Following a Ghost

For some people, change is easy. They flow like a river, taking the sudden shifts in direction smoothly. Others struggle with it. It’s a raging river they have to cross, not flow down. Usually, I’m the former.

But not this time.

Change is easier when emotions aren’t deeply involved. Things get hard when the smooth river starts to rage. When your flesh is fighting against the change and nothing makes sense and you’re getting hit by rocks at every turn.

Change doesn’t always hurt, but when it does it hurts me deeply. It’s a grief of what could have been. I try to make myself forget all of the “could’ve”s and “what if”s that flood my mind. I know change doesn’t affect everyone this way, but it’s how it affects me.

Before I decided to do what God was already telling me, we fought about it. A lot. I wasn’t gonna follow Him easy this time. You’d think as a missionary I would’ve learned by now… not quite. In my mind, it wasn’t like the first time I said yes. I wasn’t saying yes to go… I was saying yes to leave. Yes meant going to America. Yes meant moving to a totally different country with another language when I was just getting the hang of this one. It was leaving all the relationships I had spent 3 years building. It was leaving the life I had fallen in love with.

For a ghost. For a life that I had no idea what it would look like.

During all of this, God took me to a verse in Job:

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him;
yet I will argue my ways to His face.

Oh, I was arguing. He had most definitely heard my piece. And I definitely felt like He was slaying me. But He asked me: Where is your hope?

I can tell you where it wasn’t: in Him. My hope had been in the wrong place. I had it in the future I had planned for myself. It was in what I wanted to do, not what He planned. And even though what He wanted me to do was something I had desired for years, it was easier to stay where I was. It hurt less.”Just a little longer?” I asked. He said no. I shut up. Then put my hope in Him.

How foolish are we? I was literally arguing with the Creator of the universe about my future.

I decided to follow that ghost of a life and I can already tell it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m going where I’ve always wanted to go to do what I love. It’s not what I planned; it’s so much better.

To sum it up: Hope in Him and He will work everything out. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, it makes perfect sense to Him. He is for you. He loves you. Just trust Him.

Change is inevitable. Life is full of it. It always hurts to close a book, especially when it’s your favorite one. You know the one, the one that’s written all in with torn pages and tea stains, practically falling apart. But there is so much anticipation for opening the next. On the shelf sits a book with blank pages, an exciting story waiting to be told. But it has one condition: you’ve got to live it first.

Even If

I have a confession to make. I, Caitlin Emfinger, struggle with doubt.

Yes, there it is. Written out for all the world to see. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. But that doesn’t mean I’ve figured everything out. You’re probably wondering what exactly that means. I mean, there’s a lot of things to doubt! I guess I should be more specific. I struggle with the doubt of if God will do things. I don’t have a problem believing that He can. I know that He can. My problem is believing that He will. That’s what scares me. 

Now it’s time for a story. A few months back, we had a girl in the Hope House get really sick. She’s only 12 years old. She flatlined multiple times while she was in the hospital. We were told on multiple occasions that she wouldn’t make it through the day. The entire time, I had no problem believing God could heal her. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He could. But would He? What if He didn’t? How would her family feel? The girls? Would the people in her life lose faith? And why would He take her? These questions raced through my mind for weeks. The good news is, I never got the answer to those questions. He worked a miracle in her body. She’s still in Cuenca for now, but she’s getting better. He’s healing her. She survived. And last month, she came down to visit us.

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Her first time back in the Hope House in months. It was an emotional day for all of us.

But you know what? I would have loved and trusted Him just as much as before if He had decided not to heal her. I wouldn’t have understood why, but it would have been okay. Because His ways are so much higher than our ways. In spite of my fears and doubts, He still worked a miracle.  

I thought a lot about the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They trusted God in the face of death. That whatever He did would be right, whether they lived or died. That His will is perfect. Sometimes we have to trust Him even if He doesn’t do what we think He should. Even if He doesn’t perform a miracle, He is still God and He is still and always will be good, even if He doesn’t heal.

