My name is Autumn Buzzell and I live and work in Ghana, West Africa with City of Refuge Ministries. Here, I run our school, Faith Roots International Academy, and get to be a part in rescuing and the healing of children who have been trafficked into the fishing trade, orphaned, abandoned, and those who just need a little extra loving. What an amazing gift this life is!

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Learning That I am Strong

So, working out has never, ever been my thing.

Growing up, you would find me with a nose in a book, watching a movie, or engaged in some piece of craftiness over any type of physical activity. Even bike riding, the typical childhood pastime, became a thing of the past after the bike crash of 1990.

Entering into high school, I avoided all sports but eventually joined the tennis team. This was a plus for me as we only had to make three three laps around the courts for warm ups and other than that, it was just fun on the courts with friends. In fact, when I was asked to move to the varsity team, I attempted one game and the competitive attitude that came out of me was not pretty. I went straight to the coach and asked to be placed back on the JV team so my scores wouldn't have to count (all that pressure was too much for this people-pleaser) and I could simply play for fun.

But, as an adult, I have had to seek out my own ways to stay active. I never enjoyed the gym, the feeling of being stared at was too overwhelming (whether it was true or not) to make me confident in that environment. I hated running, and after a terrible sledding accident that wrecked my knee (yes, sledding...don't ask), it didn't even feel like it was an option. There was the season of Curves, which worked for awhile, until I knew I would need something more intense to lose the weight I needed to be healthy.

Moving to Ghana, working out has definitely not been a priority. There have been short seasons of God working in me to get moving again. But the excuses were always there:
-How can I lose weight when we eat mostly carbs?
-It's so hot, how can I possibly work out?
-My schedule, how can I find the time?

But, I started working out seven weeks ago. I know that it's just the start of something, but here is what I am learning about myself:

*I am stronger than I think I am.

*I can persevere and keep this thing going, even when I am sore, tired, and not feeling my best.

*While I may only have lost three pounds this whole time, I have lost inches and that is worth it. It changes how I feel in my clothes and changes how I feel about my body.

*The physical journey is so much a spiritual journey. It is a daily battle, a daily joy, a daily pressing in.

*I sense a deeper sense of worth in this process, knowing I was created for more. That my body was actually created to be healthy and whole.

*This is not about numbers, it is about me honoring His creation, my body.

*This can't be done on my own. I have an amazing group of ladies here that keep me accountable. I have encouragers back home that write me truths to cling to. I have partners that work out with me everyday, and question me when I don't want to.

*I can do anything if God calls me to it.

I can't say that I enjoy working out or that sports have now captured my attention, but there will come a day when this process will feel normal. Where I will feel fully confident in my own skin. It's all in the process.

Friday, November 21, 2014

More Thoughts on Singleness

I was surprised by the number of people who responded to my post about singleness. I was amazed that God was able to use my experiences to minister and that many were encouraged by how God is moving in me right now. It was such a blessing to hear of the many ways God spoke through my last post.

wanted to give you a few things I have learned about singleness, and even about relationships and marriage. Yes! Marriage! Even though I have never been married, I have been given the sweet gift of access to view pieces of what marriage looks like for some of my family and friends. Amazingly enough, I have learned so much from these glimpses. 

* Marriage is hard work. I am continually amazed at the amount of work that it takes to keep marriages strong. I know, full well, God's perfect picture of His relationship with His Church. But, I see the ways the Church, the Bride of Christ, often chooses the easy way out, or forgets the love of our God and turns her back on Him. In the same way, the husband is to love his wife. The wife to respect her husband. (EPH. 5) But, wow! I have seen how hard that is, to continually lay yourself down for another. And while I do that in some ways in ministry, singleness gives me the ability to go home and close the door and be done for the day. I know there are so many rewards in those hard places in marriage. I have seen it in the marriages around me again and again. But, for now, I am grateful for this space.
So while singleness can be lonely at times and the desire to simply share my days with someone still chases me around sometimes, I know that I am in a place that is exactly right for me right now. 

