Albania 2017

Nestled just below Greece and across the Adriatic sea from Italy, is a country I’ve grown to love: Albania. Most Americans I talk to have never heard of Albania. Maybe you haven’t either. But, let me tell you, it’s a country I’ll never forget. The people are warm, reserved yet welcoming of strangers, especially Americans. The food is beautiful mix of Greek and Italian. I had gyros for lunch, and pizza/spaghetti for dinner. It’s less than 1% evangelical Christian. If you were to put all the Christians from Albania in the new AT&T Cowboy stadium, they would take up less than 1/3 of the seats in stadium. For 4 years, a group (as small as 5 and now as big as 32) from my church has been traveling to Albania to share the gospel.  I was there from July 1-11th and it was my second time being in Elbasan, a city just 45 minute drive through the mountains from the capitol.

Our team partnered with a ministry called CRU (Campus Crusades) and we hosted a camp for highschool students in the city. During the day, our team met with students in our groups for coffee to get to know the students better, and share the gospel with them. In the evenings, we had camp where the Albanian CRU staff would put on skits, games, etc. My group of students were all believers. It was such an honor to spend my whole week with 8 of the people who are part of the 1% in Albania. I loved hearing their stories, their struggles, their joys, their pain. It an amazing experience getting to disciple them and be encouraged by their faith even in the face of persecution from friends and family members. We got lunch every day, took a ton of selfies, we played cards,  we went to a park and did bumper cars, they taught me how to play an Albanian board game.  One afternoon, the students wanted to go somewhere and sing worship songs. So my coleader, the students, and I all went to a room upstairs and sang songs together. It was a beautiful experience: we live 5000 miles apart,  but here we are praising the same God. Friends,  if you’re reading this, thank you so much for making Albania feel like home. I had so much fun with each of you, your love for the Lord inspired me. I miss you guys everyday and can’t wait to see you guys next year. 

with a group full of believers who already were familiar with the gospel, I thought that I was going to not get to share the gospel with anyone that week. Until one of the Albanian CRU staff (Eri), invited me to coffee with a student she met earlier in the day. Us 3 girls all sat down at a small round table.  We ordered coffee and began some small talk. Eri helped translate, as the student asked me questions about America and what it’s like there.  I knew time was precious, so I wanted to turn the conversation towards faith. So I talked about how in Dallas, there’s churches EVERYWHERE. and how just down the road from where I live, there’s 3 churches on one street. Eri asked the student about her beliefs and she said she was muslim. She had fasted for Ramadan and her Grandma (who she lives with) has been to Mecca. The two of them talked back and forth for a bit and then Eri asked if I could share my testimony with her. And so I did. Halfway through, I had this kind of out-of-body experience, where I thought to myself “Here I am, a girl born and raised in Dallas, sharing my story of God’s grace towards me and His redemption in my life to a devout muslim, all  in the middle of Elbasan, Albania, as its being translated into Albanian.” I got straight up chills, yo. Anyways, so I shared my story with her. Eri shared her story in Albanian. And then Eri asked if she could share the gospel with her. The student said yes because she had never heard it before. So Eri went through a pamphlet with her that explained the Gospel, and I followed along in my english version.

While Eri was talking, I was praying “God open her heart, open her ears. Open her heart, open her ears.” Over, and over and over.  On the table, there was a glass of water. When Eri was talking about sin, God gave me the idea to pour some of my coffee in the cup of water which turned into a murky brown color. I explained to her that this is what sin is like. Gross, dirty, deserved to be thrown out. I couldn’t clean the dirty water on my own. I put some germ-x in there, and that didnt work. I tried wiping the outside with a napkin but that didn’t work. So, we  were hopeless, dead in our trespassed, But God loved us enough to make a way for us to be with Him. Later on, when Eri was talking about how accepting Christ is a decision you make. I mentioned the dirty cup of water again and said, “If I want a new glass of water, I ask the Waiter, right, and He’ll bring me a new glass. The same with Christ, if you ask Him, He will make you new.”

Eri asked the student if she would like to make that decision to accept Christ. And she said yes, and Eri prayed for her and with her as she gave her life to Christ.  This is a quick photo I took of our feet as she was praying. The travel, the stress of fundraising, the meetings, the stress of travel, the spiritual warfare leading up to the trip, all became worth it in that moment. Please pray for her!!

