Versatile/Liebster Awards

It’s always an honor when a fellow blogger nominates you and features your blog.  The thing is… I’m terrible with awards.  On the one hand, I think they’re fabulous and are a wonderful way to connect the WordPress community.  On the other, they feel a bit like chain mail.

Recently, I’ve been nominated for a number of awards.  So, instead of putting them off, I thought I’d respond to them in one big post.  The thing is, though, I’m not going to pass the awards on.  I know that it defeats the purpose, but the part of me that resists anything that feels like chain mail is simply too strong.  (I mean, I even avoided doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last spring, despite numerous nominations.)

Versatile:

A few months ago, Britta of It’s a Britta Bottle! nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Part of the award involves sharing seven facts about yourself.  Here goes:

1. I believe in the Loch Ness Monster.

2. During my junior year of high school, I held a lead role in a production of Disney’s High School Musical.  (In case you were wondering, I played Taylor McKessie.  Second to the left.)

3. I have read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban over fifteen times.  (Yes, I kept track and have since lost count.)

4. This past summer, I was in charge of the children’s programming for an international Ethiopian Church Conference in Minneapolis.

Me withs some of the girls

5. I have seen The Phantom of the Opera on the Broadway and West End stages, as well as a traveling production.

6. In high school, I wrote a novel length Harry Potter fan fic.

7. I spent my 21st birthday in Oxford and had my first drink at the Eagle in Child pub, where my literary heroes J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and friends (also known as the Inklings) used to have their weekly writing group.

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Liebster:

Yesterday, Akanksha of The World Past Me nominated me for the Liebster Award.  Part of this award includes answering a number of given questions.  Here are my answers toAkanksha’s fantastic questions:

1. What do you want from life?

I want a simple life doing something meaningful.  I want to work in full-time ministry serving and building the Kingdom of God.  I want to travel the world.  Someday, I want to settle down with a husband that I love and raise a family.

2. What’s your secret fantasy?

To eat all the Nutella in the world and not gain weight.

3. What is your favorite color and why?

Green.  Because it’s pretty.

4. If you could change  into an animal anytime, what would it be and why?

I would become a beluga whale because every time I see one in real life, I become so full of joy that I nearly start hyperventilating.  (Yes, I’m a weirdo.)  I want my presence to bring joy to the lives of others.  Also, beluga whales are adorable.


5. Do you believe in love at first sight? Why/why not?

There are lots of kinds of love out there, each very complex and distinct.  In a romantic sense, however, I do not believe in love at first sight.  I think you can see someone and be incredibly attracted to them.  But the kind of love that lifelong marriages are built upon takes time and commitment to foster.  It can’t be captured in an instant.

6. What do you believe is humans’ greatest strength?

I think that one of our biggest strengths is our ability to create.  There’s something about art, literature, and music that transcends words.  Crafting beauty that moves and inspires is something that only we human beings are able to do.  It’s absolutely incredible.

7. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind every morning when you wake up?

Usually, I think about Jesus.  He’s my best friend.  (I also do my daily devotions first thing, so He is naturally the first thing on my mind.)

8. A trip with your best friend or a brunch with good friends?

This is a tough one.  I’m going to go with brunch with good friends.  Why?  As much as I love travel and as much as I love my best friend, we’d kill each other if we were in each other’s company for too long.

9. What’s your favorite book?

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.  The first time I read it unabridged, I didn’t know what to do with myself for a week.  I felt like I had lost a very dear friend.  Hugo has crafted a novel that captures the essence of the human existence.  It never fails to move me.

10. If you could date one celebrity, who would it be and why?

Andrew Garfield.  Because LOOK AT THIS MAN.  (Although, in real life, I don’t think I’d ever want to date a celebrity.  Too much publicity.)

So… that concludes my awards acceptance post!  Thanks so much Britta and Akanksha for the nominations!

P.S. I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award in the past, so do check out my previous answers!

Leaning in

On my way out of the gym this morning, a man offered me a Bible.  I always find it awkward when this happens.  At least once a year, the Gideons position themselves around campus and hand out New Testaments.  I do my best to smile politely, not wanting them to feel discouraged, and explain that I already have one.

When it happened unexpectedly, at the gym of all places, it got me thinking.

This semester is extremely challenging in many ways.  The apartments, which have been my home for three years, suddenly feel WAY too small.  My workload is immense.  Being in three literature classes is insane.  I’ll sit and read all day long and still not feel like I accomplished half of what I needed.  Preparing for the Bible study I lead is taking a lot more time.  Speech season is coming up, which means my Saturdays will soon be spent judging meets all day instead of getting ahead.  In addition to all this, the head copyeditor of the student paper is away for the semester and requested my assistance to help the paper stay afloat.  (Do I say yes when I really don’t want to?)

Then, there’s my senior seminar, which is the most challenging class I’ve ever encountered.  I knew it would be hard going in, but good grief.  The professor is one of the most intelligent human beings I’ve ever met.  All my classmates have had him before, so they already know how to handle his intense, direct, probing way of teaching.  I know I’ll get there, it will just take time to adapt and get a grasp for the ideas.  What’s most frustrating for me, though, is that he’s very into philosophy, tied intimately with theology and religion.  I’m not irked by the fact that his views and treatment of Christianity are flawed, but by the fact that I find a lot of that strain of discourse pointless.  My brain doesn’t naturally function philosophically.  I’m much more practical.  I like to see the work before me and do it, not sit back and ponder the philosophical meanings behind things.

Last night, I woke up at four in the morning and spent an hour having a hypothetical, half-asleep theological debate with said professor.  Back and forth I went, mentally finding scripture passages that validate my points, all the while knowing he (who is an atheist) will not understand.  The whole time, I knew it was stupid and dearly tried to fall back asleep.  But the thing is, part of me knows that my professor will push me and put my faith on trial when he finds out I’m not only a Christian, but one headed into a lifetime of ministry.  He’s going to batter me with empty philosophy, wisdom of the world, in attempt to push my critical thinking skills.

That’s why the man at the gym offering me a Bible stood out to me so much.  It was a reminder–God’s on my side.  I don’t have to debate or defend myself.  Because my faith is not his business.  It’s not his job as my professor to push that.  It’s his job to teach me about American biographical novels and help me learn.  In turn, it’s not my job to try to win him over.  This isn’t the movie God’s Not Dead (which I haven’t actually seen ’cause I find the whole concept too heavy-handed).  It’s my job to be diligent, write my big paper, and move on with my life.

It’s incredibly comforting that, even though this semester feels like such a burden and weight in so many ways, I don’t have to worry or fear.  All I have to do is lean in and trust that God will bring me through.  He’s called me to a life of serving, doing, encouraging, loving, and building the Kingdom and He is going to get me there.

What brings you life?

A good friend of mine has a job at an after-school program teaching coping mechanisms to teens with depression and anxiety.  When I asked her more about what she does, she replied, “We have them set goals every week.  These goals fall into two categories: Do things that make you feel accomplished and do things that bring you life.”  She then looked at me and asked, “Amelia, what brings you life?”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

The first category is simple.  I feel accomplished by doing things that are practical–by making a list and checking off all the items.  (Yes, in my Meyers-Briggs I’m a strong J).  I feel accomplished by doing a job well, by striving for excellence, by working hard.  Schoolwork is good for this, even though at this stage in my life I’d rather be doing other things.

Life-bringing activities are harder to pin down.

You see, there are lots of things that don’t bring me life.  Trudging through the bitter cold is upsetting, though as a hardy Minnesotan I hardly complain.  People bustling around disturbs my thoughts.  Trying to cook dinner at the same time as two of my other roommates tests my patience.  Overly pretentious classmates annoy me.  Having the super-bright fluorescent ceiling lights in the apartment on after dark makes my skin crawl.

What, though?  What fills me up when the world sucks me dry?

Reading for pleasure.  There’s nothing more special than curling up in bed and reading by candlelight, than getting lost in a world that exists within your own mind, than falling in love and friendship with people who don’t exist.

Deep conversations with good friends.  Most of the time, these take place over the phone.  You see, I don’t let a lot of people close (typical trait for an INFJ), so the time I have with those I deeply care about is extremely special.

Encouraging others spiritually.  I love leading Bible studies and praying for people.  I love when I can speak truth into the lives of others and help them draw closer to God.  This brings me so much life that it’s what I want to do every day until I die.

Spending time alone.  Granted, too much alone time makes me go crazy.  (Another typical INFJ trait).  But there’s something incredibly calming about being in a room with no one around and only my thoughts to keep me company.

