Stroud, Jami

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams

I grew up attending church weekly in my small southern Indiana town, where  I heard all of the Bible stories. My dad was a leader in the church.  I did and said all the right things and got confirmed. I had awesome parents, we lived a comfortable little middle-class life, and all was well.

While my upbringing was a solid foundation for my faith and my moral compass, I believe that God really set me on the trajectory to where I am today during my first year of church camp when I was 11 years old.

On our last night of our week-long camp stay, we had a special campfire called “Jesus Walk.” Camp staff dressed as various Bible characters who had all come in contact with Jesus. They each delivered a monologue about their transformative experience with Him. Afterwards, they gave us some time to sit by the fire and pray before returning to our cabins whenever we were ready. It was during this time that I felt the presence of God in my life for the very first time.

After that week of camp, I vowed that one day I would learn to play guitar and become a camp counselor and find any way possible to be at camp for the rest of my days.

Fast-forward to my college years, and I am a guitar-playing, sandal-wearing, Jesus-loving camp counselor for four consecutive summers with dreams of being a camp director for the rest of my life.

But God had a different plan for the pathway of my life.

Other camp staff members that I had worked with went on to do a one-year volunteer, traveling music ministry. They saw the country and the world. My little wanderer heart could not resist. The next thing I knew, I found myself in St. Paul, MN, about to embark on a journey across the U.S. and East Africa with four strangers.

To say that this year was transformative would be a massive understatement. My perspectives were broadened spiritually, theologically, culturally, economically, emotionally, mentally, and every other way that you could possibly imagine and all of the ways you can’t.

While we were overseas, we were in a severe roll-over car accident that rocked our world. Our team was separated for two months due to major injuries that one of my teammates  and I suffered. Sitting in a hotel room by myself in Tanzania for six weeks, God began to show me the meaning of true faith and trust in Him alone and that I needed Him just as much as I thought everybody else needed me.

After the accident, I still felt a nudging to apply for another year of the ministry. I could no longer ignore that God was calling me. That fall, I once again found myself about to hit the road with four more strangers. I was again stretched and pushed outside of my comfort zone and forced to rely on God and the generosity of His people.

After my two years of volunteer ministry, I knew I needed a solid community that could no longer be found in my small Indiana hometown. So, I packed up my belongings, and with $17 in my bank account and no job lined up, I moved to Minnesota into a house with three other women who had all experienced the same volunteer team ministry that so deeply formed me.

By God’s grace I was offered a job working for a non-profit and felt like I was living the dream. And for all intents and purposes, I was. My rent was practically nothing, I worked for an organization I loved with all of my friends and was doing something I was passionate about. Something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life, and to my shock that wasn’t a camp counselor.

But it wasn’t long before funding issues began to become a bigger and bigger problem for this beloved non-profit. God had called me to a role with more intense duties,  and I was essentially on call 24/7 for the ministry teams. Simultaneously, support was shrinking as responsibilities were being piled on top of the small, but faithful staff.

“It’s fine,” I thought. “God called me here, and I will give everything I have. I don’t need a break. I don’t need to rest.

In my naivete, I didn’t notice myself cracking. I didn’t notice my shift in mood and energy and ability to think and see clearly. I started going to therapy, but the pressures that were placed on me, and that I took upon myself, were still present. The burden was nearly unbearable.

During a check-in, my supervisor and I, both heated and frustrated, used harsh words and poor attitudes toward one another. I was given an ultimatum. Change my attitude or resign by the end of the day.

I was wrecked. And devastated. And gutted with shame and regret.

Through prayer and conversations with family and friends, I felt that God was opening a door for me to exit that I would not have otherwise opened myself. So, without another job lined up, I stepped out in faith and resigned from my position.

Only now, as I am writing this, do I realize what an awful lot that is to experience in the first 27 years of someone’s life. So now, I find myself sitting at my desk of my second admin job in three years, thinking that I have experienced enough and that if Jesus came back in five minutes, I would be just fine with that. I don’t need to experience anything else, thank you very much! That will do!

But I also realize that I probably have more than 27 more years left in my life and that I have no idea what I am supposed to do with it or what God might have on the horizon.

I am still wrestling with feelings of guilt and shame for the ways I have intentionally and unintentionally hurt people in the midst of my brokenness–all caused by my ignorance of my own needs and emotions.

Writing this feels like a sad ending to a story. But I don’t feel sad. I have an amazing community of people who surround me in prayer and love me well and challenge me to be more fully who God created me to be. I know that in the midst of what currently feels like mediocrity compared to what I experienced in my first 27 years, the Holy Spirit is still moving and active in my life and heart and mind.

Jesus is still redeeming me and creating me anew each day. As I take time to heal from my past, I also look forward with hope to what lies ahead, because I know that my Father God is holding my heart and listening and dreaming on my behalf.

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Brown, Brie

Brown, Brie

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