Nine years ago I wrote my confirmation faith statement. I likened my faith journey to that of a hiker wandering a path in the woods. Along the way, the hiker encountered numerous obstacles such as fallen trees, boulders, and potholes. The opportunity to leave the main path and try searching for a short cut along the many divergent paths was ever present. All the hiker had was a map for guidance and trust that it would lead to the end destination.
Fast forward to a month ago. I was on spring retreat in southeastern Senegal with the other YAGM’s, hiking to a waterfall tucked away deep in the forest. As I walked the well worn trail, marred with rocks and roots, I was reminded of my confirmation statement I wrote all those years ago. It provided me the opportunity to reflect on what motivated me to seek a year of service and how I have seen my faith grow while here.
Before YAGM, I was actively involved with my home congregation in Ripon and the Lutheran Campus Center at UW-Madison. The church had always been an important part of my life. However, I felt like my personal faith had become stagnant. I had a pretty good sense of what I wanted in my future, but I was struggling to see where God was in all of it. I was looking for the chance to reenergize my faith. By doing service work in a foreign country through YAGM, I believed I would have both the opportunity through my work and the space to really see how God was moving through me.
Arriving in Senegal, I was confronted by challenges I never experienced before. For the first time in my life I was living in an environment where I could not build relationships or ask questions by speaking English. It proved to be very daunting, but I remained confident that everything would begin to come together once I arrived in my host community. Months passed and still I struggled to grasp the language and form those relationships I was so desperately seeking. I began to question where God was at work when I faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties
Then it dawned on me one day – I needed to have more trust. Trust that many challenges are only temporary. Trust that, even though I may not realize it at the time, there are important lessons to be learned from the hardships that inevitably spring up. Most importantly, trust that there was a reason I was in Senegal and that everything would unfold in the way it was meant to be.
Trust has been difficult for me to embrace. It involves surrendering myself to the unknown, recognizing that there is so much beyond my control. That is a scary ask. When I look back on all the times where I gave up on trusting things to work out because unexpected challenges rose to the surface, I notice that eventually everything did work out. Not always how I expected or wanted something to, but I continued moving forward.
That is where the thankfulness piece comes in.
I live life filled with thankfulness for all of the blessings and opportunities that have come my way. It is easy to be thankful for the good things. What about the not so good stuff? Why be thankful for that?
Maintaining a thankful heart in all circumstances is important in keeping my mind away from complaining, criticizing, or engaging in self pity. Living in a constant state of thankfulness ensures that I remain steadfast in my trust that God will be revealed in the midst of trying times. Thankfulness leads to gratitude and gratitude leads to living a life of humility and happiness. Having a thankful heart allows Christ’s love to come to fruition.
Trust and thankfulness have transformed my faith and my time in Senegal. I have seen my relationships here change, how I respond to challenges, and the way I view myself all evolve. I am grateful for all of the moments I have had over the past eight months. The difficulties, blessings, and everything in between. They have all led me to where I am today.
As I continue on the path ahead, while sure to have a few obstacles, I do so with a deep trust that my faith will serve as a map, guiding me forward while encountering so many moments of beauty to be thankful for.