As I look back on my 7 weeks I spent living in discipleship, teaching and being taught, loving and being loved, I hardly have the words to describe my experience. Missions are one of those things you can’t fully find a way to explain to someone — you just had to be there.
I’ve found that I’ve needed to take time to reflect on Encounter Columbus over the past few weeks, which is why it took me a bit to write this, but I’m going to try to put my thoughts into paragraphs and share to the best of my ability what I’ve come out of this experience knowing.
1. I am both a work of art and an artist at work.
We got to explore the Columbus arts community a lot this summer — one of the main focuses of the experience was to discover the importance of creativity.
Every human is born with curiosity, courage & imagination. It makes sense, right? I mean, we were God’s masterpiece. His greatest work of art. And because He created us, creativity flows from our souls. Curiosity fuels our imagination, imagination fuels our dreams, our dreams fuel our souls.
I have always thought of myself as a creative person. However, I always felt like I didn’t measure up, whether it was music, artwork, dance, writing. This summer I learned that the Fall is real in the art realm; there is a worldly standard of creativity, an overwhelming sense of comparison, and a need for affirmation. I have uncovered that because I was consumed by these things in the past, I never created from my own originality. I am slowly learning to leave my perfectionism behind to use the gifts God has given me; I am being redeemed by Jesus and therefore have the power to redeem the art realm in goodness, truth & beauty. To refuse to trade my uniqueness for acceptance. To see the arts fill a place in my heart and to help me worship God in a more intimate and passionate way. To hold the freeing knowledge that I was created to create, to bring glory to my Creator.
Now, I find that I can use my skills not for affirmation, but for soli deo gloria — “the glory of God alone”. I sing to feel a connection to the Lord, to worship in church or to make others feel that they can use their voice as well. I play guitar to lift others & inspire community & to feel the warmth of singing with friends. I paint the depths of my soul and the thoughts that run through my mind. I capture with a camera the beauty of God’s creation and the smiles of the incredible people He has placed around me; it is a creation too beautiful to adequately capture. I write about what God is teaching me just to simply attempt to explain the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I dance to experience whimsy. The arts have become my voice, a voice that puts words into a picture and the love of God into a song. They are no longer rooted in the world, but in the greatest Creator of all time.
I want everyone to be able to see the arts like this, to know that they were created to create as well. So many people that are close to me fail to have grace for themselves in the arts. Those who don’t think they can sing don’t sing. Those who don’t think they are good with words don’t use them. Those who do not see the beauty of a photo criticize those who share them. I hope to help others see their abilities, whether significant or insignificant to the world, in a Godly light. I want to be a living example of the freedom creating brings.
2. Brokenness is real.
I have always been a positive person. I like to see the good in everything, especially when others don’t. Before this summer, I was non-confrontational, I couldn’t handle criticism, and I didn’t know how to interact with negativity. I was unaware that my positivity was aligned with control — when I was happy, I wanted others to be happy. And I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t absorb joy in the way that I could.
The reality is, the Fall is real. We are broken people. And we are different people. Through this experience, I formed relationships with people that were broken and had experienced extreme hardship in their lives. I had children at camp confiding in me about their home lives and their fears. I had conversations with people close to me about anxiety, depression, abuse, rape, and suicide — all of which topics that TERRIFY me because I have absolutely no control over how they affect others.
However, I learned that there is something incredible about being present with someone. Meeting them where they’re at, listening, and not pushing.
Jesus sat with sinners. He sat with people like us who are broken and he didn’t run from things that terrified the world. I have learned so much about what it means to really listen to someone, and to be present in sadness. I’m still learning, and I doubt I’ll ever be fully equipped, but I have a God that equips me.
3. The light and joy of Jesus is more powerful than sin and sorrow.
Going into this summer, I knew what the significance of the cross was. In my first year of college I had experienced the true joy of community, and had finally grown to understand what a relationship with the Lord was like. The love I received over that first year was so overwhelming and beautiful that I couldn’t even put it into words.
This summer, I experienced sadness. And a lot of times we, even as humans that are broken and scarred, don’t know how to handle sadness. I used to push it away, to not acknowledge its existence, to act like everything was fine — but why would I do that when I can give it to God?
And that was freeing. I am someone who likes to be positive, to think that I have control over happiness. But the reality is, I don’t have control. I had to learn what true sacrificial love is, and to accept that Jesus died for me so that I could give him my sin and sorrow. I had to learn that if I was going to love others through their sorrow, that I had to give all of my fears and doubts to the Lord and trust that He will be in control. That was extraordinarily difficult for me. But after I made that decision, the peace that washed over me was unbelievable. I realized that God was using me to be a beacon of His son’s light to the world, that His joy was greater than every lie that crept into my mind about me not being enough.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
4. Following the Lord requires a release of expectation.
Growing up, I was taught to push myself, so I slowly began to hold myself to a high standard. What I didn’t understand is that because of this, I was going into nearly every situation, relationship, or plan with expectations that were nearly always altered or went unmet.
I looked forward to Encounter Columbus all of spring semester because I was excited for what was to come. I had friends that had done CCO summer missions before, and they came out of their missions “changed” and “completely different people”. I expected to go through this complete transformation as well. And on top of that, I expected these 7 weeks to be the happiest and most perfect weeks of my life, to grow together with a group that would become my family, to find a home in my mission group. And though you could say all of that happened in a way, it definitely wasn’t the way I thought it would be. You see, I expected everything to be easy.
When the mission rolled around, I quickly realized we were all very different people. It wasn’t easy to relate to the other girls living with me right away. Not all of us were willing to open up. And we really struggled to understand each other. My expectation of what friendship and discipleship looked like was shattered, and I had to be okay with it.
My growth was also very different than I thought it would be like. I was challenged in ways I didn’t think I was going to be; I was called out on things I needed to fix, and put in a few very uncomfortable situations. I was given things I wasn’t prepared for.
I came to understand that my ideal plans and expectations used to come off as selfish, and because I am constantly worrying about what comes next, I forget to be present. I am slowly learning to be flexible and to let go of my standards. This summer, God wanted to humble me. He showed me that my expectations of every situation were blinding me from being content in His plan. And when I didn’t think I was ready or able to handle something, He equipped me to know what to do.
The reality is, when I live life with expectations, I live in disappointment, and I can’t live out the plan God has for my life. I’m learning to be present in contentment, and to accept that everything can’t work out perfectly or as I expected it. To allow emotion, conviction, sadness, and confusion to happen and just BE.
5. The Lord is ever present.
Sometimes I forget that when I’m struggling, when I’m excited, when I’m happy, when I’m angry, when I’m scared — that He’s right there next to me. I think I’ve finally learned that I don’t have to put on a front that I’ve got everything figured out before Him. He knows me. He has plans for my life and He’ll get me to the right place. But most of all I know now that He is a God that equips. When I feel I am not good enough He gives me strength. When I don’t think I have words to lead with, He speaks through me. He is with me every step of the way. He is a joyful, JOYFUL God and He is ever present.
It is so clear that the Lord is working in my life, whether it be the growth I’ve experienced at Ohio State, through my ministry, or through this mission. He has used others to teach me and I am trusting Him to use me as I take on my second year at Ohio State.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s nearly impossible for me to fully put into words what this summer was for me. It was a time of learning, challenging, leading, laughing, crying, but most of all just being. There is beauty in the struggle. And man, was this experience beautiful.
One of my favorite quotes from a book our leaders gave us at the end of the mission keeps popping into my mind. I think it sums up these 7 weeks perfectly.
“It is hope that brings the bright colors to make life an indescribable work of art.” –The Artisan Soul
So what color am I today?
Maybe something bright.