Tonight, I took advantage of the fact that my roommate was out and spent some time doing things that bring me life.  I turned all the lights off except the desk lamp, pulled up a movie on Netflix, and broke out my watercolors.  Being a college student is a lot of work, and every once in a while, it’s important to take time to do what fills you up.

So, readers.  You now know all about me.  What brings you life?

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Sketchbook Corner (Watercolor Edition)

Or shall I say… Watercolor Corner?

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was a set of new watercolors from my little brother.  For the past few months, I’ve been scraping by on an eight-tint Crayola set that is five years old.  Yuck.  The new set has a massive array of colors and when I combine it with the big set of brushes I got for my birthday, I’m capable of achieving so much more with my paint.

I’ve been exploring some different techniques/subjects, which has been a blast.  Since this is a watercolor-only edition of SK and I’ve put a lot of thought and time into all these works, let’s take things one by one…

(Please excuse the crappy image quality)

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These mountains were the first thing I painted upon receiving my new paint.  I gave this one to my best friend as a belated Christmas gift.

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I had a blast painting this sunflower on Christmas day.  I gave it to my summer partner, Eva, (who loves yellow).

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This is my amateur attempt at capturing The Lonely Mountain from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  It took forever to paint–so many layers!  I rewatched one of the films while I painted, staying up WAY too late to finish.  But, gosh, am I pleased with the result!  I loved it so much I sent it home with my older brother, who shares my love of Tolkien.

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Okay, so the picture quality is REALLY crappy here.  It looks much better in person.  This was my first real attempt at painting people since getting the new brushes and paint.  I originally started out doing lots of people (see previous Sketchbook Corners for examples), but it was difficult with only one brush to work with.  I started this one on a whim–the basic sketch took only a couple minute.  I finished her up at a sleepover, which was actually pretty challenging as I had to balance the paints on my friend’s couch while avoiding her over-excited pomeranians.

Did this one last night as well.  I wanted to experiment more with painting people, and I'm quite pleased with the result!  I've been reading several YA fairytale retellings, so I imagine she's either Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or has a story of her own.

I painted this last night while watching the premiere of Marvel’s Agent Carter with my mother. I wanted to experiment more with painting people, and I’m quite pleased with the result! I’ve been reading several YA fairytale retellings, so I imagine she’s either Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or has a story of her own.

Finally…

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This took FOREVER.  I did the background and sketches of the trees before New Years and didn’t pick it back up until last night.  The details on the trees took what felt like hours.  And yes… it’s inspired by a Taylor Swift song.  (My favorite on her 1989 album).  Painting all the black got annoying and adding words with white felt like a risk, but I’m definitely pleased with the result!

That’s all for this edition of Sketchbook Corner!  Check by in a few weeks to see what else my hands come up with.  If you haven’t seen them, do look at my previous SK posts and see how I’ve improved!

Also, because I’m curious… What painting is your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Tis the Season Day 7: JOY to the World

We’ve come to the final day of Tis the Season.  It’s Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year.  But instead of decorating cookies with my younger brother, I’m sitting here pondering the meaning of Christmas.

(As I wrote that last sentence, I could hear Sam from the next room go, “How ‘come Amelia’s not helping?”  I really should be helping.  Sam’s decorating takes a violent turn if left alone for too long.  We’ve had a number of bloody snowmen cookies over the years.)

Christmas is many things.  It’s a time for family and friends.  It’s a time for giving.  It’s a time for laughter, for memories, for nostalgia.  More than any of those things, though, it’s a time for JOY.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about happiness and joy.  At first, the two words appear synonymous.  Dictionaries will tell you that they’re the same.  But I disagree.  Happiness great, but it is fleeting.  It’s a state of mind, something that you feel for one moment and then is gone the next.  I can chase happiness and something still falls short.  The thing about joy, though, is that it runs deep.  It sinks into the soul.  Down in the core of who I am is a small, indistinguishable flame.  When the metaphorical storms of life hit and everything seems to fall apart, joy remains.  It is steadfast, unshakable.

Where does this joy come from?  Easy.  It comes from knowing and being known by God.  When it comes down to it, that’s what this holiday is all about.

