One year ago, I wrote my "last post," or, my last post as a fifteen-year old. Now, this is my last post as a sixteen-year-old. The year has sped by, and once again I think this year has changed me more than any year before it.
The year began at TeenPact Staff Training, which was an incredible 5 days in Buda, Texas. I learned more about being a leader and how to run a TeenPact State Class, but more importantly I made amazing friends and grew closer to my amazing God. I think I was in tears in nearly every worship session. I still have my paper with little notes from everyone up on my bulletin board, and I see it nearly every day.
Also beginning through this trip was my decision to always sit with a stranger on airplane flights. I've been given such wonderful experiences all through the year as I've done this, sharing God's truth with people, or simply hearing their story. From a Jewish lawyer and a conversation about the Messiah, to a boy flying to go see his dad for the first time in months, the people I met on these planes have influenced me and given me more of a "people-perspective." People, that God made and loves are everywhere, just waiting for someone to speak up.
Besides debate, I also competed in five Individual Events. Impromptu was a blast, Apologetics taught me so much, my Illustrated Oratory on TOMS Shoes was so much fun, my Persuasive on foster care made an impact, and my Original Oratory on how abortion affects women was my favorite speech of all three years. I didn't do any of it on my own; God was inspiring and supporting me every single step of the way. He gave me outstanding new friends, and an irreplaceable club. I love you, Rainmakers.
My Spanish skills definitely came in handy this time as I got to form a deeper relationship with many of the children at the orphanage, particularly a girl my age. We talked for hours while I was there, and I learned from my own experience that these children are just like us, with hopes, dreams, and plans.
Perhaps most importantly, our whole team felt a real burden to not leave what we learned down in Mexico at the Ranch. But as we came home, we resolved to keep that mindset of saving the lost because people without Jesus in America are just as lost as the ones in Mexico. Thank you, Riegg family, for following God's call to take us down to Mexico. Lives were changed.
Drum roll please... TeenPact OR I & II! I was so blessed to staff alongside two unforgettable teams of staffers. Mr. and Mrs. Neumann, Showman, Quin, Vince, Mary Beth, Jennifer, Kalahan, Aramis, Lauren, Ben, Christian, Chris, and Rachel, you are all incredible. I am so thankful for the two weeks spent with you all; God has a plan for the relationships formed between all of us.
Staffing TeenPact taught me many lessons, as I knew it would. It taught me more and more about leadership, and what it means to serve on a team. I learned to teach on different topics regarding my state government and pretty much memorized the layout of the Oregon State Capitol. But the most significant part of the TeenPact experience came through learning to love people, be it students or staff. Learning to embrace them for who God made them to be, and encouraging them to step out into the role God has made for them.
Off to Boston, MA for the NCFCA Speech and Debate National Championships - the culmination of the speech and debate year. With a small group of dear friends, we toured Boston together, creating so many ridiculous and wonderful memories. From pitchering the pizza at Santarpio's, to our awesome bus tour guide, Stephen, it would have been hard to have a better time touring. What a gift.
I was given the wonderful opportunity to staff TeenPact Survival NW 2011, and I know it was the providential hand of God that placed me there. The camp itself was amazing; the students were a blast, the activities and obstacles were a ton of fun, the staff team was beyond wonderful, and the spiritual lessons were impacting. Survival is the best alumni event. Just sayin'.
But God really changed my life after the camp was over, when we said goodbye to Jimmy Brazell who drowned on July 31, 2011. The shock and grief was overwhelming, but the fellow brothers and sisters in Christ around me kept pushing us all back into the truth. The truth was and is that Jimmy is with his Savior, running on greener pastures, singing brand new songs. Though the burden is staggering, even for someone who only knew him for a week, God has given us a great hope that Jimmy is with Jesus, and we will see him again.
Those events changed me in ways I am still discovering. Jimmy's example was like no one I've ever known; his joy in Christ and his passionate love for people was different than anyone I've met before. He's challenged me, and so many others, to live life more fully abandoned to God. He's challenged me to live each day like it could be my last. And he's challenged me to love. Always love. Love people around me, and love God with everything I am. I think I will always remember 2011 as the Jimmy year.
Since Survival, the weeks have flown by in some ways, and dragged on in others. It's been eighteen weeks and one day since then. Beginning the new school year, spending time at home, studying English, Spanish, and Chinese, spending silly afternoons withe the Aldrich family, speaking at community meetings, sharing at debate club, meeting with a Life Group, sending Rachel off to Patrick Henry College. There has been much sorrow, coping with the sudden loss of Jimmy and many others. But through it all, there has been much joy as I learn of the unconditional and unstoppable love of God. Even when I wasn't strong enough to hold on, He held me. Even when I don't understand, He reminds me that I don't have to. In everything, Jesus is the same, yet constantly growing more and more beautiful as I grasp more fully who He is. I am overwhelmed.
Oh Jesus, I can't speak words strong enough to thank you for this year. I am forever changed, and I will take the lessons of this year as I serve you for the rest of my life, no matter how long it is. You are indescribable, Jesus. You're beautiful.