Unmerited Favor.

I wrote about things I've learned over the past school year. And believe me, those lessons were numerous and hard. But I realize more every day that the God I serve won't allow me to be satisfied with the small amount of wisdom and insight that I have, and that He will keep challenging me to strive to be a better and more genuine Christian and sister.

I worked with the group of Christians in Lutz, Florida over the school year, and I had the opportunity to visit there last night for the first time since finals ended. It reminded me what a powerful learning experience and encouragement that group is. It's a relatively small group, between 30 and 50 people depending on the day, and mostly older people, with only 3 kids under the age of 12 (all siblings.) Coming from a big family and a congregation packed with kids my age, I placed membership at Lutz hoping to get away from my comfort zone and find new ways to be useful. Whether or not I actually was able to have an impact on anyone else, I can't emphasize enough how good the group at Lutz was for me this year.

The small group of FC kids who went there became incredibly close-knit, the conversations after church and in the car rides back were so encouraging and God-centered, and those friendships became my most reliable and fruitful of all my relationships at school. But it wasn't just the college kids. I learned so much from every couple there. Like Mr. and Mrs. Strickland who just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary and despite being in their 80's are more consistently energetic and cheerful and loving at services than I am at 19. Or Mr. and Mrs. Osteen who not only are the most loving couple (to each other) that I think I have ever met, but who never fail to notice if one of the college kids are gone and ask about them or send a message back with the other kids, and who sing out with their whole hearts and spirits, proving their passion for the truth. Bodie always being willing to ask questions or advice and humbly showing respect others despite his age and wisdom. And the couple who had such severe health problems that they were unable to come many times, but who at the end of the year gave every college student 20$ with a sincere apologetic note saying how sorry they were to have been unable to have the kids over for dinner. Everyone in that tiny group of people showed so much love and hospitality and generosity. Even when, by my standards, they didn't really seem able to offer it. They truly gave of themselves, and it taught me so many lessons.

But aside from the appreciation I have for the adults there, I continue to learn from the kids. The Shearers have three children, Anthony, Selena, and Joshua. When Mamaw passed away and I wasn't at church Sunday morning, I got there that night to shy hugs from Selena and Josh and cards from each of them. I have shed many grateful tears over their expressions of love since then, and these two precious cards are so special to me. They both wrote how sorry they were that my Grandma passed away, that they were "so sorry it made me cry," and that they were praying for me and they loved me. That was touching then, but last night when I went to visit, Josh's Mom pulled me aside and told me that he hasn't failed to mention me in a prayer since Mamaw passed away (without her reminding him), and that sometimes he just stops and says "we need to pray for Emma," and says a prayer for me. Wow. That is so humbling. I know that I have countless times told people I would pray for them and done it once or twice and then started to forget about their problems. When I realize that an elementary school student is praying "without ceasing" for me, I just thank God that He gives me chances like this to realize areas in which I so often fail. Caring for others and their wellbeing should be just one way in which I imitate Christ, but it's something I am nowhere near good enough at. Josh's faithfulness in prayer and concern for me humbled me so much and renewed my zeal to be faithful in my focus on others.

Really, I can't begin to express how grateful I am for my Christian family all over, and especially at Lutz, where I learned so much about abounding in love and prayer from friends all the way from 8 to 80. God seriously gives us the people we need in our lives when we need them, and He offers so many opportunities to learn perspective.

I may be mourning a loss in my life, I may be at a crossroads, I may feel lost sometimes, but I am so blessed. Spoiled, even. And as my friend Trent said to me last night, mourning is something to be grateful for when it gives us opportunities for introspection and meditation on what is truly important.

Please join me in praying for the Rutledge family and Cody's friends, whose grief is fresh and piercing. And as I try to follow Josh Shearer's and Daniel's and Jesus' and Paul's examples in a more diligent and selfless prayer life, pray for me and give me ways in which I can pray for you, and we can grow together towards the goal of selfless devotion.

Things that made me smile this week:
--Flowers outside my window
--Texts from my Mom
--Pictures of my niece
--Knowing that NC camp was encouraging for those who were a part of it
--Josh's prayers
--Lutz family
--Plant City family
--A $40 dress on sale for $9
--New Coldplay music
--Time alone at home to meditate, pray, and sing at the top of my lungs

Lamentations 3.