Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Single Touch

I'm a very stubborn person, and I have been for as long as I can remember. As a young child my stubbornness was wearisome on my parents, I mean how could it not be when your child is very set in their ways and absolutely WILL NOT be joining the family to eat out, but would rather wait in the car.

See, I was stubborn, am stubborn, and will probably always be stubborn. Throughout my college years, I have learned that being stubborn isn't all that bad. I'm independent, strong-willed, and these are just two traits that I can derive from my stubbornness. However, at other times I believe my stubbornness can lead me to be closed-minded.

14 weeks ago I entered a small classroom at A&M to learn about the New Testament. To say I was skeptical would be an understatement. I had my guard up; I was on high alert for the "false teachings" I felt sure I would incur in such a class.

This "guard" hindered me at first. I quickly centered in on the differences in belief between me and my professor who wasn't a Christian. Holding tight to my conservative beliefs, I left class discouraged every time as I watched my classmates 'switch to the other side.' But, no, not me. I was going to hold unswervingly to my faith. I wouldn't believe what I was being taught, but would simply learn the material well enough to get the grade I needed in the course.

Then an interesting thing happened. As we began the unit over the Gospels, I felt as my mind began to open up to this idea that I could let go to my tight reigns on what I believed to be right and wrong, and instead take this class as an opportunity to better understand my own beliefs. I wasn't obligated to believe what my professor was teaching, but I began to be spurred on to read, study, and examine the Scriptures in a new light.

I learned that it was ok for me to disagree with a professor who holds about 2 doctorates, 4 masters, and however many bachelor degrees (ok, so maybe I exaggerated--but he spent a good 20 years of his life furthering his education). I learned that he didn't have to be right, and that his teachings weren't the law. Instead, I began to gain knowledge.

I began to grow because for the first time in my life, I had to defend what I believed. I had to write out what I believed, why I thought it so, and find the Scripture to back it up. Wow. The journey was one that wasn't always easy. I encountered questions that had been on my heart, and to be honest, I am not always the best person to understand Scripture in its correct historical context. This journey, is one that I hope to continue on for the rest of my life. I am eager to always learn, and critically examine God's word. My spiritual life has been strengthened because of it. Scripture is so much more to me now. Rather than viewing a chapter of the Bible and seeing the big picture, I have learned to break down each verse and examine what the writer was trying to convey.

As many of you know, I am returning to Camp Deer Run this summer. The theme is to Live like Jesus. As part of our contract, we agreed to read through the Gospels before starting work. How appropriate? It was truly as if God has been preparing me for a summer of examining the life of Jesus as I studied New Testament at A&M this semester. As I have been reading through the book of Matthew, one story that I have ready many times before stood out to me in a whole new light. For this reason, I want to share it with you.

In Matthew 8 verses 1-4, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. Before I had taken this class at A&M, I always read through these stories of miraculous healing, thinking that the take-home was the Jesus is the ultimate healer. I wasn't wrong, but recently I've learned to see so much more. What stuck out to me in this particular story, was that after the man with leprosy asks Jesus "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean," Jesus touches him.

Think about it. Jesus touches the man with leprosy.

I have always skipped right over this fact without thinking of how touching this man may have changed his life. Back in a historical time where leprosy was almost a death-sentence and called for the person inflicted to be outcast, I think it must have been  a very long time since this man had been touched. I think about my day-to-day, and I don't think I go through a day without touch. Whether it is a hug, a hand shake or a high-five, it is all touch. To imagine my life without touch, would be horribly sad to me. This man, already condemned with a disease that would most likely result in his death, probably felt hopeless. His body was failing him, and I'm sure his social support was lacking. So the fact that Jesus reaches out and touches him to heal him--that is incredible. I also can't help but think of the people around Jesus at the time. Can't you just imagine the apostles panicking a little that Jesus would think to touch a man with leprosy. I can almost imagine them biting their tongues, concerned and confused about Jesus was doing.

Anyway, this was just a little something I took from this story. If anything, I hope it opens your eyes to how Scripture can really come to life. My New Testament class has taught me how to make the Scriptures more real, and I am excited for a life full of better understanding.

Friday, April 3, 2015

5 Years Time

Three weeks ago my mother had surgery on her foot. The surgery was planned last minute, after my sister and I had already made Spring Break plans. My mother, being the woman that she is, didn't want to make a big deal and insisted that my sister and I go on with our plans. As it was, my Spring Break plans consisted of a few days getaway with some of my dearest friends to Beaver's Bend State Park in Oklahoma. After some kayaking and many many games of Nerts we all returned home. My mom had her surgery on Tuesday, and then I was able to come and stay with her for the rest of the week and weekend on Thursday afternoon.

2 weeks later it is Easter Weekend and I'm home again. This semester has been unique of all of my semesters at A&M for many reasons. One being I'm taking more hours than I ever have. Another reason is that this particular semester has been filled with weddings and showers bringing me home more than ever before. For this reason alone, I've learned to practice saying "no" and made the decision last semester that I would not be teaching at HYPE this semester. While this was a bitter-sweet decision, I knew that it was best for the kids to have a teacher who could promise stability and that is would significantly decrease my stress load by not trying to rush back to CS every weekend. By saying "no" I also knew that I would be able to enjoy more time with my family. So with weddings and camp retreats alone, I've been coming home much more. Additionally, my family will be making a big trip to A&M in 14 days to come and celebrate as I receive my Aggie Ring. All of these things combined sum up to one thing: family time.

