She didn’t hold my hand for long, but she held it without hesitation. Her shoeless feet stood a few inches from the chain link fence surrounding the school we were working in that afternoon. She looked to be about 8 years old. Her yellow mustard colored shirt, what resembled a school uniform, pressed up against the fence as she took my hand and smiled.
I don’t know her name and I probably never will, but I know she was made for a specific purpose. She was formed in her mother’s womb just as I was formed in my mother’s womb. She runs, imagines, and plays just as I did as a little girl. My purpose is no greater than hers, and to be honest, my pride was telling me otherwise before I took her hand yesterday afternoon. That somehow I might be used in mightier ways because I have shoes on my feet and a college degree. This little girl was made to be loved by her Father just like me. She is worthy of a life of learning, loving, hoping, and dreaming.
Rewind to a couple hours beforehand, a few of our Freedom’s Promise team members took a Tuk Tuk ride to visit our construction team at a work site in the slums of Phenom Pehn. They call it “the tracks” which is an extremely impoverished area along an active railroad track in the middle of the city. The smell of fried rice searing in a large cast iron pan weaves itself into the air we breathe here in Cambodia. The people here carry everything (and I mean everything) on their small motorbikes. From live chickens to ornate rugs to crates of Coca Cola. The cars, motorbikes and Tuk Tuks here take part in a choreographed dance even the best of transportation experts would marvel at.
It took us about 30 minutes in traffic to arrive at the work site, with peanut butter sandwiches and helping hands for our construction team warriors. They were building desks and bookshelves for the school along the railroad tracks. Team members of Freedom’s Promise, Koy and Rin, started the school two years ago. The school is true divine intervention, a beaming light from heaven in the midst of extreme poverty. I saw the girl in the yellow shirt jumping side to side, in and out, of the greasy train tracks as we walked up to the school. A group of 20 children followed suit.
That same day we went to dinner with a group of our Cambodian friends, and I had the privilege of meeting a little boy named Moses. Koy and Rin adopted him when he was 6 months old from the same railroad tracks. He is a walking miracle, close to death when Koy and Rin adopted him. He is now a tangible example of restoration. After dinner we had a worship service, and I witnessed him sitting in the midst of us all singing to our God and thanking Him for His goodness. I imagined Moses, just like the girl in the yellow shirt, playing on the railroad tracks. His life looks different now, but God’s love and purpose for him does not.
Psalm 37 tells us, “The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance.... for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land.”
I read this promise from the Lord this morning on our van ride from Phenom Pehn to Poi Pet. Before and even during my time here in Cambodia, I’ve asked for healing and peace for the people we encounter. That they would see Jesus and experience Him in undeniable ways. But I’m slowly realizing I am the one in need of eyes to see abundance. I tend to see the lack in my life before I entertain the thought of abundance. I worry if I will have enough— enough money in my 401k, enough time to rest, enough endurance to stay in my current job, enough patience to wait.
I’m asking Him to show me the abundance in the midst of what looks like famine. To actually believe that He could be and is enough. In my own life, and in the life of those I’m meeting here. I want to see the abundance He already has for that little girl who held my hand and gave me the sweetest smile.
Brokenness is not the end of the story for us, and it is not the end of the story for the beautiful girl in the yellow shirt. I pray today she would encounter a moment of deep hope and joy. She certainly gave it to me.
There is hope here in Cambodia. It is alarmingly alive. And although darkness is also present here, and questions on justice in my own heart have flooded in, I have never been so sure of His love and power for the lost and lonely. He is the ground we’re walking on. He is here.
I don’t see the sun set often in Nashville, if ever.
My apartment is situated between the green rolling hills of this fine city. It sits at a low point which means as I look out my bedroom window right now, I mostly see the full tips of Magnolia trees reaching towards the what-is-assumed darkening sky of 7:30pm. I love this city, but lately I’ve been missing big, unobstructed skies and sunsets.
But to be honest, I didn’t miss open skies until I all-of-a-sudden realized I was no longer able to see them. Before then I loved looking at the large waxy Magnolia leaves out my window. Turns out I don’t miss most things in my life until my mind becomes aware I don’t have them.
You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. —Isaiah 26:3
What do you think about the most?
It takes a millisecond for me to know what I think about the most, and it so happens none of it actually exists.
