Lesson Learned

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Today felt and smelled like fall for the first time. My coworker and I had to step outside and we both noticed it at the same instant: summer is ending and change is coming. Sometimes–like today sitting on a bridge by the water, mountains encircling me– I want to cry for how much I miss home as well as how lovely and precious Grand Lake is to me. What I am most thankful for are 1) Friendships; 2) The pure natural beauty of this place; and 3) The things I’ve learned about life and about myself.

Things I’ve Learned While in CO:

(Written from my present self to my former self, but also helpful to note for anyone considering serving with ACMNP)

  1. Embrace the discomfort. Newness is uncomfortable. Dwell in that feeling and let it propel you forward to a new and more experienced version of yourself.
  2. You are capable. You can handle learning new job skills, establishing a summer ministry, and encouraging others even when you yourself feel discouraged. You can find a good mechanic in an unfamiliar town when your car blows a brake line. You can show up to work day after day, do your job, and do it well.
  3. Friends don’t make themselves. Saying hello, learning about people, and being available when help is needed makes a difference. Don’t do the awkward silent eating thing–meal times are community building times.
  4. Take that hike, go for that walk, explore that new part of town. Your bed will be waiting when you get back.
  5. Faith unites people and bridges gaps created by dissimilar personalities. A ministry team is a family, almost without exception. The support given by the body of Christ is like no other.
  6. Connect. Use your resources, introduce yourself, reach out. We are here, living this life, for each other. And life’s a lot better when we have people to turn to for help.
  7. Don’t fear the future. When you feel like a scared little kid in a big world, look to your heavenly Father. Remember all he has done for you and move forward with confidence.
  8. Going out for ice cream with friends is always a good idea.
  9. When you’re tired and cranky and want to get away from everyone, start praising God. Sing to Him and tell Him how much you love Him. Thank Him for that very moment. Sing louder. Everything else will work itself out.
  10. Your life is very very very very special to God. And so is everyone else’s. Love ’em all.

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart.

~Psalm 32:10-11

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What Family Means

IMG_1413And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

~Matthew 19:29

My family was in town last week. We had a great time: driving through the mountains, hiking, eating, seeing the sights. All the touristy stuff. We pulled off the side of the road to see a moose, got milkshakes at the lakefront snack bar, and hit all the best picture spots. Each time we stopped, I couldn’t help but think with amazement, I’m being a tourist in my own town. This is weird.

As I was realizing, Grand Lake has become my town and the Rocky Mountains my park. I know the best hikes, the best places to get coffee, and when to be where to avoid crowds or mountain thunderstorms.

And while being with the folks made me miss the smell of freshly cut lawns and backyard bonfires, I know that there will be just as much to miss when I head back east. And as much as I love waking up every morning and seeing my mountain lake, that’s not what I’ll ache for when I’m snuggled up in my own bed. I’m going to miss the family I’ve gained here–not just my ministry family, but my roommates, my coworkers, my friends and neighbors. These people have made my experience in the Rockies an unforgettable one.

As much as I’ll hate to leave them in a month, God has taught me that wherever I go, as long as I am doing his will, I will have family with me. This past weekend, the ministry team on the east side of the Rockies in Estes Park put on a phenomenal worship night. The music was fantastic, the testimonies were powerful, and the Holy Spirit was present. The peace, joy and love that I felt during that time were incredible. What’s more, I knew that the brothers and sisters in Christ who surrounded me were put in my life to encourage me in my ministry.

What I’ve missed most this summer is being in my comfort zone, surrounded by people I know love and support me. However, by giving that up for three months, I’ve been abundantly blessed by people who have loved and encouraged me and by people I’ve been able to love and encourage. When we give ourselves up to Christ and let him work through us, he gives us more than we could have dared ask for. I have received a family that I will miss dearly, even though I know God put them in my life to get me through this summer to the next part of my journey and to help me to see the rewards of doing his work.

In my last month, I’m going to cherish living in my home in Colorado, while looking forward to being at home in New York. And no matter where I am, I’ll be at home in Christ, living for him and thanking him for the life he’s given me and the people he has surrounded me with who make it one heck of a time.

How to be Humble: A Two Step Process

IMG_1326Step 1: Assume that the day is going to be a drag, filled with tired headaches and obligations you really don’t feel like fulfilling.

