What happened this summer, part 2

Picture this, if you will: it’s a hot, blindingly-sunny day in East Texas, and your mission is to get eleven little girls to an air-conditioned building where there is, waiting, cold water and macaroni and cheese and pb&j’s. Or, actually, your mission might be to get the girls to the pool, or the lake, or another of a dozen activities designed to ensure each of the girls has fun every moment they are in your charge.

And you keep being surprised, as the days and weeks pass, at how slowly the girls walk. You develop a special patience for most of them, as they humbly inform you that they are walking just as fast as their smaller legs will allow them; as they remind you, maybe not so humbly, that the sun is hot and they are not used to being outside so much; as they let you know that they are THIRSTY!! And why is [insert activity] so far away?

A lot of what they tell you is true, and so for most of the girls you can empathize—unconsciously, your steps slow until your gait matches, more or less, that of a six-year-old’s. You realize, with a sigh, that yes, you will get to lunch eventually, and that’s really all that matters.

And then you realize, as you do a quick head-count, that you’re short a girl—you glance backward, a little panicked, and see, far back in the distance, the kid.

There is always one.

This is the child who walks slower than slow, who seems to shuffle her feet with a certain delight, and who is always a good twenty yards behind everyone else. And you wonder what’s going through that adorable little head of hers—because she never hears your urgings that “it’s time for lunch!!” or “man, you’re going to love this activity!” She’s fine, doing her own thing, and all your pleadings make no difference whatsoever—not even the assurance that the reason you’re hurrying her is so that, rather than spend another half-hour walking in the sun, you make it to the fun, or to the food, sooner.

 

One day, you get a grand idea, which has worked in the past. You offer, as an incentive, your hand for her to hold as you walk. Please, oh please, come and hold my hand, so that, without you noticing too much, I can gently pull you along and we can talk together instead of me reminding you to keep up!!!! You hold out your hand, waiting for her to run and catch up and take it.

But she doesn’t come.

You keep holding it out, in case she changes her mind, but you realize, with a sort of sadness, that this child is neither moved nor motivated by your gesture of affection. She’d prefer walking by herself, at her own pace.

 

Well, this was my summer, friends:) For the sake of the Gospel, I now walk at the rate of a six-year-old. What I didn’t realize for a long time was that, of all the girls, that last child was who I truly identified with. So much of this summer, and, for that matter, my time at college, has been marked by my stubbornness. I tend to learn the same lessons, over and over again—and usually they have to do with turning over my anxieties to God and trusting Him fully. It’s only after I’ve come to the end of Jo’s ability to handle things and completely wrecked ship that I see how much I’ve fallen back into old habits, such as storing up worries and harboring negative, untrue thoughts that don’t honor God in the slightest. I lag behind God’s perfect will, preferring to suffer in my own stubborn silence than push myself to be nearer Him.

I start thinking, whether consciously or not, that I’m fine without God—that I have things under control, and I can get there (wherever “there” might be) by myself. And I really, really can’t. Now, this might be where this whole analogy thing starts sounding cheesy, but one day this summer I looked back at the little girl wandering on her own, with no interest whatsoever at my outstretched hand, and good grief, I got chills.

Cause God has had His hands stretched back for us since we first let go. Back before we were interested in anything He had to offer, and back before we knew enough to want to simply be near Him. His patience is remarkable, and His love for us is incomparable and everlasting and perfect.

This summer, my job seemed simple: I wanted each of the girls I met to go home knowing that the great and good God of the universe loves them. But that in itself is such an incredible, audacious idea! It was a blessing to watch the girls accept the truth of Jesus’ love without all the questions and doubts that have come with being a little older.

So that’s something I learned this summer. Thanks for reading!

Advertisements

What happened this summer, part 1 (yay–a series!)

Hey friends,

Some people have asked about this summer–how it was, what I’ve learned, where was I all that time?–and I’ve told something different to each person. This summer I traveled almost 5000 miles before July, then worked as a camp counselor in Texas, walking the same roads and paths over and over, for six weeks. Both parts of the summer were very, very good. However, so much happened that it’s hard to pick one thing to write about–so starting out, I had no idea what to title this blog post or even what would go into it.

Then I read an article a friend on Facebook shared, called “An Introverted Christian.” In it, the author, Tim Challies, talks about the tendency to label ourselves as either introverted or extroverted, and how those labels can, if we’re not careful, make us selfish Christians. Our personalities are certainly involved in how we relate to people, and we’ve been given different strengths and weaknesses, but, the article suggests, it’s all too easy to use whatever personality type we identify with as an excuse to, say, retreat from people rather than engage with them.

I think that’s what I’ve learned this summer, along with everything else that’s happened. Going to Sky Ranch was incredibly hard and decidedly out of my introverted comfort zone. I related with the kids well, but when it came to developing friendships with other counselors, I was intimidated and fearful. Three weeks in, I felt miserably lonely; I questioned why I was there when I couldn’t belong; and my mind went through a list of all the ways I felt different from my fellow counselors. I’ve realized since then that those thoughts were not from Christ, but at the time–holy cow!–it was really hard not to keep thinking them.

That weekend, (the one where I bawled my eyes out on the phone with my mom), God used my co-counselors to encourage me while, at the same time, kind of calling me out on the worries I’d been letting consume me. They reinforced the beautiful truths that God is in control of all things; that His plans for us are good; and that no one was at Sky Ranch on accident or by mistake. When I started focusing on negative thoughts, my mind was distracted from the purpose He had for me. Funnily enough, the verse we were memorizing together was Psalm 23:7: “For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.” We had a time with that verse, trying to get in firmly in our minds–but it helped, so much, to realize the power of my own thought habits. [It was also slightly terrifying:)]

I don’t really want to come across as saying “positive thinking will make everything better!!” I think a certain kind of optimism cheapens the reality of a broken world, and I am not for glossing over some deeply unjust things, just so we can perpetually have smiles on our faces. What I have learned is that, when we are pursuing God’s purpose and obeying Him, Satan will try to distract us, in any way he can. This summer, he used my personality, along with self-doubt and fear and worries, to try and distract me from being fully engaged in my situation.

I’m not saying being introverted is bad. Not at all! Being quieter and thoughtful can be such a positive trait in me–and I know that, in several instances this summer, God used me and the way He designed me to speak to others. What’s crazy is that, if we’re not careful, we can start to define ourselves by what’s most comfortable to us. So say our bent, or inclination, is to be with people all the time and get energy from them. I would assume a struggle would be in not finding our self-worth from other peoples’ words and attention. Then the hard part would be being alone and still knowing you’re more than OK in Christ.

For me, what’s hard is feeling I belong. And it’s all too easy to retreat from an uncomfortable situation and be alone with my thoughts (which are sometimes good, sometimes worth nothing), rather than stay and trust that God has me in that uncomfy situation for a purpose. Maybe He needed an quieter voice there, or someone who can listen.

All told, it’s a wonderful, freeing knowledge to know that God didn’t make anyone wrong; that yes, we are given different personalities, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses; and that I am called to follow Him even into situations that are scary for me–situations where I feel inadequate and out-of-place–trusting that He holds all things.

–Jo

Here’s the link to the article I mentioned:

http://www.challies.com/articles/an-introverted-christian?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork