I came into this summer with clenched fists – holding so tightly to all of these things that I didn’t even realize. I was holding onto my community at home, my church, my leadership roles and positions, what others think/say about me, the school I go to, my style, my camp, my car, my food, my comfort – all things that were given to me as good gifts from God that I manipulated and twisted and branded my own name on to bring myself further glory. Much of my Journey so far has been fighting and wrestling with realizing what I’m holding onto, wanting to let go of those things, and just not knowing how.
I came into our third community in this same way – letting go bit by bit throughout the summer, but still just not being fully shaken of everything. On the way there, we rode in what looks like a big, green tank, being jostled around left and right and up and down, feeling dizzy and sick and shaken and all over the place, never feeling still or at peace – and well, it is a lot like how I feel in life. I am so restless. Never feeling settled, always wanting more, constantly feeling like I need to be less, wanting what I don’t have or can’t have, wishing to be somewhere I’m not, dreaming of some day when I’ll have reached the finished product of myself and my life – frustrated and tense and constantly gasping for air.
Before we left, one of our humble leaders Kadie Haase led us in a teaching on Psalm 23 and man, I am forever changed because of it. Kadie walked us through a series of questions regarding the passage, and one of those was “What does it mean for me to be a sheep?” And to be honest, when I think of sheep, I think of dumb, ugly animals that really just don’t do much. They walk around, eat grass, make weird noises, run when something is chasing them (I know from personal experience) and that’s just about it. As I thought through those things, I realized that that’s me. It sounds so silly, but honestly it’s the most humbling reality for me. My whole life I’ve tried to be the shepherd – of my friends, people younger than me, my parents, myself, and even God. And although I think God calls us to be shepherds and leaders in life, what I have failed to realize is that first and foremost I am a sheep – a lowly creature that can’t do anything on my own.
This is hard for me. Being really honest, I would much rather be a fierce lion or a strong elephant or something. If I was more like one of those animals, I could do this thing all on my own and it would be all about me. I would so much prefer that so I could get the credit and feel really good about myself. Nobody thinks of a sheep and says “Wow, that is such a cool, useful, amazing animal.” But that’s the whole point. If people look at me and see a sheep, the only conclusion they would be able to come to is that anything and everything I do has to come from something or Someone that is much better and greater.
Also, the green tank windows are huge, plastic, floppy canvases that stretch across two seats at a time. The only way for them to be opened is if you and the person in front of you unzip the sides, roll them up, and tie them at the same time. For my whole life, I’ve been this dumb sheep having an identity crisis thinking I’m something I’m not, aimlessly wandering around trying to roll those dang windows up all by myself – it just doesn’t work. What God has been teaching me is that if I would just walk with Him and be willing, He’ll help me open those windows.
Open windows on the tank changes everything. The ride is still bumpy and hard and I definitely still feel sick at times, but when those windows are open, the setting African sun can flood in, the winds can rush through, you can see outside for miles, and you can breathe deep and fresh and full. Laughs are louder, songs are sillier, and conversations are sweeter. It shifts from a stuffy claustrophobic mess to the closest picture I have to Heaven on this earth.
Journey has ruined me in the best way. Admitting I’m broken is the pits for me. It’s so dang hard. I want to be together and tough and cool and sure, and I definitely want the easy way out. But the more I am pushed to be broken, the more I am shown that it’s the safest, surest, most promising and honest place I could be. The pressure’s off. I can let go, I can be free, and I can see Jesus.
-Alex Cooper | 2016 Journey Intern