries. How do I know if it’s me wanting it or if it’s something Christ has placed in me? How do I know that my motives are right?”

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November 2011 (from my tumblr)

2 December 2011
“Everything in my life up until now has been safe and comfortable. I have to make my own, hard decisions. I have to make them coming up with real life, LA, relationships… I want my life to be one of those radical, game-changing lives. Johnny told me the other day that he really believes I could be one of those people if I’d just focus, and quit distracting myself… I feel like there are parts of myself I’m hiding or resisting committing fully to you. I feel like if I commit any chance for a normal life is gone (which is what I want and also what scares me). What I so afraid of? Why don’t I actually trust you in my life?”

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February 2012 (from my tumblr)


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April 2012 (from my tumblr)

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27 October 2013
“I’ve been reading the book on Oswald Chambers life, how he set everyone aside to seek you and how he wouldn’t budge until you showed him and provided him with the way to go. I feel like I resonate so strongly with him here:

“The Holy Spirit must anoint me for work, fire me, and so vividly convince me that such and such a way is mine to aim at, or I shall not go, I will not, I dare that; I shall just be content to earn my living–but no, that cannot be. From my entire early childhood the persuasion has been that a work, strange and deep, an experience deep and peculiar, has haunted me ever and ever.”

I’ve never been able to imagine a life like everyone else’s… which I’m sure everyone says, but I feel it so strongly. I couldn’t imagine a normal job, a normal home, a normal marriage, a normal life, ever since I was a little girl. I’ve felt it my whole life.”

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I’m going to India.

I’ve had a chance to share with some of you whom I see/talk to regularly that I’ve been “trying to work out details” for this trip for the past few weeks, and although I’m still waiting on my visa (I sent the paperwork last week), I wanted to actually officially share with you all what I hope to do. 

I’m going to Mumbai with an organization called Rahab’s Rope, which is dedicated to rescuing and restoring women from sex trafficking, as well as working with children. For me, specifically, I’ll be working/living at the children’s home from June 6 – 27, doing mostly mommy things, tutoring and sharing Jesus’ love with kids rescued from brothels and the streets. 

This is a dream I’ve had for years, and to say that I’m excited would be an understatement (the language seems familiar… haha). As far back as 2011, I’ve been wanting to go to India and to be with the kids and women there, especially in the Red Light District of Mumbai. Anyone who knows me at all knows my burning desire to eradicate sex trafficking, my love for children’s ministry and my hope to someday go to India. Even while I was in Tanzania in our little village, the dream didn’t die and found its way onto my pages spattered with tears and prayers. 

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Part of the reason why I shared all the photos and journal entries before is to just provide a brief background into a dream long in the making. Although the trip is going to be much, much shorter than my whole year in the village, I know that I won’t be able to rest within myself until I explore this idea that I believe God has put on my heart. I see that He’s been slowly nurturing this desire since it first “occurred” to me back sometime in 2011 after I read about the Red Light District and the atrocities committed every day.

Here comes the humbling part of the blog… the part where I am admit that I’m slightly intimidated at walking into the Red Light district and seeing things up close and personal. It’s the part where I fight the urge to ask what I can do of value in such a short amount of time. It’s the part where I realize how small I am when facing such a large evil as that which compels humans to sell young girls’ bodies for less than $5 USD. The part where I admit that I need your help… both spiritually and financially. Not including the initial deposit and visa fees, about $3,500 is needed to make this dream a reality. Not including an emotional encounter on Bourbon Street and countless documentaries, I’ve never been this close to sex trafficking, never seen it’s perverse face in broad daylight.

But I believe this is something God has asked me to pursue, and so, I present it, with all my shortcomings and reservations and choose to rest in the knowledge that He is in this, and only He can make this come to pass.

