Friday, October 8, 2010

The Bird

A couple months ago I was standing in the worship center preparing for chapel with my students when the most peculiar thing happened. A bird flew inside, frantically circled the room, and then landed on the branch of a silk decorative tree. It rested there for several minutes while I stood there screeching, “there’s a bird in the tree!” Now, if you know me, you know that birds are not my favorite so I was kinda freaking out. Eventually I had the sense to open the side door but the bird didn’t immediately fly out of the tree. It sat comfortably until I shook the silk branches and THEN flew out and quickly found a real tree with real branches to rest on.

I’ve thought about that morning a lot and (honestly) wondered if it was some sort of sign. I don’t know, but something about that bird in the silk tree resonated with me.

And then last week it hit me.

I am the bird.

I am the bird and my life, particularly the past year, has been a series of silk trees.

I’m gonna go out on a limb (pun intended) and say that most of our lives are full of silk trees. We have safe places that we land when we’re frantically searching for home. Maybe it’s a person, a location, or an activity, but we all have places we go when we need to be comforted and feel relief.

However good for us they may be at the time, silk trees are a temporary fix and will never be all that we need. I’m not denying the importance or validity of silk trees because if there’s one thing I’ve said A LOT in the past six months it’s that “you do what you have to do to survive”. What I AM saying is that we need to avoid getting so comfortable in a silk tree that we don’t notice when the door to the real thing is opened. We must have the discernment to recognize when we are released into freedom.

So here’s to the silk trees that keep us safe for a time, and to the One who liberates us to real life…

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why I'm Not a Missionary Anymore, part 3...

But, it was still a crash…

And crashing sucks.

I knew I was where I needed to be, but like I said before, I hated it. I was still grieving the loss of Brandon. I was angry. I was heartbroken. I had lost so much in such a short amount of time. In just a few weeks I had experienced a tragic death, loss of job, and the end of a relationship. All of this spoke a booming “NO” into my being. The rejection and pain I felt with each of these “NOs” I internalized as a “NO” from God as well.

And this is about the time that my “survival mode” kicked in. I had internalized enough of the “NO” that I, subconsciously, did some rejecting of my own.

I stopped praying. I stopped writing. I stopped reading. I almost completely stopped listening to music. It would come in small bursts that I would say something to God, but honestly it felt like talking to empty space. I felt disconnected from God. From myself. And I desperately wanted to be disconnected from anyone who knew me well enough to challenge me to engage.

This lasted a few weeks.

It’s strange that you can know something in your head, but not accept it. Somewhere in me I knew that God wasn’t looking for reasons to exclude his creation (not even former missionaries who were spiraling all over the place). But I did not accept it. I had taught my students for years that God loves them no matter what. I had spoken into the lives of friends convinced that they were alone and unloved that God ‘s love was without limit and they were never alone. I was convinced of God’s eternal and unending love for his creation, ALL of his creation, all of them except me. Somehow there were conditions when it came to me. Certainly all of the “NO” in my life meant something, right?

Then one day I took a drive by myself to the North Shore. For the first time in a month or so, I listened to this song that had come to mean a lot to me while in Peru called, ‘I Love Your Presence’. A couple notes into the song and I was crying. And with the tears came the yelling, asking why all of this had happened. I cried and yelled and cried some more. I said I pissed about everything that had happened, how I had no clue what I was doing with my life, and would really like for him to give me a break.

And that’s when I heard the one word I needed to hear more than any other.

this sucks.

you are allowed to be angry.

it’s scary.

I’m right here.

You are in my care.

You are loved.


God was speaking his love and affirmation to me in the middle of my North Shore meltdown. And here is what I’m learning as a result: sometimes we get so caught up in the “NO” that we cannot hear the eternal “YES” God speaks into our lives. I’m not saying that we don’t experience “NO”. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck. I’m not saying that the “NO”s don’t matter because God speaks “YES”.

What I AM saying is that in the midst of “NO” we can hold onto hope that “YES” is being spoken somewhere, even if only in small whisper in the middle of great torments.

From there we will grow and be changed...

To Be Continued (again, I know)...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why I'm Not a Missionary Anymore...part 2

In my mind, there was only one option of where to go when I left Peru. Although my parents were no longer there, Hawaii had become home and I was eager to be near the water. I was praying that those who had so lovingly sent me off on this adventure 8 months previous would be just as gracious upon my return.

