Auditioning to be a part of CTI Summer 2013 was long overdue for me. I saw a full-time team perform in the fall of 2010 and knew instantly this organization was something I wanted to be a part of. Yet, when I thought about signing up, it just never seemed like the right time. Most of my family members heavily doubted that I would ever be able to raise $4,485. My friends asked why I wouldn’t want to just enjoy a relaxing summer on the beach. I asked myself if I was talented enough and thought perhaps I wasn’t the right “kind of person” to do something like that.
This past October, I felt God calling me to do something big. CTI came back into my mind and I started praying everyday about whether this was the right decision. I auditioned, was accepted and kept praying. Every time I prayed I had this overwhelming feeling that it would all be okay – the money, the music, everything. I said yes to this call and got to work on my fundraising and the rest is history. It wasn’t an easy process, but that hard work lead to six of the happiest weeks of my life.
My time with CTI was challenging: physically, musically, spiritually , emotionally… there were times when I didn’t think I could give anymore, yet God always met me there and gave me exactly what I needed. Despite the challenges of the trip, throughout the entire experience I was just immensely joyful. I am so thankful and blessed that this ministry was in God’s plan for my life. My only complaint is that it went by way too fast, as the best times in our life usually do.
My transition back from Zimbabwe has been riddled with struggle like so many people tried to warn me about. The turmoil I feel, while perhaps undetectable from the outside, is ever-present. Chris, one of the Directors of CTI described the process of returning home from missions like this: it’s like you are a piece of a puzzle and God takes you out, reshapes you and sends you back. When you return, you have the choice to revert to your old self or reshape the puzzle around you to fit your new values.
As I continue to reflect on everything I experienced, initially I felt a strong longing to be back in Zim. I missed my incredible new friends whom had greatly impacted me and loved up on me in amazing ways. I missed the trip’s obvious sense of purpose, knowing that each day I was doing God’s work and I just had to follow the set plan and concert schedule. Even more, I felt myself being sucked back in to so many of the struggles I had left behind – image, identity, self-worth, fitting in…
All these STRUGGLES kept building and building until this week, two weeks after getting home, I boiled over at God and at myself. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just have to have it out with God. So I just yelled, “God, why I am so unhappy today? How can I be letting parts of my old self creep back in? THIS SUCKS” After I finished huffing and puffing a little bit, I sat in the silence of my new home and suddenly had this rush of peace. I felt God telling me this: Son, I am so proud of your struggle.
There it was.
These are the moments I know there is a God, because I NEVER would have thought to be proud of my struggle. Struggle, by definition is painful and harrible (as my friend Hawkeye from the shores of Jersey would say). You see, I was completely focused on my failures and God was completely focused on celebrating my successes. I felt disappointment in the fact that I haven’t kept God as my number one priority like my friend Aaron talked about in his devo. I saw regret that I hadn’t been singing Jesus’s praises everyday, which is one of my favorite things in the world to do. I felt disheartened that I wasn’t as intentional about finding time each day for prayer like I wanted to. But God doesn’t see any of that as bad. God looks down and sees how far I’ve come. He is so proud that this who I want to be, that I am striving for those things, struggling for a better life that is focused on Him.
God is proud of our turmoil because it is through those experiences that we truly change who we are. It is through trial that we are refined and made more like Him. Check out 1 Peter 1:6-7:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
I love the word here “genuineness” of your faith. Definitions from Mr. Webster include: actual, real, honestly felt or experienced, free from hypocrisy, sincere. As Peter writes, God uses trials and grief to show us how faithful we truly are, to show us where our breaking point is and to show us if we’ve truly changed into the person we want to be.
You see, I thought going to Africa, an unknown culture halfway across the globe would be the trial. Yet now it’s pretty clear that the trip was the rejoicing, a blessing to show what a life lived for God can feel like. The trial has come in returning home. Who would have thought coming back to a life of comfort would be the most uncomfortable part?
So today, I praise God for my struggles. How incredible is our Father who celebrates our successes and forgives all of our failures, regardless of their severity? While I still miss my friends, I still miss singing in a band everyday, I still miss the beautiful country of Zimbabwe, I, like God, can see just how much I’ve changed and am so proud of how far I’ve come.
It’s a long walk through this world, but stand tall, you’re one day closer to going Home.