Sunday, July 24, 2016

City Project: Many Meetings

Look, I try to make this blog a place where I am completely honest. So here's some brutal honesty for you- I always skip the Many Meetings chapter when reading Lord of the Rings. Yeah, go ahead and send the fantasy police after me, my fellow psychotic nerds. You might want to send the SWAT team as well when I say that I skip it not because I'm a culture-less slob incapable of grasping the full majesty of LOTR, but because it is boring. Call me a blaspheming heathen, but I'd rather read about Balrogs than the reminiscences of Gloin the dwarf and Frodo's struggle to sit on a pillowed chair.

That said, I'm in no place to judge Tolkien for the inclusion of the chapter. Sometimes, meetings are necessary to move the plot along, divulge some exposition, or simply to make the protagonist sit still for five minutes. Regardless, reading about meetings is just the worst.


Guess what you're about to do! >:)

After turning in my application for City Project,

surviving the interview,

and then getting approved,

I had to attend many meetings!

Oh, and I had to raise support!

That's it. I'm done with this post. I'm not actually going to write about the meetings, ew. I just felt like trolling people and posting gifs.

You're welcome.

You know, if Many Meetings was just a nerdy rant and then a bunch of obnoxious gifs, maybe I wouldn't skip it. Mr. Tolkien could have learned so much from me*.

*This is called sarcasm, my fellow psychotic nerds. Put away your pitchforks and torches. :)

Dear Supporters,

I cannot thank you enough for being so ready and willing to support me both financially and prayerfully. During the aforementioned meetings, the staff taught us how to write support letters, then how to call people, then how to conduct face-to-face meetings with possible supporters. Now, all of this sounded like tasks Satan would give to his minions in the pits of hell, but I prayed and asked God for strength- steeling myself for the inevitable awkwardness of having to (gasp) use a phone as a phone and then to (cowers) actually talk to a human irl. But it never came. God's grace and mercy and generosity and love was so evident in all of you; I never had to make a single phone call. The immense gratitude I have towards you for being so quick to respond might seem a bit stupid, and you're right, it is, but I would be remiss not to at least mention it. Thank you for allowing God to work through you, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience City Project, where, trust me, I had to learn to interact with humans. Lots and lots of humans.

But that's another blog post. ^_^

Friday, July 22, 2016

City Project: The Phantom Menace

Has God ever called you a name?

I'm not talking about the pseudo-spiritual, nonsensical rubbish you hear from church gossips. "Mary Loubellina, God is calling my name, sweetheart. He's just calling my name. Now, Debbie? No, God's not calling her name, did you hear that her daughter wore a skirt that was a full two inches above her knee the other day? That girl is no good, bless her heart."

I'm also not referring to the Biblical instances where Jesus changed the name of individuals to demonstrate various attributes of His person and purpose. That'd be nice, but alas, my life is not prone to deep heart-to-hearts with God. My relationship with God has less civil discussion and more screaming and name-calling, the latter typically on my part, but occasionally on God's. Which leads me to my story.

(Let's all take a moment to appreciate that brilliant and grammatically correct transition, shall we?)

It all began about a month after college started. I had been going to my dorm's CRU Bible study, but it just wasn't working for me, so I asked to meet with someone from my church's college group for information on their program.

This someone turned out to be Cameron, a super cool, super cheerful college graduate with the energy of a thousand squirrels.

Cameron and I met for coffee (as if she needed that caffeine) so that she could tell me about the college program. I soon realized that I should be very afraid of her. Why would I be afraid of perhaps the friendliest person I had ever met? The topic of Myers-Briggs came up.

"Oh, what's your type?" I asked.

"ESFP!" She exclaimed. She grinned at me. "You're introverted, and I'm pretty sure you're a thinking type, aren't you?"

"Yep," I said, trying to hide a gulp. "I'm an INTJ."

She laughed. "We're opposites! That's hilarious!"

Hilarious indeed.

I'm an INTJ. I rarely experience fear.

But y'all, there is nothing more terrifying than a smart and friendly ESFP. With enough strong-willed persistence and cheerful-yet-deadly charisma, they can make even the most cynical of Sherlocks do crazy things.

