As Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Anchor, I have the opportunity to frequently write a column for the editors’ page.
Jumping Into a Book
I talked with my sister on the phone this past weekend and was startled when she asked me what I planned on writing about for The Anchor this week. She’s nine years old, and I didn’t expect that she paid too much attention to things I have been writing.
Turns out, she does. My mom then told me that I’ve written about many members of our family, and Abby has been waiting for me to feature her.
Here’s to you, sis!
I grew up loving to read. My mom wouldn’t let me play videogames, so I filled my time with watching TV, playing with friends and reading. My sister, however, hasn’t always shared the same passion.
When she was in about second grade, she would start about 10 books, and it was all our parents could do to get her to finish them.
My love of reading led to my decision to major in English literature. However, it might have made me a little snooty. I would cringe when I came home for breaks to find my sister reading the latest teeny-bopper zombie novel. Couldn’t she read “Old Yeller” or “Ella Enchanted”? Or some classic piece of literature?
I’m taking Literature for Children and Adolescents with Dr. Dianne Portfleet, and I’m pretty sure she would classify some of what my sister has read as “junk literature.”
But, rather than discourage Abby’s reading choices, I’ve tried to encourage her to engage with reading and to really participate with books in the classroom. I think my efforts have finally paid off. I mean, she’s 9 and reads The Anchor. That immediately qualifies her as the most well-read fourth grader in all of Tremont Grade School!
Joking. Finding out that Abby reads The Anchor isn’t what impressed me the most about our phone call.
She told me that she wanted me to write about the best kids books of all time. I believe her suggested title even was “The Best Kids Books of All Time” or something to that effect.
I asked her why, and she dove into a synopsis of R. J. Palacio’s “Wonder.” Abby told me about the struggles Auggie, the main character, goes through and his desire to fit in.
I could tell that she was really into the book. After all, she excitedly concluded by telling me that she read 200 pages in less than a week and even lost track of time while reading. That’s music to any book-loving, big sister’s ears!
In Children’s Literature, Dr. Portfleet has asked us to consider the question, “What makes good literature?” One of my No. 1 answers is that good literature takes you away and places you into the world of the book. Books that capture your emotions and hold them hostage until long after you’ve read the last page that define good literature. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Looking for Alaska” are some of those books for me. And “Wonder” does that for my sister.
In an era when it is hard to find a spare moment free of distractions and, especially as students, when it seems impossible to find time to read “for fun,” we still need to prioritize the time to read, even if that means reading short novels written for adolescents. Kids books have a lot to offer and teach people of all ages.
Whether your reading Shel Silverstein or Aristotle, literature provides so many ways for humans to connect with people of all ages.
And, if nothing else, they will give you something new to talk about with the nine-year-olds in your own life.
I have heard a variety of responses to students who are taking or have taken Senior Seminar. Some students really enjoy the opportunity to reflect on their time at Hope College, while others resent it. Personally, I see the class as an opportunity to breathe and think about how my life has changed over the past four years.
Alright, that makes me sound like a teacher’s pet. Let’s be real. I am taking Senior Sem because, like everyone else, it is a requirement. But, if I am going to be forced to take a class, I figure I might as well embrace it and try to make the most out of the experience (a.k.a. make it worth the $2,780 I’m paying for it).
I chose to take “Your Life’s Playlist” taught by Dr. Andrew Le in the music department. So far, it has been a good class. When we started, he informed us that each class would feature an hour-long presentation from a different student in the class, using music to tell their life story.
It seemed pretty simple.
However, five presentations later, and I have already experienced more than I expected. After the first presentation, we dove into a deep discussion on who God is, what it means to follow God and judgement. That’s pretty heavy stuff.
If you have read my column before, you know that I frequently discuss how my faith in God influences everyday aspects of my life. However, I can confidently say that a year ago, I would have never been so willing to put my beliefs in the public eye.
