The Purpose

This past summer, I volunteered with my church’s Vacation Bible School for 5th and 6th graders. My family and I do this every year; everyone who is too old to attend as a student teaches a class. I had always worked with smaller kids, second grade and younger, but this year I was ready for a change. I wanted to get deeper into the Bible with kids who could understand more.

They kept up, all right. The boys were rowdy and mostly refused to respect me or the other leaders, but the girls in my little group of ten were almost exactly what I had pictured—fun but ready to listen and learn… except for one. She came with her older sister, who served as her translator—she didn’t speak much English. Quickly figuring that their mother wanted the girl (we’ll call her “Mia”) to learn English by being around people who spoke the language, I went on about my business, welcoming the girls and shepherding them over to the rest of the group for recreation time. They stuck tightly together, interacting with the other kids as little as possible. Between them and the gaggle of restless boys, after just two days, I was starting to wonder how I was going to make it to the end of the week.

Then, Wednesday dawned, hot and sunny as you’d expect from a June day in Texas. I had to lead my biggest group yet, and they, like their peers, all wanted snacks halfway through the morning. As the leaders were preparing the day’s offerings, I overheard someone ask Mia if she spoke Spanish, to which she replied a simple, “Yes.” That caught my attention; she hadn’t spoken enough for me to discern her accent before, but now I knew we had a connection that no one else in the group had. I had finished the last of four semesters of college-level Spanish just a few weeks before; I could speak her language, however minimally.

Shortly after this, as I was wrestling to keep the bowl of Goldfish crackers from being inhaled by the boys before the girls got any, one of the ladies in charge of snacks for the smaller kids came in with more food. The youth pastor came up to me a few minutes later and asked if the woman was my mother. “No,” I said, explaining that my mom was home with my baby brother. Then, as the pastor walked away, just to see what happened, I muttered quietly, “Mi madre está en mi casa.”

Mia’s head snapped up, her dark brown eyes wide as the Gulf of Mexico, and she said, “What?!”

Suddenly, I wondered if I had said something wrong; just because I had finished four semesters doesn’t mean I was very good at Spanish. I hesitantly repeated myself and then asked, in English, “Did I say it right?” After translation, Mia’s face lit up in a huge smile, and she nodded with an excited, “Yes!” I made a show out of how glad I was that I had spoken a sentence in Spanish without help, and she just kept smiling and laughing.

When small-group time rolled around, my instructions were to go over the Roman Road with the kids, and I decided to let them look up the verses in their own Bibles. Mia’s Bible was written in Spanish, of course. I asked her to read her Spanish version of Romans 6:23 after the English version had been read. She was hesitant, but she agreed. By the time she was done, even the boys had stopped roughhousing to listen, and she was smiling. She later volunteered to read a longer passage (Romans 5:8-11). It was the quietest and most attentive moment my group had all week; they even applauded when she was done. Mia spent the rest of the week trying to join the others and talking to me as well as she could. My sister, who was in another group, said she could see a drastic change in Mia’s behavior.

I tell this story because it taught me two big things.

One: those two years of Spanish seemed awfully pointless when I was in the midst of them (I was working on an English degree at the time), but if that week was the only reason I was in those two years of classes, then I am satisfied. The most “pointless” part of my degree plan has already made a potentially huge difference in someone’s life. That is as good a reminder as any that nothing we do is pointless; every step that we take is part of a greater plan, and the results of that plan are greater than we sometimes realize.

Two: Mia and I, as two completely different people—child and adult, American and Hispanic—were both willing to step out of our comfort zones that day, and we both grew from that experience. When we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, no matter where it takes us or how much we might potentially embarrass ourselves, we will be better off in the end.

Those Spanish classes were out of my comfort zone and beyond what I thought was the scope of my life plan, yet I was able to use it to help an out-of-place, intimidated little girl find her way a little closer to Jesus. The value in shattering cultural barriers like that is something that can be not only felt, but sometimes counted.

So, next time you’re faced with something you don’t want to do, whether it seems pointless or impossible, go for it. You never know how the Lord might use you.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Catherine Anderson.A sketch of me done by one of my other students. Yes, she was drawing during Bible study time, but can you blame me for being flattered?

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The Unnatural Nature of Thanksgiving

At the time when the fates delegated the Thanksgiving blog to me, I wasn’t in a very thankful state of mind. That’s how I ended up writing this blog during a MRI. Of course, I wasn’t actually typing it out, because giant magnets and computers go together about as well as red wine and wedding dresses, but I had a whole lot of time to get my thoughts together.

Imagine going to a dubstep concert where the DJ has no idea what he’s doing. Now imagine that you’re attending that concert inside of a coffin. There is an IV dangling from your arm, and if you move, you have to start the whole experience over again. To top it off, suppose that you have a hatred of needles (due to a bad incident involving a venomous spider and a Daffy Duck shaped hole punch) and no one warned you about the intrusive IV. Now you’ve got a pretty good idea of where I was at.

Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally. If you don’t believe me, check out the first few chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve didn’t verbally express their thanks to Creator God, and their actions certainly didn’t reflect any kind of thanksgiving.  A thankful heart comes only by choice. It’s wrapped up in our free will. There is always something to be thankful for, assuming you’re willing to acknowledge it. But I’ll warn you—it’s much easier to find all the things you’re not so thankful for.

That’s exactly what I did during the first half of my MRI. In order to distract myself from my misery, I started making a list of all the things I would rather do than be in my present situation: park in the freshman lot for the rest of my DBU career, only be allowed to listen to country music for the rest of my life, and other terrible things like that. Not surprisingly, my mood didn’t improve much, and the minutes until my scan was over didn’t tick by any faster. I wanted to feel the peace and joy that comes with a thankful heart, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to actually be grateful.

But with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, I figured I might as well swallow my self-pity and find some things to thank God for. I started with the easy stuff.

“Thank you God for not letting me pass out when they put that stupid needle in my arm.”

“Thank you for parents who love me and pay for my medical bills instead of making me take a second job at Taco Bell.”

But as I progressed, it became easier and easier for me to lay claim to my bountiful blessings.

“Thank you for giving me a little brother who is bright, funny, and a joy to watch grow up.”

“Thank you for bringing me to a university that puts your glory above everything else.”

“Thank you for my sweet boyfriend waiting for me in the lobby.”

“Thank you for a job that allows me to minister through my talents.”

I thanked the Lord for everything from cute nail polish to the gift of salvation. My situation didn’t change a bit, but I was no longer drowning in self-pity and negativity. The idea that thankfulness can transform the outlook of a grim situation is not a feel-good lie from the big wigs of Christianity; it works.

Everybody likes to pretend like they actually use the Thanksgiving holiday to count their blessings. But if we’re honest, other than saying grace at the family meal, few of us take the time to list the scores of people and things we are thankful for because gratitude is not voluntary. Thankfulness won’t come to you on its own; you must intentionally go out and get it.  Whether this holiday season is the best you’ve ever had or the worst you can possibly imagine, I urge you to find the positives in your life and thank the One who gave them to you.

If you find it difficult to get started, don’t sweat it. You’re going up against your natural tendency toward ingratitude. Thanklessness is natural; thankfulness is hard.  Push on anyway. I promise you’ll thank me later.

Written by Savanna

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Why Anyone Can Be a Writer

As a student, writing has always been a fairly large part of my academic career. From the time that I learned how to write a complete sentence in first grade, it has also been a passion of mine. Writing was a way for me to express myself in a manner that I hadn’t been able to before. Now, I have made the choice for writing to be a part of my career. Long story short, I absolutely love to write. However, I have met many people over the course of my life who have felt the exact opposite; not everyone loves writing the way I do and, I completely respect that. But, because November 15th is national “I Love to Write” Day, I am going to do my best to convince all of the non-writers out there that you, too, can and should become a writer.

Your first question is probably, “Where do I start?” or “What should I write about?” My answer is a simple one: write what you feel. For me, writing is often the best way to make sense of my emotions. If I’ve had a particularly rough day, sometimes just writing it down helps me feel better. Writing can be a great release for a lot of pent up emotions. Whatever type of writing speaks to you personally, whether it be journaling, poetry, songs, prayers, or stories, it can be a way for you to purge those feelings, good or bad. For a person who has little experience with writing, I would recommend journaling. It’s a great way to sort out your feelings and preserve memories that you might have otherwise forgotten. I also like to use it as a way to overcome writer’s block. If I can get myself started writing about something as simple as my day, more ideas will often come to me. Sometimes journaling about things can even give you clarity about a situation that you were struggling with before. Anything can be written about.

The next question you might have is, “Can I still be a writer if I’m not good at writing?” Yes! Yes, you can.  That is usually the number one reservation people have when I talk to them about writing. I struggled for a long time with feeling inadequate as a writer before I figured out the secret; you don’t have to be good. Sure, if you want to write professionally or plan on getting published, you will need a great deal of talent and experience but for personal writing purposes, it doesn’t matter if your word choice is precise or your grammar is flawless. You can write whatever you want, however you want. One of my favorite parts of writing is that there is so much freedom that comes with it. As long as you aren’t writing an academic paper or a published piece, there are no rules. No matter who you are, how you feel or what you say, you can be a writer.

