Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflection: A Long Obedience In The Same Direction

Today, celebrates the twenty-first anniversary of a special day for me. While I remember the event and the occasion clearly, I think I'm more aware of the changes the time wrought in me. In many ways they were unanticipated and unexpected, and honestly they have been pivotal in shaping me into the person I am today.

I was attending an inter-tribal gathering at a 4-H camp, Camp Muffly, near Morgantown. I was the president of the Organization for Native American Interests (ONAI) at WVU, and our group was invited to this gathering. It was my junior year at WVU. My good friend, Matt Thorn (ONAI's VP), had let me borrow his tent as me and my other friend Reza Marvashti would be camping for the weekend and representing our group. We were going to be connecting and spending time with members of the local indigenous community and exploring opportunities to serve. And that happened, but something more transformative and unexpected also happened that weekend. I became a Christian.

I had engaged in many conversations about faith and Christianity over the years with friends and family members, but when I came to college, I would say that I became a deep searcher. I really wanted to know God, and I wanted to live my life for Him. But the funny thing about it is that I didn't really grow up in church. I do feel like my family had a number of rich traditions grounded in a deep sense of right and wrong, but I don't think I gave a lot of thought to the why of those traditions.

But in college, I had a number of friends who were starting to explore a life of faith, and in their explorations, they were seeking to live out what they were learning. These weren't people who just attended a religious gathering on Sundays, but they were daily people of prayer and they were daily reading and applying the sacred text. And as admirable as their discipline was, I thought it was misplaced, and honestly, I was pretty judgmental of Christians--the irony was that I thought they were judgmental.

But that all changed on a weekend in November 1994 at Camp Muffly. To be clear, there wasn't an altar call or someone nudging me toward a decision--it was not what people refer to as a 'revival' weekend or 'camp-meeting'. For reasons that only God knows, he was choosing this particular weekend to illuminate to me His deep love for me, and that the very thing I had been searching for was Him. I had been praying earnestly for months that the Creator of the universe would reveal His truth to me and lead me in living out the ultimate purpose for my life. In all of my considerations about a life of faith, I was reticent to think about Christianity, but, that weekend, I found myself more and more convinced that Jesus was the person who I was looking for.  That somehow, there was something powerful about His death and resurrection, that in Him was hope, light, life, and redemption, and more importantly I was growing more and more cognizant that I was a sinner and I was in desperate need of the Savior. There were a few conversations that happened that weekend with various tribal leaders and friends that touched on areas of faith, but that was not the center of the purpose of the gathering. The gathering was about service and community among native people.

And yet, God was reaching out to me, and letting me know that I was loved. More than that, he was impressing upon me that my ultimate purpose was to be found in love. That my highest purpose was to love God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and in the wake of that love, that I was to love my neighbor as myself, and further, that there is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.

The weekend of November 11-13, 1994, I began to walk in obedience to this radical love, forgiveness, and mercy I received from Jesus. I became a Christian. And from that point in time I have been continually blessed with an amazing group of fellow sojourners on the journey, mentors and spiritual guides who have helped me to grow in my discernment and my capacity and desire to serve, and a deep and abiding relationship with my Creator who relentlessly loves me, forgives me, leads me, and guides me to be the best version of myself that I can be, and to be an ambassador of the love, mercy, forgiveness, and restoration that can be found in Him.

As I celebrate this 21st year of life in Christ, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the ways that God has given me a greater capacity to love, and a greater desire to keep following His gentle but strong leadership as I seek to make the most of my limited time on this earth. And my prayer is that we would all grow more deeply aware of incredible love, mercy, and hope that are continually being extended to us by the Creator of the universe.

No comments: