DTS: The Wayward Photograph

It’s my goal to blog once a week during my DTS (until the outreach phase, of course), and so I figured that the best way to get in the habit of blogging more often then would be to blog more often now.

Some days you will get logistical updates. Some days you will get prayer requests. And some days you will get thoughtful spiritual reflections akin to most of my blogs over the last couple years.

Today, it’s the first two, and it starts with a story.

I’ve never applied for a visa before (that’s the travel document, not the credit card), and I had no idea how complex the process was. I was immediately grateful for the help of a YWAM visa expert for whom this process is routine. Despite the complexity of the process and the hours I spent reading up on the ins and outs of what documents I need to complete and send in, it was all pretty straightforward.

Except for the photograph.

As I quickly found out, mailing stores, print shops, and portrait studios all offer passport and ID photo services, but what it you need a different size photo than the standard 2×2 inch square required for U.S. passports? They give you a confused look and hand you the photos uncut. At least, that was my experience.

Trimming your own visa photos is a rather stressful experience, especially since the required dimensions for the UK visa are 35×45 mm. I don’t know if you’ve taken a look at the metric side of your ruler lately, but millimeters are tiny! With the help of a ruler, a mechanical pencil, and a sharp pair of scissors, I slowly set to work on the photos. They ended up being half a millimeter too short, length-wise, and in one of the photos, my face was off-center to the point that there wasn’t much margin on the left side.

My parents were convinced that I was worried for nothing, but, determined to get the dimensions exactly correct — I didn’t want my visa application to be rejected because of half a millimeter! — I got my photo taken again at a portrait studio in one of the stores at the mall. This time, I had to contend with blurry photos.

I sought out a couple more places, only to be met with the dreaded 2×2 inch limitation and a closed sign, respectively. I didn’t trust myself to cut the photos again, and I didn’t want to waste any more pictures — or any more time — so I decided to go with the first ones, particularly after taking an informal public opinion survey on Facebook.

So I mailed my application in yesterday. It should arrive at the British Consulate in New York sometime tomorrow.

Please pray with me that everything would go smoothly and that there would be no issues in my getting my visa. I’ve probably been worried for no reason, but now I really shouldn’t worry, because the situation is out of my hands.

DTS: The Preparations

In 44 days, I will be leaving the United States.

For those who don’t know, I’m doing a six-month Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth with a Mission (YWAM) starting in January, and starting in England (see that country house in the image above? That’s where I’ll be staying from January to early April). To learn more about what prompted me to make this decision, check out my first DTS-related blog from last year.

Here’s what I have to do between now and then:

  • Apply for and be issued a visa for England
  • Raise the remaining financial support ($2,500)
  • Start a Facebook group for shorter updates
  • Purchase a few necessities for the trip (such as a large rucksack)

While those goals are the practical and logistical necessities, and are definitely important, I don’t want to neglect heart preparation in the process. When I’m home for extended periods of time, it’s very easy for me to simply not do much. I don’t want to spend these next 44 days on autopilot, just waiting for January to come around. Please pray that I won’t waste this time on trivial things, but that I will spend this time seeking God (as well as making the most of my remaining time at home with friends and family).

I couldn’t be happier, right here…

All day, I’ve had “…because happy is what happens, when all your dreams come true” stuck in my head. And after I figured out where it was from (Wicked: “Thank Goodness”), I decided that another line from that song would fit well here, even though I didn’t write this blog today or with that song in mind.

One late morning in August, three years ago, my dad and I pulled out of the driveway in my little gray car and headed east. We were Indiana-bound, but we had one important stop to make along the way.

Two days later, we were in Colorado Springs. This was my first time in Colorado. These were three of the best days of my life.

I was in Colorado Springs for the 20th anniversary of Focus on the Family’s much-beloved radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey.

The AIO live show in 2008

Then, what filled my heart to overflowing was the unexpected time with various members of the Odyssey cast, the heroes and role models of my childhood. I expected minutes; they gave hours.

