Why I Chose the Road Less Travelled
To laugh often and love much
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children
To win the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded
Everybody has their quote; that one set of words your mind falls to when someone asks you to describe yourself or your aspirations. Well, this is that quote for me. My whole life I had been force fed goals of wealth, luxuries, careers, and materials to perceive the concept of success. By the time I reached high school, I became obsessed with the idea that all my decisions were determining the social and financial status of my future. Inevitably, I became obsessed with convincing God to have the same plans for my future as I did, because I felt entitled not only to comfort, but also luxury. When I I read that quote for the first time, I felt passion and purpose come alive in my soul in ways that nothing else in this world could. I should’ve known all along that God’s plans for my future weren’t going to be socially normal or comfortable. I wish I ‘d spent high school preparing ways to glorify God with my future, not glorify myself. Apparently at some point during freshman year I got really fed up with the pressures of college and future. Here was my journal entry from November 11, 2013:
"From 8th grade I've been pressured about college. Numerous times I've had to fill out college questionnaires, filling in bubbles that asked me everything from my race to the kinds of clubs I wanted to be in at college. I was in 8th grade...I couldn't even remember what the Mason Dixon line was let alone tell you what college I wanted to go to. And since 8th grade I've filled out plenty more of those tedious questionnaires; and I've filled out each one differently. I always change my mind on something. But it's fine right? Adults always tell me I have plenty of time to decide. But do I really? Or better yet, do I have to? Is college my only option after high school? Am I a waste of space if I pass up college? Will teachers and the community call me lazy? Because I'm pretty sure being top in my class isn't lazy...Society has been forcing us to look through the same window all our lives. But what we don't realize is that we aren't glued to that window. We just need the courage to step away from that politically accepted, socially normal window, and check our other options for life. So here's my message to anyone who is confused about college: HS graduates who also graduate from college make approximately 1 million more than someone who doesn't have a college degree. But they don't necessarily make more worth. Money buys stuff, but it can never buy purpose, and if your whole goal in life is to make money, then you don't have much purpose because all of that precious money is going to die with you, but your legacy lasts through generations. And I don't know about you, but I want to be known as someone much more than just a 'steady-income'. I want to fill people with kindness. And no dollar sign at all can help me do that. So don't let the college thumpers tell you that you'll amount to nothing if you don't go to college. You'll amount to whatever you set your heart on. And your heart will be where your treasure is. Going to college never guarantees a stable place in the economy. Just as not going to college doesn't guarantee a fate flipping burgers. Some people are meant to go to college, and that's okay. Some people aren't meant to go to college, and thats okay too. I don't know if I really got my point across there, but it's late and I'm tired and so here are words."
I experienced the reality of glorifying God above myself for the first time during spring break that next year as a sophomore. Our youth group got the opportunity to travel to Mazatlan, Mexico and spend a week living life with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) missionaries. We worked on the base, explored the city, and built a few houses for some really awesome families. I grew up in rural, middle-class Indiana where adventure is driving twenty minutes to the grocery store, and you see more corn fields in a day than you do humans. Don’t get me wrong; I love Indiana dearly. But to put in into perspective as to what it’s like growing up here, Business Insider voted Indiana as the “most normal state in the USA”. I think that gives you a bit of a picture. So when I travelled to Mexico and lived life outside of the ordinary, I was radically changed. To say it best, I was ruined for the ordinary. Forever. When I came home from Mexico, I talked non-stop for a week about how I was going to do a Discipleship Training School (DTS), which is a 5-6 month missionary training program that YWAM coordinates. I wanted to pack up and leave again right when I got home. My journal entry that I wrote a few days after I arrived home explains my feelings pretty well:
"So for the first time in forever, I am happy. I am not happy about being stuck in the Indiana arctic when I'd rather be in Mexico, but I'm finally happy that I know my purpose. I am supposed to be a missionary. It's beautiful. So it turns out this whole time that I thought I was an accident, I'm really not! God, you DO have a plan for me! And you're giving me two years to prepare! How I'll prepare, I'm not sure. There are swirling thoughts. But Lord, please never let me forget my love for Mexico. Allow me to always cherish their people, their language, and their culture. I know that I won't be doing all of my missions work in Mexico, because my dream from a few years ago included people of all ethnicities. But I'll have to go back to Mexico sometime because I have unfinished business there. It's amazing to actually feel life inside of me again. My heart beats for a reason. It beats with determination and purpose. I do more than take up oxygen. I am a fisher of men. I will not ever live luxuriously here on this earth. I am very aware of that. But my family's hearts will be full of all kinds of rubies and gems. Lord, help me to combine faith and obedience to one day be a Godly woman."
