Two Weeks that Changed Me

Summit Student Conferences

The summer of 2013 held a special opportunity for me. I attended the Summit Worldview Conference in Tennessee. Even though I’ve written about it before, I want to write about it again.

It’s been a full year since I attended Summit, but it still comes to mind so often. It’s influenced my life more than I think I’ll ever know. This past year I probably wouldn’t have applied myself to studying as much as I did. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the friendships I made with fellow students and my inspiring group leader (who blogs over here).  And I most definitely would not be as confident in my faith.

I believe that Summit has changed the course of my life. It’s hard to talk about something so dynamic, but the other day I tried to capture a bit of the Summit experience in this short bit of prose:


We go to bed early. We get up too soon. We crowd into breakout sessions and sit through two weeks of lectures. Why? Because we are young. Because we are searching. Because we want answers.

We fill our workbooks with notes and doodles. We form friendships. We pray together. Why? Because we love God. Because we love people. Because we love ideas.

We want to reach life’s summit. We want to face the tough questions. We want to change the world. Why? Because we’ve found a glimpse of truth. Because we’ve caught a spark of hope.

Summit isn’t a memory to us. It’s a monument. We will never forget it.

I know there are many that share my sentiments for Summit. The sheer joy of knowing that each summer hundreds of young people attend these conferences makes me feel hope for the future.

Thank you, Summit, for changing my life.

Revive 2014

Revive 2014

This past weekend I was able to attend Revive 2014. It was an inspiring conference. The teachers, the fellowship, and the praise and worship–it was all fantastic.

I was able to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen in over a year, and to meet some new friends too.

Here’s a photo to testify:

Revive 2014

I learned many things during that very long and yet far too short weekend. One thing in particular that I was reminded of during the conference is the importance of good friends.

Good friends aren’t just an optional part of our lives. They’re important.

We need good friends.

Good friends aren’t just the people we have fun with–cracking jokes, making memories, and being silly together. As wonderful as that aspect of friendship is, good friends reach far beyond the fun stuff.

Good friends don’t just see our happy profile pictures or read our latest posts.They don’t just dance with us in the sunshine. They stand with us in the storm too. It’s when the thunder rolls and the lighting strikes that they encourage us the most.

Good friends see the tears run down our cheeks. They see the bad hair days. They hug us when we need a hug, and listen to us even when we don’t make sense.

Good friends are the family that we get to choose. (I didn’t coin that quote, by the way.)

Thanks, Revive, for reminding me that we need friends. Good friends. Friends that can encourage us, and somehow we encourage them too.


If you’d like a peek at what Revive looks like, check out this year’s promo video. The footage is from the conference I attended two years ago in Jacksonville, FL. (Funny side note: I’m in the video near the end, but you can’t see my face.)

Psalm 96

Independence Park in Jerusalem (6/14)
Independence Park in Jerusalem (6/14)

The day was June 7. It was the Sabbath, and a group of believers from all over the world had gathered at one of the main parks in Jerusalem. Kids ran across the grass and played in the bubbling creek under the trees while the adults sat on blankets in the sun and discussed Scriptures and current events. My dad shared a teaching on the book of Ruth, and then one of the ladies suggested we read Psalm 96.

“I read it last night,” she explained, “It’s such a lovely psalm.”

I tried to remember it, but nothing came to mind.

One of the men began to read it:

(Note: יהוה is the name of God, commonly pronounced as Yahweh)

Sing to יהוה  a new song,
Sing to יהוה, all the earth!
Sing to יהוה, bless His Name,
Proclaim His deliverance from day to day.
Declare His esteem among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

It began like so many other psalms, but from the beginning I was captivated by it.

For great is יהוה  and greatly to be praised,
He is to be feared above all mighty ones.
For all the mighty ones of the peoples are matters of naught,
But יהוה  made the heavens.
Excellency and splendour are before Him,
Strength and comeliness are in His set-apart place.

Perhaps it was within Jerusalem that the psalmist first sang these words. Perhaps that’s what caused them to come alive to me.