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Thank you so much for partnering with me on this trip. You financially helped me get to Albania so I could meet those students, have life-changing conversations with students, and so much more. May the Lord bless you for your generosity and support. Your prayers were answered in more ways than we’ll ever know on this side of earth. Thank you.

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Devil in the Dressing room

Why does the enemy bother convincing us we are terrible people using such mundane things such as our weight and appearance? I feel like he has better things to do like start wars in distant lands that don’t involve me..however, the reality is that he is causing wars in my  mind and convincing my heart that God is distant.   Why does he haunt me in the mirror and scream at me in clothes stores? Because  The enemy convinced two perfectly satisfied people that they were starving to death in the Garden and He won’t stop there.  Self loathing, insecurity, shame are  all tools the enemy uses to beat me down. Some days it’s in a dressing room when he tells me I am unworthy and unlovable because of the number on my clothes , some days it’s in my classroom, when he tells me that my success as a human depends on the good behavior of 3 4 and 5 year olds. He whispers to me in church services, and says that I’m not doing enough and that God is pretty disappointed in me. Even now as I write these words on my phone as I pace the aisles of Target, he says “wow stop being such a baby, stop playing the victim card.” And the voice is familiar, the one I’ve heard in my own head for years. It’s my own voice so, I can trust it right? Who knows me better than me? GOD does. He has known me for an eternity, familiar with all my ways, I don’t even know why I do what I do but God does. He knows when fear motivates me instead of love, he knows when I jump on the treadmill of good works to  try and earn his approval and he knows when i wipe my sweat and pat myself on the back for a job well done checking off “religious works” off my to do list.  Paul says in Ephesians it is by grace you have been saved…not by works. 

That my friends is permission to step off the treadmill, you can’t outrun your past but you can run to Christ and let him heal your past. You can’t earn God’s love or grace, it’s freely bestowed on you otherwise it wouldn’t be called grace. Stop trying to pay Him back. 

REST. turn off your phone. Sit up on your bed and tell yourself the truth: God loves you. Right now, all the doubts, hurts, joys, fears. He loves you. He won’t love you more in a few years, he won’t love you less if you wander. So , 

Take those negative thoughts captive, lock them up and throw away the key. Tell yourself “that’s not true.” And replace those thoughts with scripture. What’s one lie you can replace with truth?? Tell a friend a lie you believe about yourself and ask them to pray that God will help you replace that lie with truth. 

Real Talk: Confessions

Confession: I have serious digestion problems.

Confession: I have depression and anxiety.

I don’t remember when I started struggling with either of them, but both became very serious in November when I started attending a group at my church. It was a recovery group for women who had experienced sexual abuse.

Confession: I was sexually abused in my childhood and it’s something I never dealt with until now.

Reasons I avoided it and lies I believed: It wasn’t rape, so why did it matter? It was probably my fault anyways. No one would believe me if I told them.

Going to the group every monday night was admitting to myself that what happened to me was abuse and that I had to get healing from it. As the dam of denial began to broke, all the emotions that I was holding flooded through my soul: fear, despair, disgust, rage, apathy, to name a few. This not only affected my emotions but my body as well. I had panic attacks on the daily, and had serious digestive issues. Like I said, I’ve had mild anxiety and mild digestive issues since I was in high school. But this was life altering, and definitely interfering with my daily life.

Guess which issue I went to the doctor for first? That’s right, my stomach issues.  I knew no one would judge my faith, or tell me to pray more if I told them I was taking stomach medicine. I briefly mentioned the anxiety during the check up and my doctor said she’d love to meet with me to talk about the anxiety. I kind of shrugged it off and went about my life excited to have some IBS medicine for my stomach that could normalize everything below my belly button.

The medicine worked beautifully, I had no idea why I had waited for so long to get some help. I kept thinking my symptoms weren’t THAT bad, or that maybe it’ll just fix itself on its own but thankfully I got over myself and asked for help. My doctor wanted a follow up meeting with to make sure the IBS medicine was working and so I went in there thinking “i’ll tell em the medicine is great and then walk out and go about my life.” But since it was January, they decided I was due for a check up. They took my blood, they did a lady test, and then asked me about my anxiety. My doctor is a Christian so I told her about the stress I was experiencing due to processing all the memories. And she empathized and said let’s get you on something that’ll help you through this time. (Side note: I had thought a lot about taking medication before this, and had talked with a lot of women, my community group, my mom, my friends from college, my counselor, and really wrestled with this) And I decided that If I was going to take care of my stomach, I needed to take care of my brain too.  10 mg of Lexapro, every morning until January 2018. 

The first two weeks were scary. I felt like I was carrying this dark little secret around and no one could know or they’d say I wasn’t a Christian. The imagined judgement I felt from people was worse then the initial side effects. As the side effects subsided, so did the imagined judgement. No one actually told me that I needed to “have more faith” or that I was the cause of anxiety and depression. I told myself those things.  I told myself that I didn’t trust God, that I needed to have more faith and pray more and read more of the Bible and memorize scripture. However, as I attempted these things my anxiety robbed me of any joy in Christ. I over thought every word I prayed and every word I wrote down in my journal.  My depression told me it didn’t matter and that God never really cared anyways so neither should I. Depression and Anxiety were the reins, and the Enemy was steering me all the way to destruction.

As I processed the memories from my childhood in the group, I replaced the lies I believed with truth, God began to open my eyes so that I could  begin to understand and grasp that I am lovable, I can trust others and God, I am worthy of God’s affection, I began to experience healing and freedom.

As the medicine began to really start working, I realized a lot of nervous tics I had that I didn’t know were anxiety related started to fade. I stopped obsessing over my breathing (I’d lay in bed at night and convince myself that I wasn’t really breathing), I stopped rubbing my fingers together and shaking my legs when I sat. The panic attacks stopped. The feeling of overwhelming dread faded. I could focus on one or two things at a time. I could focus and really pray, I could really journal, I could really meditate on truth in God’s word without wondering if I was doing something that was upsetting God.

Right now I’m sitting here wondering did God use anti-depressants to help me get closer to Him? It sounds so weird. I feel like the church makes it black & white, you trust God or you don’t. You have faith, or you don’t. I still have this little voice in my head that says “Wow you’re on medication, you really don’t trust God.” It takes a few seconds during the day to take a pill. But, the rest of the day I got to trust God and know He’s sovereign. If I can trust God and take medicine to make my stomach feel better, then I can trust God and take anti-depressants to help my brain feel better. And you know what, after a month or so on the antidepressants, I no longer needed to take the IBS medicine for my stomach because my digestive issues are gone!

I’m 3 months in and have been so lucky to a) found a medcine/dosage that worked on the first try. b) to be surrounded by such supportive and loving people. c) to have had an amazing job to work at during all this crazy stress (my boss brings her dogs to school every day and I get to love on them during my break. how amazing is that?)

I had a much different blog in mind when I opened this document, but I think what came out is good. I hope it helps you feel less alone, maybe it helps you understand mental health issues more. Maybe it’ll start good conversations about getting help. I’m open to any questions or comments. Please know that this is simply my story and experience so far. It might not look like yours, and it probably wont. Medicine affects everyone differently, so don’t let someone elses negative or positive experience effect your decision. Let that be between you, your doctor, your family and close friends.

Until next time, thanks for reading my friend.

-Marlie

A crowded Mess

In preparation for Easter, I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke. Slowly. Reading a chapter a day. Reading the chapter over and over and over. Out loud and to myself. Certain things pop out, certain stories hit deep. One in particular struck a chord with me. Luke 8:43-48. Just 5 verses but it’s a powerful story.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him… We’ll come back to this in a second, but just put yourself in each person’s shoes, Jesus…the disciples…a person in the crowd. What do you hear? Are your feet getting stepped on? Imagine the heat, with all the bodies and then the hot temperatures. People pushing and shoving, standing up on tip toes trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus.

Let’s continue… And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately the bleeding stopped. 