The creator of the universe, the almighty God entered into His creation as one of His created.  He was born not to the wealth, glory, and splendor He deserves, but is born of a peasant in a barn.  He grew up poor and even during the three years He spent teaching, healing, and performing miracles, He was hated and despised by the very people He created.  By the very nature of who Jesus is, He deserves honor and praise.  But by the people He created, the ones He came to redeem, He received slander, torture, and death.

Despite everything, He still loves us.  He still wants us.  It doesn’t matter how broken we are, He is right there with open arms.  He not only provided salvation from our sins, but adopted us as His children.  He wants to know us and be known by Him.  He doesn’t just want us to know things about Him, to live a life of empty religion, but wants us to know who He is, His character, and His love.  It’s intimate, it’s deep, it’s rich… and there for free even though we deserve none of it.  Woah.

This beautiful intimacy of what we celebrate on Christmas is the essence of JOY.

Peter sums it up perfectly: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

One of the most popular Christmas songs out there is “Joy to the World”.  Growing up, I never thought much about the words.  This year, though, they resonated in my heart.  Although they’re associated with the first coming of Jesus, they’re actually about the second.  The words speak of the immense joy that we will have when all is finished and we can physically be with Him once more.  The joy is so great that Heaven and Nature sings–even the rocks cannot help but cry out in adoration.

What better way to end Tis the Season than with inexpressible, glorious, inexhaustible, steadfast JOY?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The life and times of a college Bible study leader

This past Tuesday was my final Bible study  meeting of the semester.  I’ve been leading the same group of girls for the past three years.  It’s been really fun getting to know everyone, forming friendships, and watching them grow in their faith.

At the beginning, I didn’t know much about leading Bible studies.  I took on the role as mediator.  I would read the text at hand, be it part of the Bible, a devotional, or supplementary book, ask questions, and make sure conversation happened.  It was fun because I was in on the action, learning with everyone else, but also managing some of the behind the scenes details.

This year, though, Bible study has taken a fun turn.  My co-leader, Jourdan, and I decided to plunge headlong into the New Testament book of Hebrews.  I’ve read through it in my personal devotions several times and knew it was a theologically challenging book.  There’s a lot of confusing stuff!  We covered a chapter a week and I was in charge of the first discussion.  I ran it like I usually do, asking questions and trying to get people talking.  It was awkward.  I came away a bit disheartened.  How was I supposed to mediate a conversation about this?

As a result, though, I’ve had the opportunity to step into more of a teaching role.  Every week, I’d spend a couple hours digging through the text, figuring out what was there, what it meant, and why it was important.  I’d consult different translations of the Bible, assemble quotes from footnotes, and scour devotionals for inspiration.  Then, after pages of scribbling notes, I’d tie it together into more of a lesson plan.  At Bible study, we would read through the chapter as a group, then I’d dive into my notes, explaining theological concepts, arguments, asking questions, and trying to apply it all to life.

The thing with teaching is that it’s a LOT of work.  I’ve been pushed and stretched this semester, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding!  I now understand theological concepts so much better and have an increased appreciation for how the Bible functions as a whole text.

What got me thinking about all of these things was an message I received from one of the girls in the group.

Hi Amelia!

I just wanted to thank you so very much for a great semester of Bible Study! You are so energetic, positive and encouraging and I really enjoyed getting to know you better these past 14 weeks! Wishing you the best of luck with all of your papers and finals.  I hope you have an incredible and relaxing break– can’t wait until next semester!

I don’t know the sender of this email very well, but getting this email brightened my entire day.  What a sweetheart!  Although I’m not in it for the praise, it’s always encouraging to receive thanks for something you have poured a lot of time and effort into.

Letting go of Me

When I was younger, I was incredibly ambitious.

It drove me insane when girls I knew got married straight out of college, had babies, and settled down to be stay-at-home moms who homeschooled their kids.  I vowed never to become that woman.

I was determined to go to a academically prominant college, earn a degree, and begin an illustrious career.  I wanted to do things with my life–I wanted to go places, to meet people, to gain prestige and success.

Although I’ve always maintained high academic standards, my freshman year of college is when everything began to change.  That year, I found myself pursuing my Christian faith more than anything else in my life.  As the years have gone by, my eyes have gradually shifted from my ambitions to the sheer joy of knowing Christ.

My relationship with Jesus Christ has taken over my life.  Every part of who I am has been affected.  My friendships, relationships, on-campus involvement, grades, and even what i want to do with my life has changed dramatically from freshman to senior year.  Everything else in life is meaningless compared to knowing and being known by Him.  His love is incredible.

When I came into this school year, I dreaded everything.  I wrote several posts (Looking ahead and Return to School) expressing my dissatisfaction.  I think the reason I was so apprehensive was because last year was incredibly challenging.  I spent half the year across the world from everyone I loved and the other half learning that, because of my time abroad, I no longer fit with the people I loved in the same way.  It was a year of learning, a year of lonliness, a year of great frustration.  Part of me was scared that this year would be the same.

But the thing is, God is good.  He sees me and knows me.  He understands where I was at and knew exactly how to provide for me.  No, He didn’t bring me close friends to replace the ones I have lost.  But He gave me more of Himself.  People cannot fill the needs of my soul, but He can.  Not only does He fill me, love me, and provide for me, but He wants to be known by me.  He desires intimacy with me, deep closeness.  And, as I’ve responded to that over the past few months, I find myself falling more and more in love with Him.  There’s a line in a Christmas song that goes, “Hearts unfurl like flowers before Thee / opening to the sun above”.  That’s me.  And oh, it’s so beautiful.

Not only has God been providing for me personally, He brought me to an incredible Bible study where I am challenged like I haven’t been in years.  There are times when I feel like I know everything there is to know about God, faith, and the Bible.  But through this Bible study, God has been teaching me to let go of everything I think I know and know Him.  Every week, I walk away with a new insight on His goodness and am left breathless.  It’s been so, so wonderful and my entire faith mindset has shifted dramatically.

It’s scary, letting go of yourself and trusting something you do not see.  But, oh my goodness, it’s beautiful.  There’s nothing like it in the world.  The greatest pleasures in life pale in comparison to the goodness of knowing God.

In the book of Philippians, Paul has similar words:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted it as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that comes by faith.” Philippians 3:7-9

I’m not quite to the level of Paul yet.  I haven’t dropped every material thing, nor have I experienced any great suffering.  But the spirit behind the verses, the same deep longing and affection for Christ resonates in my heart.

I realize this is a bit different from my usual posts, but the need to express these things in words have been bubbling up in my heart for quite a while.  Here they finally are.

 

Jenny & Tyler @ Art House North

If you remember back to my second “Influential Albums” post, one of my favorite bands of all time is Jenny & Tyler.  Well.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see them play live!  On Saturday, I drove to the Twin Cities from Morris, kidnapped my friend Ruth and, after a delicious Chipotle dinner, headed to the show.

The show took place at a venue called Art House North, a renovated church owned by Troy and Sara Groves.  The Groves’ vision is to create a place for artists of all kinds (painters, writers, musicians, photographers, actors, designers, etc.) to “express themselves and wrestle with questions of faith, culture and beauty”.  It’s a place for collaboration and community, for people to “foster creativity inspired by the pain of the world and the beauty of the gospel”.  It’s a place to “demonstrate the way of Jesus by seeking justice through art and living as creative advocates”.  (Information taken from their Facebook Page).

It was my first time at Art House North, and Ruth and I were both impressed by the environment the Groves have created.  The space itself, with the church pews, Christmas lights, and fall decorations, has all the nostalgia of old-time-religion.  All the while, the atmosphere is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Even though Ruth and I entered the doors as strangers, we left feeling like we had forged new friendships.  There were so many kind souls at the event, and it was a pleasure getting to know people who had been strangers.

Now on to Jenny & Tyler.  I discovered them by accident several years ago.  In fact, I found them via an ad on Facebook.  Upon clicking said ad, I found myself on NoiseTrade where one of their albums was available for free.  I downloaded said album and immediately fell in love.  Their music soon became a staple in my life, carrying me through and over many spiritual hills and valleys over the past several years.  I listened to them in times of grieving, in times of loneliness, and in times of bold adventure.  Their music filled me with the courage to fly to London for a semester abroad.

The husband and wife duo simply emanate the Holy Spirit.  Their harmonies are saturated in the love and peace of God.  Their website describes them in this way:

In a crowded industry glutted by banality, Jenny & Tyler stand out as true psalmists. Their music holds a mirror up to nature, culture and all the reckless passions of the human heart and points ultimately toward a Creator. Their songs mark them as modern-day contemplatives and troubadours, rooted in age-old wisdom set to new melodies.