I think about the house I don’t have, the husband I don’t have, the children I don’t have, the beauty I don’t have, the adventure I don’t have, even the love of my Father I don’t always believe I have. I look around and I see the gift of marriage and families in the lives being given to so many my age and wonder what I’m doing wrong. I wonder if God is not good. Too often I wonder if He really is withholding from me despite His character.
Author A. W. Tozer in his book Rules for Self Discovery says what we think about most often is of the utmost importance. It tells us who or what hold the affection of our hearts. It tells us who we are trying to become and who or what we believe will give us fulfillment.
I am so grateful for the gifts of grace and mercy because I am more broken than I even realize and more loved than I can understand. In the past 6 months I’ve felt this deeper than ever before. I’ve found myself living in the shadows of other stories that are not my own. My sin of discontentment and comparison have been kindly highlighted to me, and I find myself constantly dying to my own story for my life. Ah, the gift of humility!
I keep hearing my Father say, “Anna, look up. Look up.”
What happens when I look up? I stop remembering what I don’t have and instead become filled with peace and excitement for what is to come. The shadows begin to clear and I begin to dream. I believe this time of repentance for comparison has prepared me to take steps in my specific calling.
I heard about a trip to Cambodia through an organization called Freedom’s Promise (you can read more about it at my GoFundMe page) at a weekly Tuesday night dinner with my friend, Emily. Over the past 6 months or so, we’ve been having endless conversation about purpose in friendship and what it means to be on mission together. It’s been a new kind of conversation for me. It’s given me a glimpse of what God calls us to in relationship when two people are seeking Him first. Our friendship has been the big glass of cold water I didn’t realize I needed when I met her two years ago. What does it look like to join hands with the people around me and run towards my calling? What does it look like to be other’s biggest cheerleader?
As our weekly dinner began, Emily let me know the Lord had put it on her heart to ask if I would go to Cambodia. Without hesitation, I said yes. My Father was giving me a gift and all I had to do was say yes. When I called the organization, they told me they were in need of someone to help lead the children’s ministry portion of the trip. They had been praying for someone to fill this spot and believed I was an answer to this prayer. Since this point, my friend Emily pushed through fear and said “yes” to joining the trip. We will be leading the children’s ministry together.
Hand in hand, running towards Him.
On the more practical side, I needed between $1400 and $1500 to book my flight to Cambodia by the end of May. I received exactly $1500 by this point and as I sit here typing this letter, I sit in awe of His faithfulness to provide in the midst of my doubt! Now that my flight is covered, I need to raise an additional $2000 to cover hotel, food, and other travel expenses by the first week of August.
This certainly isn’t your typical fundraising post, but I also know I have been called to be honest in my story because it matters. More so because He matters. I wanted to provide insight into my personal collision with Jesus’ grace in hopes you would see all the ways the Lord is preparing me at this very moment. And that it might help you to think of the ways He is doing the same for you. I also hope you will read more about the mission of Freedom’s Promise and their incredible team both here in Nashville and in Cambodia!
Lastly, I ask if you will prayerfully consider supporting my trip to Cambodia and the greater movement of bringing heaven to earth through the prevention of sex trafficking. If you would like to offer financial support, you can visit my Facebook page for the link or click through to the donation page. I would also love prayer specifically in the months leading up to the trip for my eyes to be opened to God’s work in the people of Cambodia and for my heart to be softened towards the awful injustice of sex trafficking.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post! Let His kingdom come.
March 11, 1992.
27 years later.
One year ago I made a list of 26 things I never wanted to forget about my 25th year of life. It was a fun way to remind myself of all the ways God revealed Himself throughout my year! I wanted to do the same for my 26th year, which turned out to be one of my favorite years to date. A year hidden with the Lord in so many ways, away from the crowds and voices of approval I feasted on the year prior. It was a first for me, honestly. In the quiet I wrestled with Him and asked a lot of questions. In the quiet I felt loved more than I ever have before. This year was special.
I hate to say “here are all the lessons I learned” and then jump to the next year. I don’t believe I have a God who just teaches lessons. That would be terrible, actually. I guess you could say this year I knew more. I didn’t gain copious amounts of knowledge or become overwhelmingly confident in where I was heading next in my career. I didn’t meet a man and know he was the one I would marry. None of this came to be. In fact, I feel like my human “knowing” became less and less.
