This morning I would like to introduce you to someone. Now this person couldn’t exactly be here this morning but no worries, I will tell you all about her and you will feel like you know her quite well. This girl has always been a little shy and timid. She is a rule follower and never even questions it. She is that girl that you tell her the stove is hot and she believes you as she watches her younger brother test it out. This little girl wears her hair in braids every single day, because her mom doesn’t want her hair to look ratty. She learned at an early age not to move around while mom is curling your bangs, and the sight of one of these (show pic of puppy) anywhere in the near vicinity would have her screaming for her daddy and running back into the house. You see this girl is not a risk taker she is perfectly content with living her life in the box of safety but she has a brother, and this brother is three years younger than her and he is not quite as timid. He likes to push buttons, they always joked that the perfect Christmas present for him would be a board with buttons and switches glued on. This brother of hers was the kid that told mom to roll the window up and stuck his arm out just to see what would happen, it hurt, she cried for him. He was the kid that wanted to swing on the big glider swing by himself and when he wanted off he didn’t bother to ask he just jumped off and was greeted not once but twice with that huge piece of metal in the head, she once again cried for him. They would visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house a lot and Grandma and Grandpa didn’t exactly have the same rules as mom and dad. Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon were not blocked on their TV, cereal came in a box, toys were in happy meals, and chicken was on a bone. Now to brother this was like Heaven, he could finally watch as much Scooby Doo as he wanted, but sister she wasn’t sure because mom and dad didn’t let us do that, but eventually it was made clear that it was ok. Sister never did take Grandpa up on that offer to learn how to drive because mom and dad wouldn’t let her at home, come to find out later brother had been doing it for years. Speaking of driving sister was scared to death of driving, if you somehow convinced her to drive a new way home, she wouldn’t drive again for week, and there was that time that dad taught her what it felt like for a car to die on you, by turning the truck off on the main road home, she was totally traumatized and didn’t to drive again until dad made her, oh and she cried. Sister was a straight A student she loved school, reading and math were like hobbies to her, but that day she brought home her first B you would have thought the world was ending because it was such a big deal. Brother was a good student too but it wasn’t a big deal to him. If you haven’t started to figure it out yet brother and sister are kind of opposites she learned everything by watching him do it the hard way. She was a perfectionist and he was pretty care free. When eating morning pop tarts she would get excited because she made the state of Oklahoma out it, that is where Grandma and Grandpa live, he would make pistol and proceed to shoot her with it. Mom and Dad had their hands full with their son who pushed all the limits and their scared timid daughter who never got close.
In middle school this girl received the opportunity to go to a leadership camp that was being funded by a grant. It was ten days long and it was in town at Camp Horizon. She was super excited because all of her friends were going. So off she goes to camp for the very first time. With all her snacks and clothes, and everything probably the entire camp would need! She picks out a bottom bunk because with her asthma she probably shouldn’t sleep on the top and then mom and dad go home. She has a lot of fun playing games, hiking, and swimming with all of her friends. The get to go to a horse ranch and she learns how to ride, barrel race, and goat tie all in a couple of days, and she is good at it, even got a couple of ribbons. Then they get to the challenge course that Camp Horizon is so known for. The first couple of elements were pretty cool, crazy scary being 35 feet in the air with only the harness and rope to keep you safe. But she does it because everyone else is too. She has come out of her shell and is proving to herself one step at a time that she can do this. Then she goes over to the power pole or the leap of faith. Everyone else is doing this one too so why not. She starts climbing, this one feels a little different, and it sways a lot with the wind. She gets to the top and then she looks at the top of the pole and realizes that they want her to stand up on top of that tiny platform and jump off of it. This isn’t the zip line. She freezes, and like always she starts to cry, she just wants down, this is not happening, not today, not ever. So they let her down. She is defeated and embarrassed but everyone cheers for her for participating, but by this point she kind of just wants to go home. There is still a lot of camp left. A couple days later it is Sunday and it is also Father’s Day, they let all of the kids call their dads and say hi. She hears their voices and looses it. The homesickness kicks in hard, and then through the tears that day she manages to make herself miserable and sick enough that the counselors call her parents and she gets to go home. Home, back into those loving arms that love her no matter what, with safety and security and no chance of getting hurt.
This young girl slowly started to regain that courage she had discovered on the horse and 35 feet in the air and started to spread her wings. You see she started to figure out that the safety net of home was always going to be there to catch her so she started to spread her wings and give herself a chance. She let her best friend talk her into being in her first musical in the nun’s chorus of The Sound of Music, and yet again The Wizard of Oz. There was this amazing feeling of being on stage in a costume in makeup it allowed her to be someone with confidence and passion, even if she was only in the chorus.
It was around this time when I met this girl; you see the girl that I have been describing is my younger self. I’m sure a lot of you figured it out. This girl that I have introduced you to today is still very real to me, this girl fell in love with theatre in high school and with theatre she was able to find an inner confidence that helped lead her here today.
I’m going to go back again and show you this girl with some pictures. I was born March 23, 1989 to Darin and Darla Mann of Arkansas City. I went to church for the first time when I was three days old, I always thought that my parents must have secretly known what I wanted to do and thought it would be cool to be able to say that, well it is cool but the truth is it was also my first Easter. Two months later on Mother’s Day I was baptized. I grew up at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Ark City. A congregation that today could fit in this section over here. I grew up in Sunday School and I loved church. I was the mature four year old that got to go to Children’s Church even though you had to be five to go. But my Grandma Jo was willing to have me. I thought it was so cool to learn how find books in the Bible and memorizing The Lord’s Prayer, I was willing to race you to it. You see I might have been extremely timid, but I was also extremely competitive. I was not about to be outdone at something I was good at. I wanted so much to be like the big kids and do what the big kids did. I have a lot of cousins on my mom’s side and we all grew up in the same church but most of them were four or five years older than me and I was just the baby. And I had this deep desire to be so much more than that baby, the girl that cried all the time and was scared of everything. I wanted to be confident and independent just like all of my cousins.