Today, those memories are still very precious to me, but their legacy is just as significant. They sparked in me a renewed interest in Adventures in Odyssey, which eventually culminated in an Odyssey internship (’09) and club (’09-present). I can also trace the beginnings of several dear friendships to this.

Since then, my life and the world of Adventures in Odyssey have overlapped in new, exciting, and often humbling ways.

The Odyssey Club in Colorado Springs

The Adventures in Odyssey Club is the most visible example of this. It started out as a wispy dream, and now, when I see the faces of those united by this shared interest, I treasure what we are to each other and what we’ve gotten to experience together.

I graduated from Taylor University in May, but the club lives on. A few weeks ago, I was able to rejoin them to help welcome Odyssey voice actress Katie Leigh to my alma mater.

The story of how Katie Leigh ended up with us in the cornfields is one I love to tell, because it truly shows God’s hand at work.

When contacting Katie on another matter this spring, she happened to mention her dream to speak to college students. All I did was have an idea and send it to Taylor’s campus pastor. It was a long shot.

Little did I know that Katie was already looking for colleges to speak at. Little did I know that she already had connections with Indiana and even Taylor. Little did I know that our campus pastor was already planning a trip to southern California (Katie’s stomping grounds) when he got my email.

Little did I know that the timing was perfect.

A few weeks later, I found out she was coming to speak in chapel. It shouldn’t have been that easy, but God had other plans.

As the preparations began for Katie’s visit, I did as much as an absentee alumna could do to help out.

My long-awaited return to the Midwest preceded Katie’s by about a week, and I stayed as long as I could justify staying.

We danced in cars, we laughed, we stayed up late talking, we prayed together, we relived the “glory days,” and, on November 6, we surprised Katie at the airport.

Waiting for Katie at the airport!

I was the only one who had met her before, and, therefore, the only one who could attest to Katie’s similarities to her character, Connie Kendall – in voice and in personality. Until that night.

It was an absolute privilege to be able to spend so much time with Katie over the following two days. I loved getting to know the friendly, spontaneous woman behind the character. Katie is easy to talk to, and I admired her openness, her strong faith, and the ways she sought to include everyone.

On Monday, we had a full slate of activities lined up for Katie, starting with chapel and an autograph session, and continuing with an informal round-table discussion in the Student Union.

But back to chapel.

I was the one who introduced her. Who would’ve thought that my biggest public speaking experience at school (at least in terms of audience size) would take place after I graduated?

I don’t remember the first song we sang in chapel, but I remember the second one: “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Despite my nerves, I was able to sing loudly and joyously and be reassured. They couldn’t have picked a more appropriate song.

Katie Leigh speaking in chapel

And then I was on stage. I had to pause after saying “Adventures in Odyssey” to make way for the cheering that erupted. Then it was Katie’s turn. After sharing part of her life story, she spoke about the need to trust God, the Director of our lives, even when we can’t see how everything will fit together. It was hard to believe this was her first time addressing an audience this size; she was engaging, and seemed comfortable up there.

Lunch at Payne’s with Katie*

Several of us took her to a favorite local spot for lunch, which was one of my favorite parts of the day. In an otherwise busy schedule, it was wonderful to have such a leisurely, relaxing time of fellowship. Dinner was a little faster-paced, but it was at our ice cream shop, Ivanhoe’s – our “Whit’s End.”

We spent most of the rest of the afternoon and evening in the Student Union, first for the aforementioned round-table discussion and Q&A session, then for “Adventures in Odyssey Club Live!”, a fun-filled evening of recordings and reader’s theater, of microphones and multimedia, of interactions and impersonations and elucidated inside jokes.

Reader’s Theater*

For those of us in the Adventures in Odyssey Club, it was also a time of reunion. I can’t remember a day when I gave and received as many hugs as I did on that day. All of us club alumni were able to return, which lent a sweetness to the evening; nothing could go wrong, not really.

Katie Leigh making it possible for Chris Anthony to say hello (over the phone) to everyone there!
Sharing memories

It was a wonderful evening of sharing, both of things we’d done and could do, and of things we felt and appreciated. We were among friends. Even I was reaching for the microphone by the end of the night. I don’t think I would be mistaken in saying that every one of us was exhausted by the time it was over, but we were happy too.

I remember sitting on the floor afterward with two of the guys, reflecting on the events of the day in a sort of relaxed debrief. We were the three who had done the most to make this happen, and we were completely spent. And it was good.

Katie was our most special guest, but she wasn’t the only one. Over the course of the day, she introduced us over the phone to three of her Odyssey co-workers: Will Ryan (Eugene Meltsner), Chris Anthony (the host of Odyssey), and Phil Lollar (one of the writers). Thoughtful gestures … unexpected blessings.

On Tuesday, Katie led a couple workshops on voice-acting, and later, spent some time in one of Taylor’s recording studios. I had to smile as a couple media production students eagerly asked Katie if she would lend her voice to their audio projects. She said yes. That’s another thing about her that I admired: her willingness to engage with us students during her entire time here.

If Monday hadn’t been surreal enough, Tuesday took me to new heights. I got to play production engineer as Katie treated the microphone to more than half a dozen different character voices while recording lines for an audition. Oh, the exciting life of a voice actor!

For me, however, the best parts of Tuesday were getting to spend time with her one-on-one to talk about some of her memories of Odyssey actors who are no longer with us … and getting to pray for her.

The other alumni left on Monday and Tuesday, and I followed a few days later.

Leaving Indiana after graduation hadn’t been so difficult; I knew I would be back soon.

But what about now?  Leaving was hard. It is hard. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Indiana. I don’t even have a car there anymore to anchor me to the Heartland.

“Thank you for loving me,” I told my friends right before I left. The tears didn’t come until I was halfway out of the parking lot. Those dances in the cars, and that laughter, and those late nights we stayed up talking, and the times we prayed together, and all the other things that brought us closer … they were the greatest blessings of this trip, and of the last couple years. That’s why the “glory days” never truly end.

These were the fullest, richest three weeks I’ve ever experienced.

But it wasn’t just the club. I got to spend time with several other friends in the area, and meet new people, and reconnect with professors. They were blessings too.

One of my friends, whom I first met at the Odyssey celebration in Colorado three years ago, flew out from California to drive the more than 2500 miles back to the West Coast with me. She was a blessing, and a joy.

As I pulled into my driveway again, I was struck by the realization that, in many ways, this was the end of a journey that started three years ago.

Leaving California 08
Three years ago
Today

This was my closure with Taylor University, with the club, and even with Adventures in Odyssey, to an extent. It’s time for this chapter to close, but the characters will remain, even as others join them.

The best is yet to come.

*photos courtesy of Cara Strickland

A Compilation of Short Stories

Greetings! I have a few short stories to share with you today, about my life here at Mount Hermon. There are many other stories I could tell, about day trips to Santa Cruz and San Francisco, about bonfires and beaches, about the memorability and hilarity of daily life … but those would turn this blog post into a novel. So I have selected four of my favorite — and four of my most epic — stories for this blog, accompanied by never-before-seen pictures. Enjoy!

Playing a Real Ukulele

A few weeks ago, I started playing the ukulele. I have a toy ukulele at home (compliments of the Adventures in Odyssey Club), but Daniel and Mark made real ukulele-playing look awfully appealing. So I started borrowing their instruments, absorbing new chords and strumming techniques whenever I could.

I’ve even taken the ukulele to work a couple times, to practice after the phones go off. On one such evening, I was sitting at a desk in the back strumming away, when I looked up and saw Steve Green watching me from the front desk (he was here to do a concert)!

