This moment 365 days ago, I was somewhere in the Colombian jungles documenting an unreached people group called "the Nukak." A few months prior, I had begun working a full-time position at a local church in Arkansas and decided to take some vacation time to experience this unique opportunity photographing a tribe in the jungles. It's hard to believe it has been only one year since that experience! I feel as though so much has taken place in such a short amount of time... and I keep pinching myself to make sure I'm really conscious and not in some dream world. Life is seldom what I plan... but I am so grateful that is the case. If I know everything that will take place in this life, how is that even fun? I like to be surprised... and I'm confident YHWH loves surprising.
I realize many people are unsure of my journey thus far, and I decided to write my story in effort to bring clarity to new (as well as long-time) friends on what has been happening in my world for those who are interested. (Beware... this is lengthy) ;)
Many of you know my family was called by God to bring His light and truth to the people of the U.K. nearly seven years ago. (And although I could write a book of stories on that previous sentence alone, I will leave it short and expand in later posts or personal conversations :) ) I spent a season with my family in the motherland before moving to Virginia to attend University and pursue a degree in Journalism and Global Studies. I was planning on staying in Virginia to work and attain my Masters, but the Father had a different path for me. At the time, it was very difficult to let go of the life I had planned for myself after University. It was comfortable and easy, designed especially by ME... (which will always lead to disappointment, honestly). God really stripped away every security blanket I tried to warm myself with apart from Him. I was confused. My heart was aching. I felt alone in this weird, adult world where I have to pay bills, find a job, and make every single decision seemingly on my own. But He was with me, and I learned to press into the unknown with Him.
A few months following graduation from Uni in 2015, I was hired at a local church in Arkansas. A bit of background: Throughout my entire childhood, my champion of a dad along with my precious mom raised me and my three siblings in the way of the living God. My dad worked as a Youth Pastor in local churches from before I took a breath on this planet. My childhood memories are filled to the brim with summer camp experiences and nights of worship with the student ministry. As a little girl, I would sit proudly in an audience of hundreds watching my dad proclaim the gospel week after week. I would then watch him live the truth he proclaimed when all eyes were off him apart from my own. I watched him gently, yet firmly shepherd the flock God had entrusted to him. He and my mom painted a beautiful, yet realistic picture for me of what faithfulness in this walk with Christ and community looks like. My dad has this amazing way of having a blast in whatever season of life he is in. The Holy Spirit taught (and is still teaching) my parents to make it their aim to love people and the Church no matter the cost, and He is teaching me the same.
Flash forward: I took the job at the local church and settled into my new world post University. I am profoundly grateful for the experience I had last year in Arkansas. YHWH blew me away with the people He brought to my path. I had the greatest host parents you could dream of. He brought me a mentor and a friend who I will hold close to my heart until I die. I experienced Him in ways I cannot even explain with human words. He changed me, refined me, stripped away rubbish I hadn't identified previously. Even today, He is still showing me the beauty of what He did in that year and a few months. Last February, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a man of great wisdom and I took the chance to ask him a few questions. One of the questions I asked was: "If you could go back in time and offer your 21 year old self a piece of wisdom you wish you would have known, what would it be?"
His answer changed the trajectory of my life.
"Find three to four things you are really passionate about and you feel God has uniquely gifted you in, and spend 70% of your time doing those 3-4 things. Spend your life strengthening your strengths, don't get sidetracked, and you will do well." (EPIC wisdom huh?!)
I swiftly wrote all that was spoken into my little journal and went on with my day, yet his words were ringing in my head like an inescapable song on repeat. What are those 3-4 things that I am going to invest the majority of my life in? Who has the Maker designed me to be? Why did He decide to give me life in this time in history? etc etc etc.
As of today, I'm one week away from 23 years of age, yet I feel as though I'm just now learning who this Hannah Elizabeth Taylor girl is. I am still on this journey of discovery which I'm confident will take me through more valleys, scaling mountains, swimming through deep oceans for however many years [decades/days even?? Only He knows] until I go Home. But I am learning to enjoy the process and breathe it all in instead of succumbing to restlessness and "the grass is always greener" syndrome.
