A Toast to Georgia & Duncan

Last night, my sister got married! The wedding took place at Sugah Cain, our family property on Johns Island, under a canopy of live oak trees – truly God’s outdoor temple. A week ago, the forecasted 80% chance of thunderstorms was unpromisingly bleak. A lot of prayer warriors were on their knees supplicating for more favorable conditions, and MAN did Jesus come through. The gentle breeze, glow of the setting sun, and just a touch of summer humidity created the perfect ambiance, but the ceremony itself was even more beautiful.

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I have always been a planner. My agenda and never-ending checklists are my closest inanimate companions. I like prioritizing my tasks and making the most of my time. It’s hard for me to sit down, relax for a half hour, and enjoy a TV show. If I do, you bet “Netflix” will be scrawled on my list, right after, “shower” and “eat dinner.” Ha. I think it’s that feeling of accomplishment, that I have been productive, even with menial, daily life tasks, that I find so satisfying.  On a larger scale, I like to know where I am headed, and I like to figure out how I am going to get there. But recently, plans haven’t been working out at all the way I thought.

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Camp Impressions

My first weekend in Italy, I somehow convinced my lovely roommate Abby to “hike” (it turned into sketchily walking along the sides of two-lane roads, what I now affectionately refer to as “rubber stomping”) all the way from Perugia to Assisi. When my bitter and tired companion and I finally trudged into the Assisi train station, I started talking to two guys that looked very American, if not South Carolinian. I was right on both counts; Jesse and Michael had just graduated from Clemson, and we had quite a few mutual friends.