But even without those 15 seconds of perceived fame, I’ve enjoyed being more musically focused this summer. I’m finally getting the hang of a stringed instrument – and not just any stringed instrument, but the one my namesake (Eugene Meltsner) plays – and yet have remained true to my first love (piano).

Saving the Night

One night, a couple Saturdays ago, I was getting ready to watch a movie with some friends in one of the meeting rooms when I heard someone call my name from the back of the room.

“Liz? Liz are you here?”

I stood up. “Yeah, what’s up?”

“There are these people in the Fountain who are saying that they don’t have a room,” explained Maggie, the Fountain manager. It was almost midnight. “There are other people in the room they’re supposed to be in. Could you do something?”

Just like that, I sprang into superhero mode. Maggie radioed the custodian on duty, who unlocked the administration building for me. I found an empty room in the system, sprinted to it to make sure it was clean, then ran back to the Fountain. It’s a strange feeling, knowing you’re the only person awake who could’ve done anything about it. I felt like such a hero.

It was a happy ending all around: Our stranded guests were grateful, and I got a free scoop of ice cream. And speaking of ice cream …

The Mudslide

Last week, I said that I was going to try to eat an entire Mudslide by myself.

That Wednesday, I put on my half-marathon shirt (oh the contrast) and trotted down to the Fountain for my Mudslide. A few people came to watch/cheer me on, and before I was half finished, the place was packed with conferees. And I was in a prime place to be oohed and ahhed at.

Well, I did finish the Mudslide (or nearly so), and in 28 minutes, but it was harder than I thought it would be. I had overestimated my abilities, and had to lie down for over an hour afterward. I was sure I wouldn’t eat ice cream again for a long time. And I didn’t … if four days is a long time.

I’m glad I did the Mudslide Challenge, but I wouldn’t want to go back and do it again. Ice cream really does taste better in smaller doses.

The Production That Was Harry Potter

I’m not just talking about the movie.

In Registration, we send out confirmation letters to our future guests with information about their upcoming conference and what their balance is. I purchased tickets for the midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie for about a dozen people, and, on one slow day, I decided to use the confirmation letter template in a way it had never been used before.

I also decided to dress up for the movie. There aren’t very many women with short hair in the series, so I decided to be Tonks, which involved putting together a costume from various thrift store items and dyeing my hair pink for the night. I couldn’t find the right kind of hair dye at the local CVS, though, so I had to order it online.

That Thursday, my work day started at 3 p.m. and didn’t end until 10:30, so I decided that the safest plan of action would be to dye my hair before going to work. And so I ended up manning the front desk for hours with my new pink hairdo. None of the campers said a word about my hair, and most didn’t even have any visible reaction to it. The staff who went in and out throughout the day, however, did react.

When I was on the phones in the back, I didn’t wear the headset we usually use because it would get pinkness all over it when I did. The spray-on hair dye washed out easily enough, but I had to be mindful of my head all day/night.

If you think dressing up and making confirmation letters for Harry Potter is geeky, just wait – it gets better: A few of us also whittled wands out of Mount Hermon sticks, and made Butterbeer with a recipe we found online.

Brandishing our pre-carved wands!
At the theater waiting for the movie to start!

Yes, I choose to embrace my inner geek one event at a time.

Camp Life #1: The Lingo

Mount Hermon Fieldhouse
The Fieldhouse where we have our Sunday openers.

Mount Hermon: Let’s start with the basics. Mount Hermon is a Christian camp that was started more than 100 years ago. It has a fascinating history, and was the first camp of its kind west of the Mississippi River. I didn’t know any of this, though, when I applied to work here a few months ago. All I knew was that Kidder Creek, a camp up north that I attended when I was 8, was affiliated with Mount Hermon.

Summer Staff: That’s me, and about 90 other people in the 18-25ish age range. We work with kids of all ages, man the bookstore, serve ice cream in the snack shop, help those participating in recreational activities, and more.

Registration (Reg): This is where I work. We have crazy-busy times, and we have super-slow times. If you add together the summer staffers, the part-timers, and the full-timers, there are 14 of us in this all-female department. What do I do? Well, generally speaking, I’m usually either on the phones in the back, or at the front desk. I make reservations for our events (typically family camps and our dinner-and-a-concert mini vacations), put together packets, and sell meal tickets and answer questions at the front desk. But there are a lot of other things I do. In fact, I have a 10-page single-spaced list of “things to know”!

Pondy: There are three Mount Hermon camps in the Santa Cruz area: Conference Center (the family camp one that I’m working at), Redwood (K-6th grade), and Ponderosa (junior high and high school). Ponderosa is affectionately referred to as Pondy.

Canopy Tour: Our Redwood Canopy Tour is what Mount Hermon is best known for in a lot of circles — and what we’ve gotten a lot of publicity for. It’s a “two-hour guided tour [that] includes six zip-lines and two sky bridges at heights of up to 150 feet.” I hear it’s pretty rockin’, and am planning on doing it sometime this summer.

Carnival: Our weeklong family camp starts on Sunday with a carnival down at the Fieldhouse. This carnival includes a bounce house, a dunk tank, and other games (followed by a barbecue and an opening program) for our 300-700 guests (depending on the week).

Train Day: For most days of family camp, there are speaking sessions in the morning and evening, with free time in the afternoon. On Wednesday, however, (almost) everyone takes the train down to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and enjoys the rides. I plan to do this in August, when my family comes(!).

Pancake Ridge: On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, campers (and staffers) have the opportunity to hike up to “Pancake Ridge” and eat the most delicious pancakes I’ve ever tasted. They make them on this outdoor griddle, and then you can add your own toppings. I’m partial to two pancakes with chocolate chips in between them, and whipped cream on top.

Monday Funday: On Mondays in Reg, we spend an hour and a half or so getting out and doing something fun. Almost all of our Monday Fundays so far have involved ice cream. This week, we mixed it up and went to the beach.

Abbott’s: A couple weeks ago, we went to Abbott’s — a local thrift store — for Monday Funday. Since then, I’ve gone a few times, and the best deals I’ve found have been for books. Case in point: all three of the Hunger Games books (hardbacks in like-new condition) for just over $3.

Taco V: Short for Tacqueria Vallarta, Taco V is the beloved local Mexican restaurant. At least, it’s beloved among the summer staffers I know: I’ve eaten there several times, but haven’t eaten out anywhere else in Felton. It’s within walking distance, and is a good alternative to dining hall food sometimes (though food in the Dining Hall is actually pretty good).

Dorm Hill: One of my fellow summer staffers put it this way: Imagine laying a board across a set of stairs and trying to walk up the board. That’s Dorm Hill. We live in three dorms at the top of a hill, and it’s one steep hill! I sure wouldn’t want to park up there.

Play groups: At the beginning of the summer, we were put into play groups. Now, every Wednesday evening, we meet in groups of five and do something fun: play a game, bake cookies, or something like that. Thankfully, “Can You Keep It Down?” is no longer on the activity list.

Tuit: A round piece of wood with “TUIT” written on the front, you can exchange one for a cup of coffee or a single scoop of ice cream. Or you can treasure it forever as a souvenir (I chose a middle ground: spending it, but only after I had documented its existence with my camera).

Marianne’s: If you type “Marianne’s” into Google, one of the first hits you’ll get is for an ice cream place in Santa Cruz. They have quite the variety of ice cream flavors, two of the best of which – in my opinion – are 10-20 (caramel ice cream with fudge and oreos) and Heaven (peanut butter chocolate goodness).

The Fountain: Mount Hermon’s snack/ice cream shop. I work here one night a week, and there’s usually quite a crowd there in the evenings. We serve Marianne’s ice cream here (hence my familiarity with the flavors), and we’re very generous with that ice cream. I’ll bet that you haven’t seen the likes of our “single” scoops at any other ice cream places.

