Monday, March 26, 2018

Spain




I had a revelation the other day. I walked past the window in our living room and saw the sun shining on the Mediterranean Sea. It was cold outside but I couldn’t resist going out to the patio to stare. I stood there for several minutes and gazed out at the sea. God always brings me back to the sea.
I thought about the fact that I’ve dreamt of living in Spain since I was a child. I have bucket lists that I made in elementary school that have “live in Spain” always listed near the top. And here I am. It hasn’t hit me. Except for this moment. I said to myself over and over again “I live in Spain. I live in Spain. I live in Spain.” – in an attempt to believe it. I looked down at the cup of tea I had been holding. The mug I was using had “make dreams happen” painted on it in gold. I smiled. Flashes of dreams after dreams appeared in my mind. Dreams that had become my reality. Answered prayers. God is so good. So so good. And so surprising. And so BIG!

Back in October of 2016 I heard the name G42. I knew nothing about it except the name. It stuck with me for weeks. I finally googled it and still didn’t really get answers to what it meant – ha! But I found out it was some type of non-profit and leadership & discipleship school in Spain. Very long story short (I would love to ahre the crazy long version with you!) – the Lord has been pointing me to Spain, and G42 specifically, again and again and again ever since. It got to the point that my close friends were telling me it was “stupidly obvious” that it was where God wanted me next. But WHY? I couldn’t get over the why. It didn’t make sense career-wise. It didn’t make sense financially. I felt like I had an idea of the long-term plan God had for me and going to Spain just seemed to prolong that plan. That plus, I couldn’t shake Hawaii off of my heart.

I said no. I said no several times. And G42 kept getting thrown back in my face again and again. I even accepted a job in Hawaii, moved to Hawaii, and within 5 days, God said NOPE in a series of events with family, my own health, logistics, finances, etc etc etc. My mom sat me down and told me how full of joy she was to hear the stories I had told her from the World Race about the new, clearer ways I had been hearing from the Lord. And then she asked me why I wasn’t listening. Dang. She was right. And this was coming from a woman who didn’t really want me to go. But she knew God did.

So I said yes. I came to Spain. I committed to G42. I did it kicking and screaming. I did it purely out of obedience. I did it not knowing why the heck God wanted me to do it but with complete peace that it’s what He was asking me to do.  I didn’t really tell anyone except close family and my immediate circle of friends. Mostly because I didn’t know what to tell them. I knew they’d ask questions that I didn’t have answers to. Questions that I myself was asking.

For the first few days, my prayer was simply for joy. If this is where God wanted me then why wasn’t I excited about it? It took about a week but I got my joy back. Finally. I know it’s largely due to a continuous prayer for it and because of the community He’s already blessed me with here. I haven’t laughed so hard in months. In the short time that I’ve been here I’ve built relationships that I already know will be lasting ones.

So then my prayer became WHY? Why God do you want me here? I don’t need all of the answers but could you give me just a little piece? And little by little, He’s giving me glimpses of the plans He has for me.

Part of what I will be doing here is partnering with a G42 Alumni to open a business that will help the community of Mijas. I have the incredible opportunity to run the business side of starting a business from scratch with a mentor coaching me through it. It’s a big responsibility and I’m up for the challenge. I’ll write another post soon about the business, how you can get involved, and what my role is.
I didn’t know this was an option when I committed to G42. I kept seeing G42 as something that was prolonging the rest of my life – like a season of limbo, of waiting. But in just a few weeks God has shown me how He’s using this season to equip me for the things He has in store for me.

In addition to the work that I am doing, the classes I have been taking here are continuously blowing my mind. Just last week I had a few classes that completely changed my perspective on Christianity as a whole.

Our days are full and exhausting in the best way. I want to write more than I did on the race. Mostly because I think it’s so important to share about the things that are going on here and to give you all the opportunity to get involved where and when you can.

If you want to contribute to my work and studies at G42 specifically, you can do so at http://generation42.com/donations-interns
Scroll down until you see my name and picture. Donations are tax-deductible.

I know this post may seem a bit vague, but that’s because there isn’t a whole lot of clarity yet on my end. It’s coming though. I’d love to answer any specific questions that you may have. Also ---- COME VISIT ME!!! We love visitors. And I’d love to host you. You can even sit in on our classes which I think you all would find fascinating.

So here I am. Living in Mijas, Spain. I don’t know exactly how long I’ll be here or where I’m going next. But I’m confident that this is where He wants me right now, today. And I’m learning for that to be enough.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your continuous love and support. Keep the prayers coming.

