Bam. Sparkle. Cheers.
I took in my surroundings. Other than the firework fading away in the distance, it was dark, and the people were loud. I wiggled my toes and felt the sand move under my feet. I watched as the inebriated band students celebrated the clock ticking past 12 and signaling the begging of a new year.
No thanks to the D.A.R.E program, I had said, “No,” when offered a beer (Yuengling maybe?). In truth, I didn’t say no because I was a super Christian and believed alcohol is the Devil’s water. Instead, I declined the forceful offer because I was confused enough without it.
Why am I here? What am I doing? What will I do?
I was feeling so many weird emotions (something my future self would envy) while my default friends were making merry by drinking cheap beer and screaming at a sky because a calendar could finally be thrown out. I felt out of place.
I went back to the hotel room I shared with three other trumpet players. None of them returned until late that night despite our unholy, early call time for the Outback Bowl. I plugged my phone in and saw I had a text from a friend. We had been talking off and on throughout the night, and it had been a while since I responded. We were close friends; she would listen to my rants of confusion and loss. I started typing.
A few sentences in, I stopped. I asked myself, “Who cares?”
I told myself to let it go, to not feel. I responded to her texts, happily and as warm as the Florida new year.
Happy new year.
Happy new year!
We talked for a long time that night. I slept 3 hours. Go vols.
That conversation became the motif of my struggles in 2016. I’m not talking about the staying up late. I’m not talking about ignoring responsibilities to be social. No, I’m talking about choosing to not feel or care – apathy.
After the bowl game, I got the opportunity to go to the Passion Conference in Atlanta. Despite the promises of others who had gone before me, I can’t tell you that it absolutely changed my life,
but I did finally get some clarity on a decision. I decided I would apply to be a summer staffer at Look Up Lodge, a Christian camp in South Carolina. I had gone there a few times in middle school and felt led to apply.
I want to emphasize the word apply because I didn’t want to assume that God was saying, “Yes. You will work on summer staff.” In fact, I didn’t even think I would get the job; I was just choosing to trust Him in the application.
After getting home from Passion, I started my journey to Look Up. The application was exhaustive and made me think about what I believed and why I do. Finally, I knew why God wanted me to apply: to make me think about my beliefs. I sent the application to Travelers Rest and forgot about it.
I went back to school shortly after. I was taking too many hours to handle, had a job and am lucky I even passed anything. I didn’t make time for much of anything – including God. I felt guilty that I wasn’t giving Him as much time as I should and felt like He was mad about me.
But, somewhere along the way, I heard someone explain that our Christian life isn’t dependent on how many minutes we spend studying the Bible. I knew that already, but I had to apply it. It took some time, but my prayer life and Bible study became more flexible. I got up late and didn’t study the word before class like I usually do? No worries. I’d spend some time studying between my 8am and 10am. I stopped making prayer and study unnecessarily religious and made it flexible. It was relieving.
Interviews and Choices
In early February, I got an email from the camp inviting me to interview. I can’t remember which Saturday I went to the interview, but I did go. It was a group interview with some strangers (three girls and three guys counting me) I didn’t know. My first impression was with one of the guys, Jack.* Jack said he wants to do full-time ministry, and he dressed nicer than I did despite the email’s request for casual dress. He would get the job. The other guy, Ed,* didn’t dress up. He seemed to actually have listened to the request for casual dress, and he knew everyone who worked at the camp already. He would get the job.
At the end of the day long interview, the full time staff gave us a book. This is why I came. I still didn’t know if God wanted me to have the job, so I thought that maybe the book was the reason. I told Jack, Ed, and the rest goodbye.
“I’ll never see them again,” I thought.
Even though I didn’t let myself become comfortable in the thought of becoming a summer staffer, the what ifs didn’t disappear, and my life didn’t get any easier. I was stressed. I was worried. And it seemed that to relieve it, I kept coming back to that night in Florida. Don’t feel. Stop thinking about it. I taught myself to cut out the happy thoughts for the fear of disappointment and forget the sad ones for the fear of pain. It seemed to make everything easier, but I didn’t see the greater pain I was causing myself.
They told us we would know if we got the job or not by March 15. On March 16th, I was worried because no one had called, and I didn’t have any emails, but around noon, I got a call. They asked me if I was still interested in the job. Oh great. He’s hoping I say no. But he wasn’t (I think). He offered me the job, and I said yes. I had just taken the job I had dreamed of since the 6th grade.
I can’t tell you I remember everything that happened from then until I left in May. I had orientation for the summer job in April, and I changed my major to Journalism & Electronic Media. (Spanish is an awful major if you don’t want to be a teacher). When asked why I changed, my best answer was, “I like politics, and I like writing, so…”
That time we started a blog
The final milestone I achieved before I left to South Carolina was texting Sam and asking him if he wanted to start a blog. (Woah, so meta). Little did I know that Matchbox would be something so terribly crucial to me last year. From adding 7 more writers after Sam and I to writing and editing nearly everyday, it has been insane.
From what we’ve done here, I’ve learned that it’s really hard to talk about God when you haven’t been talking to God, and that applies to real life as well. How can I expect to genuinely explain Jesus to a non-believer if I haven’t talked to Him myself?
I’ve also learned how to think about the difference between writing for myself and writing for Him. If I write 500 words that explains the Trinity1 and Billy Graham shares it to Facebook but I did it for my own attention, then what was the point? I take that “glory” for myself. But if I write 2,700 words about what I learned last year and no one reads it save my mother but I did it with the right heart, then I made the right choice. The goal of uplifting God is served.
Working at Look Up Lodge
On May 13, 2016, I started working for Look Up Lodge, and I have no words to describe what it was like. I had never been pushed that hard physically, mentally and spiritually.