Unfortunately, this was two years before I was actually required to make a decision about my future. It was easy to forget about what gave me passion once I fell back into the routine of doing the same thing everyday. It was easy to forget that there was more to life than football games on Friday and church on Sunday. It wasn’t until winter of junior year that I began again to think of my passion. One of my friends that I went to Mexico with actually went back to Mazatlan for a DTS. When he arrived home, I couldn’t wait to talk with him and hear stories about his trip. He asked me, “Are you still thinking about a DTS?” Truly, I hadn’t thought about a DTS in probably a year. My life had changed so much and the idea of it was now more frightening than exciting. I told him that college just felt like a wiser, safer, and more realistic life choice. I could still give God glory at college. But he left our conversation with a piece of advice that I would carry with me throughout my entire senior year.
“Usually God gives us multiple choices. But the best choice is the one that will give God the most glory.”
Fast-forward to senior year, the most exhilarating yet mysterious year for all high school students. Finally the adolescent years spent behind the bars of“unfair” authority were coming to an end and we were finally free to begin our lives. But the mystery was held in where our lives actually begun. I knew I wanted to glorify God in my future, but I remained closed minded and figured I’d find a college to glorify God, where I would remain safe and comfortable. I spent a week during the summer at a small liberal arts school in southern Indiana at a cross-country camp, and immediately fell in love. I loved everything about this school from the nature park hidden behind the campus, to the ultra-healthy cafeteria menu they boasted. Senior year hadn’t even started and I knew without a doubt where I would call home after graduation. God pulled the doors wide open for me, so glorifying him at college was obviously going to be my purpose. Easy. Or so I thought…God wasn’t going to allow my desire to glorify him to selfishly convenience me. On an overnight visit to the school late fall I discovered the truth, and it didn’t sit well with my conscience. Partying was a casual part of the culture, and spirituality was nearly unheard of. My heart was broken. God, why would you open this door just to slam it in my face? I knew I needed a solid Christian group surrounding me at college because I’m not the type who does well alone. And it was clear that I wouldn’t be getting that need satisfied there. God was saying no, but I didn’t obey him immediately. I battled for weeks before I finally let go. God unfortunately didn’t open any other doors the way I originally thought he would. I had my mind completely made up, and now I was lost. What was I going to do? I visited a few other schools, but none of them seemed to spark any real interest for me. I never heard the gentle voice in the wind whisper this is the one. Sure, God doesn’t always speak to you. But after I said no to the first school, I was very clear with God that I was going to obey him with whatever he asked of me, because if I could say no to a school I was completely in love with, I was going to obey him whole heartedly. I realized glorifying God wasn't synonymous with feeling full of praise. If I listened to hear the truth rather than my feelings, I’d know God was speaking. But at each visit, he was silent. No voice, no sign, no spark. Nothing. When January came around and I still didn’t have an answer, I was starting to become incredibly anxious. When I had my first panic attack, I truly and genuinely thought I was dying, right there on my bed after bible study. I shook uncontrollably, I couldn’t breathe, my vision was unsteady, and I simply had no idea what was happening. Eventually I got enough strength to run downstairs and tell my dad that I was dying and needed to go to the hospital. My dad, being the extremely cautious and sympathetic man he is, gave me a confused look and told me to get some sleep. But the tears came anyway, and he got up and talked to me until I calmed down and eventually fell to sleep. Nights like that would become routine for me. I sought refuge in a trusted mentor, and after sharing and praying with her; I became aware that a war was raging on within my soul. I couldn’t see it, but I sure could feel it. And it was only the beginning.
In February I decided to apply for the Lily Scholarship. The Lily Scholarship was given to one student in the county, and it paid their entire college tuition for all four-years. It was a long shot, but maybe applying would give me direction and hope. It was my last ditch effort at finding a door to my future that wasn’t locked. The topic of the essay was simply to explain what we wanted to study in college. And as is typical when I begin to translate my feelings and thoughts onto paper, I remembered again the way I felt at home in Mazatlan with a motley group of missionaries. I remembered that the one part of this world that gives me passion is when I’m giving God’s love away to others and essentially, that’s what I wanted to study. I wanted to study how I could find my role in loving others the way God does, whatever the heck that looks like as a major. I loved writing my essay for the Lily more than the idea of actually receiving the Lily. The last paragraph of my essay is as follows:
"Through América's eyes [a little girl I met in Mexico], I have found the truth behind compassion: it lies not in blessing another with our hands, but with our hearts. I do not know where my life is headed, but I do know that I want to make the world realistically brighter for humanity. My hope is that I can apply the lessons I have learned growing up on a farm and work with, or establish my own, organization that provides resources to impoverished children to help them overcome their poverty and live a prosperous life. I do not desire to be a giver to causes, but a doer for causes. I want to confront suffering, and suffer, because only when I am on my knees, planting seeds of hope in the hearts of others, will compassion blossom and flourish."