Xo
Jess

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Full Circle

In the fall of 2016, shortly after announcing that I would be leaving for the World Race, I was at my weekly Rotary meeting at the Waikiki Yacht Club. I remember this night because of instead of sitting with my usual gang of Nicole, Rich, & Paul, I sat next to James Ham. I got to tell him some of my story and about the race. When I listed my route to him he told me that he had a contact in Ghana. He knew a doctor there who worked in a hospital that our Rotary club helped fund in some way, he sent an introductory email right then and there and that's where months of correspondence with Dr. Gavin Apio began. I had no idea at the time how big of an impact this would play in the months to come.
As many of you know, our time in Ghana was extended. Instead of spending month 6 in Burkina Faso, we spent both months 5 and 6 in Ghana. Our last two weeks in Ghana were classified as "ATL" which stands for "Ask The Lord". This means we were not assigned a specific location, housing, or ministry. We were given a budget, told to stay inside of the country of Ghana, and the rest was left for us to ask the lord what he wanted from us. As our team prayed into this, I was reminded of Gavin. The Lord had told me in my quiet time weeks before this that He would provide the dots and it was a special gift of mine to know where to make the connections. I reached out to Gavin and although I wasn't able to get in touch with him, our team heard the Lord confirming over and over again - through visions, signs, odd coincidences, etc - that Kintampo, Ghana, where Gavin worked, was where He wanted us. So we went.
The road to Kintampo was fairly smooth. God kept placing helpful people on our paths. Within the first 24 hours we had already found a place to sleep and a small shop that could provide food and water for us. We even had Daniel, a young man who was willing to take time off of work to show us around the town. We asked the lord what He wanted from us here. After a couple of days with no signs of why He brought us here, many of us, including myself, were frustrated. We knew it would have been easier to go to a bigger city. We could have lived somewhere more comfortable. We could be eating different food. We could be closer to some of our squad. But no, this is where the Lord told us He wanted us. I prayed boldly. I wrote in my journal "Why am I here? If it's for you, I will stay. Please show me. Please show up."
The next day we walked around town. It's no surprise to me that of all the places in this town, we ended up living around the corner from the hospital that Gavin works at. It's literally a 5 minute walk. I was encouraged at the sight of the hospital. Since we still hadn't heard from Gavin we thought at the very least that we could pray for patients at the hospital. So we wandered around the area.
After months of emailing, we finally met in person and it was like a scene from a movie. I happened to be standing in front of the children's ward with Emily where Gavin was about to start his rounds. Without knowing who I was (we had never seen each other prior to this), he walked straight to me and introduced himself. When he said his name, I lit up. I said my name and he stepped back in disbelief. He was so surprised to see me. We hugged and caught up. It was a really joyful moment. I introduced him to my team and he showed us around the hospital. He showed us the water filtration system that my rotary club funded. It was so amazing to see something tangible that my club has done so many miles away. It was surreal really.
We went around and prayed for patients. I asked for healing and comfort for them. I still haven't seen immediate healing and it becomes discouraging. There was a tiny baby girl only 11 days old with some kind of rash all over her. I couldn't stop looking at her. Her future kept playing out in my head. I wanted to take her. I wanted to protect her.
There was a 2 year old with severe stages of malaria. He was losing blood. I knew by the sight of him that he was only getting worse. While praying, the electricity went off, as it often does in Ghana. It happens at least once a day. The generator kicked in a few minutes later. There's no AC so the room was warm and at this point I was sweating. I looked over and saw a cockroach crawling in the wall. We moved to the emergency room. One of the ladies I prayed for had been unconscious for 4 days. She had just suffered her 2nd stroke. She had gray hair and a tired face but she was only 55, close to my mother's age. I didn't want to leave her side. She was breathing heavily now. A few days later we found out that she passed away.
Gavin introduced us to a cheerful nurse practitioner named Haruna. He was wearing a big hat and a hipster shirt. When we asked about the hat he said that every man needs something that defines him in a room full of others. Because if no one remembers you in a room then were you ever really there? He's been wearing his hat for 15 years. He invited us into his consultation room to talk. We sat and talked story for hours. He wanted to know why we were on the race. This was such a good reminder for me in a time where I've been in the pits. The conversation reminded me why I'm here. I could see how our stories were resonating in him and it brought tears to my eyes. He was raised Muslim. His family is Muslim. But he identifies with Christianity now. He expressed the desire to be baptized one day. I peaked with excitement and told him that if he wanted that not to wait a second longer and that we would make it happen if he wanted. So we set a date. The following Saturday.
It wasn't until later that evening that I connected the dots of the full circle.
Twelve years ago, I was baptized in Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River, in Uganda, Africa. I knew then that God was calling me to do missions. I knew that I desired to be back in Africa and I promised myself that I would make it back here by the time I was 30. God is faithful. And here I am. 12 years later, at age 30, in Africa, not for my own baptism but to baptize another. Hoping that God captures another heart like He captured mine 12 years ago.
Full circle.
The day was beautiful and perfect. We went to the nearby waterfalls with Gavin, Haruna, and some of his friends. Emily and I performed the baptism. I could not stop smiling and neither could Haruna. We talked about the meaning of a baptism, presented him with a Bible, and connected him with Daniel. We pray that their relationship grows into one where they can encourage each other.
He planned this all along. 12 years ago when 18 year old me nervously asked if I could be baptized, He was preparing me. He knew that I would be back here. He knew that I needed 12 years of growth and intimacy and life and relationships.
Like my own baptism, this day is one that I will never forget.
Africa has been the toughest part of my race thus far, but I'd do it all again for this one moment.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Halfway