Even if He doesn’t do what I think would be best. Even if things don’t turn out the way I want. I will still follow Him and trust Him no matter the outcome. Sure, I may still have my doubts. But you better believe I will throw them to the side and keep on going, even if it means walking straight into the fire.

Because He is still God and He is still good.

My Life & God’s Sense of Humor

I’ve always believed that God has a sense of humor. My life is proof of it. I mean, He decided to throw this girl that never even grew up camping into the middle of the jungle, right? But it seems like He always wants to surprise me.

Years ago, I served as a youth leader in my home church. I remember telling God, “I’m definitely not called to work with youth. Why’d you ask me to do this again?” If I’m honest, I mainly helped because I was asked to and I knew God wanted me to serve there, but I didn’t have a desire to work with youth long term.

This is where things get funny.

In October, I started working with the youth at the local church because help was needed and I had worked with youth in the past. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it the way I have. It’s my favorite service of the week. It’s so funny to me how sometimes, God takes the things we don’t really like doing and asks us to do it. But over time… you begin to love it. Then you wonder, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?”

After a few weeks, I remembered a message my pastor gave a while back on this verse:

“Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

He talked about how God not only gives us what we desire but that when we let Him completely into our lives, He gives us new desires. Oh, He gave me a new desire alright. Over the first few weeks, I was indifferent. I liked going, but I didn’t love it. Then one night my heart changed. All of a sudden I fell in love with those kids. And the thing is, that would have never happened if I hadn’t obeyed.

Why do we act surprised when God asks us to do uncomfortable things? It’s almost like we sometimes expect Him to keep us on a cloud for our entire lives, far away from anything that may make us feel awkward or out of our element. The reality is, that’s the last place He wants us. He wants us to grow and growing is uncomfortable.

I’m constantly reminded that He knows my heart way better than I do. He knows what my heart will be; not just what it is now or has been before. If anyone should choose my desires, it should be Him. Honestly, if I had followed my own heart I’d probably still be a portrait photographer in the States. And as much as I loved doing that, I’m glad that I’m living here in Ecuador as a missionary instead of doing portrait photography because that’s not what I was made for.

I’m thankful for a God that knows me better than I know myself. I can trust Him, even if He asks me to do something crazy. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

 

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Our incredible youth leadership team.

Iscariot // Tosca Lee

Iscariot

 

So I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I love books. So much. I’m always reading at least 2 books at a time (or more like I am right now…) and read all types. I thought it would be neat to every so often post reviews of books that have deeply impacted my life, whether they be fiction or nonfiction. That way you can also find some new books to add to your reading list.

We’re starting out with a fiction book called Iscariot by Tosca Lee.

Have you ever wondered what the events of Jesus looked like through Judas’ eyes? What if we didn’t see him as the villain he’s painted to be? What if… He was human?

That’s exactly what Lee does in her book “Iscariot”.

The book was written on this question: Judas was the only disciple Jesus ever called “friend”… Why? Why call your betrayer friend? This is a question I pondered for so long, so when I found a book based on it… I had to pick it up. I had to see what her perspective was.

What I read surprised me. Lee painted a fuller picture of his life and made him real.

We have this idea that he was pure evil and barely human. That’s not the case. He was a real person with feelings just like us, which Lee expresses so well in this book. She brings him to life, gives him depth… The last thing we want. Because in making him real, she made him relatable. And no one wants to relate to Judas, the man whose name is synonymous with traitor.

This book broke my heart because you knew that Judas would betray Jesus. And you knew that Jesus. Yet, He loved him. One line shattered me was when Judas said “No, He did not need me. But I desperately needed Him.” How many times have I said this and then turned around and betrayed Him? It reminded me of so many times where I was like him. One minute saying I love Him, then the next breaking His heart.

Judas was a person. Just. Like. Us. And that’s what Lee brilliantly and heartbreakingly shows us in Iscariot. We are no better. But in the midst of the tears, a hope was found.