IMG_2942Because their music means so much to me, the concert was a perfect one.  They were a bit awkward on stage between songs, but that added to their charm.  Jenny is the image of sweetness and Tyler is deeply passionate.  Even though they perform the same songs week after week, it felt like they were singing for the first time.  When they sing, their love for God is so evident.  They performed a song about their 15 month old daughter and their love for her shined.  And when they told the story of how they met and performed their love song “One Eyed Cat”, they kept giving each other these adorable sideways glances that showed how much they continue to adore each other.

Ruth said to me after the show, “I kept looking over at you and you were absolutely beaming!”

It was true.  The evening filled me with so much joy that it was hard to stop smiling.

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Ruth and I on the stage area after the show.

Seeing the following song live was one of the highlights of the show.  It had never been one of their standout numbers for me until now.  Tyler described it as a “divine love song”–words stood out to me, and have helped me fall completely in love with “Song for You”.

Looking ahead

Where do the days go?

I looked at my calendar this morning and was shocked to find that July is almost gone.  In mere weeks, summer will be over and I will be back in school.

Since I’m going into my final year of college, I’ve been paying a lot of thought to where I want to go in life.  What will I do when I graduate?  Where will I go?  Who will I meet?

One of my biggest fears is that, a year from now, I will get sucked right into life in the real world.  I’ll get bogged down with a job, college bills, car payments, etc.  I will work just to get by, settle down, and the most adventure I will have is the occasional weekend excursion to the North Shore.  (Not that the North Shore is bad… but I want to go farther than three hours away.)

I want to live a life that is extraordinary.  I want to travel and explore the corners of this world.  I want to do something worthwhile.  I want to make a difference, to touch the lives of people I encounter.

More than anything, I want to live a life that is not my own.  I can make all the plans I want for myself, but ultimately, the life God has planned for me is a million times better than anything I can conceive.  The more I taste of the world, the more I realize how empty and unsatisfying it is.  I want my life to be a living sacrifice, a la Romans 12.  I want to be a city on a hill.  I want to spend my years planting seeds and reaping fruit for the Kingdom.  God has planted heaven in my heart, and I want to spend my life sharing that with others.

During the parent program at my day camp this past week (which was in Rogers, MN), I had one of those “How did I get here?” moments.  I was standing in front of a sanctuary of kids and their parents, sharing about Camp Shamineau and what our mission is.  Briefly, I found myself explaining, “At camp, we have lots of amazing facilities that help create fun, exciting memories.  But as great as fun is, that’s now what we are about.  Our main mission is to take campers away from the distractions of the world and place them in an environment where they have a real, personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Later, when summarizing the lessons of the week, I noted that we told the story about how “Jesus died on the cross for our sins so we could spend eternity with Him.  He did this not because we deserved it, but because He loved us.”

Standing on that stage, it hit me.  So many people my age hem and haw and fret about what they are doing with life.  But here I am, at a mere twenty one years old, living the life God has called me to.  Already, I’m living out the dreams God has placed within me.  Through the opportunity to work at camp, specifically being on Program staff, I am learning to lead others and sow seeds.  All the things I long to do, I am already doing.

As my final year of school draws nearer, words cannot express how much I loathe going back.  I’m dreading it, actually.  A life spent sitting in classrooms, reading books, and writing essays is enjoyable, but definitely not satisfying.

But just because I am in school does not mean God cannot use me to further His kingdom.  He has plans for me this year, and lessons He needs to lead me through.  I eagerly anticipate the day when my life becomes less about getting my own name on a diploma and more about bringing glory to the King.

Contrasts

Last week, I had the opportunity to run two different day camps.

The first was at Rockpoint church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.  It was a gorgeous facility, with a fancy McDonalds style slide leading the way into the childrens area.  We had 75 kids total, and oh boy, were they a handful.  Just about each of my eight person team had a problem child or two in their groups.  Each day, we battled for the kids’ attention and focus.  Each day, we just barely walked away in one piece.  By the time three o’clock rolled in and the kids rolled out, my staff would collapse from a day of fighting inattentive listening and bullying.  They’d roll around on the floor for a while, until I came by and made them help clean up.  It was a wonderful church, with fantastic staff, volunteers, and our host families were fantastic.  But, oh boy, those kids were a handful.