"Currently sitting on a blue plastic chair under a mango tree. Heat index is 101. Humidity is over 80%. Every part of my body is dirty. Every part of it is moist with sweat. I'm used to my own smell and the smell of my team by now. Every 5 seconds I am killing an ant on me or swatting a fly away. I can't keep the dirt off of my feet even with shoes on. Even a shower isn't worth looking forward to. When you replace a shower head with only a bucket of water you don't ever feel fully clean. And the second you are done you begin sweating again. And with our $4 per day food budget and lack of options at any "grocery store" or market, the term "meal" is used loosely and I don't imagine feeling full anytime soon. Even sleep is tough to feel excited about. The 7 of us lay on the floor next to each other like sardines packed together in a room with one fan and a tin roof. The Islamic music, chickens, roosters, and children form a soundtrack that's on repeat. I wish this was all an exaggeration. Uncomfortable would be an understatement. But the reality is that I am still very blessed. My God is still a good one."
This was taken from a journal entry that I wrote on April 14, 2017 in Adiake, Côte d'Ivoire. Since then, I've had 2 cases of malaria, 2 parasites, a rollercoaster of stomach issues, waves of emotions, relocated to 4 different cities, and am currently in Sunyani, Ghana. They (Adventures in Missions) talk about a "mood curve" often. I'm sure you've all seen some form of this. You start out at a high point of the curve and you move up and down it throughout the journey. I'm going to be honest with you - most of Africa has been in the pits for me. For the first time, I understand why people quit the race. I understand why people give up and go home. I understand why people have a crappy attitude and check out. They warned us of this. I knew it was coming. They even said it would come around the halfway point. And here we are - 5.5 months in. Halfway. From the moment you wake up to the second you put your head down for bed, race life can be exhausting.
But don't worry about me. With the pits, comes a peak. Always a peak. And as I'm sitting down here, I can see the peak way up there. I get glimpses of it when I hold a child that won't let go. Or when we sit with a woman who cries to us because we bring with us an answer to her prayers. Or when we meet a man who feels encouraged by the good news. Or when I gently feel the spirit moving in ways I never thought I could. And when I speak to people on my squad who are sitting with me down here, who let me be me, who continuously remind me of why we are here.
Halfway.
Life on the race is hard. But as I wrote in my journal, my God is a good one. And that alone is enough to get me out of the pit.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

My Story Matters

A friend recommended that I ask God for a word for my 30th year of life.
The word that keeps coming to me is OWNERSHIP.

Owning my life.
Owning my relationship with Him.
Owning my story.

My story matters. 
It's mine to share.
It's made me who I am today. And I am proud.

It may have taken me 30 years, but this is my story.
Watch below or use this link! https://youtu.be/WINODjfWrLM

Special thank you to Kelsay Singleton for sharing her passion with me and helping me share my testimony in such a beautiful way. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I Wouldn't Have Picked Them

I AM OBSESSED WITH THESE HUMANS!!! 
From jessicamarietaylor.theworldrace.org
From jessicamarietaylor.theworldrace.org
But the truth is, it hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows. You used to be able to cut the tension between us with a knife. In fact, I think the rest of our squad would agree that our team was the most disunited team as we launched onto the race. But we persevered, we fought the good fight, we CHOSE to love each other. And man I'm so glad we did. 
From jessicamarietaylor.theworldrace.org
I met all of them at training camp (TC) in October 2016. In fact, I met our whole squad then. All 54 of them. 54 people is a lot. Naturally, I spent each day at TC intentionally setting aside time to build relationships. And I built some good ones. At the end of TC when they announced our teams, I looked around at the 6 people I was matched with. One of my first reactions was to burst into tears. (Sounds dramatic but we were also sleep deprived, food deprived, cold, uncomfortable, and emotionally picked apart!) I looked at them and wondered WHY? What did AIM see in them that they thought would work with me? Why didn't I get paired with any of the people I had so intentionally built relationships with? I didn't have anything against them except that I didn't know them at all. I was about to spend every second of the next 4+ months with these strangers! These are the people I would be living with, working with, sleeping with, grocery shopping with, laughing with, crying with, fighting with, singing with, dancing with, literally EVERYTHING you can thing of with.

I went into month 1 in Colombia hesitant but with an open mind. We went through a brief honeymoon stage that was full of fun and continuous laughter. But AIM knows that life is more than fun and games and forced us to face the tough stuff. They sat us down at debrief and asked us to talk all of our problems out. And we did. And it was hard. And it was ugly. And there were tears. Put 7 girls together and ask them to do everything together - it's tough! The love for each other didn't come easily. We had to choose it. Every day. Sometimes every hour. We had to learn unconditional love and practice it.

During month 2 in Ecuador, I could feel myself growing closer and closer to each individual team member. Things weren't perfect but I could feel us growing, together.

Month 3 in Peru has been our toughest month thus far with ministry and living conditions. But ironically, it's been our best month as a team. We've laughed so hard it hurts and have too many inside jokes to name. They know what to do when I'm grumpy or sad. They show me grace. They lift me up. I'm so proud of each of us for pushing through and fighting for each other. I wouldn't trade a single one of them and I'd pick them every time if I could.

Brittanee Danae - my fellow 29 year old. She's the mama of our crew. She seems quiet but don't let her fool you. She's one of the most fun girls and is always up for an adventure. She takes care of all of us and is the first person we run to at the first sight of any illness. She's examined more body parts than I'm willing to share and whether it's groceries or a llama sweater, she's always down to shop - and make killer bargains. You can hear her laugh from a mile away. I've seen her overcome adversity firsthand. She left for a bit during month 1 and we felt it. There was a piece of our tribe missing and her being back has made all the difference.

Delaney Rose - our sugar mama. She keeps us in line - with money, time, and basically all logistics. She's a rule follower so when we can convince her that a rule is meant to be broken, you KNOW it's legit. She has unwavering faith and is always willing to listen. She's Switzerland, always a calming force and non-biased party, and Lord knows we need that.

