712 more miles traveled today. This morning we were up and at ’em at 6am. After getting ready, we packed, cleaned, ate breakfast, then loaded up aand hit the road at 7:30am. We drove 5 hours to the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky. It is a full scale replica of Noah’s ark. It was incredible! Talk about the Scriptures coming to life! The thing was so massive! We spent 2 hours walking around the ark before departing. During rhe ride afterward we had some great discussion about Noah, the ark, and our theme for the day: Faithful Obedience. We stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel, the first time 6 of our 15 people have eaten there. During our drive after dinner Peter spoke to our team. We arrived at Covenant Community Church in Asheville, NC at 11:40pm. Got settled in, made lunches for tomorrow, and now heading to bed. Early start again tomorrow.
This morning our crew of 15 left Shelter Rock Church and began our 5 day discipleship road trip. Each day we have a theme, Scripture reading, meditations for everyone to contemplate, journaling, small group discussion, and Bible memory verses. We then visit a historical site or museum that connects with our theme for the day. Today’s theme was Justice and we visites the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA. We discussed the terrible injustice of slavery in history, where we continue to see slavery in the world today, and what God expects of us as Christians. We then drove to Belle Vernon, PA where we are staying at a wonderful church. After getting settled in and making lunches for tomorrow we gathered together for sharing, worship, a word from Santhosh Paulus (one of our leaders) about his work of fighting human trafficking through his organization, Cycling for Change, and prayer. It was a great day, and we have 390 under our belt.
This is it. Today is the last day before Claudia leaves for Nyack College to begin her freshman year. Over the past few years I have written about the two jars I keep on my dresser – one for each of my girls (Links below). Inside each jar are beads that I have counted out representing the days our daughter have at home before they head off into the next season of their lives after their high school years. Every morning when I am getting ready for my day I remove one bead. When I do so I ask myself what I am going to do that day to connect with them, invest in them, make a memory with them, etc. because time is ticking. These beads keep the reality of passing time in front of me. We won’t ever get this season of life back, and I want to make the most of each day. Some days I do a good job. Other days I don’t. Today Claudia’s jar is down to one. Today I have spent some time reflecting on, writing to, and praying for Claudia, and tonight we are going to celebrate by sharing one more experience together. Parents, maximize the time you have with your children whatever season they are in. What can you do today to share a thought, invest in, or create a memory with your kids?
Back in the spring of 2015 I was just your average 11th grade student. Touring college campuses and trying to find my best fit. I remember making a check list of everything I wanted in a college, but the only two important ones worth mentioning where: Big and Far from home. Turns out my parents thought other criteria might be more important, and they took me to a place that was the complete opposite. They decided to take me about an hour from our house to a college called Nyack. I was not happy the entire ride up. The school did not meet my criteria, and no one, not even my high school, knew that this place existed.
Well, to make a long story short, after only 5 minutes on campus, I loved it. The diversity, the views, the welcoming faculty. All exterior things, mainly.
Fast forward to late June of this year. I was at my graduation party greeting all my guests. Many of them are church-going people, and they are all congratulating me on my success and telling me that God is really going to do great things for me at Nyack. It was still a couple months away so I wasn’t thinking about it all that much. But two days later my parents sat me down to talk about my future. It’s probably the third scariest talk you can have after the sex talk and the about-to-go-into-high-school talk. I sat there at the end of their bed and after a couple of minutes I in was in tears. They broke the news to me that the financial package the school was offering was just way too high, and they did not want me leaving college buried under the all-too-familiar pile of student loans that many students graduate with. They told me it would be smart for me to transfer to Nyack after completing two years locally.
I had already met my roommate, paid my fees, and gotten my schedule. Now I had to put all that aside and think about my 22 year old self getting out of college. Although it was hard, I knew that what they were saying made sense, and I decided to listen. That night I started finding other colleges to apply to. I shook it off as best I could, put all the emotional aspects aside, and tried to stay focused on making a good future for myself.
About a month later, after about 12 times being put on hold by two local colleges I applied to, I was getting a bit fed up. A month till most colleges started, and I still didn’t know what I was doing, or if it would be too late to apply. Then, two weeks ago, I was on my way home from work and checked my missed calls. I saw that Nyack had tried to reach me. I didn’t think much of it because they didn’t leave a message. My mom joined me on the train, and when I told her about the missed call, I got choked up. My future had been set. I was ready to go to Nyack. And now I was sitting here not knowing what I was doing while all of my friends were gearing up to leave in just a few weeks.
My mom then proceeded to tell me a story I had heard before but really had little to no impact on my life. This time, however, it hit home for me. She told me about a similar incident that had happened to her in college. It was too pricy for her to return to school, but God had made a way and provided for her to go back, and eventually she graduated. She encouraged me to go home and pray and seek God for the answers I needed, and told me that He would give me peace. When she said that I shot everyone a text on my recently texted list and said, “pray for me.” I even sent it to some people I’d be going to Nyack with that I had met online.
When I got home my dad told me that the director of admissions had contacted him in regards to my status, and asked whether or not it was official that I was dropping Nyack as an option for next year. My dad told him the issue and explained that they didn’t want me graduating with such a huge amount of debt. He gave him an amount that he thought would be more reasonable and manageable to pay off, and said if they could get down to that number we would be able to consider it. The director completely understood and said he was going to do everything he could to see if he could find me more money. After hearing that I had to remind myself to be neutral about the situation at hand and remember that things might or might not work out the way I wanted them to. When I got home I went straight to my room and began praying and reading my Bible. I lost a lot of sleep over the next two nights. I attended a prayer meeting where people encouraged me and prayed for me.