I knew more this year because I was with God more than ever before. For a long time God was someone I admired. Someone I liked. Now He is the only one I can’t live without. I cried a lot this year, both in sweet times and difficult times, and in the midst of it all felt that thing we call “the peace that passes understanding.” Over and over again I laughed as tears were falling down my face, and I stopped apologizing for it. I also had extravagant amounts of fun and adventure this year, a reminder we have a God who is extravagant in the way He loves.
I don’t want to settle for anything less than His best for me, but it doesn’t mean I don’t entertain the thought every single day of my life. Lately I’ve felt a holy discontentment for the things He doesn’t want for me, and I’m asking Him to keep this alive and well this year. To be less attracted to the mediocre realities in front of me and more attracted to His mystery. This is my hope for 27.
Twenty seven years on earth, twenty seven things I want to remember when I look back on my 26th year:
1. For the first time in my life, I began to very, very intentionally pray for specifics in my life. I saw God move mountains in ways that SIDE SWEPT me. He showed up in my life in crazy ways because my eyes and heart were simply open. Prayer has always been connected to performance for me. I’m grateful the true definition of prayer is starting to make it’s way into my life.
2. My little brother got engaged to his girlfriend, Morgan! They kept the whole thing a secret for almost a month so they could tell me in-person when I arrived home for Christmas. They are the sweetest. I’m so excited to finally have a sister!
3. I began volunteering for Big Brothers, Big Sisters last summer. My little sister, Andrienna, is a sassy, intelligent and amazingly loving 10-year-old. She brings out every ounce of impatience in me. One time she walked to the bathroom in the middle of the Mary Poppins movie and set off the security alarm. I was immediately embarrassed and wanted to scold her, until she ran down the movie theater hallway crying and jumped into my arms. She’s my buddy.
4. I visited Southern California last March for the first time since living there for a summer back in 2012. I loved being back in SoCal, and honestly, it felt like coming home in a way I wasn’t expecting. My mom was born in Huntington Beach so it’s all in the blood! There aren’t many moments in life that come with a perfectly tied bow, but this trip felt like a full circle moment with God. His faithfulness was on glorious display the entire trip. My life has changed so much since I lived in California. He has always stayed the same.
5. Witnessed some of my closest pals— Marietta, Alyssa, and Kacky— get married this past year. Each wedding was so uniquely them.
6. Nashville, you still give me all the warm and fuzzy feelings of being home.
7. I completed my first 18-month season of counseling back in December 2018. The morning of my last session, I woke up to flowers on my kitchen counter from my parents. I’ll never forget it.
8. I saw Tori Kelly at the Ryman last November and her a cappella version of “It Is Well” crushed my soul into a thousand tiny pieces.
9. The concept of time has felt weight-y this year. Someone said to me, “I want to be a young mom so I don’t want to have kids after 32.” I understand the thought but honestly the comment freaked me out. The fear in my own heart eventually pointed me back to what God says about time and how I need to daily die to my own timeline for my life.
10. I went on a weekend roadtrip to Asheville, NC in the fall with my co-workers Liz, Rachel, and Kenzie. I have to say Asheville has become one my favorite Southern cities. We hiked to a gorgeous waterfall, wore matching pajamas at our cabin, ate homemade donuts at Hole (everyone go there if you visit Asheville), sang 80s and 90s hits for hours, watched the sunrise over the mountains, and drank champagne at the coolest little bookstore.
11. I listened to “As I Am” by H.E.R. at least 200 times. She is pure, stellar talent!
12. Favorite books of 26: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Eternity Is Now In Session by John Ortberg, Rooted by Banning Liebscher, Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer
13. My friend Emily and I had a conversation about women in leadership, specifically in the context of the church. With a strong cultural focus on women’s rights in the U.S. right now (which, by the way, I am all for female equality), it’s brought up a lot of questions in my own heart. I certainly don’t have clear answers, but I know the ultimate goal is not to have women in leadership. It’s to have no other name then Jesus at the center of our hearts. My prayer is that both men and women further His kingdom, together, for His glory.
14. If you’re curious from my post last year, then yes, my body is still made up mostly of almond butter.
15. I spent my 26th year as a single lass. This relational status does not hold ultimate weight, which I’m so grateful for, but this article by Paige Benton Brown says what I would like to say about singleness. If this is where the Lord has me now, whether I’m at peace with it or I absolutely hate it, it is His best. In the words of Paige, “I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one.” Praying if marriage is in His plan for me, that I would keep my hands open to it this year without expectation.