That even though I fail, He can still love me. Even though I sin, I hurt Him, I shatter His heart over and over and over… I am still loved by Him. I can still draw near to Him. I can still depend on Him when I’m in need. But more than that…

I can still be His friend.

Grief As A Wave

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Grief. This is always something I’ve never dealt with well. A year ago yesterday, my great granddad passed away just 3 weeks after I had returned to Ecuador. I was in Cuenca renewing my visa and wondering how on earth I was going to be moving in a couple days when I got the news. I didn’t expect it to hurt as much as it did. I wasn’t super close to him, but he was a constant in my life. Something that had always been there. But then one day… he just wasn’t.

Reality didn’t hit until I went home in September and when I went to his house, he wasn’t there. It was like finding out that your childhood home, the one place you always expected to be able to go back to, the one thing that was always there was suddenly erased from the map. The memories stayed, but the physical place, the town, the house,  your favorite tree, all of it was just… gone. And all you have left are the memories of what used to be.

You see, grief is like the ocean. Most days are okay. The tide is normal, the current won’t pull you away too far. But then the waves come and crash over you and confuse you to the point that you don’t know which way is up or down. The current pulls you farther out and further down and before you know it you’re drowning in a sorrow that you don’t even understand. Then when you reach the shore, when you realize that these waves have taken away that constant, that home that was always there… the memories flood over you like high tide trying to pull you back in. But then it stops. And everything goes back to normal for a while. Until the hurricane decides to come once again.

I found myself in the same place yesterday as I was a year ago. I found myself hiding in the bathroom at church crying as the waves crashed over me, as the tears flooded and I was powerless to stop them. I found myself asking the same questions I had a year ago, feeling that same pain over again as the memories came flooding back. The same emotions, the same memories, the same questions. And honestly I still struggle with the pain of regret and I know it’s a process but I wish it could speed up a little because even though it isn’t constant when the pain comes… it hits like a hurricane.

I know that God is faithful to heal. I know He’s always with me. He’s the one that guides me back to shore. And even though I question Him at times about why He did what He did, and have even gotten mad… I know that He knows best. And even if I don’t understand, I don’t need to. I just need to trust Him.

So much can change in a year. But then some things don’t change at all.

Here’s To Carrying A Notebook Everywhere

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Hey, can I tell you a secret?
When I was 12, I started guitar lessons. I’ve recently discovered that most people don’t know this. I picked it up pretty quick and I enjoyed it. I quit playing at 14 when I couldn’t continue lessons. I still remember a couple chords, but I just haven’t put forth the effort to pick it up again. Meanwhile, since then, my brother has taught himself how to play four different instruments.

I used to design. A lot. Most of my designs are still sitting on my hard drive. I made MySpace backgrounds, Facebook cover photos, art pieces… I also sold a T-Shirt design to raise money for a mission trip. I still do this some, but mainly simple things.

And now the big one. I used to be a writer. I know what you’re thinking. “But you’re writing right now?!?” Yes, I am. But I used to write almost anything, all of the time. Short stories, poetry, essays, you name it. I even started trying to write a novel at one point. I remember I used to carry a notebook and pen everywhere I went, and I slept with one by my bed at night. So many times I would be sitting in a waiting room or in Wal-Mart and I would get an idea and just start writing right where I was. I wrote to cope with pain, to express myself, to understand God. I wrote my testimony into a story once because it made more sense. Writing was my release and my way of showing people what God had done for me.

Then one day, I just stopped. I can’t pinpoint when or why, but I quit using that talent. AT one point, I hadn’t written in weeks. A friend asked me what I had written recently. My response… Nothing. I was shocked and so was she. She asked why. I had no answer. I still remember what she said to me:

“Caitlin, if you stop writing, you’re gonna lose it.”

