Guest Post: My Growing Up Story

*This week I am featuring, Sierra Stopper, a working professional and graduate of Linfield College in Oregon. Sierra and I met in March 2010 during her second semester in Sevilla, Spain and my first (and only) semester there. Sierra is passionate about her faith in God, has a heart for serving others and we share a common love for the Spanish language and people! She’s also an amazing salsa and flamenco dancer! 😉 I hope you are encouraged and blessed by her story.*

Sierra (right) and I in front of the Rectorada at the Universidad de Sevilla, May 2010.

“My Growing Up Story” by Sierra Stopper

“Bye Dad! Bye Jenna!” I mouthed as they waved goodbye to me out of the white minivan and pulled away from the curb. “Oh crap,” I thought. “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”

Setting: August 2007. The picturesque Linfield College. Main character: Slightly lonely and pathetic “I just became an adult” 18-year-old with not a clue of what she is doing.

Cue dramatic music.

Okay, not really. That moment in time probably wasn’t that significant to anyone but me. But I remember quite vividly what it was like to stand on that walkway at Linfield College and watch my dad and younger sister drive off and leave me there – alone. The six weeks my dad had set as a time where I was not allowed to come home seemed like an eternity. Sure, I was excited to start college. Sure, it all seemed like an adventure. But adventures can be a bit lonely at the beginning, if you don’t have friends to live them out with you.

Five years ago I didn’t have a clue. And I probably still don’t. But I think the fact that I can say that I didn’t have a clue and that I still don’t have it all figured out is a step in the right direction.

I thought I was pretty mature for my age. I had graduated at the top of my class academically; had somehow managed to balance sports, theater, student government, and music; had avoided the often shallow high school dating relationships; had struggled through the college selection process and had been blessed with an amazing financial aid package; and had walked away from high school with great memories and good friends. I turned 18 shortly before moving off to college, and I was excited to see what adventures God had in store. I had always planned on going to college, and now that goal was coming to pass!

However, I was also quite scared: scared of being in that group of kids that “lose their faith in college,” scared of guys and dating, scared of parties and drinking, and scared of failing. In high school I knew my place. I knew who I was to my friends and I knew how to be the “good example” in a Christian school. Linfield College, although it was a beautiful place with a relatively small amount of students (1700-1800), it seemed like a big, scary, needs-Jesus kind-of-place (as if there is a place in the world that doesn’t need Jesus…).

I wish I could say that I got over my fears right away, but I didn’t. In order not to “lose my faith,” I joined every campus ministry possible my first year. Monday night through Friday night I was at some sort of Christian group, and Sunday mornings I attended church with friends. I avoided partying like the plague, and made it quite clear to new friends that alcohol was not appealing to me. My new friends knew me as the girl who didn’t swear, and as the girl they shouldn’t say dirty jokes around (although, to be honest, I didn’t actually tell them at first that those two things bothered me). As for boys and dating, I continued my habit of liking a guy from a distance, or of being that “good friend/sister” to the guy I liked without ever taking a chance or believing that there was any way he could ever feel the same way. Overall I did my very best to be the good Christian girl that I had always remembered being.

Were all of those things totally wrong? No, not really. Those campus ministries were a blessing to a girl who was totally out of her element. I met some of my closest and dearest friends and had many deep conversations and uplifting worship times. The people in my church really did become like family to me. I really didn’t miss out on anything by not partying or getting drunk or sleeping around. And thankfully the Lord gave me enough grace to not be arrogant about all of that. He often used that to create spaces and conversations with friends who thought I was a bit odd but were willing to listen and talk with me because the Lord had humbled me and because I did my best to listen to them and meet them right where they were. And I wasn’t spiritually mature enough to be in a relationship with any of the guys I was interested in during my college years. So the Lord graciously just placed me in friendships that blessed my life and challenged me to grow spiritually.

Nonetheless, I still had to learn how to live a life driven by God and His purposes rather than by fear.

