My Faith Story

If I’m being honest, I don’t talk about my religion all that much. I’m not usually the first to bring it up, and if it is brought up, I’m not usually the loudest in the conversation. I don’t know why exactly that is, but I have a general idea.

Ever since the first grade, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer. As I grew up, society taught me that often times, if you write or talk about your faith, you may not be taken as seriously when writing about other things. Christianity has often been given a bad wrap- as sometimes being intolerant and biased in judgment. Because I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, and not be seen as someone “with their head in the clouds,” I would usually leave religion out of my writing.

On top of that, I’ve never felt that I’ve had a really distinguishable faith story. I always heard of the people that went through great tragedy, and then at the darkest point in their lives, they finally turned to God and had their “moment.”  I’ve lived a pretty calm and happy life- I’ve had my “moment,” (which I’ll get to in a minute), but it wasn’t anything as dramatic as that. I guess I felt, why speak up if other people had more interesting things to say than I did?

During mission week this year, during one of our group devotionals, our leader, Darin, asked a few of us to share their faith story. Another girl in our group had just finished talking about how she escaped a bad town and life, and now she’s here, and loves Jesus more than ever. I felt like that was a tough act to follow, but I decided to speak up anyway. This is what I basically told them:

I’ve grown up in the church. My middle name is Faith, so what else would you expect? When I was a baby my parents helped found a small Presbyterian church in Cedar Hill—that’s where I was baptized– but it didn’t last too long, so most of my memories are from the church we joined after that. From the time I can remember up until the end of 5th grade we went to First United Methodist Church in Duncanville. I remember going every Sunday, just because that’s what you did on Sundays. My parents were part of a really close knit Sunday school class called the Pathfinders, and so our families kind of grew up together. I remember going to VBS and Friday Night Camp. I remember for a brief period of time when my mom worked for the church as a children’s coordinator. I remember because of that, spending so much time at the church one summer, running around with my brother, that I joked that it was our second home. Church and Jesus were just always there when I was growing up. I didn’t fully understand it for myself, I was so young, but that’s what we did.

The summer before 6th grade, we moved to Mansfield. Suddenly our church in Duncanville seemed like a long drive, and a lot of the other families we loved had already left. We started visiting churches in Mansfield. We visited a Lutheran church first, called St. John. It was comparative in size to our old church, and I liked the Sunday school class they had for my age group. It didn’t seem like as big of a change from our old church, which I missed a lot. We also visited First United Methodist Church in Mansfield. I didn’t like it as much. It seemed too big and the kids didn’t feel as welcoming. When my parents told me we were going to go with FUMC and that I was going to go through confirmation there, I was upset. I wanted no part of it.

I still went through Confirmation. I grew to like it. My two leaders, Steve Abbott and Cindy Henderson, were fabulous. I made a few friends. I went to the retreat at Glen Lake and had a really good time. I went to the service where I affirmed my belief in Jesus and became a full member of the church. I did all of that. But it still hadn’t fully hit me yet.

But then the summer before my 7th grade year, I attended my first United Mission Week. And boy, was it life changing. In some ways, I wish I had done that before confirmation, because you don’t fully understand what those words mean until you experience something like mission week. Like I mentioned in my previous post, the worship and the experience of it all is like no other and is incredibly moving. On the last night of that week, I went to the prayer room that Pastor Sharon set up. It was beautiful, with candles and a fountain, with comfortable places to sit and kneel. I just remember praying in a corner, soaking in the day, when I felt God reach down into my heart and tell me he had so many big and wonderful things headed my way. He told me that He would be sending me a special person in my life, and that I just had to wait. That was my “moment.” After that, everything changed. I started to pay more attention in church, and everything just started to make more sense.

A couple of months later, I got a phone call from a woman named Melony Harmon. I was on my way to a cross country meet and it went to voicemail. Later when I listened to it, she was inviting me to join her small group. I forgot I had filled out a card asking to be placed in one during mission week. For some reason, I thought I was too busy for that (what did I even know about being “too busy” in the 7th grade?), and I ignored it. A few days later, Melony called my Mom. When my Mom asked me about it, I said sure, I’d at least check it out.

For our first small group meeting, we met at the church on a Sunday afternoon. We continued to do that every Sunday for the first year. There were about seven of us total, and those ladies changed my life. Melony Harmon changed my life. Every Sunday for an hour, we would just talk about God and life. It was the most helpful and beneficial thing I could do. It rejuvenated my soul every week, in more ways than one. It was there that we all worked through our fears and our insecurities about our faith, and asked and answered each other’s questions. We don’t meet as much as we used to, but when we do, it’s like nothing has changed.

I still see Melony regularly. She’s become like a second mother to me. She was the person God sent me, and she’s truly been my angel. She’s seen me cry so many times, made me laugh even more, and spoiled me rotten. I’ve grown so much closer to God through her.

Since then, I still go to church most Sundays, I NEVER miss a mission week, I volunteer at VBC every year (it’s the same thing as VBS, but instead of School, it’s Camp), and I’m now a regular volunteer for this thing called G:Force on Sundays. It’s basically Sunday school for 1st-4th graders while their parents are in the church service. I love it so much- teaching kids about Jesus and watching them grow up is one of my favorite things in the world.

So yeah, my faith story may be a little basic in some ways. But every story is different, and that’s mine. I’m also learning that I can be a devout Christian and a clearheaded journalist, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. But I think that’s just part of it. My faith story isn’t done yet. It continues to grow and develop with every passing day, and luckily, I’ve got a pretty awesome crew of people to go through it with me.

Elevate

I’ve been struggling with what to say about United Mission Week 2016* for over a week now. It’s hard to put into words what this week meant to me, and what exactly happened in just a few days. I should be used to it by now– this was the 5th year I’ve participated– but every year is a brand new experience, with new challenges and memories.

Physically, my work team (team 3) and I took off some of the rotten siding on a house, replaced it, and then painted the whole house. It was a lot of work, but we worked our tails off and it ended up looking awesome. I learned how to use three different saws and sweated more than I ever had before, but it was all worth it.

The woman who owned the house was a grandmother who was taking care of her three granddaughters. On the last day, when she took a look at our finished product she said she couldn’t believe she was looking at her house. Being able to help give someone the chance to feel proud of their home again was the best feeling in the world.

Besides work, our team bonded through a photo scavenger hunt throughout Mansfield, multiple Sonic runs, and the mutual feeling of bliss of a relaxing shower after a tiring day. By the end of the week, that team became my family. For a few of them, I thought I had known them for years, but you don’t REALLY know someone until you’ve been painting trim with them for six hours.

Emotionally, I had my soul rejuvenated. There’s just something about the worship that strikes a cord with your heart. I know it sounds cheesy, and there’s no good way to describe it, it’s just something you have to experience for yourself. One of the best things about mission week is that no one cares if you’re wearing makeup or not, or if you look silly raising your arms up to Him. We’re all so exhausted and emotionally vulnerable, that it all feels very raw. When we’re singing, we’re singing at the top of our voices, no matter our talent level, because we want to be heard. We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to see what tear-jerking message Amanda shares with us, because that’s what we’re here for. Everyone is relaxed, and the messy little details of our lives don’t seem to matter anymore.

This year, the theme for mission week was Elevate. It means to be a better person today, than you were yesterday, and to continue to grow closer to God. What stuck out to me was that does not mean that you are better than anyone else. It just means to love better and live louder. One phrase that was used a lot was “live love loud.” I love that. And I love United Mission Week.

P.S. HUGE shout out to Darin Charles and Seree Plumlee- two of the best work team leaders ever!!!


*United Mission Week: It’s what my church, First United Methodist Church in Mansfield, does in place of a mission trip. Instead of traveling somewhere, we stay in Mansfield and basically do what you would do on a mission trip here, locally. We sleep at our church and shower at members of our church’s houses. We started doing this 5 years ago, when our youth group got too big to travel all together. They were having trouble finding places for us to all sleep and shower, so they came up with this, and haven’t looked back.


A Few Stats About This Year’s Mission Week:

  • This year was our church’s largest mission week ever.
  • 29 Work Teams
  • 139 High Schoolers
  • 85 Middle Schoolers
  • 5 Special Needs
  • 30 High School Adults
  • 22 Middle School Adults
  • 12 Special Needs Adults
  • 40 Leadership People

Plus, the countless other people that helped- whether it be to cook, bring the work teams snacks, families who opened up their showers to sweaty teenager, etc. Because of all of these amazing people, we were able to make a huge impact on Mansfield and the surrounding area for the 5th year in a row!