Ascribe to יהוה, O clans of the peoples,
Ascribe to יהוה  esteem and strength.
Ascribe to יהוה  the esteem of His Name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
Bow yourselves to יהוה,
In the splendour of set-apartness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among nations, “יהוה  shall reign.
The world also is established, immovable.
He judges the peoples in straightness.”

I had memorized those verses years ago.

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Let all the trees of the forest then shout for joy,
At the presence of יהוה.

Creation itself was singing. I must join the chorus.

For He shall come,
For He shall come to judge the earth.
He judges the world in righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.

The chapter stunned me. It’s a cliche, but at that moment I felt that the psalm had been written just for me. I had found my life motto. Psalm 96–it was the same number as the year I was born.

The psalm called me to sing for joy. It called me to ascribe the greatness of God. It called me to remember that justice conquers and truth still reigns.

I felt a tugging at my soul to be the singer that God called me to be. He had never explicitly told me “be a singer,” but he had been leading my heart in that direction for many years.

He was calling me to get over my stage fright, and sing praises in the company of others, not just myself.

But singing praises doesn’t just mean singing songs. It means living praises.

How we live is how we sing. Our lives are our greatest songs.

So let us embrace Psalm 96:

Sing to יהוה  a new song,
Sing to יהוה, all the earth!
Sing to יהוה, bless His Name,
Proclaim His deliverance from day to day.


 P.S. Thank you Elise for prompting me to share this story.

An Afternoon Vacation

Cheaha State Park

Last Sunday found my family and me at Mount Cheaha State Park with some friends. Even though we were at the highest point in Alabama–2,413 feet above sea level–it was still a warm day.

It was October the last time I was at Cheaha, so the change in season was even more obvious to me. This time the sun was shining in the clear blue sky and the trees displayed their bright green leaves. Children splashed in the lake. There was no need for jackets anymore. Spring had made its arrival on Mount Cheaha.


We hiked the Blue Trail, a steep one mile trek up Mount Cheaha. I heard the peaceful sound of the gurgling creek running alongside the trail. It blocked the path at one point and we stepped on rocks to cross it. There were many trees down, due to the ice storm of a few months back, but the trail had been cleared well enough.

Hiking the Blue Trail

Despite the canopy of treetops above us, the air was still warm on the trail and everyone was sweaty by the time we reached the top. I kept thinking of my older brother who recently ran a 50K up Mount Cheaha. His race ended with the trail we were hiking. I realized once again how crazy–and amazing!–my big brother is.

View From Top of Cheaha

The view from the top was beautiful, as always. We could see the rolling mountains in the distance, the lake where we had started, and the vast range of treetops that someone said reminded them of broccoli. We saw the small waterfall that the creek descended from. My dad splashed me with a bit of the cold water. A cool breeze finally swept the stagnant air. That felt good. Very good.


After hiking back down, we chilled out while the kids splashed in the lake and built sand castles on the small beach. Three of us gently swayed on a lovely, but partly-broken bench swing and chatted. The boys entertained us with their castle fights, and my little sister entertained us by acting as the mediator: “Guys! Stop fighting and work on your castles!” But evidently making castles wasn’t nearly as fun as destroying them, so the war raged on.

Cheaha Lake

Time slipped by, and as we finally left Cheaha, it seemed as if we had been on a mini vacation. Just for an afternoon.

The Blue Trail

Life is an Ocean (Short Story)

Life is an ocean. Vast. Deep. And powerful.

You float along this ocean, sunning yourself on the deck of your little boat on blissful days, and hiding for cover when storms rage.

Slowly the strip of land that marked the beginning of your passage slips from view. You become better acquainted with your vessel, learning how to ride the waves of life and survive the storms.

You sail further and further into the heart of this vast ocean of life. And then one day a startling question whispers to you as you sit alone on the deck of your boat. “Where am I headed?”

You hadn’t considered that when you set sail. You had only dreamed of adventure. You had only wanted to sail. To be free. To live.