When someone had a chronic illness like the bleeding, they were outcasts. She spent 12 years alone. Completely alone. Her only human interaction was with doctors who again and again just shook their head and said “sorry, we can’t fix this.” Let’s rewind 12 years of your life, for example,  I was eleven years old.  Now think over the last 12 years and take out every person, every social event, every positive interaction with a human being. This was what the woman’s life was like.  This woman had had zero positive interactions with humans for 12 whole years. Then she catches wind of a guy, people aren’t quite sure who he is, but he’s performing miracles.  And that’s exactly what she needed.  So she decides to go find Jesus, and notices a huge crowd. She was already well adjusted to being ignored in crowds,  accustomed to being pushed and shoved aside, she would surely be able to squeeze through the people unnoticed. She just had to touch him, maybe even just his cloak, and she could be healed.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Got to love Peter. “Um Jesus, YOU’RE LITERALLY SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE. So of course people are going to touch you.” But no, Jesus knew the difference. He had been in crowds before. There’s a difference between an accidental bump into someone, and someone intentionally reaching out and touching you. Did he hear her thoughts? Did her heart cries of desperation scream louder than the noise of the crowd?  When Jesus said those words, did the crowd get quiet and start looking around? We don’t know why every person in the crowd was there, maybe they were just looking to see what the buzz was about. I’d say a majority of them weren’t suffering from a bleeding that wouldn’t stop, that had left them outcast, alone and without hope. So they just shuffled around Jesus, were content to be near Him. “I bumped into Jesus, but it wasn’t on purpose.” said someone in the crowd. No one owned up to touching Jesus until…

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” 

I only tremble when I’m really frightened or really excited. I can imagine this woman was feeling both at the same time. Ecstatic that she had just been healed, but terrified even though she had been healed of her sickness, the emotional scars of being exiled still lingered What would they say? What would Jesus say? Her knees buckle and she falls near His feet. Did she look Him in the eyes or did she stare at the ground? The word “Daughter” soothed her lonely soul like aloe vera on a blistering sunburn. It had been years since she had been called any name, let alone, daughter.  As she stood there without family, Jesus  was sure to claim what was His, She was his daughter, a loved, cherished and precious human being. Her faith in Christ healed her. And she went in peace.

Questions:

  1. Is there a time in your life where you desperately reached out for Christ and He answered your cries?
  2. Is there a time in your life when you felt more like a person in the crowd in regards to your relationship with Christ, just shuffling around and accidentally bumping into HIm every now and then?

My story (pt 1)

 

The biggest lie I believed about the Gospel was that I didn’t need it. I would never admit that to you, because as a church kid I knew Jesus was the answer (to every question in bible class and in life.) But my life didn’t really reflect that. I was raised in a Christian home, I went to sunday school, church camps, VBS, Awana, played in a christian basketball league, youth group, bible studies, service projects. You name it, I was there. i was baptized when I was 9, went down the aisle at “decision night” at every camp. Rededicating, rededicating, rededicating. This time I’ll do better, I’ll be better, I’ll love more. This time I won’t screw things up. Jesus was the answer, but I didn’t grasp yet that I was the problem. I continued a cycle of experiencing emotional camp highs, and the lows of reality, my own imperfection and how exhausting legalism is. I was trapped on my treadmill and I was going nowhere.

I knew the Gospel was for sinners but I, much like the Pharisees, assumed the only sinners were the immoral people: the murderers, prostitutes, alcoholics, drug addicts. I felt entitled, proud of my morale life, and stuck my nose up at people who “couldn’t pull it together.”

The Lord used a number of trials in my life to knock me off my pedestal. I lost two friends to suicide, one when I was 11 and another when I was 13. These were earth shattering losses. Stomach in knots, crying until your eyes hurt, and many sleepless nights. I wanted a place to lay my weary head and heart, and there was no soft place to lay down in the house of legalism and religion. Just more rules, to-do’s, and a lot of “dont question God or get angry at him.” I began to leave my Sunday only religion, and begin to actually pray and talk to God at night when I couldn’t sleep. And in the mornings when I didn’t want to go to school. I listened to a lot of music, journaled some, and cried a lot. God was there through all the doubts, the questions, the anger, the frustration.

In college, I experienced another significant loss when my parents separated and divorced after 25 years of marriage. All I ever knew, all my stability and hope was in my family. I was in the middle of my college career and didn’t have any time to process the loss of my family unit. But I was surrounded by an amazing support system of friends and professors nonetheless. I spent my last semester abroad in London and had a life changing experience seeing London, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Once all the classes were done,  I walked across a stage with a funny hat and a harry potter gown on, and some words were said and then I was suddenly done with college. I hugged a lot of people that day and haven’t seen many since that hot day in May 2015.

I was plucked from my current life and was placed back in my mom’s house in Northeast dallas. I had no job, no friends in the area, no money, no church home. Ground zero guys, and I hated it. I had dreams ya know, and it had been a few weeks since I graduated college and none of them had come true so OBVIOUSLY my life was over (sarcasm). My darkest moments were that summer. I doubted myself and I doubted God. they say the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way you can go is up.  And as soon as I’d given up all hope, I looked up and saw a rope.

To be continued…will marlie ever find friends? does Marlie decide to travel back to London the next year to meet Chris pine? Will marlie hug all the cats in the world? all these answers and more next time on THIS HERE BLOG THING.

 

 

 

 

Weddings&Funerals

wedding

About a month ago I attended a wedding.  Two of my good friends were getting married. While picking out what to wear, I had unknowingly put together an outfit that was all black. “Marlie, you’re not going to a funeral,” I laughed. No, this was a time to celebrate. I found a grey sweater instead of a black one and headed out the door. That became a common theme throughout the day, you see, I’ve been to 7 funerals. I’ve done it:  Wear black, drive to the church, grab  tissues, stay strong, but end up crying in the bathroom, stand for the family, sit down, stare at the casket as the pastor says words you’re not listening to because  you know they can’t take the pain away, heart aching, stomach churning, get in your car and drive back home. It was such a relief to be going to a new church, in nice clothes and it not be for a funeral. On the drive over there, I was full of excitement, I entered the church and heard laughter instead of sobs, and  there were  smiles instead of solemn faces.

Instead of a casket, there was a beautiful couple standing on stage to stare at. Did I cry at the wedding? Yup, I sure did. Because they played the song from Beauty and the Beast during the wedding and that was not even fair. You can’t play  a beautiful song at beautiful events and expect me to keep my composure. All this to say, I’m thankful for the truth in Ecclesiastes. That there is a time for everything. A time for wedding and a time for funerals. A time for laughter, a time for mourning. A reason for every season under the sun.

Prodigal Cat (again)

A few weeks ago, my fat indoor cat Stinkle disappeared again. I felt the familiar wave of panic, desperation, grief and anger that came the first time she was gone. Two very long, very sad, very lonely days passed. I searched the backyard, I  called her silly name on the streets (and only got a few weird glances) and put her favorite blanket and cat treats on the porch.

 At the end of the second day I was talking to my dad on the phone about Stinkle, and I hear thunder, lightening and then just buckets of rain poured down. Then, I hear a faint “Mrawwwrrr.” I walked to the kitchen to the back door and heard “mararrrwwwoww, meoww” it was louder this time. There she was. Stinkle. she’d been in the backyard the whole time. I said “Dad she’s here, she’s home!!” I threw that door open and she came running in. she shook the water off, and I ran and grabbed a towel and began to dry her off. and I cried sitting on the floor holding her saying “You’re home, I can’t believe it.  you’re home.” and then i said “I called you, why didn’t you come??I called you, I called you. I called you.” 

I held that fat wet kitty in my arms and loved her no less than I did two days before. The storm brought her home. And my friends, the storms bring us home to our loving Father, does it not? sometimes we get super comfortable in life, we begin to stray spend a few days out on our own, and then a huge storm comes out of nowhere and we’re running home. I sometimes worry that God’s locked the door and thrown the key away. That he stopped calling me long ago. “You wander too much, you don’t love me enough, ya blew it.” But, when I saw my cat at that door there was no way in a million years that I’d just lock the door and leave her out there alone. I don’t care how many times she runs out the door and leaves me, if she comes home I am opening that door and letting her in. 

how much more is God going to do the same for us? he’s not going to give up on you, if you’re in a storm turn around and run Home don’t go through it without Him. Psalm 91:4 says “Under his wings, you will find refuge.”