These past few weeks have been much more difficult than I had anticipated. OneLife has been over for around three weeks, and for the past two, I’ve been wrestling with a near overwhelming sense of loneliness. I spent much of that time alone, and while that definitely had something to do with the loneliness I had been feeling, there was a sneaking suspicion that something more was going on behind all of it. After some praying, and some reading, I realized what that something more was.
Since I’ve been home, while I’ve had exceeding amounts of free time, I got started on my slowly growing reading list. I decided that I wanted to reread one of the books that we’d gotten from OneLife that I hadn’t finished: “Reading The Bible with Heart and Mind” by Tremper Longman. I had expected to learn a lot from this book about reading the Bible, but did not expect to be convicted in the way that I was.
I was reading the other night in a chapter that discussed the hurriedness of our world, and the need to take time to slow down and contemplate God’s Word. Tremper Used a quote from Henri Nouwen that said;
“The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. Our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.”
As I was processing what that meant, it occurred to me that over the past two weeks, I had done nothing but try to fill my schedule with whatever I could. I saw empty space in my day, and I just wanted to fill it. I hadn’t taken the time to recognize my loneliness for what it was, and although I had been in the word every morning, something in me was opposed to the idea of simply being still with the Lord. I resolved to change that.
I realized over the next few days that the loneliness I was feeling pointed out that my heart was calling out for something. That something was a satisfaction that does not come from spending time with people, or spending time alone, but from the Lord. That feeling was an indicator to a deeper longing for Jesus, and it was a call to be still and face true reality.
In the practice of being still, we come up against our desire to control our lives. In our stillness, in the practice of slowing down, we realize that despite our lack of input, the world around us continues on. God doesn’t need us to be busy all the time, and there are times in our lives when He will have us in lonely seasons. I think of all the different Biblical characters that God led into the wilderness alone; Jesus himself, Elijah, Moses, and several others. Most of them were alone for much more than two weeks, and the Lord used those times to shape them into the people that He intended to use to accomplish His plan. God can and does sustain us even in these times. He uses them to draw us into Himself, and make us aware of our need for Him.
To be lonely is to be human. It is to recognize that there is an emptiness in us that only the Lord can fill. No amount of good things in this world would ever be enough to fulfill our longing for Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you, and may you recognize your longings for what they are as He continues to draw you to Himself.
The day I graduated from a small international school in Niamey, Niger was potentially one of the saddest days of my life. But after that, I fully embraced just living in Niger, a country I care about immensely. However, four short months later, I had to leave West Africa, the place of my childhood since the age of two and the closest thing to a home I had ever had. I felt like I was being ripped away from a place I deeply loved, not knowing when I would ever return. I had to go to a country I vaguely knew—seemingly filled with only difficult memories and no real place or thing to go to. I had to fight hard against the threatening bitterness and hold tight to God. After all, he knew what he was doing, and I knew what I really needed was him. Nearly a year after arriving in the US, I somehow ended up at OneLife.
Being at OneLife was hard sometimes, but it was also so good. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It was tough at first, trying to find my place there. I didn’t want to be defined by where I’d been, but it’s not like I could hide it – Niger is such a part of who I am, so sometimes it would just come spilling out of me. My classmates quickly got used to my nervously confused responses when speakers would ask where we were from! I struggled to know how much to talk about life in Niger. I hesitated to open up because I was afraid of setting myself apart as being different, of intimidating or overwhelming people, or of being too self-focused. I didn’t want to just be the cool “African kid” that everyone was kind to. I wanted so badly to just be one of them.
But, I did notice fairly quickly how my classmates seemed to sincerely love Jesus and take very seriously their desire to grow as we followed him together. That was something I could share with them. And they truly gave me the love of Jesus. I remember once, later on, looking around the room at breakfast and realizing how each and every one of these special people had been there for me at some point when I needed it. I think you inevitably become close in the OneLife program, with the amount of time you spend together, and all the things you go through together. (This coming from someone who knows the tight bond of a missionary community and an international school!) After doing emotionally exhausting heart-idol presentations in December, it felt like we went from being friends to being family. As I became comfortable with the other OneLifers and we gained more shared experiences, the question of how to be known by them got easier. By the end, I was confident of the steady love they had shown me, but found I needed it less, being more firmly rooted in my acceptance and identity in Jesus. Hence, I became more free to be myself.
Part of that was learning to share my thoughts more, for the benefit of other people. I tend to be pretty timid when it comes to speaking up, but people kept encouraging me, telling me I had unique perspective to give, especially having grown up in another place. The first time I let loose a piece of West Africa (and some thoughts on the broader world ) to the whole group was in a planned worship night. I was terrified but then blown away by the showers of encouragement and love and genuine appreciation my friends showed in response. OneLife became a place where everyone knew me so well that when I was unfamiliar with some aspect of American life, they automatically understood why, and it was perfectly okay. They were always beside me to explain things and help! I belonged with the 43, and I can say that it is possible to find a place here in America.
