Saturday, August 10, 2013

Vast the Ocean

In just eight short days I will be headed back to Chicago for my junior year of college. I have to admit that I was actually surprised when I was looking over some paperwork for school and happened to glance at my academic year. Am I really halfway through? Some days I feel like I’ve barely gotten settled into life at Moody Bible Institute and couldn’t possibly have been there for two years. Yet other days I wonder what my life was like before college: it seems like I’ve been there forever! But even in the midst of my up-and-down, crazy, mixed-up emotions and thoughts related to school, I am unbelievably excited for the opportunity that God has given me to continue my education at MBI this year. Ever since my first semester, I’ve had to periodically step back and remind myself that yes, I really do go to school here. I’m overwhelmed by the blessing it has been, and I could not have dreamed of anything better.
This year my roommate and I are going to be celebrating the countless reasons we have to praise God. The theme for our room is 10,000, representing the myriad of blessings and joys in our lives and the innumerable reasons we have to praise our Heavenly Father! We have several posters for our room to remind us, as well as a journal in which to make our great big list of praises throughout the year.
As I’ve been preparing to go back to school I’ve been reflecting on just a few of the many joys that have filled my heart to overflowing, specifically those related to school. More than anything else I’ve been struck by the reality that God has placed some amazing people in my life. I’d like to share about just a few of them.
Ever since my very first piano lesson at Moody, I knew that I had an incredible teacher. But it wasn’t until this summer that I truly realized what a gift it has been to study the piano with him for the past two years. I’ve always been so thankful to have a piano teacher who prays for me, encourages me, challenges me, points me to Scripture as my source of truth, and helps me navigate the questions of who I am and who I’m trying to become. Not only that, but this summer I realized that he has taught me to love the piano in a way that I never did before. As I was thinking about my schedule and how I could squeeze in an extra hour of practice each day, I realized that I have grown to love playing in a way that no one can teach you. It has to be caught, and I caught it from the gentleman who loves green, enjoys making up crazy stories, and teaches me to center my love for music on my desire to serve God and pursue Him in all things.
Another person that comes to mind whenever I think about what the Lord has taught me in my time at Moody is my band director. He’s the professor that can always tell when my brain is a million miles away and isn’t afraid to ask where I’ve gone. He’s the one I know I can count on when I need a good dose of perspective on life, and he’s the only person I know who can speak incredibly bluntly while maintaining a deep sense of kindness and sensitivity. Usually in a sentence or two he can put into perspective whatever frustration or uncertainty I’m dealing with. But he’s also never afraid to let me think through things and figure them out for myself. Although he’s smarter than I ever hope to be and can almost always give me a perfectly satisfactory answer in about five seconds, he’s also willing to reason through things with me, engage in an intellectual discussion, and help me draw my own conclusions. He not only offers the wisdom and help from an older adult that people my age need, but also encourages me to think carefully and use the mind and intelligence that I’ve been given. He and his wife have poured unbelievable amounts of love, kindness, and acceptance into my life, and will forever be role models to me of what it looks like to live for Jesus in real life.
And of course, somewhere along the way I’m reminded that I probably never would have made it to Moody without the encouragement of my senior high pastor. He was the one to tell me about MBI, convince me to visit and apply, and talk sense into me when I doubted my decision to go there. But far better than the wisdom he shared when I was deciding where to go to school, he is the one who modeled to me what it means to root myself in the truth of the gospel. In everything I’ve learned at Moody, whether through classes, friends, church, or other circumstances, it always brings me back to the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for me. And I realize that my pastor was the first person to tell me that it’s the gospel that changes everything, defines who I am and what I’m living for, and brings into perspective every other matter that I am confronted with. It is the gospel that gives me true hope, joy, peace, security, and identity, and anchors me in the midst of life’s changing circumstances. My pastor is the one who taught me that everything about me and everything I believe comes back to the simple yet profound truth that Jesus died so I wouldn’t have to. I’ll never fully understand it, yet each day it is my joy to learn more of what that truth means, and I will always be grateful for the pastor who models for me what it looks like to center myself on the truth of who Christ is and what He has accomplished on my behalf.
There are so many more people I could mention, lives that the Lord has used to touch mine, dear friends who daily challenge me to pursue holiness and strive to be more like Christ. My roommate is one of these precious people, and I look forward to celebrating with her throughout the year the countless reasons we have to praise and thank God. His goodness amazes me each and every day and I believe I’ll continue to see that as I take on a new school year just a few weeks from now.
This summer I’ve been playing an arrangement of “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” and as I reflect on the great love that I have been shown, as well as the grace and goodness that are daily poured into my life, it is the final verse of this hymn that comes to my mind:
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best,
Vast the ocean of his blessing, sweet the haven of his rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus – for my heaven of heavens is he;
This my everlasting glory – Jesus’ mighty love for me!
Indeed, vast is the ocean of blessing flowing from the heart of our God! He alone is worthy of glory, honor, and praise, for all He has done and all He has promised to do!
[Soli Deo Gloria]

