Somewhere around 1987 I was old enough to venture out on my own and have some fun. As a child, I had the perfect idealistic childhood. I have great memories of riding my bike all around the small town we lived in, knowing everyone in town, even being able to “charge” my ice cream at a resturant to my dad with no questions at all. I loved that part, I felt so grown up. My dad was a farmer back in that day and I would go to work with him, riding the tractor, playing in the cotton trailer, hide n seek in the corn rows…I loved the small town; both of my sets of grandparents lived maybe 2 miles away, all my friends lived on my block, we played tons of sports together, had great summers, had tons of fun and our only rule was to be home by the time the streetlights came on. Small town life was wonderful in 1987ish.
At a very very childlike faith, I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of 6. At that time, I wasn’t really sure what was going on except I knew I was a sinner and needed a Savior to clean my heart. I do not remember that exact moment, but I do remember times after that. I remember sitting with my friend Monica and talking about how I wanted to go tell all the world about Jesus. Even though I had never gone much farther than the banks of the Gulf of Mexico in Destin Florida at that point in my life, I knew there was a world out there that desperately needed to know the story that I heard at such a young age and I wanted to be the person that went and told them.
I loved to read even then. I would read anything that I could get my hands on. I loved to read, to learn, to imagine this world. I loved to draw my imaginations and write stories about other people’s lives. I feel as if I lived in a dream world a lot of the time…all of my life I knew there was more to life, more to this world than I knew and I wanted to know it, experience it, tell others about it. More, I always wanted more.
Church at this time was nothing more than something you did on Sunday mornings. In my mind, Church was a place you dressed up for, looked nice, put on the face of “Everything in my life is great”, and went every Sunday morning from 9:30 -12. If the preacher preached longer than 12:00, people got mad. That was church, the place you went and really I didn’t see “church” anywhere else. I didn’t see much joy in “church.” The older I grew, the more boring it got, boring and judgemental. I saw the other poeple my age who were in church on Sundays but who were drunk the night before but then I heard that if you drank you went to Hell. I didn’t know what to think about church. It was something I knew I needed to go to, but something that was not interesting and I didn’t trust the people that were in the building with me. They all seemed fake. More..I knew there had to be more to the church thing..I believed the things I read in Scripture that said that Jesus is more than a place you went on Sunday morning..I knew there was more..i just didn’t know where to find it.
As I grew into my middle school years, life wasn’t as fun anymore and the small town didn’t have its same appeal that it once did. I never really completely fit in. I had friends at school, played every sport and had friends there, but most of my nights and weekends were spent alone, the older I got. Living in a small town didn’t give you the different groups to choose between, we only had 1 group at my small private school – the party group. I wasn’t allowed to hang out at the places they went and so, I was left alone a lot of the time. In middle school, everyone is trying to figure out who they are but where I grew up, there was only 1 “type” of person you could be – rich, snobby, party type girl. Maybe even a hunter or something like that. I was not that. I loved reading, music and art, sports and the outdoors. I loved to travel and adventure. I loved learning and trying new things and meeting new people. I didn’t know who I was but I knew that no one else was like me and I knew I didn’t fit in where I was. At this point of my life, I wanted to get out of small town, but for different reasons that I did as a child. I wanted to get out to a bigger places where I could find friends, people that accepted me for who I was.
As the years passed, this feeling intensified. Then in 2000, it was time for college. I wanted to go far. I applied to Duke and to the University of Tennessee but was not allowed to go out of state for school. So I picked Mississippi State University; the biggest university in Mississippi, 2.5 hours away from home, my dad’s alma matar, and also one of the best schools to go to for architecture and engineering (my interests at that time). I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in life, my life wasn’t really focused on Jesus at that point in my life, but I knew I wanted to do something big. I wanted to excel in whatever I did. I wanted to be a Frank Lloyd Wright or Miles Van der Rohe, something to that effect. I wanted to absorb as much knowledge as I could so my first year, I took as many classes as I could. I took cal 1 and 2 in the same semester, computer programming language classes, Intro to Logic, crazy classes. I don’t know why, but I just wanted to learn, wanted to study, wanted to know. Jack of all trades in a way. Little did I know that God was slowly shaping me during this time. He was laying people in my path to point me back to Him – friends on the 5th floor of Rice Hall at MSU, RUF, Student Association and other friends in my classes. I remember talking with my friend Josh Blades, just dreaming with him. He wanted to be president of the United States (which I can still totally see him doing) and I just dreamed of being an architect in a big high rise building on like the 100th floor in NYC, looking down over the city. My sophmore year, I switched my major to graphic design and my dream just changed to a big time designer in NYC but that year, God brought my cousin to MSU. My cousin is 6 months younger than me but was a grade behind me in school. She and her twin sister were some of my best friends in high school. They lived in a town about an hour away but accepted me into their friends during those years. They don’t know how much they did for me those years. My cousin was a lot like me and we decided that we wanted to go work at a ranch in Montana or something that summer. Well, Kanakuk came to campus that year for an event called After Dark. Neither of us had ever heard of Kanakuk but we decided it sounded like fun and we would apply to work at that camp for the summer. Little did I know what God had in store for me at Kanakuk…
I went to Kanakuk the summers of 2001-2004 and God slowly shaped and changed my heart during those years. I came to Kanakuk as a very insecure baby Christian and was instantly welcomed by Will Cunningham, the camp director. I worked at KKountry, the little kids Kanakuk kamp. My first summer at Kanakuk, I met some amazing friends, was discipled for the first time in my life, learned about teaching others about Christ, and saw people on fire for Christ, a complete first in my life. I had never seen anyone excited about Christ, and willing to give their life for Him. That first summer in Branson Missouri, God started tugging on my heart and placing a burden there for kids. Every summer I went to Kanakuk, God grew that burden. The summer of 2004, I knew without a doubt I wanted to go into ministry and work with kids, teaching them about Christ, but I didn’t know what that looked like other than working at Kanakuk. So that was my dream, to work at Kanakuk. I went back to college in 2004-2005 with plans to graduate and go to the Kanakuk Institute, a seminary like program for a year that Kanakuk runs. I had never seen a church that did ministry like I envisioned (middle school focused) and all I knew was Kanakuk and KLife. I had been volunteering with Young Life during the school year but I didn’t know you could work with them. I applied for the Kanakuk Institute, but didn’t get in. There was no reason, it just wasn’t where God wanted me. So that year of school, I graduated very confused. I knew the burden God had placed on my heart, but I didn’t know how to fill it. I needed more, I wanted more than what I was seeing there in Mississippi, I just didn’t know where to go. I had only seen it in Missouri on the kampground of Kanakuk.
That summer I moved to North Carolina because some friends asked me to go with them to work. It was a hard summer. I lived in a beautiful place, on a tiny island called Hatteras Island, part of the North Carolina Outerbanks. Me and God fought a lot that summer. I did not know what to do, I had no idea where to go, what to do, and I wanted more. I wanted to be big…I had dreams of being someone like Beth Moore, but for middle school girls. I felt like the door to Kanakuk was closed, and that was all I had ever known. I wanted more than I had ever had in my life, I wanted to learn more, fit in somewhere, teach others, help steer kids out of the chaos that I had to go through, teach them about the JOY of Christ that I had never known until I went to Kanakuk. But how did I find that? I was angry that God had left me here, completely lost and confused. I felt like He was no where to be found in my life and no matter how much I tried to find him, He was silent. After the summer, I had to move back to Mississippi with my parents but the dead feeling continued. Hurricane Katrina hit, life turned upside down, then fell into a boring normalcy..I had a job as a graphic designer, and I went to church, but really? is that life? I had no one my age that lived in the town, church wasn’t anything to get involved in; i went to a bible study but it was only people my mom’s age. MORE…I craved more..I desperately desired friends, to be known, joy in life, someone to talk to, to serve others, pour into others live’s especially kid’s lives, the excitement of life that I had briefly experienced in Missouri..MORE..but where was it? My family was perfectly content in their small town life. They loved it and would even get mad when I talked about not being happy. They said there was something wrong with me, that life in a small town Mississippi was good and they loved it, there was something wrong with me if I didn’t either. But I didn’t love it, I felt trapped..I wanted MORE than small town Mississippi.
And I ended up in Dallas. It wasn’t me, it was God that put me here through a random train of events. Dallas, not a city I had ever imagined I would go to. Nashville, Charlotte and NYC were my cities, not Dallas. But I got put here. And I found it! I found the more..I found friends, I found a church that was alive. God took me to Japan, to California, Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, and Austria. He led me to seminary where I fell in love with books and theology, languages that are no longer spoken, topics that only nerds discuss and all the more. I found and fell in love with Starbucks, not necessarily the coffee, even though I do love it, I love the atmosphere and people. I found other theology loving friends here that I love to sit down and talk about some random deep theology talk till 3am, just for fun. Right now, I sit beside my friend Tom and my friend Angel is working behind the desk; various other friends are scattered throughout the room. I met them and many more about 4 years ago when I started coming here. We have built friendships, discussed lives, and I have shared Christ with each one of them. I have not pressed it on any of them, they have just asked, we have talked and we have built a friendship. I saw my friend Robert pray for the first time in his life one night here, I see God working here, I love this city because of times like that moment at West Village Starbucks. Besides my non-believing Starbucks friends that I love with all my heart, God also lead me to a church that believes wholeheartedly in community. I found friends here, good, biblical, godly friends. For the first time I have gotten to know and love godly men and women that walk beside me in my hard times and good times. They hold me accountable, grow with me, point out sin in my life, encourage me and help me in this walk with Christ. Through this, I have learned what it means to not live this life alone. I can’t imagine living it without others like these friends I have here. He then led me to Young Life, the job that I never imagined but exactly what I was looking for. I work with just middle schoolers in North Dallas and it is the joy of my life. More..I am here…..Yes, I still want more, but I feel like where I live now, it is open to me..I feel free to discover more..More..diving into Christ and finding more of Him, being willing to go wherever in this world where I can tell millions more about Him. I desire to tell the millions about Him, write a book that millions read, speak to millions, something. I do desire to be used in a big way for Him. This world is my playground and I want to go wherever He leads me to be used in whatever way He wants me to.
As I think of this more, I question..am I wrong to want more? As I write out my desires through the years, I see how I always wanted more and it seems completely ok to me. However, when I was home this past weekend, my family got mad at me several times because they say I think where I live is better than where they live. My first thought when my dad said that was, “Am I an elitest?” Am I wrong to love the place I live more than the place they live? Was it wrong for me to grow up there, be unsatisfied and always want more? An elitest – The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources. By that definition, I don’t at all think I belong in that group. In fact, I feel like I am the complete opposite. Mississippi – where racisim is high and people consider themselves better than others because of economic status or color, that is the exact opposite of what I want to be. I do pride myself in the fact that I have friends of every color, nationality, and type. I love where I live because of the freedom I have here, because of the dreams it has allowed me to find. And in my life, it is better than where I grew up. I do not want that life there, I was not happy there. I needed more.
Mississippi – a wonderful place to have a childhood and the perfect place for some people to live, work, and raise their families. But not me. I needed more of this world.