Step 2: Watch God prove you wrong.

Yup, that’s what happened to me this week.

Let’s start with Sunday. I had worship services to lead, as usual. And I wasn’t expecting much of a turnout, as usual (although I had absolutely no reason to). Time was ticking nearer to 8:30 AM and I just wanted to get through the morning and make it back in time to nap before work. I noticed a couple stopped on the walkway up to the amphitheater and, I cannot lie, I kind of hoped they were just early morning nature watchers. But no, they turned and continued up the walk.

Ok, I thought, two people. Quick and easy service. Nope. Up the people came like Noah’s ark–two by two, until we had a crowd of 14 gathered before us, all chatting happily in the sunshine. It felt like a regular congregation! After a while we realized we were actually late getting started because everyone had been so engaged in conversation.

And that guy in the back row? Yeah, he was the one I almost passed by during campground walking. I almost didn’t invite him to the service, but my team member Maddy just had a feeling we needed to go talk to him. God’s pretty cool that way; we should listen to his hints more often.IMG_1325

The second service at 10:30 also went well, with a smaller crowd but just as powerful an effect. Imagine this: a mother and son who are part of a family that pastors a local church, who had to miss services this Sunday and didn’t even realize they had come to a place where services were being held at the same time as their own! Also, a woman who broke down in tears, so touched was she by the message Maddy gave. Praise God. His ways are higher than our ways, for sure.

Part 2: Roommate Crisis

Who wants to drive their roommate into town for medicine after a back-to-back late night and early morning at work? Not this girl. But I did, grudgingly using more of the gas in my car than I had wanted to. And I was going to miss dinner. Oh well. God probably wanted me to do this. Grumble. And did I mention my roommate is from China? So I had to play interpreter, too. What the heck, God.

Now imagine God giving me a stern talking to and putting me in my proper place. Then giving me ice cream. Yeah, weird, but that’s how he works sometimes.

Let me tell you– trying on sunglasses, debating ice cream flavors, and explaining the difference between crunchy and creamy peanut butter may not sound like a good time, but it’s an adventure. And a learning experience on both sides.

After getting her medicine, Vicky and I had a grand old time exploring the wonder that is the American grocery store. And after all my reluctance, I was humbled and surprised by her generosity: buying me ice cream, insisting I eat half a box of wheat thins, and trusting me to answer all her questions and lead her through the perils of the self-scan register. We talked about life, we got to know each other, and we had fun. Yup, fun.

So once again, I see how wrong my assumptions and my attitudes can be. God knows better than that and I should too. He’s always good. Always, always, always.

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Getting Away

So I’m sitting in a Starbucks right now. The mountains have Starbucks, you ask? Well actually, they do–these things are everywhere.

I’m not in the mountains, though. Today I have the day off and I took the chance to meet up with my cousin in Denver and see what the city has to offer. I haven’t been outside of the Rockies for 7 weeks, so I jumped at the chance to explore the mile high city.

Denver is way hipster. Coffee shops and trendy restaurants on every corner, shiny hotels and classy apartments everywhere. Cozy bookstores and smoothie shops. No free parking. Nothing like Grand Lake.

For a while, I had fun perusing the streets and stopping in wherever I felt inclined to. I figured out they don’t have those buttons you push to cross the streets. (The crosswalk signs come on all by themselves, every time the light changes!) And I realized it can get HOT here. No mountain breezes, just the constant movement of people.

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So worth a 2 hour drive

I was in an old cracked leather chair at a bookstore reading a collection of short stories by Flannery O’Connor and taking advantage of the free WiFi when I realized my parking meter was about to expire. So, I retraced my steps for about 10 blocks, which is nowhere near as exhilarating as a hike in the mountains. The air felt heavier, and no one smiled at me when I passed them. Hikers do that.

I made it to my car and wondered where to go next. Did you know cities are basically all one way streets? And people get really upset when you turn left from the right lane of a two-lane one way street. For future reference.

Driving through Denver in my elderly truck with no AC, I slowly descended into a state of irritability and stress. And I was sweating and how do I change lanes when there are cars and people EVERYWHERE?!

