“Just” vs. Joy

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Summer has some kind of magical association that comes with it and no other season. As long as I can remember, I’ve looked forward to summer as a time of relaxation, fun and freedom.

I’m now looking at my last “summer” in terms of a break from school (if I don’t end up going to grad school, that is). And I can’t help but to think to myself, ‘All I’m doing is interning and living in Chapel Hill.’

More than ever, memories of Kenya and rafting the Nile River and Costa Rica and Cocoa Beach and church service camps and even working are flooding my mind. It’s probably an excellent case of rosy retrospection, and I’m definitely falling prey to the comparison game in the context of my own life. In other words, this summer just isn’t looking as “cool” as the previous two.

Therefore, I made a vow to myself a couple of weeks ago. I would do everything I could to bring a little bit of adventure into the summer, even if it was restricted to a couple of day or weekend trips and a single week at Young Life camp.

Great decision – wrong motivation.

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The first of my summer adventures happened last weekend. Two of my old Young Life girls and one of my current girls decided to go camping for a night and then hiking the next day in the mountains. As we made preparations, I was undoubtedly excited. However, as we invited other girls to come, with each girl who told me no, I felt a stab of disappointment. ‘But it would be so fun if so-and-so could come too,’ flit through my mind multiple times.

And I think, to be honest, guilt played a small part in this disappointment. In the craziness of the past year, I haven’t had the time to be the Young Life leader I’ve wanted to be. I loved the girls I was going with, but shouldn’t I be taking as many kids as possible? And shouldn’t they all not just be the “easy” ones who I already know well or the ones who already have a relationship with Jesus? Two of the girls I was going with had graduated already and are now leaders themselves – what do they need me for?

I obviously lost a little sight on what an adventure is supposed to be.

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Friday afternoon, I had finally completed everything on my to-do list (okay, maybe not everything – the absolute necessities) and was ready to head to the mountains. And by that I mean I was ready to head with the girls to Walmart, where we bought supplies before heading to the mountains.

Thank God that He allowed me to let go of my desires for more and leave them somewhere between the candy aisle and the Clif bars.

Our trip was beautiful. We explored in the woods, built a fire and experienced the brightest moon I’ve ever seen. We laughed at our little tent, propped up next to a bunch of fancy campers. We woke up to the sounds of our tent flapping in the wind and the generator of our neighbor turning on – and then fell back asleep. We made Reeses s’mores, hiked up and down and mountain and jumped from rock to rock at the base of a waterfall. The weekend felt beautiful and free.

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While freedom and beauty speak for themselves, the Lord spoke to me in another way, too. Before we went to sleep on Friday night, Carson (one of my old Young Life girls and a freshman at Carolina) invited us to do her quiet time with her. With the wind gusting outside, we rigged a flashlight to the top of our tent and laid in our sleeping bags while she read from Luke.

She happened to read the stories about lost things – lost coins, lost sheep and the lost son.

First of all, let me state the obvious application and tell you about Carson. Carson has not grown up as a believer; on the contrary, she grew up with no religious background and very little interest in Jesus. She met him not even a year ago at Young Life summer camp. I had the privilege to watch her struggle with the news she was hearing. I witnessed a wild child suffering from the loss of her father transform into a girl committed to following Jesus. At the end of the week, Carson ran up to me, jumped into my arms and told me, “I said yes!”

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Back to camping. Carson, who was so recently “lost” herself, read these parables to us and I got to thinking – when did I stop celebrating her return? These three stories don’t end with something or someone being found. They end with a celebration. Did I stop celebrating the moment we returned home from camp? Did I ever even start?

I think I have a tendency to skip the celebration and move on to the next task, the next person, the next goal. I seem to struggle with simply being present. Up on that mountain, I realized that not only does God deserve my indefinite gratitude, but he also offers me a joy that I reject by moving on to whatever comes next before I can enjoy what I have. Why was I feeling guilty about not having other people there? Not only did I have cause to celebrate the girls in front of me, but also their value never diminished once they met Jesus. He can still use me in their lives, regardless of whether or not they’re “easy” or already “saved.” And it’s okay for me to simply enjoy their presence without having to do anything.

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I have great memories, I really do. And they should be cherished and celebrated. But I’m going to miss the opportunity for more memories if I keep dwelling on the past. My internship is not “just” an internship and I’m not “just” in Chapel Hill. Carson isn’t “just” my old Young Life girl and I’m not taking “just” three girls (so far) to camp this summer. God’s bigger than that. I think He’s challenging me to look for the extraordinary in what first appears as incredibly ordinary. He’s urging me to find treasure wrapped in the disappointing or the boring. He’s teaching me to be present, to choose joy and to know the value of every single human soul.

It’s difficult, but I’m learning. I’m learning to refocus my viewpoint and to change the way I see things. I have a lot to learn, but I know it will be good.

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Restlessness and Change

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A photo from a camping trip I took the past weekend.

It’s funny what conversations you end up remembering later on in life.

For the past couple of weeks, I’m remembering one I had about restlessness. It was my senior year of high school, and I was talking to my youth pastor. I told him how I had recently been feeling restless. I don’t remember enough more to elaborate on why. But I do remember him telling me that he believed God allowed us to feel restless when He was preparing to do something big in our lives.

I feel restless now.

My mind races. I think of the future way too often and I feel ready for change. The mundane has started to bore me; in fact, what I now think of as mundane I before thought of as exciting. I’m ready for change; I’m ready for my life to be more than mediocre or satisfactory or average. I’m ready for things to count; for there to be depth and meaning and fullness in the moment-to-moment.

Maybe God is preparing me for change. Or maybe, this season of my life is the change. After being liberated from the pressures of my life at school, I feel like I’ve been realizing important things. First of all, I don’t necessarily like the person I became over the past year. I know I tend to be my own hardest critic, but I think this can be a blessing in disguise; hopefully, it will prevent me from ever settling in life and on a life less than what I could have.

I’ve also realized how much control I’ve taken away from God over the past year and how I’ve minimized my life into a box. I’ve confined myself between four walls, a roof and a floor. I’ve been drawing within the lines of an ambitious female heading straight for a successful career.

I don’t want to stay in the lines anymore.

I don’t know what this means, but I do know that my life is being reshaped, and that process in itself is exciting. I’m being reminded of who I am, what I love and to who I have surrendered. Because this is the thing – my life isn’t my own. Somehow, I had forgotten all of these things. Praise God for reminding me of them.

I feel this strong desire to start living again, or start living more; whichever is the more accurate way to describe what I’m doing or how I’m feeling. I’m looking to the future and I don’t know what it holds anymore, but that’s the exciting thing. The Lord is destroying my plans to replace them with His own. And he’s whispering to me over and over again to trust, to be present, to listen. This is the key to real life; becoming aware of the here and now and what God is doing in front of me.

This post has been all over the place, but let’s be honest, I’m all over the place. I’ll end it with a verse I found again today during my quiet time. It meant a lot to be two summers ago, when I heard it preached while I was in Kenya. It rang true then, and it’s starting to become true once again in my life now.

Colossians 3:11b

“Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”

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Hiking Stone Mountain in North Carolina.