Last August, I sat with my journal and wrote to God because my heart ached. It ached for more: more than going through the motions, more than packing for college, more than my day to day worries, and more than what my life looked like it was going to be for the next nine months. My heart ached for my Savior and it ached to love others in a real way, to love others like Christ had loved me.
I had just spent 8 weeks at Camp Cherith caring for six little girls every week and pouring into them and singing worship to my Savior four times a day and digging into His word that breathes life. Going back to normal smacked me like a fish out of water. I was a fish out of water. At camp, I was set free to dive into the depths and back at home everything seemed shallow and I was struggling to breathe, flopping around trying to make it back to the deep blue sea.
College loomed. The big University with 50,000 students and hard science classes and unknowns and superficials stood days away and I was scared. Because this fish in shallow water was going into a desert and I desperately prayed I could find water within. It felt all wrong. I couldn’t belong anywhere else but at camp. Oh why didn’t I choose a Christian college? Oh why can’t I jump on a plane and go on a yearlong mission trip? Oh why am I here when I could be anywhere?
Despite my apprehensions and doubts and questions, God was at work. He gave me Rose, my random roommate turned best friend and the person who reminds me how to keep my feet on the ground. He also gave me Ellie, Rose’s best friend turned my best friend turned my future roommate, and probably the most passionate person I’ve ever met. The three of us spent that first week singing and playing guitar and sharing our hearts with each other and the water seemed bluer and God held my hand and led me closer.
Then, God led me to CRU and I dove right in. In CRU, I made lasting friendships; my Bible study became my safe place and my leaders, Abbie and Lauren, have impacted me more than they may ever know. I told my Bible study things I’d never told anyone before and in the midst of tears they loved me and helped me unload my heart and carry what was inside. I met people who taught me vulnerability, what it meant to be honest, that it was okay to not be okay, and pointed me back to Christ. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by Christ followers my age who wanted nothing more than to pursue Christ with their all and they pushed me towards Him, inspiring me with their hearts for the broken and love for each other.
I could breathe again and I was thriving in my new home with my bonus family, yet my heart still ached for more. I wanted to hold the least of these and God pointed me to Romania. I Googled countless organizations I could work with and researched during my study breaks. I told my mom about how I wanted to go on a mission trip and the organizations I was looking at. One Friday, I texted her asking whether or not going to Romania would at all be possible. A few minutes later, my parents called saying they would help me go, they’d help me book the flight, they’d help me through the application process, and they’d help me through all the obstacles. I cried while walking along Washington Avenue. I was going to Romania.
After searching endlessly for organizations that would let me work in an orphanage in Romania, I finally found one that might be able to host me between the end of school and going back to Camp Cherith. In my eyes, it was perfect: I’d be working in multiple orphanages in Bucharest and helping at a kid’s camp. I spent hours filling out applications for that organization, emailed them in with my dates, and prayed for the best.
I received their reply while finishing up my lunch in the dining hall the next day. “Unfortunately” was the first thing I read; they couldn’t take any volunteers until the end of June.
I was hit once more by the ache, the need to breathe, and the questions of “What if I couldn’t go? What if this actually isn’t God’s plan for me?” I brought my plate to the dish return and made my way into the bathroom stall where silent tears flooded my eyes. “What about the call I felt so vividly?”
I held onto God, knowing His Will would be done in my life and that I didn't want anything other than what He had for me. The next day I searched once more. I don’t know what different words I typed into the Google search bar this time, but the first organization that came up was Firm Foundations Romania. They volunteered in the Brasov children’s hospital, started an after-school program for kids in the Gypsy village, led a teen moms group, and mentored other teenagers in the village. I emailed them right away, not sure they’d be able to take me in May or how plausible the 2 ½ hour drive from Bucharest to Brasov would be. It was a spirit-filled dive into the unknown.
In the application and preparation process, I was met by “yes” after “yes” and praised God. He was guiding my steps and leading me into deeper waters. I wanted to prepare my heart for what He had for me, but I wasn't sure how. How do you get ready to travel overseas alone? How do you prepare your heart for the trip you’ve felt God calling you to? What happens when something you’ve only considered a dream turns into a reality? I was a ball of excitement and wonder at all God could have in store.
I made a packing list, I completed the volunteer checklist, and I talked to God. What else could I do? School trudged by and as finals approached I was trying to juggle studying, saying good-bye to my friends, and preparing my heart for my dream. And suddenly, everything was over and I was on my own on a plane and it didn’t feel different like I thought it would. It simply felt like living. And I guess it was.
I thought God sent me to Romania to let my ache to love be filled by serving the children there. But, with all the people I met, babies I held, and needs I saw, the ache only grew. And God called to my heart:
“It’s more room for Me”
“It’s more room to love”
“It’s a greater capacity for service, for intimacy, for depth”
“I’m growing you for more of Me, more of My Grace, more of My Goodness, more of My Love”
“Keep asking and you will receive, keep seeking, and you will find, keep knocking and I will open your heart for more of Me.”
“Let it be and come to Me.”
He was digging an ocean within my soul, calling me to swim in the depths of His life giving water, no matter the landscape he leads me to. What if this, this adventure, is what life is about? In Romania I woke up every morning and reminded myself that God sent me here to serve. And I remembered the other places God has put me and I asked myself, “Why have I ever waited to love?”. Why should being a chemical engineering major stop me from being a missionary every day? Why should being a college student stop me from serving those around me? Why should being single stop me from supporting my brothers in Christ? Why should my job as media specialist stop me from loving the kids at camp just as much as I would as a counselor? And what if circumstance does not alter whether or not you can love, but simply who and how you love?
It all goes back to Jesus, preaching the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Romania called to my heart 9 months ago amidst the transition from high school to college.
My future stood before me, open, a blank piece of paper ready to be turned into something more and I threw my hands in the air asking God what He wanted me to make of it. In the surrender God whispered a purpose into my life: to love, not in thought, or in word, but in action.
At the same time, I was falling in love with a book, a musical, a story, and a race.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame introduced me to the plight of the Roma people, the Gypsies, and in the 200 years since Hugo wrote his novel and 500 years since the story was set, little to nothing has changed for them. They are still outcasts of society, they still live in poverty, and many don't have the necessary resources to care for their children.
I began researching Romanian orphanages and I was awakened to the suffering of abandoned children whose needs were not met. And, even the few children whose basic needs for food and hygiene were met, were not held or nurtured. I learned how the ill treatment of children under communist rule during the 70s and 80s led to a hopeless cycle of abandonment, neglect, abuse, sickness, drug use, and poverty that continues today. The weight of a child growing up unloved... that made my heart sink. And multiplied by the estimated 500,000 children that grew up in communist orphanages... it's too vast a number to understand. 500,000 children made in God's image by His hands that may never hear or experience His love.
And what could I do? Could I go? I could go...
In Luke 12:48 Jesus says, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." I have been given all that I need and more. I have been blessed with a loving family, an education, incredible friends, and most of all, the surmounting love and grace of Jesus Christ. And how can I not share this?
And what do these children need from me? To be fed, cared for, held, played with, and through it all shown Christ's love. God could use me. To be used by the creator of the universe, to be a window through which His light could be shared, to be a vessel of His love, that is a privilege greater than any other.
Katie Davis, author of her memoir Kisses From Katie, writes, "The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet". Communicating love, that is my deepest gladness. When I get the chance to hold another and let them know they are cared for, that troubles will pass, that God is in control, that is my deepest gladness. And to know that there are children longing for that love, hungering to be held and that I could be the one to hold them... It is a perfect puzzle piece fitting in an imperfect world.
I want to devote my life to learning the depth and width and length and height of Christ's love and to sharing that love with others. I want everyday of my life to reflect that love, even just to one person, no matter where I am: on campus, at home, or in Romania. As my mission trip to Romania approaches I continue to hold my life up to God. Use me Lord, I pray, let me write love across each page of this life and on the hearts of others.