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Right By Me

Tonight, I have a story to tell you. On the surface, it is about where I am headed in mere days and what I will be up to, but more importantly, it is a testimony of depending on God and watching Him come through. I won’t hold my plans for the end; I’m too excited to craft that suspense. As some of you already know, rather than returning to Roanoke this Spring like most students who have already studied abroad a semester, I will be headed to Washington D.C. to participate in the Lutheran College Washington Semester, in which Roanoke is one of several affiliated schools that is a part of the program. LCWS sets up everything for us – housing and roommates, night classes, weekly field trips…they even help many students find an internship. This semester, I am living in a pent-house apartment in Rosslyn, taking both a Public Relations and Global Agenda class, and, most exciting of all, working as a full-time marketing and event planning intern at the Headquarters of InternationalJustice Mission!
This is how it happened.
In the fall of 2012, my friend Evelyn and I sat in the back of RC Admissions making money doing homework and not giving tours. She said she was going to do a study away semester in D.C. that spring, and she encouraged me to join her. The application deadline was only a few weeks away, and I already had a lot of campus commitments that year, so I opted not to join her. She got me thinking, though. Aside from finances and too many classes, the primary reason most students don’t study abroad is because they love their school so much; I understand that. If I went to Clemson, king of football tailgates, school spirit, and community, leaving for a semester would have been a lot harder, even if it was for an unforgettable world experience. But Roanoke and I don’t share that same bond. Our relationship is improving, but I could count on one hand the things I would really miss (my best friend Kayla, small group, Restoration Church, hiking, the English department). Two close friends chose to end their misery and transfer, making the possibility of a year away all the more tempting. I didn’t, and still don’t, loathe Roanoke enough to permanently leave, but why shouldn’t I go? I would be taking advantage of the opportunities Roanoke offers and encourages. By Christmas break, I was in planning mode.
Slavery, one of the world’s worst and most ancient injustices, is more rampant than ever before. Several years ago when I became aware of the estimated 30 million people enslaved today, I began considering a future career to help combat human rights oppression. I still have no idea what form that could take, or even if it is where I am still headed. I do know that, with God’s help, the staff at International Justice Mission already successfully seeks justice, freedom, and protection for thousands of powerless people. IJM is a non-profit human rights organization that protects the poor from violent forces of injustice. Comprised of Christian attorneys, social workers, criminal investigators and support staff, IJM partners with local law enforcement to rescue the poor. Case by case, over 10,500 victims – families toiling in brick factories, young girls imprisoned in brothels, widows whose land has been stolen – have found freedom in the past five years.
To learn more, you can check out Suhana’s beautiful story of redemption.
Once liberated, many of them receive counseling and guidance in aftercare homes, a crucial aid as they begin a new, restored chapter of their lives. IJM goes on to prosecute the perpetrators and ensure that the local public justice system is working properly, bolting oppressors behind bars and enabling communities to prevent future abuses. With each rescue, IJM is proving that justice for the poor is possible. I have wanted to be a more active supporter of their work for many years, so when I decided to go to D.C., I also began researching the possibility of an internship at IJM.
I made it, I will be joining 19 other interns in a week, but through the whole process, God kept me on a string, teaching me at each progression that this would work only through His will, His power, and my submission to Him.
How? How do I know this was God and not some retrospective bias or my hard work or just coincidence? The past certainly does clarify the way the Holy Spirit has already been moving, but I know primarily because I barely made it. Too many things went wrong; I should not have been able to even apply. Something would still go right, though, and in a small, uneventful way, the Lord would pull through yet again.
Summer gives you the feeling that you have plenty of time before you. Even I, Miss List-maker herself, inevitably put off to-dos for another day. My three tasks for August: work, IJM application, pack. I think I can handle that. I kind of kept thinking the application was due toward the end of August. Turns out the initial, very lengthy application, as well as all references and paperwork were due August 14, and I realized it a mere week ahead of time. Fortunately, a week is just enough.
On August 7, I journaled:
I guess this application process is teaching me that it’s all in Your hands. It’s not by any act or will of mine. Thank you for saving the opportunity and still allowing just enough time to have everything submitted.
And that kind of thing just kept happening. I was so interested in this opportunity that I saved the application to my computer last winter. I later filled it out, worried that the references that had to be mailed wouldn’t make it in time. I did not realize for several days that the file had since been updated. The references and transcript could now be e-mailed. Whew.
My first interview went pretty well. I didn’t really know which intern position I wanted. I’m a competent, joyful worker, but I still lack a specific skill set, and I had been praying (and worrying) a lot about what kind of career I might have someday. I remember the interviewer saying, Well it sounds like you have a good bit of experience with event planning. Would you be interested in that? Um, heck yes. That sounds perfect for me. Why had I never considered that before? So with the first interview, God laid aside, at least temporarily, some of the typical young adult worries I had carried of late.
I get placed for a second interview as a marketing intern. While the description to “assist with projects that help further the movement of IJM, raise public awareness of IJM’s mission, ongoing work and fundraising efforts” sounded good, the details of working with a lot of Google statistics and analysis did not. This isn’t event planning! I thought. Do I even want to do this? Should I look for a different internship? I prayed and considered it for a while. I still felt like this was the place; the possibility of working in that kind of environment for a cause I cared about was too good to pass up. Besides, I could learn some new skills.
I was well into my time in Italy when the second interview was finally scheduled.We decided to talk over FaceTime Audio, and I was to call at an appointed time. I was a little nervous, but prepared. I had tested out the audio with my roommate to make sure I knew how to use it. All seemed well. I called the number. It didn’t work. My heart started beating significantly faster. I am not trying to create an impression of irresponsibility here! Ahh! This is not happening right now. I e-mailed immediately. Fifteen painstakingly slow minutes later, the interviewer called me back on a landline the old-fashioned way. She sounded wonderful. I was frank and told her I don’t know much about Google stats, but I’m willing to learn. She tells me there have been some departmental shifts, and that is no longer part of the marketing intern description. It really would mainly be event planning. Hallelujah, praise the Lord! Quite literally. She goes on explaining everything and it honestly already sounds like I have the job. I get a little confident inside. At the end of the interview, she says she still has a few more people to talk to, but that the department should make a final decision shortly.
Dear goodness. This process has been so long. When we get off the phone, I am still seriously depending on the Lord. I ask for prayers from the gals in my Bible Study in Italy. Please Lord. I want this. If this is right, help me.
I’m supposed to get an e-mail by October 15. It comes and goes. I keep praying.Two days later, I check my school e-mail just to make sure. Low and behold, there is an e-mail from several days before with my status. They invited me to join the team! I need to accept or decline in the next two days. Once again, it worked out. It almost did not, but it still did. I accepted with enthusiasm and apologies for my slow response.
I was, and still am, stoked. On January 1, my family and I are hopping on a nine hour train ride to Washington, D.C. to help me move in, and orientation at IJM will begin next Monday. Even though I won’t be working with Google statistics, I still don’t have the details about what I am jumping into. This I am certain of: I will be with good, professional, hardworking Christians who believe that human rights for the poor are worth defending. I will be working far harder this semester than last, but I am eager to regain more purpose on a day-to-day basis. Once again, I will be in another new environment, but just like the whole process of heading to D.C., I know I will have a good God by my side and in my soul.
And I know that if you made it to the end of this, you have either contracted WVBS (Winter Vacation Boredom Syndrome) or you must actually care about me. If it’s the latter, I would appreciate your prayers as I enter one more new environment. Please pray for the work of IJM – for victims to be rescued and oppressors justly prosecuted. Pray for the international field offices and those working in D.C. Personally, please pray that the work I do will be effective and helpful. Pray that I rely on the Lord, seeking His guidance, renewal and provision. He really is a good God, and He has shown me that He is there, in my struggles at Roanoke, in my adventures abroad, in the barely-made-it interview process. He is right by not only me, but all of His children. He is right by you, too.

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

I’ve made a decision today.

I don’t really do well with beggars and homeless people. You can’t give to all of them, so many people choose not to give to any. Plus, what are they really going to do with that money? Are they going to get food and support their family, or are they going to buy more alcohol.
On my way back from Spoleto today (yes, like the Spoleto Festival in Charleston – we have a sister city!), a greasy-haired gypsy woman came through the train with a picture of her (/a) family and was asking for change.

First time: I saw her out of the corner of my eye and did not turn my head, playing an extra intense game of candy crush. She stood there in a whiny complaining voice for an unnecessarily long amount of time.
Just go away! You are so annoyingly persistent. I don’t know if I should give you anything or not. You’re not supposed to even be on this train. Jesus says I should love you. What does that even mean? Am I rejecting Jesus right now?

She finally walked away. I’ve always told myself that I would give homeless people food if they needed it. Oh crap. I realized the lobbyist at Hotel Charleston I had dropped by to meet had given me an extra slice of pizza. I still had it. I had food I could’ve given that lady, and I was so uncomfortable with her hovering, unwanted presence that I didn’t even think about it. Lord, please bring her back by again.

Second time: Five minutes later, a simple prayer is answered. I gave her the pizza, she took it, and then proceeded to pester for money. I shook my head. She rambles about feeding her children. I point to the pizza and the girl in the photo. Another long, hovering presence. She finally leaves.

I still can’t get her out of my thoughts. Is it right not to give her any money? I don’t know. I felt an innate sense to say no. I realize I also happen to have a pack of crackers on me. I should give those, too.

Third time: She swoops in again. The woman has unashamed persistence, I give her that. I offer her my crackers. She shoos them away; she doesn’t want them, only money. That kind of ticked me off. The phrase “Beggars can’t be choosers” immediately came to mind. Sure, it is only a pack of crackers, but I’m trying to give them to you, and you won’t accept them. So how badly do you really need money after all?

The whole scenario reminded me so much of Peter.
“Peter, do you love me?”
“Lord, you know I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”

Three times that happened. And later, Peter denies Christ three times also.

It was like God gave me three chances to love that woman. I denied her once, fed her and then was rejected. I’m not certain if my actions were just or if I should be more generous in general. But, like I said, I’ve come to a decision. Beggars are not going away. I’ll be living in D.C. next semester and I’ll face a lot more of them there. They are people, and I will not totally deny their dignity. I won’t give them money, but I will intentionally carry granola bars with me. I will put it in their hands. Accept or reject. I’ll let you be the chooser.