A few weeks later I was shocked to discover that this essay landed me one of five interviews for the scholarship. Receiving this interview made me feel hope again that God may thankfully place my future in a comfortable position after all; even though deep in my heart I knew that wasn’t my true desire. The Lily interview came and went, and I nearly forgot about it altogether because my mind was focused on spring break when I would again jump on a plane with my youth group to go back to where it all began: Mazatlan, Mexico. We were headed back for another week to build another couple of houses and just live life with the missionaries. But for me, this trip was different. My dad and my best friend from school were with me this time. Three people whom I desperately wanted to experience life in Mazatlan were finally getting to do just that. I thought they were coming with me for their sake; so that they could experience passion as I had in Mazatlan. In retro respect, I think they were actually there for my sake; so that they could see and understand why a month later I would choose to be a missionary rather than a college student. And anyway, I needed a week away from all the stress I had been under since January, all the pressure, all the anxiety…
I spent most of that trip having personal and emotional conversations with God. He was drawing me near to him, and finally, I heard the gentle whisper. Follow me. I felt His peace. I felt something that I never felt on college visits: belonging. So this was God’s ultimate plan for my future, the plan that would give him the most glory.
But what about the scholarship?..
I decided in Mazatlan that if I got the scholarship, I would go to college. Obviously. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t go to college. I would go on a DTS. I stepped back and gave my future to God. And even though I knew it was right, it didn’t feel right. It felt terrifying. The idea of leaving home for 5-6 months and going who knows where to do who knows what while everybody I knew was at college was terrifying. But God’s plans always prevail in His perfect timing, and the first thing I did at 2am when I arrived home from Mazatlan was open the letter from the scholarship foundation. I didn’t get it.
Despite now having a very clear answer from God, I still tried to find my own way in order to avoid the uncomfortable by finding an excuse that I could glorify God better in college than I could on missions. Anyway, I was one of the top students in my class. I was good at learning, and I really enjoyed it. My SAT and ACT scored were good, why would God ask me to waste that? I began to desperately sink under the weight of my anxiety as I struggled with deciding to choose my way or God’s way. But as I realized fully that if my purpose in this life were to be to glorify God, I had no ground to withhold even he slightest amount of glory that I was able to give to God. Sure, some people were supposed to go to college, and that was where God wanted them to give Him glory. But His plans for me weren’t that simple. And finally, I accepted it.
May 1, 2016 was decision day for all high school seniors. May 1 was the day that we all were supposed to sign our lives away to different colleges and universities, and begin boasting our attendance to this and that school in our social media bios. I watched all my friends make a decision. I watched all my friends find roommates and sign up for classes. But I didn’t participate. I was on my own journey, quite separated from most of my peers. On decision day, I didn’t choose a college. I chose a YWAM base.
Well my decision wasn’t actually that timely. I didn’t choose a base until midway through the summer. I found one just south of San Pedro, Belize in a little town called Ambergris Caye. The base used to be an old resort, renovated to fit the missionary lifestyle. It was right on the ocean, and the students were housed in little casitas on the shore. It was perfect. Tropical. Environmental. Humid. It was perfect for me, and I felt excitement and purpose as I sent in my application.
Unfortunately, the excitement only crossed my path, and then vanished like wind. As the semester began for the new class of 2020, most of my close friends left for Purdue. And just like that, I went from a busy high school girl with crowds of friends to simply alone. I was left out of normalcy. I was experiencing what it was really like to skip out on freshman year of college. My friends began joining clubs, finding internships, making new friends, and beginning a new life as a new person. I commuted downtown everyday to take a few sustainability classes just to fill some time. I had no clubs to join, no internships to find, no new friends to make, no new beginnings, no…purpose. Depression and anxiety snuck their way back into my life and dragged me under the water again like anchors attached to my feet. I cried everyday for the entire first month of the new semester. I couldn’t eat. Some days I couldn’t get myself out of bed. I couldn’t talk to anyone, out of embarrassment because I had no stories to tell. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t smile. I pushed everyone away because depression quickly filled up all the space in my heart. I thought I had wasted my life. I made the wrong decision. I knew I made a decision that wasn’t normal, but I didn’t know what kind of decision would feel like. But now I do. And it’s hard. It’s so hard. I regretted deciding not to be like everybody else. I regretted not thinking about things like new friends and new activities. I spent all day everyday regretting everything. Eventually, I spent all day regretting life. I felt no purpose, no enjoyment, no fulfillment; I felt nothing at all but bitterness and hatred for the choice I made. I remember close to the end of senior year, my principal actually called me into his office to show me his disappointment for my decision to not attend college. He didn’t care about a decision that gave me passion or purpose; he cared about what society wanted me to do. He didn’t ask to hear my reasons for going on a mission’s trip. He only wanted to tell me that college was more important, and skipping out on it was the wrong decision. And now, I was beginning to believe him. I didn’t want to hear my reasons anymore either. I wasn’t excited. When you let darkness bury you in a hole that deep, it becomes so easy to want death over life. God had plans for my future, plans I knew were coming but weren’t yet tangible. I only had to hold on until they were. But I didn’t want to hold on anymore. And as I was losing my grip on the desire for life at all, God placed a person in my life that was loosing her grip too. And we decided to hold on together, for each other. My friend had an insurmountable amount of suffering flooding her life, and I found so much inspiration in her ability to have faith despite her circumstances. She prayed for me even though she was hurting more than I was. We talked often, sent each other encouraging bible verses and songs, and shared and lived all of our struggles together. I am so thankful for her because, through her encouragement, she helped me to see that God was still working in this semester even though it was unexpectedly the hardest semester of my life.