You tell the question to leave you alone. But it haunts you, flitting through your mind at the oddest of times. And you still can’t answer it. You don’t know what lies beyond. You don’t even know where you are. You can’t go back to the shore you launched from. You’re on your own. You’re scared.

The sky begins to darken and a low rumble pierces the salty air. As the fiercest storm you’ve ever fought rages against you, the answer to the question strikes your heart like the bolts of lighting in the sky. “Where am I headed?”

Fear grips you as you realize that you are headed down. The waves are forcing your vessel lower and lower into the encompassing ocean. Yet you fight. Fight for the sake of life. Fight until your strength is all but gone, your boat all but sunk. Then you call for help.

The storm still rages, but an unexplained peace wraps around your heart as you feel strength returning to your limp body. You continue to fight. Fight for the sake of life. And slowly the waves begin to calm. The lightening stops, and you discover that the morning has come. It dawns in brilliant hues against the clear sky above.

The storm of the night before seems like a nightmare from your sleep. You almost excuse it as such. Yet you know it was real. You shudder at the thought of it. You remember your call for help and realize that something beyond yourself helped you survive the storm.

Your eyes spot something on the horizon. Your heart skips a beat as you realize what it is. It’s a shore. A vast shore glistening in the sunlight. You wouldn’t have discovered it if you hadn’t survived the storm. The miracle of it all overwhelms you. You are headed somewhere. Somewhere beautiful. All you must do now is continue to sail toward that distant shore–your destination.


Some say there is no distant shore, that life is simply an ocean we sail on until death parts us forever. Many never question this worldview. Many fear to question it. Yet it haunts each one of us. “Where am I headed?”

For the believer of the biblical account of redemption, the answer is simple. We are sailing along this ocean of life toward another life–toward a heavenly shore. We don’t fight the storms alone. We don’t drift along aimlessly. We have our course set. And though we wander, we strive to sail straight toward that ever-fixed mark. Toward that glistening shore. Toward our Heavenly Father.

Words can’t capture the majesty of this truth. Neither can music, yet I believe that Phil Wickham struck along this line of thought when he wrote his song Sailing on a Ship. It’s vivid. It’s real. It’s a reminder that we are sailing–closer and closer every day–to that golden shore.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Summit 2013


This summer I attended the Summit Worldview Conference in Tennessee. It was an amazing experience–two weeks of lectures from remarkable speakers on a plethora of challenging ethical, biblical, and cultural subjects. I was in heaven.

One of the things that I appreciated the most about Summit was its pro-learning environment. The speakers were open to discussions and encouraged us students to think about what we were learning and to ask questions. Being around so many speakers and students that were intelligent and devoted believers led to many deep conversations about God and the Bible that encouraged me and strengthened my faith.

Summit was not all lectures. I also enjoyed the numerous activities and excursions that Summit offered. I played several games of ultimate frisbee, rafted down the Ocoee River (for more details, you can read my White Water Rafting story), and spent a day at Fort Bluff. Another highlight of my Summit experience was the outstanding talent show put on by fellow Summiteers.

I also thrived in the musical atmosphere of Summit. I met many musicians and enjoyed jamming on the piano with my new friends. I also enjoyed the worship services led each night by Josh Bales.

Summit was encouraging, enlightening, and challenging. It helped me to view the world in a clearer and more beautiful light. It challenged me to not only believe, but to think about what I believe and to live it out–to influence the world and not let the world influence me. Summit was a life-changing experience that I will never forget.


P.S. Big thanks to all of you who helped make Summit an amazing experience for me. To everyone in my small group, thanks for being so encouraging! Krystiana, you were a wonderful counselor! Hope, you were an awesome roommate! Brittany and Bridget, I loved conversing in Hebrew with you: “aten sababa!” Jenna, you were–and still are–a blast! Sarah, Missi, and Julie, thanks for being my buddies! Peyton, you’re fantastic, and everyone else–I can’t even list all your names–you were amazing!

Also, here is the link to the session video: Summit TN 2013 (You can see me for a split-second on the water slide. Or, at least, I think it’s me! :))


The Thunderstorm


The thunderstorm awakened me in the middle of the night. Lightning flashed and strong gusts of wind battered our tent from all directions, causing the sides to collapse on us and then spring back. My parents and my four siblings were all awake and wondered if we should evacuate the tent. As the storm continued to rage, we decided to escape to my aunt and uncle’s garage.

My mom unzipped the tent, and the wind beat against us as we sprinted across the wet lawn to the garage. Disoriented, my siblings and I stood inside as my parents ran back to the tent to collect our sleeping bags and air mattresses. Before long, we were settled on the floor of the garage. Despite our weariness, none of us could fall asleep.  My aunt and uncle discovered us in their garage and explained that the wind was carrying away their canopies in the backyard. My dad and uncle ran to retrieve the canopies and brought them into the garage. The commotion ensued as hail began to fall. In my dazed state, I saw my aunt with a towel wrapped around her head dash outside to move the cars. With hail clinking on the metal roof overhead,  I was eventually able to drift off to sleep.

Their Anthem

Jerusalem Sunrise

Meeting Holocaust survivors in Israel was an experience that I will never forget. Dad, Mom, Amy Grace, and I were volunteering at Ichlu Re’im, a soup kitchen in Jerusalem, when the director came up to me and said something in Hebrew, waving his hands in an attempt to explain. Since I spoke minimal Hebrew, and he spoke even less English, an English-speaking employee translated, “He wants you and your sister to come along with him to deliver the meals to the Holocaust survivors.” I was shocked and excited. He extended the invitation to Mom, and soon we were seated in the backseat of his car and riding through the hectic streets of Jerusalem.

After arriving, we grabbed the packaged meals and hauled them up the flights of steps to a room where the Holocaust survivors were seated at tables. I was surprised to see only one man among a dozen ladies. They were all delighted to see young people, and exclaimed over Amy Grace and me as we stood there shyly listening to the Hebrew banter. I introduced myself as “Gila,” which is “joy” in Hebrew. They asked my age, and I replied in Hebrew that I was fifteen. They declared that Mom did not look old enough to be our mother.

“Ayfo ot garah? (Where do you live?)” They queried.

“Bey America (In America),”  I answered, “Bey Alabama.”

“Oh! Alabama,” they told each other with heavy accents.

The soup kitchen director remembered that Amy Grace and I were pianists, and motioned toward the upright piano in the room, insisting that we play a song. Amy Grace sat down first, her fingers deftly playing by memory the beginning of “Invention Number 13,” a classical composition by Bach. They were impressed and nodded their approval, remarking to each other, “Bach! Bach!”

Next was my turn. I began to play one of the only songs I knew by memory, “River Flows in You” by Yiruma. I played along rather smoothly until the end when my fingers forgot their part and I improvised some sort of ending. I wished I could have given them a better performance, but they were a receptive audience and cheered anyway.

Presently, a lady sat down at the piano, and her fingers began to soar across the keys, playing the majestic strains of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. I recognized the patriotic tune, and reveled in the sound of the Holocaust survivors singing along heartily in Hebrew. Their faithful voices swelled on the chorus:

“So long as the heart of the Jew beats
And his eye is turned to the East
So long does our ancient hope
Of returning to Zion still live”

It was a priceless moment–a glimpse at the faith that lies within the Jewish heart. “Hatikvah”  was no longer a hopeful song for these courageous souls. It was reality. They had endured the Holocaust and returned to the soil promised to their forefathers. Hatikvah was their anthem.


White Water Rafting

White Water Rafting

It was an excited crowd of high school and college age students that climbed off the buses at the white water rafting location in Tennessee. We divided into groups of five and donned life vests and helmets. Jeremy, our group’s guide, instructed us how to hold our paddles properly and how to wedge our feet into the rim around the bottom of the raft. He explained that the key to not falling out was keeping your legs tight and your feet secured in the raft. We climbed into the raft and paddled around in the water, practicing our forward and backward strokes as Jeremy called, “One forward!” or “Two backwards!” When he called “Hit the deck!” we were instructed to lift our paddles up vertically and to sit down on the floor of the raft. Jeremy seemed pleased with our efforts, and we soon paddled back to shore and climbed out. After a few minutes, we carried our raft down the cement launching pad, placed it on the water, and climbed in. Jeremy took his station in the back, joined by the smallest member of our group, Lindsey. Alex and Samantha sat in the middle, and Tyler and I sat in the front.

