Eight years ago, I attended a summer camp called Summer of Service through the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati. This camp was dedicated to showing God’s love in a practical way. I was going into 8th grade, I had been going to Catholic Church since I was born, but I can say without a doubt, that SOS was where I first heard about a personal relationship with Christ. It is during these 5 days that I was exposed to the reality of a God who was living and active. While I wanted to make a commitment to Christ during that week, and the same week a year later, I did not fully surrender my life… I didn’t know how.
Fast-forward five years. I was a freshman at Indiana University and God used two girls from the Vineyard Church in Indianapolis to show me that not only was a personal relationship with Christ possible, but it was something that I could have. I trusted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior during the fall of 2009, after numerous people had shared the Gospel with me, and I realized that being good, or my perception of good, was not going to get me anything.
As I sat in tonight’s session of SOS, where Beth Guckenberger, one of my favorite speakers and founder of the non-profit I’m working at this summer, spoke, I saw that God has written such a beautiful story for me. He has brought me so far. Even before I was walking with Him, He was carefully choosing my steps. Beth spoke tonight about something that had been on my heart all day and numerous times this summer – we don’t know what the next 10 years of our lives look like, we simply take the next step in faith that God will show up in big ways. It’s the small acts of obedience that the Lord works through and honors. I’m so thankful of the ways God has empowered me in the past 8 years to obey His will and His plan.
Not only do the many moments of experiencing God’s goodness and provision today remind me that my God does crazy things and will continue to write a beautifully unique story for my life, but it also gives me hope. It gives me hope that the people who I love most in my life, but don’t know Jesus will come to know Him; and when I do get discouraged, I hear Beth’s famous words in head saying, “the story isn’t over yet”.
When I was getting ready to leave college after my freshman year, all it took to make me cry was someone saying, “I can’t believe it’s over.” This year it takes even less to make my eyes start tearing and for me to get weepy. I’m only a junior, so I probably don’t have the excuse to be upset, I still get to come back to Bloomington in the fall and have another great year of college. I don’t have to say good-bye to my discipleship girls, or my pledge class, but I do have to say good-bye to a majority of the first Christian community I’ve ever had.
I came to IU very lost. I didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted out of life. By God’s grace and after a couple wrong turns, I ended up involved with CRU and starting a personal relationship with Jesus. Somehow, God landed me into an already established community of people who loved each other and opened their arms to me… well, I may have had to sneak my way in there a little bit, but they were welcoming. It has been in this community, over the past three years of college that I’ve learned about grace. We’ve fought, we’ve cried, we’ve pulled pranks, we’ve stayed up way too late, we’ve eaten a lot of ice cream, but we’ve done it together. It is through these people that God has shown me Himself and truly loved me. I’ve had men who have been the big brothers I never had and taught me that I’m worth being pursued and that I’m worthy. I’ve had women who have shown me that being a woman of God doesn’t mean I have knit or be boring – I’m simply called to be the best me I can be. These friends have believed in me when I haven’t even been able to believe in myself and never let me settle for less than what they knew God desired for me. Over the past three years I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but because of the way that God has used this community, I’ve been able to ask for forgiveness, receive prayer and move on a stronger person.
I’m incredibly excited to watch my friends move on to the next stage of their lives, I’m sad I can’t come with them, but this is how it was supposed to be; this is how God planned it. We may never live in the same city all together ever again, but I’m so thankful for the past three years with all of them… I can’t imagine my college experience without them. Everything I believed about Christians when I came to college has been radically altered because of the community I’ve been able to experience. God knew I wouldn’t have survived losing a grandparent, changing my major 5 times, being a leader, emotional dependence and an eating disorder without best friends to pray for me, pick me up off my feet and point me back to Him every step of the way.
Life is hard. Even when life is beautiful, it’s still hard. There are days where crying seems like the only option, even knowing that all of God’s promises are still true. This year has been difficult and pulled me in a million directions. God has been faithful, and one of the million ways He has been faithful has been in giving me amazing friends.
I had good friends in high school, several that I still consider to be my friends, but I did not have a solid friend group – in fact, there are only a couple of girls I still keep in contact with. But, since coming to college, I hit the friend jackpot. And the beautiful thing is, it has had nothing to do with me. I didn’t make the friends that are in Phi Mu, God gave me a pledge class that is wonderful – He hand selected each of us to be part of a special bond in a sorority. I have beautiful friends that I’ve met through Cru, but we some how found our ways into each other’s lives; a lot of us have little in common.
Through the trials that this year has brought, I’ve had amazing encouragement from the men and women in my life. Humor, tears and prayers have made the dark days brighter and even the best days a little bit better. I often get asked the question why I came to IU from Ohio. The truth is, God brought me here. While it did make a little bit of sense, I could have ended up anywhere. As could of each of my friends. But we ended up at Indiana University and in each other’s lives. My faith in God is strengthened by seeing my community and knowing that God weaved a perfect story together so we could be in each other’s lives. I don’t deserve to be loved by such awesome people – I am not a good friend, I’m critical, sarcastic and self-centered, but I experience the gospel on everyday when I’m loved by my friends because of God. Because God reached out to all of us first, we have the opportunity to love beyond our capacity, whether we know it or not.
I’ve experienced God’s love this year through my friends. I’m so thankful in knowing that this season of my life and future seasons will be filled of people God has hand picked to love me and to be loved by me. Even when life gets rough, which it inevitably will, I have friends willing to hold my hand and remind me that I’m being refined, and even when it’s hard, life is still beautiful.
I’ve always said that my love language is quality time, it is, but words of affirmation comes in a close second. No matter what someone’s love language may be, I think they can always be encouraged. So frequently, I feel like I should encourage someone, but I don’t know how they are going to respond, or if they might think that it’s weird coming from me. Sometimes, I feel like I say nice things a lot and someone may interpret a compliment as generic or not authentic. It is such a shame because I’ve missed out on the chance to show some love to people all because I was afraid of what they may think.
Everyone can benefit from encouragement. It is silly of me to think that I can only encourage people who I’m a good friend with, or that a person’s love language must be words of affirmation in order for them to enjoy a compliment. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thes 5:11). Paul doesn’t quantify this by saying – only encourage people of the same sex as you, nor does he give specific instructions for how to encourage – he just says to build each other up, in other words, point each other towards Jesus. Paul says to encourage one another because he knows that we are all members of the Body, and unity and positive reinforcement are important. No matter what a person love language, they could be pointed towards Christ.
It is important to encourage one another because when we love others, we love God. When we live as hermits or don’t allow God to use us to love others, we do not love God well. I love the moments when I say something to someone that I was cautious to say, but God totally uses it and the person is really affected by it. Getting random acts of encouragement also make my day. It is important to encourage others because we often see things in other people that they may not see in themselves – thus the Lord calls us to live in community. God is a member of the trinity because there are roles only God the Father can play, roles only the Holy Spirit can play and same for Jesus Christ. Just as God is in community with Himself, we called to be in community. Community is meant for encouragement and for loving each other, and most importantly to reflect the love of God. So, allow God to speak through you and encourage someone – you never know, it might just make their day!