* Marriage is not the purpose of life. This is something that is misunderstood by so many. Look at the American culture. While their focus on marriage might not be strong, their focus on love certainly is. I mean, consider every Disney movie. Consider the hot topics in most news headlines. Consider most songs you hear on the radio. Everyone is seeking love. Little girls dream of their wedding day, because that is instilled in our culture that that is the end all, be all. Here in Ghana, marriage is almost required before the age of thirty. I am now considered an old maid! 
But here is where we have been confused...our purpose in life is not to get married and find love, but to bring God glory. And when we do that, yes, love does come. And it is an indescribable, beautiful, powerful, never-ending love from our great God who pursues and comforts and gives joy. And there is no prerequisite of marriage for this great purpose! I know some really amazing married couples who are glorifying God with their lives, but I also know some married couples who are struggling! Marriage isn't what they thought it would be. They thought it would complete them in some way, but when it came down to it, they weren't filled. The same is true for many singles that I know. Some are living lives that glorify God, recognizing their worth is found in Him alone, and they are pushing forward to use their gifts in amazing ways. Others are pursuing love, waiting for the day that "the one" will come, merely biding their time, and forgetting that His love is all we need to be satisfied.
So, pursue God. And trust his love that never ends and never changes. Our purpose is only to give God glory, whether married or single. 

* Singles have been given incredible flexibility in the season of life that they are in. Because of my singleness, I am given the opportunity to travel, to live abroad, to do things that many with families would not even be able to consider. 
When I lived in the States, I lived in the low-income community that I taught in. This might have been a difficult decision to make had I had a family. East Palo Alto is known for its murder rate per capita. But, I could choose to live and serve there as God had called me to be a part of the community I was teaching in. It was an easy choice for me.
When I moved to Ghana, while it was a tougher decision, it was an easy move. I didn't have to raise support for a whole family. I didn't have to worry about homeschooling or medical issues or taking care of my children or ministry vs. family. It's just me. And while there have been challenges in being a single person here, the truth remains that it is easier!
I have been given amazing opportunities to travel that might not have been able to happen had I been married or had a family. I have traveled to Australia, Morocco, all over the States. It has been so much fun to experience other cultures, other families, and to have the freedom and flexibility to go when I want to go. 
But, sometimes this flexibility and freedom can also be taken advantage of. I have known single pastors who were paid less, offered less vacation, given less perks, not based on their work, but based on their singleness. I have seen singles expected to take the holiday shifts or the evening services. I have seen singles taken advantage of in ministry with longer hours and less pay. It's, honestly, not acceptable. Yes, while others might need to provide for their families and therefore require a larger salary, and while singles tend to have a more flexible or have a freer schedule, that doesn't make them any less human. The desire for time with family and friends remains the same. The desire to create a home for themselves is still there, even if they don't have someone to share it with. The Church should be able to understand this. They should be able to honor their singles in ministry with grace and understanding. So many singles in ministry burnout when they are young, used up and sent on their merry way, because the same support was not offered as those who are married or with families. This simply sends the wrong message. And more than any other place, the Church should get this right!

* Sometimes the Church paints the wrong picture of singleness. There are rarely positive messages spoken to the Church about the beautiful benefits that come with singleness. It leads to feelings of inferiority, that your impact is somehow lessened because you aren't married. I mean, Paul and just about every disciple was single and built the Christian church up after Jesus' resurrection. Singles have just as much purpose and significance as any married person! 
So when every prayer that comes, every form of encouragement, seems to be aimed not at who you are and what God is doing, but what you don't have (a husband) and who you aren't (a wife and mother), it seeps in sneakily. The lie that you aren't enough. It's not intentional by any means, but it happens all the same.
This isn't to say that I want people to stop praying for these things for me. I know that if God calls me to marriage, I would walk happily into it! It is still a desire of my heart, whether it will ever be fulfilled or not, that is yet to be seen! But, there is so much more to me than just being single!
I loved, loved loved, this blog by Shauna Neiquist. She is the best anyway, but this...she may just become my best friend! http://www.shaunaniequist.com/significant-without-significant/

So here it is, people. Let's treasure the places we are all in. Let's spur each other on to greater glory. Let's be a community that expresses the value of each person, no matter where they are in life. Because we all have something important to offer the Kingdom. Married. Single. We are the Bride of Christ. Loved and treasured, pursued and adopted.

Let's bring Him glory.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

It's Not My Plan

So, I have been a bit sick this weekend. A sore throat plagued me on Friday, keeping me home from school. But, while my throat felt a little better, my energy still lagged throughout the weekend. 

