I've been thinking about writing this post for quite some time and to be honest I've held back for a vast number of reasons. 1, because it wasn't the right time and 2 - there has had to be a long time of healing for me before I could feel comfortable about sharing an experience online that is so personal - so personal to me.
If you have known me for a while, off the internet, then you would know that about 3 summers ago I took a gap in my education to go study at a bible school in Montana of the great US of A. I was lucky enough not only to be brought into the program (only 14 of us were admitted over summer term) but also to do the program alongside my blogging penpal sidekick, from Coeur d'Alene Idaho. This experience was something that I had been dreaming for, for as long as it had drifted into my consciousness. A whole 3 months training in theology and dance, and then a 2 month outreach to Thailand where we we got to hang out with Prisoners and teach English in schools. Such an amazing opportunity, it would be sad for me to become ungrateful.
I remember the first morning waking up in a dorm on a top bunk bed and praying how badly I never wanted this season in my life to end. I remember being so excited.
Although I have some truly incredible memories (especially those of developing friendships with people in my team), a long story short, my experience was everything other then what I had imagined, it was worse. I met some amazing people for sure, developed really unique friendships but there was so much tension in leadership and the team towards me and some things that just went completely off that really shook my entire life. I have never in my entire life been put in such a place where my whole world was literally pulled under my feet and I was left exposed and then alone. The intentions of the staff weren't bad, there were just simply riffs in personalities and communication issues that ended up really really hurting.
Some people have amazing experiences at these gap years. I have many friends, and even friends who were in the same program as me whose lives where bettered by the guidance of the leadership and experiences. And it took me a LONG time to come to terms with being able to tell people that my experience was less then okay - and I think I have been nervous about coming forward about my experience because I know that it can be viewed as an 'attack' against the organization. But I need to be honest and upfront, and I finally feel ready.
Here is what I learned when I was told that I might have to go home because I didn't meet the criteria anymore:
I learned that some people only want to believe what they want to hear. I learned that pride is a big pill to swallow, and one hard to throw up. I learned that sometimes soft candy and hard candy just don't mix. I learned that sometimes people will believe their assumptions of you even if they're wrong, and vice versa.
I learned that it doesn't matter where you're at, as long as there is growth. I learnt that a healthy environment of growth doesn't need to have the most qualified leader, but can be the simplest encouraging word from someone growing alongside of you.
I realized that people do manipulate using ultimatums and truths, and most of the time they might not even know the damage they are doing. People can say things with the 'God Card' that they sincerely believe is truth but it's not - it's just for them. I now have experienced this and am careful to not impose my will on people while using the name of God, and I hope I never do.
And here's what I learned when I realized I couldn't back pedal out of my circumstance:
Sometimes there are no words, there are no actions to get out of the places you've ended up in. Sometimes there is literally NOTHING you can do to change the minds of the people around you. Sometimes there is no human presence that will be able to help you in your pain.
I for sure was no angel through this process. I acted very immaturely as a push back from what I was going through. I made life very difficult for some people. But here is the thing that I have come to realize the most, having had three years to reflect on what went wrong:
Without building a solid relationship with God in the first place I would not be where I'm at today. Honestly coming home, that would have been it had it not been for the countless times in worship and learning under people who genuinely took the time to not only mentor me but to become a friend to me. Sound foundation and pursuit of a relationship with God is the ONLY way to keep calm in the storm, even when the storm strikes in the most unexpected places.
I can't help but remember the times where God actually met with me during those 5 months. When he actually met with me it was beyond special. The most incredible experience was a time where I needed to get away so I took a walk in the woods for quite a while and I heard a whisper telling me how to start a bonfire out of the last burning ember of a campsite. Or the time where I let go of a friendship only to have a strange encounter with a stranger who gave me such an incredible dead-on-point word in my life that to this day I am completely baffled and mystified, speaking to me directly about how God was ready to show me my true Identity. Or the friendships that developed out of me seeking comfort from the hell which was those 5 months.
My gap year ended up with me running a mile and jumping into the frozen lake. It left me realizing the pitfalls of any human-run organization and it made me learn to keep my eyes up but keep my feet on the ground. It was the most transformative and pivotal moments in my life in regards to my faith and worldview. But its okay. Sometimes the biggest ice water slaps in the face are the things that drive us to really being able to identify with people who feel far away from any form of hope. And sometimes the ability to emphasis with people in their real circumstances is more valuable then any other form of life experience.
Here is one of my most beloved photos of me and my dear friend Liz, in Thailand on outreach. I did manage to get some amazing photos. The rest of the photos are all in print, but this one was my favorite anyway: