I have a confession to make. It’s not all that surprising, but as someone who tends to internalize, I often have a hard time reconciling tough events of the past.
Almost three years ago now I lived the most beautiful and hellish summer of my 22 years. I’m still dealing with it.
It was the summer of Elijah Project internships. There were 16 of us scattered across the globe working on some measurable goals in discerning work and vocation… applying a semester’s worth of theological studies to a summer of exploration. This summer would be followed by a semester of unpacking of our reactions and experiences.
I went to the rez for the fifth time high off of an absolutely amazing spring break trip there. I led students from Gordon to a place near and dear to my heart, and our trip was incredible. We worked hard, we built relationships, and we made a difference. We were exhausted participating in community and cultural events, but it was all worth it.
I had just changed my major to art education, and I was seeking answers on whether or not I could live as a full time cross-cultural missionary. Art was my in. I photographed, painted, and planned crafts and games. I also shingled roofs, drove 15 passenger vans, re-lit the water heater with a blow torch, hiked buttes, caught and killed bats, and served wine during communion.
Tonight I read through the thirteen page reflection I wrote after my summer, and it brought me to tears. I am still piecing myself back together after that summer.
“Perhaps what I liked the least and what surprised me the most about my internship was how much I learned about myself. I was frustrated by my frustration, disappointed with my disappointment, and saddened by my sadness over the events of the summer. Upon starting the pathways program this summer, I felt ready for anything that God had in store for me for the summer. Having completed my first year at Gordon after transferring, I felt a new happy and healthy chapter of my life opening up, and I anticipated this summer as the first paragraph in that chapter. What I did not expect was to have nearly every situation I have struggled with in my life resurface this summer.
In high school I struggled with disordered eating, and it was not until last year that I began a truly healthy relationship with food. After ending an unhealthy dating relationship, I felt that this summer I was ready to live my life for God and not let hurt and fear control me anymore. My two-year mark of remission from an autoimmune disease was approaching. I felt more ready than ever on to serve God and move forward living my life for Him. Being in relationship with the community of Standing Rock for four years and the positive experience I had in leading a Spring Break trip there this year reinforced by sense of excitement and preparedness, as so much of my spiritual development had occurred because of that relationship. In some ways, I set myself up for disappointment. This summer I faced the hurt and struggles that I thought I had laid at the foot of the cross. Upon leaving Standing Rock I was told by the director that I struggle relationally. Everything that played out in my relationship with my former boyfriend played out this summer, and that the circumstances of our break up was entirely my responsibility. Therefore, I struggle relationally. I make unilateral decisions and I struggle cross-culturally. I am a weak person, both physically and emotionally. He told me that if he had known all of this about me, he would have chosen someone else over me this summer. Hearing those things spoken about me was devastating especially after being criticized daily about my white skin, thin build, etc by my teammates. Everything that I had enjoyed about this summer and viewed as a positive aspect of my time on Standing Rock was thrown in my face on my last day.
This summer I shared my testimony to students at camp, a first for me. I told them what I had learned through the years I struggled with faith, health, body image, trust and relationships. I spoke clearly that often what God serves us seems unappealing. For years I wondered how a God who created such a beautiful world could create something so ugly for me. I did not see how the life He had given me had any worth, and I doubted that anything good could come from the circumstances I was living in during middle and high school. It took time and prayer and patience and experience to realize that there is nourishment in all the circumstances we find ourselves in if we trust God and lean on Him. I had to truly continue living that out this summer in the midst of daily emotional abuse from housemates and leadership on Standing Rock. This summer I had to learn to live out my faith in a new way, walking past the point of suffering, through the process of recognition into practice.
It is difficult to say what exactly I learned about myself this summer. I am trying to find the nuggets of truth in the destructive criticism I received from Canon John on my last day on Standing Rock. What do I have to truly contribute to a community if I struggle relationally? How can I better make decisions if they come across unilateral? Am I as weak as others perceive me? Am I called to cross-cultural work if it is something I see as struggling with? What can I do to change these things if they are true? Are they aspects of me that can or should be changed at all?
This much I know to be true. I am a lot stronger than I initially thought I was. Six weeks would have dwindled to just a few had I not had strength from experience and support. From years of dealing with disease and sickness, I have learned perseverance and strength in my weakness. Since being healthy, I started to slip away from that. I was reminded of my strength in Christ this summer when I had no support other than Him. It is vital for me to have emotional and spiritual support that is tangible. Daily I thanked God for my physical safety in the midst of living in a bat-infested, moldy, out-of-code house. I know that God heard the prayers of my parents and friends asking for safety. Staying six weeks on Standing Rock this summer was only made possible by the support system I have in place with friends and family from home, school and the reservation. If I were to ever live as a missionary, I would need to find a strong base of mutual encouragement and support. I am still very susceptible to negative criticism, and that I am extremely self-critical. My summer taught me how to find worth in God alone, not in others perceptions or my own comparisons to other people.There are not enough words to express the depth and breadth of my summer internship. God is faithful. I am uncertain of my role in mission and ministry leadership, but my passions for teaching and art have been confirmed in many other ways. This summer I was put on display, and in my vulnerability I have learned to sustain a righteous anger that motivates me to do good and move beyond the hurt. Uncertainty of my future relationship to Standing Rock has opened the door to the possibility that mission work is part of the journey of obeying the journey that is God’s call on my life, and not the end of where I should be.”
Little did I know that upon return, my life would continue crumbling. A knee surgery, a relapse, 6 weeks missed of my semester, a hospital stay and meningitis. Sobbing to my mom wondering if I could ever finish school, get married or be a mother.
I am still on that journey.