Heat, heat, heat

Our school year always starts with scorching hot days, peppered with lots of calls, texts, and emails. We alternate between jubilition and disappointment, and cling to the hope that God will bring students who are faithful, available, and teachable. Welcome week is more than a week, it is a 3-4 week marathon that we embark on every year.  

 
Here are some wins we have experienced in the past 2 weeks:

  • Our men’s small groups saw some influential new students come to their very first meetings. A freshman who was nationally ranked in high school steeplechase. Two walk-on hopefuls for the football team. A volleyball player who was on the Saudi national team. 
  • A Chinese student approached our welcome tent because she wanted to know more about Christianity and to actually see a Bible (she had heard of one but never seen one before). 
  • Two students that our women’s small group had prayed for all last semester had cleared their schedules to come to XA this year! It is so great to see planted seeds begin to grow and prayers answered before our eyes.
  • A freshman girl from last year who had an incredibly rough year returned as a sophomore filled with joy and freedom. She is completely different! We are so glad God has used XA to move in her life.
  • Our small group servant leaders are expectant, excited, and are working doubly hard to serve, reach, and gather students.

  

  
Please pray that new students would begin committing to our small groups so they can connect with other believers, grow in their faith, and reach the campus. We are praying for God to do great things!!

At The End Again

Senior Dinner. We do it every year. We have gifts, we eat, we pray, we mark time with those that we have seen grow over the semesters and years. Besides being a part of introducing a student to Christ, it is one of the most indelible markers of what we do.   We’ve shared stories of some of them throughout this year and there are too many memories to count.

Kiki (far left), UA tennis player who is just as passionate and competitive about her faith in Christ as she is on the court (if not more!). I remember praying with her in her car outside of her apartment. She was doing an extended fast to get freedom and purity. But she was being tempted at every turn and wanted someone to battle alongside her. I remember long texts that she would send the staff, encouraging us to keep the faith and telling us how much XA had kept her going in hers.
Camila (third from left) could not even sit through a XA meeting her first year without running out of the room crying hysterically. A broken engagement and some deep emotional issues made her almost unfunctional both socially and spiritually. She has come an incredibly long way. Through hours of talking, counseling, praying, compassion, and the truth in love, the XA women have walked her to a place where she has begun working through her pain in a positive, albeit still difficult, way. 
  
At our last meeting of the semester, Josias shared how he came from Brazil knowing no one. His roommate invited him to XA and here he found a group of people who loved people unconditionally and who loved God. He found a family. As he was speaking, he suddenly stopped, overcome with emotion. He could not contain his tears and could barely continue. “Thank you,” he finally said, “I return to Brazil, but you will always be my brothers and sisters.” Josias has brought countless Brazilians to our XA group who have been touched by God. Now he is returning to Brazil and he is so ready for what God has for him there.

 I remember Ben (tallest, in the back) nervously leading his first worship set all alone, just him and his guitar. I remember praying for him as a sobbed after hearing God speak about how God loves being with us more than what we can do for him. 

I remember flying to Japan with Kim (on my right) and watching her open up about her life, pray for people she didn’t know for the first time, and put her trust in God for what she had no control over. We’ve spent late nights of laughter and serious times of prayer as she has gone through life’s challenges. She now has her nursing degree and is going to use it to bless patients who need God’s kindness and care.
Tatum (center, holding Jovie) is coming on staff as an intern. Caleb and I have watched her grow so much! We would pick her up from campus when she was a freshman in the first few weeks of school and bring her to church. We barely knew her. She didn’t come very often until she decided to come to an all night prayer meeting. As soon as I heard her pray, I knew she would be a part of us. Her incredible zeal to see lives transformed has not changed in her years here. But she has changed into a mature young woman of God and we can’t wait to see all God does in and through her.  Even the small graduation groups are filled with world changers!

Growing Up

IMG_1114.JPGCollege is the new adulthood ceremony for this generation. For some, it takes even longer. I was talking to a friend last year who is a grad student. She said that the new clinical age range for adolescence is 13-24. 24!

This makes what we do ever that more crucial. Freshmen no longer come to us as adults trying to make their way in the world. In many ways, they are still children, trying to figure out how to become adults. The very best way to do that is to lead them, guide them, and set an example for them in Christ.

Last week we baptized 2 new believers. Two young men who are ready to make Jesus not just the Savior, but the Lord of their lives. Usually we do end-of-the-semester baptisms. But when God doesn’t move on scheduled times, He moves in the timelines of people’s lives.

Junior (far left) gave his life to Jesus after Shane invited him to XA. At the very first meeting, his heart was touched and he wanted to make a change. “I took him on his offer to come to XA and seek something different than what I was seeking,” Junior shared to the crowd before he was baptized, “And I really liked what I found.”

IMG_1139.JPGMy not-so-baby-anymore is turning two next month. I can hardly believe it. I remember when she was first born, at a measly 5 lbs 15 oz, and how sweet and innocent and small she was. I was in awe that Faith had ever been that small… could it have been possible? Even though I knew that she had been. And now Jovie is growing up into a little girl with personality, desires, likes and dislikes, and, of course, challenges.