So, I turned and headed north out of the city. I kept driving until I saw houses with lawns and streets without parking meters. Then, I pulled off into a church parking lot and looked up Starbucks on the GPS, because I was sick of being in unfamiliar territory. I needed something mundane and safe. But really, I’m not one of those Starbucks people. I drink my coffee black, like it’s supposed to be.

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Pretty much the mascot of America

Now, sitting here with tangled hair, sore feet and a caffeine buzz, I can more clearly understand what this day taught me. Sometimes we need to escape. Sometimes we need change. But the world is a hectic, harried place. And people charge way too much for a cup of coffee.

Anyway, just like I need the stillness of the mountains, we need to be still and rest in God. Too much time spent in the world will drain us and leave us frazzled. But God is that constant, familiar, refreshing place we can escape to. The closer we are to him, the more peace we will feel.

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

But if you’re ever in Denver, try the smoothies.

Going to Extremes

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I knew this summer would be filled with highs and lows, but I had pictured more of a gradual mountain-and-valley experience, rather than a high speed roller coaster where the dips and curves are frequent and intense.

Just this past week, my whole team was able to get a day off and go for a strenuous but totally rewarding hike up to Lone Pine Lake in the Rockies. With such a large group, it took us most of the day, but the meandering river and chilly mountain lake were more than enough to keep up going. I ended up dehydrated, sweaty, and dusty, but completely energized by the love of my friends and the beauty of the natural landscape. Plus, we came within spitting distance of a moose (not advised) and ended with the best burgers we’ve ever tasted (because 11 miles and 6 hours will do that to a person).

Later that day, sitting around the campfire at a friend’s cabin, I felt immensely happy. The singular thought that kept entering my head was that this was probably the best day of my life so far. Good friends, good food, good conversation, and hiking. Beat that.

So I was surprised when a wave of homesickness hit me the next day. Blame the rain clouds that rolled in or the tiredness that results from a late night, but I couldn’t believe the high of the day before had dissipated. God must have seen I needed a boost, because fishing and ice cream soon followed, leaving me once again contented.

However, the roller coaster went back into motion this weekend. During an honest and vulnerable conversation with my roommate, which left me encouraged and thankful for a chance to share the gospel, my team member Seth knocked on my door. Crazy generous guy that he is, he was going to leave in the middle of the night to drive a coworker 2.5 hours to Denver for a sunrise Ramadan gathering. Then drive back. And miss our first Sunday service. Oh, and Seth is our musician. It’s ok, I thought. Only half of the service will be bad. 

So, if I was slightly freaked out I didn’t let it show. I sent Seth off with a smile and proceeded to wonder just how bad our service would go the next morning. I prayed that no one would come. Then I turned to God, asked him to make my guitar playing as not awful as possible, and went to bed more stressed out than I had been in a while.

But by now, I know how God works and I’m nothing but thankful. The first service went fine, not because I turned into a skilled musician overnight, but because our guests were supportive and full of the love of Christ. They gave us nothing but encouragement, which we gratefully accepted. The second service went even better, with repeat guests who helped us feel that what we are doing here matters.

But man, was I glad to see Seth at that second service. Did I mind if he played, he asked? Are you kidding me?

IMG_1239The high points and downward plunges keep coming, but what remains constant is Jesus. He is with us through it all, reminding us to keep our eyes on him no matter what lies in front of or behind us. And to just enjoy the ride–because it’ll be over far too quickly.

 

 

Gifts

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There’s a feeling that I think most people have experienced and it is the anticipation that comes with selfless generosity. It’s the feeling I get when I’ve picked out just the perfect gift for someone and I cannot wait to see their face when they open it; the certainty that I am about to bring joy into someone’s life.

I think that’s how God feels when he prepares to bless us with his grace and give us gifts we will never deserve. And the only proper response to these gifts, the only one God desires, is thank you thank you thank you thank you.

This week, my ACMNP team and I held a worship service that eight people attended—we were psyched. It was awesome. Not only were we able to provide a time of worship and fellowship for our guests, but we were also encouraged by their support, friendliness, and interest in our ministry. That’s starting the week off right.IMG_1154

On the flip side, relational ministry this week left me drained. I had been trying to meet as many international students as I could, asking them about their lives and trying to be a friend in their time of adjustment to a new country and a new job. But really, all I wanted to do was sit in my room, lose myself in a book and eat my Quaker oatmeal squares cereal.