Surprises in Noisy Silence

Paddle boarding through a mangrove swamp. Check.

Yoga with running water trickling in the background. Check.
Thirteen ziplines over a luscious, impenetrable rain forest. Check.
Horseback riding on muddy jungle trails and white sand beaches. Check.
But 60 kilometers of ATVing in the high mountains? Yes, during our Costa Rica vacation several weeks ago, we did that too. It was there, doing something new and unplanned, that I encountered God again.
Our tutorial – none of us knew what to do!
This whole four wheeling gig is highly out of character for the Comptons, because my parents have long considered the vehicles a source of unnecessary danger. But, the folks who provided the horseback riding also offer ATV tours, and after a week and half of exploration, we had pretty much ventured on every excursion we had hoped to do. There were still three days to kill before our departure, though, so Hoffa signed us up for the following day. I was hesitant. It seemed like a waste of money and time. I just saw four wheelers as loud, dangerous gas guzzlers. What’s the point of riding on one all day? I thought hanging out at the house or beach reading The Two Towers would probably be a better use of my diminishing days of vacation.
I don’t know about this…
But, as I often am, I was wrong. ATVing provided many surprises. Now that we’ve been back a few weeks, we have already begun reminiscing on this summer’s family vacation, and almost all of us – I included – agree that the quad tour was especially memorable.
How the Comptons feel about four wheelers now
If you recall from previous posts, we initially struggled to navigate the twisting, unpaved roads surrounding Nosara. Because we didn’t rent a car, we had been walking everywhere for the past week, and even the Compton girls were gaining some sense of direction. My first surprise began as, bend after bend, we quickly departed from the unpaved Costa Rican roads we had come to know. Blindly following our jovial German guide, we entered remote villages, and I began to see glimpses of a more authentic Costa Rica – the tourists’ Pura Vida mask, the false presentation of luxurious paradise, was stripped to its origin. Everyone still smiles, the mangos are still sweet, and the jungle still pristine. But here, despite our swift pace, I noticed the difference. Impoverished farmers struggle to provide for their large families. Sons escape reality on the soccer field. Mothers seek solace in the church. Skinny pets scavenge to survive. Life is hard.
Without an ATV, I would’ve missed this. True, these two weeks were a vacation, but I’m grateful that I have not returned as another tourist oblivious to the economics which prevail most of the country. I had seen this kind of life – and far worse circumstances – in Cambodia, but the more poverty you witness in different places across the globe, the more you realize your own blessings.
While our indirect encounter with poverty was good, it was my second unanticipated surprise that makes this excursion so memorable and precious. High in the Costa Rican mountains, I had an authentic meeting with the Lord. Ever since traveling to Cambodia, I have struggled in my faith as I never have before. (For more on that, check the archived blog titled Jesus? Oh, Jesus). I walked with a childlike faith well into college. Even when I faced challenges at Roanoke, I held on to the relationship and experiences he and I shared together from my youth. I knew his names, and I continued to call on him, even when I didn’t necessarily feel his presence. Jesus – the Beautiful Savior. The Holy One, Beginning and End, untamed lion and sacrificial lamb. He is a heart healer, miracle worker, and grace giver.
Though he calls us to have a childlike faith, God has brought me back to the basics this summer and taught me that that is just what our faith should be – childlike. Not the belief in God that children hold when they are six and have grown up in the church. Most kids believe because they are taught, and they accept the authority of their teachers. They flourish off of the spiritual milk they are given, and while they are still children, it suffices.
Adults, however, must grow up and face the world’s challenges. We’ve got adult minds; we’re skeptical realists. We face the hardships of life and sometimes we say, “Where are you God?” What’s worse, a lot of times there is silence. Sometimes even more hardships are piled on top of the perceived silence. So we conclude that our Sunday school teachers were wrong. God must not be here after all. When we face those obstacles, we can’t function off of milk. We need wholesome spiritual food, consisting of worship, prayer, fellowship, scriptural meditation, and repentance. Only then can we defend the Gospel, as we’re called to do*. As we depend wholly on a gracious father, we return to our childlike faith. Our God’s promises do not fail; he gives good gifts and desires to speak and work through his children. We are his beloved.
Intermittently this past year, I have swung on a self-serving, schedule-filled pendulum which has made it hard to wholly accept those truths. Perhaps in my head. Yes, I chose to believe. I deliberately chose, despite not really “feeling” God’s presence, to hold on to things which had proven to be true in the past. Unexpectedly, Dark Nights of the Soul still came charging, and when they did I felt lost, alone, and confused. I now knew and understood the doubts others had described to me before. Though I appreciated the perspective, I felt like I was supposed to be the solid Christian who is attuned to the Spirit and showing people the Lord’s love. My own doubt both frightened and frustrated me.
Just as those dark moments crawled into my heart, unforeseen and uncalled, it was atop a strange ATV in the bumpy mountains of Costa Rica that I suddenly began to experience God’s good love as I once had.
Most people like four wheelers for their utility – being able to drive cross country where no other vehicle can go. My favorite part is the noisy silence it offers, inviting conscious contemplation. It was amidst this white noise of revving engines that I began to worship the Lord. A quad is too loud for conversation, so even though I was technically with my family as I had been for the past two weeks, I did a lot of solitary looking, thinking, and listening. As we climbed into the mountains, the landscape transformed into grand canopied mountains. The forest boasted countless plant species and shades of green.

