Below is a post that my wonderful sister, Hannah, wrote a little while ago. There are a couple of reasons I decided to include it in my blog. 1. Banana is awesome, 2. She has a lot to offer, and 3. I have blog-writer's block.
note: HA= honor academy. You'll have to check out her blog for more information:)
ESOAL lesson #1
(many more to come!)
Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
About this time last Saturday I was (probably) going on a 2-mile run with a wooden cross slung over one shoulder and a duct tape strap for my water bottle on the other. Picture yourself standing on the sidelines while we march/jog past you. You probably would have smelled us before you had a chance to look into our sandy/muddy/sweaty faces. At this point in ESOAL, about 30% of us probably had plastered permanent smiles on our faces. The other 70% of us had so much joy we were bubbly, giddy, and overflowing with happiness as our dirty tennis shoes pounded along in perfect rhythm.
Last weekend I was able to participate in one of the HA's (optional) Life Transforming Event called ESOAL. Despite how ESOAL has been portrayed by various people or media organizations, it is truly an amazing experience that God used to teach me many life lessons.
Going into ESOAL, I was pretty freaked out. If you know nothing about ESOAL, let me give you a quick update. Picture the HA gone military. Actually, ESOAL is supposedly based on the Navy Seals' Hell Week. I'm not in the Navy, so I really don't know how accurate that is; all I know is what I personally experienced. ESOAL did have certain military aspects to it. For example, we were placed into companies and platoons, given helmets to identify us and crosses to carry, told to respond using "Sir" and "Ma'am", allowed only to say numbers under 10, and taught how to low-crawl. It was completely unlike the military in other areas, such as middle-of-the-night worship, constantly being asked if we were growing, giving our 100%, asking how we could help our company, having to work together to produce unity, singing worship songs while we marched, and reciting Bible verses.
Before ESOAL, I only knew about the military side of it, which is why I was so apprehensive. I couldn't understand why all the 2nd-year students were so excited. I was expecting my experience to be filled with anger, bitterness, and fear as I worked my tail off to please my major. I'm so thankful that this is not at all what it actually was! Instead of being angry at my major and captain for making me low-crawl or do push ups, I realized that I had a choice in how I would respond. Yes, I could have gotten angry and bitter, but instead I was able to "choose joy" (motto!) and respond in a way that was honoring to God. When our company was falling behind and our major was telling us to go faster, we could have all separated and fallen apart, but instead we realized the importance of unity and stuck together, helping and encouraging whoever was struggling. We were able to choose optimism and unity over anger and self-reliance because 1) we all knew we couldn't get through it on our own, 2) we all knew we couldn't get through it without God, and 3) we all knew that the joy of the Lord would be our strength when our physical bodies had no strength left.
One main lesson that really took root in my heart was a common yet powerful asset during ESOAL. One phrase that you would constantly hear throughout the endurance of ESOAL was "choose joy", said with much exuberance. We were made aware at the beginning of ESOAL that it wasn't going to be something we enjoyed. Who thinks physical exertion and no sleep is a fun combination? Not me. We all knew that we would want to quit at one point. It wasn't going to be peaches and cream....BUT (there's always a "but"..) we also knew that we could make it enjoyable. We could make it fun. We could choose what we got out of the experience by what we put into it. This really rang true for me. All my life I had been told this, especially when I chose to not get a positive experience out of something that I thought was a major struggle. During these situations, it never really sank in that being joyful is a choice.
This is an interesting concept. In our lives, the joy that we have experienced is only surface level. For example, when something happens that creates a feeling of happiness within you, your are joyful. You are outwardly joyful as a result of the inner joy. However, that joy fades away with the initial event that created it. During ESOAL, we were taught a new type of joy that never fades. This joy is a result of so many things. I mean think about it, if you have God as your savior, why shouldn't you be filled with joy all the time? Think about your eternal reward. Think about how much God loves you. Think about how much Christ did for you. Think about His saving grace. Think about how well He has equipped you for anything that could ever come up against you. Think about God. The end. Just the thought of God can put a smile on your face, no matter the circumstances. It's amazing. Revolutionary even. Life-changing if you let it sink in. I let it sink in. If I hadn't, man, those nights of sleep/no sleep would have been completely miserable, just like everything else that was challenging during ESOAL. I would have rung out having learned nothing but self-reliance.
Because I was able to rely on God's strength and constantly be filled with his joy, I was able to not only complete ESOAL, but also lean on God and use His strength instead of my own. Not only was I always smiling outwardly (for which I was nicknamed "smiley") but I was also always filled with joy inwardly. I was made aware of just how much Jesus did for me while on Earth living as a man. He went to the cross for me - I can sacrifice my feelings, my emotions, and my physical body to Him. The best part is this: when I gave up my pain, my struggles, my emotions, my feelings, I was filled with even more joy. God wasn't just going to leave me with nothing. No, He filled me up with so much more than I had before. He blessed me. He blessed our whole company. Let me tell you, once we had all grasped this, ESOAL was like a family vacation - no joke. We were all laughing and cracking jokes about the simplest and hardest things. It was so good!
Moral of the story: Choose joy in all situations! You don't have to go through a tough experience like ESOAL to grasp this concept. The next time you feel yourself turning sour as a result of something gone wrong, ask God for His joy. I guarantee He won't disappoint you! Also - you can't always rely on feelings. During ESOAL, if I had waited until something good happened to be joyful, I would have wasted so much time feeling sorry for myself and embracing self-pity (that's a whole different blog post...). You always have something to feel joyful about - let God fill you up to overflowing with His joy, which is your strength!