Mudslide: An eight-scoop $15 mountain of ice cream available at the Fountain. If you/your group can finish it, you get your picture taken with a cute mini Polaroid camera and put up on the bulletin board. This week, I’m going to try to eat an entire Mudslide myself. One of my fellow staffers said he would pay for it if I could finish it in less than half an hour. Stay tuned.

Fireside: The Fireside room is one of the meeting rooms below the Dining Hall. We summer staffers use it often for movie nights.

Pizza My Heart: At how many pizza places can you get a T-shirt with your (gigantic) slice of pizza? Pizza My Heart, of course! There are more than 40 locations in the San Jose area, and one of them even has a touch-screen soda fountain.

Pac Av: Pacific Avenue, the “main street” of Santa Cruz. Lots of shopping, lots of homeless people, lots of interesting sights.

Sketch: Among the people I hang out with the most, the word “sketch” reminds them of me because I say it so much. The funny thing is, I never said it before coming here.

*****

Next up: A compilation of short stories!

The Last Last Last Day of School

Graduation 2011

It wasn’t just the last day of classes. Today was the end of the school year … the end of my undergraduate career … the end of being a Taylor student.

My 15 seconds on stage passed in a blur, as did the last 15 days. An exhausting blur of going, going, going. It needed to end, and, in a way, I’m glad it did. The lifestyle I adopted toward homework long ago and took to an extreme this semester had become an unsustainable one.

A few months ago, if someone had told me that I would be back in Indiana for the fall, I would’ve groaned inwardly. I wanted the West and the mountains and change and new adventures. Leaving Indiana was right up there with finishing school.

Now, knowing that I’m going back is what’s keeping my eyes (mostly) dry.

Some other time, I’ll tell you the story of my Adventures in Odyssey Club. I’ll tell you how it became more than just a club. I’ll tell you how I came to love them and how special they are to me. But until then, I’ll just say that there are people here that I don’t want to leave behind. I don’t want to say goodbye without knowing when I’ll see them again.

My goal this summer is to recover.

I don’t just mean “recover” in the sense of recuperating after a stressful year. Rather, I’m talking about rediscovering what has been lost … and restoring what has been broken. Here are a few of them:

  • Relationships (with God and with other people — especially my family)
  • Motivation
  • Faulty heart attitudes and actions
  • Hope
  • The real me who is real with others

I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but I know that I need to pursue change and growth and healing, and that those things won’t happen if the only goals I make are external ones, like “read X amount of books,” or even “blog once a week.”

The Last First Day of School

One year ago, I was basically a media communication freshman. Am I really going to graduate in just over 100 days?

24 hours ago, I returned to Indiana from movieland in Park City, Utah. The Sundance Film Festival was a memorable experience (albeit one not sustainable over a much longer period of time), and imbued my fast-approaching graduation with more bittersweetness.

On a side note, expect this blog to morph into Sundance Showcase for a week or more. I’m required to write four reflection papers — one on the experience itself, and three on specific films — and you can bet that they’ll be making their way to this blog in some shape or form, now that I’m no longer writing for the Taylor Sundance blog.

Back to today. I think I’m going to like my Mondays. With Senior Capstone and Preparation and Strategy for Christian World Mission, the possibilities of the future will never be far from my mind. This final semester will be consumed with my senior portfolio, so I’m glad to have one non-media class … and not just to avoid media comm overload, but also to investigate the world of evangelical missions, and my potential place within it.

Not that I’m not excited about my remaining media classes. I’m looking forward to them, and to my afternoon-heavy schedule, and to the very real possibility of a snow day tomorrow.

In Chicago, they’re saying this might be the biggest storm in 40 years. I hope that’s true here, too.

