Sunday, July 31, 2016

note: this isn't my best post ever. my writing is choppy and fragmented, split and rambling. my mind is all over the place. but this is the first time i've gotten the entire story down on paper in one composed whole, and besides, it's a messy story.

but here you go.



I feel like a couple of my last posts have been super cryptic and yada yada yada, so I just wanted to reflect on things that have occurred in the past couple of months, in plain English, without cryptic-ness. Because cryptic-ness is all very well, but if you don’t know what the author is actually saying, the meaning is lost on the reader and the author loses a chance to share something important that he or she has learned.
So this is my reflections time.

Junior year was tough, tough, tough for me. Even though my freshman and sophomore school years were hard in their own individual ways, at the end of the year, I could look back, sigh, and say that it had been a good school year, in retrospect. I’d slept a little less, had a little more homework, but also maybe had a little more fun. That was ninth and tenth grade. 

Junior year, though…man, junior year was so hard. On top of school pressure, I had a freaking identity crisis—it can only really be described as an identity crisis, although more experienced adults could argue that I don’t really have an identity yet—and I started going kind of crazy, because I wasn’t sure where all this schoolwork and homework and such was going. Like, did I actually want to be a writer, or was I going to change my career plan? What if I wanted to be a singer? What if I wanted to be an actor? After I “auditioned” for High School Musical 4, I considered a career in entertainment, although it seems kind of stupid to me now. Did I want to be a graphic designer? A marketer? A dancer? A film director? I had my dad sign me up for Biola’s high school film camp, and attending that really started to push things into focus for me. 

Along with my self-described identity crisis, I was also not being healthy at all. I stress-ate. I ate, like, four meals a day. And then I’d try to crash-diet—I wouldn’t eat breakfast, but then I’d be hungry by the time break came around, and then my entire meal plan was messed up—and then, when I got home, I’d just binge-eat chocolate chips. Which sounds like a weird choice of food, but hey, I needed my chocolate fix. On top of that, I wasn’t exercising. So, needless to say, I gained at least (a couple of pounds over) ten pounds during junior year. Which kind of sucks, honestly. 

I also wasn’t sleeping. Or I was, but not nearly enough. There was one point where I slept under the dining room table—I was doing my homework downstairs, in the dining room, and at around one or two a.m., I decided to call it quits, but I wanted to wake up early to finish it. So I slept under the dining room table.

My mother found me at five a.m., and she yelled at me. That was the end of my dining room table sleeping career, but it wasn’t the end of my bad sleeping habits. 

I was almost always late to zero period, and for a while, everything just kind of suffered—my relationships with my teachers and fellow classmates, my relationships with my family and friends, my relationship with God. 

It was a grand occasion when I wore something other than gym shorts and a T-shirt to school, and I just—everything was so messy. The state of my mind, the state of my room, the state of my heart. So freaking messy.

It was actually all a blur, because there was a period of time in March and April where everything was just out of focus for me, mostly because of sleep deprivation and this incessant feeling of drowning. I was procrastinating a lot. I was doing homework a lot. I cried on several different occasions, because I wanted to change my friend group but I felt alone and I just didn’t want to deal with any of it anymore. To make matters worse—this was a huge problem for me—I felt like my struggles weren’t legitimate.

There are so many other people who have it worse off than I do. Many, many people don’t get the opportunities that I’ve been given: a stable family life. Living in Southern California—a place that everyone wants to visit/live. The opportunity to go to school, and do well in it. The opportunity to go to college. For me, it wasn’t even a question whether I would go to college or not; some people don’t know whether they’re going to get to eat that day. 

And so I felt like my life was hard, but then I felt bad for feeling that my life was hard, because it really wasn’t. Because when I compare my life to other people’s, it’s great. I have a great life. But sometimes I feel guilty for having a good life, even though it wasn’t my choice to be born into a good family. I feel guilty for complaining about seemingly trivial things. I feel guilty for not having any real hardship.

But comparison is the thief of joy, and you should take what you’ve been given, and then use your opportunities to expand on your abilities and give glory to God through them. 

I’m rambling. My sentences are long and run-on. I promise I’m a better writer than this. But I’ve tried, many times, in the past couple of months to write down everything that’s been going on in my life, and this is the first time that I can present it as a full, complete picture. And honestly? The picture is messy. Because my life is messy. I mean, you’re reading Silver Mess, for heaven’s sake.
As my life was rolling and rippling and rocking, my family was preparing to go to the Czech Republic for a missions trip. We’d decided to go in January—it was us, six people, along with three others from our church—and the trip was in June and July. 

Our church has been doing this missions trip for a long time. We’ve had long-term missionaries in Czech for a while, and we always partner with them and a couple of other churches to help put on an English camp there. In namesake, it’s always an English camp, but inevitably, it’s a time for us to evangelize and minister and serve. 

I’d grown up hearing about the trip, because we did it every summer, without fail, and we’d always prayed for the people who went to Czech in Sunday School and such. But my family was actually going—and it suddenly became all the more real to me. Like, dude, I’m a representative to these people of Jesus. Most of these people are atheists. We’re supposed to be models of service, and ambassadors for Christ. 

How on earth was I supposed to do that when I’d just come out of such a spiritually dry part of my life?