Physically, I was challenged by the amount of work we did. We walked/ran/jumped/skipped an average of (like) 10 miles a day. The majority of the job was physical, and we worked 14 hour days almost everyday. I loved the challenge, but it was definitely difficult.
Mentally, I was challenged in a few different ways. As I talked about before, apathy was a struggle, and it made it hard to be excited or to feel happy. If you’ve ever been to a camp, you know that’s not good. I really had to mentally work to come to a place where I could feel excited for the campers. Truthfully, I left camp before I came over my apathy.
The physical and mental challenge was nothing in comparison to that of the spiritual. For one thing, the spiritual isn’t separated from the other two. Both of the other challenges affected the spiritual one. Secondly, full time ministry is not easy, and that’s what we did. We poured ourselves out everyday, and it was our job to fill ourselves back up. Instead of banking on a pastor or a Sunday school teacher, we had the job of feeding ourselves. And just like the physical, the more work one does, the more hungry one is.
Those aren’t even close to all the challenges faced at Look Up. There’s so much more, but I truly don’t think I could describe them. The challenges were hard, but God was faithful to bring me through them. Also, I wasn’t alone with them.
I worked with 23 other faithful Followers of Christ who had my back as I had theirs. Jack and Ed were two of them, and there were many more outside of the summer staff who supported me during that time. My family, at least a couple friends, and others who weren’t even there with me supported and encouraged me through the summer, and I truly am grateful.
One of the biggest lessons I learned during the summer was through the way I did my job. As I said earlier, the majority of the job was physical. Flat out teaching the Bible was a very small portion. In fact, I didn’t even need to be Christian to do most of the job. My point is that I could either wake up and go through my schedule and do my work because it’s what I wanted to do, or I could do the work because I wanted to further God’s eternal purpose. It’s the same outside of camp: we can either go through our schedules for ourselves or for God.
Kindergartners and defeating apathy
Adjusting back from camp to school wasn’t too difficult, and I had more time because I wouldn’t be in band anymore. (I had to miss band camp to work at Look Up Lodge). I started my new job at an after school program that held kids that were Kindergarten to 5th grade. I eventually got assigned to Kindergarten, and I love(d) it.
Now, that’s weird if you’ve known me for a while because a year ago, I probably would have told you I hate kids. I did. I can’t tell you what exactly changed my mind about them, but I know it wasn’t my own doing.
If you know anything about kids, you know that anyone between the ages of 4-7 are happy and jumpy… all of the time. And remember how I was struggling with apathy and being emotionless? We didn’t exactly mix well, but I wanted the kids to like me. I started trying even harder than I was at camp to care and feel. I was praying for God to consume the root of narcissism in my heart.
And He answered my prayer. It wasn’t immediate, but I changed. God answered me by using the kids to soften my heart. He caused me care about a scrape that isn’t bleeding, a bone that “I’m-pretty-sure-is-broken,” and the thirteenth time a kid has to use the bathroom in the past hour. And if I can care about silly stuff like that, I can care about issues and problems that are real to people over the age of 6.
Does God care if we make good grades?
In school, I wasn’t doing so well. Where I changed my major in May, I had to take a lot of basic classes like psychology and economics. I hated both of the classes, and I hated Spanish more. I was done with foreign language requirements, but I was minoring in Spanish.
The Spanish minor lasted three weeks before I dropped the class. I made a 34 on my first psychology exam. And the only classes I cared about were Journalism 175 and matchbox.live. I wasn’t happy with the way the semester was going, but there wasn’t much I was doing to change it.
I was talking about this to a friend about my school struggles, and he reminded me of 1 Corinthians 10:31. He told me that the way we work in school goes along with that. To save our time and the length of this post, I’ll just tell you that I didn’t fail anything, had good grades, and took a lot of extra credit opportunities in psychology.
Final Notes and Takeaways
If you made it this far, you’re probably my mother.
If your name is not Melinda, thanks for reading. I have to be honest though; I left a lot out of this post. I didn’t talk about how I changed my prayer life. I didn’t talk about the campus ministry that let me down. I didn’t talk about the way I grew in masculinity. I didn’t talk about the people who helped me grow. I didn’t talk about a lot of the mistakes I made. In fact, I talked a lot more about my accomplishments.
But, despite the way they look, they aren’t my accomplishments. It’s what God has given me this year. And as I sit here in my living room on January 1st, listening to Bon Iver (not Christian) and getting ready to turn my laptop off to pack for my second Passion Conference, I can’t help but be a little excited for where God will take me this year. Last year, He took me from an apathy to care, from emotionless to emotional, from a 34 to a B, from overly religious to a flexible prayer, from wordless to blogger and staff writer, from point A to point B.
This wasn’t the story of my spiritual life in 2016. It’s what happened in 2016. Let’s not make the mistake of separating reality from the Creator of reality. And even though I have more answers than I did in Florida. From a different part of the trail, I’m still asking myself the same questions I was a year ago.
Why am I here? What am I doing? What will I do?
I hope that you learned from my mistake in allowing an apathetic, emotionless spirit to settle in me. I didn’t talk much about the issues it caused, but, to be short, it was my biggest regret of the year. Apathy is in direct opposition to the life God has called us to live. I pray you don’t fall into the same struggle.
At the very least, I hope you can see God’s faithfulness to grow us as time passes. Obviously, God doesn’t work within the confines of a 12 month calendar, but as humans, it’s a good interval for us to look at to see where we were then and now.
I hope there’s something for you to takeaway here. While this was good for me and done for God, my desire is that it is good for you as well. What is the life of one believer if not an aid to the other?
I haven’t been to Florida since January.
* Names were changed because I didn’t ask them about it first.
1 I will not try to explain the Trinity.
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Cover photo: Alex (Taken from Look Up Lodge last week)
All the other photos: Alex