Our conversation was simple. Finally being able to hear his voice again, and know that it was him was delight enough.
God, look at this! Unreal! I love your Creation. I love that I can be in it and enjoy it. Thank you for this treat.
I love you, Jessica. This is a gift from Me, and I am here with you. I will not leave you.
Each curving bend brought a new view, which kindled another prayer of thanksgiving. Prayers on prayers became worship, an intermingling of song and conversation. I noticed how many of the songs I sang in my head were about repentance and return.
So I come, straight into your arms
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
Lord, I come to you
We will run to you, turning from our sin we return to you
Even now, here’s my heart God
Yes I shall arise and return to my Father
Ever since the Fall in the garden, humans have naturally sought their own desires. One way or another we have become lost and destitute, and we yearn for redemption. So we have Jesus now, one who never did turn away. He is a shepherd who cares for his flock, and he seeks our hearts. After we have done it our own way and it doesn’t work, we turn back.
On that ATV, my heart, over my mind or will or desire, began turning back to God’s own. I felt his radiant presence, his delight when I called him my only, my worthy One, and the Holy Spirit filled me with a divine joy. You might be thinking, Jessica, you’re a pretty joyful person all the time. This was not the same. It was unearthly, contagious joy resulting directly from returning fully into the Lord’s realm. It came from a denial of the self, of giving him complete praise and telling him that I am his, and everything I do is for his glory. When that offer is earnest, he loves it. 
So I want you to know this: if you’ve been having faith struggles of your own, I get you. I am not some holier-than-thou church-going gal that you can’t relate to. Doubt sucks. I am following God’s command in Joel 2:12 – “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” I am choosing to return to God’s love, and I am trusting that it is real and enough.
When I straddled the ATV that morning, all I felt was reserved anxiety. I never expected to encounter poverty or the geography of the mountains, much less the most holy encounter with the Lord that I’ve had in a long time. That’s our God for you, though. Many times he is most present in the unexpected. He is always there when we return to him, and he truly delights when we worship him. Hallelujah, praise to a good God.

