Here I was: an empty, angry, suicidal teenager heading on a missions trip. Strange I know, but I actually did "believe in God" and I figured travelling would be cool, so off I went. The first thing to do was take a school bus full of smelly teenagers down to Florida to Boot Camp. Boot Camp was a training camp where 2000 teenagers convened in over 50 teams to head all over the world on missions. By the time I got to Boot Camp I couldn’t wait to get off that bus. But after about 30 seconds in the jungle of Merritt Island, Florida, I wanted to get right back on that bus! Boot Camp was a hot, muggy, jungle, filled with strict discipline and missions training and no way out. After a few days into my two weeks of Boot Camp I was as angry, empty and messed up as I had ever been in my life. One night I lay in my tent, unable to sleep, and finally broke down and prayed. My prayer went something like this, "God, if you're real I need to know it. I will give you my whole life but I need to know." I don't know exactly what I prayed but I know it included the desire to know if the God I believed in was real and the willingness to surrender my whole life to Him. I fell asleep exhausted. The next morning I woke up with a distinct sense something had changed. I remembered my prayer from the night before and decided this might be a significant thing in my life. That morning I opened my Bible and read a verse that changed my life forever,
Matt 11:28-30 "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This verse meant everything to me. It was as if it was describing exactly what I needed and what I was now experiencing. In that moment the ache in my soul found fullness and peace. My beliefs about God became my experiential reality. This was the most important moment of my life. To this day I can't get over that morning. The rest of Boot Camp and the rest of the mission trip were a joyful, adventurous blur. I returned home a radically different person.
Since that day my life has been perfect and I have lived happily ever after....okay...not really. But I have lived with one purpose: to enjoy the fullness of heart that I have in Christ and to share with everyone I can that their empty souls were made to be filled with a real person named "Jesus".
The Message version of Matthew 11:28-30 says it so well: "Jesus said, 'Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.' "