Giving Thanks, Celebrating Peace on Earth
Happy holiday season to you all! My apologies for the long gap between updates. It has been a full two months of ministry! (Scroll past the picture gallery for the rest of this update!)
Holidays in the Park
One of the most glaring differences in ministry pre-COVID and ministry now is the fun, relationship-building downtime student used to get with each other and with us when we were hosting weekly gatherings and service opportunities and parties. It has been an uphill battle for all of us this semester as we try to forge deep relationships that include that same mix of depth and daily minutia that somehow makes friendships so sweet. (And let me say, God has been really faithful here! We have been blown away again and again at just how many new students have joined cores and started 1-on-1 Bible studies and built real friendships even in a pandemic!) But with this reality in mind and (at the time) a consistent downward slope in new COVID cases in our area, the UTD staff decided we would end the semester with a bang and make up for all our lost parties in one; and thus, Holidays in the Park was born!
We planned a day for early November before it would get too cold, set up at one of the nice parks close to campus, and threw a Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year Party all at once! There were Halloween fair-style games, then a thankfulness activity and Thanksgiving meal, Christmas caroling, a devotional, and we ended the day the only way all great parties should--with sparklers and Auld Lang Syne. Honestly, I thought students would get worn out from being outside all afternoon and bail halfway through the day, but I was so wrong. They were just so excited to be with people, and for that matter, to finally meet in person for the first time some of the friends they'd been going to core with all semester! We hope we don't need to do this event again, but it really was such a blast that I wouldn't mind doing it again one day...
My New Friend, C
Strangely enough, as we are ending the semester, I got to do something I haven't done all year and meet in person with a new student! I'll call her C here. C is friends with one of the core leaders I mentor, so I'd heard a little about her, but I'd never met her. I knew that she was in a season that has been very hard on her and that she was trying to figure out a lout about herself and what she wants in life. So a few weeks ago, our mutual friend suggested that it could be good for C and I to meet and to talk through some of the things she's going through, and C agreed. When we met, we sat and shared our stories for almost 3 hours. C didn't know me at all, but she chose to share so personally and right from the start to be seen as she is, to not shy away from the things that are really going on with her as she told me about her life. It is rare that I meet someone and immediately think that God has probably brought our paths together, but she's someone I felt God had pressing straight into my heart that day. It is also equally rare for me to jump into challenging conversations with someone the first time I meet them, but that day I told C several things I know were really tough for her to hear. Things like "There's no perfect C out there that you can somehow find. She doesn't exist. You can't just 'fix' yourself." As someone who had to learn that lesson pretty painfully myself, it was not lost on me how heartbreaking those words could be. But I said them because
I want her to find what God does have out there for her: Love. I want her to be able to take herself as she is to God and see how he handles it! I want her to find the compassion there is in the embrace from hands that were once broken themselves by this world on a cross.
C and I have gotten together somewhat regularly since that first conversation and there is still a lot going on in her life! She is still at the decision point of choosing one version of herself or quite another. Please pray earnestly for her these next few weeks! Pray that God would give her eyes to see and ears to hear the great love and fulfillment he has for her! And pray for me and for her friends who are trying our best to be friends who love her out of pure hearts and a sincere devotion to God.
Wrapping Up Fall
UTD has done what many other universities have done this year and stopped all in-person activities at the Thanksgiving Break. This means that, while our core leaders typically have 16+ weeks of time with the people they're meeting with, this year, many of the students went home at the 12 week mark! And they won't return until after MLK Day in January, so it is a loooooong break. Many of our cores have decided to continue meeting intermittently throughout the break so that there's not just radio silence that whole time, which is encouraging! But with students back home, I wanted to ask you specifically to pray for their mental and emotional health again. Many of these students had nothing but school going on for months, and they have very little other than Netflix and YouTube surfing to fill their time now. (The proverb "Idle hands are the devil's workshop" comes to mind.) While rest is definitely good, idle hearts and minds can lead people to dark places. Please pray for this time to be restful in healthy, rejuvenating ways, and for the students to keep up with the friendships they've started this year.
I also wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS to my friends and supporters who just got married, Maci and Glenn! It brings me a lot of joy to see how God brought you both to each other and how generously you commit and love the people around you!
Merry Christmas to you all! Thank you for investing in this ministry work and making these things possible. I feel so honored to be here doing this because of you! Much love always,