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jesus, Campfires, Sparkles

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to be back at my childhood camp for my second year on all-summer staff, but some days it absolutely blows my mind. As I see the high school girls in my cabin grasping new truths about God throughout the week, listen to the sound of joyful worship each evening around a campfire, receive dozens of hugs and kisses from the 2nd and 3rd grade girls, and see God’s grace and provision in a million ways each and every day, I can hardly believe this place exists. I am so blessed by the campers that I get to hang out with every day, the staff that offers constant encouragement, and the beauty of God’s creation that surrounds us here at camp. This is truly one of the best jobs in the world.
Several weeks ago as I was contemplating the summer ahead, I realized that camp includes my top six favorite things of all time: Jesus, nature, youth, music, fire, and sparkles. Really, could it get any better???
Although camp life is certainly not easy, even with the days that I wake up so tired that I worry I might throw up, the times that I wonder if my campers learned anything over the last five days of Bible study, and the moments when I have so much to get done that I just want to give up and cry, I realize there is no place I’d rather be for the summer. Each day I get to watch young girls discover more about who God is and grow in their love for Christ, and in the process I learn more of God’s heart and gain a deeper love for and trust in Him. And not only that, I get to be silly and ridiculous all the time with zero negative social repercussions.
This week was my first week as a counselor this year (I was up here for a week earlier in the summer for training), and it was a blast. One of the highlights of the week was playing Tinkerbell for our all-camp game on Thursday evening, a role which left me covered in sparkles, even after two showers. Another wonderful memory from the week was dressing up as trees with my high school girls for cabin time. And of course it wouldn’t be camp without burnt dessert at Tuesday night cookout, bug spray wars before morning Bible study, and having our cabins “Pink-ified” by the Pathinders (the youngest division at camp). It was a wonderful start to the summer and I am exhausted but ready for new campers to come tomorrow!
[Soli Deo Gloria]

