My first journal entry ever is below. Upon re-reading it, I've found that I was a lot more confused than I remember. God made my mission more clear every day and what you will read is a mixture of confusion and clarity. My walk with God started again in January after a long hiatus and He guided me from that confused state to where I am now: at a greater peace in understanding, but aware that I have so much further to go.
PS - I apologize for spelling and grammatical errors, there's no time for proofreading and I hastily typed this.
Where to begin?
Have you ever heard God before? At this moment, I feel more secure and sure that I have than before (in the last few days). I’m still afraid, but much less so. I feared that if I told people they would condemn me as crazy or criticize what I believe God has told me to do. At first I thought I was crazy and tried to dismiss the ideas as off-the-wall and impossible. God spoke to me twice since last Thursday and today (a week later) I’m so close to committing to the faith I have longed to prove for some time now.
I don’t know where it is best to start. Maybe last semester. I had not been more stagnant in my faith for a long time. Something was not right. Things were changing around me and inside me and I know now I didn’t handle that very well. I was desensitized. Feeling nothing. No closeness to God, no fulfillment in what I was doing. It was my first semester as a graduate (Masters) student at Colorado School of Mines. I completed my undergrad in math there in May and felt obligated to continue studying. I had not applied for jobs or other school programs, my current program paid for three semesters of tuition already, and I was content to be comfortable at Mines. Things were not the same as they used to be, I found out. Something felt wrong. Friends had moved on, I was still lost and confused about my future.
I was committed most to school, then ballroom dance, then to Blue Key National Honor Society, then InterVarsity (and thus correspondingly to God – for me anyways). Ballroom dance was no longer gratifying. I was not happy to be there in part because I always had school in the back of (sometimes even the front of) my mind. I also had no partner, which never bothered me before, but I felt profoundly that dancing didn’t matter without a more permanent partner. My involvement in the other organizations was limited because of lack of interest, time, and most importantly a despair. I think now that I was sad (or perhaps depressed) about my spot in life (nothing I was doing seemed to make a difference). This is probably because I felt no clear sense of purpose and I was not relying on God to calm my fears about my future.
I was searching, but not finding or maybe I was hiding (I was just so oblivious to the truth). I occupied my time with volleyball (playing and watching), which I love, but left me empty. School did not fulfill me. No new ideas about my passion or future. Ballroom (dance) left me no happier. The best thing about last semester was spending time with my roommates. They were and are a blessing to be around. They brightened my day and my life.
In any case, my last semester culminated in quite a crazy experience in Downtown Denver, which ended up with huge fees and a night in the hospital. I’ll tell you about that later. It was an experience to learn from and one that I wish I never had (that is, never had to have… I don’t regret everything. I learned from it). It’s somewhat funny in hindsight, though. My lack of caution that night was no doubt partially due to my desensitized state. Down deep I was still mature and responsible, but I was so unaware of where I was in life. It was a rude awakening of sorts, but aside from learning to be more careful while drinking and discovering that I had become desensitized, no fundamental changes occurred in me.
Christmas break was a break from school, but not from the uncertainty I had about life. I buried myself in reading and in time spent with friends so I wouldn’t have to face reality. I’m not sure there was much I could have done anyway to determine my future. I could research jobs, etc. all I wanted, but I have doubts at this moment that I would have found something with meaning. Something from God.
So, it is with great relief that God did speak to me. And it becomes more perfect and real to me the more I think and share about it.
The first time He spoke I heard, but didn’t either know it was Him or, well I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was some random idea I guess. After the second time I knew it was God instantly (despite trying to deny it later). And it wasn’t until a day or so later (after Sunday, the second time He spoke to me) that I realized God spoke to me at Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) as well. So, at the Cru meeting last Thursday God told (or maybe just suggested ;) ) that I do something.
I wasn’t particularly engaged in the evening (that is, the speakers, the message, and later the music). However, the speaker, a former Mines student (Tim Gabrielson) caught my attention when he mentioned C.S. Lewis, someone I have looked up to and been amazed by for some time now. His ability to influence others and the impact he had on Christians, Christianity, people, Britain, and the world is positively inspiring (from what I know about him). If I want to be anything when I grow up it is C.S. Lewis (or maybe a bit of Will Rogers too). It was around this time that God told me to reapply for the Rhodes Scholarship. Actually, just saying that does the experience no justice. It was like “bam!” apply for the Rhodes Scholarship to study literature or theology. I had given up on that though because I knew not what to apply for, nor had I done anything they may have deemed “special.”
He told me to reapply for the scholarship to study something that would move me in a path (or to situate me in a position, e.g. training, qualifications, experiences) to influence people in a similar manner as C.S. Lewis. That is, maybe literature or theology. I don’t know what Oxford offers in those areas. Now, recall that my studies are in mathematics! My Masters is for International Political Economy, but that doesn’t qualify me to apply for study in literature or theology much more than math! I thought, “that would be fantastic, but I’m hardly qualified.” (by hardly qualified, I mean not at all! I have no experience! Hence, I rejected the “thought” as preposterous and crazy. It somehow did bring some degree of a happy attitude for me for the rest of the meeting, though.
I watched Phantom of the Opera, spent time with friends, and went home to bed (I can tell you about the Phantom later). The next morning I had to go to the airport (DIA) by 10:00 am to welcome and instruct Blue Key National Honor Society members to Colorado for a national conference we were hosting at school in Golden, Colorado. I went with Josh, a good friend of mine. He made me carry the four blue balloons because he was embarrassed. Fortunately for me, I lost those inhibitions a while ago.
What I mostly want to tell you about this conference is that I was in awe of the people. Here they were, coming to my home state and I was the one feeling welcomed! That is, they were welcoming me into their lives and into relationships with them! I was inspired by their immediate friendliness and happiness. I love meeting new people, but especially ones like these! The whole weekend I grew closer to them, and shucks, I really like them. God made loving people all over – all across the US!
Anyway, the people part of the conference by far outweighed the lectures on leadership. Well, there is one thing I feel I should share in those regards. The first speaker of the day (VP of Western region for an oil and gas company) asked us to write our passions on a sheet of paper. This was supposed to coincide with our skills and talents too. What I wrote was a truth that I’m not sure I’ve ever let myself really believe. It was no part math, no part IPE. I wrote that I’m passionate about loving and relating to others. Well, that is dandy since I have all this education and continue to pursue them and related fields of work. I’ve been telling people for a while that I want to make a difference, change the world, be a philanthropist, or do something to help people (humanitarian). I looked at Peace Corps, thought about possible causes for NGOs and non-profits and foundations. Nothing struck me as “right.” God wasn’t speaking to me in this realm until He told me the seemingly unrelated random instruction to pursue a study more like literature or theology.
The conference blew by. On Sunday morning I bid my new friends “good-bye” from their hotel. I was happy. I would miss them. I drove home, packed up, and then headed to my parents’ house (also home). On the way, I listened to K-Love, worshipped, the sun was shining in beautiful Colorado, and Sherri Rivers said “good morning, ya’ll.” My heart burst with happiness. I thought I love you Sherri Rivers and your beautiful voice. I was so happy God created her to welcome strangers across the US and give her capacity to love thousands of people she does not know. She’s my beautiful sister in Christ. I wonder how she loves so many. Anyways… I felt a happiness I had not felt for some time. A happiness and contentedness I was familiar with and had been missing. I wanted it to stay forever. It was like some kind of drug (but so much more powerful) soothing me. The happiness was not as strong by the time I got home, but it was not gone.
My family and I went to church, where, once again I was not particularly engaged in the talk. Worship was pretty great. I don’t recall exactly where God spoke to me, but I think I left briefly to use the restroom (TMI, sorry!), the talk ended, and worship began. Suddenly, out of thin air God told me to ride a bicycle (I would say bike, but not to be confused with motorcycle) across the U.S. What!? Where did tha idea come from? Why? I started to think that would be cool. What would I do? Well, visit some specific communities on a "charted" path meanwhile spending time with God, exploring myself, my feelings and emotions, my faith, delving into scripture, being with God as I ride (not to mention with the people in the communities), learning, and experiencing (culture, different lives, the US). Maybe, no, definitely I would be documenting this "spirit journey" (my dad's words) along the way. Maybe with poetry, song, journal film? Or perhaps with more than any one expression of thoughts, feelings, learnings, experiences.
I would be able to meet, love, build relationships with people, while traveling, learning (I should have included that as a passion), not to mention biking would be great exercise. And yet, this was a little crazy and no one would believe it was from God so I needed to add something else to make other people believe it was a good idea. I know! I can serve these communities. Surely each community has a church that would need some help in some way. Not to mention that logistically I know that churches would have members that could help with the trip by putting me up for a night and feeding me. But, I could not go alone. I realized that suddenly and said (as if to God) "I cannot do this alone." Immediately, Nathan H. the name and face popped into my head. He was my roommate Freshman and Sophmore years and a best friend. I was so excited that for moments straight I could think of nothing but logistics, others who may have done this (e.g. Mark Shultz), and that I would call Nathan right after church to ask him "Nathan, what are you doing this summer?" But my excitement failed me.... or waned or wore out or whatever you want to say. This was an impossible idea that I could convince no one of, that would not serve me in my future, and was simply crazy. I'm not sure I believed it was God. But it was too random to be my own. I couldn't get it off my mind. Was it a crazy thought or God? What if it was me? God? No, I never believed it was me, so it had to be... not me. I was too afraid to think it was God and thus too afraid to share. I continued to think logistics, getting excited about the plausibility.
That night I had to share with someone. Camo (a roommate) was at home. I tried him. But not in a straightforward manner at all. I took some curves instead in the form of hypothetical, rhetorical questions. Maybe I wanted to be sure it was God before sharing or I was afraid of criticism and rejection. Why should I have been? Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. This is the clearest and most radical way (or maybe it just sticks out because it is the most radical thought I've ever had) God has spoken to me and instructed me to do something.
