I first knew I wanted to know Jesus in eighth grade, but I was too selfish and vain to let him be anything more than one of many compartmentalized facets of my life. I distinctly remember writing in my diary next to a list of girls I thought were annoying and other people I hated that I wanted to get closer to God. The sheer duality embodied in that sparkly gel pen, those smiley faces and exclamation points, still haunts me. I cared most about having the perfect school year, loyal best friends, and the attention of all the boys.
After two years of existing on the roller coaster of vanity and attention-getting, I committed myself to knowing Jesus and letting him into all of my life at camp before sophomore year of high school. I loved that good feeling that came from feeling like I was drawing near to Jesus after camps—the camp high—but it was so fleeting that I wanted something lasting. I was willing to fight for that. I committed myself to pursuing Jesus, to chasing down true redemption and transformation. I didn’t yet know that it was his pursuit of me, not mine of him.
The metaphor that saved me was waterskiing. The youth pastor said that following Jesus was like waterskiing. All we had to do was say, “Go boat!” and focus all our energy on holding on. Don’t worry about where you are going or how you are going to get there. Just stay in his hands. I don’t remember being “gospel fluent,” knowing how to apply the reality of Christ’s sacrifice to everything in my life, but through holding on and letting my connection to him drive my life, I saw him change me in authentic, gospel-centered ways.
It wasn’t long after I said “Go boat!” that I realized I didn’t know what God was pulling me out of. I was a sinner beginning to partake of my salvation, but it lacked the sweetness that comes from knowing true helplessness. “I’m not doing that badly,” I thought. “Will you show me?” I prayed. Within the next year, I saw myself, no longer as “not that bad,” but as a person so depraved that God couldn’t possibly love me. I knew better. But at the very least, I couldn’t bring myself to feel loved. Again, I asked him to show me. “How can you look at me and see righteousness? How could you look at David and say that he was a man after your heart?” There was a specific sermon about David that led me to ask that question. Within a week the Holy Spirit answered it.
At that time in my life, it was a firm reality for me that catastrophe was just God warming up the clay before he made something beautiful. I had a hard time understanding tragedy because of the intensity of that belief in me. Devastation was so closely tied to redemption that I couldn’t even see the devastation, just the open door for his good work. Thus, when I broke my collarbone skiing (a week after I asked him to show me his love and let me feel it), still laying in the snow, I was full of the delighted conviction that he must be moving. It was through that experience that he showed me that he could take anything away from me, even the sport I loved most and it didn’t matter in the slightest. My heart was unmoved, because he was so precious to me. As I lay in bed in pain and unable to sleep, he showed me, that his delight in me was like the delight I felt him, “See, you are a girl after my own heart,” I heard him say.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had spent a year getting involved with ministry to my high school with a handful of my best friends. I helped lead a worship session before school on Wednesday mornings, and my best friends and I met every morning to pray for our campus. Prayer walks around the school were not an abnormal weekend activity, and I fasted every Thursday for the sake of seeing my school “revived.” I was passionate and full of bold faith, but a bit confused. To me, revival meant crazy things happening, not Jesus winning hearts in mundane day-to-day ways. This seeking after the works of God, his signs and not his face, was a huge distraction for me, but I wrestled hard with my desires and God responded by telling me that the only the pure in heart see God. Desiring works over relationship is the epitome of impurity.
During this time, I also saw an increasing need for community to make the gospel real, but I couldn’t find it. I made an announcement in my church youth group, where hundreds of students from several local schools gathered to worship, and I pleaded with them to be on mission with me to our schools. I saw that we needed a network that extended beyond the church building and I asked them to join us in prayer and community, but the group remained the same five of us that we started with. Despite my conviction that decades of prayers were behind our mission and the exhortation of several adults in my community, I left high school without seeing a single soul won.
At Whitworth, I spent a semester reverting to my distractions with friends and boys and having the “perfect” life, until I started reading Irresistible Revolution, which reawakened my strong desire to see Christ transform the culture and people around me. I struggled to find people at Whitworth that shared my passion. I thought we just need a group of committed people to get some money together and start making decisions with those resources to bless the city. I wanted to be like a monastic group, sharing our lives together, praying and seeking the spirit together. I was alone.
What I had tried so hard to cultivate, God gave to me when I sought it least. It was my sophomore year and time to take the next step toward getting involved at Vintage: missional community life. A special brunch and an invitation to rake leaves in Browne’s and I was ready to call it my neighborhood.