I didn’t think much of it then. But here I am on the other side and I’ve lost so much of it. About a year ago, God reminded me of her words. So what did I do? I asked God to give it back. I asked Him to give me back the ability I had to write before when I would stay up at night writing as fast as I could because the words were coming so quickly and they just flowed out of me like a river. And do you know what He did?

He laughed.

Then He said, “I won’t give it back until you start writing again. Do you really think it’s going to be that easy?”

Needless to say,  I got the point. But was the laugh necessary?? I digress. God gave me a gift for writing, yes. No one is denying that. But I quit using it. I’m the one that stopped writing. He never took the gift from me, I just let it get rusted up, and now the wheels don’t wanna move like they used to.

If you have something you’re good at, don’t be like me and have to learn the hard way to keep doing it. Whatever it may be. And if you’re like me and already have… Pick up that pen again. The paintbrush. The guitar. The camera. Whatever it is. Pick it up and start practicing. Don’t let it go forever.

So here’s to carrying a notebook everywhere in 2017. Maybe one day soon, I’ll be as great of a writer as I was at 16.

He Taught Me To Walk

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“But it was I that taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I had healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” Hosea 11:3-4

I love this verse so much. Really, I love the entire book of Hosea. It’s a beautiful story of redemption. When I read this, I realized one thing: God was always there. He was constantly guiding me to where He wanted me. When I look back on my life, I can see it. Even during the times that I wasn’t looking for Him or following Him, His hand was there taking me to where I would one day meet Him. And not just knowing about Him, but really knowing Him.

One of the most important moments of my life happened on my first mission trip to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It was one night in a small Baptist church, and we had finished our program, but the Holy Spirit was moving. I don’t remember the exact day, but I remember the details. The church was white. The floors were wood. I was wearing black pants that looked like they were from the 70’s and a black and white shirt with a vest. And I remember barely being able to get up because He was so strong. That was the night God completely healed me of the depression and insecurities I had struggled with for so long. This was the night I felt like I finally met God. He was more than a story. He was real.

But before this big moment, there were many small moments.

Like the nights of almost taking my life and being interrupted. There was a day that I actually went to my guitar lesson with the intention of taking my life that same night. Until my teacher told me that my smile lit up the room. I honestly believe that that was God. Like coming to what is now my home church and feeling at home for the first time. The first night I ever felt God’s love standing in the middle of the altar area, my heart matching the spring weather; growing once again after the long cold winter. The night He promised me that He would turn the ashes of my life into the beauty I had so longed for. All the nights of praying, crying, trying to let go… Then one night on the right side of my church at the altar letting go of the identity I had placed in my past and receiving the one God had for me. The miracle approval to go on the trip. The prayer service the week before I went to Bolivia, where I told Him to do whatever it took to bring healing because I was tired of being broken. The seeking. The longing. The falling. The getting back up.

All of those little moments, all of those little steps, were leading me up to the moment that I would meet Him. Some of those moments hurt, some of them healed the wounds I had made, but all of them were necessary.

The entire time, He was there teaching me how to walk. Even when I didn’t see Him working, He was there, in the background, moving things in the right direction. Placing people into my life that He knew I would need. Protecting me. When I look back, I can see where He guided me to Him even in my darkest moments. I see the work He did. The small moments that made the big moment possible. Those little steps I took towards Him.

If we all look back, I’m sure we’ll all see the same thing. But we normally don’t recognize it, because we don’t look at the little moments. We remember the big things. Yet, those big moments are built on smaller, learning moments. Just like when a baby is learning, he starts with one step. Then two. Then before you know it, he’s running. When we look at those little steps, we’ll see where He changed our lives or guided us down a different path right when we needed. It’s beautiful.
I am so thankful that He still healed me when I didn’t know Him. I’m thankful He was patient with me, teaching me how to walk while I was still in the dark. Guiding me with His cords of kindness to where He wanted me.

Life is full of moments, big and small. Moments of learning, moments of falling and getting back up. In those moments, He is teaching us to walk. Don’t despise the little moments.