It seems this day comes faster every year, December 5th, the day before I begin another year in the world. Today finished the first 19 years. Besides all the general sentiment accompanying that change from a 1 to a 2 at the beginning of my age, there has been so much beauty in the past 365 days that I want to reflect on today. So here is my last post as a 19-year-old, a 19-year-old immensely blessed.
I was sitting here in the same room writing this post last year, bundled in my coat in the chilly Dandelion teacher’s office. I had no idea what the next year would hold beyond finishing the semester in February. All I knew was that God would be carrying me through every step of the way, and that He certainly has.
Within a few weeks, Principal Zheng asked me to stay for another year at the school, and within a day of prayer and discussion with my parents, I knew this was right. I distinctly remember the moment, standing in the hallway on the phone with mom and deciding to stay, something changed in my mentality. Anyone who has known me long knows I am an adventurer, full of wanderlust and itching to experience more and more. For most of the past few years, being in one place to long drove me crazy; I was constantly looking for new opportunities to go and do and go and do. And while I don’t think that has changed in the least, something more permanent has taken root in my heart too. Sure, it’s probably a bit of just growing up. But in deciding to stay another year at this same school, I started to see the beauty of “dwelling” in one place, long-term, committed. Sure, a year doesn’t seem very long-term to most, but it was for me. And that step has given me the courage to follow God’s leading toward college, toward truly investing myself in a place deeply.
Soon my semester of teaching character to the 2013 8th graders was over, and with cries of “See you next year!” I left China for an intentional, purposeful six months in America. My vision was different than any time at home before. Suddenly I knew just how long I would be there, and I wanted to make the most of every second of it. Most importantly, I wanted to spend more time with my family, intentionally, and those times are treasured memories of exploring in the woods, going out for breakfast one-on-one, or teaching gymnastics for hours in the yard.
But the intentionality involved other aspects of life as well. With a few dedicated friends, we started Project Life – a group of people taking action against abortion in our city by standing outside Planned Parenthood clinics as a peaceful, comforting presence to offer help to women in crisis. Project Life, combined with a part-time job at the photo studio with my dad, occupied a lot of time for the first few months. Plus, spending time with Aljawhara (Jay), our exchange student from Kuwait, taught me so much and was always an adventure. But another highlight of this time, and my whole time home, was church.
“Church” became an entirely redefined concept, even as I listened to sermons while still at Dandelion School. I knew coming back to the U.S. that I wanted something different than the general American church image and function. My family and I started “attending” a new church, while quickly realizing that we don’t “attend church” at all, we gather as the church. Even in a school cafeteria, the church is the family of God and our purpose is to be Jesus to each other and to the world. Meeting on Sundays is just one helpful tool toward that purpose. Simultaneously, I went up to gather with A Jesus Church in downtown Portland every Sunday night that I could manage. I learned, and am still learning, so much from their teachings and model of missional communities. And their teachings opened up in a me a whole new understanding and awareness of my need and desire for the Holy Spirit.
Soon half of my trip to America was finished, and I was at TeenPact National Convention with some of the dearest people in my life. I’d never seen TeenPact with eyes like I did then; suddenly I was in tears during the musical worship simply because I was overwhelmed by the number of souls adoring Jesus at one time. I wanted everyone there to realize just how blessed we are to be surrounded by fellow followers, to be able to truly love each other in a way no one else understands. And I wanted these hundreds of students to leave National Convention and spread the message of salvation with everything they have.
Summer arrived, and TeenPact friends came and went through Portland almost non-stop, filling my heart with joy in their friendships. The days with my parents and sisters were counting down quickly, inspiring even more intentionality rather than frustration. I staffed a kid’s summer camp in my hometown of Canby, and had no idea how changed I would be after watching the program teach these kids, and me, about prayer and the Holy Spirit. I found myself doing and seeing things that just a year before I would have critically questioned, whether prayer, healing, prophecy, or other biblically profitable out-workings of the Holy Spirit. Coming home, God poured out His Spirit around me like I had never seen before. Whether in my own quiet time, in my own not-so-quiet time, with the church, with friends, or at the college Bible study group that loved me and taught me, in all of these areas and more I experienced the Spirit. And with Him, I was ready to go.
Arriving back at Dandelion a few weeks before school began caused a time of loneliness and spiritual struggle that I hadn’t been expecting. But my empty schedule left hours upon hours to fight through it by the power of the Spirit and the Word of God. School began, and I found myself quickly loaded with responsibility after responsibility and opportunity after opportunity that I couldn’t handle on my own. Each morning I would, and still do, wake up saying, “If I get through this day well, it’ll be all You, Father.” And I go to bed knowing He has never failed me. Rather, He usually blows me away!
This time at Dandelion has been so different from the last, and the length of the stay lends itself to even greater depth of attachment to these people and this place. My Father has and does answer prayer and has given me levels of Chinese that puzzle those who have studied for years. I have loved every moment spent with the nine Tibetan girls who live at the school with me as I teach them piano, learn their dances, and study their language. I’ve seen incredible progress in the students that I teach, progress that I hope can testify to the beauty of student-centered and love-based learning. And I’ve spent more regular, intentional time with Jesus than ever in my life, which has been changing me from the inside out.
So I come to the end of my first twenty years, and begin again tomorrow. The past 365 have changed and grown me so much that I am so incredible eager to see what He has for me next. I just want to know Him more – more of Jesus, more of the Spirit, more of the Father. In another 365 days, I don’t know where I’ll be. Perhaps I’ll be at college somewhere in the western hemisphere, and perhaps not. But I know that He will continue to carry me, to grow me, to make me more like Him as He leads me in His incredible purposes. I’m all in.