It is the same with these new believers, these new students who are seeking God. They need so much care, but it is exciting because they are so sweet, innocent, and small in the light of God. But inevitably, we all grow up. And as they grow, they need the same amount of care, but perhaps in a different way. They still need to be nourished and helped along in their growth, but there are new levels to their identity in God and their responsibilities in this wide world.

Just reminded of that today. And thankful that we have the Counselor to guide us all along in this life.

Semester Blues

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It was a weekend of family after a couple long work weeks. After figuring out our XA Expedition summer trips and announcing them at our annual Missions Night, we decided to take a little break and go up to Phoenix. Caleb’s brother was visiting from Idaho and my mom just had her 60th birthday. The girls got to spend time with their cousins and have some more personal time with us.

The semester is over half over and I think the semester blues are setting in. After the high of the retreat, our students are back in reality with all the real responsibilities, real relationships, and real issues that being in the world brings. It’s been a little bit heavy for me as well, but reminds me that it is all the more urgent to press into God and lean on Him instead of myself.

A lot of times I wish I could just fix everything for everyone and I know that I can’t. I can only pray and guide and suggest and point towards Jesus. It reminds me of my own humanity and how much I need to be prayed for guided, and pointed towards Him. It reminds me that the only reason that I have any joy and peace in this life, the only way I can forgive and be in right relationship with people, the only survival that I have, is in Him.

I hope this post encourages you in some way to continue to press on towards Him. Thank you for all of your support and prayers. I promise our newsletter is coming out soon! I had it written before retreat, but have not been able to get it printed out and mailed. Will happen as soon as possible.

Misty Mountains

IMG_1005.JPGFriday afternoon, I found myself in a car winding higher and higher as the cactus and brush turned to pines and bright yellow fall leaves. I touched the window to feel the cooling temperature outside, something I did all the time as a kid. The car climbed slowly, filled with luggage, food, a sleeping toddler, and a slightly car-sick kid. When we finally got to the cabin, I opened the door to feel the chill wind rush in.

Fall Retreat. Freedom Weekend. 30+ students, 4 staff, and 2 kids. Over a hundred waffles, 3 costco packs of apples, 4 jumbo pans of enchiladas. A 3-story cabin with 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 15 beds, and plenty of floor space for tired college kids. Late night conversations, laughter-filled games of scrabble and cards, and of course, God changing lives.

Usually retreats like this, where we do all the organizing, cooking, teaching, and preaching, are exhausting and long. This one flew by. We had so much help and so much of God’s grace that it felt like a vacation, but with the added bonus of seeing students make life-changing decisions to follow Him.

Here are some photos from the weekend.
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IMG_0997.JPGThere are so many stories to tell. We had 5 Brazilian students who said they’ve never felt more welcome from any group or church. We had a student from the tennis team who hasn’t been able to come to XA because of her schedule, make the time to come up. We had over $300 given in scholarship money from our own group, to give partial or full scholarships to 9 students. If that isn’t true biblical community, I don’t know what is. We had students choose to forgive people from their past and from their present. Some of the students have experienced or are going through some pretty tough stuff – abuse, rape, self-harm, eating disorders, abandonment, estrangement from parents, adultery in the family, sexual addiction, the list could go on and on. What they ALL had in common was that they all wanted to be free. We got to pray for long lines of students as they confessed and expressed their desire to be free. It is a long road, but it begins with their desire to change, and God has given them a very strong one this weekend.

One of the best parts of retreat for me personally was watching our students love our kids and spend time with them. Our kids are not the most outgoing little people and they can be wary of large groups, even if they know the people in those groups. They had a wonderful experience being up at the cabin with all the “XA kids.”

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There are some moments where everything just comes together and you sense a grace, that God wanted to do some powerful things and opened the heavens a bit to hold back the tide of the enemy in this world to let his light come in. This was one of those times.

A Little Bit Country

IMG_0454.JPGIn the dim room, I switched the microphone on and lowered the music. “Ahem,” I said into the mic as loudly and authoritatively as I could. The room continued to buzz loudly as cowboys and girls posed for pictures and greeted one another with shouts and hugs. “Ahem!”

It took a few more until the crowd quieted down. I walked to the front and said, with a flourish, “Welcome to the XA Country Hoedown!” A cheer erupted in the room.

Last year, for a missions fundraiser, we threw a XA Country-Hoedown. It was a HUGE success. So much so, that people were begging us to do it again. This year, we’ve decided to do a few of them to make money for XA as well as some charities close to us. The first hoedown was two weeks ago and everyone had an amazing time!

IMG_0451.JPGStudents paid $10 at the door for a free two-step dance lesson, country line dancing, country music, drinks, and appetizers. (Please excuse the grainy pictures. The lighting was dim and I was taking them with my new iPad mini, which I dropped halfway through the night and cracked the screen :( A small sacrifice for a great night.) Two-step dancing has become pretty popular in Tucson. There were students there 15 minutes EARLY to get their dancing on! We were not prepared for that ha ha!