That’s not to say there weren’t insanely rough times. The littlest things would send me back to a world I’d lost—a gagging feeling would hit my stomach and there would be no one to share it with. Other times I would get ridiculously excited over some insignificant experience that reminded me Niger and my friends would patiently try to be happy with me. When we returned from Israel and they longed for familiar things (American things, in their case), I felt like screaming that that was how I felt all the time, except for me, the familiar never came. Sometimes I would just cry, and although my friends couldn’t quite understand why, they would just hug me.
OneLife talks a lot about putting your own story into God’s grander story. It certainly helped me understand more clearly my experiences in light of Jesus’. Jesus was lonely, with no one who understood, before I was ever misunderstood. Christmastime made me painfully homesick for West Africa – more than usual. But I realized how Christmas is actually the commemoration of Jesus leaving his home so we could have one. I’m able to see on an even deeper level how the endless, restless ache for something like home points to being created for a better world. I think OneLife gave me better tools for processing grief and loss, belonging and acceptance – all the standard TCK stuff. I also have a firmer grasp on the permanent goodness of the God who never ever leaves.
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. When I was 8 years old my entire family moved to West Africa as missionaries through ABWE. This was a life changing experience. Many things happened during those growing up years as a missionary kid. I learned a ton and loved most of it. When I was 16 years old my older sister left for college in the U.S. About a year and half later it was my turn.
Our whole family was coming home with me for a few months, and I was going to stay. I had no clue what God wanted for my life or where He wanted me to go. While searching for colleges and trying to decide what to do with my future, my Mom and I came across OneLife Institute. We decided to look into it. Right away, I was terrified, but somehow I knew God wanted me there. In the midst of this decision something my Dad always said came to mind, “Sometimes the things that scare you the most and that you want to run from, God calls you to.” About two months back from the field and still going through major culture shock I headed off to OneLife…
The first day I was overwhelmed. My family left that same week to go back to the field, and my grandparents took me to move in. I survived it, and after the initial fear and awkwardness of getting to know new people, I started to love it. As I got to know my roommates and the other OneLifers (as we call them), I began to enjoy the new challenges and adventures that OneLife introduced me to. God was growing me in so many ways. It was hard, but God was in it!
OneLife was a growing, relational, and awesome experience for me! It was during OneLife that God taught me how to hand over my worry about the future. Now, I still do not know what the future holds, but I do know that God has it all in His hand. God taught me so many lessons and concepts during OneLife that I am still using today. The leadership and staff invested so much of their time and energy in me and encouraged me to grow in my faith. I still have relationships with many of my fellow OneLifers. In fact, some of them are my closest friends. During that nine months, God taught me more about what being His child looks like. It isn’t being perfect, or having no problems. It is God’s free gift of grace through faith in Him. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
I am grateful to God and to each person who had a huge impact on my spiritual growth during OneLife.
Dear OneLife sponsors, supporters, students and alumni,
As my family and friends back home in Wisconsin ask me what I have learned from my OneLife experience, I am able to reminisce in all the blessings and renew a gratitude of my unique opportunity. Where to begin? How do I explain the profound impact this program has had and continues to have in shaping who I am becoming? I usually start with who I was: prideful and arrogant of the things that really mattered, such as the continual growth and nurturing of my romance with Christ. I then express my newfound joy in learning how Christ is still perfecting who I am into someone more like Himself. Or, I simply state: I learned how much I have left to learn, and I learned to love the realization that the more I know, the more I have left to discover. I came to realize it is equally important to learn the gospel to its increasing fullness as it is to believe this truth. I came to realize that no matter how much I hope to “arrive” at a full understanding of Christ, this “full arrival” may simply not be what was best for me. I came to see that God and His gospel is not so much an idea to master but a gift to receive and trust in, in order to have a greater process of sanctification beyond my meager understanding.
I often find myself wishing OneLife had a four year Bachelor program. Now that it’s over, I find myself wanting to go back. This is a statement coming from a student who disliked high school and had lost faith in a big part of the education system--now wanting to back to a thirty-credit institute. OneLife taught me to appreciate the learning process and gave me the stamina to continue my college experience. Onelife taught me my strengths and weakness through countless personality tests, trips, and its community. OneLife gave me ideas for careers I would excel in--careers I would enjoy and that would be life-giving to me, not just a way to pay the bills. I am so thankful that OneLife met me on a personal, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level and that the staff walked beside me to my sense of wonder for all I have yet to learn.
