The World Needs You (to be Real)

“You’re going to change the world one day, and I don’t think you know it yet.”

It was one of our last nights in Puerto Rico, after our third visit to the emergency room, that those words etched themselves onto paper and landed in my hands. Being responsible for 18 teenage girls is no joke. The long and late hours sitting in a fluorescent-lit room filled with Spanish and coughing told me just as much.

I had no idea what I’d signed up for, and I don’t think I would have wanted to know if God had allowed me a peephole into the future.

As an anxiety-filled doubtful human being (how’s that for a dating ad), I was nervous about leading a team of high schoolers on a mission trip. I have been absolutely terrified of the word leader and have stepped aside from many opportunities because of this word in the description. I preferred the supporting role–my fear preferred the behind the scenes, hands on type of business.

But when I saw people speaking passion-filled words and hugging tear-stained humans, my heart lurched and my brain thought, “I can do that. I want to do that.” 

So I said a shaky “yes” to leading a missions trip. I told God this was my compromise for letting go of my nomadic lifestyle and agreeing to settle down for a little while. I’m not sure if his conditions were the same as mine, because I got a whole lot more than I bargained for.

On a normal Thursday, I was just an individual. I could walk away, I could go hide and eat trail mix for an hour (which I did), I could invest or pull back on my own terms.

And then Friday came. I sat in the Atlanta airport for a good eight hours, compartmentalizing my fears and anxiety and greeting each tentative participant with a hug and a hundred questions. I had suddenly become a responsible adult, and for nearly twenty lives. I didn’t have the option of saying “peace out, world” and moping in a field of weeds. I was on the clock, 24/7, for the next two weeks.

Sometimes you’re required to throw yourself into life head first and figure it all out later. I think that’s what courage is: going for it despite every fear begging you not to.

I was no longer independent. I was counselor, listener, friend, parent, teacher, nurse, liaison, singer, leader. There wasn’t time to overthink whether or not I should speak up. I couldn’t avoid conflict. I had to eat the rice and beans, and I had to make sure the vegetarian on the team didn’t accidentally ingest meat again, thus preventing another field trip to the ER. I was asked questions constantly, overheard whispers about me, and had eye rolls and looks that could kill directed at me.

If you want a good test of how well you believe in yourself, enter the boot camp of leading high schoolers.

But I also got to hear pieces of their stories. I was trusted. Tears flowed, deeply buried feelings surfaced, and I listened. “This is gonna sound bad but…” I often heard. “I don’t care,” I’d respond. “At least you’re being honest with yourself.”

‘Cause what I learned the most from these heavily humid days is this: people just want someone who is real. In a world of filters and surface level commitments, people are craving someone who’s honest with them.

At the end of the day, when Snapchat fails to entertain, and the likes on that perfect selfie stop ticking past 51, we wish for something real. Someone to say, “I don’t have it together either.” Someone to listen to untold secrets and bottled up anger and not be distracted by the ping of their phone.

“You’re going to change the world someday,” her note read. I smiled to myself; she’s right, but she’s also wrong. Because to me, changing the world means impacting her life. Seeing her change, watching her grow into the real person she’s created to be.

And while I’m still a tangled mess of emotions from the past two weeks of life in Puerto Rico, I know to my very core that stepping into the role of leader was not done in vain. If I touched even one person’s life, the world has been changed.

So please be real. You don’t need to lead a group of teenagers to teach you that, or go to an island to find it. You can be real right where you’re at, with the people who flow in and out of your day. It just takes a few seconds of courage. And I know you have courage in you.


*From Sarah Baker Writes.

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