Surprise! An extra, special blog, just for this upcoming event!
I know a lot of you won't be able to make it out to this event, since most of you all live just about everywhere except the DFW metroplex! But I wanted to take a little bit of time to share this with you and to celebrate some of my favorite stories and the impactful people in my life from when I was a student in FOCUS.
|The beginnings! Spring 2010|
I'm super excited for this event, because I've only been part of FOCUS since 2010...barely a dent in the history! But that's where the story starts for the ministry in Denton. In the spring of 2010, Brad Davis (now the pastor of Denton North Church), and a handful of students began a "soft start" for the ministry. They would meet on campus in the union, asking anyone and everyone if they wanted to come hang out and engage in weekly discussions.
From that soft start, a few more transferring students from Collin College and the FOCUS ministry there, they started the real deal in the fall of 2010. This is when I transferred up to UNT!
God blessed me with the best roommate when I transferred up to UNT. A good ol' Midland girl, Laura (Pharr) Chalk, who had been a mutual friend to all of my friends throughout highschool, but who I'd never met before.
|First football game and pic together! Sweet Laura!|
She had gone straight to UNT out of highschool and had gotten involved in a ministry, but didn't feel like that was where she was supposed to be, so we started exploring student ministries together once I moved up! She met Jamiann Valdez in one of her classes pretty early on, and discovered we lived in the same apartment complex, and was invited to the Bible study the girls held there each week. She got plugged in with FOCUS almost right away and started building these really special friendships right off!
I, on the other hand, decided that I wanted to be part of a ministry that was more solidly established and that I was familiar with, so I chose a different one from FOCUS. I tried on my own for almost three months to get connected and to feel at home in this new ministry, but never quite made it. I would come to things and people didn't remember me from the last event I'd gone to (and I went to a lot!). I was so confused and frustrated...I was nice! I showed up! I was friendly! What was wrong!?
Things went on like that until Laura invited me to go to Fall Camp with her and her Core (the small group Bible study the girls did in the apartment just down from ours). I hadn't been to any FOCUS events and was hesitant about going to yet another ministry thing where I was sure I would feel just as uncomfortable and out of place as I had the last three months. But she finally convinced me on the promise that I could stick with her the whole weekend.
|Fall Camp 2010, Jam Session!|
Boy, were things different than I expected! Starting on the car ride down there, the girls in her core engaged me in their conversations and wanted to make me feel included. Then once we arrived, every where I turned, there was somebody wanting to invite me to play a game with them, sit and join the conversation, or just hang out. I felt like I had just walked into a familiar home filled with dear friends.
I understood some then what had been going on with that other ministry...I had never asked GOD where HE wanted me to be. I had just decided I knew best and went after it! I'm so thankful He intervened and made me so extremely uncomfortable to where I was ready to follow His lead again. How gracious of Him to course correct me after my deliberate choice to do my own thing!
|Halloween with my first core, 2010.|
From that one weekend, I started going to Laura's core with her and started building deep friendships that I still invest in and cherish today! I remember talking about the practical aspects of being a disciple, sharing with each other what was hard about being a Christian in college, learning from each other, and being vulnerable about our struggles in core. Their honesty was incredibly refreshing and at times surprising.
I started studying the Bible one on one with Jamiann and she led me through this curriculum called "Focus on Jesus," or FOJ. This was one of the most impactful things for me! I'd been in church my whole life, but had somehow missed out on one on one discipleship. The fact that Jamiann took time out of her schedule as a senior at UNT really amazed me and I made the most of that time together! I would come with pages of questions about what we were reading together and she would take the time to try to talk through each one. That time together really helped me make practical changes in my walk with the Lord from one that was very personal, but private, to one that was outward focused and intentional in my relationships with others.
That spring, I was invited to attend SICM (the Student Institute of Campus Ministry) in Washington. There were 16 of us from UNT and it was one of the most fun and life-changing trips I've ever been on. We learned such practical ways of being intentional disciples on our campus. It gave me a confidence and a recognition of ownership at UNT. God had placed me on this campus for a reason more than just getting my degree - I had the opportunity to reach my fellow students for Him!