In the middle of a long day at work, stomach growling unhappily, I was kind of asked but kind of told that I would be getting a roommate.

Answer: “Yeah of course! Go ahead! No problem!”

Thought: “Three and a half weeks of privacy over. Rough.”

That night after work, I sat in my room puzzling over my socialize-or-eat-cereal dilemma. Did God want me to exhaust myself trying to get to know my coworkers? Did he want me to hang around the drinking crowd just so I could be a light to them? Did I really just eat half a box of cereal in ten minutes?

Knock, knock, knock.

And just like that, I had Sahara in my life. God had sent me a friendly, funny, generous, marvelous roommate who has been a source of joy since the moment we met.

I can just picture God the whole time I was struggling with indecision: holding back a smile, leaning forward in anticipation, watching, waiting. Thinking, “She’s going to love this. Here it comes, aaaaaannnnndd…..YES! Hahahaha that was so fun.”

Because I believe God has fun blessing his children. And when we are thanking God for everything that comes along, the blessings are a lot easier to find.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:32

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Love, God

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How can I thank God for all he is doing in my life? It seems every time I feel low, he surprises me with his grace. Lately the me-and-God conversation has been going something like this:

God, I don’t know what we’ll do if no one comes to our worship services this week. We’re trying our best. What else can we do?

“Let me introduce you to some great people. They want to worship with you in this beautiful place. Keep up the good work.”

God, I’m not making any progress with my coworkers and friends. How do I start the conversation about you? What do they need from me?

“They have questions. Here comes one now. Listen. I’ll tell you what to say.”

I have no one to hike with. Should I ask her?

“Yup. Have fun, I knew you two would hit it off.”

I’m a little lonely today.

“Here’s a friend. Oh, here’s another one. Hey, eat dinner with this person. Have you met him yet? No? Go ahead. Oh, and them? Yeah, they’re great aren’t they?”

Ugh, late nights and early mornings. I need a break from the monotony of work. Every day is so much of the same.

“You’re taking a carload of international students on a two hour drive through the mountains today. They have to apply for social security numbers and they need a ride to town. Make a day of it. Laugh with them. Admire the snowy peaks, enormous boulders, rushing streams, and majestic elk I’ve created. Think of me when you see it all. And what do I always tell you? Don’t worry, you silly girl. I’ll provide.”

Thanks. Love you.

“Love you, too.”

Joyful Trials

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Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

~James 1:2-3

Life in the Rockies is pretty sweet, but it’s still life. There are moments when I think, Wow, I never want to leave these people and go back to reality. Then there are other moments when I think, Woah, this is reality. Definitely not vacation.

Life gets hard. Life gets boring. Life gets stressful. Life also has moments filled with excitement and fulfillment and those fuzzy feelings that make me think maybe I’m actually doing things right. But notice James didn’t say if– he said when. Trials will come and they will slip themselves right in between all the beautiful, pleasant moments life has to offer.

The past few days have included new experiences, new people, and new challenges. Our first worship service ended up more like a practice run because of a lack of attendees, but we’re praying aIMG_0969nd preparing for a better turnout this weekend as the park becomes filled with more guests and travelers. On the upside, more international students are arriving to work at the lodge every day and my team has been able to share our mission with them and invite them into our lives.

One of my team members and I went on an incredible hike to the top of a mountain a few days ago. At the peak, the 360 degree view was overwhelming. I think of it every time the blisters on my heels rub against my shoes. But I guess that’s how life goes: you get your mountaintop views and your raw, aching feet all at once. Sometimes we can’t separate the good from the bad.

So in all the trials, God calls us to choose joy. Some days are like yesterday, when stress just hits. My boss wants everything done at the front desk a particular way, but I’m still learning and making mistakes. The learning process can be stressful and I find myself making a running tally of my mistakes versus my successes. Then, looking into next week and another worship service, I’m reminded of my ministry: How many meaningful conversations have I had? Have I done enough? Are my efforts getting results?

