Serving in His Backyard

The Kingdom of Heaven often turns everything upside down, and Robbie Smitskamp’s life is no exception.

Robbie has run around the world hoping to escape a broken past that stuck to him in his hometown of Emmeloord, the Netherlands. But through an altering encounter with Jesus and a short-term service trip with OM, the road would lead him back home. He wouldn’t have it any other way than God’s.

Born to a Turkish Muslim mother and Dutch Jehovah’s Witness father, Robbie never quite felt he fit in to either side. His parents split when he was four years old, and he didn’t see much of his father. While raised with a more atheist mindset, Robbie’s mother still instilled a secular Islam into the family, with verses from the Qur’an sewn on pillows and other items around the house.

Amidst further family struggles, he eventually went to live with his father. The relationship was rocky as a young Robbie continued to struggle with his identity, unable to embrace his roots.

As a teenager, he started staying out late with friends, breaking into cars and drinking, and other kinds of trouble. His life quickly began to unravel.

“I started praying to Allah, but Allah never came to me,” Robbie said, noticing the actions of his Muslim friends showed no real-life change and disinterested him.

One day, his father noticed Robbie cooking and suggested he be a chef. Robbie saw this as a way out of the tailspin he was headed and dove into the culinary world.

Robbie worked his way up through the rankings of the hospitality industry, into fine dining, and eventually wound up at a top-end Michelin star education. He was on a reality chef’s competition television show and found work at a 2-Star Michelin restaurant. A good job in the capital city of the Netherlands, a girlfriend, and access to top parties–for the outside world, it looked like Robbie was living the dream. But inside churned an emptiness that wouldn’t go away. He had reached the peak but wasn’t happy.

He spent his mid-twenties living from rave to rave, and when an opportunity to move to Australia presented itself, Robbie went, hoping the environment would change him.

However, he soon found himself in the same lifestyle as before: an endless cycle of drugs, girls, work, and an inability to forgive his father for past relationship fissures. Robbie fell into a heavy depression full of anxiety and exhaustion, and tried a Buddhist meditation to calm himself.

On a day in January 2016, Robbie met a lady at an outdoor techno festival and sensed something soothing about her. After sharing about his struggles, the woman asked to pray for him and invited him to a house group of Jesus followers. While visiting this group a month later, Robbie closed his eyes and had a vision of a man in white robes with a face like the sun.

**Read the rest of the article I wrote about the great work going on in the Netherlands over at OM Stories!

All Around The Sun

Subtle shades of cream blue, peach, rose petal pink, ivory. 33,000 feet above the earth will make the looming gaps between sky and soil insignificant. Cracks carve bone out of ice; I glide above the Arctic. Down on the planet’s skin lies Russia.

Did I ever think I would witness the rotation of the sun staying bold and unrelenting, of earth’s arc and end up in places wet with new, wide-eyed wonder? How in the world did I end up revolving around it in such surprising measure?

We are just passing through. Always, simply passing through the steps of life that stretch to moments. Russia will slip beyond us as we move along the air, and when we land on the outskirts of Asia, there is still another leg to go.

The man next to me still smells fresh eight hours in. Spice and Caribbean water. Comfort. His voice dances with blend of places, history, family lines, hands with working knuckle creases. I listen to him talk of his mother and how he cares for her as a son’s privilege, and of his insatiable thirst for travel.

There are stories of us scattered around the globe. These are the words that fill the universe’s pages, honed and crafted by life’s curator, the One who knit the worlds alive.

Outside the sun leads us on, but the lights in the belly of the plane are low, lulling us to try and sleep as they schedule us to adjust to the time zone. My body won’t behave and I shift from my side, back braced against the chair, eyes dry and tired but internal wiring won’t let me rest.

I risk arousing my seatmate and crack a slip of shade. Crags of powder jut from below, texturizing the pattern of our passage. A guessing game—what are we over? Sometimes water, sometimes mountain. I study formations as if I am a geologist; if I set my eyes firm over the lines, I hope to see a caribou or even—because I am so seasoned with sharp sight of imagination—a stray polar bear that has lost her way and is content to roam the cold, white expanse.

I don’t know who I am to be in this position, traversing to the other side of the world, but it is not of my own doing. Only by the grace of God. Only by that do I sit wrapped in a blanket with an expectant heart for the way I’ll be allowed to listen to beautiful people share their stories, and, in turn, share them with the world.

Engine rattles constant. I turn again in my seat, stretch, shuffle past chairs and move along the never-ending aisle. Row after row of faces attached to names, attached to hopes and fears and centuries of life passed down to bring them to this point in time. We are all part of a bigger picture, frames moving in and out of the shot, beating hearts bringing still-frame to flesh.

