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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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

There is a Mess in my Trunk

Years ago, I worked with the University that I had graduated from, Hope International University, to put together a women's conference.  We brought in my favorite author at the time, Angela Thomas.  She wrote a book years back that cultivated intense change in my life, Do You Think I'm Beautiful?.That change was so important, so apparent, that I knew, if I could just get her to come and speak, God would bring freedom to others as well.

That weekend was a beautiful weekend of grace-filled messages of love.  But, for some reason, there were a couple things that she said to us that stuck and over the years, I have continued to cling to those truths, being challenged to press in in different seasons.

One of the things she mentioned was that there are certain people you meet in your life that seem to overflow with wisdom and grace and love of God.  She said that you will know those people because when you simply bump into them, you get splashed with that overflow.  At the time, she was referring to my amazing mentor, Priscilla, who was exactly that.  I was blessed to be in the pathway of that overflow for years (and it still continues today, over 10 years later).

I remember when she gave that description, I thought, "That is who I want to be."  I wanted to spread that gooshy overflow of the love of God.  I wanted people to bump into me and experience grace.  I wanted people to desire to be near me because they knew that they would receive wisdom.  I wanted to walk in such close proximity with God, that it was apparent even in the slightest crossing of paths.  That overflow...oh, how I longed to swim in that place.  

I'm not there yet.  I'm not even close.  But, each day I'm given a new opportunity to be shaped and molded more into an image of Christ.  Each day is a chance to reflect Him more.  Each day is an opportunity to grow in His love, in His grace, in His wisdom.

The one other thing that Angela Thomas mentioned during her weekend at Hope all those years ago that has stuck with me was something to the effect of, "I know the state of my soul when I see the state of the trunk of my car."

I don't own a car anymore, but this phrase popped up in my memory this weekend as I was cleaning my house and I was shocked at the truth of it.

I tend to keep my living room fairly clean as I frequently have guests pop in to say hello or Stacy or Miriah stop by for a chat, a good game, or a workout session.  But, my bedroom and guest room are another story.  Recently, they've been off limits to visitors.  Inviting guests into those rooms would have been letting them in to examine my soul...and it was a very sad state.

For weeks, I had washed my clothes, pulled them from the clothes line, and then piled them up in the guest room "to be folded".  My floors went unswept.  My bed unmade.  Every flat surface was covered with something that just hadn't been put away.  It was cluttered...unkempt...even dirty.  I might be known to have the family curse of "empty surface syndrome", but dirty is not usually said of me.  This wasn't me, there was something more going on.

I just so happened to be hosting a Bible Study at my house Sunday Night and I realized that this just wasn't going to work anymore.  So, I turned on my music and began to clean.  And as I cleaned, I worshiped.  As I scrubbed my floors, I did some soul-searching.  I cleaned house...inside and out.

And I realized that what Angela had said all those years back was true.  I'd allowed the clutter of my life to build up--the lies of the enemy...the frustrations and fears...the insecurity...the dis-contentedness...the hurts and disappointments.  The places that I had cleaned out so long ago, they moved right back in.  I'd opened the door and allowed them space inside my head and inside my heart.  And it showed.  Internally and externally.

But, as I began to clean, a fresh breeze broke free.  The insecurities were folded up and put away...I didn't need to walk in them anymore.  The frustrations and fears were swept away.  The dis-contentedness was tossed out with yesterday's trash.  And suddenly, I could breathe again.  I felt more me.

And the thing I'm learning is that for this place to stay clean, it requires me to be proactive...to take initiative...to dig in deep.  The mess in my trunk doesn't go away if I don't work at it.

Honestly, for the past few months, I haven't wanted to work at it all that hard.  But, I think I'm finally getting back to that place.  I'm desiring depth.  I'm desiring more.  I'm desiring a walk with God that will overflow into that gooshy love, that gentle grace, that profound wisdom.  That kind of work happens over time, one day at a time, moment by moment--understanding first that gooshy love of the Father for myself, offering myself the gentle grace of a good God in times when I feel so weak, and accepting the profound wisdom of those who walk before me.

Let's walk this road together, splashing a little grace and love and wisdom onto the ones we walk in community with, knowing that we all have a little mess in our trunk from time to time.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Quiet


I've found that I am incredibly comfortable with noise.

I live in an apartment by myself, but you will find that it is rarely quiet.  The background noise of the television.  The latest tunes blaring on my radio.  My phone frequently in my hand--instagram, facebook, gmail, youtube...all readily accessible at the touch of my fingers.

I've been reading this amazing book, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, a book that I read almost two years ago, but am now reading in community with my friends here.  I feel the call for depth in Ruth's words.  I sense the longing for more.  I want to be willing to turn off the noise and really begin to listen.

Lately, I've been feeling the call to a place of quiet.  Time away from everything that fills me with the noise that I am so comfortable with.

To be honest, I get anxious about even considering what turning off the noise might mean.

It means I might have to face what is really going on in me.

And I might not like what I see.

Or perhaps I will be challenged beyond what I know and am comfortable with...to stretch my boundaries once again.  Oh God, can't I just stay in my comfortable noise-filled space for now?

I don't want to be stretched.

But, yet, I also have this feeling like I can't stay in this noisy place much longer without some repercussions.  The noise drains away the motivation to engage, to inspire, to create, to relate to others well.  The noise takes over the ability to hear, to listen, to be filled.

The quiet...well...it has its own set of fears that go along with it...but I'm beginning to wonder if quiet is the answer.

A few weeks back, Stacy, Miriah, and I sat in a place of silence and I realized my mind couldn't shut off.  For five whole minutes of silence, it didn't stop, it didn't focus, it didn't slow down.  I was frustrated at the overwhelming speed of my thoughts.  The hundreds of things that I needed to get done in the week ahead.  The new song I was listening to just before blasted its lyrics into my consciousness.  There was no peace.  There was only confusion, unrest, and busyness.

I realized then that the noise had taken over.

And it was consuming the places of quiet that were provided for God to speak.  I couldn't hear because my mind was simply recalling the noise.

So, quiet must be a practice.  A continual practice.

I need less noise.  I need more quiet.

I need to practice this silence.

Because I need that ability to hear, to listen, to be filled to be restored.  I need the motivation to engage, to inspire, to create, and to relate to others well.

I am beginning to see that space for silence creates opportunities for me to not just connect to God, but to feel more "me" again.  It clears the noise and allows for my true self to be made known.

Scary as the silence may be, I'm finding that the noise is even scarier...it's trickier.  It pretends to fill, but can only go so far.

Facing myself, and God, in the silence, is where I am most whole.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

You are Mine

Stacy, Miriah, and I have been reading Ruth Haley Barton's Sacred Rhythms together.  We meet each Saturday and talk it through, listening to her teaching and putting into practice ways to connect with God in deeper and more intimate ways.

It has been like breathing again.

I have needed it.  This past season has been incredibly tough for me.  I disengaged so I could figure out how to cope.  But I feel like I am becoming more me again as I dig in deep to more of God.

A couple weeks ago, we sat in a practice session of Lectio Divina and Ruth read this passage over us, asking us to pull out a phrase or a word that we felt God was speaking:

Israel’s Only Savior

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.

And just like that, I heard it.

You are Mine.


Instantly, with my eyes closed as we listened to the passage read over and over again, I had a picture of Jesus placing both of his hands on either side of my face, gently cupping my cheeks.  He looked into my eyes with such tenderness, such love and compassion.

"Autumn," he said, "You are mine.  Have you forgotten?  You are mine.  Don't walk with an orphan spirit anymore.  I have you.  You are mine.  You belong.  You are not forgotten.  I see you.  I know you.  You are mine."