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If you’d like to support me financially, you can give by either check (payable to Rahab’s Rope. All checks must include, “appealed by (Stephanie Elwell)”, in the memo line) or directly online on the Rahab’s Rope website. Just make sure to specify that it’s for Stephanie Elwell’s June trip to Mumbai, or it will go into general donations.

Thank you for any and all for your support! 

“And I will give you treasures hidden in darkness–secret riches, I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name (when you did not know me). And why did I call you for this work? … So that all the world from east to west will know there is no other God.”
   - Isaiah 45:3, 4, 6

sick, thankful & dreaming

I’m more and more convinced that monotonous, working-just-to-pay-the-bills jobs aren’t for me… at least not for long periods of time. I can, and must, in order to move forward with my year, and while I like my job, sometimes you just don’t want to wake up at 6 am to pour coffee for people–no matter how sweet and elderly they may be. 

Working like this doesn’t make me feel alive or excited… just tired. 
Doesn’t help much that I’ve been icky-sicky since Tuesday night.
As I’ve mentioned before both these things can make me pretty mopey and it doesn’t take long for my spirit to wilt.

So I thought I’d take this moment in time to simply share how grateful I am for my life, more for me than anyone else.

I am grateful for the opportunity to save money and be somewhat financially independent.
I am grateful for the strength to say “no” to take care of myself.
I am grateful for my little Mustang and how she gives me the privilege of getting myself around.
I am grateful for porcelain toilets, hot water whenever I want, scented candles, air conditioning and clean blankets when I’m feeling sick.
I am grateful to be in the same house as the four most important people in the world to me: Mom, Dad, Christina and Sarah.

It’s too easy to start taking everything for granted. 
But nothing is forever. 
Especially not a seasonal job.
Especially for a wanderer.

I am thankful for the now, and I am thankful for dreams of the future.
Let me never be so stuck on one, that I miss the other. 

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(Future dreams coming soon!)

#themoreyouknow

There’s been so much resonating in my heart and soul the past few days. I feel as though everywhere I turn, another mouth is singing the familiar tune that I can’t quite identify… but I can still hum along to myself as I go about my day.

I sat down yesterday before church, in the glorious stillness that’s found only in the stolen moments between activities on busy days, and I wrote. I write a considerable amount (though not as much as I want), but this was different because it was a sort of poignant, direct, spoken word sort of poem thing, which I haven’t written since high school because someone told me “it didn’t rhyme”. I regret giving anyone permission to silence my self-expression in my private life, and so, I am taking back some of the gumption I had before I had my first run in with disillusionment.

I will not be posting it here, however, for a few reasons. First of all, it tastes political–which is distasteful (in my opinion)–and second of all, for now, I think it’s just for me. In a world where I feel more and more pressure to document and categorize my accomplishments, abilities and creativity on social media, I refrain as an exercise in self control… or because I’m just a rebellious little punk.

(side tangent over)

I think I began to realize my priorities were off a few weeks ago when I’d gotten up late for work and didn’t have time to sit down and read my devotions–a few days in a row. A typical situation, and a typical feeling of guilt. My feelings stemmed from the feeling of hypocrisy… how could I call myself a Christian when I hadn’t even read my bible? My faith was examined and found to be fraudulent, by my own judgement. I knew that my job as a believer was to “renew my mind” and get my thinking straight by “seeking God early” in order to “find him” (all true and valid scriptures). I’ve been reading my bible and journaling and studying for years now, and having attended a Christian University and taken an apologetics class or two in high school, I’m certainly no dunce. I know the scripture, and I know the truth.

This consciousness of my esteem for knowledge continued throughout the following weeks, displaying itself in new ways each time.

I’ve taken to reading the newspaper at work during lulls and coffee runs around our small, cow-decorated diner, and I’ve gathered an elementary-level knowledge on pretty much anything I’ve seen now: Drone strikes, civilian casualties, Putin, Ukraine, Venezuela, ObamaCare, Uganda and their Anti-Gay Laws. I’ve even gone beyond reading the local newspaper to reading outside sources online like Huffington Post, CNN, BBC. For the first time in my life, I’m being truly pro-active in gaining knowledge about the world outside America and I’d say I’m more informed and aware than I’ve ever been in my life (as much as I can be with governmental/media biases, but that’s a whole other story). I know a bit of what’s happening in the world.

