come with me: confessions of VBS, mission trip support, and dealing with depression

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Dear friend,

Thanks for being here today, for taking a bit of your day to read this.

I’ve recently posted on Facebook and Instagram about my upcoming trip across the world, but I wanted to blog about it as well; it feels a little more personal, as personal as I can get through computer and phone screens. And this is about to get pretty personal, probably the most intimate and vulnerable post about myself that I will throw out onto the Internet. This is definitely not going to be a typical mission trip support letter. Hang with me, okay?

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A little backstory:
Last spring, my second semester of college,  I applied for a very similar trip to Uganda; instead of a Vacation Bible School program, the team was focused on helping train the Ugandan teachers, and spending time with the kids at Musana. It sounded like the most incredible trip and immediately I felt I needed to apply. I also felt like I was absolutely going to be picked to go; why wouldn’t I? I was ready, wasn’t I? I’m great with kids – although I hadn’t really spent a lot of time around lots kids in a while. I had nice, eloquent answers to the online essay questions – although I stumbled in my verbal answers during the interview process. I think it was revealed to the leaders that I was not really in a great place personally, emotionally, and spiritually. Never did Jesus turn his back on me, and never did I want to stop running after him, but I was tired. Last spring, I was tired and unmotivated. It was a season of losing focus, of not knowing or understanding myself and how to handle difficulty, of being a little lost. I wasn’t working very hard with anything, and nothing quite ignited my heart like it used to be ignited by so many things. For some reason, though, I wanted to go on this trip more than anything — and perhaps my intentions weren’t as good as I thought they were. The afternoon that I received the email that said I was not chosen for this particular trip but encouraged me to apply for future trips, I was sitting in my mass communication lecture and I immediately started crying — I am not really a crier, but this time I cried hard. I packed up my things and walked out of class. I cried all the way back to my dorm room – a 15-minute walk. I cried a lot that day.

I cried because, of course, I was completely devastated to not be chosen to go on the trip. But I think I was also finally allowing myself to release all of this bottled up emotion I’d had stored up for the entirety of the semester. So many questions were continuously bouncing through my head: What if I leave this school? What if I stay? How can I feel better? Why do I feel this way? Why do they make me feel so bad about myself? What if…what if…what if…why…why…why… So many thoughts, too little motivation to sift through it all and help myself out of the hole I’d fallen into.

That was then. A whole year ago. A lot happens in a year. And I think that you just had a thousand memories flash through your head as you read that sentence, because that’s also what happens to me every time I think that: a lot happens in a year. It would take five more blog posts to really dive deeper into that season of my life, but I’ll save that for another time. The point is that there isn’t really a magic cure for feeling down like that. It takes time, it takes grace, it takes patience, it takes loving and allowing yourself to be loved, it takes consistency, and basically, it takes Jesus. And it takes the acceptance of the reality that the feelings might not ever fully go away, and that’s hard but true; but if you are able to live with that while still holding onto the hope and grace of Jesus, I believe it’s possible to be okay. That’s really all I’ve got for you on the subject of dealing with depression.

And as everyone who’s dealt with a season of depression or “the blues” or feeling down or whatever you want to call it can tell you, not all the problems or feelings go away as things start to change and shift and get significantly better. There are occasionally moments that hit you in a way that you feel like you’re still that old self, the one who fell in the hole. But it’s also the absolute truth for me to say that I’m in a much better place than I was last spring, and even last fall, and even 2014 as a whole. 2015 shines a bit brighter than last year already. Don’t get me wrong; 2014 held so many blessings and wonderful opportunities. But when you see them through a dark lens, it all seems a bit dimmer. I’m so thankful to not be stuck behind that lens. I’m thankful to have that season behind me and be able to tell others, “Yeah, I dealt with that. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that way. Me too. But hold on; have faith. Your time is not over, and there are beautiful things ahead.”

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So, here we are in the spring of 2015 and I applied for another trip to Uganda, this time on a VBS team. I felt excited to apply again, but this time, I was holding the opportunity of going to Uganda a little looser; I didn’t want to tie the fate of my happiness to whether or not I would go on this trip.