My Christian walk at Hope has been an interesting one, but I’m guessing it’s not all that different from many other students’ experiences. Last week, I wrote a reflection on my FYS paper about a liberal arts education and my expectations for my time on campus. Reading it forced me to think about how my faith has been challenged and grown while being here.
Coming to Hope, I was unfamiliar with the Reformed tradition, but I was excited to learn. I read all about the “vibrant” faith community at Hope and expected to dive right in and find my fit. But that didn’t really happen. I was being exposed to so many different interpretations of Christianity that challenged what I believed. I also got extremely caught up in small differences between my beliefs and other ideologies, and it became increasingly more difficult for me to reconcile the differences.
Thankfully, I continued to seek out Truth and engaged in discussions with other Christians and non-Christians, leading to a solidification of what I believe. I definitely faced times of spiritual drought. It took me two years to find a church that I felt comfortable in. I stopped prioritizing Chapel and The Gathering. Not to say that you need to go to Chapel and The Gathering to be a Christian, but I do firmly believe that as Christians we have been created for community, and the Bible points us to the importance of being a part of a church. Not being a part of an intentional Christian community really hindered my ability to grow as a follower of Jesus, but I can be thankful that through that journey I learned the importance of being part of a church body.
Hope is a unique place. It’s a Christian college that does not demand students to participate in the Christian community on campus. There are not too many Christian colleges that let students choose whether or not to attend chapel services. This leaves the door wide open for Hope students to choose how they spend their time here and whether or not they want to engage with Campus Ministries. I have seen this option operate as a blessing in students’ lives, and I’ve also seen it leave students lost without an understanding of God’s love and the Gospel.
Whether this is your first semester, your last or somewhere in between, I encourage all students, regardless of faith or religious background, to look into what the Christian community that Hope so heavily advertises is all about. It will probably challenge your beliefs, and I doubt it will be easy. But what better place and time to do it than here and now?
Looking ahead to graduation, I know that I will not leave this place with all of my questions answered. My faith journey will never stop growing, will be continuously challenged and will always force me to think about things differently. But I can confidently say that all of the challenges I’ve faced in my faith during the last four years have been completely worth it. It wasn’t always happy. It definitely wasn’t always easy.
But ultimately, it was good.
Overcoming disappointment: Navigating failure and learning from mistakes
Disappoint, in any of its forms, is the equivalent of a not-so-good, four-letter word in my dictionary. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to say it. And I certainly don’t want to hear my name and it used in the same sentence.
At the end of last semester, however, disappointment hit me like a wall of bricks. The Anchor had been on fleek the entire semester. I was so proud. I was proud of the staff, writers, and, honestly, myself. We worked our tails off to put out the best paper we could – my personal favorite being our issue after the terrorist attack in Paris.
Unfortunately, my pride came crashing down after our last issue hit the press. We had a piece that came together at the very last moment. Scrambling to fact-check and edit an article hours before our deadline was nuts. I felt like a real journalist. I thought that I was doing the best job that I possibly could.
Thriving on the adrenaline that came with a fast-approaching deadline and an interesting article idea, I realized that I’m not the kind of person who enjoys the adrenaline of scoring the winning point (let’s be real, I’ve never even experienced that). I am an adrenaline-junkie when it comes to writing and editing.
The article had a lot of moving parts, and I was one of many contributors. I had tried to balance the original writers’ intentions with the facts I had dug up, and, ultimately, we all fell short. In the end, the article disappointed a lot of people in the English department. I didn’t fully understand the impact of it and remain a bit confused, as I heard so many mixed reactions regarding the piece.
I had hoped that break would allow me to relax and disregard what happened in hopes of a better output this semester, but I couldn’t let go of the fact that I had disappointed people. I write this not to gain any pity or sympathy, it was only one article among hundreds that we publish in a year, and our staff is made up of students who are eagerly learning about journalism and are bound to make mistakes, including myself. But disappointment is disappointment, and it isn’t something I handle well.
Measuring our lives in disappointments leads to a lot of anxiety, frustration and hurt. I put a lot of pressure on myself, as I’m sure many college students do, to be the best, to impress and to succeed. When I learn that I’ve disappointed someone, it cuts me to the core.
But just because I don’t handle disappointment well doesn’t mean that it isn’t something to be handled. There is a silver lining.
Romans says that “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” Note that the verse doesn’t say “some people” or “the worst people” have fallen short – we all have. That means everyone. No matter how hard I try to do my best, I will never measure up to God’s expectations. I am sinful and broken.
However, God doesn’t want us to measure our lives in disappointment. He wants us to measure our lives in how we serve Him. That is why He gave us Jesus. Jesus came to bridge the gap between our sinful lives and God’s perfect holiness. And it’s through our belief in Jesus and His loving grace that we can enter into a relationship with God. Jesus took our brokenness, our sinfulness and our disappointments and forgave them so that we might receive salvation. How amazing is that?
This doesn’t necessarily make it easier for me to face disappointments here on this earth. But it does give me another perspective on the issue – an eternal perspective. I can move past a poorly written article because I know that I am forgiven. I know that this mistake will not haunt me because Jesus took every mistake I’ve ever made and made me a child of the King anyway.
This doesn’t mean that I can use Jesus as an excuse to be lazy, procrastinate or slack off. He wants us to work hard and work well while we are on this earth. But it does mean that when I do mess up and ask for forgiveness, He will cover me with His abundant grace.
Transitioning Home for the Holidays
Home for the holidays. This phrase simultaneously gives me much joy while slightly increasing my level of stress. Over Thanksgiving break, I came to an extremely difficult realization: Home wasn’t the same. This had nothing to do with not wanting to see my family or spend time with them. I’m becoming more and more independent, and considering that I’m graduating in May, I’m ready to be out of the house.
As I’m sure many students can relate, transitioning back into living with your parents after living independently is not easy. This really hadn’t been an issue prior to this past Thanksgiving. I always enjoyed being home and looked forward to breaks. I felt similarly heading into Thanksgiving break. I was excited to be home and ready to be far away from college responsibilities.
After arriving back at Hope, I took some time to reflect on Thanksgiving break and the things that may have contributed to the holiday stress.
1. Dealing with Family Things
I often hear people say, “Well, I just have some family things going on.” This phrase is so vague, yet, somehow, everyone can relate. Unfortunately my family has experienced a lot of loss and sorrow this semester. These events greatly affected everyone’s mood over the Thanksgiving holiday, having to experience the first holiday without some of our dearest loved ones.
2. Being Out of the Loop
The amount of times that I’ve gone home to hear my parents discussing some major thing that has happened in our family or hometown that I know nothing about is ridiculous. Feeling out of the loop and disconnected from my family makes me really uncomfortable.
3. Realizing I’m an Adult
My parents sat me down and told me that I am an adult now and need to start making my own decisions. I have always gone to my parents often for advice. Typically, they give it to me, even though I am usually unnecessarily stubborn and don’t take it. When they told me that I need to start weening off of that reliance, I got really upset. I thought it meant that they didn’t want to hear about my problems anymore. Looking back, I couldn’t be more wrong. They are just trying to prepare me for life after college when I won’t be living at home and won’t always be able to call them when I need something.
4. Balancing Families
I’m getting married in July, and this was the first holiday that my fiancé and I tried to balance going to each of our family’s gatherings. This resulted going to four Thanksgiving dinners in two days. It was overwhelming. I love my fiancé’s family, and we had a lot of fun at each dinner, but it was still difficult and stressful. We spent a ton of time in the car, and it forced me to realize that this was my new reality. It’s not something I dread, but it does mean that we will have to learn how to pick and choose where we can go. However, until our nuptials, we decided we would just attend our own family’s holidays – at least for Christmas this year.
