I recently had to write an essay to apply for a scholarship. The prompt had to do with expanding on the details of a leadership role that has helped shape me. I hope that while you (whoever you are) read this, that it sheds light on this simple truth: your faith is more about the people you impact than it is about you.
I backed up about two feet to the start of the platform, pulled my hair back into a tight ponytail, and lunged back and forth with great anticipation as I waited for the dog horn to blow and my race to start. The siren sounded and I launched into the water and swam like there was a shark chasing me from behind. I was swimming like my life depended on it, yet I felt like I could see everything in slow motion. Every particle of water that flew in the air appeared as though it was floating and calmly settling on the lake—the same way that a snowflake would gently settle on the ground. I got to the end of the race and looked over at my team as they all cheered and lost their minds. “How did I do?” I asked as I ran over to them and tried to catch my breath. “You came in third!” They replied with great joy and excitement. Frustration instantly came over me, as I was certain I had won this heat for my team. It took everything within me to fight off the urge to glare at the two competitors that had just beaten me. I mustered up the willpower to shake off my disappointment, smiled like any good sport would, and celebrated with my teammates.
Sounds really dramatic, right? Well, it was—but it was also a relay race at a high school summer camp this past July, and the two competitors that beat me were fifteen-year-old high school boys. (In my defense they were both members of the varsity swim team at their high schools). All of this is beside the point—this is simply a facetious story to introduce you to perhaps one of the most pivotal weeks of my life.
To provide some context as to how I even ended up at this high school camp, I must first dial back this story a few years: A few months into my college experience I got invited to a church service. Hesitantly, I attended—with the only basis of my compliance being the fact that my best friend, Makenna, was going. This service was different. There was something much more attractive and enticing about it than anything I had been apart of before. Perhaps the most gripping component of this experience was the amazing sense of community that radiated from each conversation I had that night. You could say that this was an evening that changed the trajectory of my life. Up until this moment I had been lacking motivation, focus, and purpose—but as I established and rooted myself within this community, I found all of those things begin to flourish within me. And through a beautifully blurred sequence of events that are too long to list here, I began to get involved with this churches youth ministry.
Fast-forward a few years and there I stand with my team at this high school summer camp. I wasn’t there as an attendee, but a leader. Who would of thought? If three years prior you would have told me that’s how I would be spending the summer leading up to my senior year of college, I would have laughed. But now, I unapologetically admit that I would not change it for the world. Not only has it been the most rewarding experience to be a positive influence in these kid’s lives, but they have also had a profound impact on me.
The last night of this camp is one that changed me. I talked with a few girls that I clicked really well with throughout this camp, and they began to open up to me. With each word they stated, I realized that they were currently going through many of the struggles that I had too experienced in my high school years—feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, fear of what the future might hold, feeling left out in social circles, trying to establish a sense of identity, and challenging family circumstances to name a few. As these conversations took place, I was overwhelmed at how much I related to them. I felt like I was talking to my sixteen-year-old self. My heart broke with compassion, as I just wanted them to know and understand all that the past five years had taught me. It was at that moment that an overwhelming realization came over me that I was in these girls lives to be a voice of encouragement—one that instills confidence when the majority of voices in their lives would promote insecurity.
There is something about knowing that someone looks up to you that motivates you to live at a higher standard than you normally would. Whenever I am faced with a situation where I can tell that my conscience is uncertain as to what I should do, all that I have to do is consider the girls that I am leading. When I am tempted to slack in school, I am reminded that I tell these girls that they should always try their best—and instantly, my conviction is recalibrated. When I am tempted to give in to gossip and engage in conversations I know I have no business being apart of, I simply consider all I’ve ever told these girls about being kind to one another—and instantly, I have the willpower to keep quiet. If I am to be transparent, I know I am supposed to be their leader, but they have quite truthfully led me in more ways than I could ever accurately communicate. The sense of accountability I feel towards these girls has been one so strong that it has impacted the depths of my integrity, and in fact—every facet of my life.
“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God.”
[1 John 4:7 MSG]