In some ways it’s still hard to put my summer into words, despite the fact that it’s been how many weeks/months now…? That should be plenty of time to reflect and gather my thoughts. Reflection is ongoing, though. Every single day I think about my second experience with Royal Servants, the people I got to be with for seven weeks, the things God did in my heart and how He refined me. I figured since I managed to journal my experience, AND put it into a word document to send out to family and friends, I can probably find it inside of me to put it all into words yet again in the form of this blog post. It’s good to write it down a couple times anyway.
I went to a women’s Bible study on my school campus today, led by my college pastor’s wife. We gave our testimonies and that gave me another chance to think back on the past few months and see clearly the painful, sobering, and oh so sweet journey that God has so faithfully and gently led me through. What transpired during those seven weeks was a time of refinement. That’s the word I would use to describe the summer of 2014, if I could only use one. It was a time in which God reminded me of my true identity and helped me understand what it really meant to make my faith my own.
Haifa, Israel. Our first destination. I heard from God clearly during my quiet time one day. What I heard was that my perception of Him was off; my relationship with Him was not what He wanted it to be; my heart was not where He wanted it, and if I was ready for that to change, He was ready to be the One to do it, to refine me.
His words came in the form of an epiphany. It’s like all of a sudden He gave me this new view of myself where I saw my heart from His perspective; I saw what was wrong and what He wanted to change, and that He wanted to be the one to change it. I realized something I never knew before; something I never had the eyes to see until He showed me. I realized that my relationship with Him had become superfluous; I had taken something so sacred and personal and added the opinions of other people to it; I had created this additional standard for myself to live up to because I let the opinions of my friends and family become intertwined with God’s opinions about me; I let those opinions become a fundamental part of my identity and a foundational factor in my relationship with Christ. He wanted me all to Himself, and I had made my relationship with Him become something other than just Him and I. Reaching that awareness was perhaps one of the most pivotal moments of my life. Realizing that I had been missing out on what a true relationship with God is like was monumental. Even bigger was the humility and gratitude that came at the thought that God does not desire for me to miss out and that is why He showed me these things. He desires the best for us, but we must first show our desire for His best as well, and SEEK Him for it.
So that was it! That was what I knew God wanted to work through me throughout the rest of the summer, and I was ready to experience whatever that meant in my heart. I thought it was that simple, however, that process was painful and is ongoing. On top of that, there were so many other things God wanted to teach me, and DID teach me in the month that ensued. He showed me how big He is; that He wants me, personally; that He is the God of Jerusalem, of all of Israel, of the whole world, and yet He still desires to be my God.
Jerusalem. The next destination where some pretty significant things took place inside of me. The first day we arrived I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I was actually there, and I began earnestly seeking God again, asking Him to reveal Himself. I honestly was confused for the first few days. I wasn’t hearing any specifics from God and I was trying really hard because what the heck?? I’m in freaking the Holy City right now.. there’s gotta be something He wants to show me. (Don’t get me wrong, I learned so much through the ministry we did, reaching out to shopkeepers and building relationships with them, but there was a whole other level of personal growth that I could tell was taking shape.) Am I missing it? Is there something about myself that’s causing me to be totally unaware of something God is trying to tell me? Would He let that happen? Thank the Lord for amazing senior staff members who love Jesus and love our team and want nothing more than to be there to provide us with wisdom and guidance when we’re struggling to know what to do with ourselves. (If you guys are reading this, I love you each of you, so much. Thank you for all you did for me and for our team. Your selflessness and joy in pointing us towards Jesus all day every day is something I seriously admire and hope to express as well as you do.) So, in the midst of my anxiety and fear about missing even a fraction of what God had in store, I sought the counsel of a good friend, Erin. She spoke so much truth into my life this summer, and the first of those truth-talks was during this stage of the journey, right here. I told her what I learned in Haifa and how I felt now and she said, “You know, it sounds like God just wants you to rest. Just simply sit before Him and BE. Exist.” And because of that conversation, I now want to get “rest” tattooed in Hebrew on my shoulder. But that’s another story. I felt so at peace at the reminder that it’s good to just rest patiently before the Lord and enjoy His presence; enjoy Him for Him. So I did that for a few days, and it was beautiful and much needed.
A tsunami. In my heart. That is what came next. Sitting quietly, resting and enjoying some sweet time with my Savior, thinking about this whole experience and how crazy that I get to be here, doing this all because of my faith, when suddenly a question so clear and so convicting that it still brings tears to my eyes came to my mind. It actually interrupted me. I was in the middle of journaling and it was just THERE.
“Do you really want this?”
There was no getting around this one. It was straight from the mouth of God, and I knew it because of the terrifying, vulnerable, convicting, fear-of-denying-self feeling that entered my heart and my stomach almost instantaneously. Like, I almost felt sick, but in a good way because I knew that whatever turmoil I felt was not outside the will of God; I had confidence that I would come out stronger in the end, no matter how weak it made me feel while it was happening.
This question entered my mind and immediately I shoved the awful feelings away and answered “Of course, I want this. Would I be here if I didn’t?” But it came back, stronger this time.
“Really, though. Think about it. Do you REALLY want this? This life of following Me? Or do you just do it because you feel like you have to? Like you won’t be accepted, “esteemed”, or thought of the same way if you don’t?” Because let’s be real here. It is totally optional. Does anyone HAVE to follow Christ? Nope. Not required. Is His love a gift, offered at the expense of His own flawless life, to us, His sinful, undeserving, yet redeemed people that He absolutely adores? Yes. So, on that note, here you go, here’s free-will. Now that we all know that we have full access to the throne of grace and complete freedom from an eternity spent separated from God in Hell IF we choose to accept Him as our Savior and Lord, how could any other “option” even be an option? Yet another picture of God’s goodness, to give us free-will to make our own decision. He wants so much more for us, but He also wants us to have freedom in that decision, and to choose Him only if we really want Him.
I struggled to figure out if this was the life I really truly wanted. Was I attempting to live my life for Christ because I honestly desired to do that and to please Him, or was I just afraid of the alternative; of being separated from Him, of the misery that comes from living for myself?
This question resided in the forefront of my mind from the moment it entered, all the way until the end of the trip, until the last day of debriefing in Greece. I kept seeking and asking God to show me that this is really what I wanted. I didn’t know how I would know for myself; I just wanted Him to confirm it for me. I began wondering how I knew I wanted this? My testimony isn’t one of those crazy awesome stories where I was caught up in sex, drugs, and alcohol and completely rebelling against God. I was raised in a Christian home; I accepted Christ at the age of five and have never really been through a super rebellious period in my life. So how did I know that I wanted Jesus more than anything else if I’ve never experienced a lot of the things the world has to offer? I pondered this for quite some time, and then I got an answer. Not surprisingly, it started with another question.
“In all of your life of following me, have you every felt like you needed anything else?”
I reflected on my whole life, and the honest answer I came up with was “No.”
And it was in that moment, one of the sweetest moments ever, where I knew that there is not a single need that I could ever have that God cannot meet.
A lot of time was spent waiting, seeking, reflecting, wondering, doubting and questioning, but through the process God also grew in me a desire for more of Him because I reached a point where there was literally nothing else I could do; I felt hopeless unless I sought Him relentlessly. I wanted desperately to hear from Him; to find Him; to KNOW Him. He showed me what it’s like to truly desire answers and to be grounded in what I believe, and He helped me understand how much He really wants me, just me, and all of me. I am incredibly thankful for this journey, and excited that it’s only just beginning.