5. Seeing Friends
Seeing my friends was super fun, as usual, but it was also a little disappointing. The closer we all get to graduating, the further apart our relationships are growing. For example, I babysat my friend’s cat, but I didn’t ever see her. Luckily, I got to see a few friends, but even finding a time to meet up at Starbucks was difficult.
Regardless of the stress of going home for the holidays, I am thankful for my family. I am so blessed to have a loving family to go home to. More than anything, I realized that I was allowing my fear of transition to affect my relationship with my parents. I let that get in the way of the time we had together, and it took a toll on all of us.
I am graduating in May, getting married in July and ambitiously hunting for jobs. The life of a college senior is full of anticipated transition, and I believe that we need to embrace that transition. Whether moving back home or starting graduate school, taking ownership of transition and refusing to let it affect our lives and relationships negatively is imperative to our success.
When traveling home (or wherever you may go) for the holidays and Christmas break, take some time to breathe, embrace the change and think of the parts of the transition that you are the most thankful for.
The Problem with #PrayforParis
Pray. (v.) To address a solemn request or expression of thanks to a deity or other object of worship.
I was babysitting on Friday evening when I received a text from my mom that said, “I hope ur watching the news….Paris situation.” I had seen something come across Facebook just moments before and quickly skimmed a New York Times article on my phone. I assured my mom that I would turn on the TV as soon as I put the baby to bed.
As I hope all of us are aware by now, the city of Paris faced a violent terrorist attack last weekend, killing more than 120 people and wounding over 300 hundred more. I watched the news slowly unfold, revealing the extent of the attack and the chaos that ensued afterwards, glued to my computer screen, watching “history in the making,” as my mom said.
Within 24 hours, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were saturated with profile pictures featuring an overlay of the French flag. The hashtag #PrayForParis quickly became the uplifting catchphrase for the horrific attack on the third most visited city in the world.
In a world that constantly attacks different religions for being oppressive and close-minded, what does #PrayForParis even mean? Was its use of alliteration catchy enough to make it the most-used hashtag after the terrorist attack? Is it meant to be read as a declarative sentence, commanding others to pray for the city of light? Who is praying, and to whom are they directing their prayers?
Unless I had the resources to poll every person who has used this hashtag in the past five days, I’ll never know the answers to these questions. However, this trend prompted me to think more about the use of prayer in this day and age.
In the context of the Christian faith, prayer is a way for people to have direct communication with God. Not taking the time to pray can be detrimental to our relationship with God. In a recent article on desiringGod. org, Timothy Keller, a famous pastor and author, said that he believes people in Western society are spending less time in solidarity and prayer because of constant communication and distraction via social media.
Prayer is supposed to be an outpouring of our faith, an expression and recognition of God’s faithfulness in our lives, a time when we can ask for His forgiveness and a means by which we may request His guidance in difficult situations. We demonstrate a great lack of faith by not going to God in prayer
I will be the first to admit that my prayer life is not always as it should be. I often fall asleep before, or even during, praying. I don’t always prioritize prayer or recognize its power. I fail to “pray without ceasing,” as 1 Thessalonians 5:7 so simply commands us. My selfish desire for more sleep and valuing other parts of my day rather than talking with my Creator leads to a sinful attitude towards prayer.
The #PrayForParis trend spurred the many #PrayFor[insert city/country name here] popping up all over different social media outlets. I am by no means condemning the use of these hashtags, but I think it’s important for us to consider why we are using them. It should not just be a means of entering into a conversation, and it should represent more than support for these locations under attack.
Real, intentional prayer is far more impactful than a trending hashtag. As Christians, if we are going to use #PrayForParis, then we should mean what we are saying. We should actually be praying for Paris. I can’t count how many times I’ve told people that I would pray for them and then neglected to do so. That’s just one more example of how I’ve fallen short in my faith. Amidst the violence that ISIS is inflicting on so many people in this world, are we going to sit by, allowing these attacks to continue, without carrying out the very prayer we are demanding? Doing so is useless.
Changing your profile picture or tweeting about the terrorist attack in Paris is not going make an impact on the situation at hand. However, dedicating time to pray for God’s hand in healing and reconciling recent events – now that can make an impact far greater than social media ever will.
The Motivation We’re Missing
What motivates you? What makes you tick? What is that one thing that keeps you going on the dreariest of days?
This weekend I came to the realization that only a month and a half of school remains for this fall semester. The days are seemingly longer; nights are getting later; and we’ve come to the point in the season where the weather hasn’t quite decided whether it’s going to paint the horizon in brilliant shades of orange and red or dot the skies with the shadowy greys of nimbostratus clouds.
Regardless of the bipolar weather patterns and heap of homework that continuously grows, I find myself seeking different things to motivate me towards making it to Christmas break. I don’t have exams this semester; I have a glorious schedule for next semester; I’m a senior and want to finish strong: these are just a few of the things motivating me to push through.
But is this all that there is?
As I watch the stress of students around me heighten at the thought of grad school applications, final projects and job applications, I can’t help but recognize that there is something many of us seem to be missing, a motivation that can drive us further and deeper than any passing grade or acceptance letter.
I heard a sermon recently that reeked of prosperity gospel. If you accept Jesus, everything is going to great; being a Christian isn’t super challenging; God doesn’t require us to step out of our comfort zone, etc.
This frustrated me beyond belief. It simply is not true. The Christian life is not a walk in the park. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise that our lives will get easier after accepting Christ as our Savior.
In fact, God assures us that it is going to be difficult. We will face trials and hardships, but we can be motivated and excited, knowing that God will provide for us in these difficult situations. The Bible urges us to cast our worries on God (1 Peter 5:7), rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:3) and rely on Christ for our strength (Philippians 4:13) all because God cares for us. He loves us with an extraordinary love that we will get only a small taste of on this earth.
I am taking Intergroup Dialogue this semester, and I leave almost every class period feeling pretty pessimistic about the world we live in. So far, we’ve discussed classism and racism and the ways that these permeate the American culture, leading to immense disparity and oppression in the United States and the world at large. I often find myself frustrated at the fact that there are no easy solutions to these problems, at least no easy “worldly” solutions.
I am an optimistic person, full of hope for a brighter future and better days. Learning about problems plaguing our society and exploring new ways of interpreting these issues is no easy task.
However, I strongly believe that my optimism is a blessing. It is not rooted in an immature yearning for positive outcomes. It is rooted in a firm conviction that there is hope for the future of this world, and that hope is Jesus Christ.
I’ve said this before, and I will declare it over and over again: Jesus is Lord of this earth, and He will bring reconciliation to this fallen world. Through a love for us that we will never fathom, God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, bridging the gap between our broken humanity and our holy God.
One day, Jesus will come back to this earth and restore it to the perfection for which God intended it. Oppression will no longer define distinctions between class and race, and humanity will be restored to harmony.
In the interim, God calls us to live a life glorifying to Him. And He does not promise that this life will be easy.
However, He didn’t leave us without guidance. God is a personal god who desires a relationship with us through Jesus Christ. We can communicate with Him through prayer and by reading God’s word, the Bible, to learn more about what He desires for our lives.
Too often we are tempted to view God as an unreachable, impersonal, heavenly being. And while He is almighty and allpowerful, God does not leave us to fight our earthly battles alone. If we learn to trust and rely on Him for all of our needs, through his love and grace, He will grant us the ability to keep moving forward. It may not be easy. It may not be simple. We may not even experience any sort of reward or reconciliation in our lifetime. But when we stand at the gates of heaven and God looks at us with favor, saying “well done,” we will know that our Christian walk was not a life lived in vain.
Through difficult classes, applications, final projects and whatever else life throws my way, that is the motivation that drives me to take each and every step towards an unknown future. And it is motivation that I fear many of us are missing.
My Top Three for Wedding Glee
One hundred and fifty days until spring, ladies and gents, and I think we all know what that means: 150 days until the “ring by spring” mantra begins infiltrating the vernacular of Hope College students. Personally, I do not advocate “ring by spring.” Marriage should be characterized by love and commitment, not rushed because “everyone else” is doing it.