When I am not feeling well, I find that I think a lot. I get introspective. I think about my life. I think about how things might be different had my life worked out the way I had planned it.

I had it all planned out, you see. Finish college, get a job, meet "the one", marriage, children, stay at home mom, the perfect house, the garden...the dream.

Oh, how my life is so different than what I had planned when I was young. 

And I am so grateful.

But, it has taken me a long time to reach that place of gratitude. For such a long time, I felt like I was waiting for my life to be "complete" with all of these things. 

There have been years of such wrestling with God with my singleness. The struggle felt like it sat on the surface so often, bringing pain, shame, and frustration at every turn. I longed for marriage. There were seasons of such great grief over what had not been given to me. People prayed and prayed for me, always leading back to the prayer for God to bring a man into my life. I can't even count the number of people who claimed that when they "felt satisfied" with the Lord, they finally found their husband/wife. So, I would draw close to the Lord and surrender it again, in hopes that around the corner, "he" could come, only to end up disappointed again.

There have been times of deep grief over the prospect of my own family being lost for me. Every birthday meant another year when I wouldn't be able to experience that beautiful gift of life in children of my own. 

Coming to Ghana has changed so much of that for me. 

I wouldn't say that I have lost hope that any of these things might still be in God's plan for me, but I have learned to trust where God has me now. 

I have learned that God can fill me in ways I hadn't known previously. I have learned of His love as Father, as friend, as comforter, as lover, as all that He is.

I have learned that parenting is hard. There is a reason why God created families with a father and a mother, because it is hard! A child needs both to be cared for well. And parents need each other to remain sane. My experience parenting Edwin my first year here..it was enough for me to celebrate every single parent I know. Because it's hard. 

I also have learned that families look different. Right now, mine looks both big and small. My kids are the almost 60 children that live on campus. My sisters and brothers are the staff and my friends here. And sometimes, it is small, when I need to withdraw and be by myself in my little house. I know that it looks different from a nuclear family and my house is different than what my white picket fence dream was, but it is home.

And while there are times when I still long for someone to walk this road of life with me, I live surrendered to the truth that God called me here as a single person because that is how I could best fulfill His plans for this place. I honestly do not believe I would have been able to do what I am doing, what has been done, if I was married and had a family. Something would have to give, and with a ministry as consuming as this, I am afraid my relationships would be the ones left behind. I needed to be single to fulfill the call of God. Wow! What an awesome privilege. Kind of mind blowing to think about.

So, while it certainly isn't my teenage vision of "My life in 15 years"...I couldn't have planned it better if I had tried. And I guess that's how you know it's God at work. I can stand in gratitude at living life with these amazing kids and staff that I now call my family. I can stand in gratitude at the love I have discovered in the work we do here. I can stand in gratitude at my Father who fills me in every way.

My life isn't how I planned it. 

It's better.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Clear the Stage

Today, I am just stuck on this...written by Ross King and sung so beautifully by Jimmy Neeham...

Clear The Stage

Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that's the measure you must take to crush the idols
Jerk the pews and all the decorations, too
Until the congregation's few, then have revival
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
Until you're broken for your sins, you can't be social
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
And know that great is your reward so just be hopeful

'Cause you can sing all you want to
Yes, you can sing all you want to
You can sing all you want to
And still get it wrong; worship is more than a song

Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the word and put to test the things you've heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken

'Cause you can sing all you want to
Yes, you can sing all you want to
You can sing all you want to
And still get it wrong; worship is more than a song

We must not worship something that's not even worth it
Clear the stage, make some space for the one who deserves it

Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my all my love is an idol

'Cause I can sing all I want to
Yes, I can sing all I want to

And we can sing all we want to
And we can sing all we want to
We can sing all we want to
And still get it wrong
Worship is more than a song

Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that's the measure you must take to crush the idols

Behind the Missionary

Throughout my 4 1/2 years here in Ghana, I have come to realize that behind every missionary is a fantastic team. This has been an absolute humbling blessing to learn.

I vividly remember praying about coming to Ghana for ONE year. Sitting in my friend's living room in Portland, Oregon, I wept as I felt God saying, "TRUST and OBEY". And that was it. I knew I was coming to Ghana. But in my own selfishness, I prayed that God would take care of the money part. I didn't want anything to do with it.