Ten Changes of 2010

Indy Mini Marathon

  1. Writing: A year ago, I didn’t know there was such a thing as AP style. Now, I have some newspaper copy editing experience and an on-campus job writing for the school paper.
  2. Media Communication: Senioritis has received a counterattack in the form of a new major. Now I know my f-stops from my shutter speeds and mic pick-up patterns and p tags, and I can’t watch a movie or listen to an Adventures in Odyssey episode the same way anymore. Of all these new languages I’m starting to speak, I’m most excited about media production: I love audio and video editing.
  3. Family: We are a four-person family again. My grandma, who had been living with us since 2006, passed away in September. If my parents weren’t empty-nesters at the beginning of the semester, when my sister headed to SoCal for college, they certainly are now.
  4. Running: Year 2 of running-for-real. I ran the Indy Mini, the largest half-marathon event in the country (and, incidentally, I’ll be running it again this year).
  5. Speaking Up: I’m statistically more likely to speak up in class now than I used to be, whether answering a question or asking one. Just don’t expect long discourses or an excessive amount of volunteered information. I pray out loud more too. Sporadically and only in groups of two, but, hey, it’s a start.
  6. Missions: I decided to do a YWAM DTS after I graduate. And I wouldn’t be surprised if missions plays a bigger role than that in my future.
  7. My relationship with God: Spiritually, 2010 has been a landmark year on this front. Among the things I learned, one of the main ones is that the Christian’s surest reason for belief is experiential knowledge of God.
  8. Reading: I read several books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile, in addition to some that weren’t on my radar before this year. Here are a few of the highlights: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mere Christianity, The Hunger Games trilogy, Les Misérables (okay, technically I read most of Les Mis in 2009 … but I finished it in ’10).
  9. Food: For this extremely picky eater, 2010 has also been a landmark year of trying (and figuratively embracing) new foods. Definitely foods that I should’ve tried ages ago, but better late than never.
  10. Blogging: I started blogging regularly. Okay, maybe semi-regularly. But that’s still a lot better than bi-annually.

DTS: The Spark

“I’ve discovered a heart for missions,” I wrote in my last blog. And it’s true, even though I don’t quite know what to do with it yet.

Growing up, mission trips intrigued me, but it never worked out for me to do one with my church. And throughout high school, I never worked up the courage to jump into one sponsored by a missions organization.

A couple spring breaks ago, though, I went on my first missions trip. It was a week-long jaunt to Mexico with the local Lions Club and a group from my school. We were there to meet a physical need (eyeglasses), not tell people about Jesus. A different sort of missions trip, but a good one.

Sometime during my college career, I decided that I would like to go on a non-school-related missions trip after I graduated, but beyond that, I didn’t give the idea much thought.

Until this year.

One of my friends did a DTS (Discipleship Training School) with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) earlier this year. These five-month missionary training schools are at the heart of YWAM’s mission: “to know God and to make Him known.”

I was reading my friend’s blogs about his DTS experience right around the time God was working on my heart. That sparked something in me. I wanted an experience like that — a time to focus completely on God with people who were doing the same thing. It sounded wonderful.

So, the  last couple months especially, I’ve started investigating DTS options … but because there are so many schools all over the world, it’s been overwhelming at times. I know that whichever DTS I do will be life-changing if I open my heart to what God is doing and let Him mold me, but I also want to go where God wants me. I don’t want to be a follower and just go somewhere because someone else went there and had a great experience … but I also don’t want to be too proud to follow if and when it’s God’s will.

But I have some time. I won’t be starting until late 2011 or early 2012.

With God, All Things Are Possible

When I started college four years ago, I expected the new place and the new circumstances to change me. I also thought I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

My last blog described my recent academic upheavals. Now I want to write about the spiritual ones. 2010 has been a landmark year in so many ways, the most important of which revolve around my relationship with God. I’ve wanted to write about this topic, really write about it, ever since last spring, but back then I was too busy and over the summer I was too lazy. Now is the time.