I got no clear reaction from Camo. Probably because he had no idea what I was talking about. Shucks. The excitement mixed with skepticism boiled up in me, but I felt no reinforcement after talking with Camo. I tried awfully hard to legitimze a trip by emphasizing services for churches. I may have sounded like a businessman pitching some crazy product desparately to someone who by a poor chance of fate was cornered to have to listen. My own thoughts and feelings were disjoined, unsure, confused. I had enough faith to bring it up, but enough foolishnes to try and add my own plan to God's instructions. In the end, I gave up because I had no idea what I was talking about and I had added too many of my thoughts of how to make it worthwhile and noble. I thought exploring myself was not enough. That growing in relationship with Christ was not enough. I've realized by now that it is enough. Service and giving something back to the communities will happen. God told me this and I payed much less attention a nd placed much less importance on this "unplanned" service than something more intentional. Not all the good we do is purposeful. God has gifted us all to be blessings in the lives of others unbeknownst to ourselves.
My excitement about this insane idea was like a rollercoaster. Around noon on Monday I spoke with a fellow graduate student in my program. Still skeptical, I thought Elizabeth would be a more welcoming audience, but still look at the situation objectively. I started by saying "Elizabeth, it looks like I may travel the US before the world" because she was encouraging a "world ticket" kind of trip for me. As I started to describe it all to her, I added an argument about American Exceptionalism. The night before, as I was exploring my thoughts about why God would have presented this to me now, I told Camo about the "good" American people I met that weekend from across the country. How fascinating would it be to see if this goodness is everywhere in the US? Is it just in Christians or in all Americans? Is the same Exceptionalism from de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" as true today as it was in the 1830's? Maybe I could research this on the way. Elizabeth like the sound of the whole idea. I was still cautious presenting my idea to her trying to remember God's reasons for me going while adding my personal touch - the pieces like service and now American Exceptionalism - to hopefully legitimize this. She was supportive, strengthening my resolve and belief that maybe this wasn't all crazy. Maybe this was possible - a bike trip ordained by God.
So after our meeting I decided to add American Exceptionalism to future chats about this experience. After every conversation, I was becoming more certain that this was from God. Unfortunately, I was still adding my tidbits to try to strengthen my argument - the goodness this would bring to the communities I would visit; this wasn't all about me, I'd be helping them. In reality, God knows me, knows my heart and has a purpose for me. I should not have been afraid to tell people exactly what he told me instead of adding pieces to try to gain approval.
Next, I talked with Kory (another roommate). It was Tuesday evening (after the inauguration of Obama) and I wasn't being very productive. I asked him if he'd still go bike shopping with me. We were supposed to go shopping so t hat my Dad could buy me one for my birthday in September... and then combine it with a Christmas present. Well, needless to say, I still have no bike. I informed Kory that the bike had to be able to traverse the country after he told me he'd definitely go shopping with me. He assumed I'd meant like "back country" so I ellaborated. "What?! How much money can you put down, what's your budget?" I told him I would "put down" whatever was necessary to get me an appropriate bike. "Like $2,000," I said to make a guesstimate. Then we got into the "why."
I tried recounting everything for Kory, but I didn't get through explaining everything before he asked "would you do this alone?" Well, no. But... was he excited about it too? Maybe God had someone right in my house who should go with me. I tried to think about whether I would allow or disallow someone from coming and for what reasons. I haven't asked him yet and I don't know how he'll respond.
By the time we were finishing our conversation, Camo and Nathan T. walked in and heard the gist of it all. Camo got a better, clearer version this time. After Nathan and Kory left, I chatted with Camo (more like challenged him to tell me what he thought) to get his opinion now that he knew the whole shebang. Camo asked me some heavy questions, mostly in regard to my part of the plan with service. He didn't believe that I could make an impact in a community to validate a cross-country trip to serve them. You see, I was emphasizing service and exceptionalism again. Those, well service was not a given instruction for this trip. Exceptionalism in some way was given by God, but probably not how I first envisioned it. That is to be determined and cannot necessarily be planned for. When I got to what God told me, what He really told me, Camo believed the trip would be worth it for that. Camo said the funny thing was that he'd had the same thought. Well, he was hitch-hiking, but more or less the same. He "likes bikes, travel and believe it or not... meeting people too." He said he was sort of sorry he didn't think of biking. The truth was, he was getting excited listening to me talk about it.
In Camo's eyes, if the trip was about growing close to God then it was legitimized in his book.
I am somewhat ashamed now that I sought the approval of so many people before I really, truly believe this was God. I suppose it is a good idea to talk with those wiser than you when you are confused. Before Tuesday evening I thought it was Him, but was afraid and skeptical. Afraid because I wanted people tobelieve me and I was fearful they wouldn't. I was skeptical because it has always been my nature to question encounters with God (and the correspondingly amazing stories). Though I have always believed in Him, upon meeting His first challenge (... well this isn't His first challenge) I was afraid and slightly disbelieving. Now I can say unwaveringly that it was God who told me t o ride a bike across the US, visiting communities, being with Him, learning from friends I'll make, growing in relationship with God with whoever joins me. I will document my experience and I hope I will have something worthwhile to share at the end.