As I move forward from this year of wonder, I feel a temptation to sink into regret. Regret can take many forms: for me, I tend to experience this as a hope to change the past, or a wrestling with countless thoughts of all I could have done differently. I implore the alumni and all reading with a charge to strive toward forward-facing freedom, a mindset of healthy hindsight in view of a greater blossoming future. I challenge all reading to be free from that shadow of “what if” or the ebbing voice that poisons the fond memories to ones of discontent. My prayer now is to have a mindset of gratitude and a hope for the future--because the best is truly yet to come.
- Maggie Triller
Waking up on Tuesday morning I tried to lay in bed and soak up my last moments in the comfort of sheets and a warm blanket. I knew that as soon as I moved, I would begin the first steps of embarking on a journey that I felt underprepared for. The Appalachian Trail was staring me in the face and there was no way out of it. What made it worse, I’m a fitness committee leader, and it was my job to prepare my team for this trip. In order to prepare, we (as fitness leaders) were instructed to focus on the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life. At the beginning of the year I no idea how these four things would matter, but it turns out they encompassed everything we faced.
Thirty miles with a fifty pound backpack through the mountains—being from Illinois, I just didn’t understand why we would walk down a mountain only to go right back up another one. I convinced myself early on that I wouldn’t make it. While there were some trying climbs, my body held up better than I expected. Our team created an expectation from the start of no complaining, and we stuck to that. Which leads into the intellectual experience. This was probably the toughest part. You know the saying “mind over matter”. Well in this case, I needed to lean on my body to keep my going. Everything between my ears screamed “please just give up”. That wasn’t an option. Through encouragement circles and story-telling by my group, we were able to shake off the creeping thoughts of not being able to persevere.
The emotional aspect was in a close second to being the toughest. This year we have been learning how to not let our feelings dictate our reality. Sometimes leaning on your feelings can get you caught in a rut. We would be in a very different world if Jesus didn’t go to the cross just because he did not feel like it. So my group took on that attitude and kept negative thoughts to a minimum. I was blessed by some comical team members that could always keep the moral up. Lastly, the spiritual. This part of PIES was one of my favorites on this journey simply because I had no other option outside of leaning on my faith and having truth spoken over me everyday. In addition, I was blessed with times of silence and solitude for reflecting and devotions. Every crevice that I lacked strength in was filled by God’s grace. I would consider my time on the Appalachian Trail a “spiritual peak”. In spite of how I felt, in any given moment, God’s truth, love, beauty, and grace completely surrounded me.
All in all, this was one of my favorite trips of the year. It was amazing to realize how little we actually need, yet are blessed with consistently. Through a posture of humility, patience, and flexibility, this journey, and how those four aspects of life affected it really made an impact; I wouldn’t trade it for the comfiest bed in the world.
- Alexander Walker
I think it’s more than fair to say that God used this reflection to teach me a lot this week. Waking up on Monday morning, I said to Mary, “I wish I was excited for this week.” I had gotten sick that Sunday, and I was prepared to just make it through the week. Although I have learned all year that I need to be present, that was not my first thought that morning. A few hours later, God gave me this seemingly inconvenient opportunity of writing a reflection to pay attention to what was going on this week and what He was doing in the community and in my own heart.
The week began with group presentations. Hearing everyone reflect on their time in Israel, including takeaway, highlights, and what God has shown them through their trip, was an unexpected blessing for everyone. That night we watched the movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. This began our week of learning and discussing Native American history and culture. The week continued on Tuesday with learning about Cultural Awareness and discussing the logistics of our upcoming trip.
On Wednesday, we spent the morning exploring how we are to engage environmental ethics. This discussion deepened our understanding of ethics as a whole and how we effect our environment. We asked ourselves what sort of effect are we going to have in Arizona and New Mexico as well as our upcoming backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail.
Wednesday night we were introduced to the one and only Dr. John Johnson. This man has lived an incredible life serving God. Through his many different experiences, he has been led to serve the Navajo Nation. He has such a heart for the Navajo people and helped us understand more about who they are and what their life is like.
Thursday, as a class, we read The Loss of the Creature by Walker Percy and discussed beauty and the theme in scripture of seeing things but not understanding them. We were challenged with questions like, “What does it mean to actually see?” and “Do our preconceived ideas defeat our sense of wonder?” We learned that beauty has the power of baptizing our imagination and discussed what it means to recover our sight. Today, Friday, we are exploring what we can learn from Native Americans about history and the gospel.
I am continuing to learn how when I do really pay attention, not only to what we are doing in OneLife, but what God is doing in me, I see things. While I am learning how to pay attention and open my eyes, God is showing me what he wants me to see. My prayer for our trip to Arizona and New Mexico next week is that God would help us pay attention to what we are doing and more importantly, what He is doing, and that He would open our eyes and our hearts to what he wants us to see. I pray that next week, we would experience his beauty and see Him in ways that we never have before. May we see His beauty in ourselves, in the brokenness of life, and in His creation.
- Amanda Hamm