Five years ago the Lord took my timid, scared, little girl-self all the way to McMinnville, Oregon and began to stretch me and put me in situations that were way beyond my comfort zone. I was 18, but I sure as heck wasn’t an adult. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life but wasn’t sure how to put that into words whenever someone asked me, “What’s your major?” or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (By the way, we need to come up with more original questions. Or at least make them a bit easier to answer by making them more specific. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post in the making…). The Lord had a lot of work to do in my heart before I could answer those questions with confidence.

That first year at Linfield College was both tough and fun. It was an adventure that had its boring moments (homework, anyone?), and was a time of blessing and growth that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I tried new things: working in cleaning services (and doing not-so-glamorous work like cleaning the showers), taking a soccer class, joining a campus ministry leadership team, going to a women’s retreat with a bunch of girls I barely knew, and making friends with people that were very different from me. I became someone who loved to meet new people and find common interests that create awesome conversations. I also faced a lot of heartache when my aunt suddenly died the week before finals week that spring semester. Situations like that prepared me for future moments when other friends were struggling with deep pain and loss. And most of all, I slowly began to pick out interests and dreams and hopes for my future that were God-given. I didn’t know what to do with all of them, but over the last few years it has been fun to see God show me how He will use all of those passions and interests.

Five years. Wow. A lot happens in five years, and these past five have been especially full. The Lord has been good to me! These years have been ones of facing lies and fears and replacing them with God’s truth and confidence. I have gone from a sheltered Christian-school girl with big dreams and somewhat naïve expectations to a woman and a disciple of Christ who is learning more and more each day what it means to trust God with total abandon and to walk in His light without fear of the darkness.

In the past five years I have:
– Thankfully not grown taller
– Cut my hair pretty short twice
– Worked at my high school doing maintenance work and learning how to paint buildings inside and out
– Learned some German and Hebrew
– Went on my first mission trip with 70 other people and built houses in Mexico
– Learned while I was there that 1. Homemade tamales are to die for, 2. There is something to be said for not looking at your face in a mirror every day, 3. I do not need my cell phone or laptop, and 4. It is possible catch glimpses of Heaven on earth
– Got my first ‘C’ in a class (in a Spanish class… go figure)
– Discovered that getting a ‘C’ did not mean that the world was ending
– Had to swallow my pride and retake that class to get a better grade
– Studied abroad in Spain
– Learned how to speak Spanish and actually use it in real life (imagine that!)
– Been to 7 countries
– Only had tummy troubles in one of those countries
– Waited in line for six hours with a friend just to see the Christmas Eve Mass in the Vatican… and then sprinted up the Basilica’s steps to beat people to a good seat… very Christian of me, I know.
– Learned the basics of playing the piano
– Faced my biggest fear and learned how to salsa dance
– Drove one of four 12-passenger vans loaded with international students from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver, B.C.
– Survived a somewhat icy drive on said trip and came away with a handful of new friends and a lot of good memories
– Learned what real discipleship looks like and how to be a healthy, godly mentor
– Graduated college
– Moved back home to Oregon City
– Learned how to live with my family again (and am learning how to love and serve them better)
– Sold produce in a family-owned produce store
– Became a bank teller
– Found out what day-to-day normal work life is like for a lot of people
– Had to be humbled by God (and it took some time!) and let Him show me that His ways are not my ways.
– Learned to be patient and to wait for His timing
– Researched and became passionate about fighting sex trafficking and modern-day slavery
– Learned to love the community I grew up in

Five years. 2007 to 2012. I am now a strong, 23-year-old woman who is fully convinced that the Lord will carry on to completion the good work He has begun in me.

Setting: September 2012. Comfortable home in Oregon City, Oregon. Characters: A small group of young adults plans events to raise awareness about domestic sex trafficking. The gathering seems small, but the Spirit of hope in the room is pretty big…

What happens next? I’m really not sure. I’m not writing this particular story. But I know the One who is, and I’m pretty sure His story is going to blow your mind. You ready for these next five years?

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