I’m not going to lie to you, I have terrible memories of Vacation Bible School. It was my least favorite part of my childhood summers, however many we spent doing that. It was partly due to the church we went to – the giant auditorium, and the dark church gymnasium filled with hundreds of screaming kids who just wanted to go home will forever be engrained in my head. The small snacks (this girl was one hungry child; one package of fruit snacks and ten goldfish did not cut it!), the cheesy videos, the onstage skits that I couldn’t see because of all the kids sitting on their knees in front of me, being herded around by strange adults. The whole thing feels chaotic in my head; I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I remember, but certainly it was not fun nor did it really help me learn about my Savior — except for one thing. One song that I remember first learning at VBS one summer, one piece of the lyrics that stayed with me. “Waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I look I see your face.” This has become an anthem of my life; every day I am hit with the constant waves of his grace and I cannot go anywhere without seeing him and how he works in and through everything. Maybe VBS wasn’t so bad after all. But….it definitely could have been better. And I think that all has to do with the intention of the program. What’s the focus? What is the most important thing about this – keeping the kids busy, shuffling them around from activity to activity, making sure the day goes by as fast as possible? Or is it about developing relationships, sharing those few hours together, engaging in fun and whimsical ways to remind the kids (and the leaders!) how much they are loved?

You already know the outcome of my application: I was picked to go to Uganda this summer from May 27th through June 8th. And I am positive that the VBS experience for these kids has been and will be much, much better than my own as a child. I’ve been placed in the group working on the daily Bible story, and the Intro/Conclusion skits. I was told by one of the leaders of our team that the Ugandan people are pretty unfamiliar with the idea of taking a script and bringing it to life, performing and acting it out to create a made-up scenario. When she said this to me, I couldn’t help but smile because this is what I’ve been doing for years – bringing written words to life onstage. It made sense why I was chosen for this team — not to say that I’m the only person who can do this, but I can contribute my skills and talents to make the 2015 Musana VBS experience an incredible one.

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Have you ever heard the phrase “I’m in love with places I’ve never been and people I’ve never met”? This is how I feel about Uganda and the kids at Musana. I have not met them yet; I have not been there yet. But I already feel my heart being tugged by them in ways that I didn’t know it could be by total strangers. It’s hard to fully explain in words, and I don’t want to sound self-indulgent, but truly, truly, I am in love with these kids already before I’ve ever laid eyes on them in person. And I cannot wait to see the way God uses me to love these kids, and how he uses these kids to break open my heart — because we all need that every once in a while, for God to break open our hardened hearts and for him to remind us of what is good and true. And I fully believe there is hardly a better way for God to do that than through children.

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Here comes me being even more vulnerable on the internet: this trip is not cheap. The $2900 each of the team members need to raise covers the airfare, food, and lodging while we are there. That number looks incredibly intimidating as I write it out, but I feel so much peace about the financial part of this trip. I don’t have to be scared of a number, but I do need to reach out to others in love and faith and ask for support. This is a really hard thing for me to do; I don’t really like asking for help – I usually feel bad or guilty for doing so. But this trip can impact so many more people than just those who are going on it, and that is what excites me about sharing it with you all. I want to ask you to come with me on my journey to Uganda this summer — whether that is through reading updates or seeing pictures that I may post, or if that is through prayers for me and the team and the people at the Musana Community Development, or if that is through a donation to my trip, or any other form of encouragement. I am grateful for any and all of these ways of support, and I am thrilled to get to share this with all of you.

If you’d like to support financially, you can donate online at:

https://www.servicereef.com/events/flatirons-community-church-2/musana-vbs-team-2015/donate

(make sure to select my name, Claire Wood, from the “Donation preference” menu)

You can also send a check or cash with my name in the memo line or on an attached note to:

Flatirons Community Church
355 W South Boulder Rd
Lafayette, CO 80026
Attn: Missions

Again, any sort of support is incredibly appreciated, and I hope that you all will come with me on this trip. Thank you for reading this very long post and for allowing me to share some of my story with you.

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If you want to read more about Musana, you can go to their website: http://www.musana.org/

If you have questions or comments or concerns or anything else, please contact me through Facebook, through my blog, through Instagram, through email (claire.wood.826@gmail.com), through phone, or whatever else!

Thank you all so much. I’m thankful for every one of you.

-Claire

P.S. All photos were taken by my wonderful sister Blakesley when she went to Uganda a few years ago. She’s incredible!