Everything seems to be expanding, and yet frozen where meant to be. All around the sun we revolve, and make glad our hearts at the beauty of being alone in bodies, of being fully together. Of being human, strung with complexity and simplicity, one in the same. All around the sun we go, walk among the clouds, spun with truth and light.

Sleep again rests heavy on my eyes but I cannot succumb to it. And so I lean a bit closer to my seatmate, the man who I had no idea existed just twelve hours ago, who has a name, a story, grit beneath his fingernails—I breathe him in, take myself to anywhere quiet—everywhere: those untouched mountains, cool and cleansing, the safety of my small island back home swallowed by waves of Lake Michigan and lazy sunsets, or exactly where I am, 33,000 feet above, with a few hundred others just like me, uniquely themselves, full of story, bodies resting, hearts longing—always longing—for more.

 

Steadfast in the Seasons

I the Lord do not change.

-Malachi 3:6

The sky has hardened into an iron atmosphere, layering itself with blankets of clouds thick and full of snow, which will no doubt spill to earth within days. As I inhale the heavy air into my lungs, it no longer soothes; it stings. I dig my hands deeper into my pockets, attempting to corral the last remnants of autumn that have slipped into the seams of my coat, clinging for dear life.

Bare branches. Signs of the color that once graced the world mere weeks ago, now turned to an ashen state that cowers close to the ground. Empty parks, void of laughter and light. Waking and falling to sleep in darkness. And that endless chill that tears right through the seven layers I use to line my body. Farewell, fall. Welcome, winter. 

Yet with the exit of harvest season enters the dreams of December. Silent, snowy walks. The scent of crackling wood exiting through brick-laden chimneys, filling the already spice-spilled space in my heart with an aroma of warmth and kindling excitement. Cookie decorating that ends with most of the frosted sugar treats in my mouth instead of the storage tin. With the dip of the temperature, so comes the rise of star-studded nights and cozy couch sittings where I can sprawl with a cup of hot chocolate and let melodic Christmas songs bathe me in the comfort of our coming King. 

Seasons change. It’s inevitable. We can prepare ourselves and hold onto the memories of warmer, brighter times, but change will still greet us in the morning, when we slip outside to take on the day and a billow of crystallized breath erupts from our lips. 

**

It’s a joy to join The Mudroom family today. Read the rest over on their site HERE.

Black Space, Dark Matter

Before the canvas of the world was painted, the earth posed black, void, formless.

Intentionally kept dark for creation, for becoming, purpose was published from shadows, from an ink blanket of berth. This was good, part of the order of things.

I allow the same for my soul. Sit in the unshapen, breathless; being. No push to rush away the restless, the flush of alone and feeling of being lost in charcoal soil. I am welcomed in ways I would never experience had I not ventured into hovering waters, deep and endless and uncolored. I have grappled with this way of being, hearing society slap me with a quick, contented fix that inadvertently accuses my faith. Light versus dark. Skin versus spirit. Righteousness versus sin. As if where one side existed, the other couldn’t.

I have not been born to carry continuous happy bubbled within my chest. My burden is my blessing in the underbelly of life, where my tears find themselves falling down the skin of someone else, where my anchored heart magnetizes with the weight of theirs. Where I am constantly standing in line with the loose rise of moon, face deeply creviced and reflecting light in imitation.

**

Today I am beyond honored to be featured at Ruminate Magazine’s blog, The Waking. Head over to read the rest.

This life is an incredible gift.

Come To You

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

-Matthew 11:28-30

 

You tell me to come to You.

Me, worn and weary, fall into You, and You will give me rest.

 

Just come to You.

Simple.

Straightforward.

Just come.

Am I that brave?

Do I trust You enough to just come?

Leave my worries at Your feet?

Give You my troubles? The uncertainties of my life? Not knowing which way to turn, job elusive, a permanent place or residence aloof, my fears for settling and giving in to mediocrity?

Can I simply let my burdens fall from my heart and take Your yoke, which You promise is light?

Just come, You beckon. As if it’s the easiest solution and I should have thought of it in the first place. Abide in You so our heartbeats are one, steady cadence.

You promise rest. Rest that my soul craves, is parched for. Rest is a given if only I come. Wherever I am, as I am. You want me as me.

Surrender starts with rest, with giving up and letting go. Loosening the hold I have around my heart, the worry in my head. Abandon all to fall into You.

Release and surrender to the current that has already swept me up, I have been fighting.

Cease striving and be still.

Come to the calm. Submerge my spirit in Your quiet strength.

I cannot work my way to You. Cannot strain to see what’s down the road when the road is swathed in darkness. You give me the light enough I need for the moment, and I should fall into that soft light with grace.