Fast forward a few weeks. I was now involved with the college program and attending a small group regularly. I loved it. Cameron was in the group too. At the end of one of the meetings, she started talking about some summer college program called City Project, a program which taught Christian college students how to share their faith in a variety of contexts by attending classes, traveling to NYC to meet people from unreached people groups, working for charities and churches, and then traveling overseas to spread the Gospel.

I tuned her out. I smiled and nodded thoughtfully so it would at least seem like I was listening. It's not that I had anything against City Project, of course not, it sounded nice. However, I was going to study in Oxford for the summer. I had decided to do so when I was fourteen years old, and I most certainly was not going to change my plans now. That was that.

As the weeks went on, Cameron continued to bring up City Project and I continued to ignore her. Some nagging part of me (aka God) kept telling me I ought to pray about it, but I ignored that too. Two of the girls in my small group decided to go, and a third was seriously praying about it. Another girl was planning on spending her summer doing a medical program so that she could work towards her dream of helping children in low-income countries.

Me? Every time Cameron brought it up, I started internally humming the Doctor Who theme song. I'm so deep and spiritual, just like our friend Mary Loubellina.

There was only one week before the City Project deadline application. If this were Middle-Earth, I'd be standing within Mount Doom letting the Ring's chain slip through my dirt encrusted fingers into the lava below. So, in a normal/sane person's terms, I thought I was a home free.

Alas, there is always a Gollum to bite your fingers off at the last second.

Cameron texted me.

"Hey Kaycee! You wanna grab lunch or dinner one day this week!? :D"

I grimaced, suddenly wishing I actually owned a Ring of power. Invisibility sounded nice.

"That would be awesome, sure!"

Unfortunately, I'm a real human being, so I don't own a magic ring. Hypocrisy is the next best thing though!

"Yayyyy! :)"

I was so dead and I knew it.

A few days later, I found myself facing Cameron with only a veggie wrap shielding me from her contagious optimism. As always, we had a great time. She is one of the most caring and wise people I have ever met, and conversation with her is never dull. For most of lunch, I completely forgot why I had been dreading the meeting. It wasn't long before I remembered though.

"So, have you thought about City Project at all?" Cameron asked.

"Yep," I replied. After all, I had thought about it. The words "City Project" had gone through my mind, therefore, I had thought about it.

Cameron smiled. "Have you prayed about City Project?"

I paused for a moment, then grinned sheepishly. "Maybe?" Dear God, this is me praying about City Project. City Project, City Project, there I prayed about it, bye!

Before I could formulate a better excuse, I somehow found myself holding a page of information about City Project, gripping a list of Bible verses, and listening to Cameron's rapid-fire description of City Project and all of it's apparent amazingness.

I had my doubts. What could possibly be better than studying at Oxford and possibly going to see 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'? (Which, by the way, was definitely not the principal reason I wanted to go to England. Of course it wasn't. I am a cultured and classy human. I wanted to study, explore the historical sites, study some more, and take artsy Instagram photos of teacups and fog. If I just so happened to stumble across a ticket to the expensive and highly anticipated Harry Potter sequel, so what? Mere coincidence.)

"What are these?" I asked, nodding towards the Bible verses.

"Those are some verses to help you pray through your decision!" Cam explained. "You can pick one, or read all of them, or whatever. They're helpful!"

"Cool!" I said. Biased, I thought.

I had a Spanish class that I needed to attend, so I said goodbye to Cam (she said "hola". Cam's good at a lot of things, but Spanish is not one of them). As I stuffed the myriad of papers into my backpack, I internally vowed to look up the Bible verses, and if they were biased in favor of convicting guilting people into City Project, I would simply read the next passage in my Bible study. After all, if God wanted me to do City Project and if He is really so powerful, He could surely say something to me out of any passage in the Bible!

After suffering through Spanish, grabbing a Dr. Pepper, and mentally ramping up my level of skepticism to about a 34 (I'm usually a solid 10... on a 1-5 scale), I returned to my dorm. I tugged the now-rumpled and torn papers from beneath a textbook. I sighed heavily, snatched my Bible from a shelf, and glanced at the verse references.

The first was Matthew 28.

I smirked darkly. The Great Commission. Faaantastic.

But, I had promised to at least read some of the verses. So I looked it up.

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations..."

Biased! I slammed my Bible shut. Nope, nope, nope, it was clearly biased. I'm a thoughtful and logical woman. I refuse to read a biased source, even if it is the inspired word of God which is perfect and true. My brilliant human mind proclaimed it biased, therefore, it was so.