Saturday, June 8, 2013

From a Young Person in Your Church

            I am a millennial. I grew up in the church. I still have strong ties to the church I was raised in. Over the past two years I have also gotten involved in a church in the city where I go to college.
            Many in my generation are leaving the church, or at least the kind of church they grew up in, abandoning the traditional local church for new ideas of what they think church should be. If they have stayed, the church likely does not feel like home to them anymore.
            You are the elders, the pastors, the worship leaders, the parents, the Sunday school teachers, the members who have invested time and energy into your local church and made it what it is today. Maybe you specifically invested in the young people in your church. But still they are leaving.
            My story and my experiences are not identical to others in my generation. My voice and thoughts do not reflect exactly what others my age are saying and feeling. But I am a piece of the story. While each of us has our own complicated experiences and emotions tied to our view of the local church and no individual story can clear away all the hurt and confusion caused by generational differences in the church, I hope that this starts a conversation; that what I have to say will cause you to ask other young people what they have to say; that reading my thoughts will motivate you to share yours with me, and that together we can pursue God’s heart for the Church.
I am a young person in your church and this is what I wish you knew.
            As you know young people are often classified as ambitious, energetic, full of huge dreams, and idealistic. While these are generalizations, they’re often true. We love to imagine the endless possibilities of what could be, and we want to change the world. But I know I’m not ready to change the world yet.
            I recognize that you have decades more life experience than I do. I see that you have experimented, been trained, and worked hard to be where you are now. I understand that you possess far more wisdom and insight than I could possibly have gained in my short twenty years. While I do have big ideas and I can often be arrogant, assuming I know a better way to do things than you, I do respect your wisdom and your experience. And I want to learn from you.
            I want to learn not just about the way you do things or what your model for ministry is, but who you really are. I want to know what you think and how you interact with the world. I want to know why you do things the way you do and I want you to share the wisdom behind it with me. I want to learn what your lifetime of experience has taught you and see how your years of following Christ have transformed you.
            I praise God that you are the leaders of today’s church. While I may not understand everything you do, I recognize your wisdom and am thankful for your leadership. Please remember that tomorrow, my generation will be leading. What you teach us is what we will know, and what you model for us is what we will, to an extent, imitate. We need you to engage with us, to show us, to love us, and to pour into us. As the future leaders of the church, to a large extent we determine what direction we’ll take. But, in a sense, so do you. So invest in us – it’s not just our future, it’s the future of the Church.
            I will ask a million questions. If my endless questions become tiresome please tell me, but I am on a quest to learn more and each conversation I have with you is an opportunity to do just that. I want to know what you think because I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to think. I want to know your opinion because I’m shaping mine. I want to know how you pursue Christ because I am just learning how.
            Under your guidance and supervision, I want to try everything. I’m still trying to figure out where my gifts are best utilized and how I can serve the church. Sometimes I need to try things before I know. If I’m setting myself up for failure, please tell me. Most of the time I’ll listen, but if I don’t you have my full permission to say, ‘I told you so.’ If you see something I’d be good at, ask me to help. If I don’t think I’ll succeed I may hesitate, but I trust your judgment and am willing to try.
            I am interested in what you are doing and I want to help. I still have so much to learn, but being involved in the ministries you have a passion for can help me do that. As I discover my limits, develop my various gifts, and learn how to accomplish things with skill and grace, I want to be involved with what you are doing. Invite me to your Bible study; let me serve with you at a weekend event; ask me to help you with prep work. I want to experience every part of what you do in ministry so that I am well-equipped in the future.
            Sometimes, I have no idea what I’m doing right. Just as I know you welcome my encouragement, I need yours too. Often I’m the last person to recognize that I have a good idea or that a certain area of ministry is a great fit for me. I may not know that I did something helpful or said something constructive. Just as often, I may not realize that one of my ideas is really dumb or that the way I carried out a task was extremely inefficient. So I also welcome your instruction. If there’s an easier, more graceful, or better way to handle something, show me. If my idea for something is stupid, don’t be afraid to tell me. It’s okay, because I know you’ve had dumb ideas too.
            Although many my age have left, remember that doesn’t mean I’m going to. I know that it’s painful to watch as youth that you have invested in walk away from the church that you love. I know it is hard to pour into students when you don’t know how long they’ll be around or if you’ll have to say good-bye to them too. But it’s also difficult for us to stay when many are hesitant and cautious to extend us a welcome.
            Most importantly, I want you to know that I desire your friendship. I want you to walk with me through life, share the things that you’ve learned, and teach me to live life with the same skill and grace that I see in you. Stop by campus sometime, let me make hot chocolate for you, and spend time just chatting with me. Have a cookie-baking afternoon with me. Text me. Tell me when your birthday is so I can send you a silly card. Give me hugs. Tell me about your kids, your in-laws, your washing machine, and your favorite music.
            Know that I pray for you just as I ask that you would pray for me. I pray that you would pursue holiness in all things, that God would give you grace and wisdom as you lead and model Christ to others, that He would make you more like Christ every day, and that you would finish well the race you’ve started.
“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus – the great Shepherd of the sheep – with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. Glory belongs to Him forever and ever. Amen”
 – Hebrews 13:20-21
[Soli Deo Gloria]