Grace to slow, grace to come. Grace to submit and release. Surround my soul with Your gentleness, cool waters drenched in deep rest. Rest upon the waves. For Your burden is easy and yoke so light.

Come, You tell me. As I am. Leave my troubles with You and relax in Your embrace. Bask in Your beauty, Your soothing guidance. Trust that You are enough.

You are always enough.

Awakened

We are all meant to be.

Someone.

Something.

A flash of light through thick, syrupy darkness.

We have been fastened together by dreams and shapes and symphonies, formed in the secret spaces of the deep. Intentionally. With fervor.

We are silhouettes made of stardust, given faces and smiles sewn on our porcelain skin. In the moon-speckled night, our deepest longings were whispered delicately into our ear. While we slept, we soared.

And then, slowly, with sensation sweeping from our eyelids, we awoke. To colors drying and chipping from the sky. With our faces, our lineage, our stories, muffled against the exhaust of nameless fumes, toxic and telling us to move along. They invaded our invincibility, our homes that hooked us to our cotton clouds and pulled the string. We slipped and stumbled to the ground, no longer aware of the way we floated. Instead, the sharp realization of reality jabbed us in the jaw, and then we knew how much the fall would hurt once our brittle bones hit the earth.  Huddled around us, voices hissed, full of doubt and fear and cruelty. The voices grappled for the shine in our eyes, tender from the blistering light that led us for so long. They took the glow and hid them in shadows, where we could only hear the faintest whimpers as they wailed at our separation.

We were tried and tested, bruised but never fully bleeding. This new world sneered at the likes of us, the dreamers who had dared to believe we were made for more. So they kept us cowering, crossed up in lies that we don’t deserve delight. That we cannot claim a life of our own.

Yet.

A seed, small, insignificant to the outside eye, has been planted.

Many years ago.

Many miles from this world.

And it has grown, quietly, in the concrete corners of our heart.

There is something inside of us that cannot stay hidden, cannot stay sleeping. It is dangerous, it is explosive, it is the greatest instrument we can possess. And with it comes the living rush of wind that sets our sails to travel the sky. To once and for all search the sands and find the perfect space to insert our own shell, unique and exquisite in a sunrise’s surprise.

This is the time.

We are formed from the hands of mercy, of beauty, of light and love. These hands that formed the heavens, formed us. And within our private precincts, they placed a voice, a vision, a task entirely our own and utterly under our command.

We are to set fire to the fabric of our beings. We are to answer this call abundantly and unabashedly. And we are to savor each second the sunlight sweeps over our face.

Because in our breath, we taste our Creator. In our skills, we see our Mentor. And in our depth and width and luster of this fading world’s wonder, we see Him who lifted us from the cradle of conformity and set us high upon the hill of hope, His light bathing us in such a glory all who look upon us burst forth in choruses of admiration.

How they shine, their reactions echo. How they radiate with the touch of His approval.

All other voices are silenced.

Why Not Me

I believe in God being a God of redemption. There is something in remembering, in strolling through the memory halls of my heart and still holding out my hope.

We ask for the miracle and then doubt reality when it materializes.

We justify it away, fill with disbelief, run questions through our hearts.

I am too tender to take courage in the face of what I want.

And so I ask the million dollar question: Why me?

I am just a shy, simple girl who buried her nose in books when she was young and hoped with every inch of her innocent heart for a way to break out of the monotony of daily rhythm, to find a love that was true and fierce, to connect the poetry of life with beating hearts. And maybe, just maybe, I could change the world with my smile.

Why could I deserve anything great? Get the most treasured desire of her heart fulfilled?

Is God that good? Could what I desperately hope for be something that pleases Him?

Hope is that stubborn flame that will not be quenched. That soft surge of light within that unfurls its rays to break open the tightest corners.

All my life, I’ve been so afraid to hope for what’s been in my heart. I have dreamed about it with every breath in my bones, but I have also been timid with expressing it out loud for fear it would never come true.

And yet I’ve carried this with me year after year, tucked away inside, and as the months and years stretched by the double, I even began to chide myself for it. Began to turn on the hopeful girl within and tell her every reason why she wasn’t worthy. I’d emotionally beat her down until hope was too bent and bruised to dare show its face, retreating to a dark, stifled space in the basement of my soul to stay in hiding.

But the miraculous realization: it stayed.

It stayed with me, this hope upon hope, this young girl’s dream. It stayed with me as I grew disillusioned and jaded. And every time I begin to doubt, to ask myself questions and feel myself sinking back into what God has done to build up my belief, the verse, “Don’t doubt, just believe” comes into my head. Coincidence? My own imagining? How I wish God would lay it out to me in plain terms and tell my all my hopes are good and well-founded.

I do not want to be afraid, but I have been fearful. He calls me deeper, on top of the water, to glide along the waves.

Who am I to deserve anything this beautiful?

But then, who am I not to?

Why me?

Why not me?

Why not, knowing Him who holds the stars, giving me His best.

Remember this, my heart. Remember and awake, believe.

Forgotten No More

Soft waves lap the shore. Beyond into the open water, it is calm, hardly a ripple. Clear blue across the sky, light wisps of clouds swirl above.

There is the tiny whisper of wind across my skin, teasing my shirt. And the serene slide of wave to sand. Other than that, mostly silence.

Here is the quiet, solitude and line of trees angled on the bluff. Beautiful, restful. I walk and walk, correcting my breathing to slow to the cadence of the tranquil morning.

But they follow me, these stories of forgotten children.

Hop into my heart and come along for the ride. The cries, screams of sorrow, haunted eyes and lips refusing to speak of inhumane tragedies they’ve been forced to witness. Walking eight miles a day to flee the horror of home and find respite in an unfamiliar town for the night, away from the fighting and mutilation and the fear-infested streets where many are forced to make their bed. Their young years have lived far too much unimaginable pain.

This should not be.

Unrest and sleepless nights shaken in fear and sorrow. This should not be anyone’s reality. And yet they still hope. Hope, the elusive and mysterious element that buoys the heart and gets them through one more day.

 

I remember the poem by e.e. cummings and hoist it like a flag across my mantra:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

 

I carry you with my, my darlings, I carry your hearts with me in my own. Wherever I go. Tucked in the safe pocket of my heart.

At work, in my air-conditioned café, frothing milk for a latte, stringing words upon a page, piling lettuce, cheese and carrots in my salad container at the grocery store—they are always there. Close. Beating within my heart. Their smiles are my own.

It feels good to be so connected.

I cannot forget their faces, their stories, their heart’s cries and desire for love. Can a mother forget her child? Even closer, the LORD God remembers, engraves on the palm of His hands. They are not forgotten. Not for one moment.

And not for a moment must we forget, either. It is our heart’s charge to break and wring for the ones the world overlooks and disdains, does not understand with eyes aglow with agape. Once we have been bathed in love, we see the tired and undeserved who have been waiting for us. Waiting to know their lives have value and they have a creator God who loves them and embraces them into His family.

Break my heart for what breaks Yours. Pour me out to the hurting and displaced, for whom hopelessness hangs heavy upon their hearts. Let me lift the yoke from their shoulders, or, at least allow me to slip the yoke to mine and shift the weight so they won’t carry the burden alone.

 

It is a beautiful morning. Clean air, clear sky. It is a good day to go about my Father’s business.

I am coming, little ones, I am coming. You may already be with me now, but there is so much more that I will bring for you. Do not be afraid. Dawn is here. Light has come. You are forgotten no more.  Love always makes a way.

 

**

Want to help make a way with me for these forgotten children? More to come in the months ahead (hopefully!), but for the time being, consider partnering with Saving Grace Children’s Village to give street children a place to live and heal and grow.

 

 

Hold Tight To Hope

Though You say You’re with me always, I feel left high and dry. You brought me so close to sweetness and then snatched it away and slammed the door on my heart. I can’t tell You how much that stings. And so I nurse my wounds, already sensing my default to close off from the world.

I am still so terribly alone. And there is nothing You seem fit to do to soothe the sting, the ache. I don’t know how to pray. Don’t know what to even pray for. I have absolutely nothing for You, and what a desolate wasteland that is.

Selfish is me. But I don’t know how else to be. How can I do it—live this life?

I keep trusting in what I cannot see and it is so hard.

You are God. I am not. But I fight for my grip on life, my heart, afraid to relinquish control.

Like I’ve ever been in control in the first place.

 

 

**Read the rest at ALTARWORK!

Worked Over by the Breath and Touch of God

The rain slides quietly down the window today, trees dropping their burnt-yellow leaves in the upturned breeze. October in Wisconsin is always a kaleidoscope, each day unknown—will the sky sprout bright blue with glow of sun? Or will it roll in with wind that slices to the bone?

I am three weeks in to calling this place home once again after never imagining I would. But the way God weaves my journey is much like this breathtaking month: open-ended question marks, never quite knowing what’s around the bend, rife with vibrantly changing color.

 

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I’m HONORED and thrilled to be over at my friend and fellow Redbud Ingrid Lochamire’s blog today, talking about my season of life that has taken me to unexpected places. Ingrid has a tender heart of gold, and her passion to cultivate community through real and connective stories is an inspiration. Stop by her space today for a slice of real life and encouragement.