Among my newsfeed, I’m noticing a new hashtag that’s gaining in popularity (at least with me). In order to summarize a humorous tweet or instagram, I’ll go ahead a tack on a #themoreyouknow. It’s brief, but full of possibilities. I have no idea how I’d even finish the phrase, but I suppose it’s like a modern retelling of Ye Olde “Knowledge is Power”.

I’ve been privileged in my short life to have a lot of incredible experiences (and I look forward to more!). I have worked, traveled, studied, read, written, felt, conversed, created, explored, and connected with others. I have been dragged (usually by myself) through the sludge and been pulled out by a loving God who cherishes my puny self more than I deserve or even know. Each season and each moment has made me richer, and I have gained insight and knowledge that I’m grateful to have. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

And yet, if all I have to say for myself at the end of the day is “Knowledge is Power”, I’m selling myself unforgivably short of my potential, my responsibility, my relationships and my intimacy with God. Ignorance is a hideous and crippling thing, but I think it’s safe to say that with the bombardment of news and information on every app on every piece of we own that the days of blissful or involuntary ignorance are over. We are aware. We know things. We’ve seen things.

At what point did I start measuring the authenticity of my faith by how much I know? If a day passes by without a devotion and I mourn it, not as a time I forfeited to spend intimately with Jesus, but as a chance to stuff my head full of some more scripture, what am I mourning? Why am I pleased to be familiar with 75% of biblical text while being obedient to perhaps 15% of what I do know? Where is the satisfaction in knowing “how much better I have it” than a majority of the world’s population? Why is it impressive to me (or anyone) to be well-read and well-spoken and well-traveled and well-informed, when it doesn’t motivate me to action–to love?

Let me be clear: there is nothing I could do to earn God’s love or to earn more value in His kingdom that he hasn’t already given me (Eph 2:8 – 9) and I don’t need to impress other people (1 Thess 4)… but I’m just tired. I’m tired of knowledge not affecting my life. I’m tired of patting myself on the back because of “what I’ve seen”, and acting like I’m not accountable for what I know. At the best my knowledge makes me appear spiritually and socially conscious; at my worst, it reveals me as arrogant and haughty.

Am I the only one who’s just tired of it all?

But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
   - James 4:16 – 17

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols.
Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue.
But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.
Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.
But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
   - 1 Corinthians 8:1 – 3 

What we believe, we do. 

Knowledge is nothing but a loaded gun sitting on the table, collecting dust. 
It saves no lives.
It prevents no evil. 
It looks impressive, 
and is utterly
useless.

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Knowledge is a responsibility to both change and allow Jesus to change who we are and the world around us.
So now that I know this, I guess it’s time for me to act on it.

Can’t Buy Me Love

Another blog so soon! And no one is as shocked as I.
I’ve been thinking about the questions I posed in my last blog:

What are you willing to sacrifice?
What are you willing to prioritize?
What areas of your life are you comfortable seeing suffer as you try to have it all?

Upon further reflection, I really think my assessment that the answers weren’t coming “as easily as I’d like”, wasn’t genuine. I think the more honest response is that they come to me quite easily—and quite differently than they used to.

In high school I worked my butt off—I was a more motivated worker than I was in college, even. I worked usually two jobs, averaging about 50 hours a week and aced all my college courses (which I started junior year), and somehow managed to find time to stay out late with all my friends at the beach or at Starbucks. My biggest focus in life was graduating early, with really wonderful grades that would guarantee me a good job.

I juggled a work schedule that no one expected me to, with a work ethic that I’m proud of to this day, because I learned it from my parents. I don’t regret my decision to do so because really I could have been doing worse than working with the elderly, but now that I look, really look, I wonder why I was doing it. I didn’t have grand plans for the money. It was just sort of the thing you did as a young person.

I certainly didn’t save my money. I know I made a modest amount considering my age, and I know that I literally have no idea where it went. I’ve never been good at budgeting. At 22, I’m finally learning to.

This will, in all likelihood, forever solidify the image I assume I’ve gathered over the past year or so as a world-traveling, missionary, granola head, sort-of-hippie (sorry, not sorry), but I don’t care about money.

I’m just finally recognizing it for what it was and adjusting my life accordingly.

Life in general requires working and some sort of income to make it. I have to work and I’m not opposed to it. But I’m done finding my value in how much I make, where I work and honestly, what my relationship status is (more on that at a later time). I’m finished uttering those petty little words of “I need the money”, as I put myself in a working environment that sucks the life out of me. Who doesn’t need the money? To live in America is to set stacks of money that we’ll get paid next week on fire. How is that even a good reasoning for living?

I’m finished forfeiting time with my family to chase the money. I’ve been without them long enough, and I don’t know how much more time I have with them.

I could be making more money if I got a second job. I have the time. I’m young. And “I need the money”. I finally have a goal: my next trip overseas! And I’ve got bills–nay, DEBT, even. And I am saving my money for these things.

But money and making it is never going to be the reason I get up in the morning.
I choose to do LESS than I could, because my family, my sanity, and learning to enjoy life is more important to me.

And so, I’d say, I’m willing to sacrifice the money. 

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
   - Ecclesiastes 5:10

adele got it wrong, but i still like her song

 

I’ve had a phrase knocking around my head for the past few days, the past few weeks, really. Somewhere between scraping eggs benedict off of yet another plate or forcing myself up the treadmill one more time, the idea smashed into my brain with the force of a freight train. Try as I might to ask myself where it came from, and what led up to it, it remained so definite and so inarguable that I couldn’t excuse it.

“They lied when they said we could have it all”.

From there, rather than falling into the temptation of using alienating terms and pushing off the responsibility on society like I’m prone to do as a millennial, I admitted my part in the perpetuating the fantasy:

“We lied when we said we could have it all”.

I’m not sure at what point I bought into it, this “you can have it all” lifestyle, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. I know I’m not because I watch people, almost as much as I watch myself.

I know we’ve embraced it because we smile and tell everyone we’re happy and in love, and it’s been however many months, and we still feel justified in harmless texts from that coworker or “best guy friend” and meaningful smiles exchanged with the barista who’s definitely more interested in you than how much whip you want on your chai latte.

I know we’ve embraced it because we reason that picking up a second job or taking on more hours. We may be tired—exhausted—we may still be in school, it may mean less time with our kids, but we “need the money”. We can do this. One job is good, two jobs are better… we’re young. One more sip of coffee, one more sigh as we roll out the door.

I know we’ve embraced it because women are shamed for having a career, over a family and judged for focusing on their families because that somehow makes them “repressed” and a victim of gender inequality. In fact, the best arrangement would be doing it all—after all, you owe it to yourself, girls.

That’s not even touching the amount of debt we put ourselves into to have and to get, but I think we’ve all recognized that amassing more material possessions isn’t where it’s at. There are things we can amass, collect and compromise and break ourselves in two for: accomplishments, commitments, prestige, and position.

The entitlement syndrome is more than our selfies and iPhones. It goes deeper than that.
 What if I told you that we don’t “deserve it all”?
That just because something is attainable, doesn’t make it beneficial? (I get no points for originality on this one, by the way)

What are we willing to sacrifice?
What are we willing to prioritize?
What areas of our lives are we comfortable seeing suffer as we try to do and be and have everything?

I’ve never really asked myself these questions, but the answers don’t come to me as easy as I’d like.