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life as a Stoody Mudent

Whenever the end of the semester rolls around and I get hit with a great big pile of stress and busyness I begin to wonder why in the world I ever attempted another semester. I realize how crazy I was to be excited when classes were just starting and it dawns on me that with only three short weeks off before the next semester begins there is no way that I will fully recover before I have to do it all over again. But, inevitably, about two weeks into my break I start thinking about new classes, I begin getting e-mails from professors, and I can’t help but get excited. I love reading new syllabi, reorganizing my binder, planning out my schedule, and coming up with new strategies for taking on a new course load. As I start to think about the new adventures I’ll have and all the new things I’ll learn, my heart is happy and my mind is content. I simply love being a student. Here’s why I love going to school:
1. I go to Bible college. Today as I read the syllabus for one of my new classes one of the course objectives caught my eye: To gain a greater appreciation of and a deeper trust in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Wow. Seriously, I am so incredibly blessed to go to a school where my professors’ ultimate concern is not to get certain information to stick in my brain but to make me more like Jesus; where my classes are not designed simply to prepare me for a certain vocation but to teach me to love, serve, trust, and glorify God more completely.
2. My school is in downtown Chicago. How awesome is it that although my ‘campus’ fits into about three city blocks, I have an entire world-class city right here in front of me, just waiting to be explored? Far beyond the red brick walls of campus my city is full of museums, skyscrapers, concert halls, theatres, churches, universities, grocery stores, sidewalks, and coffee shops, each brimming with beauty, art, philosophy, tragedy, joy. What better place to learn and grow?
3. I am a music major. Yes it’s a ton of work and at least twice a week I question my own sanity, but every day I have so. much. fun. Each week I get to spend an hour playing the piano with a gentleman who is not only brilliant but also the sweetest and most caring teacher anyone could ask for. I get to go on two tours every year with the craziest and most wonderful group of instrumentalists. I have my practice room invaded at least once a day by an oboe, violin, or voice major, and if I wear purple at least two faculty members will inevitably compliment me on my outfit.
4. I love reading books and writing papers. About 85% of my requirements for any course involve writing a paper or reading a book. I could do without the tests and other random homework I have, but since that only ends up being about 15% of my work at school I’m not going to complain. Most days I get to just do what I enjoy and get credit for it.
5. I will never get tired of organizing things. And let’s be honest: there is always plenty to organize when you’re in school. At the beginning of every semester I have such a great time organizing my syllabi, putting all the important due dates in my calendar, reordering my book shelf, planning out my practice and study time, and reorganizing my binder with new homework schedules and course requirements.
6. My professors are superheroes. Not even kidding. Some of them explain to me how busy they are and I’m pretty sure they never sleep. Yet they always have way more energy than any of their students and are happy to squeeze coffee or lunch with a student into their crazy schedules. Not only are they unbelievably wise and intelligent, but they are also personable and caring and love being with their students. I learn so much from them not only in class, but also sitting in chapel with them, chatting over lunch, discussing a concept after class, or praying with them about challenging situations.
7. My fellow students are incredible. They never cease to challenge, encourage, and inspire me. Whether we’re making a trip to Walmart, playing ultimate on Dryer lawn, watching the sunrise at the beach, doing homework together, talking about what we learned that day over dinner, or discussing theology in a coffee shop, I’m always blown away by the wisdom, grace, and love that reside in the hearts of the people I go to school with. On a daily basis they challenge me to pursue holiness, encourage me in my walk with Jesus, and inspire me to dream big and get creative. They’re always there to have an intelligent and uplifting conversation and to pray with me for our school, our families, our friends, and our world.
8. I know it’s where I am supposed to be. Although at times I’ve wished I could just go home and never come back to school, at the end of the day I know that God has me here on purpose. The growth that I’ve experienced in my time at school has been difficult but extremely rewarding. God’s goodness and faithfulness has been shown to me over and over again in each and every detail and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. The joys I’ve experienced have been incredible and I’m overwhelmingly blessed by the people I get to learn from and grow with. I am trusting that God has placed me here in his sovereignty and he is using my time in school to make me into the person that he desires me to be. Although I have no way of knowing what he has in store, I know that his plan is better than anything I could even dare to dream.  
So there you have it. In a week and a half I get to begin another semester with its own joys, challenges, and adventures. I have no idea what parts I will like, what parts I’ll hate, what I’ll learn, or what I’ll wish I could do over. But I am excited. I know that I am blessed and no matter what this semester may bring I will praise God for the incredible opportunity that he has given me to go to school. I couldn’t ask for more.
[soli deo gloria]