The last time I wrote, David, Grace, Hope, Faith and I were traveling to Virginia to drop them off for their month at their other mom’s. After the emotionally taxing pass, we spent the next day sleeping in (a rare allowance) and then exploring Monticello. If you do not know, Monticello is the home Thomas Jefferson designed and had built in Virginia. It is a gorgeous estate and the history is intriguing. We enjoyed the slower paced day and began making plans for our drive back to Florida the next day as we looked for our hotel for the evening. I mentioned to David how one day when we make this trip, we should hop over to Lynchburg and visit Liberty University. He told me to check how far out of our way it would be on a map app. I plugged it in and the app spit back that there was a route option that went right through Lynchburg and only added 8 minutes of driving time over all. Excitedly, I reported to David that it would be easy the next time we came and he laughed and said, “Baby, we can drive that way tomorrow. That’s easy!”
So, much unplanned, David and I visited my alma mater on Saturday. We parked the van and explored on foot. I walked around the campus with my jaw dropped pretty much the whole time; so little is as I remember it. There have been many buildings added and even many removed. There are parts of the campus that have been so altered, I couldn’t even get my bearings of what used to be there. David followed me as I reported over and over, “Oh, oh! Ok I know where I am. This is where (insert building, class or resource) used to be! No wait….” I kept apologizing for not being sure and he kept reassuring me that he was enjoying seeing it all with me. At one point, he said to me, “It’s nice to see you so lit up about something. You must have really enjoyed your time here.” That sent my mind on an adventure of processing. And now, as I often do, I ask you to flash back with me.
When I started at Liberty University, I was just about to turn 18. I was a shy, reserved, and quiet girl who was quite unsure of herself. I had been a follower my whole life who couldn’t stand if someone wasn’t pleased with her and whose self-esteem had taken many hard blows up to that point. Despite this, for years before college I had felt God telling my heart I was meant to be a leader, not a follower. The thought terrified me and I fought it as hard as I could. There were a few blips through high school where I tried to ease into leadership, but my confidence, or lack thereof, held me back and kept my focus on me rather than what God wanted to do. When it came time to pick a college, I had a few safe options that would keep me in my comfort zone. My mom, who would have been thrilled to keep me close to home, felt it important to travel the 800 miles to give LU a look. When we arrived, everything about the campus was beautiful and exciting. As the structure of student leadership was explained to us, I made a mental note that if I chose this college, I would be signing myself up to have to step out of my comfort zone. As we walked, and I quietly wrestled with myself about what I wanted and what I was meant to do, my mom pointed to the wall and said. “This is it. This is where you are meant to be. I know it.” The wall she was pointing to had a verse across the top which read, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.” Being a 17 year old, I rolled my eyes and wondered how many other parents pointed to that wall and said the same thing. I figured that is probably why they put it in such a prominent spot! But I also knew in my heart that the last thing my mom wanted was for her baby to move so far away for 3-4 years and that fact alone meant there may be something to her admission out loud that she believed I was meant to be here.
I did end up choosing Liberty and on the day my mom left me there she told me two things: To make the most of the time because she knew great things were meant to happen for me here, and to be on the lookout because she knew my future husband was in Virginia (She wasn’t wrong, it would just take me 12 years and world of change to find him.) So why did David’s comment about how I must have enjoyed my time here send my mind reeling? My time at Liberty was a whirlwind. But there are some things I know for sure:
- My comfort zone grew. When I originally chose LU, it was a step outside of my comfort zone. My first year, I made friends. I went to gatherings on my hall, I made myself talk and interact, I tried to constantly remind myself I had something to offer. My hall of girls became part of my comfort zone. My second year, I signed up to be a prayer leader even though the idea of it was quite frightening to me. As a prayer leader, I met with a group of about 6 girls once a week, led some kind of devotional or just shared something God was teaching me, and then led the group in prayer. As the year progressed, this small gathering began to fit in my comfort zone. My third year was going to be my final year so I took another step and signed up to be a Spiritual Life Director. This meant that I would disciple half of the prayer leaders on my hall-I would meet with them, encourage them, pray with them one on one. It also meant having an open door policy for all the girls on the hall who needed to talk and being a part of leading the whole hall gatherings once a week. My self-confidence continued to grow and, while I still don’t think I did all with this time God wanted for me, my comfort zone did grow more. I believe we can’t just take one step out of our comfort zone and expect that we will see much growth. Our comfort zone expands with each step we take requiring another step of faith to follow. Stepping out of your comfort zone is not one step, but rather a progression of steps as your comfort zone grows; as you grow.