* But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness andirespect -1 Peter 3:15

Playing in Nosara

A few updates:
If you have no experience in Central America, it turns out our mystery animal from the previous blog is indeed only a howler monkey, and they sound much more intimidating than they actually are. Had we kept going a bit longer on the trail, the worst thing that would have happened is a possible groping of a testosterone-filled monkey or some poop droppings from the trees above. That’s their weapon, and honestly, I think it’s a more effective tactic than straight on physical attack.
Bible study with my sisters (and now mother!) has been going really well. As in, it’s actually happening, regularly. We’re praying for each other and talking about faith issues together. I’m struggling to go beyond that, though. I know I need to start acting on my faith, but I am consistently held back. After yoga class, we walked along with Eleanor, our yoga instructor, and she said she moved from Canada to Costa Rica for emotional healing, mainly from the pains of relationships and previous men in her life. As it was happening, I felt the tug – she needs Jesus. She’s like the Samaritan woman at the well. Talk about Jesus. Pray for her. I could envision my friend doing it. “You need healing?” he would eagerly ask. “Here, let me give it to you.” And then he would pray for her and talk as long as necessary about this good new life, and there would be a big celebration in heaven. I saw the opportunity coming, and already I knew I would not act on it. Why? Am I really that afraid? I don’t think so. It’s more a matter of boldness and confidence. I want someone to lead me. I want to heal alongside others more confident and experienced than myself. I know it happens, I’m tired of not being a part of it, and yet I do not act.
The new favorite summer drink for the Comptons is a homemade mojito. The first day we were here, we stopped for lunch at a beach front restaurant, where Mama ordered one. That minty hankering hadn’t quite left her when we took a very expensive trip to the grocery store. At the checkout line, she raised her pointer finger and exclaimed, “Oh! Mojitos!” With the very little Spanish she knows, she talked to the locals to figure out what ingredients we might need, and proceeded to race around the store for mint, lime, club soda, and rum. We get home. We have the ingredients, but do the Comptons strike you as expert drink makers who spend a lot of time at home mixing up concoctions? No, all Hoffa wants is a cold beer and a colder glass. His Spanish consists of “Hola!,” but I think mojito might be a Spanish word. Using a lot of hand gestures and repeating “mojito” incessantly, he invited our jovial taxi driver Louis to come inside to make and drink mojitos with us. Louis speaks little more English than Hoffa does Spanish. He came, though, and half an hour later, we’ve got three Hispanic workers – a taxi driver, a plumber, and a delivery man – and five of the six Comptons sipping on mojitos.
Paddle Boarding 
We’re here for a while, so the padres are trying to spread out our activities, but we have one down. Despite our ability to do it anytime on Shem Creek in good ol’ Mt. Pleasant, Mama was really interested in paddle boarding here. When we started talking to the locals about this idea, they all responded in the same persistent way: “Oh, no, we don’t go to river. Many crocodiles. Eat our dogs. Eat us.” Well that scared Mama off for all of twelve hours. “Let’s just go to the Experience Nosara place and talk to them ourselves. Surely they wouldn’t get all of these high reviews on TripAdvisor if tourists were dying on the river.” Well that’s encouraging, Ma. What do you expect them to say? Like any good tour business eager for customers during the low season, they assured us that it was completely safe. The next morning, Eight-pack Alan (as I secretly called him) came to pick us up. He is the most ripped thirty two year old I have ever seen. He also has a cougar. When Hoffa told me that, I asked dubiously, “What? You have a cougar for a pet?!” No, Jessica, his wife. She’s eight years older than him. Dang. You go for it Alan. At any rate, our day on the river really was enjoyable, and though we did see a few crocodiles, they did not bother us. Mama was satisfied, and the rest of us enjoyed the excursion.

My favorite exercise is the kind that isn’t intentional exercise. Yesterday, after the intentional run in the morning, I also ended up playing in the ocean for two hours, walking five miles, and doing an hour of yoga. We weren’t walking just to walk, but to actually get somewhere; I love that. I take back what I said about winning a walking contest. It turns out Mama and Rosa Marie can put the spring in their step when they want to. I was the one falling behind on the way to and from the free community yoga class at Harmony Hotel on Playa de Guionnes. It gets dark around 6 pm here, and they walked even faster on our return, a little alarmed by the dark. Are you surprised that we still got confused about how to get back?
Stay tuned. I am working on a pretty funny post. It involves boobs and hugs, so get ready.