Our family time has come so far. I have always been able to see God's faithfulness in our family, but recently I have been overwhelmed with gratefulness how God has changed my heart and has grown my relationships with my family. For a long time, you see, I didn't particularly like my family. My sister and I fought a lot, and my mom and I even more. Dad has always been a peacemaker trapped in a house of girls, but still I disliked being home. It wasn't until my junior year in high school that God began to do a lot of healing in my heart. I never knew it, but I carried a lot of resentment and hate towards my family. My immediate family and extended family have gone through a lot of suffering due to the world in which we live. Sickness, name it and some one has had it. Death was a familiar friend through middle school and high school as I watched all but 2 of my grandparents and great grandparents pass away. Tensions between family were high at a particular point in the journey as well. I say all of this because I never recognized how much I allowed such circumstances to affect me. I never knew that by watching my dad's mom literally rot away due to liver cancer that my heard would become calloused, especially during the last few months as she chose to end her battle peacefully. I was filled with anger, and resentment towards my family for encouraging her to pass peacefully when I, at the time, thought there was still a fight to be fought. I was furious with my family for a church splitting that occurred when I was only in 5th grade that not only took my best friend away from me, but also led part of my family to leave our church. Bullying came next, and all of these events made me bitter. I was filled with hate and I couldn't trust anyone. So I began to take out my feelings against my family, and it is still one of my biggest regrets to this day. I sacrificed a relationship with my immediate family, because I couldn't deal with the pain.

Thankfully, my family never gave up on me. I have been truly blessed to have a family who never ceases to see that I am given every single opportunity possible to grow as an individual and to grow in my faith.  Early on my parents began sending me to my favorite camp in the world. Camp was a place of healing for me. The only place I could open up my heart to God and allow him to make something beautiful out of the brokenness I felt in my life. Growing up as a pew baby, I knew what faith was supposed to look like, but I never experienced faith or a relationship with Jesus Christ until I was in the piney woods. I saw God everyone, but mostly in my broken staff members who never ceased to love me or model what a relationship with God was supposed to look like. By the time I was 16 I was beyond in love with camp. It was my home. During my sophomore year in high school an opportunity came about so that I was able to travel to Europe for 16 days. My parents gave this gift to me, because that's what they always do. They constantly make sacrifices so that I can have experiences like this one in particular. Going to Europe meant that I had to miss my CDR session, but at the time that was a sacrifice I was willing to make. My relationship with God was truly comical and nonexistent at this point in my life. Sure I was still going to church, but my heart was numb. So I went to Europe for 16 days and I remember that my Bible stayed at the bottom of my suitcase because I couldn't stand the conviction that would come when I opened it.

Coming back from Europe I was still empty, and hardened. I remember visiting at Deer Run where a counselor encouraged me to come and camp. My mom called the camp director, and through divine intervention a spot opened for the next 2-week session that started in 2 days. I remember being frustrated with my mom at first for "making" it happen. How was I expected to camp a session where I knew no one? Luckily, God knew. God knew I needed two weeks without friends to make a friend in him. He knew I needed to heal, from the scars and the pain of loneliness that I had been carrying for years. I was never able to be free, to truly enjoy life as my friends always had. So many times in high school I remember feeling like an outcast, or that I barely made the cut for my friend circles. These feelings plus the lack of relationship with my family made for a combustion of loneliness. Not to mention that I was running from God too. So I camped for two weeks, and at first I hated it. Yet at the end of 12 days I began to feel restored. I had a counselor who took the time to tend to my broken heart. It was at camp too that I learned that my best friend might have cancer (Praise God she didn't) but I remember there was a particular quiet time where I let it all out. I let God have it. I yelled, shared my frustrations, and said everything that I had been holding in. With it all out, I had nothing left to carry. Instead, I had room for God to fill me. Whether my parents can pinpoint it or not, I returned from camp that summer a new woman. I was free; I was redeemed; I was forgiven.

Since this moment in my life God has given me a particular friend to remind me of the pivotal moment where I came to the feet of Jesus broken and afraid, and allowed him to take my heart. This friend lived 4 hours away from me in high school, but we kept in contact through letters. She had no idea how broken I was, but her constant encouragement reminded me how far I had come. Inspired to change, I clung to her.

Our friendship has continued since, and has strengthened in college. We've worked together for three years at Deer Run, and next year we are living together. Her friendship gave me the courage to pursue a relationship with my family again.

5 years later, I've come a long way. My mom is one of my best friends and my dad is still my biggest supporter. God also did a lot of healing with my sister, and she has become so much more than a sister, but a true friend as well. It wasn't an easy road, and it didn't happen over night, but I have relationships with my family. Sorry to say it, but they have to be the best family I could have ever been given.

They never gave up on me. In so many ways I feel as if I was the prodigal son. Yet, they stood waiting patiently for me to come into their arms. They never stopped showing me love, or forgiving me. Today, I am the fruit of their love and support. This Easter Weekend I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. This semester I am thankful that God can take a stubborn soul like mine, and helped me reconnect with my family. So these past few weeks with my family have become my cherished moments. Our family dinners are more meaningful, our long porch talks are priceless, and even competitive card games like Nerts have become my favorite past time. I love my family, and I love that my family loves me. Praise God for family! Praise God for redemption and praise God that the tomb is empty so that I can be forgiven time and time again.