Emily Elizabeth can make me laugh all day everyday. Her sarcastic sense of humor is my jam. Sometimes all she has to do is give me a look and I can't control my giggles. She knows the Bible more than anyone I've ever met. I go to her with all of my faith questions and even when she doesn't have the answer, she'll follow up days later with insight. There have been nights where she has stayed up with me for hours calming my curious mind. But my favorite thing about her is her loyalty. When she loves you, she's all in. 

Kalie Rose, the woman of many talents. A photographer, artist, singer, chef, graphic designer, barista, yoga instructor, friend. I could keep going but the point I'm trying to make is that we hit the jackpot with her. Along with her many talents, she has the biggest servant heart. She's the first to volunteer even when the job isn't so appealing. She listens and offers gentle advice. She never sleeps and will also never turn down coffee. Ever. I connected with her on the first day of TC and our friendship has been growing ever since.

Kelsay Renee - my fellow Texan! Our cowgirl. Our prayer warrior. I admittedly had false judgements about her before I got to know her. I didn't see how we could get along but boy was I wrong. She's one of my favorite people to be around. At only 22, she's incredibly full of wisdom. I know any advice from her will be Godly. She always directs us to prayer. When she talks about Jesus, you'd think she was talking about her best friend. And it's because she is. She's a talented videographer and she pushes me to be better. She encourages me and holds me accountable.

Sara Taylor - my little Sarita. She's the leader of our team. She wouldn't have chosen this role for herself but I'm glad that AIM did. About a week after TC I realized that her name was meaningful to me. In 2005, during the mission trip that lead my heart to missions, I met an orphan named Sara. I still think of her often. The Lord putting me on a team with a leader named Sara was like a little nod from Him that I am where I'm supposed to be. Then during month 1 we had another revelation. Sara has an estranged older sister who she longs for. Guess what her name is? Jessica. And she's my age. Oh, and Sara's middle name is Taylor. Yea, God knew what He was doing. Month 1 we had to share a bed with each other, month 2 we shared a bunk, month 3 our beds were beside each other and somehow we always end up sleeping next to each other at whatever hostel, floor, etc that the race leads us to. She drives me crazy but also fills my heart. She's my cheerleader. She steals my stuff and does my hair for me most days. She's the little sister I never had.

I wouldn't have picked them then but I'd pick them over and over again now. God knew what He was doing. His plans are always, always better.

/////
From jessicamarietaylor.theworldrace.org
Please say a prayer for us as we go into month 4 in Côte d'Ivoire - which will likely be our last month together as a team!!! And since our God is a big one, capable of all things, say a prayer that maybe our team will stay just the way it is. :)
#SaveSelah

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Una Sola Fuerza

As I pressed submit for my last blog post I was interrupted by an American voice. It was a man (Mark) and woman asking for the wifi password (I was sitting at a coffee shop). We started talking and long story short - he's a pastor from Montana here with some of his youth group. They offered to let us use their hotel showers!! After about an hour of conversation, we accepted his offer. We walked for about an hour to his hotel. We had the best showers and could not stop talking about how it was a total gift that we crossed paths. Mark wanted us to meet his friends and invited us to dinner. We ended up at a Peruvian restaurant with around 25 people. Person after person came into the restaurant, each having their own story about how they met Pastor Mark and many of them not knowing each other. So we sat there, all coming from different paths, speaking different languages, but all connected by this crazy, God-loving man, Mark! I was seated across the table from a man who works for the same ministry that we were supposed to be at THAT DAY (what?!?). He also knows the man who is hosting us!  I often looked around the table at the many different conversations happening. We were seated at this table because we didn't have running water. How crazy is that?
The next day a group of young adults came over to our house for worship and fellowship. We sang our hearts out in our open-air living room, we each prayed for the safety of Peru, and I got to share some of my story. I think it was exactly what all of our hearts needed. As we sat in prayer someone ran up the stairs to tell us that the water had been turned on! We ran to the faucets and realized it was only on in the kitchen. Still full of excitement, we improvised and acted fast. As soon as our guests left we got to work. First up – we flushed each toilet a million times. We washed each other’s hair in the kitchen sink while the other half of us used buckets of kitchen water to shower our bodies in the bathroom. And then we switched. We filled any empty container that we could find with water from the sink, just in case. We cleaned any and all dishes. It was quite chaotic, pretty crazy, and like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The water eventually turned off again but we didn’t let it steal our joy. We went to bed that night with happy hearts and clean bodies. My face hurt from laughing so much and it’s now one of my favorite nights on the race.
From jessicamarietaylor.theworldrace.org
My squad leader, Alyssa, said something to us on day 4 of no running water. She said, “We aren’t here to see howother people live, we’re here to live with them.” And that stuck with me. It’s one thing to see a natural disaster on TV or see photos of people from across the world. It’s easy to go on with your day without feeling like these things can relate to you. But that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re living with and beside the people of Peru. We’re doing life with them. Peru has been promoting the slogan "Una Sola Fuerza"/ "One Single Force", and that's what we are. The country is hurting and so are we.
I’m grateful that we’re here.
After 6 days, we now have running water. We hope it stays this way but the reality is that the rain is not stopping and the temperature is not cooling. Although my team is safe in Lima, there are other teams in other parts of the country that are getting hit hard by these floods. Peru hasn’t seen floods & mudslides like this in over 20 years and Lima hasn’t seen temperatures this high in a long time. We need your prayers.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I Choose Joy

Here's an update on life so far in Lima, Peru. As most of you know, it took us about 3 days to get here by bus. Part of this was due to flooding that has been happening along the coast of Peru. During the long drive, I'd look out of the window, half asleep, and see several feet of standing water. The floods were a bit concerning but we eventually made it here and thought the floods were far behind us.
We were supposed to start working with a church on Wednesday but that morning we found out that the pastor of the church had been mugged. He was injured so badly that he had to be hospitalized. Since our plans to work with him were now postponed, we used the day to go on a prayer walk around the city, of course including the pastor in our prayers. Our walk lead us to the coast and we climbed a staircase of 200+ steps each way to get there. We got back home, tired and drenched in sweat, and realized our water was turned off. The heat has made it so difficult to sleep but we went to bed in hopes of a cold shower in the morning.
Thursday morning, still no running water, we were told we'd be heading to the outskirts of Lima to help with flood relief. Great! Maybe this was God's plan all along. We traveled for over 2 hours by bus and foot to get to the designated location. Once we got there we were told the supplies that we needed to help stabilize the buildings hadn't arrived yet. They asked if we could come back Friday. So 2 hours back home we went. Home and still no running water. Baby wipes were out and water bottles were used and we went to bed again with high hopes that the water would be back on in the morning.
Friday morning arrived. We were up bright and early hoping to catch showers. No water. That's when I saw this handwritten sign. I gave Sara a big hug and told her how much it meant to me. Without blinking an eye she looked at me and told me how great I looked. I stood there unshowered and hot in my pajamas and smiled. Our team got ready for the day as best we could and mostly in silence. We all weren't in the best mood but were trying to stay positive. We began our journey for the day, hopping on the bus each carrying a 2 liter bottle of water. We were prepared for a full day of manual labor in the fierce sun and still held hope that a shower was in near sight. 30 minutes into the bus ride our host got a call - he told us to get off the bus. We were going back home. The bridge we needed to cross to get to the flood relief spot had collapsed overnight due to mudslides. We were ready and eager to help but couldn't get to the people who need it. Feeling defeated, we headed to the grocery store for filtered water. The two nearby tiendas were out. We made the trek to a bigger store. The water aisle was full of people and water was being rationed out. We got the 10 liters that was allowed to us and we'll have to find more tomorrow and each day that passes. Concerned, we asked the people around us if they had any updates. Apparently the water has been turned off in most of the city and is expected to stay off for at least a week. The mudslides continue to wreck people's homes and lives. And to make matters worse, the temperature here is hotter than it's been in 50 years.
So, here we are. Friday afternoon. Dirty. Smelly. Sweaty. Exhausted. But we still have it a whole lot better than a lot of the city.
My good friend reminded me last night that "Sometimes I feel like it's ok to say 'this sucks'. Then look for God in it. He says that if you seek Him, you will find Him."
Please join my team and I in prayer for the city of Lima, the country of Peru, and a little bit of our sanity 
:) 
Today we are choosing joy.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Glimpse of My Race

My talented teammate, Kelsay, surprised me with this little video to help me fundraise. Check it out for a glimpse into my life on the race.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Beautiful Mess of Songs

Team time is an intentional time each day that we spend to deepen our relationship with our team. Each day's activities vary from deep talks to fun games and everything in between. In today's team time we each shared a song that has been on our mind lately. I love music so much so I was excited to get started. As each song played, I jotted down a few lyrics that stood out to me. I didn't separate by song so all of it is mushed together into one big paragraph. The result is beautiful and my team encouraged me to publish it. So here it is - a big, mixed up, chaotic, beautiful mess.
Death was arrested and my life began. Free! Free! Forever we're free! There's freedom in surrender. Lay it down and let it go. I'm painting beauty with the ashes. You're not alone. Stop holding on and just be held. I once was lost but now am found. Take this life and lay it down at the foot of the cross. Without your love I would be lost. Hallelujah love has won. Like the beauty of the sun, you light my life so I can see. I am overwhelmed by you. I am overcome with joy. You've taken me higher and shown me what love can do. Where would I go or be without you? Brother let me be your shelter. Brother let me be your fortress. I know that in my weakness I am strong but it's your love that brings me home. I could just sit and wait for all your goodness. You have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I'll go where you will lead me, Lord. I will be yours for all my life.
Song references --
Delaney: Death Arrested by Northpoint Inside Out
Kalie: Just Be Held by Casting Crowns
Sara: At the Foot of the Cross by Phil Wickham
Jessica: Overwhelmed by Tim McMorris
Emily: Brother by Need to Breath
Kelsay: Call Me Higher by All Sons and Daughters