Before making the trip to Hawaii, I stayed with my parents for a week in Texas. It was wonderful to have time with them and get through the worst of the reverse culture shock within the safety of two people who’ve seen me at my worst and are (like it or not) stuck with me for life. They spent every moment I was with them encouraging me that I would get through this and telling me that I would be okay, although at the time I did not really believe it.

Knowing that something is right and liking it are two very different things. I knew the right thing was to leave, but I didn’t like it. Correction: I HATED it.

That week with my parents, who’ve had their fair share of heartbreak in life and in ministry, was probably the most important time of my relationship with them (if you can even qualify something like that). My gratitude goes beyond words and I hope they know how much I love and (still) need them.

And, as if I could’ve ever doubted it, my return to Hawaii was full of ALOHA. My sister and everyone from my friends to church family to former students, their families, and my co-workers were nothing short of amazing. They asked me about Peru, but didn’t push, they let me talk when I needed to, cry when I needed to and have done nothing but pour out their love and support for me for the past 2 months. Which, has been another important lesson in grace: when you are wounded and spinning out of control, you need a soft place to crash. Yeah, that’s right, I said crash. Not land. Landing is a planned arrival, crashing is what happens when all your plans have gone to hell.

Between having two jobs immediately upon my return, a room back in my old apartment, and generous friends and sister who’ve driven me around and allowed me to borrow their cars…crashing has been as safe as a crash could ever be.

But, it was still a crash…

To Be Continued...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why I'm Not a Missionary Anymore...

I’ve struggled to write for a couple months now. In part because I wasn’t sure where to begin, but mostly due to the fact that I was afraid of what would happen if I let it all go. I am no longer afraid, so here’s what I’ve been thinking about…

2010 has been, by far, the strangest and most difficult year of my life. It began with my being a volunteer missionary, living in the Amazon Jungle in Peru, speaking Spanish, and building relationships with people I knew I would have for the rest of my life. It was a dream come true…and while the experience was extremely challenging, I knew it was also a tremendous blessing. There were days when I felt like I could live in Peru forever and days when I had no clue what I was doing there. I loved my Peruvian family, but there was a part of me that knew that my particular gifts and personal call weren't the best fit with the mission of the organization. I struggled with this a great deal, but figured that since God had provided the way for me to be there and given me great love for my team, I was going to stay the course.

March 3 changed everything. My cousin, one of my best friends, died of an accidental drug overdose and everything fell apart. I fell apart. I cannot think of another time when I felt that lost. I sincerely hope that you do not understand what I mean when I say this, but grief does violent things to you. I stopped sleeping, I could barely eat. I got out of bed only when I absolutely had to and cried more than I ever have in my life (and that is saying something). I was mourning the loss of someone I have loved for almost 27 years, but I was also grieving the pain he must have felt to have been that far into substance abuse and that none of us knew the depth of his suffering.

I wanted to go home that day because, honestly, I didn’t know what business I had in Peru “helping” anyone else if THIS is what happened to my own flesh and blood. However, I knew that I was in shock and could not make a sound decision quite yet. So I waited. I gave myself a month to let the shock wear off and see where I was then. A month came and went and while I was not convinced I was supposed to stay, I was also not convinced I was supposed to leave. So I waited some more. I was writing and reading and doing everything I knew to do to make it to another day but nothing was changing.

A couple more weeks passed and in a quick turn of events, I ended up in Arequipa for a few days. On a Monday morning I was sitting in a meeting with my boss and a consultant for the organization talking about how I was doing and how I truly felt about staying in Peru for another year and a half. As much as I hated to hear it, I felt this great sense of relief when they said they believed the best thing for me was to go home. I did not want to abandon my team, but I knew that I couldn’t go on the way I had been for the past weeks. As much as I wanted to love and support them, I knew that I was not going to be able to do that in the shape I was in. Despite my best effort to pray and read and serve and be in God’s presence, I was rapidly becoming a person I didn’t recognize because, like I said, grief does violent things to you.

Sometimes you do everything you can do and it’s not enough. This might be one of the most important lessons in grace I’ve ever learned. Because I did everything I knew to do, but it was gonna take more than just my will to get me through the darkness. It was gonna take time. And it was gonna take my being still and allowing God to speak healing into my life…

To Be Continued...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back in the US of A

They say you go through "reverse culture shock" upon returning to your home country after a significant amount of time away. Apparently 8 months in Peru was a sufficient amount of time for airports to induce this state of panic and distress.

Let me tell you, it's awesome.

Had a near melt down in the bathroom trying to figure out what to do with the toilet paper. Seriously. I sat there for a while before finally accepting the fact I could flush it.

Witnessed a man crouch down and yell in the face of his 3 year old who was crying in his stroller. Haven't seen anything like that in a long time. What is wrong with people?!

I've answered nearly every question asked of me in spanish. I got excited when the man at customs decided to go with it and switch to spanish.

Overwhelming sense of fear that I'm going to gain back the 25 lbs I lost in Peru in the next week. lol. Not kidding.

Profound sense of sadness that I am not with the people I've lived every day with for the past 8 months.

Looming sense of failure that I did not complete the job I was sent to do.

Waves of sheer panic that a week ago I had the next 19 months of my life planned and now have NO CLUE.

And somewhere...buried a voice that tells me everythings gonna be alright...I hope.

Hope that is seen is no hope at all, afterall? Yeah?

Aloha Still Means Te Amo,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A New Chapter...

The past few months have been very difficult for me and God has been growing and stretching me in ways I had not expected. Months ago I began to realize that it was possible that my personal gifts and call to ministry may not be the best fit with the Extreme Nazarene organization. I prayed and waited and continued on in my work, but felt more and more distance from what I feel called to do in this life. Then 6 weeks ago my cousin, Brandon, died of an accidental overdose and I pretty much fell apart. Through my grief, I cried out to God to help me get through and by His grace alone I've made it this far. But, it has been confirmed to me through conversations with my family and with my leadership here, that the best option for all involved, is that I discontinue my work with Extreme. My heart is very heavy, for I truly love my team, and truly wanted to complete my job here. I believe in Extreme, I believe in their vision, I believe that I have learned a lot and received great blessings in the time I've been a part of this organization. However, I feel a peace that while God brought me here almost 8 months ago, in this moment, He is leading me elsewhere.

Thank you so much for supporting me over these months, I appreciate you all so much. I sincerely ask forgiveness if you are disappointed in me, it is this thought that has grieved me more than anything. I love you all. Please write if you have any questions. (I believe you can cancel your financial support online, but if not, please let me know and I will find out how to do that.)

Aloha Means Te Amo,
Melissa "Suthee" Sutherland

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jesus Wept

Jesus wept.

John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible and is often memorized jokingly amongst Sunday school children to win a prize. Admittedly, I was probably one of those children. And yet, how this verse has come to mean so much to me in the past couple weeks…

Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus, had died and his family was mourning. Although Jesus knew he had the power to give Lazarus life, he wept for his friend. He wept with his friends. He was deeply troubled and moved by their grief. Wow.

Over the past 3 weeks I have been surrounded by great love and compassion for which I must give thanks. Unfortunately, I have also been told some very unhelpful things, like I should not cry anymore, or that I should be okay by now. The truth is I am not okay. I feel pain like a gaping hole in my being. I have a deep sense of loss. I have endless unanswerable questions.

I know that to see someone like me, who is by nature rather hilarious, with puffy
red eyes more days than not, is difficult. I wish I could be what they want me to be. However, along with my sense of humor, the other gift I’ve been given is my inability to hide my emotions. And right now, because I cannot hide, the only thing I have to offer anyone is my vulnerability and brokenness.

Vulnerability and brokenness are not “good” words. They are sad and scary words. Yet, Jesus too, offered the world his vulnerability and brokenness. He was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering,” (Isaiah 53:3). Thankfully, though I do not quite understand what this means yet, it also says “by his wounds we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).

It is absurd to me that I have been told not to grieve. I mean, if Jesus (who was about to raise Lazarus from the dead) can weep for his friend, why can’t I? Maybe it’s bad business? Maybe I’m not selling this Jesus saves stuff well enough if I don’t have a smile plastered on my face at all times?


But then I remember that the Gospel is not for sale. So it’s not my job to sell it. There are moments (like right now) when I become so angry that I don’t think I can take it anymore. And then I think about Jesus. I think about the words that caused me to believe in him. He was the most loving man who ever lived. Certainly that is why he wept. He was so filled with love. And if we claim to be his body, we also should be so filled with love. But love means you are open to being hurt. Love means you are vulnerable to grief.

I am grieving. My family is grieving. And the Jesus I know is moved by our grief, and is weeping with us.

Aloha Means Te Amo,
Melissa "Suthee"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March 3, 2010

On Wednesday March 3, Dalila and I went to Belen to visit two families we’ve been working with for the past couple months. The pastor who was in town teaching our class and another guy from our group also came along because we were going to meet the husband of one of the women for the first time. We knew that the husband was abusive when drunk which, quite frankly, is every weekend. Upon entering the house, I felt an immediate sense of inhospitality on the part of the husband. He told us very roughly that he had to leave for work shortly and basically asked why we were there. Knowing that his frustration with our presence could easily turn into consequences for his wife later, I began to pray. I prayed, “we need your presence, we need you, do something.” The pastor began to speak, telling a story, and I continued to pray. The wife sat quietly, her mother-in-law and another neighbor began crying and I watched the husband’s entire countenance change before my eyes. He softened and relaxed. By the time the pastor finished his story, I was pouring glasses of orange Fanta for everyone, the husband was thanking us for visiting, asking when we would come back, suggesting we come on the weekend when he doesn’t have to go to work. Amazing.

Afterwards, we visited another family, then walked to the Plaza de Armas so the pastor could see a bit of Iquitos. I never take my cell phone to Belen because thievery is a rather popular sport, so when I returned I was surprised to see a missed call from the Simpsons, our cluster support family. I walked up to their house, and Heather met me on the stairs and took me by the arm telling me they had received a call from Brian Tibbs, who had received a call from Brent Deakins, who had received a call from my dad asking me to call him. I immediately felt sick.

This was not good.

I called my dad and said, “What?...What happened?” And then I heard words that, even now as I replay them in my head, are unbelievable. “Brandon’s dead.” My cousin, whom I love like a brother, was gone. I asked if he was sure. He told me he wished he wasn’t, but yes, he was sure. I’m sure I asked what happened, but I do not remember. I cried like I have never cried and kept saying, “this is not okay, this is not okay, this is not okay”. Heather sat with me as I cried on the phone with my family. When we walked to my room, I collapsed on the bed in the entry way and sobbed. Heather told the girls what had happened, and soon I was surrounded by Emperatriz, Juliana and Dalila who told me to cry, yell, talk, do whatever I needed to do. I don’t know how long I stayed on that bed, but they stayed with me. Over the next hours, all of the girls had returned and took turns sitting with me, talking with me, crying with me, praying with me. Laura and Brittany sat with me all day Thursday and took care of me.

I must say thank you to these wonderful women: Kristy and Nancy, Katie and Emperatriz, Brittany and Esther, Laura and Juliana, Katie and Priscilla, Dalila and Heather. They are my safe place.

Finding a safe place is sometimes an impossible task. After two days of lying in my bed crying, I was told by some people here (not any of the above mentioned) that I needed to stop crying and be okay. No, I’m not kidding. God forbid I really feel this. God forbid I grieve and mourn and wail. God forbid I’m not funny for a few days because I am hurting worse than I have ever hurt in my life. God forbid. I won’t pretend to hide my anger on this subject. Let’s just call it a second round of culture shock.

I really don’t understand the thought process here. I really don’t understand how it’s better to wear a happy face in front of other people and then cry yourself to sleep at night because you won’t admit what you’re struggling with. You know me, I’m all about getting things out into the open. I wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s never a mystery how I am feeling. Everyone knows. And while I’m sure at times it is exhausting for those around me, at least I’m honest.

I realize, of course, how incredibly selfish this all sounds. But really, I don’t feel like I have anything to give. I’m trying. But I am so confused. I’ve never felt anything so intense. I feel like the rug has been ripped from beneath me. Even as I write this, the giant lump in the back of my throat is antagonizing me, reminding me that the pain is just as real today as it was 10 days ago. I’m praying. I’m praying like I’ve never prayed before. My prayers go something like this, “help me. I can’t do this. I need you.” Sometimes I believe that God is listening. Sometimes I feel like I’m just talking to myself, giving myself a pep talk. And sometimes I believe that God is listening and everything will be okay. Sometimes.

And this is why I love the Psalms. David was real. He was not all about sunshine and daisies. He yelled and cried and danced naked. He accused God several times of abandoning him. And yet, he was a man after God’s heart. Maybe we should understand that phrase differently? Not that David was a man who was really godly…but he was a man who was desperately seeking to know and sense God in his life. Godliness is not something I relate to. Desperation to know that we’re not just floating all alone out here IS something I relate to.

In Psalm 13, David spends 4 verses accusing and pleading with God to understand why he’s been left all alone and then he says, “BUT I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” Everything is far from okay. BUT, I will make this leap of faith and say that I know God is good. I do not understand any of this. I cannot make sense of it. BUT, I want to believe that at some point, I will sense peace.

Maybe this is not the blog of a good little missionary. Maybe I should talk about how my Brandon’s death has made me more thankful that I am here. But it hasn’t. It HAS made me more aware of the desperation we all feel to know and be known, to love and be loved. And THAT is the only reason I would give as to why I’m still here in Peru…because that desperation is something we all know, if we are honest.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is It February Already!?!

Hello from the beautiful and humid Amazon Jungle!

The past month has been filled with much work and many lessons. In mid January we were blessed to be involved with a medical and impact mission project here in the city of Iquitos. Together, with the long term staff and an amazing group of short term volunteers from the U.S., we hosted 7 medical clinics in 7 different areas of Iquitos and saw over 1200 patients. While the nurses and doctors were caring for patients, the 40/40s were translating, talking and praying with families, and providing hours of games and activities for children. What an amazing way to share the love of God! It was a beautiful thing to see how each person used their gifts to bless the communities. In addition to the medical clinics and activities for children, we also hosted 4 showings of the Jesus Film, which was a really wonderful way to further express our purpose in being here. Each day was different, with its own set of challenges, but each day our teamwork improved and people were loved in the name of Jesus. By the end of the project we were all exhausted and yet with reawakened passion for our call to the jungle of Peru.

Since the project we have returned to classes and the work in our churches. Dalila (my Peruvian partner) and I are currently working in Belen, a particularly impoverished area of Iquitos, where we will plant our first church. We have begun relationships with 4 different families, visit them on a regular basis, and are beginning to disciple them this week. I first visited Belen my second or third day in Iquitos, and from that moment have had a deep compassion for the people there. The opportunity to be a light in such a dark place is both exciting and humbling. Please pray for us as we continue to form relationships with people in desperate need of hope, that the people would know the great love God has for them and Christ would truly transform their lives.

Thank you so much for all your love and support, I am very blessed to share this journey with you!

Aloha Means Te Amo,
Suthee :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

All New Episodes...

I’m late in saying it, but Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was filled with much laughter and quality time with loved ones. We celebrated Christmas with a mixture of Peruvian and North American traditions. On Christmas Eve, we attended church and then went to the Simpson’s (our support family) house for games, a gift exchange, and of course—food! In keeping with Peruvian tradition, at midnight we celebrated by greeting one another with hugs, set off some fireworks, and drank hot chocolate. Yes, that’s right- we drank hot chocolate in 90 degree weather! After our celebration at the Simpson’s we went to the Plaza de Armas in Iquitos and walked around taking photos and observing the mass of people celebrating the holidays. On Christmas day we had a semi-traditional North American lunch complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. It was a very special time together, though we all missed our families and friends back home. New Years we celebrated again at the Simpson’s with a time of worship and prayer and yes, more fireworks!

Honestly, I’ve hesitated writing lately, because I have been dealing with some major culture shock. My love affair with Peru stopped somewhere in the second week here in Iquitos. Don’t get me wrong, Iquitos is beautiful and the idea that I live in the Amazon Jungle is something I’ll always treasure. But, there are days when all I want to do is go home, days when I question why I’m here at all, days when I just want to eat some spicy ahi poke and hang out with my friends at the beach.

Last week was particularly difficult and I spent a lot of time crying and praying that I would know what to do to get through it. It was in those dark moments that 1, I was reminded of what wonderful friends and family I have in the states and 2, I realized what amazing friends I have made here on my team. There is no doubt in my mind that I am blessed beyond what any one person deserves AND that life looks a lot different when we choose to be grateful. Thank you, my loved ones, for all the prayer and encouragement. I could not do this without you. Really.