"God, if you are calling me there, you have to provide."

I had raised support in the past and felt like I had possibly tapped my resources. I didn't want to be thought of as someone who was living off of other people's hard-earned wages. Oh, how the devil can distort the truth.

That year, I wrote one letter. One. And my entire support for the year was pledged. Every year that has followed, God has continued to provide in ways that I can't understand or comprehend.

But, here is what I didn't expect. 

Those who are supporting me in my ministry here, they aren't just putting their hard earned dollars towards a good cause. They are called to be a part of the work we are doing here. They are as much the hands that soothe the crying child as I am. They are as much the voice of truth as I am. They support and encourage and challenge and pray for us. This ministry would not be possible without the fantastic team that supports us here.

This past week, I spent a few days updating my donor database. I was in awe of the little God-connections between each person.

Each name, a sweet memory. Each person, a beautiful soul called into ministry with CORM through me. That's an incredible blessing! 

Sometimes I forget that I am not in it alone, but surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" here. And while at times, it can be weighty work, it is always so sweet to give reports of what God is doing here, the shared work of the Lord.

So, to the many who are such a part of the work we are doing here in Ghana, thank you. Your calling to serve us through your support is, through God's grace, bringing about Kingdom culture in our communities, ushering in freedom, and offering the beautiful love of Christ to so many. May you be blessed, blessed, blessed for your openhanded support. So thankful for my "team"!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Finding my Balance

It's been a challenge to find a balance in my life here. I have struggled to figure out how to find rest amidst the work.

My people-pleasing tendencies kick in and I want to make sure my work is done well.

My desire to keep up with my relationships back home keep me attached to my phone and not present.

Being an introvert makes me feel the need to retreat instead of engage.

The 50+ kids need my love and attention, and yet, there are times I feel so empty when it comes to giving out.

But, moving into my new place, I am finally seeing a better balance. 

At the beginning of this year, God gave me three words...




I am discovering that, for me, balance is centered around these things.

Rest...it's so hard when you live in your ministry. Because of that, my favorite place of rest is usually "zoning out" in front of a movie or TV show. It is a coping mechanism for me. It shuts off the rat race that runs full-speed in my head so often. But, I am discovering that this rest is not my best rest.

Last week, we had five days off for our midterm holiday. The first two days, I literally crashed on my bed and watched movies all day. And I was still so tired. But, this restlessness began to eat at me, and I knew that I needed to dig into some real rest. 

And that real rest is the balance my life is seeking.

I think, for the first time since moving to Ghana, and perhaps even before that, I am discovering that rest.

My ministry is the fullest part of my life. It invades so much of my mind and heart...and most of my days. And because of that, I have had to find places to be me, a healthy and happy me.

So, I have started working out each morning at 5:15am. Ajata, Jackie, and Lydia join me most mornings which keeps me accountable. The early wake up time gives me at least an hour each morning to be in the Word, in worship, and in prayer. I leave for school filled instead of tired. And my weekly check-ins with Stacy, Miriah, and Brittany encourage me to fight for my health. For the first time in a long time, I am feeling good about how I look (and I honestly have hardly lost any weight!).

My guest room has doubled as my creative space ranging from a place to paint, to recording my music, to writing new songs, to scrapbooking...this space breathes life into my Spirit. My evenings are spent there, pressing in, listening to the Lord, and feeding my soul with the colors and the sounds and the beauty that is all art.

I am learning to trust others with my heart here, sharing easily the things that I previously saved for only my family and my friends back home. My weekly Bible study has been a place where I know I can come and be loved, these ladies hold me up, speak truth, and walk in grace.  I have made friends with staff here at CORM, people who see my heart and encourage and love and challenge me and make me laugh.

I see a balance developing that I love. I see the rest happening in the midst of the creative places and intimate times. And I feel like I can breathe. In and out. A wholeness.

This has been an incredibly challenging season. There has been so much opposition. So much discouragement. So many tears. But even in that place, there is so much hope. I am finding myself becoming more and more home here than any other place is this great, big world. More and more me here. 

And it is in all this, I can stand grateful in this delicate balance of life. God is so good!