Janelle attended The Academy Camps in 2014, 2015, and 2016. This is her story of hope.
How does Wheatstone give me hope?
Well, I’ve always struggled to put words to it. I don't feel like writing can possibly do it justice. It probably won’t; the whole thing is too grand to capture. But that’s okay. I'll try, because I feel that I have a duty to at least begin to help you know how much it’s worth.
I’m not sure whether it came rushing in all at once, or whether it built up slowly, piece by piece. I just know that it happened: Somewhere during my first week with Wheatstone, I was burdened with the love of Christ for me.
I don’t mean burdened in a negative way. It's just that "burden" is the best word I know to describe the undeserved love I experienced that week. It weighed on me so heavily that I was forced to kneel down and feel the beauty of the earth. Simultaneously, it gave me momentum to fling myself toward God’s goodness. It hurt to feel the weight of my own inferiority to Jesus who loves me – and it hurt badly. But it forever changed my life for the better.
It’s not as though God’s love for me didn’t exist beforehand; I just wasn’t aware of it. I mean, I knew it in theory. I grew up in church. I knew John 3:16. I knew why Christ came to die for the sins of mankind. I knew why I was undeserving of salvation and why God made it happen anyway. I had all the right answers, but, somehow, I still wasn't aware of the love that I knew about.
But during that week with Wheatstone, God made Himself known to me. He used Wheatstone to convey His love and His beauty and His grace. I will forever remember it as the moment my life was completely changed because I was burdened with the weight of Christ’s love within me, in the world, and in the people all around me.
Somewhere during my first week with Wheatstone, I was burdened with the love of Christ for me... It forever changed my life for the better.
And that's why I've always had such a hard time labelling what happened to me at Wheatstone. Though I know I was a Christian before, my experience at Wheatstone feels almost like a second conversion. It happened at a time when my soul craved something bigger and deeper, but also when I would not have known to go looking for it. It wasn’t until God revealed Himself to me at Wheatstone that I knew I was hungry for His love.
I can't describe all the ways that God gave me hope through this burden of love, because I keep discovering them all the time. But today, for you, I'll list just three.
First, through Wheatstone, I had hope because I knew the love of God in my thinking.
Before my second conversion at Wheatstone, there was God and then there was my life, sitting in their neat, separate piles. I thought I could keep them apart, but Wheatstone came and showed me that the two were so intricately, inextricably intertwined. Wheatstone called me to a deeper, truer, and more beautiful life with God.
All of a sudden, at Wheatstone, I was being treated like someone whose opinions mattered. I wasn’t being fed my beliefs; I was invited to seek God’s truths for myself. I was challenged to ask my most difficult questions about faith, and to try to answer them organically, without just repeating rote answers I had memorized. All of a sudden, it mattered to me that I truly seek the answers to those questions, even if I wasn’t always going to find them right away. It mattered to me that I pursue a deeper, vaster understanding of my God and the truths of His universe. This life is filled to the brim with important questions, and it suddenly dawned on me that I should go ahead and ask them.
"Be curious for the sake of finding God Himself," Wheatstone told me.
There was God and then there was my life, sitting in their neat, separate piles. I thought I could keep them apart, but Wheatstone came and showed me that the two were so intricately, inextricably intertwined.
Second, there was beauty – oh, was there beauty! I had hope because I knew the love of God in this beautiful world.
I've always had deep affection for aesthetics, so It was a big deal for beauty to take on a whole new meaning for me, but it did. Beauty had just been a pleasant but impractical part of life. But through Wheatstone, God opened my eyes to its importance. It was one of the most painful and wonderful things I have ever experienced.
That good pain that struck me countless times during my first week with Wheatstone, but one time stands out with crystal clarity: on Wednesday evening, when a folk band called The Show Ponies came to give us a private concert.
For the majority of the concert, The Show Ponies played their own music, which was so joy-filled and fun that nobody could stop from dancing. But after a while, the lead singer started strumming her banjo to the tune of “Amazing Grace” and asked us all to join them in singing some hymns. It was then that I realized the whole concert had been one big great act of worship. They didn’t just perform music in their spare time because it’s fun and it happens to pay the bills. They performed because they had the artist’s desire to create beauty – a desire instilled in them by the God who ordains all beauty.
I explicitly remember singing “Come Thou Fount” with them that night and thinking, “This is only by the power of God. This is His gift to the earth. I know God better by experiencing this beauty.”
Beauty was no longer just a pleasant part of life. It was the ever-present sign of God’s love and peace, and it was all around me. It was in the evening light which poured through my window and in the opening flute solo in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Through everything, God was showing me His character. Beauty became the very physical manifestation of hope in my life.
"Seek out God’s beauty in everything around you," Wheatstone pleaded.
Beauty had just been a pleasant but impractical part of life. But through Wheatstone, God opened my eyes to its importance.
Finally, Wheatstone taught me about love. I had hope because I knew the love of God in my neighbors.
It wasn’t until Wheatstone that I knew what it meant to love others in the name of Christ. Before, my relationships with others were completely separate from my relationship with God. But at Wheatstone, I saw that all those relationships are deeply and intrinsically connected, because of the love of God for everyone around me, and his image inside them. I learned to see God in the face of my neighbor, and to know and love God through knowing and loving my neighbor.
The love that was shown to me during that week by God and the Wheatstone staff weighed heavily on me. I immediately recognized what a horrible job I had been doing of displaying Christ’s love in all my relationships, and I was filled with a desperate desire to change it.
"Love your neighbor and the God who loves them," Wheatstone commanded.
I learned what it means to know and love God through knowing and loving my neighbor.
Like I said, this is something that I’ve always struggled to put into words, and what I've written doesn’t even get close to explaining how much Wheatstone changed my life. All I can say is that it was during this time in my life that God gave me this abiding, Christ-centered hope.
I had hope in knowing that I am a growing human with opinions that actually matter – that I was designed to nobly seek truth for the sake of better knowing my God and living well on this earth. I had hope in knowing that God’s beauty pulses through the veins of this life, and that we know Him better through our recognition and appreciation of it. And I had hope in knowing that Christ’s kind and tender love for us was made to be known in our love of neighbor.
Wheatstone gave me hope by teaching me how to better know the God who is my hope, and for that I'll be forever thankful. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!