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Thousand Lights

There’s a woman who is staying in the house with us. She cooks, cleans, reads her Bible, and you can very rarely find her doing anything else. No one seemed to know her name or anything about her. But we noticed her right away and see her more often than we do our host. When we began to speak to her, she seemed shocked that we expressed so much interest in her. After about a week of small talk and conversations in broken Spanish, she warmed up to us. We began inviting her to join us in meals and prayer. I invited her to sit with us at Church and asked if she could teach us how to cook and to make our favorite – café con leche. Each time we extended invitations to her, she lit up with joy and happily accepted. When she enters a room she often says "Jessica!" because for some reason mine is the only name she's learned. She told us how sometimes she hears God and once she felt Him wrap His arms around her. She’s a faithful, Godly woman. She’s the type of woman with a soft but powerful voice. The woman’s name is Luz Mila, which translates to “a thousand lights”.
I stopped her once while she was sweeping so that I could attempt to learn her story. I was eager to hear it. We held hands as she spoke and I could feel the callouses of a hard-working woman. She has four children. Her husband left her and she supports them on her own. She expressed how difficult this was. I didn’t expect to have so much in common with her. I told her that my husband left me too. That my mom raised my brother and I alone. And that she was strong, brave, and should be proud. This made her happy. She looked me in the eyes, and said in Spanish, “God will bring you a husband in His time”. Because of our language barrier, there were few sentences said in this conversation, but the few were powerful ones.
Luz Mila wasn’t included in our ministry details and interacting with her isn’t a requirement. But I think my whole team would agree that she’s had one of the biggest impacts on us this month. And the joy on her face when she sees us… it’s like a thousand lights.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Our Prayers on the Pier

We headed out to la playa (the beach) on Thursday evening to evangelize and to invite young people to a party that we hosted the following Saturday. This was our 3rd attempt to do this. The first two times had been rained out by massive downpours. We walked up and down the shoreline offering free hugs and passing out invitations to local children and teenagers. One of the boys from the Church youth group carried around a stereo so we had background music wherever we walked. It was awesome! I went into the night a bit nervous – evangelism is something I’m not comfortable with. And in America, we’d probably be laughed at and shooed away. But here on the island of San Andres, the people we encountered were warm and welcoming and pretty excited to see us. The weather was perfect and the whole night was a pretty incredible experience. At one point we took a break and walked out onto a pier. The sun had already set at this point but the sky lit up with stars. After we said a prayer as a group, I walked to the end of the pier by myself and said a prayer of my own. I looked out into the water and heard the waves crashing, felt the cool breeze, and smelled the ocean water. My heart skipped a beat and for a few seconds I could close my eyes and transport myself back to Hawaii. It filled me with joy and I yearned to be back home.
I often say a prayer along the lines of “Lord, let your will be done.” but I’m learning a lot about praying boldly. It’s something that I hadn’t really thought of before but it makes sense. How can you expect to receive something that you don’t directly ask for? Of course I want His will to be done but it’s ok for me to boldly state what I wish to be done too. I started this new technique at the beginning of the race by asking God to strengthen by ability to pray. I wanted to master this beautiful art.  My pastor once told me, “Don’t pray for something to be easier, pray for greater skills”, so I did just that. And He answered me in big ways by giving me the opportunity to pray and pray and pray some more for friends and strangers alike.
That night on the pier, when I closed my eyes, I started my prayer by asking for His will to be done after the race (I pray about life after the race often) and then I stopped myself and asked Him for what I really wanted – to continue my life in Hawaii. Returning to my home on the island has always been my intention, but I know it’s up to Him.
As we walked away from the pier, my teammate, Kelsay, noticed a man who looked troubled. Something was tugging at her to go back and speak to him. She asked if I could go back with her and help her translate. I honestly hadn’t noticed the man, but I know the kind of pull that she described, so I happily went beside her.
He stood on the pier alone, looking out into the sea. As soon as I looked into his eyes I saw the look that she described. He seemed lost. We spoke to him a bit which seemed to startle him. He was visiting San Andres from Medellin. Kelsay said to him “Jesus te ama” (Jesus loves you) and he stared at us blankly. We asked if we could pray for him. “Me?’, he asked, wanting to know what the catch was. I told him that there was no catch, that we simply wanted to offer him prayer. After some hesitation, he accepted our offer. We held hands and in the dark, alone, on the pier, we prayed. Boldly. We hugged him afterwards and his eyes were glossed with tears. He admitted that he was glad to have met us and was very grateful for our prayers.
I don’t know what God will do with the prayers that were said that night but I know that He heard them.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Day I Jumped

