Tears well up in my eyes as the voices of people I love wash over me. Even as I pick out individual timbres, I hear one unified song coming from friends who are like family to me…
Yesterday I celebrated my “golden birthday,” turning 23 on the 23rd. Many people, including my mother, did not know what that meant, so I think it’s a recent development in birthdays. I don’t know if it was the title or the amazing outpouring of love I received, but I have to admit it was a pretty spectacular birthday! Thank you, friends and family, for making me feel so blessed.
A birthday card from one of my best friends, Christie, said something that got me thinking. She said, “This year will really shine for you and I can’t wait to see you live it.” Not only is that incredibly sweet, but it made me stop and think about what 23 might have in store. I decided to set some goals and resolutions for this year, like I should have done at New Years 😅. A few of them I have been striving towards for a while, but some of them I just came up with, hah! In no particular order, here are 23 goals for year 23 of my life! Let’s see how many I can accomplish in the next 364 days:
Last night I had a life-changing experience, I think. I don’t always recognize them in the moment, but this one hit me instantly. It changed the way I see my faith, my Christian family, and my eternity.
My reader Sherry and I were discussing the second coming of Christ, and let me tell you it was all getting very confusing. Acts 1:11 reads, “You saw Jesus carried away from you into heaven. He will come back in the same way you saw him go.” The idea of Jesus coming down from heaven in this way is hard to imagine. Where is heaven? What does it look like? How far away is it? Can we put heaven into words, into pictures, into dreams? Will we see him riding in on a cloud? Soaring from the sky like a bird in flight? Exploding into our lives like a firework? After a lot of talking, I admitted I did not have the answers and Sherry agreed we could not fully know what to expect from heaven or from the return of Jesus.
We moved on in our lessons and I forgot about the heaven discussion. Quite a while later, we were reading Acts 2:42-47, which describes the selfless ways in which the believers lived. They shared food, money, and time. They sold belongings to give the proceeds to the needy. They opened up their homes to one another and shared everything (v. 42). It says, “They were happy to share their food and ate with joyful hearts,” (v.46). Sherry and I were struck by this idea of a fellowship of joy. We discussed how different our modern churches look from the gatherings of these first believers. We questioned how we could be more like them. We spent stretches of time in silence, each of us pondering the implications of this passage in our lives. Eventually, Sherry said something to the effect of this: One day, we will live in complete joy. We will all share our lives with one another, united in Christ. And then she said, “That’s the kind of heaven I can imagine.”
I tried to hide the tears that were welling in my eyes, only to see that Sherry was crying as well. We were both moved by our longing for this heaven, this joyful fellowship, this selfless unity. We laughed a little and she apologized for being sensitive, but I know our tears were a genuine reaction to what we had just experienced. We had glimpsed a future that was beautiful and full of promise in a world that often feels so lonely and dark. We had rediscovered the goal of Christian love and unity. We had realized that heaven might not be a place we can see with our eyes just yet, but it is a place we can feel with our souls.
Until Christ returns or calls us home, let us set our sights on things eternal. Let us strive to live like the first believers, giving up all we have to serve God and others. Let us invest in our faith, instead of in worldly possessions. And let us unite in joy instead of clinging to the problems that separate us.
I know this is easier said than done, but let us be transformed by the hope that heaven isn’t so far away after all.
After a whirlwind of a week, I have been made aware of many beautiful things
- God’s grace sustains us
- I come from a family of servant hearts
- It is an unspeakable joy and blessing to have “forever friends”
- I can make mistakes and still succeed
- You can never have too much bread. 🙂
I could probably go on and on about the remarkable blessings I have experienced this week, but I don’t want to bore anybody! I just wanted to write a post to thank those who have supported me, to express my praise to God, and to reflect on more life-changing moments.
The other night I heard a piece from John Donne’s Meditation XVII – No Man Is An Island. [As a poet, Donne holds a special place in my heart. A few years ago, I had poems from his Holy Sonnets memorized and they changed my life and my spirituality at the time. Death, be not proud is a particularly meaningful one to me and I’m still drawing understanding from it.]
No Man Is An Island is written in reference to mankind, but today it speaks to me on a much more personal level.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
I am not my own, I belong to the whole. I belong to God’s family. I belong to the relatives who lift me up and call me loved. I belong to the friends who have been part of my journey, even those whose paths went in a different direction than mine. I belong to musicians, composers, and mentors who guided my steps. And I belong to those whom I serve and encourage and motivate, as they do the same for me. I am not an island.
Although it is easy to get caught up in our own priorities, our own struggles, and our own goals, it is important to remember that we are traveling this road of life together. That none of us should cut ourselves off from the guidance, love, and companionship we give and receive from one another. That the joys and sorrows of others affect us and our lives affect theirs.
I am drawn to Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” It is not always easy to put yourself in another’s shoes, but we are called to do so as followers of Christ and as members of mankind.
I have done my fair share of rejoicing and mourning this week, but I was surrounded by loved ones and surrounded by God’s love through all of it. We held on to each other and held on to Him and made it through the weekend. I could NOT have done it on my own. And I wouldn’t have wanted to.
I thank God for all of the people he has put into my life and I am grateful he created us to be in community with one another (Genesis 2:18, Psalm 133:1, Romans 12:4-5, Galatians 6:2). I thank my friends, family, and loved ones for helping me through a weekend I will never forget. And I thank the people who have submitted themselves to the idea that we are to be servants of others, not islands belonging to ourselves.
In a couple of months, I’ll be going to the island of Taiwan. I’ll be in a different country, experiencing a different culture, and I will be a foreigner, but I will still not be alone. I will be supported by prayers from home and surrounded by the love of my team, but I will also be forming new relationships with the people I meet.
At last night’s LST session, we talked about how our English conversations/readings are built around the idea of building one-on-one relationships with the readers. It is not a teacher-student relationship, but one of friendship – full of openness, trust, and sincerity. Opening the doors of communication and having a connection with someone is the only way to reach out in a meaningful way. In other words, I must make a link between myself and another person. I must make myself available to them and meet them where they are at. I must refuse to be an island.
I encourage anyone, no matter his or her situation, to be grateful for the influential people that are found in the everyday – and the extraordinary – moments. Allow them to be a part of your life and reach out to be a part of theirs. Do not see yourself as an island.
I have experienced a lot this week, but I am most grateful for the people who experienced it alongside me.
Thanks to Steddon Sikes for the photo!
Tonight was our first official training session for our Let’s Start Talking mission trip to Taiwan (June 2015!!!)
Our team is unique in that we will be English teachers by day and singers by night 🙂 We get the wonderful opportunity to use our voices to glorify God and entertain/encourage our readers with music in a way that no LST team has ever done before. As members of a quartet (+ our director), we will spend the next couple of months preparing our minds, hearts, and singing voices for a mission trip unlike any I have ever been on.
I was asked to describe how I was feeling about the trip at tonight’s training session and I chose the word blessed (hashtagblessedyaknow?) because I am honored to be a part of such an incredible trip, with beautiful people, doing what I love, while experiencing something completely outside of my comfort zone. I know it will be scary at times, but I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do something new and exciting, while also building relationships with my friends and with people I have yet to meet. All in all, I’d say “Adventure is out there!” (Up anyone?)
Today’s session also provided the inspiration for my blog title as we discussed John 15. When we fully trust in Jesus to be our foundation, the vine that we root into, and the source of our sustenance, then we have the strength and the ability to do His good works and produce fruit for his kingdom. As I metaphorically “branch out” into the world, I want to spiritually remain a branch that is fully dependent on Him.
I’m not sure how this whole blog thing will go, but I must admit that my motives for starting are kind of selfish. I have a horrible memory, but I am also afraid of forgetting significant moments, epiphanies, and people. I’m hoping that committing to blogging about my Taiwan experience will help me be more aware of the blessings around me and the beautiful ways that God is working in my life. I also hope to look back and smile at all of the people, places, and stories that God wove in with my own, fully appreciative of it all.
Thanks for reading and for your thoughts and prayers for our team as we prepare for our little adventure 🙂