a small recount of my journey to H.E.A.R.T.
I spent winter break at home, hitting up every coffee shop and park that formulated my middle school and high school years. Countless conversations and recycled coffee sleeves later, I was headed back to Florida with a huge bag full of Christmas presents and a heavy burden on my heart; I didn’t want to go back. After stopping for the night at a cabin in Georgia, we arrived at campus and I unpacked my belongings. It was Sunday and classes started that Monday morning. I meandered around campus, wandering from class to class and social activity to social activity. My mind felt extremely heavy and my heart knew it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I found myself constantly knocking on my favorite professor’s door seeking wisdom and counsel for the feelings that I was experiencing and the thoughts that I had. My father called me that night, I sat in the courtyard and cried as he reassured me that I wasn’t trapped. He bought a plane ticket that hour and gave me the weekend to pray and process over where I felt like I needed to go, we both knew campus wasn’t my place anymore, but he allowed for that decision to be my own. It wasn’t until I sat in my psychology class that I understood what was going on in my mind. The pain, fear, loneliness, and heartbreak that I was feeling was all my mindset, and that wasn’t something that I could change unless I changed my perspective. Once I got to that realization it was abundantly clear to me that I needed to step away from my school for some time. God had been pressing on my heart, but it wasn’t until I came to that conclusion myself that I felt a sense of peace. I laid in my best friend’s bed and cried with her as we prayed for direction and affirmation. Within the hour I saw an email pop up on my phone from the Head of H.E.A.R.T. I felt a firm pull to ask about this semester and a conversation ensued. The earliest day we could meet was that Monday, which happened to be the one day that my father was in town. With a new possible path in place, I called my father and we prayed, and then me and my two best friends hopped in the car to visit my grandparents to be in prayer and fellowship together before a final decision was made.
My father pulled up to campus Monday morning and my heart exploded with excitement and terror. He had given me until that morning to decide, but I knew in my heart that I was going to leave either way. We met for lunch to talk more about H.E.A.R.T which had already begun officially that morning, and I decided to proceed by joining them for dinner that night. Finances were figured out, excitement grew, and I finally felt like I could breath. We spent that night at Walmart, frantically throwing things into the cart and laughing at the spontaneity of the decision I had just made that morning, we had no idea how we were going to pull it off.
The following morning, I sat in the passenger’s seat of my father’s rental car as we pulled up to the dirt path. We prayed together and hugged as I said goodbye to Warner and moved my things to my vehicle. It was my first trip down that road as a H.E.A.R.T student, and by far the slowest. I unpacked my things, texted my closest friends and family members one last time, and turned off my phone.
I’ve found myself at heart. Truthfully it happened so quickly that I am still not very sure how I got here. I do know that I took a step-in faith, and God met me here with a door that I chose to step through. I am so excited and terrified, but I suppose that all the best life decisions are that way. We began phase one yesterday. Phase one is where we are in complete isolation: no electricity, AC, or vehicle usage. Putting my phone away really wasn’t a challenge. However, my biggest challenge has been trying to remember all of the information that I can, and also milking a goat. I am afraid that I am not the best at catching chickens either. But, I have mastered the latrines, and I think that the baby goats have begun to like me. We have the sweetest baby rabbits, and Pink the pig is about to have her babies. There is so much to learn, I am really hoping that I will be able to retain it all while still growing in my faith and fellowship.
Nights so far are absolutely freezing. I’ve begun to get ready before getting in bed so that I don’t have to change in the morning. Tonight, I am going to sleep in my sleeping bag instead of just a sheet so that maybe I won’t wake up every time I move my head to a different spot on the pillow.
