As the thick rubber sole of my borrowed work boots squished into a giant pile of cow dung, the thought, “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” struck my comfortable city living American mindset. Whether it was the smell, or the grotesque sound of dislodging the rubber boot from the pile, all my senses became fully engaged and aware of a new reality. At the time, the only thing I knew this reality to be was missions — more specifically missions in Croatia. After six months and many reality checks, I learned how to label this new reality: growth, maturity, service, sacrifice and love.

After a week of farm work and day-to-day Croatian living, I didn’t understand why I was on the other side of the world doing things I could have done in my own country. I went to Croatia with a vision. I went with a mission. Like many zealous college graduates, I was going to change the world! Cliche but true. Instead, the world changed me…well, God used the world to change me.

Because of a cultural and language barrier, I learned to communicate not in words, but in service, sacrifice, and love. I learned that the depletion and exhaustion of my body was the beginning of dependance and enthusiasm in my soul. As I constantly contrasted my old American reality to the developing missional reality, God was able to show me how complicated I had made my life. I had given time and value to things that in the end didn’t matter. American society tells me I need to have a degree, be married, or have kids by a certain age. Sometimes I feel like I should make a certain amount of money, have visited a certain number of countries, or have a certain amount of friends. It sounds simple but my big takeaway is, the only thing that matters is knowing God!

New depth was given to this old truth as I helped with the harvesting of pumpkins. As I straddled the pumpkin and scooped out huge handfuls of pulp, I recalled the first autumn after a revolutionary summer in my relationship with God. I remembered God showing me how my heart is compared to a pumpkin and in order to heal and be useful He had to clean out my insides so I could become everything He intended me to be. The different parts of the pumpkin can be baked, or put in an oven to be consumed, just as my heart can be refined and used for His glory and the growth of others. In addition, just as a face can be cut into the side of a pumpkin and a light placed inside, my identity in Christ is carved into my heart with a light placed inside for others to see the transformation. I remembered how simple knowing God used to be, and saw how complicated I had made it. All the complications of life had not brought me peace, but created space and distance between God and me.

Upon returning to the States, God has given me grace to hold on to the simplicity of knowing Him. He has given me peace to grasp the complexity of letting go, and strength to trust in the future I cannot know. It is my hope and prayer that knowing Him will never again become a lesson but will always be a daily reality. The irony is that God allowed me to take flight in order to ground me in His mission instead of my own.