There’s a giant rock in Waimea Bay that people cliff jump off of. Many of the locals have grown up jumping off of it since they were young and you can often find a line of people of all ages and backgrounds waiting for their turn off the cliff. But not me. I’ve been to Waimea Bay countless times and twice I went with the intention to jump, but didn’t. And then I told myself that I would jump before I left for the race, but I didn’t.
People often use the word brave to describe me. And in many ways, I do consider myself brave. Many big ways actually. But there are smaller things (that are big to me) that most people don’t know about me that make me feel the opposite of brave. Like the fact that at 29 years old, I don’t know how to ride a bike because I’m afraid I’ll fall. Or that I had to hold my breath to jump off of a ledge that was only 2 feet tall today. Or that my first time camping was at training camp for the race. Or that there’s that big rock in Waimea that I keep avoiding. I’m actually quite fearful in my day-to day life. As a young girl, I quickly became my mom’s best friend and my brother’s second mama. Our little tribe of 3 was our first priority and simple things like playing outside, getting dirty, and jumping on beds just didn’t have a space in our lives. My mama was (is) extremely protective of us and the older I get, the more I realize how much it’s affected me. But she did the best she could and ironically, my childhood may be the root of a lot of my fears but it’s also the root of my courage.
A few days ago after classes with our translator, our host family surprised us with a spontaneous trip to one of the island’s natural pools. It was the day of the inauguration of America’s 45th President and it had been a heavy-hearted day for me full of tears and frustration. I really felt like this little trip was another wink from God and He never disappoints.
We were so eager to see a part of the island that we had not seen yet. We walked through the gates to this little place of adventure and saw a diving board that went straight off the edge of the island into the Caribbean sea below. Beside the diving board was a huge slide that went into the same vast sea. The other six girls on my team lit up with excitement. I on the other hand could feel knots forming in my stomach and my heart began to race. We changed into our swimsuits and the girls went straight to the diving board. Initially I said I’d stay out of the water to watch our things – this was a classic move of mine. But our host family kept insisting that they’d watch everything which left me out of excuses. So to the line I went. It felt like less than a second and it was already my turn. Before I could even step on the board, I turned away and said I couldn’t do it. The girls on my team kept encouraging me and all I could really do was try my hardest to hold back tears.
When I applied to the race I realized that the reasons I hadn’t applied sooner were all fear-based. And it was then that I decided that I won’t let fear stop me again. Maybe health or circumstances could stop me, but not fear. Fear won’t stop me from being obedient to God’s calling for me. And if I truly believe that statement, then how hypocritical is it of me to be fearful of something like a diving board? This is the conversation I was having with myself in my head. So back to the board I went.
It was my turn again. My heart was racing, my chest was tight. I prayed. I stepped onto the board and quickly walked to the end before I could change my mind again. I turned back to the girls and they said encouraging things that I can’t even really remember because it all happened so fast. I kept saying “I trust you” over and over again in my head and then I said it aloud just as I stepped off the ledge. I jumped.
The whole world got quiet. I hit the water and still silence. It was like the whole world paused. I came up for air and looked around. People were talking and laughing and swimming and the next person was ready to jump. The world kept spinning and no one knew the big thing that had just happened inside of me. I realized that it was the first time, in a long time, that I truly put 100% of my trust in Him, giving up all of my control. I not only told Him that I’m all in, I showed him.
I couldn’t believe I did it! I still can’t really believe it. I even slid down the giant slide afterwards while my adrenaline was still running high. Now don’t get me wrong – none of it was fun for me and if we go back, I don’t think I’ll do it again. My stomach is literally in knots as I write this post and relive it. But it’s important to me that I did this. It’s significant. It’s another wall broken down and it makes me feel stronger and closer to Him.
One day I’ll face that big rock in Waimea Bay. But for now, I’m proud of the jump off of a diving board in the Caribbean Sea.
You guys… I jumped!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Life Around the Table

One of the things that the race is pushing me out of is the desire to control my plans. Time and time again God has shown me that His plans are far greater than mine. And here, week 1, in San Andres, Colombia, is no different.
My team and I have been incredibly blessed by our ministry location this month. We’ve been sent to a small island in the Caribbean called San Andres. When I say small, I mean it. It’s about 8 miles long and 2 miles wide. We could literally walk the entire island in a day if we wanted to. The sea around us is unlike any I have seen. They call it “el mar de 7 colores” – the sea of 7 colors – which is so fitting. The culture is a perfect mix of latin and islander – vibrant, casual, warm, and slow-paced. With my Latina and Hawaiiana background, many things feel familiar to me and I have oddly felt very at home since our arrival. We live on the second floor of a church called Centro Familiar de Alabanza (Family Center of Praise). It’s a modest home in the center of San Andres with a touristy area on one side and an impoverished area on the other. (For my Hawaii friends – imagine Waikiki on one side and Waianae on the other.) Our hosts – Pastor Arnold, his wife, and two sons – live on the floor beneath us.
Coming into our first month, I had high expectations. I yearned to serve well, often, and immediately. When we received the details of our first mission, they were very vague. The ministry that we are serving here is asking for help growing their Church but not necessarily in specific ways. We’ve been asked to teach English classes and interact with the youth. We attend 4 church services per week and have Bible studies with some of the Church leaders. Much of our time is left open to make it our own and while this seems like “free” time, it’s been anything but that. Our days have been long but they have been full. So full of the Lord and in ways I never expect. It’s taken patience and trust for me to let go of always having a plan. We often don’t know what our day will look like until the day of and sometimes we receive our plans right before they happen. But even in what feels like chaos – I keep finding a sense of peace, knowing they’re His plans, not mine anyway.
During training for the race, they really emphasized the idea that ministry isn’t always assigned and doesn’t always take place at our worksite. I’m learning to live this way instinctively, knowing that the whole world is my mission. It’s been a week here and I can already see that most of our stories will have taken place in an unplanned location - the table in our bedroom. This table is where we have our Bible studies, Spanish & English classes, team time, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s where we talk and write and play games. This table has already seen us cry from sadness and joy, it’s seen us laugh so hard we can’t speak, it’s seen us pray boldly and break down so many barriers of trust, language, and more. It’s where I learned to share my testimony in Spanish. It’s where card games are taught using hand motions and google translate. It’s where our new teen-aged friends come to hang out with us and where we told a single mother that she is part of our family now. It’s where a 12 year old boy sits after school each day unexpectant of anything from us. He knows no English (yet!) but finds joy in our presence  - and we find so much joy in his.
We do life at this table. I’m learning to let go of my expectations because His plans are greater.
We live on a beautiful tropical island yet my favorite place in this paradise is this table in our room.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ready. Set. Go.



Aloha y’all!