In the Fall of 2011, I became a "Core-fa" (Core Facilitator) with a Co-fa (Co-Facilitator). Man, what a learning year that was! I went into it thinking it would be all roses and sunshine, but learned pretty quickly that ministry of any kind was actually pretty difficult! Who knew working with human beings was so hard!?
|Core, Fall 2011|
There were about five girls that came pretty consistently to my core, but I had no idea why! They didn't seem to want to hang out with us, or each other...they didn't like to talk...it was incredibly challenging at first! But they kept coming and we kept preparing for core and loving on them. The thing God taught me that year was that any kind of change in a person's life had to come at the pace of the Holy Spirit. There was nothing I could do to hurry that process along, except for following His lead and being faithful to the people He had put in my life. It's been incredible to see how those girls have changed over the course of the last several years!
The next year was night-and-day different! I got to lead with three of my good friends and we had a core of between 15 and 20 girls that came consistently. And they liked each other! And us! And we couldn't get them to stop talking! This core is one of my favorite memories from the year, not because of anything I or my co-fas did, but because it was so obvious that the Lord was doing so many things ahead of us.
I graduated in December of that year and my involvement with FOCUS changed some, as I began to explore what the Lord wanted to do with my career path after school. I had caught a vision for how much of an opportunity there was to reach out to internationals on our campus the year before and decided to accept an internship with Bridges International. But I still had close friends in FOCUS and kept in contact!
Not to mention I had started dating Austin that year! It was a really special experience to get to be friends with Austin first, before I was interested in him (he was hooked from the beginning!). We used to ride the bus from our apartment complex to campus and he would try to lead the bus in early morning sing-alongs. Those were the mornings, I would duck down and pretend I didn't know him...
|Awkward side hug pic. And that beard...wow.|
But for all that, both of us being so heavily involved and having others who know us deeply has been a huge blessing! It was great to have others keeping us accountable and giving us wise advice through our dating, and then to have connections to others who continue to encourage and advise through our marriage. Those relationships are priceless.
After my one year internship with Bridges, I began my internship with FOCUS. I knew that I was still supposed to be on campus as a minister for this time of life, and it made more sense to be working with FOCUS at the time. I was back!
That year was wonderful, hard, challenging, fun, and growing. There were four other interns in Denton that I had the opportunity to learn how to work and communicate well with. I had a ministry supervisor, Mandy, that spent time with me each week, mentoring and encouraging areas of growth in me. I got to lead a peer team of student leaders and learned how to lead, communicate, challenge, and encourage each of them. I faced family struggles. I got married and began such a joyful and growing journey. Suffice it to say, there were a LOT of new experiences and growth opportunities that year.
Then of course, there was last year as my first on full-time senior staff. I don't feel the need to write too much about these past few years, since I've kept a pretty regular blog and you've been along for the ride!
I do wish I had space and time to write about everyone who's been impactful to me over these last six years. It's been so fun to write this and think about each of these people, experiences and memories. I'm so jazzed now to go to the Twenty Year Celebration and to swap stories with others who were around way ahead of my time!!
If you can't make it out to the celebration, I would ask that you just be in prayer for that weekend. Give prayers of thanksgiving with me for how God has used this organization for the last twenty years and the people that have been impacted by it! Pray that He would continue to bless and move ahead of this ministry so that even more students can have personal encounters with Jesus and engage in true community that is going to spur them on in their relationships with Him.
Thank YOU for how you've been a part of this adventure! It really wouldn't be possible without the ways that each of you gives generously and prays continually for this ministry. I can't even imagine what it might be like without your support.
Thank you for spending this time to reminisce with me! Love and prayers! -Miriam
More Pics of People I Love!
|Giving blood for the first time with Miranda!|
|Each of these staff women have had significant impact on me! Love them!!|
|These girls are now pros in their fields, grad students, moms, wives, and missionaries.|
|Core adventures to the Renaissance Fair!|
|Winter Camp Core, 2010|
|Denton Fall Camp, 2015|