16. I began regularly babysitting for a family of three boys and I’ve fallen in love with them as neighbors and friends. The 4 and 2 year old showed up at my door on Valentine’s Day this year wearing bowties holding long stemmed roses and MY HEART WAS NOT OKAY.
17. I spent 4 days in New York City with my college pal, Court, and it was one of the most magical trips of my existence. We walked from the Upper East Side to Brooklyn in one shot, saw Waitress on Broadway, ate soup dumplings and cookies from Milk, etc. Head over heels in love with that city!
18. Last January I met my prior roommate, Paige Goodie, and now my life is exponentially more joyful.
19. I talked about water heaters and small electronics insurance 5 days out of the week. It’s not sexy but it’s real life, and honestly, I’m starting to become a real nerd on it all (and am somewhat enjoying it).
20. I discovered a magical man named Graham Cooke. In one of his podcast episodes, he talks about this concept of God always moving us into the opposite spirit for a greater “instead.” He’s working on our behalf to bring us opportunities for greater joy, greater peace, even greater friendships. I found myself in unexpected friendships this year. I saw Jesus move in crazy who-would-have-ever-thought ways to weave stories together, and now because of His kindness, I get to call them my friends.
21. I harbored the biggest crush on Aodhan King from Hillsong United and I had to stop following him on social media when he got a girlfriend LOL. Am I 12 years old? Maybe.
22. Another year in the books with my small group gals. A much wiser woman asked me if I was beginning to believe I, as a leader, was the one saving others. I really think I was starting to believe it. This past semester I apologized and simply worked on providing space for the Holy Spirit to work. I’ve watched women in my group grow in unimaginable ways. At the end of it all, they’re some of my best friends who I trust with my doubts and my questioning. I’m so, so, so grateful.
23. I sat down to lunch this past month with an author and speaker I’ve admired for years. She had just returned to Nashville from Dallas after speaking in front of thousands, and there she was, sitting 3 feet from me. She was meek, kind, and surprisingly quiet. I went in thinking I would ask her a list of questions about women in ministry and get all my questions met. What came out of it instead was a blunt conversation about feeling restless, lonely and, honestly, bored. We talked about what it looks like when the Lord is asking you to leave and when He is asking you to stay.
24. I’ve been friends with Kate since I was 3 years old. In February she asked me to be her maid of honor. How fun is that?!
25. Close to 6 months of prayer went into a decision that birthed out of 26. It caught me by complete surprise. This summer I will begin seminary at Reformed Theological at their Nashville campus.
26. It turns out flooding is a common theme in my life, as it was this year yet again, but time after time it has lead me to new roommates I now call close friends. I’m expectant for this year’s new spot with my roommate, Jess! (On higher ground in a third floor apartment. Praise.)
27. Ephesians 5:8 tells us, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” I was once dead, but now I am alive. 26 let in so much of this light and I’ll never forget it. Here’s to living in the light, forevermore.
I promise this blog won’t turn into a smathering of engagement and baby announcement photos, but two of my closest pals, Jimmy & Chandler, were in need of Christmas card pictures this year! They’re having their first little one in March before making the move to Dallas. They are cute and I am totally biased, but I’m also correct.
I am absolutely in love with Lauren Daigle’s new album, Look Up Child. I watched this video when her single “You Say” released and I felt immediate relief. She’s been able to put my current life season into the words I haven’t been able to say.
“Steady the course, steady the course.”
A few days back I traveled to New York City with my college pal, Courtney. We stomped all over Manhattan (about 200,000 stomping steps to be exact). We saw Waitress on Broadway, the nation’s favorite T. Rex at the Museum of Natural History, and the hauntingly beautiful 9/11 memorial. We ate Shanghai street food and cornflake chocolate chip cookies from Milk. Everyday around 3pm, we would buy a singular taco from a recommended spot and rate it on varying scales of flavor, toppings, and texture. We (almost) mastered the public transit system. We visited Hillsong Church for explosive worship just before heading back home. I encountered God in ways I didn’t know I would while visiting America’s favorite city. The extravagant love He gives, even to the ones with dirt on their face, a cup of coins in their shaky and dry hands, was overwhelming at times! The privileged, proud parts of myself couldn’t believe He loves even them. But He does. There is no “me” and “them” in the kingdom of heaven. It moved me in all the ways I didn’t know I needed, and I loved every second.