IMG_0452.JPGThis time we laid out a popcorn bar instead of doing a full dinner like we did last year. You could fill up a brown paper bag with popcorn and then put any flavoring or mix-ins that you wanted! We had melted butter, caramel syrup, herb salt, cinnamon sugar, cheese powder, peanut butter chips, m&m’s, dark chocolate covered dried berries, marshmallows, chex mix, and more! Everyone loved snacking and mixing their own creations when they needed a dance break.

IMG_0473.JPG A great thing about the hoedown is that anyone can come, even if they don’t know how to dance or aren’t into country. Here is Daniel, a sophomore, and Jake, our intern. You can see Daniel dressed up in his country attire Hawaiian shirt, complete with hang loose hand sign. It was great to see some of our shier students come out and have a great time.

IMG_0499.JPGHere is part of the crowd watching the winners of Best-Dressed Male and Female do a two-step dance. There were so many students there! One of our girls brought a bunch of girls from her sorority and those girls invited more girls that she didn’t even know!

IMG_0490.JPGWe didn’t know it at the time, but the girl who won best dressed has been involved in teaching many of the students how to two-step. The guy that we picked is actually her dance partner! They won to roaring applause and then we asked them to dance for us. She later shared with me that she has been reaching out to many of the dancers who came that night. “I can’t believe that they would come to a church and to an event thrown by XA,” she shared. “I think it is a step in the right direction and I am hoping that it will open some conversations with them.”

It was a great night. Not only did we make over $500 for XA and FeedOne (a Christian organization that provides meals and education to children in impoverished areas), not only did our students bond with one another and have a great time, but God was working there in the hearts and lives of the students.

The Family of Christ

There is the body of Christ, the fellowship of the believers, the church as the bride, but my favorite analogy that is used to describe followers of Jesus is FAMILY. God is our Father, He has adopted us as sons and daughters, and we have to love and forgive our brothers and sisters. We respect the older ones and help teach the younger ones. Family is always family no matter what. You appreciate when family functions as it should, when everyone pitches in and everyone loves with grace and mercy, when they drop what is important to them, because, well, family. When it doesn’t, when family is cruel or selfish, when family hurts or even just when family annoys, they are still family. They will always be family. 

It seems that we are always in transition here on campus. Students come and go – sometimes for a year or two, sometimes for a week or two. Those who don’t stay long maybe are looking for someone or something else. Maybe those that are Christians are looking for a group where they fit in ‘better’ or that offers something different than what we have to ‘offer’. Whatever it is, we are committed to loving them, serving them, and championing them at whatever stage they are in and for however long they will stay.

Some of these students might not even know that they will be a part of the family in due time, a great big imperfect, dysfunctional, selfish but repentant, learning, and loving family. These are some of my favorite students. I love seeing them learning about Christ and I love seeing our Christ-filled family members learn how to love and lead them.
IMG_0393.JPGThis is part of the reason that we have events in our home. We invite them to dinners, backyard potlucks, movie nights, etc. I can’t tell you how many students have thanked us for letting them come to our house. They have shared how being around our table almost made the weep, because they never sat around the table with their family. They have shared how their family isn’t close, or encouraging, or life-giving. Some of them feel misunderstood at home. Others are simply away from home (or trying to distance themselves from home in an I’m-growing-up-but-I-still-need-family-time kind of way) and find some peace being with their Christ family in ours.

Every other week, instead of our normal bible study, the XA women have a fellowship night. Tonight we watched the UofA v Oregon game at our house. It was a great game, peppered with great conversation. I love these ladies and I love living life with them.

IMG_0439.JPG The week before last, it was also at our house. I got to teach the ladies how to make dumplings, something that I grew up making and eating with my own family.

IMG_0441.JPGSome of them gathered around the table to chat and prepare dumplings. This is Tara, a sophomore. She is part Asian and was very excited to be learning something Asian! :)

IMG_0438.JPGOthers gathered in the adjacent living room to get to know one another. One of the students’ favorite pastimes is to get our kids to warm up to them. This is Deanna, a sophomore, making friends with Jovie. Our kids are notoriously picky about whom they will smile at, high-five, or even acknowledge. It is quite funny! Some students have spent years building up their rapport with them. Others, for some reason, break through the barrier quite easily. What I love about it is that having kids around relaxes people and gives them the opportunity to be a part of the family, to just be themselves.

I have recently been more aware of how frightened students are to come to a Christian group. They’ve admitted that they don’t want to come because they don’t know anyone there or they’re afraid everyone will see how ‘bad’ they are or they think that everyone else knows all this stuff about God that they don’t. It pains me to hear it, but I understand it completely. I think that what they need to experience is that Christians, and this Christian family, is just as human, real, broken, and earthy as any other group. The difference is just that we have Christ, who is available to all. He is the one who takes our brokenness and makes us whole, he is the one who takes what is earthy and makes it holy. Our hope is that some of these family times will help students feel more comfortable and introduce them to our Christ family in a relaxed way. Because that is just what we are – a family.