- My faith grew. Growing up, I went to the same Baptist church my whole life until college. I went to the school affiliated with that church for every year of my education. While I am very thankful for the education I received and the foundation for my faith that was built, my faith was never challenged. I was spoon fed what I was supposed to believe and I never questioned it. At Liberty, professors and leaders challenged us often. They gave us many viewpoints on an issue or an idea and then encouraged us to pray and search the Scriptures and discover our faith from the Source, rather than another human being. I learned to seek God myself and not always rely on others to reveal truth to me. I learned what it truly meant to know God personally, intimately. The truth you receive from listening to others who seek God can be a form of nourishment to the soul, but your faith can’t be exercised until you seek Him yourself.
- I grew. I can’t say I am proud of everything that happened while I was at Liberty University. There are things I wish I didn’t do. There are many things I wish I had done. I am often convinced that the line of study I chose was my comfort zone and that I didn’t fully seek Him on the path I was to take. I did what was safe for me. But all of it still contributed to my growth. I did not leave Liberty the same person I was when I started. In fact, when I left Liberty, I probably wouldn’t have even recognized the girl that had started there three years earlier. My time at LU was influential in forming the person I would be someday. Someday was still an important part of the equation. God wasn’t done with me yet. I was on a journey that would continue from that point if I could just stay the course. Nothing in this world is ever stagnant, ever done growing. Growth is a process from birth to death, from creation to destruction, from beginning to end. God uses experiences to continue to grow us and we have a hand in choosing those experiences.
After graduation, I allowed some of the old me to begin making choices again. Despite my plans to move to Virginia and continue to grow there, I moved home to chase after what I convinced myself was important. I had graduated college so the next step was obviously to settle down. I stopped seeking and lost sight of what I was was meant to do in exchange for what I wanted to do. I prayed about my decisions, but answered my prayers myself. I ignored everything that could have resulted in a change of course and pressed forward convinced I was creating a beautiful future that made sense. What I was actually doing was setting myself on a journey of experiences that would be painful, that would change me back to the reserved girl I was with added levels of suppression, and that would ultimately end in growth, but in hard, faith-testing ways.
Now I sit here writing, wondering how to write what I want to say next in a way that will make sense. I do believe that God is in control and that no matter what, His purposes will be accomplished. But I do also believe we have the ability to go off course and He allows us to do this to grow us in needed ways before we will be able to follow the right course. I also believe He sometimes allows hard things even on the right path so we can know Him more intimately, so we can see a beauty that others can only see as ordinary, to take us to places beyond our imaginations.
Sometimes when David and I talk of mistakes and regret, we receive the encouragement that we wouldn’t have our children if we hadn’t taken those paths. While this is a beautiful truth, we believe that the souls that are our children were meant for us and that even if we had gotten to where we are now by going a different direction, all seven of those souls would still be ours. I don’t think that by seeking Him more fully back then I would have sacrificed ever having them. The presence of our children can’t be a reason not to look back and consider where we went off course and use the wisdom grown from that to follow closely as we go on from here.
As I stood at the top of Liberty mountain and looked down at the campus, I saw so much change and growth. There was some destruction of what I knew when I was there to make way for bigger and better things. There were countless hours of exhausting work put into all that was new and beautiful. I took a deep breath and realized that through the pain of destruction and construction, I too had experienced so much change and growth. David broke my thoughts to ask me about Jerry Falwell and what I remembered most about him. While I know Jerry said some controversial things in his time, I told him that Jerry always had the same message for us, his kids-we all have a God-ordained purpose. He urged us over and over not to waste the time we had there and to seek Him in finding that purpose. Once we found it, he urged us to run toward it with full force. I didn’t find it back then, but after our impromptu visit to this school that was so influential in my life, you can bet I plan to find it now. I may have graduated from LU ten years ago, but I still have a lifetime ahead of some things hard, countless things beautiful, and being a “Champion for Christ” because of Christ. I know it will require still many steps outside of my comfort zone, but I’m ready for whatever He has for me. For us.
Champion- One who has defeated or surpassed all rivals, (n.)