As an engaged student planning a wedding for July 2, 2016, I am here to tell you that, although there are many, many things to be excited about marriage, there are also plenty parts of engaged life that I wasn’t expecting. Here are just a few tips and pieces of advice I have for those of you who might be planning a wedding in the future.
1. Organization is key
Within 24 hours of being proposed to, I had at least two bridal magazines in my possession. They told me that it is basically impossible to plan a wedding without a wedding coordinator: FALSE.
The Knot, a popular wedding magazine and website, has a fantastic smartphone app that helps with wedding planning. Based on your wedding date, it creates a checklist of everything you might possibly need to do before your big day. My wedding is going to be pretty low key, so there were a lot of things that I could delete from this list immediately. The fact that it is so customizable makes it super helpful.
2. The guest list will cause stress
As much as I hate to admit it, the guest list has easily been the most difficult part of the planning process. My fiancé and I are high school sweethearts, so we have a lot of friends in common. However, he does not go to Hope, so we had to find room for our college friends, which has been difficult. The list has been the biggest point of tension between us, deciding whether or not our friends should have guests, how much of our extended family to invite and if kids will be invited.
3. Involve your fiancé
Prior to my engagement, I expected that my fiancé would want little to do with planning our wedding. I based my assumption off of other people I know getting married. It seemed like the guy was rarely involved in the process. I was pleasantly surprised when my fiancé, Nolan, wanted to be involved in the wedding planning. He has been helping with every aspect of the planning process, which has been such a relief. Our wedding won’t just be the “bride’s day.” It is truly going to be an expression of the both of us and our relationship together – not just my favorite colors and love songs.
Just Grandma Things
“Imagine Dragons playing now. I like” was the text message I received at 8:08 p.m. Saturday night. Not exactly what I expected coming from my grandma.
I have some pretty cool grandmas. Grammy, the one who sent me the text, took me to my first music festival, Farm Aid, as a sophomore in high school. We saw Wilco, John Mellencamp, Niel Young, Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds and Willie Nelson. It was there that I first smelled marijuana and had the following conversation:
Me: Grammy, is that weed?
Grammy: No, marijuana smells sweet.
All of this coming from a woman who grew up in the 1960s and is part of the “flower child” generation. Clearly, she didn’t partake in the hippie actions of her peers, although she did dress up as one for Halloween once.
Grammy had a smart phone before I did, drives a Pontiac G8 (which, for those of you who don’t know, is a really fast, “hot,” as she calls it, car), and recently joined Twitter, although I still haven’t figured out if she did so on purpose or on accident.
My other grandma, although not as hip and with it when it comes to technology, does a pretty good job of staying up with what is current in pop culture. She always has the latest edition of People magazine sitting in her living room, is well versed in her use of emojis on Facebook, and bought me my first midriff top with “HOPE” spelled out across the chest in gold, block letters – I still haven’t gotten around to wearing it yet … Sorry Grandma.
And it was from her CD collection that I was able to borrow the latest albums from Rihanna and Jack Johnson, so she has pretty good taste in music too.
Both of my grandmas heavily influenced my taste in music. Not only did Grammy take me to Farm Aid, but we also went to see Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, and a few other old-time country singers. Grandma taught me to give Fergie a chance and, probably without realizing it, taught me not to discount bands without listening to their full album, not to mention her extreme support of my sixth-grade obsession over Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks my Tractor’s Sexy.”
But my grandmas have done a lot more than help develop my music library. Growing up the child of a single mom, Grammy did a lot to help raise me, taking me to church, going on vacations and babysitting me while my mom was working. When my mom got married, Grandma adopted me as her own grandkid, and I’ve never been treated as anything less than her own. What both of these women did in my life is an amazing example of sacrifice.
Sure, life hasn’t always been roses and butterflies: no relationship is perfect. But overall, I don’t have too many complaints about either of them. They’ve always been loving and supportive and have had my best interests at heart.
You might be wondering, why on earth is Hope writing about her grandmas? What does that have to do with my life as a Hope College student?
The truth is, I just really love my grandparents. And I think other people should know how great they are too. Also, whenever I make comments about my grandmas to other people, the typically response is, “What? Your grandma did that?” Yes. Yes she did.
More than that, I think as a generation, we often forget to acknowledge our elders. I talk about my grandparents on a pretty regular basis with my friends, but I definitely don’t tell any of my grandparents how much they mean to me in person often enough.
Sept. 13 may have been Grandparent’s Day, but just like expressing thanks for our parents should occur more than just on Mother’s and Father’s Day, we should take more time out of our lives to thank our grandparents.
I was just talking with another Hope student who mentioned that she calls her grandma every week. Wow! How cool is that? I bet her grandma excitedly awaits those phone calls.
I’m sure not all students have an amazing relationship with their grandparents, but I would venture to say that a lot of us do have someone who’s older than us and has heavily influenced our lives. Thank them. Tell them what they’ve done in your life that you’re grateful for.
If you don’t have an elder in your life, go to Freedom Village or The Warm Friend and find someone to talk to. They’re bound to be a wealth of knowledge. And let’s not forget, this is Holland, Michigan. I highly doubt you will be turned away.
Whether your grandmas are the green-smoothie-drinking, Beatles-listening type Grammy or the leopard-print-wearing, pool-side-tanning Grandma, let them know their importance to you.
An Extension of Grace
I came to the realization this summer that I have been living my life through the wrong lens: a lens lacking grace.
From June to July, I spent six weeks in Cape Town, South Africa on a mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). While we were there, we spent a few weeks doing children’s ministry and about two weeks on different college campuses in Cape Town sharing the Gospel with other college students.
One morning, I was sitting with a friend from the trip at the University of Western Cape, sharing the Gospel with a Muslim student. The conversation was really difficult, as we tried to explain to him how Jesus died for our sins and that Jesus is both the Son of God and God at the same time.
As he was getting ready to leave for class, unsatisfied with our explanations, my team mate and I were feeling extremely discouraged. Then, another student approached us and sat down, something we had yet to experience on the trip. I was a little hesitant, as she began explaining her beliefs in Jesus and what He had done in her life. So I asked her if she would mind sharing how she came to know Christ, expecting a response similar to most that I had heard from other students: I read my bible. I go to church sometimes. I believe in God, etc.
But that wasn’t her story. In an act of extreme vulnerability, she began telling us her testimony of sexual abuse, running away, drug addiction, and having a miscarriage. What caught me off guard, however, was that she didn’t recount any of this with extreme sorrow and regret. She told us her story with great joy and genuine gratitude because her life had been changed radically when she received Christ, and she wanted to share what the Lord has done in her life with whoever would listen.
She was living for Christ, and that means living in the constant recognition of the grace He extends to us.
So what is grace?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines grace as being “bestowed freely and without regard to merit, and which manifests in the … granting of salvation.” In Ephesians 2:8, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.”
Grace, then, is revealed in the belief that God gave His only Son to die for us and to save us from our sins, knowing that we will continue to sin. When we accept Jesus Christ, through faith, as our personal Lord and Savior, we are forgiven for all of our sins (and that means all of them – past, present and future) and can experience the wonderful plan God has for our lives.
However, this grace doesn’t come without responsibility. It’s not an invitation to do whatever you want because you know God will forgive you. It means that we must also commit to living a life that is pleasing to Christ, even though we will fail.
I’ve known about God’s grace since I accepted Christ as a pre-teen. I’ve sang about it in church and listened to countless sermons about its importance in my life. But I had not been living with a very deep understanding of grace until I was in Cape Town.
Talking to the students I encountered changed that for me. A lot of them had never heard of grace, and I had been taking grace for granted, feeling like I was entitled to it as a Christian, as if I’m entitled to anything in this world. But that day, I realized that grace isn’t something I should expect: it is a gift given to me, and there is nothing that I can do to deserve it.
So many students live in the shame of sins that they’ve committed. I’ve definitely been there. I’ve felt like I’m not good enough, spiritual enough or caring enough to deserve the grace God offers through His sacrifice on the cross.
But that’s just it: I’m not good enough. But I don’t have to be. In Ephesians, Paul goes on to say that there is nothing we can do to deserve God’s grace or work our way into His favor.
We are a fallen race living in a fallen world. Sin, temptation and failure are inescapable.
But there is hope.
And there is grace.
And it isn’t the kind of grace that keeps me from tripping over lines on the sidewalk. It’s grace that saves.
The Heart of Illinois
Famous for: The Turkey Festival
School Mascot: Turkey
Time it takes to drive one lap around the main streets: 5 minutes
I’ve spent most of my life living in Tremont, Illinois a.k.a. small town America. My parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all live next door to each other; my dad’s entire family lives in Tremont, and my mom’s family is no farther than a 45-minute drive. I grew up close to my great, and great-great, aunts and uncles, and the distinction between first and second cousins is minimal.
As senior year of high school rolled around, however, I was bound and determined to get out of Tremont. I wanted to experience more than Central Illinois, and I found myself five hours away on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan to begin a new chapter of life as a college student. As charming as it is, Holland couldn’t pacify my big-city jitters. I spent a month living in Boston, six weeks in Cape Town, South Africa and travelled to many cities across the U. S. The vibrancy of the city captured my heart, and I didn’t want to settle for anything less.
Small towns mean little opportunity, right?
Where’s the culture?
There’s a cornfield in the middle of town for goodness’ sake!
Thoughts like those pervaded my mindset about small towns as a whole. When my fiancé, Nolan, and I started talking about places to live after graduation, the last place I wanted to be was in or near Tremont. All of those thoughts receded in the past two weeks. I received a phone call that my great grandpa unexpectedly passed away the weekend before classes began. After making the five-hour drive home, I was solemnly overjoyed when I pulled down my quiet street and saw my family all together outside between my grandparents’ and great grandparents’ homes. Even at 9 p.m., the entire street was lined with cars from family and close friends.
As I sat around my grandma’s kitchen table, listening to people swap stories about her “tatas falling out” while boating, reminiscing on my great grandpa’s incredible diligence working on antique tractors, and teasing my grandpa about the time my 10-year-old cousin fixed his boat after he had been working on it for weeks, I realized that I couldn’t spend years without hearing their laughter. Nights in fellowship around my grandma’s kitchen table are something I can’t easily dismiss from my schedule. Moving across the country wasn’t calling my name.
Tremont doesn’t stand out because it has big buildings and concert halls: it has earned its place on the map for the small town pride of its citizens. In Tremont, you can walk into Beecham’s Grocery Store and know that your child will receive a free slice of cheese just for tagging along. Full-service gas stations are a novelty today, especially ones where you can keep a family tab, but not in Tremont. I can go fill up with gas at Gibby’s Citgo, tell them to charge it to my grandpa, and they’ll know exactly where to send the bill.
My family binge watches “Duck Dynasty,” drives big trucks, and supports local farmers. They’re volunteer EMTs and firefighters. And we all love Tremont, Illinois.
Nolan and I are going to live in Peoria when we are married, so we will get a bit of a taste for the city, but we will never be more than a 30-minute drive from Tremont where his family lives as well. I used to be embarrassed to admit that I am a small-town girl, but not anymore. My family and experiences have made me the woman I am and want to be. I may not ever live in the big city of my dreams, but I will never regret my decision to spend my first years out of college back in Central Illinois. There’s a reason that region is coined “the heart of Illinois.” It’s more than a conglomeration of podunk towns: it’s where my heart is and where I’m excited to begin the next chapter of my life.