the life and times of a twenty year old designer

A time to give thanks

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Three years ago this week, a good friend of mine was killed in a car accident. And what I remember most about that October was how bright and perceptible the light was in the darkness of the situation. We all wore yellow as a token of remembrance, and the community that came together was one of the strongest and most beautiful I had ever seen. As the yellow flowers are all over Facebook this week, I am struck with gratitude for how much we have all learned in the last three years, and how many beautiful things have grown out of the darkness. Three years ago it seemed everything in my life had fallen apart. Nothing was any longer constant, dependable, or safe. And I smile to think of how God showed up in that time, took my hand, and started to lead me into something better than all the fear and pain and disappointment I was then experiencing. It’s been quite the journey. There were many times when my stubborn-headed self tried to plow backward into the darkness rather than reaching forward into the light. But when I am walking towards the truth. It is truly beautiful and life-giving. What I am constantly reminded as I look back is that it’s still not about me. After all this time. I am continually reminded, at times gently and at other times rather forcefully, that I am not the central character in the story I am telling. Whenever I realize that my life is being directed towards this truth, I am struck with awe and gratitude that the burdens do not have to be carried alone and that the joys are meant to be shared and multiplied.

I went on a retreat a couple weekends ago. For those of you who have never been, Christian student retreats offer college students a chance to take some time away from the pressures of campus life and spend time connecting with God and sharing in fellowship with each other. Often there’s a bit of a formula involving a combination of large group worship with music, silly icebreakers and games, quiet times of prayer and reflection, a series of talks from a speaker, and free time to just hang out and connect with each other. This retreat was not unusual in that anyone could have perceived it to be a combination of these stock elements. And the cynical side of my heart used to have a very hard time with the idea of a retreat. You go up on the mountain and have an engineered emotional experience that leaves you jumping to your feet at an altar call on Saturday night and slumped in your desk Monday morning with no real intent to change. And if you were disconnected and disengaged, that’s exactly how this weekend could have felt. But again, it wasn’t about me, or how I chose to step outside and analyze what was happening. It was about God, how he moved, and what actually happened.

Saturday night, our speaker talked about the weights that drag us all down and keep us from realizing the life God has in store for us. (He also spoke about the Samaritan Woman at the well, a story which merits a whole ‘nother post of it’s own. Keep your eyes on the blog for that one!) He pinpointed four that, in his experience as a campus minister, he encounters most frequently.

  • Apathy – the feeling that you have fallen asleep on the job. You’re lukewarm about your convictions and prone to not follow through just because you don’t feel like it.
  • Habitual Sin – brushing off as no big deal something that is vitally important to your interactions with God and with the people around you.
  • Gossip/Slander/Grudges – we all love being mad instead of forgiving. This hurts people in ways we cannot imagine.
  • Guilt/Inadequacy/Shame – you are defined by the guilt of something you have done or by something that has been done to you. You feel you’ll never measure up. You’ve been hurt and betrayed more times than you can count, and it seems there’s no reason to keep going.

After calling to our attention what may have been weighing on our hearts, he asked us to write our weights down on a little piece of paper. Then he gave a series of three calls to stand. The first was to anyone in the room who wished to ask God for the grace to cast off these weights. Nearly everyone stood. Everyone wanted to be free. The second call was more personal. He asked those who felt they had gone through life telling everyone they were Christian without fully understanding or committing their whole hearts to stand if they wanted to recommit their life to Jesus. About 30 people, including 10 or so from our fellowship, stood. The third call was to those who had never entered into Christianity before but desired to connect to Jesus on a personal level. Two men stood. One was from our fellowship, a foreign-exchange student who has been coming to join us and asking questions and walking through the Bible with a good friend of mine.

The speaker then called us all take action. For the apathetic to engage and follow through on their commitment to faith. For those trapped in habitual sin to take stock of their actions and stand up against it. For those who gossip and hold grudges to go, whether they were the offender or the offended, to the other and make it right. For those overwhelmed by guilt and shame to find comfort in a savior whose love breaks through walls to rescue the lost and who understands what it means to be betrayed by his closest friends and beaten and killed by the ones he came to save. He asked us to tear our papers into shreds and drop them in the trash at the front of the room. A friend of mine didn’t even wait until he was done speaking, she just marched right up to the front and triumphantly tossed her pieces in the garbage. The whole room cheered in celebration.

As the rest of us made our way towards the front, tears were flowing freely. Some were experiencing this freedom for the first time. I was moved to see so much honest, uninhibited passion from so many people. I was in awe of the wondrous work God was doing in so many hearts right at that moment. And I was thankful in a way I’ll never be able to fully express that the God who has promised good to me will never go back on his promise. The lies and untruths and judgments and condemnations I had accepted as true and placed upon myself were simply no longer of importance.  As the worship team began to play, I was unable to return to my seat. I could do nothing at that moment but fall to my knees and weep for joy at the goodness and power and free flowing grace I was experiencing, not only in my life, but in the lives of others as well. Because God is so much more than a series of rules and values, proofs and principles that can be intellectually understood. He is truth, life, emotion, love, and passion, good in all things, willing to communicate with us in the deepest parts of our souls if we will only take a moment to listen.

After the service, our chapter (of 45 people. Hallelujah!) gathered together to hear the stories of those who had stood to dedicate their lives to this love. As always, I was grateful for stories, especially for the way that stories remind me of God’s power and grace and truthfullness. It is easy to see people stand up at an altar call and assume they’re merely moved by emotion. But that simply wasn’t true. They were all touched by a genuine desire to give their lives to Christ. That was so beautiful. And the more I listened, the more I desired to speak, to share the beautiful and radical revelations I had just experienced. But that night was not the time. Where my instinct would have been to talk, and process, and dissect what had just happened, our leader announced that our time was drawing to a close, and that we were all going to head up to a dance put on by one of the other campuses. This was another radical idea for me. So much good had just happened, and rather than talking about it and rationalizing it and categorizing it, we were just going to go and celebrate. And we danced that night with the joy of a people who had been set free.

But that was not the end. That can never be the end. We cannot simply accept this gift and lock it up and sit on it. We’ve got to share it. Take risks. Do stuff. On Sunday morning the speaker reminded us that if all Intervarsity does is gather to talk and pray and sing songs and feel good about being friends with each other, than we’re just another club on campus. We’re just another clique. And I think we can do better. I know we can do better. I’m seeing seeds planted in our hearts that would be the beginning of something big on our campus if we would only tend to them. I’ll confess I’m scared of what it might mean. But we can’t keep it to ourselves any longer. This love longs to be shared.

This weekend I saw the fruit. I saw the harvest. Some of it was from seeds I had planted intentionally, but much more came from seeds I never knew I was planting, or from seeds others had planted years and years before. What was most striking and caused me to fall to the floor in grateful praise was the knowledge that even in the darkest moments of these past three years, God was able to work circumstances for the good of those who love Him. Because when terrible things happen, people come together. In the moments when I felt dark and purposeless, I was unknowingly still bring hope to someone else. When I was wandering and alone, I was being directed towards purpose and community. The stories I could share are hard for me to believe at times. But it’s truly incredible. So in this season when the leaves are changing and many of our hearts are turned towards remembrance, hold on. Remember the good and the bad. And for all of it, give thanks.

Written by Taylor Webster

October 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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