In February I had the pleasure of spending a few hours in amiable car conversation with four college women. They were magnificent: they turned a commute (boring!) into a road trip (wildly fun!) We were on our way to hear Gary Haugen speak about the Locust Effect – so I already knew from their interest that they were women with deep convictions. I also discovered that God had gifted some of them to write. A few weeks back, you heard from Tifani Oaks. Today, please welcome my other lovely driving companion, Brenna Lyles, to the Words That Changed My World series!
It was my freshman year of college when I began to take initiative in my faith.
A series of “college experiences” gone sour led me on a path to a on-campus Christian fellowship. Despite growing up in the church, I had never experienced such a group and I was both intrigued and inspired. I immediately began immersing myself into this community of young people who were sharing their lives together and living with an indescribable fire.
As I grew in relationship with God and fellow believers in the following months, I came to understand the realness of my faith. It was more than just a book filled with intangible theories and moral codes, it was life. And I was finally ready to make it my life.
Suddenly, it seemed the chandelier that was my life went from dull to noticeably lit.
For months, I had heard a voice from within telling me that there was so much more in store for me, that God had a greater plan for me… if I was willing to change. These words came in parallel with a weekly sermon series on the Apostle Paul’s notion of “putting off” the old self and “putting on” God’s best version of me.
So, I started small and changed some things. The obvious things. I stopped swearing, realized the toxic effects of gossiping and my judgmental attitude, made myself accountable to several friends and mentors, and ended a relationship of two years that I knew was both disobedient and holding me back in my walk with Christ.
And, gradually, life seemed brighter and I began to experience a deep sense of peace. So, I dusted off my hands, sat back, and let God take it from there.
I’ve changed. I’ve done my part, I figured. It’s time to wait for God to follow through on that great promise.
But it didn’t come on my time, which left me discontent and irritated. I still had many areas of my heart that needed a little fix-me-up, but I neglected that small detail.
Was all this “putting off” for nothing? I began to wonder as time went on.
I felt God telling me it would take yet some more work.
Perhaps a month or two later, I read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. The book, in conjunction with my quest for putting on a new self, inspired me to spend a day feeding our town’s homeless people – a population I knew very little about but very harshly judged for their “poor life choices.” I recruited my best friend; we made some PB&Js and drove downtown.
Expecting to simply hand out sandwiches and walk away, I was shocked when these individuals leaped into conversation with me – me, a complete stranger. It was clear they had a deep longing to share their lives, their stories, their downfalls, their journeys, their misfortunes. They spoke of broken homes, running away, addictions, oppression, and – incredibly– God’s grace. I sat on the sidewalk and soaked it in.
I cannot say it was one particular phrase or statement that did it, but I came home that day with their words pulsing through me. I felt renewed and filled and radically changed. I knew I had landed upon something.
A bit selfishly, I continued pursuing encounters with this community both in and outside of my town. Street ministry became my comfort zone. It always starts with a, “Hi, how are you today?” and ends planted on the sidewalk, immersed in conversation.
Each story I am told, each vulnerable soul I meet softens my heart – something the Lord knows I need. I am humbled by the people I have met, as I’ve realized that we are broken just the same. I am uplifted to experience an overwhelming percentage who are in love with Jesus.
Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39 are reality for me, as I’ve realized that other’s sin and my sin are no different; drug addictions are no worse in God’s eyes than shopping addictions. Neither are outside the bounds of God’s forgiveness; neither can separate us from His love.
I have learned to better love everyone without judgment; to strive to meet the relational needs of others; to understand God’s love more fully and deeply. I yearn for a different kind of justice.
The words I felt God speaking into my heart over a year ago and the words of the poor and powerless have truly changed my world.
I’m putting off a hardened, self-focused self for a new, humbled, loving, empathetic, and selfless (yet still imperfect) me.
This coming fall, I will serve as a leader in a community service ministry team within my Christian fellowship. I hope and plan to make serving the homeless community and seeking justice my life’s work in whatever capacity the Lord calls me to.
This was the great promise.
Brenna is an aspiring journalist, blogger, and Communications and Economics student. In her down time, she can be found training for half-marathons, dancing around her apartment, sipping coffee, or cooking up a delicious, healthy meal. Brenna is a lover of breakfast, country music, public radio, theological books, and quaint downtowns. Her life’s passion is listening to and telling stories of extraordinary people. Brenna blogs at http://aninterviewwithexistence.wordpress.com/, and you can find her on Facebook.
photo credit: James Lee Flickr – Creative Commons