Written by Taylor

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A Bedtime Story: How the UWC Came to Be StanNation

Once upon a time, there was a colorful, crowded room deep in the underground of a university learning center. It was often noisy in that place: people strolled by the door chatting and laughing loudly, the elevator ran up and down between the floors with clanking and groaning and wheezing, snack and drink machines constantly clinked and whooshed, and sometimes the Scantron machine sounded like a machine gun in this hidden place buried in the cavernous basement often referred to as “the dungeon.” Those who worked in this windowless room were definitely the best of best; these workers were chosen for their love of reading and writing, and they all carried GPAs which proved their attachment to things academic. These fine folk, however, had a competitive spirit. And they loved all things Christmas because it not only designated their Savior’s birth, it also gave them an opportunity to plan and scheme and keep secrets. The story of StanNation actually begins with those very traits: a love of Christmas, planning, scheming, and keeping secrets.

At the time of this strange christening, there was a Student Coordinator named Carrie, who was something of a legend. Her name was known far and wide as the APA expert, and she coached minions in the intricacies of that format. She also had the chutzpah to consult with her boss on the tone and direction of that ogre’s papers. Nevertheless, she smiled more and was kinder than anyone who had ever graced the dungeon before. But she carried an evil secret deep within her heart: Carrie was miffed, angry, outraged even that her office had worked crazily every single year and had yet to win the annual Christmas decorating contest. Never mind that they enjoyed the effort. Put aside how much they relished the outcome. To heck with the acclamations they received from visitors. She wanted the coveted prize: a pizza party. And she would have it! She would.

That fateful Friday afternoon 29 October 2010, at 4:55 p.m. sharp, she sent out the missive:

 

TOP SECRET!!!

Hello, comrades. …  Here in the UWC, we love Christmas. We have put forth a valiant decorating effort every year, receiving an honorable mention twice. But this year… we are going for number ONE. That’s right. We will join the ranks of Babe Ruth, Michael Phelps, and George Washington.

Here’s the plan, Stan… (PS… everyone’s code name is Stan when talking about this project)

We are going to make a gingerbread village. We have plans. BIG plans. … We will come sneak into the UWC and build. If we build it, they will come. The judges, that is. And they will be blown away by our mad skills and lovely tastes in decoration. Oh, and we will offer them gingerbread men to eat. (Bribing works wonders.) SO… come join us in decorating/dominating. …

Yours truly,

Stan

 

From that day forward, all the staff was known as Stan. In fact, one follow-up email was quite funny. See for yourself:

 

Christmas decorating, which shall henceforth be referred to as “quilt-making” for the purpose of secrecy, shall commence at 4 pm this Sunday. Be there.

Stan’s father will be coming to help with construction of our “quilt-making.” There will be hammers, staple-guns, and other cool power tools, so you guys will have fun. Girls too. I like power tools. But I REALLY like gingerbread and candy.

I get goose bumps when I think about how awesome our dungeon is going to look.

Have a great Thanksgiving! See you on Sunday for the quilt-making. Oh, we’re going to dinner afterwards too. We can just call dinner “dinner.” I don’t think we have to be too secretive about that. I mean, every office probably eats dinner, whether individually or collectively. Let me know if you hear of any breach of security, though, and we can adapt as needed.

Yours truly,

Stan.

PS- This is not Truett. This is Stan. My computer has momentarily been commandeered by Stan, so I commandeered Truett’s (oh, I mean Stan’s) computer.

 

Clearly confusion ensued. Still, decorating commenced, continued, and indeed, was quite successful. Or so they thought.

Sadly, the Stans still did not win the 2010 Christmas decorating contest. The staff was perturbed that the winners dominated by bringing forth Jerusalem with live animals and a newborn baby. They were sorely disappointed when they went to see the winning office, and there was nothing left but an empty manger, straw on the floor, and a construction-paper Jerusalem on the walls. Yet, they were gracious, congratulating the winners warmly even as they vowed to win next year.

Woefully, 2011 brought them only second place. They vowed that 2012 would be their year. They would surely win. But perhaps the fly in the ointment was the fact that each and every team member was called Stan. Nobody knew who was who. And that, my friends, was a problem. They bumbled around: everybody answering or nobody answering queries and responding to suggestions. It was like the fifteen stooges were in the office as they attempted to plan and decorate. Once more, other offices attained the coveted prize. And the UWC staff declared that somehow, the Stans would find a way to communicate and win.

To that end, Carrie instructed each Stan adapt his or her name by adding Stan to a portion of his or her given moniker: she became HamilStan. Others became Briggstan, VannaStan, Stanlee, Stanison, and so forth until all were individuals again.  Still, it was another year before the UWC grabbed the treasure they so craved. In 2013, they celebrated with the grand reward: a pizza party. They laughed, they high-fived, they ate, they drank, they made very merry. And they won again in 2015! Hooray for knowing who is who when decorating is under way.

That, my friends, is the legacy of Carrie. All UWC staff will henceforth be known as Stan, and the tiny, bright nation in the dark cavern will forever be StanNation.

The end.

Written by Ka

Image credit: Ka Riley