God has revealed much to me over the past few years, and I believe He is narrowing down the already narrow path I am walking on with Him. Following the conversation with that wise man, I decided to that I should invest my time, focus, and effort into photography, writing and discipleship, (which is a give-in as a follower of the Way). I am completely open to Him enlarging my points of focus, but of those previously stated I am confident. After He lit this part of my path for me, I knew I had to step into it. He promised me He would be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path... so how could I refuse to do my part and not take a step when He did His part to show me the way?
So I stepped. I quit my full-time job and moved to Jerusalem to work as a volunteer with Bridges for Peace. I am spending my days in the Holy Land photographing and writing about projects and people in Jerusalem and beyond. Bridges for Peace is a Christian organization who exists to love, support, and build relationships with the Jewish people through many different programs and projects.
I heard about Bridges for Peace through my mentor and friend, Amy. She and I were sitting at Panera Bread Cafe one day and we were discussing my dreams for my life. (As anyone would obviously do at Panera Bread....;)). I was explaining some of the desires God had put in my heart and the three things I intend to spend the rest of my life investing in. I remember her telling me I should look into moving into a Kibbutz... "You're really 'kibbutzie', Hannah." She told me. "I think you belong in Israel." (I've had this familiar ache to be in Israel for as long as I can remember, but I didn't know how realistic it was... not to mention the picture the media painted for me on the news wasn't too pretty. I longed to be there, nonetheless).
"Kibbutz means group in Hebrew. It is a modest name for something unique: a voluntary democratic community where people live and work together on a non-competitive basis. Its aim is to generate an economically and socially independent society founded on principles of communal ownership of property, social justice, and equality." -Google (lol)
I was really interested in moving to a kibbutz, working with my hands, documenting life in such a unique environment... all the while living and breathing in the Holy Land! However, there was another opportunity Amy would share with me. She told me about a friend of hers who works as a journalist and tour guide in the Land. He is also affiliated with Bridges for Peace (along with Amy's in-laws who volunteered here for multiple years) and she decided to shoot him a message about me as we sat in the cafe eating breakfast.
"Stan normally responds to Facebook messages within 2-3 weeks because of his busy schedule, but be patient. He will respond." She said.
Not even two MINUTES after Amy messaged Stan did he respond with: "Yes! Have Hannah email me and we will get connected to talk about potential opportunities for her."
After that phone conversation with Stan not two weeks later, I knew what I needed to do. YHWH continued flinging open door after door and I kept running through each one until I stepped through the door of the aircraft flying to Tel-Aviv, Israel. My brother, Thaddaeus and I experienced and unforgettable/life changing/all around INCREDIBLE 11 day tour around the Land with Stan. It really did change my life... it still is. (Shameless plug: If you are even wondering if you should come tour Israel, wonder no more. Message me and I'll give you the details of the best tour guide you'll ever find!) ;)
Thaddaeus flew back to America last month and I am here in Jerusalem until mid-May. I have chosen to make each day an adventure and I am loving it so much. There are many people from every nation of the world I get to call 'friend' now. I am attending a Messianic Jewish congregation each Shabbat that is starting to feel like family. I'm writing in a cafe about five minutes walk from where Christ rose from the dead. (Yes... I'm serious). Shockingly enough, it is tempting to let the reality and wonder of this fade into the background as routine takes over in this city I call 'home' for now. Yet I am actively fighting against this and asking my Father to continue to stun me... leave me breathless and lost in childlike awe...bright-eyed and giddy. And not just while I'm here... but for the rest of my days too. He is coming through for me. (He's really good at doing that!). Some days, I walk down the streets just laughing out loud because of where He has me... who He is... what all of this means!!!! Surely people think I'm crazy. And I don't think they're wrong... ;)
I know this is about the length of a small book... and if you read this far, you should get a small trophy or something! Thank you for taking time to read about some of my journey. It means a lot to me and I hope this has somehow encouraged you. God is a really amazing story-teller. So paradoxical is He! He wants our lives to be surrendered to Him, for in doing so - we experience ultimate freedom. We find our lives when we lose them. We are first when we choose to be last. We truly come alive when we die to ourselves. This is the good life... the true life. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all I have yet to learn and grow in, but today is all that I am concerned about. He has given me everything I need TODAY, and I'm delighted to experience Now with Him.
May we press into Him today - in this very moment. Step by step He will lead us as these days become years, the years become decades, and decades become a lifetime. LORD willing, a life well lived for the glory of His name and the sake of His kingdom.
"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33