Even though I have gotten used to my current situation now, it still isn’t easy not being normal. But I realized that God asked me to do something that wasn’t normal, and there’s no point in regretting obedience to God. I’m learning to pray through my depression and anxiety, rather than running from those dark passengers. I began only listening to Jesus music and deleted all of my social media apps. I’m beginning to see God’s light in the darkness. Most of all, I decided that its worth it to keep going. I’ve spent a lot of time alone this semester, and I’m beginning to see it as a blessing rather than a burden. I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve reflected on why depression and anxiety have always been such a struggle for me. I’ve had a lot of time to run and train for my third half marathon. I’ve had time to read a lot of books and watch movies that I’ve never had time for. Sheesh, I’ve had time to write my entire life story here. I’ve had a lot of time to just be, and I am thankful for that. I don’t know why God has allowed all of these wounds to be opened before my DTS and not during, but I guess he has other plans for what I’ll experience and become during DTS.
I was officially accepted into YWAM Destination Paradise on September 24. When I got the call about my acceptance, I think I felt my heart beat for the first time since mid August. It was real. I had a purpose and my time to become new and begin a new life was coming. I simply have to hold on, and hold on I can do as long as God is my fortress. As long as I give him my weaknesses each morning when I put my feet on the ground for the day, he gives me his strength. After DTS, I’m not sure what’s coming. My desire is to go to college and study sustainable agriculture, which is a branch of sustainability that uses permaculture to build community and care for the earth. But if God has other plans, he has other plans, and I will accept that too.
My DTS will begin with a 12-week lecture phase in Ambergris Caye, Belize. During the lecture phase, time will be focused on exploring different topics week by week. In addition, my days will include small groups, one-on-one discipleship, prayer and intercession, worship, team building, and adventure opportunities (a necessity if you know me). Once the lecture phase is complete, I will be spending 8-weeks on an outreach. Outreach is focused on activating my faith and what I learned during lecture phase. I’ll live, work, pray, and minister along with my outreach team, sharing God’s love in word and deed. YWAM Destination Paradise does not limit their outreach options to a certain region in the world; so anywhere around the globe is a possibility. The location will be prayerfully considered and decided a month into lecture phase. Financially, I will need a total of $3,950, for lecture phase, which includes tuition, housing, and food. Because it is unknown of the location for outreach, this portion could cost anywhere from $3,350-$5,950, which will include airfare, tuition, housing, and food.
I am sharing my story in such depth because I want everyone that reads this to understand what it took for me to come to the decision to embark on a 5-month missions trip rather than choosing the normal college route. I believe that college is important, but my obedience to God is more important. In fact, it is the most important. And when God asks me to follow him, I will follow to the ends of the earth because he has never once failed me, and yet I fail him daily. I hope that as you read my story, you understand the kind of impact simply choosing a DTS has made on my life, and the journey I have already been on in spiritual preparation. God has been working to prepare my heart since eighth grade, I was just never aware. And he has something great coming for me in Belize and beyond, something I now still remain unaware of. I simply ask that you be in prayer for me as I prepare and as I go to share God’s love beyond Indiana. Please pray for safety, for growth, for overcoming, and for God to give me new abilities to spread his love with my words and with my ministries. But if you are willing and able, I would greatly appreciate any monetary donations to go towards my trip. Every dollar counts, and I will graciously and humbly accept any amount. If you are interested, there is a link to my Go Fund Me page under the "Donations" tab. Within these next couple months before I leave, I will be posting more to this blog to provide updates for those who are supporting me in prayer and donation. And I will continue to post to my blog once the time comes for me to begin this new adventure officially.
Thank you for you reading my story and for your prayers as I discover what becomes of my decision to obey God. It is my hope that one day I succeed. Not in status, not in wealth, not in health, but in giving, in loving, and in knowing that one life breathed easier because I allowed God to use this life I live.
In His name,