I dropped the list of Bible verses on the floor and grabbed my study plan. Psalm 39.

I chuckled to myself. I was about to read a bunch of "praise be to the Lord, mountain of Zion, crush enemies like a bug, grab a lyre and be joyful" verses*. Ha.

I settled back in my chair. I reverently opened my Bible to the passage and began to read.

The first verses seemed fairly normal. It said something about muzzles and staying silent in front of the wicked, whatever. I honestly wasn't paying much attention, I was too busy feeling smug.

The next passage caused the smugness to fade. David was pleading with God to make David aware of his own insignificance in the grand scheme of eternity. Look, I'm all for mind-blowing theological discussions that induce existential crises, but this was not the time! I wanted to read about lyres!

To my chagrin, I quickly learned that God is far sassier than I will ever be.

Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth not knowing who will get it.

I stared at my Bible for a long moment, before slowly shutting my Bible as reverently as I opened it, but this time sans the self-satisfied smugness and semi-mockery. I tried to convince myself of the importance of studying abroad in England, but all of my reasons and logic seemed inadequate in light of the fact that I am a mere phantom and any impact I leave or knowledge I gain will be, at best, like the vague whisper of the wind in the mind of a sleeping infant- insignificant and incomprehensible.

There's always grace though. Something within me rallied. If my experience with Esprit de la Rose had taught me anything, it was that there is always grace in the love of Christ. God couldn't leave me hanging with just this. Well, He could, but He wouldn't. 

I opened my Bible for the third and final time. I reread the phantom verse, and my eye wandered to the verse directly next to it in my Bible. It was from Psalm 40.

Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.

God had a plan for me, a plan that is wonderful and intricate and worth talking about. The contrast between the two verses was stark; was I a phantom or was I significant? After reading the rest of Psalm 39 and then reading all of Psalm 40, I realized the difference. It was God. Psalm 39 was about a man who was trying to make his way without God, Psalm 40 was about a man who waited and trusted in the Lord.

In England, I might gain knowledge, culture, and enjoyment, but all would be vanity when taken without Christ as the center and purpose of it all. On City Project, I might gain knowledge, friends, and enjoyment, but all would be meaningless without Christ as the center and purpose of it all. Whatever my decision, it needed to be made in light of the Gospel; the truth that God so loved the world that He sent Jesus Christ to live the life I could have never lived and then to die the death that I deserved, thus offering me the right to be a child of God, the right only Jesus deserved, if I only put my trust in him who saved me, not in my own strength or works.

God didn't need me to give up England. God also didn't need me to go on City Project. My decision depended entirely on whether God called me to England or City Project, and on whether I would choose to obey Him because I loved Him, or if I would ignore Him because I loved myself.

I prayed. It was half-hearted, grumbling, and quiet, but I did pray.

After I finished praying, I attempted to abandon the out-of-character humility evident in myself. This decision needed to be thoroughly and intellectually analyzed. It was a time for a pros and cons list! Funny, I thought my list was a way to think about my decision while I waited on God's answer to my prayer. Instead, it was my answer to prayer.

...I chose to do City Project.

When I told Cameron, she started squealing and bouncing and hugging, and quietly, I began to get excited too. I was still humbled by the fact that it took God calling me a phantom to get me to recognize the importance of centering my decision on Him, but hey, at least now I get to spend my entire summer in Durham, NC rather than at Oxford University.


*This is an utterly inaccurate summary of Psalms, but a totally accurate summary of my arrogance. Happy to clarify that for you, if you were about to leave a ranting comment, you grace-filled defender of God you. :)

Dear Supporters,

Hello to all of you awesome people! I'm sorry I was MIA all summer. I considered blogging about my experiences throughout the course of City Project, but I could not bring myself to do so. I don't like telling stories until I know the ending. City Project ended yesterday, and trust me, you'll be glad I waited! The reader in me appreciates the fascinating parallels God created throughout the summer, and hopefully, I will be able to adequately highlight some of those for you. As it is, I will be consistently blogging my summer story for the next couple of weeks. Thank you all so much for your generosity and sacrifice in supporting me, even when I was less excited about City Project than you yourselves were. Rest assured, I grew so far beyond the me I am in this part of the story. I can't wait to tell you more!