Post by Fellow Janelle Smith
It was a warm August day. The kind of hot you can feel as it hangs heavy around you. As I drove across the long roads of Texas, there was nothing to see but sky. That only changed as I exited the freeway and made my way into the winding trees of small town Van, Texas. With the window down, the breeze made the heat feel different, fresh. There was an anticipation in the air. I gripped the steering wheel tighter and checked my phone again to make sure I did not miss a turn. I held few expectations of what was to come, but of one thing I was certain - God had brought me here, and he always has a reason. I was eager to see what he had in mind but was nervous as well. God’s plan is always good, but his plans are not usually comfortable or easy. As I pulled into the large iron gate, I saw a calm expanse of water surrounded by trees. The breeze swept along the landscape and my grip loosened. Something was starting, and although the butterflies in my stomach were persistent, there was a sense of peace - an assurance that was steadfast.
It is hard to encompass a whole experience in just a few short paragraphs. I cannot truly show you the soft coziness in moments of honest conversations with my roommate at the end of the day as we sit on her bed in the glow of the twinkle lights. I cannot depict the fatigue you feel after a full day of tearing down what seems like hundreds of chairs and six-foot tables or working your muscles lifting chair after chair until the auditorium is empty and quiet after a weekend of commotion and busyness. I cannot fully explain the stillness of the morning as you wake up before the sun to gather with your coworkers and friends to pray for each other and share a meal before work. The moments of silly play, of patience being tested, of simple laughter, challenging conversation, and silent reflection with the Lord all come together to make the fellowship what it is.
Coming out here to Texas, I left familiarity behind. Everyone and everything I knew was back home in California. It was not easy, but in a way, it was beautiful. As I left a life of busyness, competition, and seemingly great opportunity, God brought me into a season of humility and simplicity. I learned that I did not know nearly as much about the world as I had previously thought. I stumbled through attempts to pick up new skills as I was shoved out of my comfort zone again and again. My limitations, my weaknesses, my sin became clear to me as if someone had decided to wipe the fog off the glass I had been looking through. There is something about being surrounded with people that see a task, see a passage of scripture, or see the world a little differently than you do. To do life with people you did not choose for yourself because of your own preferences or commonalities is a gift. Everyone is a clean and cookie cut Christian when in their cage of comfortability and solitude. It is when you step outside that there is opportunity for growth. Fearing the unknown or avoiding what is challenging is not part of walking the narrow path God asks us to walk; it is leaning into those hard moments where your faith has an opportunity to grow. Those challenges become some of the greatest blessings. In the fellowship there are tests of your faith, your endurance, your patience, and your physical and spiritual strength. Choosing to press into that for a year is not glamorous or romantic. The work is not usually loud or exciting. The experience is not usually easy. It is sweet. Simple. Raw. Rare.
In the fellowship, I have felt a sense of home despite being hundreds of miles away from my actual home. I have found space and simplicity under the wide sky. I have found people that make the sometimes mundane work feel like play. I have found trials that have pushed me closer to God and further away from my sinful nature. I have found an experience that I believe is special as well as invaluable. In difficult moments, I remember that those moments refine me, and in sweet moments, I am touched with a feeling of gratitude and sentiment for this specific season of life.
That road that seemed so unfamiliar and daunting is now a road I drive weekly. As the weather cools and the trees change color, the air that was once permeated with anticipation and unknown is now settled and different. There is a chill whisper of home as the breeze runs the leaves pass my windshield and as the road turns in familiar ways that I no longer need a map to discern. That small sense of peace I felt that first day has blossomed into a steady faith in the God who walks with me through trial and leads me by still waters. A God who knew even on that first day, what a blessing this year would turn out to be.