Surprisingly, I had very little fears or anxieties when I first got out to the village. I felt like a child that was set loose in a candy store, there was so much to see and experience. I was extremely emotionally and spiritually drained from the previous semester that I was craving community and fellowship and would do anything to achieve it. As you would imagine, I burned out pretty quickly as I sat in one of our classes and realized that I knew nothing about chickens and was terrified of using most tools. I spent a couple hours reading books in the library trying to catch up to the other students, some of which grew up learning this stuff that was so foreign to me. I quickly realized that I didn’t know a lot, I didn’t really even know myself. When I turned off my phone, I had no more distractions and there was something absolutely beautiful (and terrifying) about that. Songs started flowing from my heart, my mind remained present, and I actually went to bed at a decent time for once in my life. There were no longer any distractions between me and my time with God either, I would spend hours in the word or sitting in the chapel playing my ukulele and making up songs and chords, I hadn’t experienced that sense of peace before in my life. A very dear friend and mentor of mine once said that “sometimes you will find a thin place between Earth and Heaven where you experience a new kind of peace and beauty.” I experienced this as I walked barefoot along the dirt paths of the village, sat under the stars, climbed large trees, or watched the sunset from the water tower. I found all of these small places where I could sit in the presence of God and rest, truly abiding in His presence. This was a huge part of my experience out at H.E.A.R.T. It allowed for me to really search myself and pursue Jesus with all of my might.
I would be doing my experience a disservice however if I didn’t state that some parts of my semester were extremely difficult. Community is extremely important at H.E.A.R.T., and we had one that was composed of seven, extremely diverse and extremely different individuals. Not one of us was alike, we all had different backgrounds, different ways of seeing the world, and different ideas and opinions in regard to community. This proved to be one of our greatest strengths and weakness. I had many amazing conversations and experiences with all of them, but there were many times where I felt like I was failing, or I wasn’t trying hard enough. I have always been a people pleasure and a fixer, existing in harmonious relationships has always been extremely important to me. And so, when things began to get rocky, I took personal responsibility for it and felt the need to fix it. Eventually I burnt out and ended up speaking with one of the staff members about my struggle. I began to rant about my exhaustion, how I was just trying to love them, trying to fix everything, and trying to make the community better. He interrupted me and spoke, “stop trying, stop trying to do things with your own strength and love from the overflow that God has given you.” This was one of the biggest things that I learned while I was at H.E.A.R.T. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten myself into a situation where I burn myself out trying to fix something or love someone. I neglected to realize that it was God who gave me that ability in the first place and if I really want to love people the right way, I have to love them God’s way, not my own. So, I started to pray for them and for myself, and I know that I am not the first one to say that it is extremely difficult to be mad or hate someone that you pray for. I continued to try, checking myself constantly as to whether the love I was showing was from myself or from God’s strength. One night, one of the students and I sat and had a conversation. It became abundantly clear that we viewed the world, community, and conflict with extremely different filters. It was an extremely hard conversation, but it made me realize that everyone has different capacities, but the same responsibility. This person was trying to show me love the only way they knew how, and I was trying to love them the only way I knew how. We both loved each other, it just wasn’t the kind of love that either of us felt like we needed or could even identify. We had the same responsibility, to care and love each other, but our way of showing it were extremely different, and that was okay. I wish that I could say we got close after that conversation, but we did not. We actually barely spoke, but I have no doubt that we cared for each other. There were many parts of the community that was hard for me. Towards the end of the semester I felt like my heart had become calloused to the constant darts that were being thrown my way within my own mind and the unintentional ones from the people around me. I began to pray to be softened again and I felt like the Lord answered through scripture and peace. I gained a new appreciation for His ministry, and a new confidence in His character. I passed all of my classes, went on the amazing mission’s trip (which is a post just in itself), had some amazing conversations, and made some of the best friendships that I have ever had, but I still felt a little defeated at the end of the 15 weeks. As I walked barefoot to the library to pack up by books, I reflected over my purpose at H.E.A.R.T and I realized that it was exactly what I needed. I learned how to love people who hurt me (as everyone will do at some point), how to be okay and confident in Christ and in myself within an unharmonious community, and a whole bunch about God’s character and who he created me to be, on top of all the stuff about goats and nutrition.
Even though my experience at H.E.A.R.T. was extremely different than some other people’s, I will always love the staff members and my fellow students. I am extremely thankful for the learning opportunity that it became and the small slice of Heaven that I got to experience for a little while.
Thank you so much for everyone that supported me throughout this period of my life: financially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am incredibly grateful.