This gentle picture has not escaped me.  It cannot be erased from my mind.  I think on it everyday.

Sometimes, I want to run to my old ways of thinking.  The places that say, "Escape".  Movies and books and withdrawal and mind-numbing introvertedness.

But, when you are known and loved and treasured and held...those places no longer make any sense. They don't fill.  They don't sustain.

I want to walk in that place of knowing I am His.  I want to stand in that assurance in every moment.  I trust that truth, even in the midst of my doubts and fears.

You are mine.


I would call this season of my life...obedience.

Transition has never been easy for me, and this transition has felt particularly challenging.  I have experienced deep loneliness, longing for something...someone...familiar, and have cried hard, frustrated tears.  I have spent endless hours wishing, hoping, and yes, even praying, for an opportunity to close my door here and return back to the States.

It sounds so harsh as I write it now...so ridiculously selfish.

There was nothing here, in my life here in Ghana, that was particularly challenging.  Our school was running smoothly, with capable staff at the helm.  My little apartment finally came together to look and feel like a home with furniture and decorations, a little haven in the chaos of life.  I met weekly for a women's Bible study, the same weekly meeting that we have been participating in for over 3 years (though many of the women have come and gone now!).  Nothing in particular had changed about my life here in Ghana, and yet, I longed...more than that...I craved life in the States.

That sense of being known.  The independence.  The comfort of access.  The understanding of culture.  Mostly, the people I love and miss.  That space of "home" that sometimes felt like it is just beyond my reach here.

Three of my friends got married in the month of October, two of whom I was supposed to be a bridesmaid in their weddings.  I was a part of their big days in so many ways...from Skype calls to popsicle stick faces...I was "there", but in the ways that it felt like it mattered, I wasn't "there".  I was a mixture of emotions.  Incredibly excited and distraught at the same time.  I asked God over and over again, "why"?  But, I felt as if it all fell on deaf ears.

This discontentedness settled in.   My heart was elsewhere, leaving me emotionally unable to be present here.

I spent one special afternoon, crying in my office with my friend NanaAma, sharing the pain of obedience to this calling on my life.

And it's true, isn't it?  Obedience is sometimes incredibly hard...even painful.

But, pain shapes us.  It's in this place where the real test of obedience comes.  Are we willing to walk in our calling even when it's hard?  Can we say yes when it doesn't feel fair?

I love the title of Eugene Peterson's classic, A Long Obedience In the Same Direction.

This life is a journey...it has its seasons that shape us--some bright and filled with sunshine--and others dark and dreary and cold.  But, it's that holding fast to, that persevering faith, that unwavering obedience that shapes this journey.

Almost six years ago now, I heard God tell me to come to Ghana.  It was clear as day, "Trust and Obey.  This is an issue of obedience."

Immediately, I gave my work notice I wouldn't be returning the next year and began the journey of fundraising and packing up my life and preparing to move to Ghana.  I remember feeling incredibly scared of the unknown.  But, it almost felt easy to say yes when I heard that call.

It is this long obedience that I am learning about now.

The continual yes.

The willingness to continue to walk in obedience, even when I don't know when I will return to the States, or see my family next, or even in the wondering if I will be able to complete the vision set before me.

The continual yes.

This long obedience is resurrecting old fears and insecurities and lies--and putting them to death again.  It is pulling out the places of pride and selfishness that I try to keep hidden and forcing them to be brought to the light.  It isn't comfortable and it isn't easy.

But, I'm realizing, more than ever, it is so good.

I don't have all the answers to my never-ending questions, and I am only beginning to see the end of this season of transition, but I am learning to trust more fully...more faithfully...and walk more vulnerably...more obediently...in this place.

And if I was given the chance again, the opportunity to come here all over again, to walk this road of long obedience, a continual yes...my answer would be the same.  Yes.  Yes, yes, and yes again.  Because even in the pain...in the hard...it is so good.  It is so worth it.