True to OneLife, we kicked off second semester by jumping right into a trip to The Philly Project. (To learn more about this wonderful mission, visit their site at https://thephiladelphiaproject.com/ ) In three days, I had the opportunity to feed the homeless, package food boxes, assist guests in a food pantry, and walk rambunctious kids from school to the after-school program hosted at the church. I loved the perspective I gained, but instead of intense bonding, I felt intense loneliness. As excited as I was to serve in the city, I had the wishful expectation to come back to OneLife socially flawless. Where I had been withdrawn and hesitant first semester, I wanted to connect with everyone in radical, deep ways second semester. Like an avalanche, I feared the first week would define the rest. I did not feel any closer to my community and I did not feel better than before break.
The end of each day was spent in reverent worship. It was these nights I struggled to understand God’s plan for me while everyone else sang. God designed me as a quiet, introverted person. Yet He called me to live in community. I couldn’t help but feel He played a cruel joke. How could I, someone who rarely speaks, benefit a community? Yet it is the means through which we serve. There was no way I could pack those boxes on the assembly line on my own, or run an after-school program by myself. If we cannot serve on our own, we must serve with community. But how could I first find my role among it? I felt too quiet to even impact the people I live with.
My overwhelmingly negative perceptions caused me to withdraw from others instead of reach out to them. But God wouldn’t allow me to fall backwards. Though His methods for growth are not easy, they are perfect. He used the very Christians I struggled to communicate with to prove His ways are higher. Just as I lost courage, one member convinced me that God calls us together for a reason and explained each person makes an impact on another. God even brought two members from the Three Springs campus to encourage me without knowing the very thing I struggled with was in their prayers. On the van ride home, more members vouched for what God had been trying to tell me the entire time. I do matter to my community.
The Philly Project set the grounds for God to work on His “project”. My perspective needed to change on what it means to not only serve, but serve beside others. My goal for second semester now is not to be accepted, but work on accepting the truth. God has designed me to function to His preferences. He has called me to live in Christian community. He will not leave me to reconcile these two things on my own. As my last semester at OneLife begins, I seek to understand my identity in Christ and within the community that I live that identity out. Through His often unconventional, but always perfect way, God teaches me how to serve His Gospel to myself, to others, and those in need.
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Who would have thought that at the age of 17 I could feel like a toddler learning to walk? The past week we went through the whole bible and started to hone in on creation and how God made us skillfully and wonderfully. On Wednesday we were told that we were going to be learning a new skill at the Pennsylvania Craftsman Guild. I was really pumped at first. I couldn’t wait to learn something new or try something out that would challenge me in some sort of way. Blacksmithing immediately caught my eye. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into at first but I knew that with God I could handle it.
Through my time shaping and working with the metal I learned that the activity itself was often more demanding mentally rather than physically. When I started I thought I would have trouble shaping and molding the metal the way I wanted to. But that was not the case. I felt like a child trying to ride a bike as I told myself repeatedly that I could do it. What was most challenging was coming to terms that it wouldn’t be perfect because I was still a beginner. I had to mentally concentrate on every step I was taking. Every hit I made had to be concise because when the metal was hot it shaped like clay. One key point the instructors told us was that if we mess up we can always stick it back in the forge and start again. I am someone who is somewhat of a perfectionist and can get very discouraged if things don’t turn out perfectly the first time. I struggled to keep a positive attitude even if mine turned out funky. It isn’t perfect but it took a ton of patience to get it the way it was. Blacksmithing reminded me of my relationship with God. I tend to become quickly impatient with Him. I want things to work perfectly and smoothly and when that doesn’t happen I get upset and discouraged. I really had to focus on the process and not the result, and to take my time instead of rushing. In this way God showed me that if I focus on Him in my life, I’ll be able to work on being more Christ like.
I really enjoyed this process and have learned something totally new and exciting. In the future I hope to utilize what God taught me about patience and focus. I hope to take more time to examine my goals, the process, and how to get there; even if it isn’t right away. I am very thankful that we were able to spend time at the Pennsylvania Craftsman Guild to learn transferable skills.