On September 1, 2006, my first Friday as an undergraduate, I started a journal. Over the last four years, I’ve written over 100 pages in it, mostly in times of emotional highs and lows. This evening, I read through all 100 of those pages. It was a very revealing experience. The main thing I came away with was that I spent most of the first three-and-a-half years of college wanting to be closer to God, wanting to have a “faith of my own,” but never really doing anything about it other than writing in my journal every few weeks or months. And so I stagnated.

My mom would encourage me to read my Bible and pray. It seemed like a Sunday School answer to me then, and I virtually ignored the counsel, thinking cynically that it wouldn’t “do anything.”

And yet, I wanted to make my faith my own. I wanted to change and grow and be real with people. But as the years passed and my journal writing became more repetitious, I started to wonder if I would ever change.

I would get fixated on all the little things I didn’t like about myself. I could see cracks and holes and inadequacies in almost every area of my life. How could I possibly go from this chronically broken person to someone who was at least on the right trajectory?

I wanted a big, life-changing moment to jolt me out of my aimlessness and into a purposeful faith that was my own. Oh, there would be blips in the flatline that was my life – a challenging chapel speaker, an excellent sermon, a desperate prayer during a time of discouragement – but I wasn’t pursuing God, not really. I was pursuing an image, an end to insecurities, more friends, the approval of my peers and my professors. I sure didn’t like where I was at spiritually, but I didn’t do anything about it – namely, fix my eyes on Jesus.

That was then.

Last spring, I found my new major classes helpful and informative and interesting, but it was Contemporary Christian Belief that changed my life.

Contemporary Christian Belief (Contemp for short) is a class every student at Taylor has to take. But I was excited for the class, especially after I found out what we would be reading.

In a nutshell, it was a philosophy class that centered on apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith. Our main textbooks were two excellent books – The Reason for God by Tim Keller, and Reason for the Hope Within by a collaboration of Christian philosophers, edited by Michael J. Murray. I read many intellectual arguments for Christianity and probed many of the hard questions.

As much as these readings stirred my mind and my heart, what made the biggest difference in my life wasn’t an argument at all. It was something very simple, something that I had always been told but hadn’t really pursued.

I learned that the Christian’s surest reason for belief is experiential knowledge of God, above and beyond all the intellectual reasons. I learned that the more I seek after God, the more I pursue Him and desire to know Him, the more I will know Him. Here’s what I wrote in my journal on April 9:

Instead of worrying and thinking about all the things in your life you don’t like, and how to change them (or despair that they will never change), lean on God. Talk to Him about everything. Get to know Him. Essentially, that is what prayer and Bible reading are – a sincere heart seeking after God. Anyway, by knowing God, the burden of all those worrisome things is transferred to Him, and He will begin to mold me.

This realization began a gradual process of growth that was different from all the transient spiritual highs that had preceded it. Instead of focusing on changing myself, I was focusing on deepening my relationship with God … or at least starting to focus on deepening my relationship with God. Since then, I’ve sought to “live my life as a prayer,” to dig deep into the Word, to earnestly seek after what – and Who – really matters.

It hasn’t been overnight change. There is still so much room for growth. But now I know the secret. I’m trying to seek God not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. I have a lot to learn, but now, at long last, I know I’m facing the right direction.

Where am I now? I’m in the second month of what’s looking to be my best school year yet. (Okay, I should probably remove that “yet,” since this actually is my last year). I don’t know what I’m going to do in the long-term, but I’ve discovered a heart for missions and a discontent for living the typical suburban middle-class life with a 9-5 office job and all the trappings. I want to live for God wholeheartedly.

I have a lot of decisions coming up, some rather soon, but above and beyond future concerns, I’m so grateful for what God has done in my life this year. It’s amazing, knowing what can happen when you put God at the center of your life. It’s going to be quite the adventure.