In high school along with theatre I started to feel the need to know more and more about the Bible. I wanted to read it, highlight it, know it, memorize it, and feel it. I couldn’t get enough of that book. I read every night before I went to bed and carried it to school with me. My Bible I had had since I was ten was getting pretty worn out and I looked forward to youth group and Sunday School like they weren’t going to happen ever again. I invited all of my friends and eventually the youth group was huge for our little church. I knew that someday along with teaching theatre & math, and being a child psychologist I was going to lead the youth group too. I didn’t know then that it could be a full time paid job. I went to Cowley County Community College on a theatre scholarship and majored in religion. It was during this time that I started to work at Camp Horizon and got a crash course in youth ministry and being a confident, independent adult. Kids needed me here, they thought I was cool and they wanted to tell me their life stories my call got stronger. When I went back to school everything I did just seemed to be a waste of time. Some of my friends couldn’t understand why I had changed so much, so I spent a lot of time alone, with my iPod on and my Bible out. I went back to camp again and had another challenging yet rewarding summer and then I transferred to Southwestern College. I no longer lived at home but in the dorms and had to figure out who I was away from everything I had known, I didn’t do theatre anymore and I had to make new friends, oh and I had donated my hair right before I started so all of my safety nets were missing. I struggled a lot but became a stronger person. I went back to camp for another summer and new that it was the last. My senior year I worked as the youth leader at a small country church in Winfield with a crazy group of boys that had a tendency to throw punches instead of using their words. I wanted to quit many times, especially the night that one of them tried to wrestle me to the ground, but he couldn’t and I stood strong. I didn’t cry until I got home. It was in college that I made that phone call that saved a young girl’s life from an abusive step mother and her own suicidal thoughts. It was in college that I figured out I was stronger than I had ever given myself credit for. I graduated in May 2011 with my Bachelor’s of Arts in Philosophy and Religion with a minor in Youth Ministry. I was beyond done with school and so ready to be a youth pastor, but every place I applied didn’t work out, everywhere I looked I was shut down, so I spent the summer after graduation at home with my parents babysitting my three year old cousin Charli, not exactly where I saw myself after graduation. Then I was offered the Graduate Intern position at Camp Horizon, a job I didn’t even apply for, and school surprisingly didn’t sound like such a horrible idea. I said yes and enrolled in school that week. I enrolled in my first class a week after it started, and I was done with everything a week early. I was on a roll. I took my classes two at a time against my advisor’s advice and worked much more than 20 hours a week at Camp. I graduated in May 2012 with my Master’s of Arts in Specialized Ministry a program that was supposed to be 72 weeks long that is a year and a half, I did it in 10 months. Oh and I started working here on top of working at camp the last 12 weeks of school.
My entire life I never questioned what I was told. I had complete faith in my parents. I knew without a doubt that they were not going to lead me astray. I had the blind faith of a child. That same blind faith with my friends usually led to a broken heart but I lept anyway, it was in my nature to trust. I had faith in everyone around me, except me, a lot of the time. As I got older I developed that faith in the God I had learned about as a child. God, who was willing to die for me, sounds pretty trustworthy. Then I started to have the kind of faith in God that when people told me I couldn’t I said watch me. I might not have been able to stand up as a child on that telephone pole 30 feet in the air but I never forgot the incredible feeling of letting myself and everyone else around me down, when I couldn’t do it.
I was the child that was never supposed to leave home. The girl that would be too scared to make it, would get too homesick and have to move home. I was the girl that went to college and worked in the same town I grew up in. I was perfectly content living in my bedroom at my parent’s house. But God had a different plan for me. He knocked on the door to my heart when I was 15 and said this is my plan for you. It sounded pretty awesome then because youth ministry (his plan) easily fit into mine. Somewhere I had to take a huge leap of faith and let all of my plans fall away. Grad School, returning to camp, moving an hour and half away from home, Hesston, none of that was part of my plan. In my plan I had a solid job in Ark City, I was married by now, and probably planning for a child, and actively sponsoring the youth ministry at St. Paul UMC. My plan was safe and secure. My plan was home and boy did it feel good. My plan included Taco Bell with the family after church every week and sitting in the back pew playing with my little cousins. My plan looked like a two story house with a white picket fence with kids that ran down the street to grandma and grandpas. My plan might have been safe but it was empty because it was my plan. When I finally caught on to God’s plan for my life I had to let a lot go. I was physically ill a lot trying to live between these two plans, and finally I had to stand up and take that leap and trust that God was going to catch me. So now I’m the girl with a Master’s Degree, the girl with a full time job in youth ministry, the girl that works in a church with a budget, the girl that lives in an apartment without a roommate. The girl that has only been home twice since she moved out, the girl that is so busy living her life the way God had planned that she hasn’t had the time to find a guy and settle down. I became the girl that moved away and fell in love with a different town, a different church, a different dream. I took the leap of faith that God needed me to take to live my life His way. Where are you? Are you still on the ground looking up wondering if God is crazy? Are you stuck on the pole as it shakes with your fears? Are standing on top wondering if this can be for real if God really will catch you? Well I dare you to go further than you imagined you could. I dare you to take that step. I dare you to jump!