Instantaneously my mind recited the famous words before I even noticed or had a choice. I know that verse better than my grandparents’ middle names. That’s what ran through my mind when Samuel Chez came in and talked about Gospel Clarity with us this past week. I was born and raised in a Gospel-believing family. How could it become any clearer?
Turns out, it wasn’t so much as clarity on facts as it was conviction over having forgotten its truth. Sam Chez systematically broke down the Gospel, a story as solid as a rock in my mind. That rock was fractured with each session and revealed the overwhelming love pouring out its fragments of a story that I had claimed couldn’t possibly have anything more to tell me.
This really came to life when Sam Chez held up two books. One was my story; the revolting, smeared, chaotic words describing a story better off burned. The other, Christ’s; the bestseller on every top ten list in history. Sam Chez took the book covers and switched them. Christ took my sinful dime-a-dozen tale to the cross, destroying it once and for all - to my relief. But then, I inherited Christ’s flawless, beautiful words as my own. Even more astonishing, God opens that book and sees Christ’s perfection, not my mess. He sees Jesus Christ, not me.
Too often I forget how dearly, how precisely how obsessively (in the best way possible) God loves us. Think about it. He created a beautiful world and crafted each unique individual in His own image, an honor I can barely fathom. When we had the audacity to spit in His face and run after our own desires, He did not destroy us in righteous anger. He ran after us with an overwhelming love, after His creation, His image, His child, in an undying pursuit. When it came down to it, He sent His only son to die so He could adopt and claim me as His child, His daughter, His family. He sacrificed His own son. For me. For you. We gloss over those words so carelessly it’s cruel. God wanted us more than anything and He still wants us today. Jesus Christ is the Gospel and God’s love could never be clearer.
Sam Chez, thank you for reminding me that the Gospel is not a once-and-done schtick. It’s a daily journey of sanctification until Christ returns and we are fully restored. Thank you for reminding me and other students that God’s Gospel, God’s love, can never be fully grasped and stored on a shelf. It’s a pulsing, living, passionate story that seeks a place in our hearts every moment of every day.
Imagine climbing into a van with people you just met days ago and traveling fifteen hours away to a mystery destination to do mysterious things. Sounds like something you’d be in to? Then this past week with OneLife would spring your interest. From climbing The Beehive to swimming in freezing cold waters, within three days we grew closer with 39 strangers than some of us are to our best friends.
I have never been much for activities that involved much physical work, but hiking up the mountain called “The Beehive” I felt supported by my new friends and was given strength to keep moving by looking to the Lord for support when I felt scared. There were two ways up this particular mountain, an easier way and a harder called the iron rung trail. We departed from the bottom in small groups which made discussion and growth in community easier as we hiked. The terrain was rugged and difficult to endure, but through encouragement of our peers we succeeded and got to enjoy the beautiful view at the top. We experienced the Atlantic ocean from a whole new height and really got to embrace God’s beauty that He created for us to show love to. We hiked down the back side of the mountain, then ate lunch in our hiking groups which again, allowed for wonderful conversations to flourish as we rested, ate, and skipped rocks on the small, yet beautiful, pond in front of us. We found ourselves talking about everything from the beauty before us, to our most embarrassing moments. This allowed our relationships to grow and for us to feel more comfortable opening up to the group and laugh with one another.
After a long and sweaty hike, a group of strangers turned friends dove into the freezing Maine Atlantic Ocean. We got to play games in the water and shiver together. Through this adventure we learned how strong we are, how similar we all are, and how to celebrate each difference between us. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be as close with my new friends as I currently am if it wasn’t for this surprising camping trip and life-changing hike. It all truly reminded me that whether I’m at the top of the highest mountain, or in the deepest part of the sea, I am a part of God’s wonderful creation, and along with the beauty around, He chose to make me.
This will definitely make me see myself in a new and amazing way moving forward in my education at OneLife. I can look at my own heart with more love and acceptance the way God sees me. I can now open up more and am willing to take risks because I know my creator is beside me whenever I do something new or intimidating.