Before I knew it, school was over (praise Jesus), and my family was packing. I went to Biola’s film camp, which confirmed that I was not meant to have a career in film. It was too technical and detail-specific, and although it was interesting, I couldn’t really imagine pursuing it as a career. So that cleared things up for me.
And then off we went, whisked away to another part of the world.

My first impressions of Czech were that it was lush and green. California is in a drought, so you can imagine what kind of state it’s in—super yellow, summer dry hot all year round, and kind of gross. But Czech was all rolling hills and green grass and the occasional rainy day and small villages and the occasional big city but mostly small villages.

And the churches we were partnered with—holy sweet potato heads, I was so encouraged by the members of the other teams. I’m one of the oldest teenagers/adolescents/young adults/whatever-you-call-its at my church, so it was different being one of the youngest ones. And I enjoyed it so much—having conversations that seemed fuller and more mature, with adults and college kids and people who could possibly be my grandparents and people who weren’t old enough to be my parents but weren’t young enough to be my peers. The way people served one another—in a sense, it was a kind of peer pressure, but it opened my eyes to so many ways I could help serve, just in general. Like, service doesn’t just extend to missions trips. It’s something that should be practiced throughout our everyday lives: serving my family. Serving my friends. Serving people who don’t even know they’re being served, and never will. Loving on people by doing things for them, and accepting grace as well.
English camp itself was a blast. The place we stayed at was in the mountains, way away from civilization, and it was probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. It kinda had Sound of Music vibes to it—the hills are aliveeeee—and right from the outset, we were busy.

Every day was so full. We woke up at six, six-thirty in the morning to get ready for the day and take showers and do our personal devotions and go on the occasional run/walk. At seven o’clock was team devotions—we all gathered in our designated “teachers’ room,” and we sang a few songs and studied different Psalms in the Bible, with a different person leading each Psalm study. At eight o’clock was breakfast—a buffet-style meal that included really, really good breads and cheeses—and after breakfast was our morning session (basically songs, a Culture Talk, and some announcements). After the morning session was the three-hour class session. There were ten classes altogether, and I helped out with the Beginners class, even though there was a one-to-one student-teacher ratio and I mostly only wrote English words on the notepad. 

Lunch—the main meal of the day, which included a soup and a main dish, usually some sort of heavy pasta or gravy or meat—followed the class session, and then workshops and seminars followed. Various members of the teams conducted different activities for the campers to do: making puppy chow (a really good, unhealthy snack comprised of Chex Mix, powdered sugar, and chocolate), spikeball, jujitsu, calligraphy, etc., etc. A couple of the days we went on a hike after the workshops; some days we stayed behind and played games like Capture the Flag. 

At five-thirty was dinner, which was typically pretty heavy and light on vegetable consumption, and after dinner was the evening session, which was composed of icebreaker/warmup games, songs, a Life Story (or testimony, shared by different people), and a sermon/message. 

After the sermon, at around nine, we all went to our different classrooms to wait and see if people would be interested in talking about the message given. After that time period was free time, during which some people would put on an organized game. One night, we had square dancing; another night, people played Telephone Pictionary. 

We all usually went to bed around eleven or twelve, or sometimes later, and then we’d have to do the entire thing over again.

Each day, though, was unique, and I remember certain details about English camp that I’m pretty sure have been committed to long-term memory. Our classroom was an actual hotel room, and the beds had dark navy bedspreads sprinkled with little yellow crescents and suns and moons. At dinnertime, they served dessert before the actual main course, so—lacking self-control—I usually ate the dessert before the main meal. My family brought three big containers of Jelly Belly jellybeans to English camp, and within the first couple of days, all of it was gone. I felt super inadequate and unhelpful and not useful at all during the first couple of days of camp, so I had to have some talks with people and remind myself that I was there for a reason.

And, on the whole, the trip affected me so much. It was my first missions trip, for one thing. It also served as a place of spiritual renewal for me. I was away from my comfortable OC home and in a different place on the other side of the world. And when English camp ended, I was a different person.
I just didn’t know how long that would last.

Now that I have more time at home, I can catch myself slipping into my old habits. I used to watch a lot of YouTube before I went to English camp, but during the camp itself I couldn’t, because I had no time. Now that I’m back home, I’m not used to watching YouTube, but I’m slowly but surely watching more than I did during Czech, and I don’t like it. I like freeing myself from the screen.
I also started reading my Bible more. Our early-morning devotionals were so, so good for me—I loved them. I think that God gave me a lot of energy during that trip, and also a lot of stuff to do. I kind of just vibrated the entire time I was there. It was like I was getting a spiritual high off the buzz that just these people kept feeding me, that God kept feeding me.

That high and buzz are wearing off, but I’ve been going through the book of Joel, and it’s a really good book. It’s short and sweet, but its themes are hopeful and redemptive, and it feels like I’m still breathing, even though I’m out of Europe and away from those people who encouraged me so much there. I hope that with continued study, I won’t forget the things I learned in Czech. I don’t want to lose everything I learned, and I can’t retain it on my own strength—only God can help me.
I just feel good. Even though I’m busy—I have meetings and plans with people almost every single day this upcoming week—I’m thankful. And I’m enjoying life again. And I’m learning that even in hard circumstances, one can find joy through God. 

And I’m learning not to worry—not worrying about college, not worrying about people, not worrying about friends or guys or my future. Even though I certainly need to plan for my future, I know that God’s got me, and that assurance is what keeps me going. 

p.s. don't forget to enter my back-to-school giveaway!!

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