When an experience is over, when do our reflections on that experience end?
I hope that mine never do.
Truly, I can’t believe that an entire year has come and gone - at least the one that
I just passed through and especially one that was filled with more learning, challenging experiences and growth than an entire college career. What we discover in the end is that we do have to move on but we don’t move on as the person we were before we began that experience. Instead
we hope to move on as a changed, more discerning and transformed person; I am taking the story of my year with me holding it close to my heart knowing that it will always play a formative part of my future. My story is one that is not just about myself but it’s about the people I met and the impact they had on me, it’s about experiences and lessons and it’s about a relationship that was at the center of it all - a relationship that was refined by faith without expectations, refined by a relentless reminder of what it means to be a beloved child of God and refined by a relentless and purposeful love that could only come through Christ Jesus. It is is an extraordinary privilege to hold
this story so close.
I feel sort of caught in between places though - reflection is often difficult as it makes us desire what we have left behind. In the end I’m discovering how hard it is to take what I’ve learned and make sense of it for what comes next. I’m unsure of where to go from here; before South Africa I thought I had everything all figured out - now I’m not too sure. However, what I can be sure of is that I am not the same person I was a year ago and the following lessons are some of the reasons why.
1.) A year ago the thought of doing something challenging or outside my norm was overwhelming, now I have a great appreciation for doing new things and learning to embrace challenges that come through new experiences. What I’ve come to recognize is that life is good but it comes with challenges that are going to oppose that notion, the next lesson addresses this.
2.) You have to rethink your attitude and re-evaluate your perspective. Life is always going to have negative challenges; these challenges require that we weigh them in light of all the good and we should always allow the positives to be what we reflect on and how we should praise our Heavenly Father. I have a good friend who taught me to think of this as a popcorn analogy - pick the good kernels from the bad, then eat the good and throw away the bad.
3.) Living a meaningful story requires more than just a decision to do something that seems radical a the first decision, instead it is a daily and continuous decision making process. It requires that we move beyond what is comfortable each day by overcoming our fears which allow us to remain content.
4.) Allow yourself to be open to God. Faith was central to everything I did in South Africa and I learned to think of it more in relationship and in terms of what it means to trust. I suggest that we allow ourselves to be open to God because when we move beyond a passive Christian life we find God’s love in new and extraordinary ways. I could go on and on about this topic but I will stop with this, God cares about what we do but he cares infinitely more about our hearts and desires for us all to know what it means to be his beloved.
5.) Happiness isn’t found in material possessions but in new experiences. We live in an amazing world that should be appreciated and experienced - this is what challenges and shapes our identities and what ultimately allows us to be vulnerable and to grow.
6.) Learn to live without expectations. This is really hard and I am guilty of placing expectation on each new experience or person in my life but I’ve recognized how much better life is when we don’t do this. I think this is related to our understanding of living in a fallen world - when we live in expectation we will constantly be disappointed.
7.) Don’t live with presumptions about others for whatever reason, whether because they are from a certain place, of a certain faith or of a certain ethnicity. Every person is unique and they deserve to be loved without having to fit any certain category we like to fit people into.
8.) Be confident in who you are.
9.) Know that we are only called to try to do something, when we believe that we are called to do something we forget to live in humility that allows the necessary space for God to do the majority of the lifting. And then when we feel like we are called to try to do it, it is easer to fail because we were just trying and not doing.
10.) Transitions are difficult and they require time and they require grieving. This past year had many transitions for me - the reasons they require grieving is that in those transitions we often loose a part of our identity (as a college student, foreign service worker, etc.) and in that we must learn what ultimately forms our identity - Christ.
11.) The importance of family. While friends do come and go, family is always there so learn to learn from them.
12.) The importance of learning. Learning is how we grow and I think it’s really what makes us human - we must continue to question, doubt and discover or we will no longer be able to consider ourselves alive.
13.) Your home culture is only one of many many other home cultures.
14.) When you feel like you can’t make a difference there is still learning and there is still an ability to focus on building bridges to people who are different than yourself.
15.) Live with others in mind - live simply as an act of love towards your neighbors who are all part of one global community.
There are several other lessons, those considering the importance of community, the power of story, the nature of service, what it means to make a difference in a different culture, aspects of leadership, what being an American abroad means, being confident in my passions and several more that really don’t make sense to anyone but myself, but I hope these are helpful to you, so that you have an idea of what this year has meant to me.
Thank you for coming alongside me and following this journey, it doesn’t just belong to me it belongs to you as well.
If you would like to hear me talk more, there are two opportunities to do so:
Sunday, August 28th at 9:30 am (Sunday School Hour) at East Sparta Christian Church
Monday, August 29th at 7:00 pm at East Sparta Christian Church
The Church is located at: 9429 Main Ave East Sparta, Ohio 44626