A couple days later we sat down as a family and my dad shared the results with me. I was playing out all possible circumstances in my mind, waiting for him to say, “Sometimes God shuts a door, but that’s okay. ” He informed me that he had spoken to the director, and that the director told him he requested and was able to secure enough financial aid to make it feasible for me to go to Nyack. He was within a thousand dollars of the number my dad had given him! I broke down in tears. God had done a miracle, and I had just lived it for myself! I was so amazed at how good He was to me in that moment.
Now, the night before finding all this out, I had been reading the story of how Abraham was tested and was asked by God to sacrifice his son, but was then stopped by a voice from heaven. Then I saw this verse: “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”)” (Genesis 22:14). That was a huge sign from God for me that gave me peace when I didn’t have any answers. God took me to the top of the mountain, out of my comfort zone, and He provided.
I am so thankful for the opportunity given to me by God. He has deepened my faith and trust in Him. When I first visited Nyack, it was exterior things that caught my attention. During the last few weeks, however, it has been their interior that has impressed me. I have seen the heart of Nyack during this tough time. They are the kind of school I want to be a part of. They didn’t simply shut the door on my face and pity me. They believed that if God wanted me at Nyack He would make a way. Thank you, Nyack admissions staff! Thank you for your giving spirit and the love that you have shown me. I am so blessed to have people who see my potential and want to invest in me. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me these next four years. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me during this season of life! God works in great ways. Trust in him and He will do amazing things.
One of my favorite lines that I repeat often to leaders, parents, and even to students, is that my job, our job in youth ministry (and as parents!) is not to entertain students, but to equip them for life. Our vision statement for our youth ministry is to see students become fully-devoted, passionate, life-long followers of Jesus. In order for that to become a reality, they must be challenged in their thinking and in their practice. We have to stretch them to do hard things … uncomfortable things.
Growth only happens by doing things you’ve never done before.
Just the other day, my friend Thom Schults, founder of Group Publishing, said, “Too many people think if it’s uncomfortable it must be wrong. This is one of the biggest problems in the church today.” How true a statement!
Then, just this morning I was reading Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey in which he quotes Shane Claiborne who said, “I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what do they do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?”
As I am writing this, my daughter is texting me about some of the challenging realities of our upcoming mission trip to Jamaica. Because we love students and want to help them see the world as God sees it and want them to have a bold, mature faith, we do not shy away from difficult situations. Of course, safety is very important, we aren’t talking about being stupid and rash. I want to be very clear about this. We do indeed take safety very seriously. That being said, the truth is, if safety was our only consideration, we would never go anywhere new or do anything we’ve never done before. We have to have something higher than safety, and that is a vision.
God’s vision is for the whole earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, and we are called to be a part of the advancement of His kingdom. We are called to be agents of light in a dark world. We are to take the light of Christ into dark places, and that inherently means we have to do hard things. So, we go with God’s vision, we go with God’s power (the Holy Spirit living inside of us who gives us wisdom and courage), and we go with God’s promises (not to be free exempt from trouble, but that He will be with us as we go through trouble). Therefore, we say yes to mission of Jesus, even when we don’t know exactly all that will happen, and we move forward with faith as our guide, not fear. Just some thoughts I have as I am spending time with Jesus this morning. I hope they are encouraging, challenging, and helpful.
The longer I walk with Jesus the smaller the world gets. I just had another one of those INSANE connections while traveling that only God can orchestrate. Yesterday I bought the upgrade to the exit row for my flight from Detroit to Denver. The lady from Michigan seated next to me, named Marlene, and I engaged in a little small talk, then we settled into our individual reading, uncomfortable napping, etc. I was reading some Philip Yancey and was also working on a wedding I am doing in a few weeks. With about ten minutes left in our flight, the woman inquired as to what kind of training I was going to Colorado for. I told her it is for a camp that I am speaking at this summer. Putting this together with the book I had been reading she asked if I was a pastor, to which I replied I am. She told me her husband had been a pastor and now leads a missions organization. I asked what part of Michigan she was from, and she said, “Rochester Hills.” I told her I used to attend church in the neighboring town of Oxford 20 years ago. I asked if she had heard of Christ The King Churh, and her eyes got really big. “That is the church my husband was a pastor at. His name is Tim Cummings.” I totally remembered him. Not only did we attend that church, we were involved as volunteers in the youth ministry, were (and still are) friends with many people from the church, including several who we had attended Bible college with, and the youth pastor, our good friend Jon Waters asked us if we could help start the youth group at their church plant in Lapeer, Michigan which we did until we moved back to New York. There is no doubt we met 20 years ago during our time at Christ The King, and it was just incredible to find ourselves – a person from New York, and a person from Michigan – sitting next to each other on a plane all these years later. What an amazing thing the family of God is!
In honor of my Grandma and Grandpa Larkin’s 60th Anniversary, I painted this rock to be presented to them at our family reunion this weekend. They have 8 daughters, 29 grandchildren, and 38 grandchildren (and one on the way). They have served the Lord faithfully and left (and are continuing to leave) a legacy all over the world as pastors and missionaries, and I am so blessed to call them my Grandparents.