In true Jessica fashion, I have something BIG to share and I’m announcing it via social media. And as usual, I’m nervous as heck.

I’ve had a lot going on the past few years. Many of you followed my story of heartbreak when I lost my best friend. And then again when I lost Duke. Then you followed me back to Hawaii, where I began my redemption story.

The incredible network of people that I’ve built around me during the past 29 years of life has truly been a huge part of what has pulled me through these trying times. And I’m hoping that network comes through for me again, because I have no doubt that everything that has happened to me, every single person that I’ve met, is what’s lead me to this exact place. A place that is about to rock my entire world.

Let’s take a step back to the summer of 2015. At Church one Sunday, our pastor asked us to think about a time that we felt fulfilled, a time that we felt like we were living out our purpose. And then he asked us to pray about that time and ask ourselves why we aren’t living that way every day. It took me no time at all to point my thoughts towards my experiences in Uganda. I spent a month there in 2005 doing mission work with my youth group. Everyone close to me said I came back as a different person. It changed me. It moved me. And I’ve dreamt of going back to Africa, of travel, and especially of mission work ever since. I know it sounds cliché, but I really feel so much joy in helping others. And the more life I live, the more I feel like that is what I’m called to do. But there I was, 10 years later, asking myself why I hadn’t chased after those dreams. And more importantly, why I hadn’t pursued what I felt was my calling.

Before leaving Church that night, I introduced myself to a girl I hadn’t seen there before. Within a few seconds of conversation, she told me she would be leaving Hawaii the following month. She had joined the World Race – A Christian-based mission trip that takes you to 11 countries in 11 months. My eyes grew big and watered up. I had just prayed about this! We spent nearly an hour after that talking and she excitedly answered the millions of questions I had. We exchanged contact information and I spent the next several months following her journey.

Now fast forward to August 2016, about a year later. I was at a crossroads in my life (more on that later) and felt an overwhelming desire for more. But more of what?

As I was scrolling through facebook, I saw a recent post from the same girl I met that night in 2015. She was back home in Hawaii! I read through her post feeling joy for her and then I sat back and thought – holy moly. This meant that a year had passed. A year of me watching her live a life that I admired. A life that I felt called to live. Yet I was still here, not living it. Why? After a lot of prayer, I realized there was only one reason. Fear. And I am so dang tired of living a fearful life. Interestingly enough, many of you view me as a strong, adventurous, fearless person. But man, I sure don’t feel that way. My great friend and mentor described it in a way that really stuck with me. She said I’m like a person who was once very overweight, then lost the weight, but when I look into a mirror, I still see all of it. All of the weight. All of the baggage. All of the brokenness. All of the stuff weighing me down. I don’t see myself the way others do. I don’t see myself the way God does.

It's time to change that.

I applied to the World Race that day. And as of a few days ago, I was officially accepted.

What does this mean? It means in January 2017, I will embark on an adventure of a lifetime. I will visit 11 countries in 11 months, serving others while serving God.

I am TERRIFIED. But man I am so excited.

Where will I go? Official route is below!
Month 1/ January – Colombia
Month 2/ February – Ecuador
Month 3/ March – Peru
Month 4/ April – Cote d’Ivoire
Month 5/ May – Ghana
Month 6/ June – Burkina Faso
Month 7/ July – Montenegro
Month 8/ August – Romania
Month 9/ September – Cambodia
Month 10/ October – Thailand
Month 11/ November – Malaysia

What will I do? Missions in each country will vary based on the needs of each place. I could be doing anything from building houses, to teaching English, to working at an orphanage. Oh, and part of my responsibility as a world racer is to blog about my experiences and share via social media (I mean really, this was made for me).

How can you help? Glad you asked, because I need your help big time!

+ DONATE YOUR FUNDS!
I need to raise $16,617 to fund this trip! This includes travel, lodging, food, and medical insurance for the entire trip. (breakdown of details coming in a later blog post) I will cry if you donate $1982017837 and I will cry just as much if you donate $5. Seriously, I can’t put in words how much everyone’s support means to me. Every single penny counts.
You can donate by clicking the donate button at jessicamarietaylor.theworldrace.org or at gofundme.com/jmtworldrace

+ BUY MY STUFF!
I’m selling pretty much everything before I leave in January. Holler at me if you’re in need of household goods, furniture, cool random stuff, and cute clothes.

+ GIFT ME SOME GEAR!
Y’all, I don’t know a darn thing about camping or outdoor life. So this next year should be interesting to say the least. Have any extra gear laying around? Or just wanna give me tips? Please do!

+ DONATE MILES!
Something that’s not included in the total cost are my flights to and from training camp (in Georgia), my flight to launch, and my flight back home after our final destination.

+ DONATE YOUR TIME!
Did I mention that I’m terrified? Hike with me. Walk with me. Talk with me. Pray with me. Send me that stupid funny text (you know I’ll laugh at it) and random words of encouragement. I need you now more than ever.

+ SPREAD THE WORD!
Seriously, tell anyone and everyone.

+ PRAY!
Last but most definitely not least, please pray hard.

Guys, I’m meant to do this. I know it in my heart down to my bones.

Ready. Set. Go.

P.S. You can follow me every step of the way.
Blog: jessicamarietaylor.theworldrace.org
Facebook: facebook.com/jessicawho.me
Instagram: @jayemmtee
Twitter: @jayemmtee
GoFundMe: gofundme.com/jmtworldrace