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On Thursday, after the last parents pulled their children from the bouncy castle we so kindly hauled down from camp with us, I sent my high school staff back to camp with a couple of my Program friends, who had kindly come down to get them.  Then, with my team of five collegiate staff, we progressed to step two.

None of us really knew what we were getting into.  The only information I got from Shamineau was that we were running a two day long kids program at an Ethiopian church in downtown Minneapolis.

It turns out, the programming we were in charge of was for an annual international conference for the church of one of the Ethiopian people groups.  We were given a few rooms upstairs in the old church.  Throughout the days, we could hear the conference going on–countless voices singing praises to God in a language we did not understand.  We had no sound system, no internet access, and no real outside space.  Some of the basics of day camp–snack time in the mornings, 
Kid Snippets videos in the afternoons–that I now view as luxuries, were absent.

The day camp itself was absolutely chaotic.  Throughout the days, kids came and went as they saw fit.  At the beginning of the first, we had 35 youngsters.  By five o’clock that evening, when our work was over, we had fifty… the youngest was three, and the oldest was twelve.  The second day was less hectic, but similar.

When we arrived at the church the first day, I had the opportunity to meet the pastor.  His English was rather good, although I could tell he was not wholly comfortable speaking in it.  Right away, he shook my hand and said, “You are Amelia?  I’ve heard your name.  We are so happy to have you here!”  What he next explained to me has stuck with me.

“The people of this church, we are immigrants from Ethiopia.  Culturally, we are Ethiopian.  We were raised Ethiopian, and that is how we live out our faith.  We worship in our own language and teach in the ways of our home country.  But our children, they are not Ethiopian.  They were born here, they are Americans.  The culture they are growing up in is different than our own.  We do not know how to teach them to follow God in a way that is relevant in their culture.  That is why we are so happy to have you here.  You can teach our kids.  We wish we could have you all the time.”

I’ve never worked in intercultural ministry before, so I was shocked to find that the pastor (and people of the church) thought so highly of us.  When I look at myself, I definitely do not see a teacher equipped to raise up children in a way pleasing to God.  No.  I see a twenty one year old who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life whose summer job is to run around like a crazy lady in churches trying to keep kids entertained.  But here were people who, within minutes of meeting me, saw me as someone with spiritual authority and knowledge, someone equipped to do what they could not.  It was incredibly humbling.

And the kids, oh my goodness, those kids were thirsty for Jesus.  They’d be rowdy and rambunctious during activities, but the second we started telling Bible stories and sharing about God’s love, they quieted down and began to listen.  Seven little girls decided to follow Jesus for the first time, and nine rededicated their lives to Him.  They asked questions, they soaked in every word.  They understood that the chance to truly learn about God doesn’t come around often, and they took advantage of our presence.

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Me withs some of the girls

It’s amazing to contrast the beginning of my week to the end.

The Rockpoint kids had everything.  They had an amazing church building, all the best equipment, a gym, an outdoor playground, space to run around in, and every kind of game imaginable.  But they weren’t content with that.  They fought constantly.  They didn’t listen.  They thought their own selves were more important than the good news we came to share.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some fantastic, wonderful kids in the bunch.  But, as a whole, they were frustrating and exhausting.

Then there were the Ethiopian kids.  They attend church in an old, creaky building that has little air conditioners in the windows, no gym, no balls or game equipment, and the only rooms available to them are awkward closets and corners of offices.  They have no children’s ministry, no teaching.  Their parents aren’t able to feed them spiritually in the way they need.  And they, lacking little, were so grateful.  They were so attentive, so respectful.  Yes, a lot of this I do attribute to cultural differences, but at the same time… there was a genuine eagerness to learn about God.

So often, the Bible talks paradoxes like the last being first, blessed are the poor, and rich men giving up everything to gain everything.  Day camp this past week reminded me of that.  Where there is much, there is little true seeking.  Where there is little, people are eager for the Lord.

All in all, it was an exhausting week, but definitely a blessed one.  I had a blast working with the kids, was encouraged by my host family, and deeply loved my team.  Here’s some photos of us working throughout the week…

Took my team home to my family's apple orchard on Monday!
Took my team home to my family’s apple orchard on Monday!
Tuesday night's adventures included Nelson's ice cream in Stillwater!
Tuesday night’s adventures included Nelson’s ice cream in Stillwater!
Water Day
Water Day