We paddled along the river for a little while before encountering our first rapids. The first few waves that crashed over us were powerful and chilling to the bone. Since Tyler and I were situated at the front, we faced the brunt of the waves. One plummeting wave caused us to smash into each other, which was both humorous and painful at the same time.

As we paddled to the following rapids, we had to pay close attention to Jeremy’s stroke calls. I was frustrated when I occasionally bumped paddles with Samantha behind me. I guess I dreamed of us having uniform strides like oarsmen on row boats, but alas, we were hardly seasoned paddlers.

The subsequent rapids were varying in degrees of intensity. We were thrashed around quite a bit, but none of us fell out of the raft. One of my favorite experiences on the river was making doughnuts in the rapids. At Jeremy’s command, one side of the raft paddled backward, and the other side paddled forward, twirling us in circles.

Once, when the river was calm, Jeremy allowed us to climb out of the raft and swim for a bit in the chilly water. I floated on my back, my life vest buoying to the surface and my neck craning to stay above the water. I naturally floated away from the raft and had to struggle to get back to it after a few minutes. Next came the task of climbing back into the raft. I held onto the raft as Alex grabbed my life vest and tugged to little avail. He tugged again, and I slid up the edge a little more. Now half of my body was out of the water and draped over the raft. With some effort from me and another yank from Alex, I finally tumbled into the raft.

Near the end, Jeremy warned us that we were going to “hit the deck” soon. I was nervous, but also a bit invigorated at the thought. We were swirling in the rapids and bounding up and down on the waves when Jeremy yelled, “Hit the deck!” Instantly, we lifted our paddles to the sky and slid onto the floor of the raft to ride out the remainder of the rapids.

Eventually, we reached the end of our trip. After paddling toward the shore, we stepped into the shallow water, and pulled the raft on land. Unbuckling our helmets and life vests, we joined the other rafters basking in the sun and shared our experiences before boarding the buses.

Machane Yehudah Market

Pita Bread

“Ten shekels for pitas! Ten shekels for pitas!” bellows a shop owner in Hebrew, slamming on the counter for emphasis. It is Friday, and the din resounding at the Machane Yehudah market in Jerusalem crescendos as a horde of shoppers streams into the market to buy supplies before the Sabbath.

The high noon sun beats down on the hustling shoppers on the main strip of the kosher market. Floating through the air is the lilting music of a street musician. A stagnant cloud of heat looms around a bakery where pitas are constantly being flipped out of ovens and packaged. A shop owner wildly swats at the ever present flies hovering over his desserts, a grocer hurriedly attends to a continuous stream of shoppers, and a clothing store owner skillfully haggles with determined customers.

Machane Yehudah Market

Under the canvas covered portion of the market, a weaving mass of shoppers push through the walkways, often bumping into each other–the more courteous offering a polite “slechah”–and prodding forward. Despite the gyrating hanging fans, the air remains dormant and thick. Rows of fresh, Israeli fruits and vegetables including large, juicy carrots, plump tomatoes, bursting clusters of red grapes, and pitayas, the colorful, prickly fruits of cacti line the storefronts.  In front of a deli, a man wearing a decorative crown offers cubes of cheese to passersby. Standing in front of a juice stall is a line of shoppers waiting for freshly pressed carrot, orange, or pomegranate juice. The appetizing smell of fried fish wafting from a bustling fast food joint is later prevailed by the musty smell of fish in pails at the nearby fish market. As the afternoon wanes, the crowd dwindles, and the clamor gradually diminishes. By late afternoon, the market is closed for the Sabbath, the squeaky metal storefronts are pulled down and secured, and the smooth, stone walkways are ready to be hosed down after nightfall.

 April, 2013