When worry creeps in, I have to remember to choose joy. Choose to laugh with my friends, choose to make newcomers feel welcome, choose to stop keeping track and just live and love. Most of all, I have to remember that trials come and go, so I have to take them as they come and use them to propel myself forward into the blessings that God has waiting for me. IMG_0994

Thanks and Praise

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What a week. I can for sure say that I have seen God at work here in the mountains. As the summer season begins and things get rolling both with my job and with ACMNP, I can tell God’s hand is in whatever is going on here. And it is wonderful.

The week began, not unexpectedly, with doubts and IMG_0954feelings that I wasn’t doing all I was called here to do. I felt like I wasn’t making friends fast enough, wasn’t reaching enough people, wasn’t preparing enough for my team’s first Sunday service. But, like always, God has a way of working things out when we turn them over to him and trust that he knows better.

So, here’s a brief list of the many blessings of the past week that I am so thankful for:

  • Finished vacuuming. I think that makes me good for the next twenty years or so.
  • Learned how to make beds like a boss.
  • Got to have long conversations about everything and anything with one of my ministry team members. Absolutely fantastic person. Way cool.
  • A failed attempt at a ministry team meeting turned into a night of hanging out on the most beautiful front porch in all of Colorado (shout out to Grand Lake Lodge).
  • A successful attempt at a ministry team meeting left me feeling so much better about the friends who will be leading worship with me. Great hearts, great personalities.
  • A new coworker and former ACMNPer turned out to also be an amazing friend who invited me on my first hike. Meadows. Waterfalls. Mountains. YES.
  • Landed an official position at the front desk and had a splendid first day.

God is good, Colorado is sweet, thanks are many.IMG_0942

It’s All in the Details

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I made it to Grand Lake! Plus, by the grace of God my drive up was nothing but sunny–no snowstorm in sight. I could not have imagined a more beautiful place. The mountain views have yet to disappoint me–and I don’t think they ever will. Things are quiet here, since the lodge I’m working at just recently opened. Customers are only beginning to trickle in. In the meantime, there is still a lot of preparation to be done.

I had thought I would get my job assignment the first day I arrived at the lodge, but I still don’t know what my official position will be. For now, I’m helping clean the cabins so that they will be ready for guests. This means vacuuming, polishing, dusting, and making beds. Over and over and over again.

The first full day of cleaning left me moody and wishing I had some other type of work to do. I felt dusty and itchy and tired. Above all, I felt discouraged. I knew this was just the beginning, but hours of moving furniture and dusting identical baseboards in room after room had sapped most of the energy I arrived with just days before.

So who did God send me that afternoon? My team’s Ministry Support Committee of one, named Dave. Dave filled us in on all we would need to know about how our Sunday services will go and what to expect while planning and publicizing them. His experience, encouragement, and reassurance completely altered my mood and put my day into the proper perspective.

Today, I cleaned again. Same routine, same tiredness that crept up on me as the day went on. I found myself again wishing that I didn’t have to vacuum so many corners or move so many mini fridges. Who care about the dust under the bed? As long as the day was, I know God is working. And sure, a few cobwebs in the corner won’t be the end of the world, but God is using this work to shape my attitude.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~Colossians 3:17

There will be days that are full of monotony; days when nothing I do seems to put a dent in the work that still has to be done; days wheIMG_0914n no one will see me working or be there to acknowledge me when I complete my task. Some days, I will be tempted to cut corners. But God sees the little things. God is in the beautiful, majestic, breathtaking mountain views, but he is also in the neatly folded sheets that guests may never notice.

I’m ready for God to work through me in big ways this summer, but right now I see him working more through small things: coworkers who make an effort to learn my name or ask how I’m doing, the moments when the sun breaks through the clouds and lights up the mountain peaks (but then it snows five seconds later); the deliciousness of a hot dinner after a long, strenuous day; the kindness of leaders and mentors who take the time to teach and offer their assistance.

The Rockies are big and impressive and awesome–like God. They’re also filled with hidden trails, abundant wildlife, and intricate beauty that requires a long, slow look. God is like that too–He’s present in the fine details. He notices our smallest efforts at loving and living right, even when they remain unseen to everyone else.

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15:58

So here I am! Cleaning and praising God in the middle of the mountains. Ready for big things, but learning to appreciate the little details. And I saw a moose. So. Cool.